It’s Behind You is a free ebook by the programmer Bob Pape primarily about his writing of the legendary Spectrum conversion of R-Type.
Engagingly written, the book briefly covers the author’s background and first introduction to the industry as well as a short chapter on his only previous Speccy game which was the Rampage conversion, no less! If you’re unsure that you want to read the whole book then that blog-post length chapter is a perfect sampler.
The book as a whole quietly dispels any romantic bedroom coder or rockstar programmer ideas one might have about the 8-bit days, indeed the impression given of working in ’80s game programming isn’t greatly removed from that blog post acidbearboy punted round about the guy working in a shoddy second-hand Game/DVD shop. The author’s exotic journey spans Swansea, Southsea and Southhampton, like some sort of iterative partial-substitution wordgame. Floors are slept upon. Offshoots of offshoots of Activision are worked for.
Bob Pape himself comes across well, not least in being long on praise and short on recriminations rather choosing to acknowledge an early naivety. As he indicates in his foreword this isn’t a book written to settle scores, more a chance taken to build the fullest record of what that time was like. The pun in the title didn’t even occur to me until I’d finished reading, i.e. it’s behind him.
Anyhow, the bulk of the book is about the writing of the various elements of R-Type and written at a level accessible to the target audience. Along the way he talks about interrupts, tearing, self-modifying code and the like, but doesn’t go into more detail than is necessary. One more tech-y section is clearly marked. Assembler code is illustrative throughout, rather than heavily annotated and dissected. Due to the fact he coded the game more or less level-by-level (although having to constantly go back and optimise) once the fundaments were in place the book proceeds straightforwardly, it’s the surrounding events that are interesting. Whilst Bob says he was ultimately under less pressure than the C=64 team he worked alongside were, the sometimes hothouse development environment is palpable.
The book wraps up with a look at contemporary-era reviews of the game and a list of where those mentioned are now (where now equals 2013 or time of publishing)
It’s a fairly quick read, I finished in (the equivalent of) a couple of evenings. I don’t buy Retro Gamer or follow any similarly-themed blogs so this type of memoir is fairly new to me, if you do then it may be less eye-opening, I don’t know. Certainly it merits its length, being tightly-focussed and sufficiently-detailed IMHO. There are also illustrations throughout, promotional material, sprite animation frames and the odd photo.
It’s Behind You is available in both Kindle and PDF formats from Bob Pape‘s website and I recommend you download it for a look if remotely interested. Definitely up Retrolechuck‘s alley. All in all, I’d give the book a Crash Smash and 4/10 for sound.
It’s mechanical. It’s biological. It’s behind you!