Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Where are they now? - Jeff Minter

You load 16 tons, whaddaya get? Another day older and deeper in debt...

Back in the mid 90s while I was attending boarding school we had a communal IBM PC in the boarding house which we could run programs on. Obviously, in a boarding house inhabited by teenage boys, the programs tended to be almost exclusively games and I fondly remember playing games like Scorched Earth, Genghis Khan II and a shooter called Llamatron 2112. The game was wacky, it had weird colours, enemies and sound effects, and you got to control a llama that fired lasers or something: it was hilarious and great fun! At the time I didn't take notice of who developed the game but now it's time to learn a bit about the man behind this gem of the early 90s (the game is a clone of an early 80s game called Robotron 2084); it's time to learn a bit about Jeff "Yak" Minter (he chose "Yak" as a pseudonym since back in the day, arcade machines only accepted three characters for high-score lists - and also because, like the yak, he looked like a scruffy, hairy beast)!

Minter was born in England in 1962 and like many game developers, developed an early interest in computers. In 1979 he developed his first game called Deflex for the Commodore PET but it wasn't until a time between 1981-1982, when he was confined to bed for a few months due to an injury, that he started to learn programming in earnest. Minter formed a partnership with his mother Hazel Minter in 1982 and called the company Llamasoft. Minter went on to produce over 30 games during the 1980s for a variety of platforms including the ZX81, VIC-20, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 (to name a few). Minter has a fondness for ruminants (he owns four sheep, two goats and two llamas) and this is quite apparent in the names of his games. Just in the 1980s alone, games he developed with herbivores in their names included Attack of the Mutant Camels, Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time, Revenge of the Mutant Camels, Sheep in Space, Mama Llama and Return of the Mutant Camels. Minter also describes his games as tending to have "retina-searing visuals", so if there aren't any camels, llamas or sheep in the game, you can count on lots of psychedelic colours!

Minter continued to develop games in the early 1990s mainly for the Amiga and Atari ST although he did develop a couple of games for DOS including 1992's Llamatron 2112, the only game of his I've ever played (I hope to rectify that in the near future). Minter then went into console development for the ill-fated Atari Jaguar during the mid 1990s. One of his most critically acclaimed games would be developed for this console called Tempest 2000, a 1994 remake of Dave Theurer's 1981 arcade classic.

In the 2000s, Minter started work on a music video game for the Nintendo GameCube called Unity. In 2003, he ended up developing Unity for Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios but development was ultimately cancelled the next year. Minter continued to develop indie PC games in the 2000s, mainly associated with his Gridrunner series such as 2002's Gridrunner++ and 2009's Gridrunner Revolution. He also developed 2007's Space Giraffe which was released on Xbox 360 prior to its release on PC a year later.

In the 2010s, Minter wanted to go back to games with short development times and consequently developing mobile and tablet games/apps seemed ideal in that regard. Minter developed several games for smartphones and tablets up until 2013 when he decided that developing mobile games was a waste of time and money, and decided to return to console development. Minter signed a deal with Sony to develop a game similar to Tempest 2000 or Space Giraffe called TxK. The game was released last year for the PS Vita and was critically acclaimed. Unfortunately in March this year, the current holders of the Atari name and trademark made legal threats to Minter over TxK's similarities to Tempest 2000 and blocked the game from ever being released onto other platforms including PC (DO NOT WANT!).

So what's Minter up to nowadays? I'm not sure exactly. He's quite active on his Twitter feed though, usually talking about software development related stuff when he's not talking about sheep, camels, llamas and posting photos of curry. I'm hoping Atari backs off on blocking TxK and it eventually makes its way to PC :). Alternatively, there can never be enough games about llamas - let's hope there's more on the horizon from Mr Minter!

LINKS:
[ Llamatron 2112 for free! ]
[ Wikipedia: Jeff Minter ]
[ MobyGames: Jeff Minter ]
[ Llamasoft - About Page ]
[ Jeff Minter's Twitter feed ]

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