|★ GAMES ★ EDITEURS ★ LEISURE GENIUS ★|
|Leisure Genius|PopularComputingWeekly)||Leisure Genius|
David Kelly talks to Peter Deutsch and Jon Baldachin of Leisure Genius
Peter Deutsch's company Leisure Genius has, almost without anyone noticing, cornered a unique niche in computer games.
Over four years ago, Peter Deutsch first started trying to get the rights to produce video games based on established board games. And since then he has reached agreement with some of the best known board game manufacturers including Waddingtons and Spears to produce micro versions of their titles.
Board game manufacturers however were initially very hostile to the idea of video versions of their games. They felt threatened by losing sales to the micros and at the time when computers first began to take off the toy industry was in the middle of a deep recession.
"The toy industry is a very funny business" says Peter. "Everyone knows the colour of everyone else's underpants — everything is cross-licensed. Someone will do the plastic bits and market it under your name. Somebody else will do another part under their name. It is all very complicated.
"The problem for the board game companies was there was actually a demand for computer versions of board games and the toy companies suddenly found themselves having to take action against software companies who were ripping them off by producing unauthorised versions.
"Toy companies like Waddingtons wanted to keep total control over their games, but at the same time weren't sure if they wanted to become involved in producing software at all.
"If I had been a board game manufacturer two years ago I would have looked at computer games very warily. Games like Monopoly have been selling for 20 or 30 years and Waddingtons didn't want to rush into something that might die after a couple of years.
Some toy manufacturers also fought shy of jumping in after Atari and Mattel showed huge losses. For a toy manufacturer to involve itself directly would have been a big risk.
<< Leisure Genius (left to right) Mark Stubbs, Peter Deutsch. Chris Harper and Jon Baldachin — producing video games based on established board games.
Says Peter: "We offered to take the risk for them — something they were only too happy to let us do."
The first game that Leisure Genius tried to produce was Scrabble from Spears. An Apple version was written and demonstrated to the public as long ago as 1982. And that was after two years of negotiations to tie up the contract with Spears. "I think our lawyer commutes to and from Monte Carlo on the fees from that work!" says Peter.
"What we proved with the Apple version of Scrabble was that a computer version of a board game could be a success."
Next, Leisure Genius came to a sublicensing agreement with Psion to produce a Spectrum version with enhanced graphics. That game appeared last June and was very well received both as a game and as a programming achievement.
"After Scrabble we were able to talk with Waddingtons and other board game companies and say, effectively — 'we can do the same sort of thing for you'."
The approach obviously worked because Leisure Genius is now working on computer versions of Cluedo from Waddingtons. Kensington from Whale Toys, Mastermind from Invicta and Mandala from Future Games.
Leisure Genius is a partnership between Peter Deutsch, who looks after the business side of the company, and Jon Baldachin, who deals with the programming side. The company now has three full-time programmers working mostly on material for the Commodore 64.
John Baldachin, a former IBM programmer, bought his first micro — a Heathkit — in 1977 during a visit to the US.
Following the success of the Spectrum version of Scrabble by Psion. Leisure Genius decided to set up its own programming team.
"The first thing we have done" says Jon "is to write machine-code drivers for the Apple lie and Commodore 64. They give us the same functions available for both machines—a virtual machine environment — which allows us to write software on the Apple which will run on several machines. It is a similar approach to that if you were writing in C — you would need to produce a C compiler for each machine you wanted to run the code on."
The drivers — around 11K of machine code — are now finished for the Apple and the Commodore 64 computers and Jon and his team are working on Scrabble, Cluedo, and Mastermind for the Commodore 64 which should be finished by mid-April. Then work will start on the Spectrum drivers.
Once John is happy with the presentation and screen layout, the flowcharting of the game can begin. The flowcharts are written from top-down. When this is finished the programming can begin.
Most of the code for Scrabble and the other games on the 64 takes the form of 'machros'. These are machine-code routines which are then called by the program. "If you think of Simon's Basic, which contains code that creates extra commands in Basic, then what we have done is to write code which creates extra commands in machine code, called 'pseudo-ops'."
Programmers writing the games need not know how to program the processor in the target machine. Instead, they need to know how to program the common operating system offered by the driver routines.
"I made a decision to go with machine code rather than, say C. because it is faster. Also it is more sophisticated—for one thing the driver routines offer sprites.
"By the end of the year we will be producing an 8086 version of our drivers — we don't have any choice. By that time everything will be 16-bit — Sinclair has made that clear with the QL."
It is unlikely that any of the games will appear, at least in the short term, on the BHC or Electron machines though. Says Jon: "The games are ideal for the BBC machine. Unfortunately the BBC micro isn't ideal for the games. The shortage of memory would mean that writing drivers for BBC and Electron would be a pain."