The Commodore Zone for C64 emulators, games and articles -
Jeff Minter
By TCZ webmaster
Published on 11/11/2007
What can be said about this gaming genius that has not been said before. Jeff Minter was a huge hit in the early years of the Commodore 64. The main reason for his success was that he had original ideas combined with a wild and vivid imagination. In fact, it's fair to say that his creations are probably among the most novel computer games ever produced. Who else could dream up “Attack of the Mutant Camels”or “Sheep in Space” !

The other feature that set Jeff's games apart from his competitors was playability. The games tended to have great game play and could be very addictive. Although Jeff’s games were not technically as impressive as some other games at the time, originality and playability were the key to his success. The music for his games, like Hover Bovver and Revenge of the Mutant Camels, were composed by a college friend James Lisney, who was a pianist.

The Pet
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.

There was Llamasoft
The first games to be scheduled for release were for the Vic 20 with one in particular involving a plane that would drop bombs on buildings (think of Super Blitz on the C64). This was timely because Britain was on a war footing due to the invasion of the British Falkland Islands by Argentina. For a bit of fun, Jeff modified the game to feature Argentinian flags on the buildings, play Rule Britannia and the title of the game would be 'Bomb Buenos Aires'.

The game was sent to various computer publications and newspapers. It was soon picked up by the Daily Telegraph (see image right, text bottom left) a centre-right newspaper in the UK, which viewed the patriotic slant of the game as more than worth a mention. This became just a little too controversial for Jeff,  so he decided to remove the Argentinian flags from the game and thereby any political references to what was going on in the real world.

To enhance the profile of the Llamasoft company and garner more interest in the games, a stand was organised at a Commodore computer show to promote some of the Vic 20 games already in the Llamasoft catalog.

This turned out to be one of the best decisions Jeff could have made, as one of the games - Defenda (a clone of the popular and successful arcade game Defender), was noticed by an employee of the U.S software company Hesware. A contract was subsequently signed to complete the game for the U.S market and this time Jeff would be rewarded fairly for his efforts.

The game was eventually released in the U.S under the name Aggressor (aka Andes Attack in Europe) with some of the graphics changed so it would be disassociated from the original Atari arcade game Defender. Atari was notorious for aggressively pursuing any infringement of its intellectual copyright, so avoiding a confrontation at this stage was essential.

Things were about to get even better for Llamasoft, with the arrival on the computer scene of the Commodore 64 home computer, which was destined to replace the Vic 20 and send a shock-wave through the computer world.

Daily Telegraph June 5th 1982
©Copyright 1982 Daily Telegraph

It did not take long for Jeff to be enamoured by the C64's potential and he was soon writing games for the format. His first game would be Gridrunner, with the inspiration for the name coming from the successful movie Blade Runner, that was showing on Cinema screens at the time.

His relationship with Hesware went from strength to strength, with further games being sent for evaluation and possible release in the USA. The success of Llamasoft was now assured and Jeff Minter would go on to become a legend.

Aggressor - Andes Attack - Vic 20
Aggressor by Hesware

Aggressor - Andes Attack - Vic 20
Hesware Aggressor Cover

A YAK is born
Before I continue, I should confess, that in my younger years during the home computer boom, I was never a fan of Jeff Minter. I found his games too difficult and bizarre, basically I just didn't get it. The only exception being Hover Bovver, which I do remember fondly and at the time was a personal favourite. It was only in later years that I appreciated the genius of his work and I'm happy to have an opportunity to write an article about this legendary games programmer and give him the respect I should have done all those years ago.

Jeff is often referred to as Yak, which is a name he chose for himself. This came about due to the 3-letter high score tables used on arcade machines. He decided on Yak because in his own words - "It is a scruffy, hairy beast - a lot like me!".

Sheep In Space Advert
Sheep In Space Advert

What can be said about this gaming genius that has not been said before. Jeff was a huge hit in the early years of the Commodore 64. The main reason for his success was that he had original ideas combined with a wild and vivid imagination.

In fact, it's fair to say that his creations are probably among the most novel computer games ever produced. Who else could dream up “Attack of the Mutant Camels”or “Sheep in Space” !

The other feature that set Jeff's games apart from his competitors was playability. The games tended to have great game play and could be very addictive. Although Jeff’s games were not technically as impressive as some other games at the time, originality and playability were the key to his success.
The music for his games, like Hover Bovver and Revenge of the Mutant Camels, were composed by pianist James Lisney, who was a college friend.

Jeff did not restrict himself to just writing games for the Commodore - so his programming talent was seen on other machines as well, like the Atari 800 and ST, Amiga and in later years, the Atari Jaguar game console.

Jeff was well known and revered by a loyal band of followers. A colourful, often flamboyant character who brought a zest to the game scene that otherwise would have been sorely lacking.

He penned a number of articles in top C64 magazines, like Commodore Horizons and Zzap 64.

Arguably some of his best articles appeared in the overlooked and now long forgotten, Commodore Horizons magazine. Some C64 magazine readers were rather snobbish and negative about Horizons, with their loyalty to Commodore User or Zzap 64 - but go back and compare some of the exclusive profile articles that appeared in Horizons  and you will discover they were often superior to the writings in other Commodore magazines, containing some fascinating and interesting insights into a particular company or programmer, that otherwise you never would have known.

Commodore Horizons
Commodore Horizons Magazine

Jeff Minter
Jeff Minter

Jeff Minter - Working
Jeff Minter
Jeff had a passion for pets and in particular the Llama, yes you read that right, he owned a Llama! So it's not surprising that the name of his software company was Llamasoft. A nice touch, as even the name of his company was unusual.

Being the master of his own company meant he could work on whatever project he liked. It gave him a unique advantage over other programmers, allowing a freedom of expression that otherwise might have been discouraged and most could only dream of.

It's reasonable to say that some of the games he created, would never have seen the light of day with another company.  Most execs of game companies at the time simply could not understand or appreciate what Jeff was doing - his concepts would have been too outlandish for them.

The fact that he was able to make his company a success is an enormous credit to him and an inspiration to others.

Due to his young age, being only 16 when he started his company, his mother helped him to run the business. This support from a parent proved to be invaluable and certainly would have given him even greater confidence to succeed, while relieving the burden of certain day to day tasks, that otherwise would have interferred with his programming.

Like many people, Jeff was not too keen on criticism. He had a few choice words for reviewers of Zzap 64 and Commodore User, where he believed they were being unfairly harsh on his latest gaming effort.

There was a particular incident, regarding the game Mama Llama, which Mike Pattenden of Commodore User 'Hot Shots' fame thought a rather self indulgent effort. Jeff did not take too kindly to that remark. Perhaps on reflection Jeff would accept being a little over sensitive to some of these criticisms, but it was typical of him that he would take the time to defend his work, especially where he vehemently disagreed with something that was stated.

Also, some of the magazine reviewers could be erroneous with their verdict on a game, after all no matter how hard they try - personal opinion or bias will inevitably creep in.

Mike Pattenden - Hot Shots
Mike Pattenden - Hot Shots

Jeff's reaction to criticism, may not initially have done him any favours, but it is nice to see someone stand up for themselves and it obviously showed how much he cared about the quality of his work.

Jeff Minter - Tony Crowther
Jeff Minter and Tony Crowther
There was a lot of friendly and not so-friendly rivalry between top game programmers back then. Jeff had a disagreement with the blonde haired genius Tony Crowther (a 16 year old whizkid who created Blagger and Loco).

Jeff took issue with a couple of things, namely the fact that Tony was on record for saying, that a game was good value for money if it could be played for at least 5 hours and that he could code a game in about 2 weeks. Jeff felt that for a game to offer value for money, it should be played a lot longer than just 5 hours and that being able to churn one out in a few weeks, probably meant it wasn't much good.

What issue there was between the two, was fortunately ironed out quite quickly, because the two of them became friends and even went on a Skiing holiday together. I suspect, Jeff and Tony had a mutual respect for the others programming talent - they certainly produced some impressive software, that’s for sure!

Jeff Minter was fascinated by the ability of mathematical algorithms, to produce startling colour patterns, which when accompanied by music created a new kind of audio and visual experience. It was an interesting possibility and Jeff initially used a very small piece of code no more than 1K to experiment. He was impressed by the result and set out to develop the code further.

Jeff's first release was titled 'light synthesiser' but interest in it was rather limited and reviews were not favourable. This did not deter him and eventually Jeff released a more capable version of the idea called 'Psychedelia' which was ported to all the major 8-bit computers.

He even used the program at computer shows with accompanying music to attract visitors to the Llamasoft stand. The software should not be confused with modern day screen savers with randomly drawn patterns, as the graphics are controlled by input from the user.
Psychedelia - Llamasoft
Llamasoft Psychedelia Advert

Colourspace - Light Synthesiser
Llamasoft Colourspace Advert

'Psychedelia' was only the first step. Jeff would push the software much further, with the release of Colourspace, using the colour capability of the Atari 800 XL.

With the arrival of 16-bit computers like the Atari ST, it was possible to expand Colourspace with extra features, taking advantage of the more powerful 16-bit hardware. Eventually this evolved into Trip-A-Tron which was released on the Atari ST and Amiga.

Jeff clearly has a passion for light synthesis software and sees it as a novel form of entertainment. It is not surprising that over the years he has continually found ways to refine and implement his concepts on new computer hardware.

Probably the definitive version of this software is Neon, which is built into the Xbox 360 (see Mama Giraffe page for more information).

Psychedelia - Llamasoft
Psychedelia by Llamasoft

Trip-A-Tron - Llamasoft
Trip-A-Tron by Llamasoft

New Kids On The Block

Llamatron - Amiga - Llamasoft
Amiga Llamatron by Llamasoft

With the 8-bit home computer market declining due to the arrival of a new breed of powerful 16-bit machines. It was time for Jeff Minter and Llamasoft to move on and initially this would be the Atari ST, followed by the Amiga.

A number of games in the Llamasoft catalogue were ported over to the 16-bits, including Revenge of the Mutant Camels and a version of Gridder, titled Super Gridder.

One of the new games to appear was Llamatron (Jeff's version of the coin-op Robotron). This featured the obligatory Llama as the main character and everything moved at a frenetic pace,  with the simple objective to shoot anything in sight. Graphically nothing special, but the sound was neat, with amusing sound effects and of course great fun to play.

With Atari looking to build on their initial success with the ST, they went on to release the Atari Falcon, a 32-bit machine. Unfortunately for Atari it was commercially short lived. The Amiga had become dominant, but that didn't stop Jeff from releasing two games for the Falcon format, unsurprisingly one called Llamazap! and the other Defender 2000.

Atari Jaguar
Atari Jaguar by Atari Inc.
Tempest 2000 - Llamasoft
Tempest 2000 by Llamasoft

Jeff was also involved in helping to promote Atari's new Jaguar games console, with a version of the coin-op Tempest 2000. A wonderful game, graphically effective and with great gameplay. However, Atari would suffer another blow, as their Jaguar was destined for the scrap heap, with the arrival of the Sony Playstation.

Tempest 2000 Video Clip from YouTube (deanpook)

In later years Llamasoft would release new versions of games from its back catalogue - Gridrunner++ for Xbox, PC, Mac and Hover Bovver 2 for the Pocket PC.

Mama Giraffe
A disappointment for Jeff would certainly have been the termination of Unity, a game for the Nintendo Gamecube. Work progressed but with a very tight deadline, so it was not feasible to complete it in time. Unity had looked like being an important release for the Cube, but unfortunately it never saw the light of day. However, the time and effort spent on Unity was not wasted, as it led to Jeff being noticed by none other than the mighty Microsoft.

Unity Video Clip from YouTube (monokoma)

Using an Xbox development kit supplied by Microsoft, Jeff started work on developing Neon, which was based on his earlier experimentation with the light synthesis programs, Psychedelia and Colourspace.

Neon would be far advanced from these by harnessing the graphical power of the Xbox in a beautiful way. The graphics can be controlled either by the user or music.

Microsoft were certainly impressed with Neon and it was included as a standard feature on the Xbox 360.

Neon Video Clip from YouTube (neon360)

With the success of Neon, Jeff went on to develop the game Space Giraffe for the Xbox. This games fate would be a re-run of the Mama Llama debacle.

Space Giraffe is a strange, but visually and sonically compelling idea. It's a complex game to play, which many people simply can't get into and to be honest I'm one of them. Some have suggested that it is no more than an unplayably complex version of Tempest, with the fun removed. I think this is unfair.

Space Giraffe has shown what only Jeff Minter can do, it has divided the games community, some love it,  some hate it, others are just confused. The only thing I will say is this, some things never change, MAMA LLAMA, here we go again!

Space Giraffe Video Clip from YouTube (stinkyox)

Gordon Bennet
Hover Bovver released in 1983 was one of Jeff Minter's most enjoyable games - a truly great concept. Featuring bright, well defined colourful graphics, 16 levels and great gameplay. You play the part of Gordon Bennet who needs to mow lawns but requires a lawnmower, so he steals (borrows) a lawnmower from his Neighbour.

The object of the game is simple, mow the lawn as fast as you can without overheating the mower or before the neighbour recovers the mower. You can set your dog on the neighbour to buy some time. But don’t ruin the flower beds or the gardener will come after you and keep your eye on the dog loyalty / tolerance bar - or you’ll be in real trouble!

Hover Bovver - Llamasoft
Hover Bovver  by Llamasoft

Hover Bovver - Llamasoft
Llamasoft Hover Bovver Cover

The design and layout of the different gardens are wonderful, with fencing and flower beds.  If you glance at the title screen of the game you will notice that it states the game design was by P.K. and J.C. Minter. P.K. Minter was Jeff's father Pat and who was largely responsible for the graphic design. Obviously a great partnership because the results speak for themselves.

The title screen is cute with Gordon and his mower zipping across the screen to the music “English country garden!”. The in-game sound effects are impressive, especially as you move the clunky mower around the garden, with varying degrees of success!

Flymo - Jeff Minter
Jeff Minter and Flymo

Mower - Jeff Minter
Jeff Minter and Mower

A British company 'Flymo' which in the late 60's created the world's first electric hover mower, considered using Hover Bovver as a promotional tool for its 'Flymo' lawnmower. Eventually they decided against it. Following the success of the game, Flymo must of kicked themselves for missing this opportunity.

The Empire Strikes Back
Whenever Jeff Minter was working in California he would listen to the Radio Station, KMEL 106.1 FM - their logo was a camel. The idea for using a camel in a game came from this. Further inspiration was drawn from the movie Empire Strikes Back and the Ice Planet Hoth sequence, where the Empire attacked the rebel base using AT-AT’s (or as Jeff would say, giant camels!).

1982 Camel Logo - KMEL 106 FM
1982 Camel Logo - KMEL 106 FM

AT-AT Empire Strikes Back
AT-AT - Empire Strikes Back

Attack of the Mutant Camels released in 1983, revolves around giant camels in a sideways scrolling shootem-up. Technically well put together, with great use of large C64 sprites, moving along multi-coloured backgrounds. Basically blow up everything in your way and watch out for the mutant camels.

Attack Of The Mutant Camels - Llamasoft
Attack Of The Mutant Camels by Llamasoft

Attack Of The Mutant Camels - Llamasoft
Attack Of The Mutant Camels Advert

Although there were many shootem-ups available, this was really original and showed off Jeff’s imaginative flair. One of his more popular games and probably one of the games that most Commodore 64 users will remember. In fact even if they never played the game, they would recognise the name, because of the exposure it had in magazines at the time.

Llamasoft Lecture On AMC '89 - Video Clip from YouTube (gtwportal)

Space Invaders
Gridrunner - Hesware
Gridrunner by Hesware
Gridrunner, released in 1983.

If you can remember the Vic 20 game Centipede, then this will be familiar, but with some cool additions.

Basically you move around a grid, while trying to avoid lasers firing at you. Upon hitting an enemy caterpillar, it will split into smaller caterpillars, which you will need to eliminate.

This is quite a simple concept, which integrated rather well with the gameplay - being fun and addictive.

This was Jeff's first game released under the Hesware label. In later years this game was also released in other incarnations, Matrix (sequel) and Voidrunner (prequel).

Laserzone, released in 1983.

A variation on the space invader shootem-up. But like the original arcade space invaders, the simplicity of the game is what makes it enjoyable and addictive.

You play the part of a Zone Gunner, with the objective of saving your Laser Zone from devastation by pesky aliens. Your weaponry consists of a plasma cannon to zap the aliens to oblivion.

I can remember seeing this game advertised in the old Commodore VicSoft catalogue, with other Llamasoft games, like Hover Bovver.

Laserzone - Llamasoft
Laserzone by Llamasoft

Ancipital - Llamasoft
Ancipital by Llamasoft

Ancipital, released in 1984.

One of Jeff's later creations. It is (as he likes to call it), a progressive arcade game, with 100 rooms and where the main character is half man and half goat! I always thought it was like a fusion of Space Invaders/Wizards Lair/Robotron (but that's just me).

A shootem-up that involved moving from screen to screen, collecting items and avoiding any obstacles in the way. A nice touch was the clever use of sound that varied from room to room.

There was an option for Strobe FX which caused a flickering colour effect, which prevented the game from looking rather bland. It played quite well and as with all Jeff's games was weird. I suspect it would come with a health and safety warning now, with the increased awareness of epilepsy!

Hellgate, released in 1984.

Similar to Laserzone, but much more difficult with 4 firing turrets that need to be controlled to zap the enemies on screen. Quite manic and hard to play. It can become a bit tedious after a while, but if your reactions are quick enough then you may appreciate the challenge.

Hellgate - Llamasoft
Hellgate by Llamasoft

Revenge Of The Mutant Camels - Llamasoft
Revenge Of The Mutant Camels by Llamasoft

Revenge of the Mutant Camels, released in 1984.

This game is a cross between Space Invaders and Defender. It's almost a fusion of the PSS games Metroblitz and Neoclyps all rolled into one and on steroids! in typical Jeff Minter style with larger than life colour graphics. The objective is to walk the camels far enough and kill all the incoming enemies. A fast, fun and enjoyable shootem-up, which remains one of Jeff's more popular games.

Animal House
Sheep In Space - Llamasoft
Sheep In Space by Llamasoft
Sheep In Space, released in 1984.

Just when you thought Jeff Minter's imagination could not get any more wilder, he came up with Sheep In Space!

Basically a sideways scrolling shootem-up with the lead character being a flying sheep.

Completely ridiculous in every way, but this is what makes a Minter game unique and such a different experience to your usual run-of-the-mill shootem-up.

Although playable and addictive it is quite hard, like some of his other games. A strange but fun game with 48 levels of action.
Batalyx, released in 1985.

An interesting game that involves six sub-games that have to be completed within a certain time frame. During the sub-games you may collect an icon, there are 5 in total, once all 5 are collected you win the game.

The 6 sub-games are:
Hallucin-o-bomblets, Attack of the Mutant Camels 2, Iridis Base, Cippy on the Run, Synchro II and Psychedelia. These sub games range from shootem-ups to a light synthesiser!

The games vary in difficulty, so to prevail a wise head is needed to tackle the hardest sub-games first.

Batalyx - Llamasoft
Batalyx by Llamasoft

Mama Llama - Llamasoft
Mama Llama by Llamasoft
Mama Llama, released in 1985.

From the title you will ascertain that not surprisingly this is another game featuring a Llama - but this time, your objective is to protect a family of Llamas through many levels of mayhem.

It's similar to Revenge of the Mutant Camels, but technically more impressive. Unfortunately it is quite complex, which results in the game being less accessible and therefore hinders the fun factor.

You would probably need to be a die-hard Jeff Minter fan to appreciate this game, rather than condemn it, which perhaps unfairly, most seem to do.

Iridis Alpha, released in 1986.

Mindbending and very difficult but what else would you expect from a Jeff Minter game!

Cleverly constructed, based around a planetary system and to progress you need to deposit energy and eliminate a certain number of aliens to warp to another planet.

Speed is of the essence, as you will need to move quickly to ensure you don't end up fried.

Graphically and sonically impressive and with perserverance rewarding gameplay. One of the best games to be released by Llamasoft.

Iridis Alpha - Llamasoft
Iridis Alpha by Hewson Consultants Ltd

Game Release Timeline
1983 1984 1985 1986 1987




Iridis Alpha
Iridis Alpha




Mama Llama
Mama Llama

Hover Bovver
Hover Bovver

Revenge Of The Mutant Camels


Sheep In Space

Attack Of The Mutant Camels


A number of articles about Jeff Minter that appeared in Commodore 64 magazines are available in the
Legends of the C64 - Jeff Minter category:

Goatbuster - The Jeff Minter Interview by Tony Takoushi, which appeared in Big K.
The Camelid Tour '84 by Jeff Minter, which appeared in C&VG.
The Minterview by Kevin Cox, which appeared in Your Commodore.
Minter Mania by Jeff Minter, which appeared in Commodore Horizons.
These articles contain some rare photos of Jeff Minter.

If you would like to comment on this article then please use the comment/rating feature available.

Thank you to the following websites which were used for sourcing some images that appear in this article:
AtariAge, Little Green Desktop, Medwaypvb, Stonan, Star Wars Gallery, Wikipedia, YouTube.

The Llamasoft presentation to Google Inc. by Jeff Minter, recorded 6th March 2007 is below, courtesy of YouTube and The Official Google Channel.

Llamasoft Presentation to Google Inc. from YouTube (google)