For my archives feature on Mastertronic in Retro Gamer issue 118, I conducted several interviews with developers who created some of the budget company's most famous games. Unfortunately very little of these interviews made it into the article so I'm going to reproduce them in full on Wizwords. This is the first, with Nonterraqueous creator, Stephen Curtis.
GM: Hi Stephen. Can you tell me which games you worked on for Mastertronic.
SC: Nonterraqueous (CPC, Spectrum), Soul of a Robot (CPC, Spectrum), Five-a-side Soccer (CPC), Into Oblivion (CPC, Spectrum), Jackle and Wide (CPC, Spectrum). I think that's it, I produced many games for different companies. I churned them out.
GM: How did your deals with Mastertronic work?
SC: I submitted a game tape which was accepted. Advance payment on royalties (£1500 to £2500), 10p on units sold, paid quarterly. Or the game could be sold for an outright sum.
GM: Who did you deal with at Mastertronic and did you ever visit them? If so, what were your impressions of the company?
SC: I dealt with John Maxwell and I worked from Mastertronic's offices for several months, appraising tapes coming in and coding my stuff, but John left and it wasn't the same. The offices were nice and modern, open-plan mostly. They also had a pinball machine that was used quite often.
GM: Nonterraqueous was a crazy name. Did it have any meaning and did Mastertronic have any concerns about the name?
SC: I made it up, one of my better efforts. "Non" is not, "terra" is Earth and "aqueous" is sea, in other words set on an alien planet, not of earth or sea. Apparently it is now street slang for something nonsensical or crazy but Mastertronic loved the name. The only title of mine they hated and wouldn't use was Human Harvest - understandably!
GM: You wrote Soul of a Robot then moved to Codemasters with Terra Cognita. What happened?
SC: The Darling brothers were often visitors to Mastertronic as they sold games to them and also sourced them games. They saw how successful Nonterra was and just before Codemasters was formed they made a nice offer for Nonterraqueous 3, aka Terra Cognita. They splashed my name all over the cover, which was nice, and I remember visiting Toys 'r' Us and seeing several of my games on the shelves, which was a good feeling.
GM: But you went back to Mastertronic for Jackle and Wide?
SC: Once the Darlings were up and running they weren't that interested in any more stuff from me. Or at least they never rang me back! I'm not sure how well Terra Cognita sold as I think I sold it for an outright sum. Maybe they didn't make any money from it.
GM: What happened with Into Oblivion?
SC: That was a game that I should have stopped on before it got too far. It didn't work, neither did Jackle and Wide. The titles were better than the games, but then I always did like making up good game titles.
GM: Which of your games were your favourite/s?
SC: From Mastertronic probably Nonterraqueous. Others I have fond memories of are Morris Meets the Bikers from Automata, although they only ever sold mail order so it never sold that many, which is why I went to Mastertronic for my next game. Then there's Battle of the Toothpaste Tubes by K-Tel Games - a lost classic!
GM: Were you a games player as well?
SC: Yes, I liked Valhalla and also all the Ultimate games. I was intrigued by the techniques Ultimate used for sprite movements and I think my favourite of theirs was probably Jet Pac.
GM: Did working with Mastertronic influence your career in any way?
SC: Not really. Key was to take the morning train to London, arrive just before noon. Then John would take all the visiting programmers out for lunch, no expense spared, I still remember the steaks! I did work from their office in 1986 for a few months, but the only effect that had was to turn me off working in London. The passion I had was for creating and programming in games. I enjoyed tweaking cycles off the Z80 code and experimenting with new programming techniques. Some of the games were a disappointment (such as Transatlantic Balloon Challenge) but I always enjoyed the programming.
GM: What are you up to today?
SC: I now work in an entirely different field, I'm a software developer for SAS, the leader in business analytics software and services. Somewhat different to games, but I'm still programming which is what counts to me.
My thanks to Stephen for his time.