The Assent of Everiss
(Your Spectrum, December 1983)
Picture a giant office-cum-bedroom infested with 50 computer terminals atop plush desks and scattered higgledly-piggledy around the expensive, carpeted floor. The machines are powerful Sage IVs. It's here games are developed, to be squirted down to the host machines - such as the Spectrum. It's a jungle where Imagine employs close on 100 programmers, technicians, artists and musicians. It's even home of games whizzkid Eugene Evans.
Bruce Everiss (right) is a 26 year-old smooth, silk-suited micro-veteran and he's Imagine's operations director. We asked him what's coming along Spectrum-wise. "We've got three more titles on the way over the next month or so. Cosmic Cruiser's a space game and BC Bill's a cutie game about a prehistoric guy who lives in a cave and has to catch his food. The thing that both games have in common is very good graphics and sound."
So what's the best-seller on Spectrum? "Well, it's always the latest title. We've just brought out Pedro and it seems to be getting into some people's charts. Overall, I think Arcadia is the biggest. By a large margin most are for the Spectrum, but this situation is changing as the market changes."
How about the QL? "When there are lots of QLs out there, obviously it will be natural for us to write for it - because we've got lots of 68000 experience. In fact, we do have products we could adapt for the QL - but we'll have to wait and see. There's no point in letting the cat out of the bag."
Pedro was the first Imagine games cassette to feature a jazzy new inlay card and apparently the presentation's going to get better all the time. "A large number of small things came together at once. They've got screen photographs and a game description. We've gone to fifth colour on the front side (vastly improving the appearance and adding a fourth flap). They've got a programmer profile, company profile and very extensive playing instructions. All sorts of things. Everything that anybody could possibly put together on an insert card - we've done it."
Talk switched to the 'first you see it, then you don't, price reduction to under the £4 barrier. What kind of planning went into such nervous pitching? "We knew that dropping the price would increase sales, but what we hadn't bargained for was the industry reaction - which was universally unfavourable, from both the distributors and other software houses. The feeling was that if we did do it, it would upset the marketplace to such a degree that it would put many smaller software houses out of business.
"What we're concerned with is giving the customers value for money. The average price of a computer game in this country is £7.20, and if you look at Valhalla and Alchemist it's fairly obvious where the value for money is. On the other hand, it's now possible to write a fairly simple game in a week - which obviously you could sell for £1.99, or whatever. That's what Mastertronic are doing." So, what about Imagine's next range of games - the Megagames - at around the £30 mark?
"Looking at Bandersnatch, which is coming out sometime in the Summer, it's already beginning to look like it's going to contain three man-year's work. We've got 17 people working on this project - and at £30, there's going to be so much there that it's still going to be great value."
Anybody in the know at Imagine gets a little cagey when you ask about the so-called Megagames - and even Everiss isn't saying that much more. "The thing about it is that the game is so big and complex and involved - and it contains several new areas, things that have never been done before. We aren't going to release it until it's perfect - the only analogy that we can use without giving the game away is that it's going to make anything that's gone before look like Noughts and Crosses.
"No-one's even seen them yet! They're so secret that most people at Imagine know nothing about them. Even the people who are working on the project only know sufficient to do their own piece of the work - we give them information on a 'need to know' basis. What we're worried about is somebody else finding out what we're doing and emulating it."
That was interesting because much of Imagine's business now seems fraught with secrecy and intrigue - perhaps it's the price of success. For instance, there's the Marshall Cavendish affair where Imagine was going to produce games to accompany Input magazine. Eventually the project was dropped. Everiss counters rumours that they were late and the product wasn't up to scratch.
"The idea was that each fortnight it would have a game on it for several machines. But the original concept was that these should be average run-of-the-mill games. As we started developing the games, we put them out to be play-tested - which involves comparing them against the reviewer's favourite game. So the games were enhanced and enhanced and so on, so that in the end they became so good that it wasn't worth our while putting them though Marshall Cavendish."
Imagine has been active in trying to stamp out software piracy. The company mailed out a letter to magazines asking them to be careful not to publicise or advertise any offending material. Did it work? "I think that some of the weeklies are filtering their adverts more thoroughly and the Advertising Execs have acted quite strongly to support our point. The trouble is that we only have so much time and money to put into things - and we can't spend all our time trying to wipe out piracy.
"We've done as much as we can. The Guild of Software Houses won't let us join, if we were in GOSH then obviously we could all work together - sort out common problems. But I think we're too big for them. I think that they want to keep it as a small, mutual backslapping organisation really."
Finally, there was the question of the new company's logo - is Imagine being renamed?
"Ah yes, the Creative Technology Group Ltd. That's the name for the overall organisation that we're intending to put in with Imagine Software. It's the name of a company that Imagine would eventually become. That's the concept - but it's not actually put through yet. "