The name Salamander Software won’t be familiar to many 8-bit home computer owners, as it was a developer that mainly focused on serving nicher systems such as the Dragon 32, MSX and Oric-1. Nonetheless, it soon built a reputation for delivering a number of varied and entertaining games in the three-year period it was in business for. Retro Gamer looks back at those very early beginnings…
At the height of its popularity in the early Eighties, Brighton-based Salamander Software competed with the prolific Microdeal to be the number one developer and publisher of software for the Dragon 32 in the UK. Co-founder Dr Paul Kuczora recalls how it all began.
“Salamander really started at my friends Pete Neale and Lucy Parker’s house in ‘82. It was the usual case of us all looking at what else was out there and saying ‘We can do better than that!’” Paul had begun writing software for the BBC Micro earlier that year. His friend Jul Carson had recently earned a Degree in Experimental Psychology at Sussex University and had a keen interest in design, leading to his acceptance into Brighton College of Art after working as a cartoonist. It was around this time that Paul approached Jul.
“Paul asked me to design a logo for a company he was setting up to publish computer games,” says Jul. “The name Salamander Software was suggested by my partner at the time,” adds Paul. “We were looking for an alliterative name and the only other one we came up with was Southern Software!”
To become a games software publisher, Salamander obviously needed some games to publish. Paul had already written Tanks! for the BBC Model B, but finding more became a priority. Help came in the form of Pete Neale, who had come to the UK from Texas to study at Sussex University and ended up staying, working as a mainframe programmer. He had met Paul a few times at University, but got to know him better after graduation, through Pete’s future wife Lucy Parker, who was a fellow Alumnus.
Paul was very keen to enlist Pete and had learned that Pete was considering buying a home computer. In what was effectively an ambush, Paul turned up outside the shop in Brighton whilst Pete was perusing inside. “I went in possibly looking to buy a computer,” explains Pete. “I ran into Paul and he suggested I get a Dragon. I thought he just happened to be there but I learned later that it might just have been a conspiracy between Paul, Jul and Lucy!
“Jul had actually approached me a couple of months before, saying that he and Paul thought there might be a business there [selling games software] and asked me for some advice. I said ‘maybe’ because I was in full-time employment and wasn’t interested until after I bought a Dragon and saw the possibilities for myself.”
Pete’s first task for Salamander was to write a version of the classic Star Trek tactical game for the Dragon. Renamed Dragon Trek to pre-empt any potential legal problems, it became one of Salamander’s launch titles and best sellers.
“I’d been doing computing at High School since the early Seventies when the University of Texas decided to experiment on a group of teenage students to see if we could cope with the idea of computing, which just shows you how things have changed!” says Pete, with a smile. “I played the original teletype version of Star Trek where you issued commands and it gave you printed one line responses because it didn’t have a display!”
Dragon Trek used the same game mechanics but added a display, and, months later, Salamander produced another improved version for the Oric-1 unsurprisingly called Oric Trek, which improved the visuals again.
Salamander avoided the Limited Company route, and instead ran as a co-operative of equal partners, with each person in the group given a role that reflected their strengths and experiences.
“I’d previously been a Sales Engineer, so I became Marketing Manager. I also acted as a second-string programmer to Pete,” explains Paul. In addition to his programming duties, Pete oversaw software development and wrote all of the game copy, manuals and advertisements.
“Jul and I were the Art department,” says Lucy. “I was doing a BA in Illustration at Brighton College of Art but left half-way through to work for Salamander.” Jul and Lucy were quickly engaged to find companies for duplication, packaging and printing. Lucy and Pete also volunteered their mid-terrace house in Brighton as a base of operations.
Various other friends and family members worked on getting Salamander Software off to a good start, including two more Sussex University Alumni in the form of Chris Holland, who took on advertising and sales on his days off before becoming a partner, and Peter Ohlson, who was drafted as Projects Director.
The team of Salamander Software was slowly coming together…
Notable SALAMANDER SOFTWARE Games
To read the whole feature you can download issue 102 from GreatDigitalMags.com or the ImagineShop.
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