Mevlut Dinc can be directly connected to two of Commodore Format’s finest issues! He was involved with the launch of Commodore’s C64GS console in 1990, which made the magazine’s first ever cover. When the cartridge machine was discontinued, his Vivid Image title First Samurai eventually appeared on cassette and disk in 1992. CF17 gave it the front cover and one of the magazine’s highest ever ratings. In one of our most wide ranging interviews to date, here we chat to Mev about the GS, First Samurai and why he hardly ever plays games…
Mev! Pleased to meet you. Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in creating computer games? That’s a very long story so I will do my best to keep it brief – but it is probably one of the more interesting answers! By complete chance/fate I ended up marrying an English girl and moving from Turkey to England in 1979, with hardly any English!
From 1980 I started working in Standard and Telephones Company, a cable factory in Southampton, producing communication cables that connected countries and continents. I took part in the first production of fibre optics based cables too!
A close workmate of mine called Vino Dos Santos kept on telling me about this new amazing computer called the ZX Spectrum and suggested I got one too. For weeks he tried to convince me and in the end I gave in and put my name down for one also. After having waited for about three months Vino drove us to the Sinclair factory to pick up our beloved Spectrums. It’s a crazy sounding story but this is more or less how I got involved!
For weeks I did nothing with my Speccy as I had absolutely no interest in computers – or games, for that matter. But Vino kept asking me if I liked it, did I play this game and that, and in the end I thought just as well I should set it up have a play around with it. So, this is how it all started for me, I kept reading the manual but hardly understood anything. The more I read and got involved the more I found the whole idea of computers and games programs fascinating, and I decided to learn about it.
It was very tough at first as there was very little resource. Remember it was 1983 and there was no internet – no nothing! So, to cut a long story short, I learnt how to program the Spectrum in “machine code” in about 2 years. Basically, I am a completely self-taught computer games programmer!
I found games programming absolutely fascinating and very exciting, creating a product out of nothing was just a miracle for me. In a really strange way I had absolutely no interest in playing games, other than just checking them out to see what they were like, and how well they were designed and coded!
To this day I have hardly played any games at all, and admittedly I am absolutely useless at it, which is probably the main reason!
Those really early days seem as if they were exciting for programmers. Did it feel like anything was possible? Definitely, the early days were so exciting and also fascinating as we kept learning and discovering new things! I am not sure if it felt like anything was possible but certainly we enjoyed pushing the hardware to the limit! With each game we got to know the machines better, we enjoyed trying new ways both creatively and technically. When one considers how primitive a ZX Spectrum or the C64 really were, when you look at some of the games created the overall achievement was absolutely amazing!
The tabloids in the 80s used to be full of “whizz kids” who’d made a fortune making computer games in their teens and drove BMWs! Was it really the case as you remember – or was it all a bit of an exaggeration? I guess the early programmers were really “whizz kids””, that’s for sure, 16, 17 year old kids started it all!
I believe most of the stories about programmers driving BMWs were mostly exaggerated. In the early days the programmers did not earn that much money, for a long time most of them did not even know anything about royalties.
I think it was well into the 90s when some of us programmers started to earn quite a bit of money and I am sure there were one or two who spent most of their money on posh cars!
Your company, Vivid Image, were approached by Commodore and involved in the early days of the C64 GS console. It was Commodore Format 1’s cover story! Can you tell us a bit about what you did? We had a very close relationship with Commodore as we did some good work on both the C64 and Amiga. We actually created the development system for the C64GS and helped all the publishers with putting their games on the cartridge. I believe we sold over 15 development kits, which is quite an achievement when you consider the number of publishers at the time! So, almost everybody was supporting the idea.
What were your thoughts when you first heard about the GS – obviously Commodore games on cartridge are a brilliant thing. But a standalone console seemed a bit ambitious…We were involved in the early discussions about it and thought it was a very good idea. The most annoying thing at the time about C64s was the loading times of games, so the idea of a cartridge and instant access seemed fantastic. Commodore wanted to pitch against Nintendo and the NES – that’s why it was relaunched without a keyboard as a standalone console.
So what do you think were the reasons it failed? The idea was very good, it got very good initial support but the main problem was that the original machine was not designed as a console. Launching as such was a mistake I think. And, also almost everybody did a quick port of their existing titles with no improvements or new features. Just improved loading speed was not good enough!
With the exception of a very few titles like First Samurai most games seemed very poor and all the publishers were just trying to make quick and easy money!
Such a shame really, a good idea was badly executed.
Wow – so First Samurai was developed as a GS game? It eventually appeared on tape and disk…is that because the console was discontinued so quickly? Now that you put me on the spot it’s very difficult to confirm either way as it was all such a long time ago and very hard to remember it all clearly!
Since we developed the cartridge mastering system and helped everyone else put their games on the cartridge, it would have been very easy for us to do the same for First Samurai. We must have produced a C64GS version but what might have happened is that it probably never got released since as you say it discontinued so quickly.
Commodore promised so much but delivered so little, there were many mistakes with the whole thing, compatibility with some games and the lack of decent software all helped its quick demise!
Let’s talk about First Samurai, then. It’s the game so many people closely associate you and Vivid Image with. Is it true the title is a Last Ninja joke? Yes, a lot was said and written about the name! This is the story; we were the people behind Last Ninja 2, and as Vivid Image we wanted to create our own martial arts game. Since we could not really make a ninja game the obvious choice was to make a samurai game instead! The game was completely different from the Ninja titles and I thought that First Samurai against Last Ninja would make a great title, and seems I was right! There were also rumours that we were planning to make 7 samurai games!
Of course, First Samurai first came out on the Amiga, which was the lead version and coded by Raffaele Cecco. It was voted The Game of The Year in 1991…
Yeah, and so many people were astounded you could fit such a beautiful looking 16 bit game into the Commodore 64…We were really good at doing fancy things technically, a lot of hard work went into squeezing the whole game into the cartridge.
Why weren’t more games as good looking and well programmed as First Samurai – is it attention to detail and skill, or were other titles just being churned out so fast without love back then? First Samurai on the Amiga was just a great game and, especially with the help of John Twiddy, Jon Williams and Mat Sneap did great work for us [on the C64 version]. The game was already very good and putting it on the cartridge just made it perfect!
As I said, unfortunately most other games were just put on the cartridge as they were with no improvements or added features!
For the C64GS to really succeed it was imperative to create games specially written for it and taking advantage of the cartridge. The publishers did not want to spend money doing this and Commodore did not put any money towards the development of new games either, so all in all it was bound to fail really!
First Samurai ended up being heavily delayed, it didn’t seem to come out for months. Is it true that is to do with Robert Maxwell’s suicide – didn’t he own the publishers, Imageworks? Yes, you are right it had a lot to do with the death of Maxwell. We co-published the Amiga version with them and after the demise of it, it took us a long time to get all the rights back! I even coded the PC version from the Amiga, which was published by Ubisoft. We published the C64 version with them, too.
Games have changed such a lot since you started. Do you prefer it now, or back in the 1980s and 90s? To be honest it was more fun back in the old days. We were really doing incredible things with really not so powerful hardware. And the gameplay was more important in those days. Everything was more original. There were different ideas. I am glad to see that with the popularity of the mobile games the simple yet very original ideas with playable games are back!
And, as you know there’s also a huge retro gaming community, which also proves that what we did in the 80s and 90s were really unique and special!
Where do you see games going in the next ten years – will we still have a console underneath our living room TV? I believe we will continue to have the current combination of PC, console and mobile games. For a long time I have been sceptical about VR but with Oculus Rift it’s trying to have another go, this time they may just pull it off!
Mobile games will continue to grow rapidly, the market’s expected to hit $35 billion by 2017!
And finally, even though you say you suck at playing games – you must have a favourite.. Haha! Since I hardly play games it is difficult for me to pick a favourite ever but I was really impressed with Stunt Car Racer on the Amiga. I thought it was technically very impressive and also very playable.
And out of your own? I’d pick Last Ninja 2, First Samurai and Street Racer. CF
- First Samurai is one of Commodore Format’s most highly rated games. Read our feature piece on it here.