THE MAGIC BBC ROBOT THAT DID ARKANOID by Richard Karsmakers
The last morning at Steve's place starts freshly with the
recognition that my skullsplitting headache of yesterday has gone
Phew. I must admit that is quite some relief.
I am already feeling slightly weary and a bit emotional. Today,
we will leave Steve. He has been such a swell guy that we really
didn't know what to do for him in return.
Anyway, if he wants to use it, he can have that small "Dogs of
War" novel for free. And, of course, we're in everlasting debt.
We've left for the station after having thanked Mrs. Bak for her
excellent hospitality, her ironing, her bountiful breakfasts and
the sinnamon. Steve told us it won't be too far to a train
station called Alfreton & Mansfield Parkway - about five minutes
driving from his home.
That was fast.
We have now arrived at the aforementioned station and we will
get some passes so that we can travel much cheaper by British
Rail (about £70 for four days travelling within eight days - a
thing like that is called a "Britrail Silver Pass" and might even
be cheaper for us since we're under 25).
Mutant potatohead! Walkmansucking, trainvomiting, Englandraping,
Shit, shit and shit again.
According to the guy behind the counter, "the Britrail Silver
Pass is only available on the continent."
VERY nice. Also VERY nice that the brochure the British
Traveller's Agency in Amsterdam had sent to me in January stated
this fact so CLEARLY.
I wouldn't mind strangling the person responsible for this with
my bare hands while pinning his/her earlobes to the railway track
in front of the 11:23 train to Sheffield!!
This means a financial setback of at least £80 per person -
which is a rather much. The longer I am in England, the more I
grow to hate British Rail.
Shit, shit and shit again, again.
It all started off just now already - two £22 tickets to
Newcastle upon Tyne. When we get there, we'll sure as hell have
to withdraw some more money from our bank accounts!
The train leaveth Alfreton & Mansfield Parkway, leaving a
chattereth but relieveth Steve Bak behind looking at the back of
this means of transportation. Sadness grieveth our hearts as we
realise that we will be on our own again.
Hail thee, Steve! Thou art a representative of truly wonderful
folk! We will take our tales of thy splendour and valour home
Anyway, we're now heading towards Sheffield, where we have to
switch trains in order to get to Newcastle in the first place.
The train ground to a deafening halt in Chesterfield - isn't
this the town where all those beautiful, typical leather pieces
of furniture come from?
The train just arrived at Sheffield Railway Station. According
to plan, we will have to swap trains here.
British Rail trains make an awful noise, by the way. Dutch
trains are mostly electric, but the British trains are diesel
ones which make just about as much noise as an aircraft taking
off (and the same type of noise, too) - especially the fast
One just 'took off' and we really couldn't say or hear much.
We have to go to Platform 3a, where the 12:35 train leaves for
Doncaster - that's the place where we have to switch for a second
time in order to get to Newcastle, the place where the Magic BBC
While Richard is on a Quest for some cans of Coke, I am sitting
at Sheffield station pondering about the things that happened in
the last three days. It has been rather interesting to hang out
with Steve Bak and to visit software houses like Ocean. Also, the
fact that the offer is there for me to join Steve's programming
team is something that keeps my mind busy all the time.
Should I just quit my current job which is quite good, but
tends to get a bit boring?
Is there any problem in just moving and working in England?
Will I be able to write video games on the ST?
Where must I live then?
Will I be happy living in England?
Richard keeps on trying to convince me to join Thalion Software
(in Germany). Well, first of all I doubt whether they want to
have me and if I can go and live in bloody Germany just like
that. My German is lousy for starters.
Boy, I have a lot to think about in the next couple of weeks.
I just came back from my quest. A long quest it was indeed. I
had to go all the way up to some shopping mall beyond the bus
station, and when I finally got there I had a lot of trouble
locating a place where people actually tended to sell Coke in
cans rather than in glasses.
The first thing I noticed when I got back with 4 cans of Coke at
the Railway Station was that the girl announcing train arrivals-
and departures really has a very sultry voice - as if every word
she pronounced was her last one, spoken with a final sigh of
deepest possible relief.
The train has arrived and, indeed, left again.
But we're on it, and we resignedly allow it to take us to the
direction of Doncaster.
The traindriver just tried to announce something, but his
pathetic mumbling eroded into nothingness as he proceeded and we
couldn't discern a single word - not even a single vowel.
Let's hope that he wasn't talking about busted engines,
spontaneous strikes or train hijackers.
We're at Rotherham Central.
I don't think it's an Intercity train we're on, on second
thought. It just halted at Mexborough, which doesn't sound like
too big a city to me.
No Intercity indeed, for yet another small and rather unknown
town has been added to the list of places where the train
Arrived at Doncaster.
Whilst Stefan is investigating a large piece of paper which
supposedly states all departure targets, times and platforms, I
stand guard faithfully at the heavily packed rucksacks and the
other two bags.
He surely takes a long time.
The train has left Doncaster already two minutes ago.
It is quite empty, but we had enormous difficulty finding a seat
since most of the seats were labelled "Reserved". And that's
This train will eventually go to Glasgow, but somewhere along
the line ("Newcastle?" -- "Yes, and you only needed one guess!")
we'll hop off.
We don't want to end up all the way in Scotland - not in this
holiday, at the least!
So I guess we're on an Intercity again.
The countryside we've been going through is awfully similar to
Holland, except for the houses and the way in which the terrain
is divided by means of hedges and little roads: It's very flat.
To the East, as far as the eye can reach, there is nothing but
flatness; to the West there are only some low hills at the
A scene like this could be a cure for being homesick. But I am
not, and therefore it isn't.
I like England. I don't want to go back to Holland just yet!
An Intercity for sure.
We've been going on for half an hour now - without stops. Now,
the train has stopped at a place called Darlington.
Durham - the last stop before finally entering Newcastle, the
northmost place we will visit during this quest.
We've arrived at Newcastle. Just before entering this rather
large city, we crossed a broad river over a very high bridge - I
guess it was the river Tyne.
Newcastle is not only the city where Peter Johnson lives. It's
also the place where a certain heavy metal band by the name of
Venom finds its origin. A rare place indeed.
We've wandered through Newcastle in search for a post office and
a place to get some food (for we've got barking stomachs again
after eating nothing since Mrs. Bak's bountiful breakfast
early in the morning). We have just now indeed visited a post
office and substracted some money from our giro accounts.
Basically, we've only seen two streets now. Newcastle appears to
be not too big, but rather busy with traffic. Some sweat is again
finding its way to the pores of our backs and foreheads as we
continue to search for a place to eat.
All the sandwich shops seem to have sold out already. All they
seem to have left are a few sandwiches lying in tucked away
corners that look rather awful.
Peter told us to take the Newcastle Underground to a stop called
Regent Centre, so after looking a while for a place where we
would indeed be able to join that service, we indeed got
ourselves some tickets (thus spending the massive amount of two
times fifty penny on the Newcastle Underground) and jumped on the
It is far cleaner and almost uncomparably more modern than the
London underground. And the nice thing also is that we are
sitting in the front of the metro now - the driver's cabin is
only a part of the front, and there is enough space for some
benches at the right of it on which we now sit.
Will it now perhaps be the first time that we're truly on time
for our appointment? I almost don't dare to cherish this mere
thought in fear that it might work out to be a vain one.
Before entering Regent Centre, this metro will go through
Monument, Haymarket, Jesmond, West Jesmond, Ilforth Road and
I think we just found out that we have both acquired a certain
cold - probably because of the blatantly opened windows in
Steve's car the last three days.
Desperately looking for a payphone after we arrived at Regent
The sun is shining mercilessly as we drag our bodies, rucksacks
and other belongings through the streets. There are no payphones
near to the station, but someone I inquired with just now told me
that it's "up that road". So that's where we're walking right
We see lots of schoolkids - particularly young girls - walking
around, all wearing the same typical English school uniforms.
With a painful look in my eyes, I caress my ears that have just
now experienced a noise that easily beat Annihilator as well as
the Concorde that flew over us and the Lost Boys about one and a
half week ago: The noise of the hinges of the door of the
payphone booth which I just now used for calling Peter and
letting him know that we have indeed arrived safely and are now
eagerly waiting to be rescued from the sun, the heat, and the
loneliness of Regent Centre tube station.
A bit less than 10 minutes later, we saw an Opel Kadett/Vauxhall
Astra SRI of the more modern type (including sunroof) pull into
the parking lot.
From it looked someone whom we didn't recognize at first, but
who seemed to recognize us.
We had seen pictures of Peter Johnson already, in which he had
quite long hair, no glasses and a sweater with many colours. In
the car sat someone with much shorter hair, wearing glasses and a
dark blue shirt.
Could this be....?
Yes, it could.
He stepped out and gave us a hand with our rucksacks, after
which he introduced himself. It was indeed Peter Johnson, the ex-
BBC-micro man responsible for e.g. magic "Wizball", "Arkanoid",
"Arkanoid II" and, most recently, "Robocop".
And a very nice person he was, too, indeed. This was just too
good to be true - everybody just kept on turning out to be very
nice persons! I can surely imagine Stefan feeling himself at
home in the bizz - and not only because of the nice females that
also happen to wander in it!
At a couple of seconds past four, he halted his car in front of
a quite big, semi-detached house in a suburb of Newcastle. It was
modernly equipped, and just about the first thing that struck us
was the presence of four remote controls on the table. In spite
of all the high tech present in his living room, we didn't
discern a CD-player? Anyway, it was the place where he used to
live with a girlfriend, but since they broke up he lived there on
his own - though he has in the mean time found another girlfriend
which we would meet later that evening and who would turn out to
be a very spontaneous and enchanting girl indeed.
But that's out of the question now, for we started to interview
him immediately, whilst drinking some Orange Juice from a
packege containing FIVE litre of the stuff - with a built-in
Around us, a Shepherd's dog by the name of Magenta (also called
Maggie or Jenny) constantly wandered around, eager to get some
attention or to have us play with her blue piece of something
that was rubbery (later we were to learn that the thing was
called a dog-pull).
What's your date & place of birth?
Peter: July 3rd 1963, in Newcastle. I've lived her all my life.
How did you end up in the computer business?
Peter: Em...I played around with the Commodore PET and I quite
like that, so my parents bought me a Z81, and I started doing a
computer course at the Newcastle Polytechnic. Then, my parents
bought me a BBC Micro and five months after getting it, I got my
first BBC game on the market - a kind of "Tron" game. Later I did
a version of "Q-Bert". Then I worked with that company for about
two years doing BBC games and then I started working for Ocean
with "Beach Head" and "Impossible Mission" on the BBC. And two
and a half years ago (I think) I did my first ST game,
What do you particularly hate about the software industry?
Peter: I think it's a bit strange that software company's names
tend to be on the product. For example, people buy games on the
basis that it is an Ocean game, or a U.S. Gold game, or whatever,
and not because it is programmed by a certain person. You think
that would be the way it would work. I mean you wouldn't a
music cassette because it's on EMI records; you buy it because it
is of a certain artist.
What do you think is the best game ever launched on the ST?
Peter: I don't know, actually. I don't tend to have games that I
play an awful lot. I look at every new game that comes my way,
look at it and play it a bit. See what's interesting about it and
go and play something else (long silence). Actually, quite a few.
"Nebulus" and "Buggy Boy" are both all right and playable.
And what's the worst game?
Peter: There are some by Paradox software - the early ones. They
were pretty awful.
What have you done on various computers?
Peter: I must have done about sixteen games, mainly on the BBC.
On the ST, I did "Arkanoid", "Arkanoid II", "Wizball", "Daley
Thompson" (which I did half of) and "Robocop".
What do you think is your best achievement on the ST?
Peter: I don't know. I like them all. Except for "Daley
Thompson". I think, as far as programming goes, I don't see
myself as a good programmer. But, hopefully, the games in the end
are very playable rather than technically brilliant. I'm not into
technical brilliance in that way, and I prefer to have a game
people enjoy to play. And will come back to play.
Please tell us a nice joke?
Peter: Tonight's joke is "How many Islamic fundamentalists does
it take to change a light bulb?" The answer is "Nineteen. One to
change the lightbulb and eighteen to avenge the death of the old
one." Thank you. Good night Newcastle.
Which tools do you use to program?
Peter: "K-Seka", which is horrible, badly supported and full of
bugs. I will be using "Devpac" from now on - presumably their
development system. I use "Degas Elite" to draw. That's it, I
What's your favourite book?
Peter: "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" by Douglas
Adams. 'Favourite film' is next, isn't it?
Yes, I am afraid.
Peter: Surprise, surprise! "Brazil", "Bladerunner". "Brazil"
more, because "Bladerunner" is too predictable.
(Peter dives into his video cabinet and puts on "Brazil" without
sound, since we were by now quite eager to see what kind of film
it is now so many programmers have mentioned it and we never
HEARD of it. It turned out to be a very experimental, visual
What's your favourite food?
Peter: I have lots of favourites. Eh...it's a beefburger inside
two crackers. I show you what they're like (goes to the kitchen
and fetches some of them). It's my own 'invention'.
And what's your favourite drink?
Peter: I normally drink lager Shandy, but I like white wine.
Peter: Momentarily, the Christians.
Who do you consider to be the most interesting person in the
Peter: Interesting? Sounds like a contradiction in terms to me.
Jeff Minter likes to create quite a unique image. But I don't
know, really. You'll have to ask me later. Tonight.
What are your main sources of inspiration?
Peter: Most of the stuff I do is arcade conversions, so it's not
really a case of needing inspiration. But I watch films a lot.
What are your other interests beside computers?
Peter: I like music very much. I write music, I play in a band
called "Startled by the Sun" and one called "Best Kept Secret". I
also play guitar in a background band for amateur theatre. And I
also play keyboard.
What's your opinion about software piracy?
Peter: It varies. I can understand people maybe not buying
computers if they didn't have access to pirated software. It
would be better for people only to play games that they've
bought, but to have them sold cheaper is not economically viable.
It seems strange that software shops take such a large portion of
the selling price of a game. They seem to be getting half the
price of a game just for having it on their shelves until someone
walks in and buys it. Seems a bit unreasonable.
What's your worst habit?
Peter: Oooh...I want it my own way all the time. So when I'm
doing music I always want things the way I want them.
Did you like the "Robocop" movie?
Peter: Yeah. I thought it was good. It's interesting because
I've also seen the American version in which two shots are
different. One of them is where the hand is shot off - taken out
on the U.S. version. There are quite a lot of American films now,
where all the swear-words are off-screen. You don't see people's
lips move as they swear, so they can easily dub over to change
the swear words. At a certain moment, Robocop comes in as a guy
is turning over a shop. He comes in and the bullets start
bouncing off of him, and on the American one he's shouting
"Blimey! Blimey! Blimey!" all the time instead of, you know,
"F*@k you!" or whatever he would say. It seems a bit strange.
How did you feel about your breakthrough with "Arkanoid"?
Peter: Well, it wasn't a big breakthrough because I was very
successful with BBC stuff. I was literally one of the three or
four top programmers on that. It was my first game on the ST, and
it took about three or four months to write, which I thought was
quite good going. It wasn't a great surprise to me. Basically, on
the ST I went back down to the bottom.
What did you think of all the "Arkanoid" clones?
Peter: I looked at quite a few of them. I didn't really like
many of them. I liked the sounds on "Impact" (of Audiogenic,
ED.), the sampled sound was nice. I didn't see anything better
than "Arkanoid" - that's not to say "Arkanoid" was brilliant but
there wasn't anything better.
After this interview, we went upstairs where Peter had his sound
room. We were somewhat aghast by all the equipment he had there,
which included several synthesizers (Cheetah, Roland D-10, Korg),
a Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar, drum computers
(including Octapad), multi-track tape recorders, an MT16 mixer,
MIDI saxophone, etc. There were some tasteless posters hanging on
the wall, one of which portrayed a certain Mr. Jackson with "BAD"
written above it.
Apart from some of the stuff he let us hear of a couple of
friends and him, Peter has also done some film music for
television. His music sounds very accessible and commercial, but
due to my somewhat slightly extreme tastes I would probably not
buy any of it myself (sorry, Pete!).
After listening to it, we played a bit on a portable version of
the arcade hall machine game "Robocop" that was still in his
computer room because he was momentarily doing the Amiga version
of it. He also told us a cheat to "Robocop": Type in "alex
murphy" (with space, without quotes). In "Revenge of Doh" it was
either "Magenta" or "Daley88" (type in on the title page).
We're "having tea" (which, for continental readers, means that
we're having diner): Chili cooked by Peter Johnson himself!
Before "tea", we played around a bit with the dog in the garden.
This dog is really crazy and starts to run circles through the
garden when you chase it. Really cute.
The Chili tastes great, by the way.
At seven, Peter loaded an electric guitar in the back of his
car, after which we went to downtown Newcastle to witness him
perform in the background band for an amateur theatre performance
of the popular musical "Guys and Dolls" - this version being a
gangster fairy tale.
It was to be performed in the People's Theatre in Newcastle,
which Peter told us was one of the biggest amateur theatres in
At 19:32, the hall was filled to the brim with all kinds of
interesting people - or at least people that like to look or
like to be interesting - and the show could go on. Just before
us, a braingrindingly ugly female in her mid-sixties was seated
(the bad thing was that she seemed to think she was pretty and
needed to accentuate this by having long blonde hair, high heels,
overt make-up and a red dress).
The musical was a love story, really, and Stefan and myself
found it really nice to look at - though Peter could not be seen
at all as he was hidden (with the rest of the band) almost
invisible. In that same band, by the way, his father Alan plays
bass and his 'kid' brother Paul plays clarinet and saxophone.
Peter's girlfriend, a rather nice girl with tomato-blonde-reddish
hair by the name of Judith ("Judy") played one of the Hot Box
She has a very spontaneous smile, even on stage where one
constantly has to smile.
At 22:15, the show ended. We had thoroughly enjoyed this rather
uncommon night of theatre, and later retreated to a bar where we
saw the actors in the flesh. Judy was also there, and so was a
woman who was probably her mother. She was very interested in
talking to us since we were Dutch, and she seemed a very nice
After having had a small guided tour around the theatre and its
backstage by Peter, we left (Judy also came along). We arrived at
a shop called "South Gosforth Fisheries" at eleven, where we all
ordered some junkfood (the both of us ordered Chicken Nuggets; I
forgot what Judy and Peter ordered but is was no doubt just as
This place was braingrindingly hot and seemed to be aflame with
dozens of lights. Unimaginable that people can actually stand
that heat for more than a couple of minutes - let alone actually
work in the damn place!!
After waiting far too long a time for the food to be finished,
packed, and being confided to our hungry grasps, we went back to
There, we watched some television (lots of people committing
suicide in some series, so it appeared) and devoured the means of
scarce junk nourishment we had just purchased.
Then, we came to the inevitable question Peter still had to
answer: Who was the most interesting person in the software
industry? Judy was just out of the room, and when she barged in
she proudly exclaimed: "You, of course!" (pointing at Peter, of
course). So that was the answer - though not given by the proper
person (but who cares about that).
Saturday, July 15th 1989
We're preparing ourselves to go to bed. Stefan is sleeping on a
large, soft bed, and I am sleeping on the floor (on top of a
thick blanket, so my body won't hurt all over tomorrow). We had
quite some discussion about who would sleep where (no use in
elaborating about that for it was rather long, boring, and
useless), but eventually everything turned out right.
Peter has inquired about the trains, and he told us we had to
get up at six to get the train that leaves for Bristol at about
seven from Newcastle Station.
Goodnight. Sayonara. We're off to the land of dreams in a couple
of minutes - I hope.
Since I was laying on the ground and Stefan just had to go to
the loo, I woke up.
Boy, do I feel awful.
Boy, do I feel SLEEPY.
I think I'll go back to sleep right now again. Curse that damn
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.