John Gilbert talks to Sandy White of Quicksilva about a revolutionary 3-D technique
SCULPTURE and computers may seem at different ends of the scale, just as science and art are different disciplines. Sandy White, 23-year-old author of Ant Attack, a new game for the 48K Spectrum from Quicksilva, has managed to combine the two.
White is a sculptor from Edinburgh and he learned about the versatility of computers, especially the Spectrum, earlier this year. Despite that he managed to create a new 3D technique which has revolutionised the idea of 3D gaming.
The technique was finalised using his brother's computer. White says: "My brother has a Spectrum and we thought about how slow the existing games for the machine were. I decided to try to improve the speed at which games would work and started early this year."
Ant Attack is a good example of what can be achieved using the 3D softsolid technique, which is being patented. White is sure that it is different enough to warrant a patent. He says:
"I have seen other 3D games, such as the Atari Zaxxon. The difference between this and my technique is that softsolid is totally machine-independent. It does not matter on which computer a soft-solid game is running but programs like Zaxxon are to some degree machine-dependent."
White sent a video cassette to the software company Quicksilva, which was immediately impressed and excited about the potential of the game. Mark Eyles, a spokesman for Quicksilva, says:
"We received the tape and thought "So what's new? We took it to a friend who had a video recorder and played it. We were amazed. The technique was obviously something new."
As a result of first impressions, Quicksilva hurriedly telephoned White in Scotland and arranged for him to fly to meet representatives of the company at Southampton. Within 24 hours of the arrangement being made White's new game was under contract.
The game involves exploration of a walled city, called Antescher, which is situated in the middle of a great desert.
A band of ants have made the sand mounds in the city their home and they will defend it to the death.
The walls of the city are the best example of the 3D technique. The player characters seem to disappear behind them and, with clever use of light and shade, the walls appear in 3D representation.
Not content with moving a character round the screen, White included code in the game which would allow the user to have almost instant access to up to four views of the current surroundings, all in 3D. The change from one view to another is almost instantaneous.
A great deal of attention has been paid to detail as the characters, which can either be boy or girl, move when they jump up and down over the walls of the city.
The girl's skirt moves up and down when the character jumps and you can imagine that if the girl had pigtails White would have made them movable as well.
White is sufficiently confident of his technique to apply for a patent. He says: "The 3D technique is universal so it can, of course, be applied to any machine. In fact, it was not developed on a Z-80-based machine. I did most of the work on a 6502 system." The 6502 brand of machines include the BBC microcomputer and the Oric One.
White says the patent "will be for the 3D display technique used and not for the games in which it is used." If the patent application is accepted it will mark a first in the Sinclair market, especially where software techniques are concerned.
White is a sculptor first and a computer user second. It is not long before some type of sculpture is put into his computer projects. "The 3D softsolid technique crosses many areas. The shapes which are created using it have more to do with the forms in sculpture than with mathematics. Obviously some maths are involved but I have never been brilliant in that department."
Despite its quick acceptance of Ant Attack, Quicksilva was not the first company to be approached. When White had completed the game he sent a video cassette of the graphics to Sinclair Research, which he thought would be interested in something new for its software library.
He heard nothing from Sinclair for several months and when he telephoned the company he received a strange answer from a company which is at the fountainhead of technology - Sinclair Research had not been able to look at the video because the company did not possess a video recorder. The video cassette was returned and it was then that White sent a copy to Quicksilva. Its quick response to the game surprised even the author.
White is now planning to create a series of games using the softsolid technique. Not surprisingly it will be Quicksilva which will market the results of his efforts.
"I will be staying with Quicksilva because it gave me my big chance. I will be producing more games because the 3D softsolid technique is geared more towards the games market than towards any technical market there may be," he says.
|'The characters seem to disappear behind the walls of the city'|
Apart from creating new forms of 3D games, White is still interested in perfecting new forms of sculpture. His concepts have nothing to do with models made from clay, stone or even tyres. It is what he terms electronic sculpture which has been born from his interest in electronics, computing and sculpting. The only working parts of his creations are a black box, two microchips and a speaker. The chips produce the sound which forms the sculpture.
His latest creation is about a robot walking along a beach, looking out to sea and thinking how lucky it is to be free and experiencing such sensations. The sound track includes a robotic voice which recites a type of poetry.
The imagination which is put into these objects is also active within his games. It has been suggested that as Virgin Games puts recording stars on the back of its tapes, Quicksilva should do the same with White's 'noises.'
Ant Attack is published at a time when Quicksilva is planning changes in direction. It has just become a limited company and has created a subsidiary, Software Studios. Mark Eyles says of the new company:
"Its creation is not really a move from Quicksilva. Software Studios has nothing to do with the running of Quicksilva or the products we have. It is a company which is being run by John Hollis, who wrote Time Gate and Aquaplane."
Hollis was linked earlier this year with the Quicksilva software laboratory , which exists at a secret location. The laboratory was to develop new software for Quicksilva and it seems that Software Studios is the result.
"Hollis will concentrate his programming skills in this company and products created by him and his team of programmers will be marketed under the name of Software Studios," says Eyles.
The new company's first release was Games Designer, a utility program for the 48K Spectrum with which people can design their own arcade-style games. Quicksilva thinks Games Designer, along with Ant Attack, will be one of its best-sellers during the pre-Christmas period. The package shows the Quicksilva command of the games market but, although Quicksilva will continue to concentrate on games, it will be releasing some educational software next year. Its only deviation from the games scene so far has been a stab at marketing a word processor, Eddie, which did not have much impact. Now Quicksilva sees the software market shifting in emphasis. Eyles says:
"Of course, games will continue to dominate the scene but next year there will be a change towards the educational and business end of the market. For that reason we have some educational software packages being developed and they should be released next year."
Next year there will be many changes at Quicksilva. It is already one of the biggest software manufacturers for the Sinclair market in Britain. With writers like White, its name as one of the leaders of the market should be consolidated.