A Conversation Piece - Greg Barnett from issue 18

Photo of Greg Barnett at his computer


When Greg Barnett joined Melbourne House he was still learning about the 64. Since the release of his first game, HUNGRY HORACE, he has gone from strength to strength and has been the force behind many legendary programs, such as THE hobbit and WAY OF THE EXPLODING FIST. Now, after six months in the making, FIST II Is about to hit the software scene — and it looks as thought Melbourne House are going to have yet another smash hit on their hands. Gary Perm got up bright and early to talk to Greg, who had just finished eating his tea in sunny Australia. . .

How near to completion is Fist II?

It's virtually complete — we're just adding the finishing touches.

Is it a true follow up to Fist?

Not really — Fist II is more of a role playing game with karate combat. There are around 600 screens spread over caves, a town—and so on. You meet various different characters on your travels: Ninjas, Shoguns and animals —panthers and snakes. You can either fight them or run away, or even walk straight past them.

Are there fewer moves available than in Fist?

Well, no—there are in fact more moves; there are less fighting moves than in Fist, but more moves in total. Certain moves are affected by your surroundings — for example, If you're in water you can't somersault.

Where does the game take place?

Ah, Fist II is set a fair few centuries later than Fist. You start as a disciple outside a volcano and have to pass through the jungle, leap or swim waterfalls, explore underwater caverns — that sort of thing. There are eight scrolls — Trigrams—to be located and eight temples.


Yes—the scroll system is based on I Ching, the art of ancient Chinese fortune telling. You have to find the Trigram associated with each temple and then meditate — there's a meditation sequence. Each trigram has a different property—for example, if you find the Trigram of light and meditate at a temple you are given the power to see in the dark caverns. It is possible to get through the game without the aid of certain Trigrams — but it's not easy.

How does the fighting work?

Similar to Fist but with a continuous energy system. You lose energy when fighting and energy is replenished when you're not fighting. But if you get poisoned — by a snake, say — you don't get energy back, so you have to meditate. Meditating builds up the potential for maximum energy.

All this in one load?

Yes, it's a single load. There's continuous scrolling — we've used two scrolling techniques depending upon whether you're walking or fighting. When you're walking it's better if the player is central and the screen scrolls with you. The screen scrolls less during fighting so you can move across the screen and fight as in Fist I. Even though Fist II has karate combat, it's not just another karate game, there's a lot more to it. We'll be giving away an enhanced copy of Fist I on the flip side —the graphics are better and there's a continuous energy system.

Have you seen any other karate games — International Karate, for example?

Yes, but they've been a long time coming — Fist was released over a year ago now. I notice the graphics in International Karate are very similar to those in Fist—especially certain moves. They seem like the Fist graphics with extra frames.

Were you aware of the leg sweep cheat in Fist?

I was aware that some of the guys in-house could do very well by leg sweeping. I notice in your magazine there are high scores of a million and so on — I can't imagine people bothering to sit down for hours on end, pulling down on the joystick and pressing the fire button. That's a boring way of playing a game. We hear of people who are still playing Fist properly and enjoying it. You can come home from work, load up Fist and relieve the day's frustration.

Rock 'n' Wrestle was a big disappointment after Fist.

Well yes. that seems to be what the British press thought — Rock 'n' Wrestle went reasonably well in Britain, though, and it's gone down really well in Australia and the States. I suppose it may have been the graphic representation that put most people off. We had to fit a lot of graphics in Rock 'n' Wrestle, more than in Fist, so we had to cut down somewhere. A lot more effort went into Rock 'n' Wrestle—perhaps we tried to be too innovative, what with all the moves and 3D movement in and out of the ring. Some people can't get into the game, others persevere and find it great. I suppose some people were disappointed with Rock 'n' Wrestle because they were expecting something more impressive than, and similar to, Fist. I think it went down better in Australia and the States because wrestling is more commercial — Rock 'n' Wrestle is actually based on that sort of commercial wrestling which doesn't seem to be so popular in Britain. There was a campaign to get Rock 'n' Wrestle endorsed by a professional British wrestler but we didn't want that.

How many people are working on Fist II?

There are two graphic artists, three guys arranging the graphics screens, and a musician. We had to write our own special utilities to handle the new scrolling routines, we don't exploit previous routines, we always try to create something new — like in Fist there are the sprites and in Fist II there's the scrolling.

I program on a development system for the BBC and download from BBC to Commodore. I need the full 64K to download into, so there's no way I can program on the Commodore straight. I'll soon be upgrading to an IBM system.

Do you consider yourself a competent programmer?

The whole team consists of reasonably competent programmers producing reasonably competent programs.

Have you become limited by the 64?

It's not been pushed to its limits. I think most games in Britain today are exploiting old techniques. At the time. Fist was using 75% of the machine. Fist II is getting there. Sound techniques have improved — the music in Thing on a Spring was good when it first came out — Rob Hubbard gets good sounds but he's becoming repetitive.

Are you going to continue programming on the 64?

We're not going to discard the 64 for a while yet. The Commodore and Spectrum will last for quite a while, they certainly won't be dropped overnight. I doubt that people will stop buying games if they stop selling the machines.

Any English programmers you admire?

I thought you might ask me that—yes and no. I admire Minter for attempting things that aren't commercial — I admire someone who sits down and tries something new. Andrew Braybrook is professionally competent — Uridium only uses 40 to 50 percent of the 64's capabilities but it is well put together. I admire that. But I've seen few improvements. I admire any programmer who sits down and tries to be innovative.

What about musicians?

We hear a lot of Rub Hubbard. He's very popular but I can't understand why — yes, he used nice instruments at first but his music hasn't improved. The music on International Karate sounds like the music from Thing on a Spring slowed down — and I'm not the only one who has this opinion over here. Rob Hubbard's tunes are very jolly but what about atmospheric music in games. Sound effects have been neglected too. Music is a harder thing to appreciate than games since each individual has his or her own tastes. There's still room for improvement, though.

Have you any favourite games?

There's one game I didn't like but it set a trend so I admire it for that—Manic Miner, it certainly started a new wave of platform games with its use of a cute character and so on. Some American software is good. Archon was good for its time—a sort of Dungeons and Dragons game on a chess board, the Ultima series... you certainly get your money's worth. I don't really like any particular game — I find a few things I like about a game, like a nice scroll routine, that sort of thing. The people buying games now aren't hackers or programmers, they're more objective and stand back and look at the game as a whole. I wouldn't mind seeing Leader Board— I'd like to see a good golf simulation.

Are you releasing any more adventures in the near future?

Yes, there's the sequel to Lord of the Rings. But I' m not involved in writing adventures, they take a lot longer to write and require substantially more effort. I quite enjoy creating scenarios involved with adventure games, though. We've got lots of good programs coming out in the near future — five or six major releases out before this Christmas, including Fist II. You may not have seen many Melbourne House games in the charts recently, but the situation is about to change...

This feature was typed in/OCRed by Iain