Tony Crowther

It's barely a year since the yellow topped, lightning-fingered Tony Crowther burst upon the games playing scene with a series of stunning programs for Alligata: Killer Watt, Blagger, Loco and Son of Blagger. He's continued to make waves since then, changing companies twice and rewriting his earlier hits as well as producing new graphical wonders. But what kind of person really is this 19 year old whizz kid? Zzap! 64 reveals for the first time the full Tony Crowther story in this interview with editor Chris Anderson.

I think probably most people in the industry now see you as one of THE big names - do you actually feel like a star?

Yes. Two reasons. One, you get fan mail. I really like that. I usually reply to it which is good fun - you get replies back again and you keep in touch that way. And then, people come to see you. The other day someone just came round from York just to meet me.

How much mail do you get in fact?

Oh, about one a month (laughs), usually from Sweden and places like that. You get the odd one from Great Britain. Then you get these obscene phone calls. What they do is, they ring up to speak to Tony and then they say 'I've just bought this. It's brilliant! Bye!' Bang. That's all they say.

The thing that seems to mark out your games is their amazing graphical quality. Where's that come from?

Oh, I'd always been top of my art class. I passed my 0 level with a grade A. Went for the A level but kept flunking it because I could never turn up for the exam. So I never really passed the A level. I wanted to go to art college - in fact I was going to, but I thought: oh, I'll have a look at software for a bit. So I stayed on that for a year with Alligata - and then I thought: ay-up, this is quite fun this. So I ended up staying on it and I never went to art college.

But most people think that if you're good at art, you're bad at science and vice versa. So how come you can program?

I am bad at science. 1 never passed my Physics- I took it four times, the 0 level, and failed every time.

So how come you can program?

(laughs) I think because I've taught myself. If someone had tried to teach me I'd have had no chance.

All right, let's take it through. When did your computer bug start?

Two to three years ago when I was about 16. My Dad has got one of these rich friends who keeps flying away and marrying millions of people and then divorcing them again. He had a computer and he lent it to me - it was a Pet 4032. So I borrowed that for a bit, and I couldn't make head or tail of it. I had it for three months - I couldn't work a thing on it, nothing. I used to type in listings, but they never used to work.

They never do.

So I thought right, I'm going to learn it, find out what's getting me mad. So I picked up a little bit and wrote a program on it. You know Mastermind - I wrote that on the Pet. A really good version. It worked. You know the plastic model version you can get with the pegs. It looked identical to that.
Commodore Pet 4032
Pet 4032 By Commodore Business Machines

So Mastermind was the first Crowther game?

Well, it never got anywhere. I sent it off as a listing to Computer and Video Games and waited ages and ages for a reply. I showed my mates and they loved it - and it never even got anywhere, they never even replied back. So whether they used it I don't know, but I never got anything for it. It was just getting me mad, so I bought a Vic - out of frustration. It was a new machine - it had colour! So I started playing around with that obviously. I also started picking up machine code, not very well but ... I wrote a type of Galaxian game, and I was quite pleased with that. But it didn't get anywhere. Then I wrote a car game on it - I'd just got a mach-ine code monitor for it, I was obsessed by it - so I showed it to Superior Systems who had just started. Mike looked at it and he said: Look, tell you what, Tony, I'll give you a Commodore 64 on loan. I can't pay you, but you can have it as advance royalties. The 64 had just come out, it was at £299. I thought: free computer, I won't complain.

Two weeks later I came up with a program, Lunar Rescue. It was the first commercial Program I ever did.