The

ORIGIN

of the

SPECIES


by Jeff Minter

For the first time anywhere in BIG K, the rock-'em sock-'em official history of Llamasoft from the Hairy One himself!

FIRST CONTACT with a micro; 1978 as far as I can remember, at 6th Form. It was an 8K PET with, the calculator keyboard. Taught myself BASIC, wrote games, found out games needed speed, taught myself machine language.

Left 6th Form, went to university in Norwich armed only with a ZX80 I'd saved for six months to buy and an old TV I'd got for a fiver. While I was there I (a) bought an Atari VCS, (b) did a little illicit hacking on the resident VAX mainframe, (c) got caught and hammered for the aforementioned hacking, (d) spent quite a little time on the biology lab's Apple systems, which were my first experience of the Disc Drive (may it's Name be eternally praised). Eventually (e) got kicked out 'cos I was supposed to be doing maths and physics. My pleas to be allowed to transfer to computing fell upon deaf ears (at least I think he was deaf)...

Got back, obtained a ZX81 (wow!), started going to Oxford Poly. Wrote some ZX81 games which were sold by DKTronics. Designed their graphics ROM (note two little llamas and initials 'JM' therein testify to the design) and wrote machine code versions of Centipede and Space Invaders using said ROM. Got very nasty virus infection, quite ill for three months, had to leave Poly. Got hold of VIC-20!! Wrote tape of ten little games for DKTronics. (There's a collector's item for anyone who still has one!) Had disagreement with DKTronics over ZX81 graphics ROM. Decided to go solo!

DK Tronics - ZX81 - Jeff Minter - Graphics ROM
dK 'tronics - ZX81 Graphics ROM
(note the llama characters in the 3rd column from the right!)
Bought M/C Monitor for VIC! Bought 16K Expansion and Motherhead for VIC!! Teamed up with R.P. Jones who was to help me with the venture. Wrote Defenda painfully slowly. Went to VIC show in '82 and people actually bought Defenda (wow!). Met guy from American software house HES and did deal to ROM Defenda (we called it Aggressor). Wrote game called Ratman. None too thrilled with it but launched it anyway. Wrote Traxx. Much better! Well pleased with it. Had argument with Jones. Decided it would be best if we each followed our own destinies. Did PCW Show in September '82, last ever show with RPJ. Show finished, we went home RPJ reclaimed the stuff he'd lent me, we were alone. Solo. No hassles.

Sat down for a week, wrote a little thing called Gridrunner... BLAM!! Phone call from the States at two in the morning, they're going crazy, been playing it six hours solid, can I code it for the C64? Write Grid for the C64. Can I code it for the Atari? In two weeks? On ROM? Go out, buy Atari, buy De Re Atari book, buy disc drive, borrow mate's assembler editor. Write Grid again. Then write Attack of the Mutant Camels for the C64, then Laser Zone for the VIC - and therein lie the best sonics i've ever made - then go on holiday for a week 'cos i'm nearly burned out. Come back, go to the States to show in San Francisco, listen to Rock Radio station KMEL 106FM, the Beast of the Bay. (So that's where 106 comes from, okay?) Return. Write Matrix for the ViC and C64. Write Laser Zone for the C64. Go to show in Chicago, see an arcade game called Chameleon which HES had the rights to but never programmed. It was ace.

Chameleon - Jaleco - 1983
Chameleon © Copyright 1983 Jaleco

Come back. Enlist the services of the Baughurst Piano Wizard to write Hover Bovver. Also write Metagalactic Llamas for the VIC. Launch HB and Metagalactic at PCW. Go home, write Revenge, launch at YC Xmas Show. Go ski-ing. Come back, write Hell Gate for VIC and C64. Write Sheep In Space and listen to Jethro Tull's Broadsword and the Beast a lot. Go to San Francisco again. Argue with HES because they won't take Revenge. They assure me that their marketing people know exactly what's right for the USA. I attempt to prove them wrong and draw large and enthusiastic crowds when I demo Revenge at the show. HES ignore the evidence! I listen to KMEL 106FM some more, then fly home. People finally stop telling me to get my hair cut.
Demo Sheep at Radio 1 show in Birmingham, let the players turn up a couple of bugs, fix these and launch Sheep. Read De Re Atari again and decide that you could do some fancy things with it if you wanted to. Learn the Atari. Write AMC for the Atari. Mate of mine transfers Meta to the C64. he comes down for a while, he codes Hover Bovver onto the Atari and I sit and write Ancipital.

HES go bankrupt. I demo Ancipital at D&D Show in London, people like it. Finish off Ancipital and launch at PCW Show. Notice that people are getting heavily into my newsletter!

De Re Atari - Programming Guide
De Re Atari by L. Cross

Go to Peru and have amazing experiences with llamas. Come back with idea for Mama Llama. Drink last of my Inca Kola.

Inca Kola - Peru
Inca Kola by José R. Lindley

Start coding. Tony Takoushi comes down and does idiot interview for BIG K. Stay at home coding and miss party. Finish backgrounds. Write this. Finish, go to bed. Try to stop thinking of goats. Go to sleep, zzzzzzzzzzz...