Q&A with Retrogamer Magazine on Manic Miner Amstrad CPC

Manic Miner Amstrad CPC - Title Screen

A quick follow-up to my 
Software Projects post - in January 2021 Retrogamer Magazine published a brief Q&A I did with Graeme Mason about Manic Miner on the Amstrad CPC. The Q&A, reproduced below, largely correlates with my previous post and mentions a couple of specific details not covered there.

Retrogamer: How did you come to work on Manic Miner?

Steve: I was nominally working on Manic Miner from the day I was hired; however, Software Projects couldn’t figure out which platform. We looked at the Tatung Einstein, the Spectravideo, and MSX, but for whatever reason, those did not get off the ground. When the Amstrad CPC came out, tools and documentation were readily available (I spent hours poring over the Amstrad technical docs) and I was finally able, along with partner in crime Derrick, to get started.

Retrogamer: Had you worked with Derrick before?

Steve: No. This was my first job in games and I met Derrick at Software Projects. I think I was at Software Projects for about a year before moving on (to Odin). I haven’t really heard from Derrick since then (he did a brief stint at Odin after SP).

Retrogamer: You were presumably familiar with Manic Miner – what did you think of it?

Steve: Well, of course, it was like a dream come true to work on Manic Miner (and then Jet Set Willy)! It was one of the first games I ever bought, though I don’t believe I ever fully finished it without cheating (or developing the CPC version). Brutally difficult in places!

Retrogamer: Did you change anything for the Amstrad version? I think the screen The Final Barrier is substantially different, do you know why?

Steve: In a way, everything was different because we wrote it from scratch. In some cases, we had to disassemble the original game to figure certain things out. In general, the goal was to do as accurate a conversion as possible though. I had forgotten about The Final Barrier until you mentioned it. I’ve taken a look (see below) and I can see that they are similar, but the graphical section at the top was missing, replaced with more platforms. Honestly, I do not recall the exact reason why, but if I had to guess I’d say it was because that section would have taken less memory to store on the Spectrum (due to the use of color attributes), so we may have run out of space.

Manic Miner final screen on the Amstrad CPC 464

Manic Miner final screen on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Retrogamer: Did you need to discuss anything with Matthew Smith, or just work on it yourself with Derrick?

Steve: Matthew would show up at the office occasionally, though didn’t have much input on this port. I think he had some criticism of the main title screen, which used to say “Amstrad CPC” (or the equivalent), and which he pointed out was kind of redundant. Other than that, I don’t recall much input from Matthew (he generally was not at the office).

Retrogamer: Did you have access to the original’s code? How did the porting work exactly?

Steve: No. Derrick and I started from scratch, first figuring out the format of the graphics and room data, then the movement patterns for the enemies, and took it from there. We spent a *lot* of time making sure that the gameplay was intact (with pixel-perfect jumps, that was essential).

Retrogamer: Were there any issues at all translating the game?

Steve: Not really, it probably would have gone more quickly if we’d had the source code. Other than that, things went pretty smoothly.

Retrogamer: Were you able to improve anything in particular?

Steve: Well, the music is (arguably!) better. Gotta love the Spectrum beeper, but the AY chip in the CPC made for a cleaner sound. The way the sprites were drawn was much more efficient than the original. We made use of some hardware features on the CPC to avoid having two copy screens, saving a lot of memory and increasing performance (though the game did not run faster, it was frame rate limited). The original game had two off-screen copies of the screen used for composing the room and then erasing and redrawing the sprites. When I first realized how that worked I was amazed at i) how inefficient that approach was and ii) that it didn’t matter (I think agonized about performance too much in those early days).

Although we used 4 color mode on the CPC, we again used some CPC hardware features (raster timing) to show more than 4 colors (the status area had its own 4-color palette).

Retrogamer: Did you have to adapt the game at all for green screen users?

Steve: Hmmm, I think there may have been a green screen option (perhaps it was a hotkey?) this rings a bell but I don’t recall specifically. I had my own green screen CPC464 so I would have been aware of the issue of making sure things were visible in green.

Note: Jet Set Willy for the CPC has color and black & white modes.

Retrogamer: Do you recall why Eugene’s Lair was renamed Eugene Was Here?

Steve: Nope.

Retrogamer: Were you pleased with the final conversion?

Steve: Yes, needless to say, we went on to port (and significantly expand) Jet Set Willy (aka Jet Set Willy 2 when ported back to the Speccy), so I dare say the conversion had acceptable results. And, since this was my very first commercial game, well that was something cool to have under your belt.

A Little Bonus

Here are the contents of the (obligatory) scrolling message displayed on the main title screen, sanitized a bit so as to be more readable. This may be from a later update of the game given the Jet Set Willy comment.
  • Original version by Matthew-MANIC-Smith
  • Converted by D.P.ROWSON & S.W.
  • Don't miss the boat on JET SET WILLY
  • Oh no! Heavy hassle! Not another long boring scrolling message! Well O.K., it's not as long as some, but it's not size that's important, just how good you are with your Miner Willy
  • Thanks to Stu the Graffick, the Office Floor for all its support, Wonga the Incredible Programming Budgie, Miner Willy, CRC the Redundant Checker, John's Sprites for keeping us on our toes, and finally to 4-colour mode graphics, without which, etc, etc.
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