From Would-Be Test Pilot to Wally Programmer — resident CRASH Irishman Tony Flanagan has a few words with MIKRO-GEN’s man from the Old Country, Dave Perry.
It’s not every day you have lunch with a six foot-eight ex-basketball player who used to want to be a test pilot. Being on the diminutive side myself (well just a little, groan, groan), it’s not easy craning one’s neck for any civilised length of time. Still, the lurid tales which seemed to slip so easily off the tongue of the programmer in question, were some compensation. As for the lunch, the smoked chicken was fine, though I do wish, in retrospect, that I’d checked the lamb kebab with a geiger counter. Being a creature of the hirsute kind, now my beard glows in the dark and my hair picks up Radio Shropshire. It’s not easy being a freak!
Dave Perry is one of Mikro-Gen’s four programmers. The others are Chris Hinsley, Raffaele Cecco and Mick Jones — a new member is set to join them shortly. They’re a wild bunch by all accounts — very much into busty page three girlies, vodka and Coke, and keeping roving reporter John Minson company at computer shows, as he downs an infinite number of Bloody Marys. It was Chris Hinsley, of course, who wrote the highly successful Pyjamarama, followed by Everyone’s a Wally and Battle of the Planets.
An Irishman born and bred, nineteen year-old Dave Perry is endowed with all the native charm that one would expect of a man with pure Celtic blood flowing through his veins (me, partisan?) In his gentle Irish brogue, he related how he began programming while still at school. In the sixth form, he managed to write a number of programs for Tim Hartnell of Interface Publications and his work was published in several books. This led to a book consisting of Dave’s programs only — Astounding Arcade Games — which sold 13,000 copies.
His connection with Mikro-Gen began when he sent them Drakmaze, which they accepted. The deal fell through, however, and there was a temporary hiatus in his links with the company. Of course, the story doesn’t end there. On one of his frequent trips to London he met Mike Meek, Mikro-Gen’S MD, at one of the computer shows. Mike was attempting to set up a programming team and Dave, because of his previous experience and the links he had already forged with the company, seemed an obvious choice.
It was an opportunity he could not turn down, though it would mean having to ‘chuck in’ school, as he put it. ‘Everyone was telling me not to do it,’ said Dave, but it was something he felt he had to try. So, he packed his joystick and sundry other computery items and moved to Virginia Water, near Bracknell.
Dave’s first task was to write a test program which was never actually completed: ‘It was coming along very well but Chris needed help with Pyjamarama so I dived in with that. We’d just been given a prototype Amstrad, so I wrote the Amstrad version.’ The press launch for Pyjamarama (which cost Mikro-Gen a mere thirteen smackers a minute) didn’t go according to plan. As Dave explained: ‘it turned out that on the way Chris was sick on the tube and had to go home. He missed the whole thing. The Press was there in force, waiting for the guy who had written the game, so I took his place and they interviewed me instead.’
The success of Pyjamarama was followed by more Wally successes: Everyone’s a Wally, written by Chris, and Dave’s Herbert’s Dummy Run. Suddenly, in Dave’s words, ‘Everyone was jumping up and down demanding more Wally games.’ In response, Dave came up with Three Weeks in Paradise which received outstanding reviews and was his first solo CRASH Smash!
Programmers, Dave told me, tend to be a little pampered. This is because they are the creative nucleus around which everything else revolves. This doesn’t mean to say that they have an easy time — they work long hours and their commitment has to be total. ‘When I first came over here,’ Dave explained, ‘I worked very hard indeed. I was in work at half-eight and worked through to twelve-thirty at night. I did this for months, seven days a week.’ (Phew! Nearly as much as the CRASH team!). Now the hours — nine to seven — are more civilised.
Dave’s latest game marks a total departure from what he had done previously. Stainless Steel, an arcade game, took him five months to write. The player is given a bird’s-eye-view of the action — simple enough it would seem — but from a programming perspective this did cause Dave some headaches: ‘the problem with this game was drawing things from above. I’ll never do another game from above. I’ve always done things from the side and always will in the future.’
In collaboration with Chris, Dave is now working on a new game. Does working in partnership create any problems, I wondered? ‘This is the first time we’ve ever worked together,’ said Dave, ‘but one can foresee some difficulties. Two people can’t do the same thing as there’s only one keyboard and one programmer at a time, so if someone comes in and changes something when you’re not there it can get confusing.’
So what’s this new game all about? Vaguely, it concerns ‘bendy cylindrical rubber-like doobries’ that look not unlike Liquorice Allsorts: ‘we still haven’t thought of a name,’ said Dave. The idea is to stop yourself being horribly gormandized by frostie monsters. By this time the lamb kebab was beginning to take its toll on my delicate digestive system. The thought of animate liquorice Allsorts certainly wasn’t helping things.
Conversation turned to the subject of when Dave expected to make his first million, and thirty was tossed around as good an age as any. But how did the doubters back home react to him now? ‘Everyone’s really proud of me,’ said Dave. ‘At school, the headmaster just loves me. Somehow, he managed to get the Government to invest half a million in the computer department.’ Dave is clearly something of a local celebrity down Belfast way. The local papers have done features on him, and he’s even been interviewed by the BBC World Service.
With time quickly running out, there were just a few moments to catch Dave’s daguerreotype (the wonders of Newsfield Technology!) before he began his six hour trek back to civilisation. As he disappeared into the Ludlow sunset, I whispered bon voyage!... and bon appetit! (funny lingo for an old bogtrotter). Then I went to check my beard in the mirror... and where was that music coming from?