22 Carver Street, Sheffield was the address of Just Micro, an independent computer game shop remembered for being much more than a retailer of games. It was a youth club, a community centre and a games space. It was a place where teenagers would hang out for the entire day, playing games, talking games and discussing how to program games.
This ethos wasn’t a mistake and it didn’t happen by accident. It was the environment that founders Ian Stewart and Kevin Norburn fostered, and made Just Micro an iconic location and the “go to” computer game shop in Sheffield.
One of the products of the shop’s ecosystem was a group of young programmers who called themselves “The Cream Crackers”. They didn’t make games, but instead created standalone demonstration programs for the Commodore 64 computer showcasing their programming, artistic and musical skills.
The “Crackers” were Berni Hill, Paul Gregory, Scott Guest, Mike Lister and Vincent Paggiossi, respectively known as Berni, Greggs, Mule, The Claw and Pag. A fifth member, Peter Lawless was also part of the team.
[Above: Mega Jive, one of the demos created by The Cream Crackers with a very long scrolling message that contains a shout-out to Sheffield’s Just Micro.]
Tony Casson was one of Just Micro’s first “Saturday lads” recalls the Just Micro atmosphere and the demo groups: “As for them coming in, there was a group of us that use to go in after school, and if honest sometimes when we should have been at school. There was a group of about ten or so regulars. Some young ones but I think Pag was probably the oldest. There was another older lad, I think his name was Lennie – he was the grand master at Boulderdash. At first, it was almost a game swap location where we would all swap and copy games off each other.
Even when I worked there, the same gang would come in after school and even after some had started working, this was pretty much daily for many. At times, it was more like a youth club, with selling some games on the side. Saying that, it gave Just Micro a great atmosphere, there was always some of them in the shop. Many would just offer advice to other customers.”
Berni, Mike, Paul and Scott graduated from the demoscene into working for Gremlin Graphics – Berni Hill and Paul Gregory as artists and Mike Lister and Scott Guest as a programmers. They worked together on several Gremlin titles in the late 80s and early 90s including Zool, Dark Fusion and Footballer of the Year 2.
[Above: Dark Fusion, Scott “Mule” Guest’s first game for Gremlin aided by fabulous artwork from Berni “Berni” Hill]
Tony remembers the Cream Crackers’ transition upstairs from the Just Micro shop floor, to the offices of Gremlin: “Bernie got his chance at Gremlin, and Greggs worked in the shop with me. I remember him doing some work for one of the demos and I think he managed to get a trial at Gremlin on the back of it. Scott was very similar, and he got a trial through another demo. If I remember correctly he was always a star on the coding front and I swear he mentioned ‘catching a raster’ every other sentence.”