In his first column for Develop, Alex Ward calls for a closer look at the history of the UK games industry on the small screen
[Alex Ward is the ex-creative director of Burnout developer Criterion Games, which he set up with co-founder and studio director Fiona Sperry. The duo recently left the studio to form Three Fields.]
Like everyone else, I sat and watched Channel 4’s evening of television devoted to our industry at the start of December.
First up was Charlie Brooker detailing his top pick of games which changed the world. Then Indie Game: The Movie, something I’d been told to watch by a few different people since it came out online.
While I was pleased to see Jeff Minter on TV discussing gaming, I did find the rest of Brooker’s show a bit annoying. Maybe it’s just me, but one thing I’m really passionate about is hearing about how games arrive into this world. Creators like The Yak are my heroes. It was reading about him in Personal Computer Games back in 1983 that inspired me to want to make games for a living. So, if I had to put out a programme talking about great video games, he’d definitely be on my list.
What I didn’t understand was why it needed to feature so many comedians and television presenters talking about games. It doesn’t seem to happen on a programme about, say, the history of Motown, or, as I watched recently, the history and use of music in Hollywood. Those TV shows naturally feature the talented people who actually did the work: the writers, the composers and the musicians.
But when it comes to gaming, we got a load of comedians saying that they, too, had a ZX Spectrum once. It didn’t really tell me anything, and I don’t see this happening elsewhere when television covers other creative topics.
The UK has played an incredibly key part in the growth of gaming globally, and I believe this distinctly English tale needs to be told. There’s more to gaming than Mario, Lara Croft, GTA and Call of Duty. But those seem be the only ones that go on TV. Or maybe those are the only ones that supply quality game footage in time? I would love to watch a programme that told the story of the UK industry.
I want to hear the hardware makers of their day reflect on their work: the guys from Sinclair Research, Acornsoft, Dragon Data, and maybe even the Konix MultiSystem team.
I want to hear the stories from the British software houses of the day: Ocean Software, Ultimate, Gremlin Graphics, Alligata, US Gold, Quicksilva, Psygnosis, and Sensible Software – from both the business side and the coding outfits that gave them games. Where were David Ward, Chris and Tim Stamper, Ian Stewart, David Palmer, Geoff Brown, Rod Cousens, Ian Hetherington or Jon Hare?
Where were the coders? Along with Minter and David Braben, there is also Tony Crowther, Archer Maclean, the Pickford Brothers, David Darling or Philip and Andrew Oliver, Geoff Crammond and more.
BEYOND THE HEADLINES
I want to hear from the press too, from the early days of EMAP’s Computer and Video Games to the rise of Newsfield’s CRASH and ZZap!64. I was puzzled to see Gary Whitta on that programme, who is a successful screenwriter today. But why not Gary Penn, or Steve Jarratt, Paul Davies, Richard Leadbetter or Joao Sanches? All of which are smart writers who have something to say about the world of gaming.
All in all, I want to hear from the British talent that helped take gaming from where it was then to where it is now. Surely that would be more interesting and relevant than a few funny soundbites from the current crop of comedians. These stories need to be told so that more people can learn and understand about the industry.
And today, the UK is still an integral part of gaming with innovative small teams scattered around the country making titles for everything from the PlayStation 4 to the Raspberry Pi, so I’d love to see and hear from these guys too.
When I grew up in the 1980s (although to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever be a grown-up) computers and computer games were on TV a lot more.
From Making the Most of the Micro and Tomorrow’s World to GamesMaster and Bad Influence, you’d be able to get excited about something new and think about what will be possible in the future.
That’s what we need to do: inspire the next generation. And television is a great way to do that. It’s just a shame that it isn’t covered in any great detail.