Back in 1985, it wasn't just Max Zorin who could
check out 007's abilities on his computer. MI6 caught
up with A View To A Kill programmer Garry Knight...
Making "A View To A Kill" - The Game
8th April 2007
Back in 1985, it wasn't just Max Zorin who could check out 007's
abilities on his computer. Publisher
Domark released a game to tie-in with Roger Moore's final outing "A
View To A Kill" for
the Commodore 64,
Amstrad CPC and
MSX home computers developed by Softstone. MI6 caught up with
Garry Knight, the programmer of the Spectrum version of the game,
development and legacy.
How long did developer Softstone work on the game before
releasing the final version to the public?
It must have been around five months. I approached Softstone, who had around
four programmers plus one manager at the time, as a self-employed contracting
programmer in December 1984. We got the "A View to a Kill" contract
soon after that. After we finished it, in around May 1985, the company moved
May: above five months. It wasn’t anywhere near enough though. The game
actually consisted of an opening sequence plus four complete games; we really
needed at least another month to do it justice and the reviews we got at the
time were fair in spite of this.
When playing the game, it seems that it
was put together in a big hurry. Was it?
In my opinion, yes. It was designed by two other guys, but I had the feeling
that they hadn’t designed games to run on the Spectrum before.
Left: Spectrum 48K Box Art
Can you give the readers an insight as to how "A View To
A Kill" was created?
We (the programming team) were presented with the game storyboard
and were told to implement it on the various machines (Amstrad
464, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum). I remember that
it started with a skiing sequence where the player guided Bond
down a glacier towards a submarine
while chased by baddies on bobsleds, the idea being not to wipe
Bond out and to guide Bond into a very small hatch on the sub.
There was a sequence where you had to guide Bond ‘round
the streets of Paris in a car while being chased by the police
and at some point the car breaks in
two. In another sequence you had to rescue Stacey from City Hall,
which just happened to be on fire at the time.
The final sequence was the Mine in which you guide Bond through
the passages to find May Day. And I think you had to collect
various things as you made your way around the mine. I seem to
recall that these sequences made up the entire game and that
all of them were implemented, but now that I think about it,
I can’t remember if the skiing sequence was in the final
version. However, there was an opening sequence modeled on the
title sequence of all the Bond films with a view through a gun
barrel looking at a man with a gun, a flash and the screen drips
Unfortunately, the skiing sequence you mentioned wasn’t
in the final game.
It wouldn’t have been fun! It was as badly designed as the rest of it.
consisted of a 2-D top-down scrolling glacier on which you (seen from above)
had to stay
on the snowy parts and avoid the rocky ones and also avoid the enemy firing at
you from behind. Sort of a poor man’s version of Scramble.
There was also another besides the
gun barrel which was shown to you after you completed
the game – a short
version of one of the movie’s last scenes.
It’s possible it was only in the Commodore
64 version. One thing I do remember is that you were given a code on completing
each game which allowed you into the next one. You then had to start up the
tape recorder to load the next part. It amazed me that people would actually
go to all that trouble. Things were so different then; if my web browser takes
more than a couple of seconds to load I get impatient. With some of those old
ZX Spectrum games you’d wait ten minutes for it to load and it would
often bomb out just as it finished loading.
Above: British magazine advertisement.
When playing "Impossible Mission" for the Commodore 64, there
are some noticeable similarities to the Silicon Mine level in
To A Kill". Did it act as an inspiration for
The designers were an independent team of two who went to the
film premiere with one of our programmers – in a helicopter!
They took notes on the film, chose the sequences that were to
go into the game, storyboarded them to Dominic and Mark for approval
and we had to work out how to implement their ideas. But I think
we programmers might well have modeled the Bond character on
Impossible Mission’s character animation.
64 screenshots, the right screenshot is of the Impossible
Mission inspired Silicon Valley mine level mission
in A View To A Kill
I was the programmer who ported Impossible Mission
to the ZX Spectrum. In my opinion, it was one of the few games
that actually worked on the Spectrum. It was such a low-spec
machine compared to most of the others that it was hard to get
it to perform many of the ideas I was asked to implement. The
8-way scrolling technique I used in many of the games I programmed
was tuned to be an efficient as possible but it still left precious
few machine cycles for game logic and sprite re-painting. I realize
that many gamers wanted fast-action shoot-‘em-ups but programming
something like Murder was far more satisfying from my point of
view. But Impossible Mission was, and still is my favourite out
of all the computer games work I’ve done.
What kind of experience was creating video
games? Was it a stressful, a fun job or a bit of both?
It was great fun back then and for a few years afterwards. We all got on well,
respected each other as programmers and had a good laugh most days. Yes, of course
it was stressful at times – working to a deadline is always stressful.
And we’d hardly finished one job when the next one was already in progress.
With some of the games we were all involved in the game
design process and with others we were presented with an
8-way scrolling arcade machine game, often with
no cheat codes provided and told to implement the entire game on humble home
computers, including the 16K Spectrum which had no hardware sprites or screen-offset
controllers. It was a challenge. But it was a great feeling when the magazine
reviews came out and we found that some of our games made it into the top five
of the games charts.
Left: Spanish magazine advertisement.
In the credits for A View to a Kill, it said that you were
part of ‘Tony Knight and his team’.What did Tony
Knight and his team do?
Tony Knight (no relation) was the M.D. of Softstone. They’d
been a company for a while before I took my first contract with
them, but I don’t remember what they did before "A View
To A Kill". At that time the team consisted of Grant Harrison,
Daryl Bowers, Gary Burfield-Wallis and Argentino Trombin. Grant
and Daryl worked on the Commodore 64 version, Gary on the Amstrad
and I worked on the Spectrum. Argentino did the graphics and
helped out with the programming. When I started working with
them, one of my first jobs was to teach some of the others how
to draw sprites using cookie-cutter masking techniques – not
the Commodore 64 guys as they had hardware sprites.
After the company moved to Brighton we added a couple
more programmers (Tony and Mark) and a graphics artist
(Nik) to the team. Later on, when we’d had a few
top-sellers under our belts, we decided to change the company
name and, for some reason, my suggestion of ‘Kaos’ was
taken up. And chaos was how things went. After completing
projects for the likes of US Gold, Ocean and Electronic
Arts, the money ran out before the last projects were completed.
We all went for some time without collecting salary but
we could only do that for so long.
Most of us kept in touch
for some time after that; I continued working on contracts
for Ocean and US Gold along with Mark, Argentino went back
to Italy and Grant later got together with a guy called
Jason and produced Murder (with me doing the PC version).
Before working on Murder, some of us worked on a few games
were Fergus McGovern’s company in Croyden (Probe
Software). I don’t know whatever happened to Gary
and Daryl. Tony Knight moved to the States when Kaos went
What did you think about the end result of A View to a
Frankly, I thought it was a boring game. A good game is designed around game
play, not around film scenes. It could have probably been made to work on an
arcade machine with well-designed graphics and fine-tuned game play but there
was no way with that particular game design that it was going to work on 8-bit
home computers with very basic graphic capabilities. And we didn’t have
a computer graphic artist back then – one of the other programmers had
to draw the graphics – and it really shows. And four complete games plus
an opening sequence to be programmed in under six months on three machines…this
was our Impossible Mission.
Splash screens for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64
The Questions Most Asked By Players...
In Paris Chase in the last few seconds May Day would usually
turn around, head in a different direction, the game level timer
would run out and player would hear the horrible speech “You
May Day’s movements in that level were as random as they could be. The
code decided on a direction and duration and moved her in that direction for
that duration. As far as I can recall, the only other restraint was that she
bounced at the edge of the city map. While playing it I noticed that she sometimes
seemed to deliberately move away from Bond’s car, but that says more about
human perception than about anything else.
In all versions of the game if your car got close to a wall,
you’d be stuck to it...
This bug annoyed the bejazus out of me. I had so much pressure on me to fix
it but as soon as I settled in to do the debugging process someone would want
me to do something else and they’d want it right away. And I’m
trying to debug something without a debugger on a machine that had only just
enough memory for the program. While the overall process of working on a game
was fun, some of it was hell!
View To A Kill - Game Coverage
To A Kill - Movie Coverage
Many thanks to "Lethal Weapon" and Garry Knight.