Taking his British Rail timetable in hand, SEAN MASTERSON stumps off in the direction of Poynton to find out what MC Lothlorien are up to nowadays.

Roger Lees (left) and Mike Cohen — started with an interest in history and the Sinclair ZX81.

While the men do battle, the women keep the home fires burning — secretaries Helen (left) and Arline.

The name MC Lothlorien has been synonymous with good strategy wargames for a few years now. The company itself began life with the arrival of the Spectrum. Roger Lees and Mike Cohen, old school friends with a passion for wargaming, started writing games on the ZX81 and selling them by mail order as a hobby. By the time Clive Sinclair launched his rubber-keyed computer, the hobby had expanded to the point where Mike and Roger had to take it seriously. Thus MC Lothlorien was born as the two trading companies run by Mike and Roger, MC Associates and Lothlorien, amalgamated.

Mike and Roger started writing strategy wargames, and as their company grew the product range diversified to include arcade games released under the Actionmaster label. After a while, Lothlorien’s decided to concentrate on strategy games and arcade action faded into the background. Recent developments, however, may lead to some very different products indeed.

Mike’s particular wargaming interest is focussed on the Ancient period and he has an entire Macedonian army to prove it! Roger has a keen interest in the American Civil War and has been involved in several simulations of battles from this era. But their interest doesn’t stop with ‘toy’ soldiers. Computer simulations and wargames produced by companies such as SPI and Avalon Hill have led to many late nights. Trireme is a particular favourite — a game in which the player controls ancient navies, manoeuvering immense galleons and boarding enemy vessels. Mike and Roger’s enthusiasm for the genre is evident, and carries through into their business lives.

Nowadays the two founding partners have more than enough to keep them busy with running their company, with Mike acting as Managing Director and Roger taking on the Marketing responsibility. They are aided and abetted by two secretaries, Arline and Helen, who complete the administrative team, and nowadays programming is left to in-house teams and freelances.

In some respects, running a software house successfully over a period of years is like playing a huge strategy game — Mike and Roger find the analogy quite fitting. In the past they have had a few close shaves, and admit as much, but now feel that they have learned from these. There’s little doubt that Lothlorien will be around for a few years more.

Back in May last year, the company entered into a contract with Argus Press Software, under which Argus takes care of the marketing and distribution effort for some of Lothlorien’s new products. “We have some very good games”, Mike explained, “and felt that we couldn’t really do them full justice, so we entered into a contract with Argus, to take advantage of their marketing and distribution expertise”. So far this partnership has worked well — The Bulge was the first game to be put onto the market by Argus, followed by Arena.

Dave Selwood (left) and Peter Carmpouloni are two of Lothlorien’s in-house programming team.

A’N’F Software is another company which has a similar marketing deal with Argus, and Roger and Mike are teaming up with Doug Anderson and Martin Hickling of A’N’F to form a third company. All the in-house programmers will soon be moved to new premises in Prestwich to form a game development company by the name of Starsoft UK Ltd. Five teams of programmers will be working on separate projects at any one time, as well as individual freelance coders. “We felt we should do something new,” Mike said, “so a third company has been set up with A’N’F. They have the technical expertise while we have game designing skills which are complementary.” By making the best of Lothlorien’s strategy acumen and A’N’F’s arcade abilities some exciting hybrid games could be developed.

Peter Carmpouloni and Dave Selwood are the in-house programmers currently working on an animated adventure called Stellar Holocaust which is being produced for Argus. Pete is the main man on the Spectrum version. Both have had plenty of previous experience in programming: Peter wrote the adventure Time Sanctuary on the Spectrum but his career goes back to the days of the ill-fated Red Shift for whom he wrote City of Death with his brother, George; Dave is an ex-Ocean man with several titles under his belt including Mr Wimpy, Rollerball, Caterpillar (on the Vic 20) and Road Frog. Stellar Holocaust should be appearing around March/April time according to the Production Manger at Argus, and it could not be more different from any of Pete and Dave’s previous projects — it’s a sort of Lords of Midnight in space type game...

Lothlorien have a number of projects underway, and will continue to write and release strategy wargames on their own account, independently of the Starsoft UK set-up. Borodino should arrive some time after Stellar Holocaust and continues the saga of Napoleon’s attack on Russia in the nineteenth century. This game’s features will include the regrouping of units and the use of artillery, the absence of which attracted some criticism for Waterloo.

Lothlorien feel that their games might not always hit the top ten, but they do have an incredibly long life span — they also know that keeping up with the market is fundamental to the success of anyone in a business which has seen the downfall of so many companies over just a few years. Mike Cohen and Roger Lees seem suitably equipped to cater for the future. The best form of defence is attack, and Lothlorien seem ready to make theirs...