Platinum Productions only lasted for five short years, but in the small timeframe it quickly managed to build an impressive name for itself. Spectrum owners were often amazed by its high quality arcade conversions and computer ports, and impressed with the sheer technical tricks the small studio pulled off to make its games as impressive as possible on the 8-bit home micro. Beachhead II, Tapper, Zaxxon and The Dam Busters were just a few of the games that showed what this tiny company was capable of.
To get to the origins of Platinum Productions, we need to go further back in time, when David Anderson first discovered the joy of programming. “It was very early 1981. All there really was in the home computer market was games. They were so simple. You had to type in the listing of the source code. It was crazy.”
It wasn’t long before David met Ian Morrison, who shared a love of coding, at their secondary school, Ardrossan Academy. The common bond meant that they would form a working partnership that would take them into the early Nineties. “I wanted to do something innovative and yet industrial,” recalls David. “I would have got into electronics, but then personal computers came along. You could build them as kits, but it was the programming that seemed much more fun.” Future collaborator Robin Muir also attended the same school as David and Ian but would not become involved with their programming projects until much later.
The computers of choice at the time included the educational favourite BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. Although the former was easier to access and the latter boasted far more technical power, it was the ZX Spectrum that drew David and Ian’s attention. Initially, Ian began experimenting with BASIC on the PET before upgrading to programming for the 1K ZX81, while Robin Muir would go on to use his dad’s abandoned ZX81 to build upon his skills. After programming a 16K game whose name escapes our interviewee, which was taken to a ZX Microfair in 1982, the duo came home with a Spectrum. It was then that work would begin on their first ever arcade conversion, Galactic Trooper.
The strengths and weaknesses of the Spectrum soon became apparent. “Weaknesses were the colour and the sound,” explains David. “Strength was the main memory to screen memory ratio. The Z80 processor was nice, too, for an 8-bit machine. There was no protected memory space, so when you crashed it you had to start again. So you needed another machine and you pumped the binary in through an RS232 serial link and tested the program. The one thing I remember was the main memory to video memory ratio of approximately 7:1 being far greater than the ratio in alternative machines like the BBC or the Commodore 64. The result was that Spectrum games could have more complex gameplay because there was memory for code and for more levels of graphics. My only other memory is that the colour mechanism really sucked. Low-resolution colour on what was, for the time, a high-resolution display. We had to be creative.”
Despite its disadvantages, David felt that the Spectrum was the machine to program for: “The Spectrum, in my opinion, hit the right combination of price point and features and had the right balance of architecture. Machines with a different main memory to screen memory ratio didn’t sell as well. I believe that this was because the gameplay wasn’t so complex or that their price point was too high to hit the mass market.”
For a time, David and Ian worked jointly on some simple early creations to see what could be accomplished. In 1983, the duo would create four games: Brain Damage, Colour Clash, Exterminator and Shark Attack. At this point in time, these titles were known simply as games by David and Ian, as they did not have a development company name.
Brain Damage was a maze-style game that saw players guiding a tank around it while avoiding electronic creations such as the Electron Panzer, Marauder, Centurion and Rogue Program. The goal was to hit one of these to progress to the next level, but with only the ability to fire one blast at a time, this wasn’t always an easy task. Exterminator was inspired greatly by Robotron: 2084 and kept things simple with its visual style but was also incredibly fast, with a lot of moving items on screen at any given time.
Both Brain Damage and Exterminator were released by Silversoft and were received favourably. Menus and routines were created to make the games more user-friendly, including user-definable keys and skill levels, which was not always an option with early Spectrum titles. Colour Clash, effectively a clone of the arcade game Amidar that sees you colouring squares while avoiding touching enemies, was released by Romik Software, and although it looked incredibly basic, it was a decent effort in porting across the arcade title. Shark Attack was also released by Romik – where, for this game only, David and Ian would call themselves Rannoch Creative Designs – and proved to be reminiscent of Qix, where a net has to be drawn around an octopus to protect it from the marauding sharks. It wasn’t long before the pair realised just how much attention their games were actually getting…
Notable Platinum ProductionS Games
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