In the olden days you could pick up a tape cassette containing a Spectrum or Amstrad game for a few pounds (yes, I’m British). At this time, the gaming industry was in its infancy and the business side of the game was highly underdeveloped. Games were written by a single (or a very small group) in squalid conditions and these programmers were like rock stars, or mad scientists working alone in their lab (complete with the associated lightning and electrical apparatus). Some games turned out to be “smash hits” (Monty Mole, Manic Miner, Dynamite Dan to name a few), others were of very poor quality but hey, that’s the price you pay for experimenting. How things have changed!
Some of you may remember those ZX Spectrum classics Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy (if not go here and here to play them in your browser immediately because you are missing out on some important computing history!). You may not know the fascinating story of Matthew Smith, the programmer who dreamt up and programmed these games.
You only have to look at Jet Set Willy to see that this is the brainchild of an eccentric. Willy has thrown a party and his dominating housekeeper refuses to allow him to go to sleep until he has tidied everything up. Through out the house are such nightmarish creatures as snapping toilets and killer telephones. Willy doesn’t live in a bungalow; he lives in a mansion of ludicrous proportions (presumably paid for from his wealth acquired in the mining business), filled with deadly traps. The various rooms of the house have names such as “The Banyan Tree” which he can use to climb up into the upper regions of his home. The monsters kill with a single touch and the user is forced to jump with pixel precision to avoid falling into chasms and eventually being crushed by an enormous boot (in a Monty Python like manner).
After writing the game Matthew became the computer programmer equivalent of a rock star and eventually vanished of the face of the Earth. His whereabouts were unknown and he became somewhat of a legend. The mystery of Matthew Smith stirred many rumours, some true, some untrue.
Then, one day out of the blue, he came back. Here is an interview with him recently broadcast. He is no longer the long haired bedroom coder, but he still has a wild look in his eyes.