Sinus Iridum

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ah, the Rainbow nickname.

Well, back in the dim and distant past, Prestel had live chat. They weren't chat rooms in the way that you and I understand them these days, they were carousels of pages with the newest message overwriting the oldest. About 50 pages total if memory serves me properly.

Prestel used to close for hours every night so that the editors could update it and I remember having contests to be the last/first poster with shut-down in the middle.

I frequented a popular one where nicknames were bestowed by the regulars. There was a Douglas Adams fan named Dentarthurdent and a guy who started every on-line session with a "quote of the day" who was known as The Prof. There was a GP called Doc and lots of travel agents. There was also a lady who was a comforting shoulder at times of trouble who was know as Really Yours Truly. A farmer know as Muckspreader and a car freak called Vroom.

Anyway, I had joined with a user name of some garble I don't remember and I'd begun to design computer art but, at that time, the hardware was very limited in the number of colours it could display. I was getting around the limitations by creating line art using the primary colours available. I remember doing a profile of a man's face in primary-coloured line. Here's an early pic - nasty screenshot taken at the time and scanned from a print I found when we moved house 4 years ago. Originals are totally lost.

I met a Compunet (not Compuserve) editor and he liked my stuff so much that he published it. I was so chuffed that every other post on the chat carousel must have been along the lines of "have you seen my pictures yet?" and, eventually I was Named by the chat regulars as Rainbow.

There y'go. I've been Rainbow ever since.
So, where was I? Oh yes, back in 1985 and reminiscing about computer games.

I worked with Novagen (Paul Woakes and Bruce Jordan) starting with Mercenary. This was one of the very first walk-or-run-around-and-collect-or-shoot games ever. I don't know how else to describe it that would make more sense. First person viewpoint, i.e. the screen becomes your eyes, at human-like height. Simple wire-frame (lines along the edges) objects. It was an extension of the text adventure games which were so popular at the time, and it was one of the first attempts to add real-time (and as close to real-life as possible) imagery to the best of the hardware's ability. Which was quite limited in comparison to today's machines.
Mercenary was a huge best seller and kept the company ball rolling, so to speak.
The history of the games can be found at the Mercenary site which is lovingly maintained and has even spawned projects to properly convert the code to the PC. Well worth downloading if you want to see what our games looked like back then, they have respectfully kept all the wrinkles and blemishes that come from aging. There's even an interview with me, which is nice.
Mercenary also has it's own Wikipedia page.
Next came Backlash, which was an extension of the Battlezone arcade machine and was released on the Atari ST. That game got to number 1 in the all formats games chart and stayed there for 4 weeks, which is no mean feat considering that the other (more popular) machines at the time were Spectrum, Amiga, etc. and that the major games companies like US God - sorry, I meant US Gold LOL - kept all the versions for all the platforms waiting for release until the last one was ready before they dropped them all onto the public at one fell swoop.
We couldn't afford to do that.

So there we were, little company, riding the tsunami.

It's now 1990 and Paul and Bruce decided that it was time to update Mercenary and I nodded enthusiastically.
The result was Damocles.
It stayed at number one in the afore-mentioned all-formats charts for 6 weeks, even though it was only released for the ST and Amiga. Even those releases were staggered so each made it's mark almost alone.
If you want to know more, I suggest using Google to look up something like "Novagen games Damocles" (without the quotes) etc. There are tons of sites out there with reviews and screenshots, even PC versions.

Sadly, Novagen died when Psygnosis promised to release a PC version of Damocles and then dropped us just before we finished. I mean literally just before. You can see some screenshots and stuff here.

It seems that they were drastically cutting the company budget and we weren't the only ones to be dumped on our collective backsides.

Anyway, I began to look around for other work and spent some time designing games with Dimension Creative Designs (Legends of Valour), Domark (Marko's Magic Football), Philips Media International (a game called Continuum which went nowhere past the storyboards) and other stuff. Tried advertising work, went back to college as a Multimedia Development Officer (I did their intranet and web sites) but finally decided to go it alone and started Grafixation with my life partner Pete in May 2001.

So, that brings my career pretty much up to date.

Today, I have been mostly designing a web site for a UK company who are expanding into the USA.

Web design appeals to me because I've always designed and composed graphics but with a very practical edge, which always meant that I need to know how to code as well as scribble. It's working out well, my clients are happy, so am I. I'm one of the lucky few who make a living by doing what they really enjoy.

More about me?

Where to start? The interesting bits, I suppose.

I trained at Art School in the 70s after a distinct predilection and modest ability for the subjects of English, Maths and Art at school. Not a great combination for a career. These days, I'd have been off to College for a course in Computer Graphics but there was no such thing at that time. In the 70s, programmers were Highly Intelligent Men who flipped Important Switches and a program patch was Sellotape.

I wanted to be a silversmith/jeweller and was accepted for Birmingham School of Jewellery (largest School of Jewellery in Europe) but left when I was part way through my first year because I found out that I was pregnant. I was 17.

I married Steve because I loved him but had little choice. The result was my wonderful son Bryn, and a divorce within a year.

Time passes, I remarried and we separated after 6 years. So I had two lovely sons - Ewan arrived in 1978 - and I'm a single parent again.

After Ted (my second husband) had left, one of his friends knocked on the door one day. His name was Pete, better known as Little Red Pete due to his habit of wearing red clothing from head to foot. I'd never really spent time with him before, he had an eidetic (photographic) memory which was both his blessing and his curse. He had taught himself advanced programming from books to the extent that he'd found a highly paid job in computing without any previous experience.

He began to visit us regularly and, one day, he brought his VIC-20 with him. He was programming all day and going home to program all night and was losing his sanity, his social life and his hair. Bless him, he left it with me and said he'd "visit it" every weekend.

Within a couple of weeks I'd progressed further than the scope of the manual. Gradually, Pete kept bringing bits of hardware and I also had an Arfon expansion unit and as many cards as could be crammed into it: chess, extra memory and the Graphics Expander. Cool!

Within 2 months I'd moved on to 6502 machine code and assembly language, mostly coded in BASIC. Anyone here remember peek and poke?

Around this time I was given a modem by another friend who had just bought a new one (he was a hardware development engineer). These days, a modem is a box the size of a cigarette packet with a few discreet flashing lights showing connectivity etc. Then, it was bigger than my computer, got so hot that you could make toast on top of it and buzzed like a swarm of angry bees.
I didn't care. I was able to log in to Prestel and Micronet, and met my first on-line friends.

This is another, even longer story and includes the reason for my Rainbow nickname. I'll tell it later, if you're interested.

Within a year I had a Commodore 64 and graphics software. Oh joy! I could draw using my computer! It was primitive by today's standards but I didn't care, at last I didn't have to use the Graphics Expander cartridge to make pictures. Around this time I met Paul Woakes and Jeff Minter, and worked with both.

I was offered a job but needed an Atari ST for it to happen - my father-in-law didn't hesitate to help me. It was 1985 and I had one of the first STs to be made available to the public.

With it, and other hardware which began to accumulate, I started the career in computer graphics which should have begun back in the 70s.


Sinus Iridum?

I`ve been asked a few times - why Sinus Iridum? What does it mean?
I have a very amateur love for astronomy, mostly revolving around the collection of images (over 1500 of them to date and expanding rapidly thanks to Hubble and missions like Cassini), all categorised and tidy.

Sinus Iridum is the Bay of Rainbows on our moon.
I`m going to begin this blog by reproducing some of my MySpace entries. Hopefully that will start the ball rolling in a semi-positive way.