At the dawn of time there was like dinosaurs and cavemen and stuff. A few days later there was a BBC Micro home computer and with that, we come full circle back to olden days via a game called Frak!.
Created by Nick Pelling (though in programming circles he was known as Orlando or Orlando M. Pilchard - his real name was something of a secret) Frak! was just one of many BBC classics that made the ‘80’s so lovely. It was a simple platformer, but the cartoon graphics were like nothing seen before on the Beeb. And the music… well, if you played the game we are confident the song from the first level is going to be stuck in your head all day. Haha! The adventures of Trogg sure were lovely.
Digitiser caught up with the jovial, nay cheeky, Pelling, and literally threw questions at him until he bled (answered them).
NP: I wasn't a daily viewer, but I enjoyed its forays into irreverence. :-)
Why Orlando M. Pilchard?
NP: A person with an even more foolish name once accused me of being called "Osbert Pilchard", but I obviously had to take that to the next level, and ended up with "Orlando M. Pilchard QC".
Now, let’s talk about… Frak! - obviously we never witnessed your novel copy protection idea for the game (the Pugwash theme playing in a loop rather than the game loading). How big a concern was piracy to you?
NP: Piracy was hugely disspiriting. I was told that Frak! was one of the most pirated BBC games ever.
What was the scene like as a pioneer in home computing programming? Did you hang out with other programmers? Were you a yuppie? Rich on ‘80’s filthy lucre?
NP: There was no scene - we were just a bunch of kids writing games and putting ads in the back of magazines.
Did you write the music too (cue ear worm)?
NP: Yes, though you get bonus points for guessing the famous (and famously long) song Frak!'s "you've completed a level" jingle was based on. :-)
For a pretty platformer it had some innovative ideas (the level going dark rather than the player losing a life if the game clock ran out). What were you most proud of in the game?
NP: I was most proud of the way that I took a basic idea - cartoon platform game - and made it my own, on a very highly constrained platform.
How much (if anything) did you have to do with the "zapped" version of Frak? (Thought to be a thing of legend, but absolutely real, there was a tweaked version of the game where it was implied our caveman hero was no longer using a yo-yo to knock naked women - previously monsters - off their pedestals. At the completion of the level, the game played a victory snippet and informed you “You’ve fucked it!”)
NP: I don't know anything about that, sorry.
In our memory Arcadians and Zalaga were close to arcade-quality. How did you get around any copyright issues with Namco?
NP: I can say, with the benefit of perfect legal hindsight, that Arcadians and Zalaga were clearly inspired by (rather than being perfect copies of) Galaxians and Galaga.
From an old interview (1987) I saw some of your ideas that didn't come to fruition. What can you tell us the games that could have been, but never were:
Totally Mindless Violence?
NP: Nope, that one has slipped my mind completely.
NP: I still have all the black and white 'film noir'-style artwork for this. Yet... even in 2015, the world still isn't quite ready for a swing-jazz detective pig.
NP: My favourite ever unmade game. This was an isometric (Marble-Madness-style) view, involving TJ ("Trogg Junior") on his skateboard trying to rescue Trogg from the Scrubblies' secret island. But even in 2015, I still don't think the world is quite ready for a soundtrack sounding like a full-blown West End musical.
Any other unreleased favourites?
NP: 3D Wars, Firetrack 2, and a hundred more demos that lurk on floppy disks in the attic.
The story goes that a quest to release of version of Atari classic Joust led to the downfall of your software house Aardvark. Or was there more to it than that?
NP: That was annoying and sad, but what actually brought Aardvark (and many other small publishers) down was the collapse of most of the large UK games distribution companies. The business landscape had changed.
We read your early influences included Dangermouse and your favourite film was Ruthless People... what influences you now? And do you have a new favourite?
NP: Claiming Dangermouse and Ruthless People as influences was probably no more than an ironic joke at the time I was asked. Back in real life, I have too many influences to list. And too many favourites to list too. As well as too many favourite influences.
What were your favourite C64 games you were responsible for?
NP: Once upon a time, I pitched a great-looking demo of Shadow of the Beast C64, and I think that would have been a fantastic game. But Psygnosis gave it to a different team, which didn't work out how they planned...
Why no Spectrum games, hmm? Pelling?
NP: Never got round to it. Too much to do and too little time.
What are you doing right... now?
NP: Oddly enough, I'm fixing 20-year-old code written for several different 8-bit microcontrollers. Which isn't what I normally do at all, but seeing as you asked...
Do you still consider yourself a gamer? Favourite games now?
NP: Sorry - I never played games, then or now. Gameboy Tetris is as close to a favourite game as I have ever had.
Are you envious of mainstream game programmers today with their more sophisticated means at their disposal?
NP: Not really. Games became too big to write - once the size of a team for a mainstream game went above ten people, I kind of lost interest.
Thank you, Pelling and goodbye.