Scorpius and the Rowland bothers

ScorpiusI wrote a game called Scorpius back in 1983, which was a horizontal shoot em’ up, that started as a piece of code I was I wrote to create full screen parallax scrolling which at the time was unheard of on the little old commodore 64 with its 1.023Mhz processor.

The Commodore 64 had programmable character sets which were used to create the art for the backgrounds in about 90% of the early commodore games, the best feature of using this method was that we could draw them very fast with one read and one indexed write to the screen per character which was 8×8 pixels of screen space, and if you changed the graphics for the character then all of those characters on the screen would change at the same time.

To do a sideways scrolling game in those days was relatively easy as the whole screen could be shifted up to 8 pixels in both horizontal and vertical directions.  So we would shift it one a pixel a time and when it reached 8 pixels we would shift the whole screen of characters over and reset the fine scroll position.

Anyhow I came up with this idea of rotating some of the raw character graphics that were used on the backgrounds of the game, which created the illusion of parallax scrolling. I designated some of the characters to be ones that I could use on the edges by ORing the foreground graphics over the backgrounds which make the edges look a lot less blocky.

It was at this time I moved into a small office in the centre of Chelmsford in Essex and I started thinking about growing into a team, so I also put a small advert in the local paper looking for a Commodore 64 artist. And I got a phone call from two lads named Steve and John Rowland who you may know from Retrograde and the Creatures series of games.  So I arranged to meet them in their parent’s house, I was ushered up to their bedroom where I remember looking at their very nice demos, they were very talented but had no outlet for that talent, John was doing some programming and Steve did art and music.

So immediately I asked them to join me on Scorpius giving them the break into the games industry they needed. Steve made a fantastic job of the art, coming up with the underwater theme, while John and I did the programming and together we made Scorpius. We decided to make the game two players by using two of the 8 hardware sprites as player 1 and player 2, then reusing the remaining 6 sprites in my own sprite plexer, which was a method of retriggering the hardware sprites at new locations during the horizontal retrace, so the same sprite appears at more than one location on the screen.

I think we spent about four months writing Scorpius and we got paid £8000, up advance, sadly it did not see any royalties that was expected as it should have gone out in the Firebird label and be sold for £5.95 as it was a damn fine piece of work even though I do say so myself. However it got pushed down by IO as the producer at Telecomsoft said that they did not want to have two competing games on the same label so it was relegated mine to the budget Silverbird label and sold for £2.50, personally I think they outlaid more in advance for IO and therefore needed get more back which was a shame. Later John and Steve founded their own company Apex and went on to produce some quality games of their own for Thalamus.