Minter, you C*NT!14 Oct 2016
Jeff Minter is a fucking legend. He’s also one of my game development heroes.
My first encounter with the hirsute hacker was in Zzap64. His “Daily Llama” diary - about the development of Iridis Alpha - was one of my first insights into what it was like to make games. I barely understood a word of it. Sprites, Interrupts, Scroll Routines, just a set of magic incantations to a 10 year old. But it stuck and I started devouring anything I could find that’d help explain the magic.
It wasn’t until the Amiga that I’d really bump into his work, joystick in hand - CPC6128 represent, yo - but when I did, holy shit, here was a guy making batshit crazy arcade games that drilled through my eyeballs and embedded directly into my stoner brain. By the Amiga era Jeff was already part of the ‘establishment’, but Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar would cement it, rightly elevating him to level of all time greats.
Imagine having that on your CV…
I talk about Jeff’s games quite a lot during my design lectures, even through the blank stares of my students. Many people don’t realise quite how hard it is to engage a player so deeply that they lose their sense of time and space. Hit “the zone”, and live, for however briefly, in that magic place where instinct and reaction take over from conscious thought. It’s something players of a certain vintage understand deeply. To conquer, you have to let go a little. Unlearn what you have learned. See everything while focusing on nothing. It’s zen in the form of joystick waggling.
Jeff’s genius is that he can guide you to this place, and poke and prod at you while you’re there. Normally while flashing lights in your eyes. (As Consolevania aptly put it, “Don’t go into a trance boys”…)
It’s trivial for a game developer to produce something that kills the player. My students do it all the time. It’s incredibly difficult to build something that stretches the player, that gives them enough content to ease them in, to spike them and pressure them, but err on the side of fairness. To do this well, to invoke a sweat, to leave the player feeling that every mistake is their own, that’s fucking tricky. And Jeff’s a master at it.
He’s also been highly experimental. The sublime Space Giraffe takes his finely honed balance nous and flips it. Instead of relying on the normal levers of difficulty, he adds visuals as a gameplay element. How do you survive when the playfield is literally distorting and convoluting around you? It was woefully misunderstood by many, but it’s genius. By taking away one of the player’s senses he forces them to rely on the things seasoned space pilots in ‘The Zone’ - and anyone that’s ever dropped a tab - know only too well: Instinct. Audio. Reaction. Feeling it. It’s probably one of the most unique and special games ever made. (And at a very real risk of being lost to bit-rot, should the PC version ever stop working.)
So when - normally a group of lads - have a pop at making an arcade game I tell them to go to the source: Jeff Minter and Eugene Jarvis. I’m still trying to learn how they do what they do and I’ve been studying them for years. Every day’s a school day, but if you’re going to learn, learn from the best.
So yeah. News that Jeff’s making a new game is an event for me. I get excited.
I met Jeff in 2002, at Retrovision. He’s hard to miss, bowling about in his Llama jumper, so I did what most people do and stared at him for a while. Eventually I decided “fuck it”, and wandered over to ask him if I could buy him a pint. We ended up sharing a spliff in my car and chatting. Not long after - once I’d passed Rik’s initiation test - I’d find myself meeting up with Jeff quite regularly, heading down to his house in Wales to share a beer or 3, the odd disco biscuit, many a spliff, and get hands-on with what turned out to be Unity, the VLM 3 powered game Lionhead were funding on Gamecube.
Unity never made it - a story for another day - but those long hot weekends forged lifelong friendships between our little gang of missfits. And Jeff taught me a hell of a lot about how he goes about his work, as well as giving me a good shove to get into the industry.
Jeff’s a legend. One of my dev heroes. A mate. And a fucking c*unt. His games make me swear. At me, at him, at the fact I need to ring up Mayhem and ask him out on a date. He does work that I understand on a technical level, but am completely bowled over by from a design and finesse pov. It’s easy to dismiss his games as ‘just shooters’ but to do so overlooks the skill he has. He’s been at this dev lark for more than 30 years and is still as restless and excited about the new as he’s ever been. He’s pretty inspirational, in that sense, as I severely doubt I’d have the stamina for it - the games industry is a vicious mistress - and I’m fucking amazed the British industry hasn’t recognised him with more shiny baubles. Genius is still walking among us, ffs.
Anyway. Call it what you will, bias, friendship, fan-boi-ism, whatever. I care not. Jeff’s got a new fucking game out and I’m about as excited as you can be. It’s an arcade game, obviously, but just fucking look at it!
It’s coming soon on PS4/VR and then later on PC and I’m hyped. That’s ticked the BAGSY-TUNNEL-VLM3-crew box in a massive way. And then covered it in Space Harrier. With a side of Trailblazer garnished with Stun Runner. It’s like Jeff made a game for me, and yet again I’m feeling schooled. One day I’m going to make an arcade game. One day. Hopefully. Maybe.
Now I’ve got that off my chest I hope you can appreciate how fucking amazing it feels to be involved, even tangentially, in a Llamasoft game. I was incredibly lucky to get the chance to do some music for TxK with the other Llamasoft forumites. Many of them are far more musically talented than I will ever be. Obviously I wasn’t shy in putting forward another submission once Jeff put out the call for NEXT GAME. I’m not entirely pleased with it as it was a real struggle to make (I was in a mad panic trying to ship Lumo at the time), but having now seen it over the game, in a promo vid of all things, I’m chuffed to bits. Hopefully it works as well in-game.
Thank you Jeff! Polybius looks utterly bonkers-made-for-me-heaven. I hope it sells a million. :)