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An Interview with Steve Turner

by Neil Carr

Originally Steve did the music for Graftgold, but alas he couldn't find the time to continue with the music part of the games industry. Not surprising really since he was also the owner of Graftgold.

Real name: Steve Turner
Handle: ST
Born: 1954
Nationality: British

Who were your favourite c64 composers?

The German guy who did the Turrican music was really good, can't remember his name. Rob Hubbard was one of the best.

What Sids are your favourites?

Probably the Turrican theme tune, but then we did have the advantage of hearing it in his studio.

In the early days of Graftgold, you created the music for your products, however later this changed and you brought in Jason Page. Why was this?

I just didn’t have the time to do everything to the quality that I wanted, I am a musician and loved that part of it but didn’t have the time to be the best.

Many would regard Uridium as the best tune you created, what would you say about this?

Of my tunes I liked Uridium best although it was quite short. It just went the way I wanted, our player wasn’t up to much in those days. I liked Bushido as it was interactive and continuously changed with the mood of the action.

What were your likes/dislikes about the Sid chip?

It didn’t take a lot of processor time to load up the registers. Some effects like ring modulation were different on different chips. When you had a slow attack or decay there was some sort of internal loop that just meant the chip didn’t react so fast, This could lead to slack reaction. On the whole though it was the best around with its real usable waveforms.

How difficult a decision was it to leave what you were already doing and create Graftgold?

When I sold the first game it felt like it was meant to be, so it was not difficult. I had enough money to last a year with no sales and in those days you didn’t need much equipment so a few hundred pounds was all the capital required. I kept up relations with my old employer for a while and did some contract work but it was far more lucrative writing games.

What was the best and the worst moments during Graftgold’s existence?

Best moments were the feeling when you complete a game and you know its good. There’s a sort of buzz when you show it to anyone and you know it’s going to do well.
Worst moments are when you realise the moneys not going to come in for whatever reason and you really need it to pay the staff.

How do you feel the industry changed since you started Graftgold, till the days of it’s demise?

The budgets needed to complete each game just got silly. If we added up all the money we ever got for all our games it wasn’t as much as was needed to pay for another game. That sort of exponential cost rise meant we just couldn’t stay in control as we had to rely more and more on others for finance.

How difficult was it to make the decision to close down Graftgold?

At the end it was a bit of a relief but sad at the same time. Events took over and there wasn’t much decision to be made. We just couldn’t go on.

How did you manage to adapt graftgold during the shift from 8-bit to 16bit to the modern PC?

That was the period when Telecomsoft financed us. We realised we had to get more staff and work as a team. That’s the time when Jason started doing the music and we used artists to draw the graphics for the first time. To be good everyone had to specialise. We did some arcade conversions to help fund the growth of the company. We more than ready to go but first Hewsons then Telecomsoft were keen to keep us doing 8 bit games.

Looking back at Graftgold’s existence what would you have changed?

In the last few years I went on some management courses. We didn’t really think ahead too much, just took it one game at a time. It would have been good to get into publishing in the early years when it was cheap. In that way we could have produced the games we wanted.

What does Steve Turner do now?

I’m a Research and development consultant at a software house that develops software for the insurance industry. I would like to design games again, I’m not sure I want to run a company though.

Whilst reading your comments on the Graftgold Website, you seem to miss the days of developing. Can you foresee a return?

I would like to release a game on the web. I am working on a game but Im not getting very far, its so much work. Im also spending time recording some of my guitar music.

Do you think that at any point in graftgold’s existence that your were treated particularly unfairly?

Yes but talking to other companies we were not alone. Publishers didn’t seem to realise that developers were an essential part of the business and sharing the profit more fairly with them would actually create more money for them in the long run.
They would typically cut and run not caring if that damaged a developer fatally.

What would you consider as your best product, and why?

I think Andrew’s Paradroid was my favourite game design. Every part of the design knitted together so well. My favourite game on the Spectrum was Dragontorc. It just did everything I wanted it too

Jason Page in his interview mentioned you play a mean guitar, do you have a musical background?

I taught myself guitar and have been playing for over thirty years. I’ve been learning keyboards over the last few years. I could never really read music that well for guitar but I’m starting to get the hang of it on piano. I listen to classical stuff at work its really good to program to.

What was your most difficult game to create?

Motox our first real 3D game. We needed a fast way of drawing the landscapes and it took about 3 engines to get to the final one. It had the most technical innovation in it. The texture mapping was a cross between voxel methodolgy and pixel texture mapping.

How did you get your inspiration when composing for the c64?

I used to play around with our sound generator to get some different sounding voices then play around with them. I was always trying to get a good guitar sound but never managed it. I find tunes just come to match a voice.

Lastly, what would you like to say to the community?

I get emails saying that I changed people’s lives. It’s great to think I inspired other to take up programming. All we ever wanted was to make games people enjoyed playing. We were only interested in getting enough money to carry on doing what we wanted. It’s really something that our games are still being played.

Although Graftgold is no longer with us, i doubt many will forget Uridium or Paradroid. Two classic games from an exceptional developer.

- Neil

Interview date: 09.06.2002