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, Spectrum 48K, Amstrad CPC and MSX home computers developed by Softstone. MI6 caught up with Garry Knight, the programmer of the Spectrum version of the game, to talk about its history, 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 to Brighton. So, January to 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 with blood.

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. 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 "A View To A Kill". Did it act as an inspiration for the level?
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.

Above: Commodore 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 I ported 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 down.

What did you think about the end result of A View to a Kill?
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.


Above: Splash screens for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64

Spectrum 48K screenshots

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 failed Bond!”.
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!

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Many thanks to "Lethal Weapon" and Garry Knight.