MI6 caught up with Chris Shrigley, programmer on the 1983 videogame James Bond Jr and co-founder of Eurocom...

Making The James Bond Jr Videogame - Chris Shrigley Interview
4th March 2007

How did you first become involved in the gaming industry?
Well, I got my first game (Pub Quest) published in 1983. It was a text adventure on the Commodore 64 and it had taken me about a year to write, in BASIC. I was hooked after this early success (I made £600 from it!) and decided to learn machine code. I got together with three friends and started writing a Commodore 64 game called Bounder. When we’d almost finished the game, we sent it off to Gremlin Graphics for evaluation and they picked it up. They also offered us all full-time jobs, earning a handsome £6,000 a year! They rest, as they say, is history.

How did Eurocom begin as a company?
Matt Sneap and I were friends on Compunet, and we started talking about setting up a company of some sort, doing games for the NES. Matt’s father owned an electronics company at the time, so he was able to bankroll the venture. We recruited three other people from Compunet (Tim Rogers [of Stoat and Tim], Hugh Binns, and Neil Baldwin), and we were off. I designed the first game, Magician, and we went over to Japan to pitch the game to Taxan Kaga. We got the gig, and we were in business.

Why did you found Eurocom? Were you fed up with the mainstream games industry at the time?
I was involved with another startup called Core Design, so I was busy cranking out games for them when Matt and I started talking about doing something together. I was interested, because things weren’t panned out as I’d hoped at Core, and Matt was down in London, looking for something to do. Matt was a great artist and we wanted to code something together, so we started working on a demo for the Commodore 64 demo scene. We quickly decided that we should be making a game together instead.

Above: The boxart for the James Bond Jr videogame. Both Nintendo SNES (16-bit) and NES (8-bit) versions were released in 1993. The SNES edition was a platform and side scrolling shoot 'em up game, whereas the NES edition featured puzzle solving.

Eurocom had a few big successes in the later years of the company, such as James Bond 007: Nightfire in 2002 (published by EA). Why did you leave?
I left the company because I couldn’t afford to stay. After finishing up John Smith: Special Agent, we couldn’t find a buyer for the game, and we had no other projects lined up. We were essentially broke, and Matt’s father couldn’t make full payroll. We went down to a three-day work week, in pay, but still had to do a full five days of work. This drop in income brutalized my already delicate finances, as I’d just got married, brought a house, and had a baby. It looked bleak for Eurocom and the money trouble wasn’t getting any better. There was talk of closing the company down. I had to find another source of income, so I started looking around. I was subsequently head hunted by an American company, and left Eurocom soon after. Shame I couldn’t afford to stick with it like the others, and participate in their eventual success, but it’s all good. America has been a great big adventure, and very good to me. I honestly don’t think I’d change anything.

Above: Screenshots from the NES 8-bit edition of James Bond Jr

What is a typical day like in the gaming industry?
Well, you can see what a typical day for me is like, here. Beyond that, it’s fairly normal I suppose, apart from all the clowns and free pie. It isn’t all fun and games though; sometimes it can get pretty tough, especially during crunch times. I think the greatest part of my work day is talking and interacting with so many smart and talented people. It’s a great working environment.

What was your role in creating James Bond Junior?
I designed and programmed the game. The game was Eurocom’s second game, after Magician, which I also designed. We were originally developing the game for a Japanese company called “Taxan Kaga”, under the stunning code name: “John Smith, Special Agent”. The name remained unchanged until I left the company, a little while after finishing the game. Something happened and Taxan decided that they didn’t want the game after all, so Eurocom shopped it around and found another publisher (THQ). The game was renamed “James Bond Jr.”, and had a few superficial cosmetic changes made, accordingly. This all happened while I was living it up in America though, so I wasn’t aware of any of this until it was released.

What were the more difficult aspects of the game to create?
Well, the sheer amount of work probably. I designed every puzzle and all the mechanics in the game. I also programmed the whole thing in assembly language, by myself. I also had to program all the tools to convert all the art assets and stuff. At times, I almost lived at the “office” (we were actually working in a shed behind Zycomm at the time!). Technically, the game was challenging because the system and the tools were all fairly new to me. We’d done Magician, which matured our tools and development hardware (which we had engineered ourselves), but John Smith was the first time I’d really got down to doing some game coding on the NES.

Above: Screenshots from the SNES 16-bit edition of James Bond Jr

Looking back on James Bond Jr, what do you think of it?
I like it. I dug it out and gave it a whirl again, and it wasn’t half bad. The first thing that struck me was how difficult it was. Maybe we tuned it a bit too tightly, I don’t know. Personally, I can still play it OK, but I doubt I could finish it. I liked the cool MMC3 effects with all the interrupts and scrolling and stuff. I remember working hard to get rid off glitches and figure out complicated interrupt schedules. I didn’t remember all the cool control modes either, so it was nice to find the jet pack and the scuba gear.

If you could go back to when you created James Bond Jr, would you change anything?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. There are always things that can be done better. Maybe I’d go back and change the main character into a girl, make her 3-D and call her Lara. I’d be rich! Seriously though, I would probably make the game easier.

Do you think JBJ was purely an attempt to cash in on the name or do you think that it was actually acceptable in the 007 universe?
Sure, why not. I’m sure there are some fans of Bond out there that would disagree and think of it as an aberration or something, but it has to be seen for what it is. First of all, it’s supposed to be fun. Secondly, James Bond Jr. is a vehicle for selling merchandise to kids, while at the same time, introducing a new generation to the concept of James Bond. The idea that James Bond is cool is hammered into these impressionable minds, so that when they grow up, they’ll continue to buy the DVDs, surf cool Bond web sites and see the latest Bond movies.

Above: Reverse box art for James Bond Jr

What do you think of James Bond as a whole? Do you see him as a vastly overrated character or is it great fun watching those action packed movies?
I love the James Bond character. He’s so smooth, yet grounded with a complex sense of humour. The films are always a great ride, even the bad ones. You always know what you’re going to get too.

What is your favorite game that you helped create?
Maybe Gargoyles on the Sega Genesis. That was my first game at Disney Interactive, so it was a bit of a thrill for me. The game taught me a lot of stuff about working for a big company, and having tons of resources at your disposal. It was basically a good time and therefore, that game stands out for me.

What is your take on the retro gaming phenomenon?
I think it’s great. Some of the old games are fun little things and I’m glad whole new generations are discovering them. Makes me feel a bit old, but that’s OK. My participation is limited to the occasional interview, like this one. I also think the homebrew scene is fantastic. People are doing some brilliant things with the old systems and some of the handhelds and will probably ultimately end up moving into the mainstream game business and do very well. I think it’s great that people are interested in this stuff. Please keep playing and buying games!

A Day in the Life of Chris Shrigley

Many thanks to Lethal Weapon.

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