For those who don’t know, Jeff Minter is the industry’s resident stoner sheep farmer living in Wales, because we always need one of those.
Since the 1980s, Minter has been flexing his coding muscles on Atari platforms, managing to ultimately create his own charismatic and instantly recognisable design style. His latest game marks his first foray into Virtual Reality as Polybius brings his trademark trip state to headsets. In this celebration of the spliff-toking, keyboard hammering, beard oiling demigod then, we are focusing on some of Minter’s previous firsts in his development career, as well as a handful of titles that just had to be mentioned.
Centipede – 1982
The story goes that Minter’s first encounter with the popular arcade version of Centipede was from across the pub back in the day. The story also goes that this was Minter’s last encounter with the game he would then make his first title. Having never played the actual game, Minter’s resulting port written for and published by dK’Tronics had some stark differences to the original. The player craft was stationary, as Minter didn’t realise it could move up and down in the original, and spiders are absent.
Nevertheless, reviews loved its presentation and the port earned him a following of likeminded players. Unfortunately Minter fell prey to the common culture of established publishers taking young developers for a ride in unfair contracts and disputes. Ultimately, Minter took what shrapnel he could from the company and started Llamasoft, the independent publisher he still uses today.
Gridrunner – 1982
Gridrunner can be considered Minter’s first original game, in that it wasn’t a direct and explicit port. It was, rather, built on the concept of Centipede, and only in one week. Introducing a new grid layout, a slightly different play style, and the odd laser beam, however Minter went on to excel on cartridge throughout the US with what is still one of his most fondly remembered games.
Tempest 2000 – 1994
Over a decade later, Jeff was taking part in an Atari Jaguar development convention, when calls began to be made for Atari arcade conversions. Having previously been in love with Tempest, Minter jumped at the chance to port the game to Atari’s handheld console.
It became the first 3D title that Minter developed, and after some apparent struggles learning the lay of the land he managed to prove the bigwigs of Atari wrong in their initial doubts. The game was a roaring success, despite certain Atari officials vocalising their concerns before launch.
Goat Up – 2011
We’ve jumped ahead almost two decades and said a fond, yet violent, goodbye to the reign of Atari and entered the mobile age. Llamasoft has focussed on iOS development for a good portion of the iPhone’s history so far, and Goat Up remains one of the most loved releases for the medium.
The first platformer to be developed by Llamasoft, Goat Up saw players collecting goat offspring on an endless scrolling platformer journey. Inspired by titles such as Canyon Climber and a home-brew 2600 game titled Man Goes Down, Goat Up represented the Sinclair Spectrum in the Minotaur Project, a series of games developed in homage to the golden era of classic gaming.
Super Ox Wars – 2012
Llamasoft’s first vertical scrolling shooter, Super Ox Wars saw an intriguing mix of gameplay elements come into effect on mobile. Incorporating mechanics seen in older titles, Super Ox Wars utilised a split between two colours that interacted differently with the player. Set across a map of these two colours, players have to work out how to manipulate these varied play styles throughout their gameplay in order to fully succeed in their space mission. Based on Xevious and Star Force, Super Ox Wars represents the Namco Galaga platform in the Minotaur Project.