Dan Phillips has had a long and indeed illustrious career in computer game development, ranging from the 8-bit days all the way through to the current and indeed future generations of console. Still, didn't stop the Oldschool Gaming staff from trying to wrestle him to the ground and get some questions answered - after all this is far more important than something that'll get his bills paid, isn't it?
Oldschool Gaming Welcome to Oldschool Gaming Dan, sorry about the mess but we've been busy of late! Would you like to introduce yourself a little more to the two Outer Mongolian readers who perhaps haven't heard of Armalyte?
Dan Phillips Hello, my names Dan Phillips I'm one of 3 (originally 4) people who helped to put out a nice little horizontally scrolling shoot'em up on the C64. I've been in the industry ever since and this is my 19th year :o . I've managed to get married (Lo Sneh) have a couple of kids (Lo Aadishri and Dylan) and work on a few games since.
OSG You're best known, at least to readers of sites like this one, as a C64 coder but what was it that originally drew you to the C64 - did you have any previous experience of other platforms at all?
Hardcore shooting action - Armalyte (C64)
D.P. My parents bought me a c64 for Christmas. Previously I had played a bit on a BBC and quite a lot on a few Spectrums but hadn't owned either. Fortunately they weren't to keen on the rubber keyboard of the speccy so they went with the "proper" keyboard of the 64 and bought me a couple of games to get me started on the "use it to do your homework" path :) (Choplifter and Radar Rat Race.)
OSG And what was it that got you into programming in the first place, most people seem to learn BASIC and move on from there but is the same true for you?
D.P. Couldn't understand basic, it wasn't basic enough and I really only learnt how the machine worked by messing around with other peoples games (something that usually doesn't happen these days what with console manufacturers deliberately stopping people from doing homebrew :( ) Using a "backup" cartridge with a machine code monitor allowed me to see the insides of the real machine and learning how it worked became an obsession. I was lucky enough to know a few people who had already done the basics and I sucked the knowledge up and soon learnt to manipulate the sprites and scrolling screen for myself.
OSG Where do you get your inspiration from and what normally comes first, the story line, a base idea or some of the actual code?
D.P. Looking at another game and thinking wouldn't it be cool to make it do this or add that, then finding some kind of technical trickery to push the idea or essence of the game further. The story is probably the last thing that gets added (in good game "designs" the story should be irrelevant it's the core mechanic of action/reward/gratification that needs to be designed and prototyped first, which is easier if you are borrowing ideas from another game... )
OSG Are there any kinds of game you'd like to try your hand at but never found the time, and if so what are they?
D.P. Well I've been involved in a couple of failed racing games, which has kind of put me off them, But one day I'd like to give it another whirl with "all" the hindsight I've managed to acquire?
OSG Of your own work, which is your favorite to date, which do you least like and why?
D.P. For the best probably Armalyte (with the multiplayer portion of Forsaken a close second), it was my first and was born out of supreme stubbornness (at the cost of time and money) to make a game that gave us a real buzz when playing it.
The worst is a bit more tricky, I've been involved in 3 failed projects 2 of which were racers and my heart wasn't in them, the 3rd was Deadlock and was to be our next game after Armalyte, it failed on several levels but the most important was that it just wasn't fun to play, which is where the extra effort and flashes of inspiration real come from and without it there really was no hope. The story and main character were brilliant, such a dark and moody theme the likes of which probably weren't seen for another 10 years but the core of the game just lacked enough to make it fun (the demos of it are available on the Games That Weren't web site... but be warned the fun factor is very limited).
A preview of Deadlock (C64)
OSG Custard, is it better thick or thin?
D.P. Depends whether your trying to get the rubber suit on or off? (Can i just point out, before the OSG team get any ideas, that Dan said that with absolutely no prompting from me ! J =-)
OSG The community has recently seen some previously unreleased morsels on the C64, but is there anything else on your work disks that has remained unreleased and will we get to see them at some point in the future?
D.P. There are a few snippets of demos and they will leak out eventually, My friend John Kemp (also of Armalyte fame) still has loads of disks and if we can eventually get together again we'll go through them with a fine comb... Silly Putty for the 64 is on one of them somewhere probably not very complete though.
OSG You've mentioned making a bit of a "comeback" to the C64 on a couple of message boards; do you have any concrete plans on that front or even a little hint to tease people with perhaps?
D.P. Well I have re-written bits of the multiplexor used for Armalyte (54 sprites all bouncing about looks very busy... oh that's almost a Braybrook quote) but whether it ever gets used in a game is doubtful. I would like to write a shoot'em up for the PC or maybe the PS3/PSP just a question of time, I know Rob Levy would be up for doing some of the graphics. ;)
OSG Since we're a review site, how do you feel about reviews from ourselves or others and have there been any moments when you've stared at the page or screen in disbelief?
D.P. They are a necessary evil ;) I've never had a bad review, sometimes overly fair or not particularly accurate but I've always been fairly pleased with the verdict.
OSG How do you feel about current gaming and do you think that the current generation of kids out are missing out on the sort of games you played back in the day?
D.P. There's no reason to miss out out, emulators are their friends, my son has played Armalyte on my PSP, he's quite good... but it's a different sort of game compared to Star Wars Battlefront ;)
OSG Was there any question we didn't think of that you would have liked to try answering (and if so, what was the answer?)
D.P. No don't think so, none that I'd be willing to defend in a court of law anyway... oh wrong interview. Some more food consistency ones?
OSG Thanks very much for talking to us Dan, do you have any final words of wisdom to share with our readers to round off...?
D.P. Make your own games, its fun and if you are lucky could pay the gas bill? Quick Hello to Rob, John and My family :)
Dan's involvement with the games community is ongoing, with contributions to well-received titles such as Forsaken, Singstar and Eyetoy: Kinetic.