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

1991-1993
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

 

 

 

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