Q&A: SIMON PICK
We speak to the coder behind the commodore 64 version of Narc and producer for The Sales curve about all the home conversions of the arcade run-and-gun
How did the sales Curve get the Narc job?
As part of her five-year plan to become a publisher, Jane [cavanagh, Sales curve founder] was developing titles for a few publishers. We used each project to hire new coders and artists to grow the internal development team, random Access. The quality and success of Silkworm, combined with Jane’s negotiating skills, made it easy for us to get work.
What was your role?
There were essentially three versions of the game. The c64 was standalone, the Spectrum and Amstrad shared code, as did the Amiga and ST versions. my role, in addition to coding the c64, was to track progress, ensuring that we hit deadlines. I also put the team together.
Did you have access to a Narc arcade machine? yes, a cabinet in the office. One of the first orders of business was to grab the sprite images from the roms, matt Spall was our IT guy who did this for us. We couldn’t directly use these as they were too high-res and colourful, but they were super useful as reference material. Trivia: matt is the brother of actor Timothy Spall!
Were you aware of the arcade game and its reputation?
No, we weren’t aware. most games around that time involved shooting things, the whole drug culture stuff went over our heads at the time. I think it dodged a bullet by minimising the blood, and having the bad guys sink into the floor instead of hanging around dead.
Were there any issues during development of Narc?
About a month before the end of development, dave Leitch was still struggling to get the ZX Spectrum version running fast enough. It was almost okay, but still chugged badly at times. Then, one day he realised that he was updating the screen twice for every game cycle – technically speaking, he was copying the screen’s back buffer across to video memory twice. He removed that pointless second update and overnight the game became super-fast and much more playable!
Were you pleased with your efforts on the C64 and how well did it sell? yes, there were a lot of things that I was very pleased with: simultaneous two-player mode, the colour scroll, bullets with shadows, the scanner and spray-painted letters. All of those things were fairly tricky to get right. I think they all did reasonably well, but it was towards the end of the 8-bit era, so I don’t suppose the commodore 64, Spectrum or Amstrad versions would have sold very many.
given the deadlines, was there a ‘crunch’?
There was a period where I was working from home, putting crazy hours in. Being several years before the internet or email, every couple of days I would make a disk, walk to the local station and use British rail’s same-day delivery service – red Star I think it was called – to get the disk up to clapham Junction, the closest station to The Sales curve QA. They would play the game then fax me a list of bugs, which I’d work on before sending them another disk two days later. How times have changed!