A brief chat with Dave Vout: Sheffield’s 221b Software Developments Studio

221b was founded by Dave Vout, Nick Kimberly and Jason Wilson – all ex-employees of Tony Kavanagh, Peter Harrap and Shaun Hollingworth’s Krisalis Software.

The studio had many developers pass through its doors, many of which were being employed in their first industry job: Richard Turner, co-founder of Curve Digital/Curve Studios, Sean “Glob” Millard, now Creative Director at Sumo Digital and Paul Porter, the founder of Sumo Digital who went onto work for Gremlin Graphics.

Coincidentally, 221b’s first game was Hero Quest for Gremlin. As part of the research for A Gremlin in the Works I was lucky enough to speak with Dave Vout about his career.

“We spoke to Ian Stewart and James North Hearn at Gremlin”, recalls Dave, “they gave us the board game and we went home to play it, stayed up all night and made the game design. In those days we had limited computer software and printers so I literally printed out the text, Jason did some drawings, I cut them out and glued them to paper in a folder and that was the design.”

It was enough and the next day 221b had a signed agreement with Gremlin to develop the game. A week later they were in their very own offices, up and running, though problems lie ahead. “We ran out of money – we were so naive” admits Dave. “Gremlin told us ‘finish the game’ so that didn’t go well. They offered us Space Crusade next and we turned it down…a programmer called Michael Hart wrote the Amiga version of Hero Quest and he took Space Crusade as a solo project. He went on to work for the late Fergus McGovern at Hotgen. I met up for a beer with him at Christmas and he’s now developing commercial software for banks!”

Paul Porter wrote Predator 2 from his University digs in Leicester, impressing the team with his Commodore 64 knowledge. Predator’s producer was Tony Beckworth at MirrorSoft, who went onto run Probe Studios for Fergus and later form his own BlackRock Studio that was sold to Disney.

The Jetsons was produced for ex-Alligata David A Palmer and his Hi-Tec label. Dave remembers the eccentric entrepreneur with some fondness: “He helped rescue people in the Kings Cross tube fire and got a medal for it [and] he did used to have one of the first mobile phones and carry it in a shoulder gun holster …. I think he thought he was 007!”

As for other members of the 221b team?

Jason Wilson went onto Sony Cambridge and won a BAFTA for MediEvil – his own creation.

John Gyarmati, in the words of Dave was “an artist and a bit of a Romeo, he was always having issues with a girl. I spent more time going to his flat to try and get him to come to work than actually making a game.”

Fred O’Rouke, another ex-Krisalis developer coded Alcatraz on the Amiga from his student digs-esque house. His obsession with food found its way into his creations as various Easter Eggs. He worked alongside John Scott and were nicknamed Crockett and Tubbs by the others. John Scott has recently worked on BulletStorm and Gears of War for Epic Games.

Sean Millard at Sumo Digital went full-circle: After designing Dr Who Dalek Attack for 221b in 1992 (with music by fellow Sumoian Paul Tankard), almost twenty years later did the same at Sumo for their BBC Dr Who Adventure games series.

As for Dave – he is still making games in London at Big Head Games. Interestingly, Tony Kavanagh’s KavCom publishes mobile ports of Big Head Games’ output.

Thanks to Dave for taking the time to fill me in!

221b Soft. Dev. Gameography

HeroQuest C64/CPC/Amiga/ST/PC 1991
Blues Brothers C64 1991
Predator 2 C64 1991
Alcatraz ST/Amiga 1992
Dr Who Dalek Attack C64/CPC/Amiga/ST/PC 1992
The Jetsons C64/CPC/Amiga/ST/PC 1992




In a galaxy far, far away: An interview with @Joanna_Berry from 2012

Republished from the Games Britannia 2012 newspaper:

Jo Berry (@Joanna_Berry)  is a former student at Sheffield Hallam University and works at Bioware in Austin, Texas, as a writer on Star Wars: The Old Republic – a massively multiplayer game with over a million players worldwide.

Jo studied a postgraduate course in creative writing, graduating in 2008. She recently returned to Sheffield to give an insight into her career at a public master class at the University.

Why did you choose creative writing? I was ready to do a second degree and was considering several options, including an English PhD. But I’d already studied English literature as part of my BA and I didn’t want to teach, so I didn’t think a PhD would take me where I wanted to go. I knew that I wanted to write as a career, so I decided to stay focused on that goal. A creative writing degree seemed like the best course – as it were.

Were you always interested in games/interactive fiction? I’ve been interested in games since I was small. Actually, at first, my older brother was the gamer (I think we started with an Amiga 500) and I’d sit and watch as he played games like Shadow of the Beast and Blood Money. I was an avid reader but I was fascinated by what computer games could do that books couldn’t. Later I came to enjoy Jackson and Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy books, because they were a happy medium: a story that involved me in how it unfolded.

Did you make a decision at any point that you wanted to write for games? What steps did you take? I think my interest in writing for games first came from playing point-and-click adventure games like Zork: Nemesis and The Longest Journey. It wasn’t the writing specifically that drew me at first – it was the idea of creating an actual world that you could explore, and characters and puzzles that you could interact with. One of the clinching moments came when I played Mass Effect – the kind of epic space adventure I’d always wanted to have as a huge science fiction fan. I was standing on Luna in-game, looking up, and I suddenly saw Earth overhead. Going into space has always been a dream of mine, and this was a taste of it, which was surprisingly effective and affecting. I decided that this was something I wanted to make. I was still finishing my MA at the time, and I was looking at game companies known for their narrative and characters. When I saw soon after that BioWare was looking for writers, I jumped in and applied.

How different is writing for games compared to writing for film and TV? What challenges are there? The challenges of game writing match its strengths. Interacting with a world and its people are incredible experiences for players, but challenging to manage for developers precisely because the player has so much control. The story can’t ignore the game mechanics: having a player threatened by a couple of guards and thrown in a dungeon, for example, becomes ridiculous if the player is a mighty warrior who killed a dozen monsters just minutes before. Equally, you don’t want to hamstring the player’s fun just because it impacts your story. You have to strike a balance between the player’s willingness to go along with the story, and their desire to make their own choices and react to the world you’ve created in their own way.

How diverse is the videogames industry now? It has a very male-focused image – is this something you’ve seen change at all? Science and technology industries in general are perceived as having a male-focused image, but there have been prominent female developers in the game industry for years: Amy Hennig (writer-director of the Legacy of Kain and Uncharted games), Rhianna Pratchett (writer on Overlord and Mirror’s Edge), Jade Raymond (producer on the Assassin’s Creed series), Jane Jensen (creator of the Gabriel Knight games) to name just a few.

How do you see your career panning out? Do you want to do anything other than games script-writing? I still write in my own time outside of work. It’s been fascinating to see how writing for games, and learning from the rest of the team here, has improved how I approach my own writing, even down to basic planning and character development. In the future I’d definitely be interested in publishing novels or short stories, but for now there’s still plenty for me to learn as a games writer.

Steven Poole: On videogames and reading

Republished from the Games Britannia 2012 newspaper:

As George W. Bush nearly asked: “Is our children reading?” The answer appears to be no, according to the 2006 report of the International Literacy Study. As the Guardian summarises its findings:

“England has plummeted from third to 19th in an international league table of children’s literacy levels as pupils replace books with computer games.”

Imagine the headline 100 years ago: “Children Spending Too Much Time Playing Outdoors with Hoops and Sticks, Says Minister; Should be Forcibly Enclosed to Read Improving Literature.” There’s always some apparently pointless youth activity to scapegoat.

As has always been the case, though, the adult paranoia expressed here about the supposedly harmful influence of videogames depends on a sublime ignorance of the form. In fact, you’re not going to get far in most modern videogames if you can’t read. And some of them make you read an awful lot.

News headlines don’t tell you, for example, about the cherishably batty series of games for the Nintendo DS starring Phoenix Wright. These games, in which you play the part of a defence lawyer in a series of increasingly surreal criminal trials, take place almost entirely through conversations that you have to remember and then sift for contradictions, before triumphantly shouting “Objection!” in a crowded courtroom. At a rough estimate, one Phoenix Wright game contains at least as much text as your average children’s novel.

Meanwhile, another game for the DS, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, not only has innumerable scripted conversations and written signs to read, but makes you write as well — scribbling notes on your maps (via a touchscreen and stylus) so you can solve the puzzles and navigate through increasingly tortuous temples. A child playing this game is probably more passionate about reading its prose for clues and taking detailed notes than he is about doing his homework. But that’s not the game’s fault.

Ah, but is the writing in these games any good? Well, it’s variable, like the writing in books. Some of it’s rubbish and some of it is very good. (In my opinion, Phoenix Wright is funnier and cleverer than most TV made for adults.) But quality doesn’t really matter. My memory of reading as a child is basically that of voraciously hoovering up any old crap. (This turned out to be excellent training for becoming a book-reviewer.) Not all of the games that children are playing are so dependent on reading, of course. Doubtless children are also playing a lot of games where you race shiny cars or shoot zombies into bloody chunks with massive guns. Well, everybody has to relax now and then. To insist that a young person spend every minute of his waking day in adult-mandated forms of self-improvement would be a kind of child abuse.

There is a larger paranoia about decreasing literacy among the young caused by maleficent new technologies. It seems at least as plausible that youth literacy isn’t actually decreasing; it’s just moving into arenas that the fogeys don’t know about or understand or have any idea how to quantify – like videogames or instant-messaging or writing in internet forums, or the wonderfully playful transformations of English in lolcat captions.  At any rate it’s clear that young people aren’t put off games like Zelda or Phoenix Wright because they demand reading skills. On the contrary, the games reward reading. As the experts and politicians commenting on the report wonder aloud how to put the “buzz” back into reading, Phoenix Wright and Zelda are already doing it.

So if English children are not so much interested in picking up a paperback, maybe that says more about the quality of books currently being foisted upon them than it does about the evils of digital entertainment. Children are, after all, quite discriminating. If someone writes a new Harry Potter, they’ll curl up with it for days. If not – there’s always the games console.

The EU Referendum on the ZX Spectrum

Are the economic “experts” feeding us a pack of fibs? How does sovereignty actually work? Could you negotiate a better trade deal than Mr Cameron? Answer these and many more questions of government, and let the ZX Spectrum give you the facts you’ll need to vote remain or leave:

1. The Dictator


2. President


3. Yes, Prime Minister


4. 1984


5. Great Britain Limited



A Gremlin in the Works – Closer Look

After Sam Dyer e-mailed a set of teasing images last week from the advance copies of my book I received my own personal copy of A Gremlin in the Works on Tuesday.

I am delighted with the result. As you can see from the photos the book looks great. The whole package really looks super-professional and the text is super-crisp and clear. Super.

I think anyone that orders the book will be pleased with what they receive. It’s a great hybrid of coffee table book with loads of full-page spreads, photos, images and recreated artwork alongside oodles of words. Oodles.

The pictures don’t fully give credit to the size of the book, the two volumes together as one. Take a look at the video I created.


A Gremlin in the Works – Advance Copies

Hot on the heels of the running sheet news I received an email late last night from Sam Dyer, uber-design guru at Bitmap Books. Sam sent me images of the advance copies of “A Gremlin in the Works” he had received from the printer.

They are jaw-dropping.

Credit must go to Sam himself, who took my initial “robust” ideas for the outer packaging for the book and came up with the slipcase idea that he’s so successfully used in his range of retrogame-themed books.

Credit must also go to Ric Lumb who allowed me to use his recreated Zool and Gremlin logo artwork within the book. This saved me a massive amount of time, and looks fabulous – Ric is such a great chap, and such a talented artist.

Finally we worked hard alongside the meticulous Mark Green to balance the content into two volumes – something that was vital to keep the cost of the product down, and allow the quality and finish of the book that Sam wanted. It would have been impossible if it remained at a single volume, 572 page tome.

Anyway, I can’t wait to get hold of the final thing! As I tweeted earlier in the week; I’ve never been so excited since receiving my Acorn Electron at Christmas in 1984.



A Gremlin in the Works – Running Sheets

I was very excited last week to receive the running sheets from Sam at Bitmap Books for A Gremlin in the Works. Running sheets are the printed, but unbound pages of the book that Bitmap have received from their printing partner.

They look utterly fantastic. I’m delighted with how crisp the imagery looks and how clean the text is. Hopefully the finished article will be available very soon!

Acorn Electron and ZX Spectrum games that consumed my childhood

We all have our favourite games. Owning an Acorn Electron and then ZX Spectrum (+2) between the ages of 10-18 I must have played 100s of titles. These are a few that stayed with me and that I devoted most of my time to.

Acorn Electron Years

Elite (Acornsoft)


I’m not sure that any more can be written about Elite? For me it is Britain’s Mona Lisa of videogames, our first true masterpiece of code (just 22K!!!) and open-world design. Most people recall where they were when JFK was killed, Man landed on the Moon or when Take That announced they were to split, but for me I remember where I was when I first saw the rotating Cobra MKV of Elite: Schoolfriend Simon Brock’s 10th birthday, 1984. It changed my life completely. Simon’s Dad, to address a lull in the proceedings excitedly disappeared and then reappeared, plugging in a little shoebox sized beige box into the TV. A few minutes later, the above screen burst forth from its cathode-ray-tube and that was it, I had to have it. Unfortunately, without knowing any better, I also yearned for the very machine I witnessed, leading me to be given an Acorn Electron and Elite for Christmas. Still …

Football Manager (Addictive Games)


Kevin Keegan, Skill 5. Who didn’t sink a million hours into Football Manager by Kevin Toms on whichever computer that you owned? Kevin’s masterpiece was available on just about every conceivable piece of kit – even the Dragon 32. Unfortunately, us poor Electron owners were denied the nail-biting treat of match highlights, instead having to take solace in a vidi-printer style text results service. Still it didn’t deter me and I finally got to meet the great man in 2012 and ask him why he was unable to create the graphics on the Electron. All down to “memory” he told me. I understood.

Citadel (Superior Software)


Though the Electron did have a port of Matthew Smith’s classic Jet Set Willy, Superior Software’s Citadel remains the best puzzle platformers to grace the system. It’s huge (over 100 screen) flick-screen design featured some beautifully drawn enemies, devious puzzles and also had an ingenious Exile-esque multicoloured pixelated border that housed additional game machine code.  I was fascinated by the  bold visuals, option to choose character gender, storyline, puzzles and spent many hours creating artwork inspired by the inlay and mapping out the game as far as I could progress.

Twin Kingdom Valley (Bug Byte)


GIVE DAGGER TO WITCH. Trevor Hall’s Twin Kingdom Valley was probably the first “graphic” adventure on the Electron, and stood out for that reason over the text-only (but otherwise excellent) offerings from Peter Kilworth. The Valley, home to two feuding Kings (thus giving the game its name) housed all manner of fairytale creatures including Dragons, Dwarves and Giants. There was a lot of wandering around, filling of lamps and opening bronze doors with bronze keys, but it was hugely compelling and atmospheric.

Hopper (Acornsoft)


Another saving grace for Electron owners was the utterly glorious range of arcade clones that appeared on its own Acornsoft label. Acardians, Meteors, Planetoid and Snapper are worthy of a mention, but its Hopper, the Frogger clone that appealed the most to me. Rebbit.

Daredevil Dennis (Visions)


16 year-old Simon Pick created a Daredevil, named Dennis who had to demonstrate his stunt abilities to Hollywood by driving an assortment of vehicles dodging a variety of static and moving hazards. DDD’s genius was in its simplicity; just three keys – accelerate, jump  and stop (which you could only use once) made it super-accessible and fun to play. As you progressed the treacherous nature of the on-screen objects increased presenting a tense challenge of working out exactly when that stop button needed to be triggered. A lot of fun and due a mobile remake – just don’t mention the Commodore 64 version …

Games I should have owned on the Electron, but didn’t ….

Exile, Codename Droid/Stryker’s Run, Dunjunz, Thrust, Frak! and Ransack.

ZX Spectrum Years

Football Manager (Addictive Games)


The version I’d always wanted. Graphics and everything.

The Double (Johnson Scanatron)


I played football games a lot (you may have noticed) and could have included Football Director, The Boss or any other of the pocket money titles from D&H Games budget label Cult – but The Double was was different. It was the first game not to use visible skill levels for players. You had to use the ingenuous scouting system to obtain opinions on potential targets, and you were limited to how many reports you could receive thus running the risk of a top class player slipping through the net. By some form of wizardry it also was the first game (I think) to include a roster of real players with real abilities – albeit limited to the top three tiers of English football and not the full four. The Commodore 64 version retained three divisions using its additional memory to include a horrific match highlights feature. The C64 version was also just as excruciatingly slow as its Z80 sibling. God, EXCRUCIATINGLY SLOW … how did I ever have the patience to play it? But, I forgave its foibles in exchange for its innovative ideas. I could have sworn Tracksuit Manager was by the same developer too.

Turbo Esprit (Durell)


Turbo Esprit was ground breaking in some many ways. The story revolved around a drugs baron driving a “supply car” loaded full of narcotics into a city, where it would wait for a rendezvous with four smugglers cars. After the “exchange” each of the cars would make a run for the city limits where they would escape and the game would be over. Your role as a James Bond / Miami Vice / Magnum narcotics cop was to hang around until the exchange of drugs and then chase down each of the criminals before they escaped. Where Esprit excelled was in its open world design. It delivered a living, breathing city – working traffic lights that other cars obeyed, petrol stations (you had to refuel), road-works and pedestrians seemingly going about their business.  I spent most of my hours role playing my own stories, using the game’s practise mode to map and drive around Minster, responding to fictitious crimes and cruising the streets. A great game with a fantastic loading screen and superbly detailed graphics. Again, let’s not mention the C64 or Amstrad version.

Grand Prix Simulator 2 (Codemasters)


I owned several of the “simulator” titles from the Codies (powered by the Oliver Twins) but Grand Prix 2 was the most polished of the bunch. What really stood out was the multi-player experience it offered: An opportunity for up to three friends to sweat it out over our rubber keyboarded chum, battling for position, getting to the finish line in the allotted time, and bagging bragging rights over the fastest lap around a line of fabulous tracks. Crucially for the multi-player experience it didn’t suffer from keyboard clash.

Footballer of the Year (Gremlin Graphics)


I owned the text-only travesty (press L to shoot Left, R to shoot Right – You Missed!) Acorn Electron version of Gremlin’s board game conversion, and bought it again for the Spectrum – which had graphics! It was ahead of its time, placing you directly in the boots of a player having to convert the chances you had on goal. It probably wasn’t the best version on the Speccy, with its workman-like graphics, and it was exceptionally difficult to win the FOTY trophy due to some very poor game logic: For example, even if you scored 50+ goals a season you wouldn’t win, or you would never be transferred to top teams, or your manager would accept any old offer to offload you. Cult’s Striker, and later titles such as Dino Dini’s Player Manager and New Star Soccer (FOTY’s 21st century pretender to the title) bettered the original but Gremlin’s classic retains a first team place in my squad.

Sherlock (Melbourne House)


Like Twin Kingdom Valley and its graphics, Sherlock offered something completely different to all other text adventures that went before it (I never owned The Hobbit): The parser seemed so sophisticated. The implementation of “INGLISH”, though still limited was a world away from the frustration of constantly searching for the right verb/noun to use in other games – OUT BOAT, LEAVE, GET OUT OF BOAT, LEAVE BOAT, UP, CLIMB OUT OF BOAT, OUT, JUMP FROM BOAT. Vocabulary was never a strong point of mine. It came packaged in one of those oversized trademark Melbourne House boxes, with a couple of feelies – an excellent manual setting the scene, a tips sheet and a fragment of paper that hinted at trains and timetables from various London stations to destinations across the capital. Add intelligent (ish) autonomous characters (with Animtalk), the transit of night and day (key to progressing in some parts of the game) and a story of murder and mystery that would unravel from the moment you asked Watson to read the early morning newspaper, Sherlock is probably one of the best, albeit it buggy, adventures on the Speccy.

The Big Sleaze


Fergus McNeil is a genius. If playing Sherlock Holmes was cool, then playing Sam Spillade, a Private Investigator (or Private Dick for short ….. *snigger*) in the highly romanticised 1930s was only measurable in Kelvin. Spillade has his world turned upside down by the entry into his life of the “obligatory female” who had come to New York to meet her father, who never showed up. Spillade takes the case and goes in search of Dad. The Big Sleaze looked like many other Quill/Illustrator adventures, but its attraction was down to McNeil’s storytelling, his refreshing writing style and the smorgasbord of comic wittery above and beyond what you’d expect – usually received from EXAMINEing everything, or typing in random rudeness (“Is that your idea of a good time? Typing in naughty bits?”).  I think Sleaze may have been Fergus’ first collaboration with his future wife Anna, with whom he went onto co-found Abstract Concepts and penned the label’s only game – Mindfighter. Well worth checking out, along with other gems such as The Boggit, Bored of the Rings and The Colour of Magic.

Formula One (CRL)


Not to be mistaken for every other game called Formula One, this was of the management variety, written by the formal-sounding GB Munday and BP Wheelhouse, released by CRL.You took control of a fledging Formula One team, with a fixed budget from which to pay driver’s salaries, buy and maintain engines, chassis and recruit and train pitstop teams. The “management” beyond this was quite limited; for race day you picked the tyre to match the weather and then watched from a position across from the start/finish line the various cars fly past competing for the lead. It actually was quite involved, as you had a pause between laps that had you on edge waiting to see if you’d overtaken, been overtaken or crashed out with some other issue. Cars would come into the pits for new tyres and you had to take control of the pit crew (one man) and change each wheel. Sounds crap, but it was a little more exciting than that and the best F1 management game on the Speccy (I can only recall a couple of others by Silicon Joy and D&H Games). The same duo also released a Motorcycle variant called Enduro.

Run For Gold (Hill MacGibbon)


I loved Track and Field in the arcades, along with Hyper Sports, but I was never dexterous enough to progress far enough through the game. The same applied when the action moved to home computers as I experienced more failures thanks to Daley Thompson. It’s probably why I enjoyed Run for Gold so much. It was more strategy then strenuous finger action as you balanced the pace and direction of a middle distance runner whilst keeping your eye on their energy levels. The graphics were wonderfully lifelike and fluid on the Speccy, with lovely big animated sprites filling most of the screen. If you fancy re-enacting those famous Coe vs Ovett races, as I did, then hunt this out.

Games I should have owned on the Spectrum, but didn’t …

Rex, Ranarama, Where Time Stood Still and Myth.




A Gremlin in the Works – Contributors

One thing that I’m proud of in regards to my upcoming book “A Gremlin in the Works”, published by Bitmap Books is that I’ve tried to be as exhaustive as possible in my research and have left no stone unturned. This has resulted in what I believe to be the most comprehensive list of contributors to the Gremlin Graphics story than ever before – and a book that is approx 560 pages long.

The list includes many key personalities that have never been interviewed before or talked Gremlin before, including Kevin Norburn, Chris Kerry, Jenny Richards and Bruno Bonnell. To whet your appetite, here is the full list of contributions to the book:

The founding fathers

Kevin Norburn
Ian Stewart

Monty Moles

Antony Crowther
Peter Harrap
Shaun Hollingworth
Chris Kerry

The Gremlins

George Allan
Ashley Bennett
Sarah Bennett
Neil Biggin
Paul Blythe
Steve Camber
Adrian Carless
Tony Casson
Carl Cavers
Joe Chetcuti
Richard Costello
Ben Daglish
Colin “Fungus T. Bogeyman” Dooley
Andrew Findlay
Andrew Fox
Stuart Gregg
Jacob Habgood
Jeremy Heath-Smith
Tim Heaton
Damian Hibbard
Paul Hiley
Greg Holmes
Tony Kavanagh
David Kirk
Wayne Laybourn
Steve Lycett
Ricki Martin
James North-Hearn
Jason Perkins
Pat Phelan
Simon Phipps
Phil Plunkett
Jenny Richards
Ian Richardson
Mark Rogers
Christian Shrigley
Les Spink
Richard Stevenson
Patrick Strassen
Tony Wills
Phil Wright

Micro Projects

Anthony Clarke

Magnetic Fields

Andrew Morris
Shaun Southern


Philip Durbidge

Camel Advertising

Richard Bridgwater

Wizard Development

Malcolm Gillott


Peter Frith

Krisalis Software

Matthew Furniss

U.S. Gold

Geoff Brown
Tim Chaney

Micro Power

Christopher Payne


Rod Cousens CBE
David Rowe

DMA Design

Mike Dailly
Steve Hammond
Gary Penn
Chris Stamp


Barry Leitch

Astros Productions

George Karboulonis

Boys Without Brains

Mario van Zeist


Antal Zolnai

Newsfield Publications

Roger Kean


Bruno Bonnell
Sean Millard


Lizi Attwood
Peter Andrew Jones
Violet Berlin
Chris Box
Matthew Clark
Will Frost
Simon Hallam
Ian Harling
Patrick Titley
Andy Turner
Glyn Williams

With thanks

Chris Ash
Jonathan Beales
Andy Brown
Martyn Carroll
Anthony and Nicola Caulfield
Charles Cecil MBE
John Darnell
Mat Dolphin
Sam Dyer
Frank Gasking
Mark Green
Ric Lumb
Simon Marston
Dave Moore
Jason Moore
Paul Morrison
Jonathan Needle
Andy Payne OBE
Gordon Sinclair
Gerard Sweeney


A brief history of Sheffield game development companies

A brief history of Sheffield companies involved in the design and production of computer games – past and present.

Gremlin Graphics

After setting up Just Micro on Carver Street in Sheffield in 1983, Ian Stewart and Kevin Norburn found oodles of precocious programming talent stepping through the doors. Tony Crowther, Peter Harrap, Shaun Hollingworth and Chris Kerry were the driving force behind Norburn and Stewart creating Gremlin Graphics – a company that would grow from a small studio above the shop into one of the world’s largest and most acclaimed developers and publishers. Gremlin developed or published over 220 titles including the ground breaking Monty Mole, Lotus, Supercars and Actua series before being bought by French giant Infogrames in 1999.

Sumo Digital

Sumo is a world-class, award-winning game development studio that has grown exponentially since the foundation of the company in 2003 by ex-Gremlins Carl Cavers, James North-Hearn, Paul Porter and Darren Mills. Responsible for titles such as Sonic All Star Racing Transformed and Little Big Planet 3 it now employs over 260 people in Sheffield and Pune, India and has recently announced the opening of another satellite studio in Nottingham.

Teque Developments / Krisalis Software

Founded by ex-Gremlins Tony Kavanagh, Peter Harrap and Shaun Hollingworth in 1987 under the original name Teque Developments, Krisalis worked on over 60 games, including the huge hit Manchester United series, before closing in November 2001.


Mike and Tim Mahoney’s (aided by their father) developer and publisher, formed in a similar vain to Just Micro out of the teenage programmers shopping and working in their retail outlet on West Street – Superior Systems. The mercurial Tony Crowther along with Steve Evans put the company on the map with hits such as Loco, Blagger, Defender and Who Dares Wins II.

UrbanScan Limited

Urbanscan is a digital publisher and developer established by industry veteran and Gremlin founding father Ian Stewart to exploit a portfolio of intellectual properties owned by the company, including historic titles such as Bounder, Zool and Premier Manager.


Perhaps Sheffield’s first successful bedroom coders: Teenagers Mark Aldrich and John Wriggleswork ran SpecSoft from Mark’s bedroom on Totley Rise in Sheffield. They released five games in 1983 and 1984 including adventures Castle of Doom, Operation Roman Gaul and Village of Death.

Rubicon Computer Systems

Founded by Dr John Maltby on Bannerdale Road, Sheffield in 1986, Rubicon Computer Systems was a short-lived developer created games for the Sinclair QL computer including the animated adventure game Dragonhold.

The Fourth Dimension

From Percy Street in Sheffield, two brothers ran Fourth Dimension; a conglomerate computer game publisher for the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Acorn Archimedes and RiscPC between 1988 (when they were known as Impact Software) and 1998. The Fourth Dimension released several landmark titles including Gordon Key’s E-Type and Simon Hallam’s Grievous Bodily ‘ARM.


Run by Dave Vout, 221B were a Sheffield indie developer based in the Globeworks in Shalesmoor, Sheffield. It was responsible for a variety of 8 and 16-bit games in the early 1990s including a Doctor Who-based Dalek Attack, a version of Hero Quest for Gremlin and Street Fighter on the PC amongst others. Members of staff included Sumo Digital’s current Studio Head Paul Porter, Creative Director, Sean Millard and musician/coder Paul Tankard.

Kuju Sheffield / Chemistry

Kuju was formed in 1998 in Shalford, Surrey after a management buyout of Simis from Eidos Interactive. Kuju opened studios across the UK, with former Gremlin Tony Kavanagh joining as Head of the Sheffield business in May 2002. Later Kuju granted its Sheffield studio autonomy rebranding it Chemistry in 2007. After specialising in creating games using the Unreal Engine, Kuju began reducing the company headcount and closed Chemistry in 2009.

Zoo Digital

Founded by Ian Stewart in 1999, Zoo has grown substantially and continues to be hugely creative and a large employer in Sheffield. in 2015 they were selected by BBC Worldwide to deliver a global management solution for its subtitling and captioning operations, and ongoing automated localization services as well as being selected by Apple as one of only four approved iTunes Delivery Partners to support its global Compressor users in delivering video content directly to the iTunes Store.

Games Faction

Games Faction is a Sheffield based iOS developer of games and apps founded in January 2006 by Lee Hickey and Malcolm Reed, two industry veterans with over 30 years professional experience and a shared passion for making great games.

Steel Minions

The Steel Minions Game Studio was created in 2010 in order to provide students on Sheffield Hallam University’s game development degrees with “workplace simulation” within a studio environment. In July 2015 the Minions released PieceFall, an agile 3D puzzle game that was the first PS4 student game in the world from Sony’s PlayStationFirst programme.


Ten24 is a well-respected Sheffield-based CGI studio providing modelling and rendering services.

Team Cooper / Robot Lizard

Team Cooper is a BAFTA-nominated digital agency run by husband and wife, Tim and Emma Cooper. The company was founded in 2006 to provide interactive development services to creative agencies but since then has gradually grown to become a digital agency in its own right and releases their own original in-house game projects under the moniker of Robot/Lizard.

Mr Qwak

Mr Qwak is a small, one man, indie studio based in Sheffield, UK. Run by veteran indie developer of over 25 years, Jamie Woodhouse, for the purpose of creating fun, playable and engaging games, primarily for mobile devices.


Boneloaf was setup in 2011 by three brothers; James Brown, Jonathan Brown, and Michael Brown to make games and toys informed by a shared adolescence playing multiplayer arcade games and making silly drawings. Gang Beasts, a slapstick local multiplayer party game created as a Ludlum Dare 28 prototype has gained the brothers a publishing deal with DoubleFine.

Tuna Technologies

Based in the Electric Works, Tuna are an international award-nominated boutique game production company that specialise in developing projects for mobile, traditional and on-line platforms.

Dumpling Design

In the former home of Gremlin Graphics on Carver Street, Dumpling Design is an independent studio focusing on family-centric arcade games led by award-winning game designer, and ex-Gremlin Travis Ryan along with ex-Rare cohort Brent Poynton. Dumplings first game, Dashy Crashy launched before xmas 2015 and is fast approaching 2million players!


Tony Kavanagh established Kavcom in 2006 as a digital games publisher. Their hit titles to-date include Z a Bitmap Brothers game and Burn Zombie Burn from Doublesix.

Papa’s Gong

Dave Footit is the man behind Papa’s Gong that develops a range of entertaining mobile games as well as cutting-edge titles for retro platforms including the much admired Mountain Panic for the BBC Microcomputer.


Sheffield Indie Game Developers or Shindig is an informal collective of independent game developers, mostly individuals or micro-studios, who are based in and around the city. The Shindiggers are a friendly bunch and can be found on the first Tuesday of each month in The Devonshire Cat public house.

Rage Sheffield

Paul Finnegan founded Rage Games in Liverpool in 1992. Rage’s first title, Striker, sold more than one million copies and established the studio as a major creative force in the interactive entertainment industry. The company experienced a period of rapid growth in the 90s leading to its floatation on the stock market in 1996 and acquisition of many key ex-Gremlin staff including Phil Wright and a number of former developers who worked on the Actua series.

Yeti Studios

Yeti Studios was founded in August 2002 when David Nicholson and Phil Wilson negotiated the management buy-out of the Rage Sheffield Studio. The studio’s first title was a PC port of Gun Metal, first released in 2002 for the original XBox and developed by Rage Sheffield.

Hi-Tec Software / PAL and Bizarre Developments

Dave Palmer founded Hi-Tec software in order to foster the creative talents of former Alligata programmers and artists, collectively known as PAL Developments alongside Richard Stevenson’s Bizarre Developments. Hi-Tec made their name by producing games featuring the world famous Looney Tunes and most of Hanna Barbera series including Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, Wacky Races and Scooby Doo.


Founded in 1995 Pixelogic worked as a work-for-hire studio with their best known game being The Italian Job on PSX which reached number 1 in the UK software charts for 6 weeks and won several awards in both the UK and Europe.

Devil’s Details

On Queen’s Street, Pete Bratcher and Steve Oldacre founded Devil’s Details in 2007 to exploit the growing divergence of the game market and take advantage of Sheffield’s vibrant local development community.

Distinctive Developments

Founded by former Krisalis developers Nigel Little and Keith Birkett in 1994, Distinctive games are played by 60 million people worldwide, supporting an award-winning roster of titles, including Rugby Nations, Football Kicks, Patrick Kane’s Hockey franchises and Downhill Xtreme.

Particle Systems / Argonaut Sheffield

After the success of Cholo, Warhead and Subwar 2050, lifelong friends Glyn Williams and Michael Powell founded Particle Systems in 1996 continuing their obsession with huge forms of transport, fluid physics simulations and cutting-edge games. After Independence War Particle signed a multi-product deal with Infogrames that included the much-hyped robotic extravaganza EXO for Playstation 2. EXO failed to materialise and Particle was acquired by fellow British developer Argonaut. Renamed Argonaut Sheffield the studio continued to deliver licenced products for its parent before closing in October 2004 after the lack of publishing deals led to cash-flow problems.

Funbox Media Ltd.

Based in Chesterfield but ‘born’ in Sheffield in 2010. Headed up by former ZOO Digital Publishing MD, Barry Hatch, Funbox have published and developed over 100 titles on all console formats, PC/MAC/Linux, Steam/GOG, Leap Motion, airline games and mobile/tablet platforms.

Funbox Media Ltd is going from strength to strength and will be publishing 4 PS4, 3 PS3, 2 PSVita and 1 3DS titles in 2016 in addition to 5+ PC titles and 3 mobile games.

Painting by Numbers

Starting life as Impact Software, Chris Kerry, Steve Kerry and Mark Rogers formed Painting By Numbers after leaving Gremlin Graphics in 1988. Using their existing relationship with Ocean Software’s Gary Bracey, PBN started life as a work-for-hire developer for the Manchester firm. After obtaining the licence for Jurassic Park they were given the opportunity to head to the US as the start-up team of new studio Ocean of America.

Absolute Image Creative Computing

Paul Blyte (another Gremlin alumni) formed Absolute Image in 1989 with Paul Jackson. They developed the PC version of Federation of Free Traders for Gremlin before disbanding and heading to China to work on the ill-fated Konix Multisystem.

System Applied Technology Ltd

Situated in Sheaf House in Sheffield, System Applied Technology explored a number of computing concepts such as artificial intelligence, computer-aided learning and computer games. They coded a small number of games between 1988 and 1990, including Roy of the Rovers for Gremlin Graphics.

Gamesauce Games

Gamesauce was founded in 2002 by a team of industry veterans and headed by managing director Bryan Reynolds. In addition to sub-contract work, Gamesauce designed its own games and created vocal and audio analysis software for music and rhythm games. Its most high-profile game was a title based upon the high-profile BBC programme Little Britain.

Stripey Design

Stripey Design, located in the Sheffield Technology Park on Arundel Street, is a small, independent development team who craft children’s apps that inspire, educate and entertain.

Route 1 Games

On Burton Road in Sheffield, Route 1 is a developer of gaming technology that powers gamified learning environments, games and apps and the biggest real time multi-player games on web.


TecSport was founded in 2011 to provide an innovative approach to commercially effective social gaming. The company has developed a pioneering cloud based format that is pushing the boundaries of technology and the gaming experience.

Triplevision Games

Triplevision Games is a Sheffield game studio led by Andrew Stewart and a variety of collaborators from all over the world. Their first game, due for release in 2017 is Mable in the Wood – a 2D action/exploration game set in a land where the overuse of magic is draining the world of its colour.

Spherical Games

Spherical Games is an independent games company based in Sheffield with more than 30 years of development experience. Roll Rage is their first game that is available for iOS.