Legends of the C64 - Llamasoft - Jeff Minter

Jeff Minter, was a 16 year old student, attending college in Hampshire, England, when he first saw a personal computer, the Commodore Pet. There were already a few games that had been released for the Pet and attracted by its possibilities Jeff soon became increasingly engrossed. Too much time spent on the computer, led inevitably to a deterioration in his study work, resulting in poor grades. At this point his parents realised that Jeff's future was in computing.

Around this time he bought a Sinclair ZX81 home computer, the ZX had a small keyboard, 1K of memory and the video output was black and white. He started to program a number of games on it. This looked like a smart move, after a chance meeting with a gentleman whose company wanted games for the ZX81. A loose agreement was made that he would develop some games when he had the time.

During this period he purchased a Vic 20 the pre-cursor to the mighty Commodore 64 home computer. The Vic was a huge leap from the primitive ZX81, with triple the memory, sound and full colour. A Vic game that inspired Jeff was Asteroids released by Bug Byte software. It may have been a truly dreadful game, but it encouraged him to program his first game for the Vic, called Rox - which involved the defense of a space station from incoming meteorites.

Asteroids - Bug Byte
Asteroids by Bug Byte

Rox - Jeff Minter - Llamasoft
Rox by Llamasoft

As time progressed the other ZX81 games he had been working on came to fruition. They were to be marketed and distributed by the company mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, the company wanted almost all the profit associated with the sales of the games, leaving Jeff with little to show for all his hard work. In later years, Jeff would discover that one of his long forgotten Vic games, ended up being released in the USA without his knowledge via this company. It was called 'Space Zap'. This was probably Jeff's first experience of commercial piracy.

Commodore Vic 20 computer
Commodore Vic 20 Computer Advert

Jeff's talent was obvious and noticed by a college friend Richard Jones. Richard's father, Julian Jones took an interest in Jeff's work and soon a partnership formed. Jeff would develop games, with Julian helping to run the business side of things and handling public relations.

Unfortunately, there was a dispute between them regarding the profit share, as Jeff felt he was being given a raw deal. After a short while Jeff's mother intervened. Legal wrangling would continue until the end of 1982, when the business partnership between Jones and Minter was finally dissolved. It was shortly after this that Llamasoft was really born. Julian and Richard Jones went on to found the software company Interceptor Micros.

Although there may have been bad feeling between the parties involved, with hindsight the separation proved to be a wise decision, because both companies Llamasoft and Interceptor Micros went on to great success.