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UK leg­ends meet at the From Bed­rooms To Bil­lions premiere

AUK game in­dus­try founders re­flect on the past at the From Bed­rooms To Bil­lions premiere

t the end of a great hall in London’s Earls Court ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre, the face of Lla­ma­soft legend Jeff Min­ter is dis­played across three sep­a­rate cin­ema screens. A grey-haired au­di­ence of his peers watches silently be­low, en­rap­tured by this erst­while out­sider. In this room is gath­ered the cream of the old UK videogame in­dus­try – that is, the in­dus­try that grew fast and fat in the 1980s and ’90s, and then faded from view some­what as con­soles from Ja­pan and the US gained trac­tion across Europe. They’re here to rem­i­nisce about their salad days by watch­ing a movie called From Bed­rooms To Bil­lions, by An­thony and Ni­cola Caulfield.

The doc­u­men­tary tells the story of the UK game in­dus­try, en­cap­su­lat­ing its begin­nings as am­a­teurs as­sem­bled Nas­com 1s and Com­puk­its, and fol­low­ing through to the ex­cesses of the 1980s, fol­lowed by the down­turn of the mid-’90s, which saw so many pub­lish­ers and de­vel­op­ers close their doors against a back­drop of power shifts. The Caulfields in­ter­viewed over 140 in­dus­try vet­er­ans to make their movie, giv­ing it a vibe that is at odds with some­thing like In­die Game: The Movie, which fo­cuses on a new gen­er­a­tion of game-mak­ing tal­ent.

Given the close­ness of the UK in­dus­try, it’s a sur­prise to see faces here and on­screen that haven’t been heard of since their hey­day. Their rea­sons for leav­ing the in­dus­try demon­strate how it has changed. Archer Ma­cLean is here, the Drop­zone and Mer­cury cre­ator hav­ing de­parted videogames fol­low­ing a se­ries of deals with dis­trib­u­tors that ul­ti­mately came un­stuck. Revs cre­ator Ge­off Cram­mond is here, back for a very rare ap­pear­ance fol­low­ing his decision to quit some years ago when In­fo­grames closed Microprose, the pub­lisher of his F1 games. And up on the screen is Matthew Smith, cre­ator of Jet Set Willy, who was so burnt out by pub­lisher ex­ploita­tion and the ef­fects of celebrity that he gave up pro­gram­ming en­tirely. Ma­cLean is clear on his feel­ings about prob­lems that marred the de­vel­op­ment of the UK game in­dus­try. “One thing they didn’t want us talk­ing about in [the film] is that most of the cre­ative types in the ’80s, they all got ripped off; some got de­stroyed,” he says. “They all hinted at that [in the film], but they didn’t want to cover it. Every­body in that room has, at some point or other, put their heart and soul into some­thing and not got paid.”

If you know where to look, there is cer­tainly no short­age of sto­ries like this, so you might ex­pect the Earls Court venue to be filled with bit­ter­ness. Mostly, though, there’s ca­ma­raderie. Rod Cousens, CEO of Codemasters, is can­did. “There were some in there tonight, I was shak­ing hands with them, but we were fierce com­peti­tors,” he ex­plains. “There was no love lost in the day. But you look back with great af­fec­tion and you do have the ben­e­fit, as time’s moved on, of recog­nis­ing that you built an in­dus­try. And some­times we don’t give that enough credit, be­cause the new tal­ent wouldn’t be able to ex­ist if the peo­ple in that room hadn’t driven down the bar­ri­ers. And there were a lot of bar­ri­ers.”

The re­moval of those bar­ri­ers, whether

“There were some in there tonight, I was shak­ing hands with them, but we were fierce com­peti­tors”

Ex-Vir­gin Games chief Nick Alexan­der and Jeff Min­ter join in the panel dis­cus­sion; Rod Cousens; Archer Ma­cLean

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