Authors and Interviews

Nigel Alderton Interview: June 2005

Nigel Alderton was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne but at the age of two moved with his family to Manchester. Nigel's career led to a couple of years working in the West Midlands, followed by a further six in London. More recently, Nigel has returned to the city he grew up in, Manchester. At the age of 16 or 17, Nigel spent a month or two during a school summer holiday developing his idea for a game based on some of the popular platformers of the day, including Donkey Kong and Space Panic. Nigel took a one level pre-release version of his Spectrum code - under the working title of Eggy Kong - to the two year old software company A&F, which resulted in its release in 1983 on to a number of the most popular platforms at the time. See the History page, for further information.
Nigel has generously acquiesced to discuss with us the origins of Chuckie Egg, his experiences working with A&F and the career of a contract coder in the 80s ...
 
=== Part I: Coder ===
Are you still a big gamer and do you have any favourite computer games?

I hardly play games at all now.
Did you grow up intending to be a coder? If not, how did you get started as one?

Strangely, I remember exactly how I got started.

One lunchtime at school I was walking along a corridor and as I passed a particular door, it opened from the inside and a guy appeared out of a darkened room. I stopped and peered inside. The room had no windows and until a few months earlier had been used for storage, but now it contained two Tandy TRS80's and about 6 kids either using the computers or standing watching. I joined the little standing-watching gang. Nobody was playing games because there weren't really any games at that point in time, except ones people had written themselves in Basic, so everyone was coding. There really wasn't much else you could do with them. I have no idea why but I found those weird machines fascinating and I started to learn basic and joined the rota to get time on the machines. I was hooked from day one.
As a bedroom coder, what was your first computer? What other machines have you developed with?

My first computer was the ZX81. I can still remember how it looked when it first came out of the box in pristine condition. As well as the machine itself, the power supply, the aerial lead and the lead for loading and saving to tape, there was the excellent manual. You got a real physical manual, not a cobbled together FAQ or Help file, and it was ring-bound so it would lie flat. It contained a brilliant tutorial to teach Sinclair BASIC.

LET eggs = 61.
PRINT "The price of eggs is "; eggs.

I worked through the BASIC tutorials and wrote lots of small programs - mainly games. My parents soon got fed up with me using it on the family TV so they got me a portable black-and-white telly for my bedroom.

I think I'd had my ZX81 for about 6 months when I first saw an advert for the Spectrum, and it totally blew me away. Everything that was bad about the ZX81 seemed to be fixed in the Spectrum, so the advert said. The dedicated graphics chip fixed the dodgy ZX81 screen refresh; the Speccy was colour; its keyboard was better and it had a massive 16K instead of 1K. I couldn't even imagine a game that would fill 16K. But best of all (or so it seemed) were the microdrives - cheap mass storage that would make unreliable audio cassettes a thing of the past.

I saved like mad but by the time I had enough money to place my order, I was already way down the queue. I think either Sinclair started advertising before they were really ready to ship, or they were ready but were just overwhelmed by demand, or maybe a bit of both, but either way my Speccy arrived about 3 months after I placed the order, and the excitement of anticipation made it seem like three years.

For a programmer it was such a simple piece of kit to use because you could bypass the operating system and control the hardware directly. Its weaknesses were the blocky character based colour and lack of a sound processor or reliable storage media.

I've also coded for the Amstrad.
More to follow ...