1982: I wrote Alien Attack, my first game, on an Atari 400, in BASIC. It had a custom character set for the alien (one at a time) and your spaceship. I advertised it in the Popular Computing Weekly classifieds for £5, for a week. Not much of a campaign. I sold zero copies.
I then wrote Raining Cats and Dogs, also on the Atari 400 in 1982. This, while also being in BASIC, was more advanced. You had cats and dogs, and 4-step animation for your player who had to make it across. I pitched it to a few publishers. No interest.
Next was Cumulous. This was much better. You had to protect your city and your shield from aliens. It was prettier, more polished and I was getting into my stride. It got turned down by everyone. One ray of hope though...
It's 1983, and I'd been programming since the previous summer. I finally decide to send the earlier Raining Cats and Dogs to Virgin, who had recently entered the games arena. Here's their letter turning me down... Image
Now this is great, because clearly this is not just a form letter. So I was excited. Nobody has called me a "Paki" yet, and this guy, Nick Alexander has clearly looked at the game. I decide to send them Cumulous.
Nick says no. I couldn't believe it. I'm 17 years old, bunking off racist shit-hole school more and more, I'm living on a council estate full of racist bullies who make our lives hell, my divorced dad is totally against what I'm focusing on, saying I'm just making monkeys dance..
.... so I chuck the letter on the floor and throw myself onto my bed, face down. My mum has a feeling something isn't right. Only the summer before I had convinced her to drop more money on me than she has ever done on an Atari 400, cassette deck, BASIC and Star Raiders...
"What's wrong?"

They've turned it down"

"What, the new one?"

"Yes, the new one"

"Well get up, and make another one"

To this day, the greatest advice I've ever received.

Part 2 continues here tomorrow if you're interested.
S1:E2 of my working life continues in 4 minutes.

Please take your seats. 👇🏽
Nick’s letter turning down Cumulous explained that for Atari, graphics had to be exceptional, that I should learn assembler, and that while he liked my ideas, he thought I’d be better off trying something commercial like the ZX Spectrum.
Think about this. He was Virgin Games’ MD and he had taken the time to hand write a detailed note full of marketing savvy and compassion to a 17-year-old boy.
Foreshadowing alert: His example inspired and moulded me. Decades later when I was the speaker at an industry event, I got to thank him as he sat in the audience, unaware of the profound effect he had had on my life.
I had a, well, let’s not mince words here. A truly shit childhood. I was often in and out of hospital with Type 1 Diabetes at a time when you didn’t control the condition as do your best to dodge its attempts to kill you every day.
I nearly died of asthma on several occasions. My parents were divorced at a time when nobody we knew was divorced, let alone amongst brown folk.
Me and my siblings were bullied by racists on our doorstep, at our schools, on the way to school, on the way back, and by extended family *in* our home.
The only entertainment we had was the odd bit of telly. I self-harmed again and again, but I never actually wanted to die. I just wanted to escape.
Then I read about Greg Christensen.
Christensen was a 16-year old wunderkind who had created the winning entry to Atari’s Program Exchange competition, Caverns of Mars, in assembler.
The prize was $25,000. It wasn’t just computing that hooked me. It was the allure of a way out of this bloody misery.
While my first ‘A’ level year was wasted with studies at a school I hated by teachers who couldn’t, with Nick’s advice, I took up assembler with a vengeance. Christensen had taught himself in three months? So could I.
But how? I had no money. We were dirt poor. I only ever wore hand-me down clothes (except underwear, which fit me for many years, because I missed out on growing much, T1D etc.) I had only one asset, how could I bring myself to part with it?
My prized Race Inc BMX bike. I designed and won it in 1980 in a competition in Official BMX Magazine. My design was the best from over 3,000 entries. It was beyond my wildest dreams. I was stunned. I had done this. Even in 1980, it was worth £450.
Now my neighbour, Paul, had been asking me to buy it for ages. I had no choice. My dad hated that I was paying scant attention to my studies. My mum didn't have the money. She'd bought my Atari on the credit card the previous summer.
I knew what I wanted. Money for books. So I sold my treasured bike to Paul for £150. I never rode it anyway. I took the cash straight to The Modern Book Company and bought a book on 6502 assembler.
Then I went (on the bus, naturally, as I no longer had a bike) to Silica Shop in the Red Lion House on Tottenham Court Road and bought a copy of De Re Atari.
Then to Williams, the legendary newsagent (sadly no more) where I bought some magazines, Dr. Dobbs, Analog Computing, Creative Computing, all the American gold...
...I bought a coffee percolator from Argos and I bought Zak’s book on Z80 out of curiosity, thinking one day I'd have a Spectrum. The rest I frittered away.
I got to work. I studied like a mad boy. I learned 6502 in less than 3 months. I coded 72 hours at a time, with barely any food, getting by on only black coffee. I bunked off school. School was dead. I wanted that prize. I wanted out of this hell.
But there was no respite from the racists on our estate. They tried to smash our door down, fired air guns at our windows, breaking them. Police told us to "grin and bear it". It was hell. I was terrified, but so were my family - and our guests.
One merciless night, something snapped. I no longer had nothing to live for. After the latest episode, I did the unimaginable. This small, undernourished, sick son of Pakistani immigrants who always kept his head down, stepped out the front door.
I walked to where the bullies were all gathered, there were maybe 15 or so, and I shouted at them non-stop for a minute so that the entire estate was wondering what the fuck was going on. I didn't care what happened to me, I wasn't thinking about that. I was no longer thinking…
I just knew I couldn't take it anymore, and I told them that, and then some. I didn’t threaten, I didn’t abuse them, I turned the air blue, but I articulated, colourfully, how their behaviour made us feel. I don’t remember a single word I said that night. Only how I felt.
Finally, I felt my anger subside, because I realised they weren't beating me up, but were silent. Then the ringleader, Darren, a huge boy, older than me and much stronger, started speaking to me...with respect...
We were never bullied on that estate again.
I wrote Storm in a Teacup just over two months after my mum’s encouragement (she makes David Goggins look weak), having learned enough 6502 and Atari architecture to do it. It was 3K. Hey, things were different, it was after all, 1983.
Artic Computing had some cool adverts mentioning Lamborghinis and Ferraris. I wanted some of that. It wasn’t my mum, but her English driving instructor who suggested that this time, I use a pseudonym. “I don’t know, something like James Kent”.
So I changed the credits, saved Storm in a Teacup to a new cassette tape and posted it to Artic Computing. Then I waited.
[Episode 3 continues here tomorrow, stay tuned.]
Season 1, Episode 3 continues now. Please take your seats. 👇🏽
Chris Thornton, to my surprise, wrote back and said they liked what they saw and be happy to publish Storm in a Teacup. I'm 17, it's 1983, there's no Internet, I'm not yet in the second year of my 'A' levels, and I don't know what publishing is.
But fuck it, this is great! Surely it means money! Maybe not Christensen Cash, but Kent Koin will do me just fine, but as correspondence between James Kent and Chris Thornton continues, I'm worried.
I took the train to Hull, worried for the whole journey about what Chris would think when James Kent turned out not to be so much James Bond as Javaid Butt.
Would I notice the "look of crestfallen disappointment" micro expression I've seen so often in my life, on his face as the voice described by The Times Literary Supplement as an "impeccable London accent" turned out to belong to a “Paki”?
"Are you surprised Chris?"

"Why?"

"The name, were you expecting, errr, *me* when you got a tape from James Kent?"

“Yes mate, the credits list made it obvious"
How could I be so naïve? You see, the credits list was dedicated to a bunch of names, none of which sounded anything like James Kent. More like Javaid Butt.

In the end, they made me whittle it down to just credit my mother anyway!
Chris picked me in his white Ford Escort XR3-i, which made a lovely noise, it was a fast car, but it wasn't quite the Ferrari the ads joked about.

“Where’s the Ferrari Chris?”

“Ha! We were just having a laugh in the ads!”
Despite my disappointment, I played it cool, because I didn’t have a bicycle anymore, let alone a car as cool as his. Mind you, I was a kid who couldn’t afford driving lessons, let alone a car.
My mum's advice had been just to make another game. Her white driving instructor thought it might be racism. It wasn't racism. My first games were shit. They were in BASIC, they were simple, and they wouldn't have sold a copy. I was a kid, I was learning.
Since then, my default assumption on my lack of progress has been my lack of effort, talent or quality, and I work on those.

Even if it's not the case, I like to take Steve Martin's advice. "Be so good they can't ignore you". I've rarely been that good, but I've had my moments
So Artic signed Storm in a Teacup. I got £300, which was fair for a game that relied on Display List Interrupts to get tons of colours on the screen, but was shit to play.

Here’s a letter from Chris after Artic showed initial interest in my game. Image
The game is lost to time, but you had two ugly looking aliens that moved a huge teacup left and right and tried to catch, and I think I’m remembering this right, cats and dogs. If the cats hit either of your aliens, that one would die, and now it would be easier to catch the rain
It’s dumb, but I’ve now got more cash I’ve seen in my short life. I’m ecstatic. When I was younger, social services once took us to a West End play. The theatre was The Palladium, and for 10 years, more than 30 years later, I walked past it every day when I worked at PlayStation.
Of course, if I’d been making games for the Spectrum, I’d likely have made a lot more cash. Nick Alexander had been spot on. So why did I choose an American machine in Britain? As I ride the train back from Hull again in my mind, let’s do a flashback, about a year before this day
[Like the West end musical I saw, I can do an intermission now and continue tomorrow. Or if I get 10 likes on this, I can continue with the flashback now. I need ti know you’re interested. I’ll wait…]
[OK, that was fast… let’s continue]
In the last ‘O’ Level physics class of 1982, my friend Geoff handed me a colour leaflet. I was looking at the soon-to-be-released ZX Spectrum. It was outrageous. My friends had 16K RAM packs for their ZX-81s, but this offered up to 48K, an amount beyond the dreams of avarice.
I got a ‘B’ in Computer Studies,, but it was boring AF. CESIL punch cards and a 1-wk turnaround meant that the most trivial errors were punished excruciatingly slowly, like nicking a sweet off a table when you’re a kid and being served a jail sentence for it when you’ve grown up.
Seeing the ZX Spectrum, with its Microdrive, colour graphics and capacious memory, was future shock. For a 16-year-old who loved Sci-Fi and apart from the Walkman and the VCR, seen little technological advancement in his life, this was a promise of something startlingly different
I went into the summer holidays of 1982 possessed by computing, when before I had been disinterested. Some of my school friends (including @DavidJEastman1) who were already into computing thanks to the ZX-81 seemed like geeks to me, into something I just couldn’t relate to.
B&W letters flickering jerkily, like a broken, B&W Teletext page? What was the fun of that?

I loved the arcades, with their glorious colour graphics and the cacophony of alien, synthesised sound.

I was into music, and before that, BMX — but the ZX Spectrum changed everything.
I browsed through as many magazines as I could; there was of course, no Internet. There were few books. I visited Tottenham Court Road to look at the burgeoning microcomputer scene first-hand, but the ZX Spectrum wasn’t out, and wouldn’t be out for a while.
So I looked at alternatives. There was the VIC-20. Nope. 3K. You’re kidding me. Not even Storm in a Teacup would fit in that, or look as (relatively) good as it did on the Atari 400.
One machine though, stood out. And it was all because of Star Raiders, probably the greatest technical video game accomplishment of all time. The future, in an 8KB cartridge. Nebauer was an absolute genius.
I started begging my mum. I don’t know why I thought it could work, but I knew what I wanted, and she knew I’d never asked for anything before, not like this. I promised I’d do the ironing for the whole summer holidays, anything.
She wasn’t loaded. Our dad who didn’t live far away was totally against it, but I wanted this machine so badly, and it looked like it was better than the ZX Spectrum in every way. Every way except price. And eventually, UK market share.
It was going for £299, a huge amount of money in 1982, and you still needed a cassette deck to load and save programs, that was another £50, a BASIC cartridge, add another £50, and of course, a joystick and Star Raiders, the latter was £30.
Computers had been associated with the Research Machines, black and white devices that did data processing and where you worked hard, could program Fortran or Cobol for a Honeywell. As a poor kid, I liked the sound of the money, but little else about computing.
The Atari meant games like Star Raiders, Eastern Front and all the coolest American stuff you could imagine. It was all so exotic, and so far ahead of everything else.
After a couple of weeks of my onslaught, my mum said “OK, let’s have a look at this thing” and drove us to Red Lion House, which had the Silica Shop upstairs and where I’d previously gawped, childlike, because I was a child, at the future of my life.
She asked a few questions. Eventually, I blurted out, and until her recent stroke, she would remind me of this, “Look, it does fine scrolling! I could make you a map of London that you could scroll around, you’d never get lost again!”
She seemed to be impressed by that, but years later she said something told her that I was serious, deadly serious, that this meant everything to me, that it was important, and her instinct was to do what I’d never seen her do before, get her credit card out and buy my future.
I never made her that map, but computing has come so far, that now it’s on her phone and updates via GPS in real time. Only now she can’t use a phone anymore, and I wonder why life gives us so many chances, and yet is so unremittingly short, so brutally capricious.
But back to the summer of 1983. Artic Computing have given me £300. I give some of it to my mum, and I’m now a published, professional game developer.
£300 is a FUCKTON of money for a 17-year old boy who sometimes nicked the NME off newsstands when he was 14 because his love of music and his lack of money overrode his moral compass. I'm not proud to admit this, and I prefer not to admit my many failings. I was to pay later.
I’ve always abhorred theft, and I’ve always been ashamed of what I did. It wasn’t food. I didn’t need it. I had a ton of reasons, but none of them mattered. I’m ashamed to this day. I made up for it though, and paid too, in hundreds of thousands of pounds of theft and loss.
But I was a dying Type 1 Diabetic who hated his life so much that he'd sell his free-lunch disc from school and buy chocolates with it. You want what you can't have. I know better now, but then I had no-one in my corner. Absolutely no-one. I mean, I was barely a teenager.
Back to the approaching summer holidays of 1983. The coming year would see me bunk off most of the final year of school, make several games and rise to close to the top of the UK scene and then, well, let’s save that for episode 4, shall we? Same time, same place, tomorrow.
Season 1, Episode 4, right here, right now.
School, Spring '83, people would remind me that CB radio had come and gone as a fad, and that home computing would likely share the same fate. I gave those doom-mongers the same look of pity that I suspect my friends David and Geoff shot me when I made fun of computers in '81
I spent the summer holidays renting games from the new video games rental shop that had popped up in Wigmore Street. By this time I was a Published Author of Video Games™, so I carried myself with a bit more confidence, but also more excitement about the burgeoning scene.
British video games for the ZX Spectrum were cheap, the cassettes were often £5, but I didn't have a Spectrum. Games for my Atari, on the other hand, fetched premium prices, and because I was still essentially poor, rental suited me just fine.
I was in and out of the shop regularly, and got to know the owners, who knew me as James. It was as if the pseudonym had bleached my face, because I had convinced myself that I wasn't seen as anything other than white, and so deserved my place at the table.
They were lovely, down to earth people from London's East End. I think I liked the girl, but I was 17, and what girl *doesn't* a 17-year-old boy in 1983 like?*

Still, I went for the games, but the chat was genuine, and they were always so friendly.
* Side note on the above. Even clearly gay youngsters pretended to "fancy" those of the opposite sex, people back then were as openly, and violently homophobic as they were racist. Anything I write should be taken in the spirit of the era it was in, which was often ugly
I boasted about Storm in a Teacup, and was often disparaging about the games I rented. The lack of confidence masked by disdain for the work of others is something I recognise today.
We are quick to judge, but often, these are just kids who need a hug, so to speak. The Internet has given them a protective shield, from behind which, some of them behave like the bullies they claim to detest. It's sad, but the behaviour is not new, only the reach and impact is.
One day, after one of my particularly tedious boasting episodes, the owners stopped me...
"James, we want to talk to you about making a game with us"

Shit, the boasting had done this.

"Sure, what are you thinking?"

"Come over tomorrow evening ant we'll talk about it."

"Sure, what time?"

"Let's say 6, when we close up"
They were going to beat the shit out of me for being a mouthy Paki and they were tired of being nice to me in front of other customers.
Still, I could hardly refuse. After all, where would I get more games to play from? So the next evening, I walked over. I walked everywhere in those days, not because I couldn't afford a bus, but we just walked more back then, and I wanted to save every penny for games.
The owner was there in the back.

Nigel Cannings.

He stepped out of the shadow.

He wore a suit.

I thought of the Krays.

I was right. This was a hit. My mouth was a desert... and I started to feel my bowels loosen...
CONTINUE?
"James! Lovely to meet you! David's been telling me that you're amazing at making computer games!"
Wait. This wasn't a hit?

My bowels settled, and we had a lively design discussion, where Nigel sketched out his ideas for a game called "My Word". They wanted me to make it, and I readily agreed. The relief at not being dead meant I was primed to agree with anything!
"We want this on the Spectrum and the Commodore 64. Can you program those?"

"Yes! No problem. I know 6502 assembler and have Zak's Z80 book and can pick that up in no time"

They bought my bullshit.
"Let's draw up a contract then! It won't be long, you won't need a lawyer or anything"

Uh-oh..

"The only problem is I don't have a Spectrum."

"Right.."

"Or a Commodore 64..."

"Oh don't worry about that James, we can get you those. Anything else you need?"

This was my chance
"Well I've heard that the tape on the 64 is slow, can you get me the 1541 floppy drive?"

"Not sure that we have one, but that won't be a problem I don't think, right Dave?"

"Naah, not a problem"

"We got a Spectrum here Dave?"

"Yup, I'll grab one"
I walked out of that video games rental store in Wigmore Street with a brand new ZX Spectrum and my arse intact. Floating the mile and a half home, on cloud nine, not noticing that my arm felt like it was going to fall off.
I was going go get four hundred bloody quid plus ROYALTIES, and I'd got a Spectrum and C64 out of it too. I was on my way. I still used a 12" B&W TV for my display, but despite having been a badly controlled Type 1 Diabetic for 9 years, my eyesight had the sharpness of youth.
My Word was written in a mixture of machine code and BASIC, a good approach for a game that didn't need speedy graphics, but did need speed to search through the large word list, which I typed in by hand, twice. I took to Z80 easily.
My Word finally got reviewed in Personal Computer World in 1984 and received a great rating. I got £200 for each version, but most importantly, I was finally on the most commercially successful machines on the UK market at the time.

I had begun to set my sights on bigger dreams!
I was playing Spectrum games, and C64 games, and Ultimate Play the Game were beginning to make a name for themselves.

At first, I thought they were a piss-take company, their ads seemingly mocking Imagine, who were the cool kids on the block.
Imagine's wunderkind, Eugene Evans was making the national news. I was both inspired and angry. Mostly because my dad purred about him.

“What's that little fucker doing on the news? I'm better than him!" I said to Geoff and David. I really was a jumped up arrogant shit.
The truth was that I knew Evans was in the news for Wacky Waiters because the news needed a poster boy for this new craze, and his VIC-20 game was better than anything I'd written so far, and that gave me massive impetus to do better.
I wasn't so much jealous of Evans as I was angry that I'd let the last year of school keep me from the future I wanted to ascend to, like a rocket, unencumbered by lessons on things I didn't care about delivered by teachers who seemed to care less about those subjects than I did.
So I resolved to work harder. To make something outstanding. I learned the C64 inside out. I got better at 6502. This game would be entirely in assembler. I'd invent new techniques, break new ground, bring in allies. It was time for me to think big.
I started work on The Faces of Haarne. A talented artist at my school did some striking drawings of faces, so I asked if I could use her work in a video game I was making. She agreed.
My friend George, a supremely talented musician, who I would later form a band with that almost got signed by Warner and CBS, arranged the music.
I gave the artist some graph paper, which was returned with drawings. I then turned every square of the graph into hex numbers representing the pixels and those formed the graphics.
Having done and seen 4-step animations everywhere, I decided to make baddies with 16-step animations. I don't even remember how I did these, or which assembler I used on the C64, but eventually, the game was ready. It was so far ahead of anything I’d done before.
But the graphics I’d done for it for the player character, who was supposed to be a security guard at a museum throwing his hat at the bad guys, were so utterly shit. Of course, it took some hindsight for me to see just how shit they were.
I arranged a meeting with Nigel at their Gants Hill offices and took George with me to make us seem a bit more professional.

I asked for £25,000.

LOOOL

To their immense credit, they didn't laugh us out of their offices, but gave us their blessing to pursue other avenues.
They had been so good to me, but I left crestfallen.

I tried a few publishers, not as many as my previous attempts, but there were some early rejections before I got a letter from Software Projects expressing interest.

"Wow. This is easier than before" I thought.
We are now in the spring of 1984. My Word is out, in a fancy presentation box also containing a dictionary, but despite being a good game for 1-4 players and a pretty strong AI player, it wasn't marketed and so naturally, no royalties were forthcoming. Image
Matthew Smith had released Manic Miner through Bug Byte the previous year. It wasn't really my cup of tea, though I respected what was a huge commercial success.

(You know me now, I liked the idea of money.)

He then moved the game over to Software Projects.
Software Projects invited me to Liverpool. I went up on the train with George, the friend who had worked on the music arrangement for The Faces of Haarne. I thought we'd discuss contracts. What I didn't know was that I was about to face a challenge that would define me forever.
I hope you'll join me for Episode 5 tomorrow, when I'll be talking about the game that I know many of you are interested in hearing about. Meanwhile, if you want me to carry on with this madness, taking four hours every day, please share widely in your own words. Peace to you all
Please take your seats. Episode 5 is about to go live.
It's the summer of 1984 and I've been playing Sade's Diamond Life (don't @ me), but my most constant companion is John Foxx's masterpiece, Metamatic. These two albums, along with Gary Numan's Warriors are on heavy rotation on my mum's cheap record player during the months ahead.
As I write, and cast my mind back 37 years, I am shocked that I can ever feel any ingratitude for the life I have been blessed with. You see, we always think that we're heading towards a dystopian nightmare, that technology is ruining us, that things were better back in our day.
But what if I told you that I'm living in the utopia I always dreamed of as a kid? My eyes are welling up with tears of gratitude as I realise what I have now, compared to the unremitting and brutal austerity of my childhood.
I'm not going to itemise my blessings here, but look at this picture, that's my setup now. If you knew what I'd come from, you'd find the contrast shocking too. It's not that I deserve this. I'm just grateful for it. It could have gone either way. Image
By the time George and I are riding the train up to Liverpool, the country seems to be buzzing with stories of Jet Set Willy. It's not been out long, but it's already shrouded in myths.
Meanwhile, my 'A' level exams are coming up, and I really do not give a shit.
I was the brightest 11-year old I knew, that anyone knew. It was easy. Despite diabetes and asthma putting me in hospital, close to death countless times, I read better than many adults and my creative writing, music and maths were off-the-charts.
This shaped me…



My achievements were not like the achievements of others. Mine were not erased from the record, because they weren't even entered into the record.
I'm 11, and just spent the last week in hospital after another near-fatal episode of ketoacidosis.

"Please let me go to the prize day" I beg the doctors. They relent on the condition that I go back to hospital straight after.
I collect award upon award, but as the cups have just been "stolen", there is no glory, only some token books.

To everyone's surprise, one award alone eludes me.
I still remember the vicious snarl of the white girl in my ear from behind me as another boy, who was good, but not at my level, took the music prize.

"Haaa haaa you didn't get all of them, Paki"
Worse was to come. Despite my spectacular academic record, one without precedent in the primary school I'd gone to, every secondary school turned me down. All bar the fifth and final one, which had to take me.
Some were brazen in their rejections, others just used the favoured tactic of modern day racists: Applying a rule that could be interpreted subjectively, giving them the leeway they needed. "We've already got our full complement of the brightest kids. Sorry."
My favourite was Westminster City school. The interviewer said to my mum with a straight face that "We might take him if he was Christian"

I considered it, of course. Not that I dare raise it with my mum, whose shock was obvious.
I ended up going to a school more than three miles away where the reputation for violence was well-earned. I had my knee damaged deliberately by a kid during my first week. My knee never recovered. That's nothing. Kids pull shit like that.
It was when my own "friends", one of whom I'd known for years bullied and then ghosted me during a severe hypoglycaemic episode that I finally appreciated that you only got educated if you survived first.
I won't bore you with the countless episodes of bullying throughout secondary school, a situation that only finally improved when we were in the sixth form and the psychopaths had left, but I will give you two examples.
1. I held my friend as he lay on the floor broken and sobbing with a fractured skull after two racist class "mates" smashed his head in with a fire extinguisher.
2. When I was 15, during a particularly tedious computer studies lesson, I yawned. The cover teacher wasn't teaching, so it was a wast of time. He shouted "If you want to do that there's a mosque down the road"
Back to '84. School nearly over. I've barely turned up. I'm about to jump off the top of the burning building of education onto a moving, blurry target labelled "video games: might have a future, might not" without taking anything, without a harness, without a safety net.
I made it to this day because to survive, I had to fit in. The brightest boy in my primary school's history had to dumb down to fit in. I stopped very early on taking lessons seriously. Survival was my priority.I found music though, and that redeemed me in the eyes of my peers.
I was found out once, when Mr. Mirabux spotted my attitude and I can still hear him today:

"Don't be so cocksure of yourself"

He'd seen me. I knew I was putting on an act. I knew I was wasting my intelligence. So did he.
But I was suicidal. I self-harmed. I ended up in hospital having deliberately over or under dosed on insulin. I had nobody in my corner. No Internet. No mobile phone. No Childline.

But I didn't want to check out of life. I wanted to check out of the life I had.
Home computers gave me that out.

You see, code never cheats. Code never lies.

You get out exactly what you put in. Exactly.

There is no injustice in 6502.

Code is just.
There really never was a Plan A, never mind a Plan B. The bargain I was forced to make with school was that I could leave having barely survived, without an education in anything other than the brutality of racism.
It was all worth it though.
It had given me my lifelong friends; Geoff, who gave me that Spectrum leaflet and sparked my passion and has taken my side through every battle; David, who knows me better than most, and with whom I'd make games over decades and George, who I was on the train to Liverpool with.
It's not just freedom from the depravity of school that I'm escaping, it's tradition, and what teenager doesn't understand the appeal of rebellion? Especially one who like me, had tried so hard to play by the rules and yet was so traumatised by their capricious application?
You see, I've fallen in love with playing and making Videogames, this is my life now, and despite my passion for music, I'm riding a wave, there's nothing like this in the whole world, it's the medium of my generation and we're making it up as we go along.
I've been playing Lunar Jetman, Atic Atac, and anything else that Ultimate make. And of course, Jet Set Willy. The game that with the later Sabre Wulf I'd credit with ruining my chances of scraping a pass in my 'A'level exams.
I had been playing Jet Set Willy endlessly. I didn't even turn the Spectrum off, just so that I could carry on playing the next day without having to load if from tape again.
I would just put a cushion on the speaker to drown out Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata rendered on a beeper, but I could still hear it.

I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that Jet Set Willy haunted my dreams.
Jet Set Willy was the most amazing thing I'd ever experienced. For the first time, a game that offered you freedom in a platformer! You chose which path you wanted to take. I can't get across the sheer impact this game had on me.
The Faces of Haarne was nothing compared to this, and I knew I had a long, long way to go. I knew I could get there given enough time.
Right now though, we're pulling into Liverpool Lime Street, and then being picked up by the avuncular Alan Maton. He is lovely, all smiles, moustache and enthusiasm. I love him already.

Alan seats us in his BMW 5-Series.

“Videogames paid for this” I’m thinking.
(I'm now 18 years old, but still a boy. And boys in the 1980s loved BMW.)
We visit the office in the Bear Brand Complex on the Allerton Road. It's impressive. It's huge. It's an operation, with front office, studio space, back office, and these are terms I only learned a decade later.
We all walk into the back office. It's huge.

"Matthew's here somewhere" says Alan, cheerily.

We find the legendary Matthew Smith asleep in a sleeping back under his desk.

“He’s been working hard” Alan explains, laughing.
He takes us to the studio upstairs where in-house programmers, actual employees of an actual company, (all new concepts to me, because how is this an industry already?) are working on something cool.
It's their dev setup that impresses me though. It is way better than anything I've ever seen. They are developing on one machine and targeting another. My mind is blown.

Every crash on my machine means loading tools and source again, taking ten minutes every time.
The lads are dressed in slightly punky clothes and I think "Wow, they look so much cooler than me! It's possible to do this and be cool?"
Then Alan takes us to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. It is so good. So, so good. We are being given the 5 star treatment and I've never known anything like it. I can't wait to go home and tell my mum about it.

My dad would scoff, but my mum would be proud.
After our sumptuous lunch, Alan takes us back to the office.
"So yeah, Faces of Haarne, we'll publish that for you"

Oh, bloody hell, this is too easy, in a good way. Me and George are smiling now.

"Come with me, I want to show you something"

Alan takes us to a side office.
"This is Jet Set Willy on the Commodore 64. Chris did Manic Miner too. He's been on this for six months, but it's not coming along as fast as we'd like. We've paid him ten thousand”
I'm wondering why the hell he's telling me this and while I'm preoccupied, he's walking us back to the back office and we all flop into chairs.

"Here's the thing Shaaarheed" he says, his Scouse accent is so musical that I easily forgive him for mangling my name.
"We need the C64 version out soon. Can you do it?"
WHAT.

THE.

FUCKING.

ACTUAL.

FUCK.
Jet Set Willy is colossal. It's the biggest computer game in the short history of British video games. It's broken records. And it's a masterpiece. Way beyond me.
"Yeah, no problem"

(In my mind's ear I hear Jim Rohn's voice... "Don't let your mouth overload your back". I've made it my life's work to go against his advice.)

"We need it in four weeks."

"Sure, I can do that!"
"We'll give you £3,000 if you can do it, and an extra £1000 bonus if you can do it in three weeks."

"Oh yeah, I'll do it in three weeks, no problem. Maybe even less.”
I think back to the crushing, humiliating poverty I've gone through.

I've stolen the fucking NME for Pete's sake, because I'd spent my 50p pocket money on chocolates to fix a hypo.
I've been punched, kicked, bullied, beaten, spat at in the face and not been able to do a fucking thing about it.

I think of my brother, my sister, my mother, who have endured like me, and imagine the joy on their faces as I'm able to share some of this wealth with them.
I feel the stinging shame of humiliation at not being strong or brave enough to stop my baby brother and my beloved sister from a life of racist bullying, beatings and hand-me-down clothes and snatched food from wedding tables that others have left behind because we are hungry.
Who can think straight when they're hungry?

And we had been hungry for so, so long.
"OK Alan, when do you want me to start?"

"Can you start next Monday?"

I think of my family.

"No. I'll start tomorrow."
TO BE CONTINUED
EPISODE 6 will stream below, live from 1500 BST / 0700 PST 👇🏽
T-5 MINUTES
Grab a drink, take your seats for Episode 6: Jet Set Willy
Have you ever heard someone say truly magical words? Words that changed everything? I have, often, but I remember these particularly well: Image
“If there’s anything you need Shahid” (I’d gone back to using my real name after My Word, because it was clear that it made little difference) “Any equipment, anything, just let us know”
These words ring in my ears as George and I head back to London. They've already offered me a staggering sum of money for this work. And damn it, I'd have converted Jet Set Willy for nothing, for the privilege.
I've been up to Liverpool to get Software Projects to agree terms to publish The Faces of Haarne, but I'm leaving with the biggest game gig in the country. How has this happened?
I have developed a proficient mouth I guess. Not only are my accent and manners impeccable, but years of navigating bullies has made me extraordinarily sensitive to the micro-expressions of others, to navigate emotional landscapes. Survival? I don’t know.
(Remember, this is 1984. You can buy a two-bed flat in Swiss Cottage for less than £50,000. The same place in 2021 will command upwards of £1M. Only computing will become cheaper.)
Alan Maton, Software Projects’s Managing Director, has said I can have anything I need. So what would I need? How far could I go?
Well, Matthew is cross-assembling from the Tandy TRS-80, and the Cool Lads Upstairs are cross-assembling too. What will I use, given how rubbish I still am at 6502 assembler, never mind the arcane Z80 that Jet Set Willy was written in?
(Reminder: Cross-assembling means you build code on one machine, but your target device is different. Why does this matter in 1984? Because code crashes all the time, and in '84, takes the whole machine down with it, and it takes 5 to 15 minutes to get back to where you were)
I've spoken to Matthew on the phone after he’d sent me his source code listing, probably the most valuable document in the video games world. He patiently explains the game's architecture. I'm wondering why this legend is condescending to talk to someone as lowly as me.
I have not yet learned the term "impostor syndrome". I have yet to learn that my position on the x-axis of the graph for the Dunning-Kruger effect is, well, zero.
I style it out though, and sound convincing, or at least I think I do. Maybe just plausible. Vaguely. I hope.

My mouth gets me out of trouble, and into trouble, and I never know which way it’s going to go until the words come tumbling out.
I'm surprised to hear how simple, effective and fast his technique for screen updating is. He simply draws the room background into a buffer, then draws the moving objects onto that buffer, then blasts the composited buffer to the screen.
You can do that on a ZX Spectrum, because it has a 3.5MHz clocked Z80. This isn't going to be feasible on a Commodore 64, because it has a 6502 variant (the 6510) clocked at a measly 1MHz...but let's get back out of the weeds shall we?
Because what matters is that the way he's explained things, I've already decided and rationalised how I'm going to do this port. We can do all the moving objects with the Commodore 64's sprites, and the background will be character mapped.
And, the bit that everyone will one day hate, and which I will now finally explain, is that I'm going to use the same screen width on the C64 as the Spectrum, and the same resolution, so no multi-coloured sprites, no multi-coloured tile maps.
/// A VISITOR FROM THE FUTURE APPEARS ///
WHY SHAHID, WHY!!!!???!!!!
/// BACK TO 1984 ///
1. We have four weeks.
2. I'm not going to redo all the quirky, treasured, beloved graphics in that time *and* port the most important game in the British games world to the second best selling device in the country. Who is anyone to mess with Smith's vision?
3a. I can't expand the screen to the 40 columns of the C64 compared to the Spectrum's 32 columns. That would mean changing all the room layouts.
3b. Do you have any idea how exactingly, lovingly, these rooms are laid out? You want Jet Set Willy, or some guy's weird, broken interpretation of it? Do you want Jet Set Willy or do you want a broken four-week-demo?
4. Do you have any idea how shit Willy is going to look when his pixels are twice as fat in multi-colour mode and we can therefore only use half as many? How will those pixel perfect jumps feel then? Happy now?
5. The only thing worse than doing an exact port of a beloved game is doing a port that messes with the creative vision of the original. It’s going to be hard enough as it is.
So let's get back to how I *am* going to do this in a bit, because if you don’t mind, now I’ve got to make my shopping list. I’ve waited my whole life for a day like this. You hindsight warriors from the future who never had this pressure aren’t going to take today from me.
First, the portable black and white telly I've been using for the last couple of years, well, it's served its purpose. It was fine for playing Star Raiders on. Even Jet Set Willy. It won’t do for porting it. A gorgeous 14” Ferguson TX would be just the ticket. Then, the rest...
- Atari 800XL (64K RAM!)
- Two 1050 floppy drives (88K per floppy!)
- An Atari CX-77 Touch Tablet (for room editing? Maybe?)
- Atari 1027 Letter Quality Printer
- And a few other bits and pieces
- I'm also going to buy the ne, untested Macrofire assembler for the C64
Hey, future friends, a note for you, in case we haven’t nuked the world by the time you see this…

We don't use "KB" in 1984. We use just plain old "K". The idea of "M" is ludicrous, unheard of, let alone "G", "T" and FFS, "P".
My mum drives me and Geoff to the Silica Shop in Sidcup, where Alan had arranged to pay for everything. Geoff and I step in and survey the place like gunslingers.

Geeks in a computer store, all expenses paid. I'm overjoyed. I can't believe what's happened. It feels like a scam.
My mum, like all mums from the Indian sub-continent, wants to bargain with them, but there's nothing to bargain for. I get whatever I want, and Software Projects pick up the bill.

“But give us some games at least!”

The store assistant just shrugs with embarrassment.

So do I.
Geoff and I carry boxes and boxes of sexy computer gear into the car. I'm not exaggerating when I say that everyone in the crowded shop, staff included, think we're rock stars or something.
My rationale for getting all this fabulous Atari gear, well over a grand's worth, because my love for it is too obvious to hide, is that I'll try to cross-assemble from it to the C64.

But I'm too inexperienced to figure it out.
It's an Atari, which nobody in the UK seems to use (remember, no Internet, no mobile phones, no CDs, nada) and I know less about hardware than I do software. I've looked through all my old American mags and there's nothing about cross-assembling from an Atari to a C64
I'm not panicking, I still think I'll pull this off. I have a belief in my own capacity to learn which only the truly naïve can harbour, but now that I can't figure out how to cross-assemble, whenever the C64 crashes, and it will, often, it will take forever to get going again.
The C64's 1541 floppy drive is seriously fucking slow. It didn't matter so much on My Word, because I only had one machine code routine to search the word list; it started to hurt on The Faces of Haarne, but on this, the game of all games, it's really going to matter.
INSERT 10 LIKES TO CONTINUE
/// A VISITOR FROM THE FUTURE APPEARS ///

"How slow?"

"300 bytes per second" says 18-year-old Shahid
"WUT?

"How big is the thing you build code with in the future?"

"Dunno, 10GB?"

"That is going to take me 386 days to load, assuming I can fit that into my C64, which I can't. The clue is in the name, and yes, that's K, not M, not G, not T and certainly not FFS, P"
/// BACK TO 1984 ///
Even in 1984, 300 bytes per second is fucking slow.

The Atari drives are 8 times faster. That's why I wanted to cross-assemble. Turbo loaders for the 1541 haven't been invented yet. And my 1541 is getting dodgier by the day.
I start to think about all the work I have yet to do and a couple of days have passed. I have my shiny Atari gear, I set it up, half a day gone, but it's useless for Jet Set Willy.
I've got to convert the sprite data.
I've got to understand the room data.
I've got to understand precisely how Willy moves and jumps.
I've got to get all the enemies animating and moving correctly, at exactly the same time as they do on the Speccy version.
The ropes, how in the name of Sir Clive, did he do the ropes?
I mean, if I’m honest, I can’t make sense of his code. Not because it’s bad, but because I am. I am not yet good at Z80.
I know he told me something about how the room data is packed, but I only pretended to understand, and I can't call him again, they'll think I'm shit and pull the job and I'd rather fucking die than they pull the job.
There *are* no jobs, this is Thatcher's Britain, and how can the boy who should have had his name engraved on all the cups, but didn't because they were temporarily “stolen”, end up on the dole?
I start to think that my separated dad who hates what I'm doing (“He’s just making monkeys dance on the screen” he tells my mum) will hate me even more for the mess I'm about to make of my 'A' level exams, and of my life.

I can’t face his “I told you”

I can’t
I think of what a joke I'll be to the young adults I see from time to time on the few occasions I still show my face at school. How they'll laugh at me and my hopes and dreams. The shame of going back for another year to do it properly.
I think of the fact that apart from 6502 assembler programming, I have absolutely no skills, and I don't know of a single job in the world that takes someone who knows no maths, but can just about hack his way around an 8-bit computer.
I sit on my bed, alone, mind racing, heart pounding in my ears.
I think about not getting the advance, not getting the final payment, not being the kid who came from nowhere and ported Jet Set Willy in a month, not even getting The Faces of Haarne published and I'm breathing harder and my knees come up to my chest and I hold myself and now?
Now I'm really, fucking scared.
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TO BE CONTINUED
.
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EPISODE 7 starts in 2 minutes. Ready for the finale of season 1?
Note to readers: I’ve prepared a few detailed footnotes, they link to my Notion page. You don’t have to read them straight away, and can come back to them later for detail.

With that said, let’s start to wrap this up… 👇🏽
"This isn't me."

"This. Is. NOT. ME!"

I say it out loud.

I spring to my feet.

I need tea.

I bound downstairs.

My mum is quiet, and senses my mood. Which mum doesn't?

"In which thoughts are you lost?" She asks, in Punjabi.

"This is so difficult... I..."
She cuts me short.

"What?"

I'm shocked.

"Since when is *anything* difficult for you?"

I'm still shocked, but now I'm reminded of what I'm made of, the same thing that my mum is made of — iron.

"Well, there's this problem..." It sounds so much better in Punjabi.
"How is this a problem? You fix problems. That's what you do. Just do that. Don't worry. Everything will be OK!" My God it's so emphatic in Punjabi. And she's right. My mum is Yoda.

I forget the tea and bound back upstairs.

[FN0]notion.so/shahidkamal/Co…
I grab my pad and pen and start scribbling frantically.

- Get the room character set and colours.
- Work out the room data format.
- Translate that to data for the assembler.

(I'm emphatic now, using full stops at the end of my bullet points, fuelled by my mum's faith in me...)
- Map the tiles from the Spectrum to a character set on the C64
- Write a room draw routine
- Get Willy sprite data from the Spectrum
- Turn that into a C64 sprite
- Write walk code
- Write collision code
- Write jump code
My writing is falling to pieces, the full stops forgotten, but the mountain of problems that were turning themselves into an amorphous lump of congealing adrenaline in my amygdala are dissolving in the face of the monster I'm turning into a paper tiger on the page before me.
I'm calming down. I'm seeing a plan. I stop writing.

I go to the Commodore 64 and fire up Macrofire for the first time. I try to get something simple working. It doesn't work.

It doesn't crash, but it's behaving oddly.

[FN1]notion.so/shahidkamal/Co…
WTF, this worked on the old setup....
I try again, I double check my code, triple check the code, there's nothing wrong, it's too simple.
What am I going to do now? I've not even heard of a debugger yet. I can't get the simplest thing up on the screen, so I can't just print values to the screen.
I haven't even got a printer for the Commodore 64, and I daren't ask for anything more than I already have. Don't want to push too far and piss off Software Projects.
But this *is* a problem.

I solve problems.

That's what I do.
So I begin a technique that I'm going to be using for the whole of this project. And I know that the SAW movies aren't out yet, but this is a SAW moment. What do you do in an impossible situation? You do the unthinkable. You do it because you're desperate.
I copy what's on the screen onto my pad. I write down the source code off the screen, meticulously, line by line, character by character. I check every character is correct by reading off the screen and pointing with my pen, then doing the same with what I've just transcribed.
I've independently invented the shisa kanko system, but for assembly code*. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointing_…

[FN2]notion.so/shahidkamal/Co…
Then I take the two pages of neatly hand written assembly code downstairs, put the pages down on the living room floor, place the Metamatic vinyl on my mum's record player and hunch over my hand written print out and start debugging on paper, tracing the flow meticulously.
An hour later, it's clean. There is nothing wrong with it.

It's 2am. Fuck. Bed.
[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]

Weird dreams

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]

Weird dreams

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
I wake early, and knock back two cups of strong black coffee and set a third one up next to my machine.

Something tells me to look at the generated code. Yes, the machine code. I can read machine code. What can I say?
(It will be decades before the build up of β-Amyloids in my brain from repeated hypoglycaemic episodes and sleep deprivation makes my mental processing pause like Unity's garbage collector on badly written code. It's fine. When you're older you just get to call it gravitas.)
Hold it. Shit. What?

No!

No way!

The assembler only does the MSB and LSB operators the wrong bloody way around!

[FN3]notion.so/shahidkamal/Co…
Oh no.

There's no way to change this! I'll just have to get used to it and hope I don't end up making too many mistakes. Or... I could create macros....
I try the wrong way around, and,

it works! I finally have working code on the C64 with Macrofire.

I've had lots on screen using assembly language on the C64 before with The Faces of Haarne, but new tools, new rules.
My mindset has shifted from fear to bloody-mindedness.

The terror of failure supplanted by the realisation that I've burned my boats, and this is now just what I do.
And I turn to my other technique: Unrelenting stamina, despite unstable diabetes. And I work 24 hours at a time, then sleep a good 8 hours, then go again. And again. And again. My body clock has given up, but I do not.

Then disaster strikes.
“NO!!!! NOOOO!!!! FUCK YOU!!!!! PIECE OF FUCKING BUG-RIDDEN SHIT NO NO NO!!!!!”

My brother comes tearing up the stairs.

“What? What happened?”

“THE FUCKING FUCKER FUCKED MY FUCKING CODE FOR FUCK’S SAKE THE FUCK!!!!!”

“Oh fuck! Are you fucked?”

“Errrr, lemme see…”
Macrofire has garbled my source file. It's just corrupted. It looks like code alright, just not 6502. It doesn't break my stride. I have backups, no, not on floppy disk, but the code I transcribe onto paper. So I type in the last work I had hand printed and I'm now a day behind
I'm hearing an orchestral rendition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. I see Willy jumping over my head. The music sounds real, his jump...sounds like a...
"Hello?"

"Shahid? It's Alan!"
"Oh... hello Alan..."

"Sorry did I wake you?"

I don't wear a watch. I can't find my alarm clock because I chucked it across the room the other day, but light is streaming in. I have no idea what day it is, no idea what time it is, or how long I've been asleep.
"No" I lie.

"Oh good. Going well?"

"Yes, very well thanks" and this is not a lie, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

"Can you show us how you're getting on?"

"Sure, want me to come up?"

"Could you?"

"I'd love to. Today?"

"No, it's already 5 o'clock, how about tomorrow?"
This time, I take a cab from Liverpool Lime Street. This time, there is no schmoozing. It's business like. I show Alan what I've done. He likes it, but when I explain how hard I'm working to get around the glitchiness of Macrofire, he seems concerned.
I tell him I'll get to where he wants me to be by tomorrow.
During the day I grab a takeaway, there's no restaurant this time, but Alan shows me his office where there is a...
...no way... a Macintosh? This thing looks like it's dropped from outer space. It's incredible. "I'm trying to figure out how to make manuals with it" he gestures, but I suspect he has someone else working on it.
I'm at the office in a spare room downstairs and everyone has gone home. I'm undoing glitch upon glitch. It's a nightmare.
It's 3:30am and finally, I catch a couple of hours kip on the sofa. There's no fancy B&B on the Wirral this time. This is work. I'm being paid for it, and it's time for me to grow up.
I finally get things working and Alan gives a cursory look and then rushes off. He seemed OK, so I gather my stuff and head home.
Macrofire has to go. I didn't want to do this, but if I don't switch to the slower, but stable official Commodore Macro Assembler, I will literally never finish. It will cost me a day, maybe two. It will cost me money that I'm still reluctant to spend. It will save the project.
I bite the bullet. My God this assembler is slow! But it holds up. It never misses a beat, and now I have a rhythm.
I gave up trying to understand Matthew's code ages ago and just went with my interpretation. It's easier to build a map of the problem using the existing data than to try to get into someone else's mind when their mind is thinking like a Z80.

I have to think in 6502.
My skills are improving at lightning pace.

And the mood in our home is celebratory.

I give my kid brother a tenner regularly to blow on "every kind of filth imaginable. Go nuts."
I'm talking cream soda, chocolate, crisps, a scene of bacchanalian excess like we have never witnessed in our formerly impoverished home. A tenner goes a long way in 1984. And we do it often. Good times.
I'm happy. I'm coding a port of the greatest game in the world. It's not perfect, but it's happening.
It still doesn't quite feel right. There are some nuances that make Matthew's version feel better to play. I'm not quite getting the stairs right, so I take a huge liberty and change the graphics and movement style for the stairs.
Why? Why when I claimed to want to be true to the original did I take this liberty?
Because my sprites of Willy are taken straight from the Spectrum version. So? Well, those sprites have their movement baked into their animation. You only change Willy's x-position just after the end of his animation cycle, and reset the animation at the same time.
And you move him a character cell at a time then.
On the Spectrum, you do this so that you won't have to draw the sprites shifted off a character cell boundary, which is an expensive process.

[FN]notion.so/shahidkamal/Co…
On the C64. I am using hardware sprites. I didn't shift the sprites back to the origin for a number of reasons, but in the long run, it might have made my life easier. I'll never know. Some bad decisions, like choosing a poor tool, can be fixed in flight.
Others, like not shifting root motion sprites back to the origin, cannot.
All that matters now is the finish line.
I'm focussed.
I'm dogged.
This is what I do.
I take 20 pages of hand-transcribed 6502 downstairs, put Metamatic on and spend hours tracing the flow at night.

But I'm the happiest I have ever been.
I see the machine state in my head like Neo sees The Matrix, I don't even know what this reference means, someone from the future claiming to be me told me to use it, that people would understand.
Alan Maton is at the door. He's visiting me on home ground. This is a big day. My mum has asked my sister to make some tea and put together some food. She obliges. We're all so deferential.
"I can't believe Alan Maton is in my house. Such an honour!" I purr. Alan's gracious, relaxed and happy about how things are going. He takes a build away and his visit passes without incident.
….blur….blur….blur….blur…. ….blur….blur….blur….blur…. ….blur….blur….blur….blur…. ….blur….blur….blur….blur…. ….blur….blur….blur….blur…. ….blur….blur….blur….blur…. ….blur….blur….blur….blur…. ….blur….blur….blur….blur….
Ready to face the final boss?
And then, unbelievably, 24 days after I began, I've done it. I've finished. I hope my name will be etched on the cup I worked so hard for this time.
I pay the Bear Brand Complex in Liverpool a final visit with a build that's ready to go. Everyone is happy.
I had wanted to get that bonus, but I beat the deadline, and how often does that happen? I just wish they had tested it.
And then
Tommy Barton drops me off at Runcorn this time, a quiet man, I find him intimidating.
"You did it in less than four weeks, which is fine, but you didn't quite make it in three, did you?"
I don't say anything. What can I say? He makes it sound like failure, when it's one of the biggest successes in video games history. But then he surprises me.
"We're happy though Shahid, and we're going to give you that bonus anyway"
I am breathing hard, trying to suppress the sudden urge to sob with gratitude. I manage to play it cool.
"Thank you Tommy, you didn't have to do that, but thank you."
Some time passes and the game is out and flying off the shelves. A bug is found and within a day I've telephoned them a poke to fix it.
I'm richer than anyone I know. School is over and I'm glad to see the back of it.
I give my mum half the £4,000 I received. I splash out on my brother and sister.
I still have more money than I've ever dreamt of.
I call Geoff on the phone.

"I've finished it!"

"YESSSSS!!!"

We talk for hours. He's always honest, and always my friend.

This all started with Geoff giving me that ZX Spectrum leaflet two long years ago.
I stick my head out of my first floor bedroom window and kids are playing as the sun starts to set. I realise we're no longer targets — and it's a long time since I felt like dying.
I'm 18, I've just ported the greatest British Videogame of my generation, and my life has finally begun.
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CODE IS JUST
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By Shahid Kamal Ahmad
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For my entire family, for Geoff, David and George, for Mikey and for #SirCliveSinclair
Season 2 of CODE IS JUST is coming, so mark your calendars!

Saturday 13th November 2021, 1500GMT

Audio for Season 1 will be available soon, watch this space.

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More from @shahidkamal

16 Sep
Episode 7️⃣ of my live videogames Twitter autobiography will be the FINAL (LONG!) EPISODE of Season 1. 1500 BST / 0700 PST Friday 17th. If you want to see a Season 2, please RT. If you want me to do a live Twitter Spaces read of the whole story next week, throw me a like on this!
Honestly, this has been hard, but immensely rewarding. If I get more than a hundred RTs on the previous tweet, I’ll do season 2, which is a belter. (It’s sketched out in brief already)
The final episode of season 1 is done.
Read 5 tweets
15 Sep
Episode 5 is the longest yet. It streams live on Twitter at 15:00 BST. Please let me know you’re joining in live by liking this. Please show your support by sharing the link below in your own words. We are live in 27 minutes.

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.
T-15 minutes
T-10 minutes.
Read 4 tweets
12 Sep
My Church of England primary school was abuzz with the news. The trophy cabinet was empty. The cups had been stolen! Every year, the highest achievers in all the disciplines in the final year were honoured by having their names engraved on the cups. In 1977, the chain was broken.
You see that year, for the first time, one child was likely to be claiming the majority of the prizes on “Prize Day”. A seemingly unprecedented event. The exams would confirm this, and when they came, to nobody’s surprise, a young boy, the son of immigrants, swept the board.
English, Maths, Best Story, Grand Prize, that boy won pretty much everything there was to win. Except music, which was a travesty, because he was also clearly the best at music. The only boy to play “Once in Royal David’s City” in tenor recorder, solo to the whole school.
Read 5 tweets
20 Jun 20
Hey, if we’re talking reparations, the most looted country in the history of the world was the India of my parents and their ancestors. It’s why I’m here. I’ll go “back home” if empire apologists give us desis our wealth back, which inflation adjusted, is about £45 TRILLION.
Wanna know how the British Empire managed to fund the Industtial Revolution? By looting India. Not to mention the 30M+ killed through policy, including orchestrated famine on scales never seen before or since. Oh and they stole the word “loot” while they were at it.
How did the British Empire fund its invasion of China in the 1840s? That’s right, by scamming and looting India. They even used the loot they looted to fund the brutal suppression of of the looted in 1857. Pretty much all conquests were funded by Indian loot.
Read 10 tweets
28 Dec 17
1. Mental health related because time of year etc.... I’m no expert so take this with a pinch of salt. I still get some seriously dark thoughts, but now I know where they come from it’s a whole lot easier not to act on them.
2. When I was younger, I’d take these dark thoughts and ideations seriously. I’d think it was me and I’d spiral. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for months.
3. Because I knew my potential if I could only just get past the ever-present black cloud, I resolved to learn as much as I could from people who were experts or had experience of tackling these issues and gone on to “success” (getting through a day)
Read 15 tweets
4 Oct 17
If I were to design a console today: Hold tight or mute me, but this will be long and unconventional. Here goes…
Wired controllers. Two in the box. Robust. Simple. Approachable. Ergonomic. No batteries needed. Microphone (rationale for this later)
There would be an online system, but you could not connect or play with *anyone*. Only verified, real-life friends. (Design would be tough)
Read 39 tweets

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