An exclusive interview with Nigel Alderton
The legend who created the classic Chuckie Egg.
Many people drop by the site and say hello, some you’ve heard of, some who their mother’s haven’t heard of. But in this instance a guy who is classed as a legend, although he doesn’t like to admit it, popped by to put 10p in the 80sNostalgia begging cup and grant an exclusive interview. Bless. The guy’s name is Nigel Alderton, and he is Mr. Chuckie Egg.
What is your full name?
Did you come up with the idea for Chuckie Egg, or were you the programmer?
Both. I designed and wrote the original Spectrum version then it was converted to many other formats. Something like 15.
Which platforms (computers) did you write for?
Speccy and Amstrad.
So, what’s it feel like to be a legend?
I don’t think I’d put it quite like that! To a small band of hardcore gamers of a certain age range, games like Chuckie Egg seem to have a certain magical allure, but normal people have never heard of it .
How old were you when you were involved in the development of Chuckie Egg?
I think I was about 16 or 17. I should try and work it out sometime. I was definitely still at school because I remember finishing the game during a summer holiday.
What are you doing for a living now?
I’m a network manager now.
How long did Chuckie Egg take to develop? How many people worked on it?
It took about four or five months from starting the design to finishing the coding. Basically it was all my own work. A mate of mine – Phil Berry – was round at my house one day around the time I was designing the later screens and he helped with a couple of the screen layouts – six and seven I think – but apart from that I did the lot. Design, programming, (dodgy) graphics, sound, everything.
Were you pleased with the outcome?
Fairly. I’d managed to write a ‘proper’ game all by myself and I was chuffed that it had all the elements that arcade games at that time had, even down to the frilly bits like a high score table, but I was slightly frustrated by the fact that the game in it’s released form was unfinished.
I made the mistake of showing the game to A & F before I’d completed the coding and from that moment on, they were pushing to get the game on the shelves. The game was 100% designed in my head & I knew exactly how it was going to look and play, but they kept nagging away asking me not to ‘keep adding bits’ so they could release it in time for review in some publication or other, or in time to be submitted to some buying meeting or other.
They couldn’t understand (or didn’t want to understand) that I wasn’t ‘adding bits’, I was trying to finish coding a game that was already designed in my head. In the end I caved in. I nearly got everything in that I wanted to but not quite.
So what’s missing from the game?
The released version of the game cycles through the eight different platform layouts five times giving 40 levels. After that it just repeats the last eight levels forever.
However I’d intended there to be more levels. There would have been a cycle which had two birds chasing you at the same time not one. One bird having half the top speed and acceleration of the other so they didn’t get locked together.
Then I wanted the game to not to change for a complete cycle so the player would think they had seen all there was to see. On the next cycle, I would have put breaks in one or two ladders and removed one or two ladders from each layout. It doesn’t sound like much but I’d noticed that I’d developed a favourite route for completing each layout and assumed others would too. Removing ladders would probably disrupt the players favourite route which if it was done late enough in the game when the player had already put hundreds of hours into the game (on the same eight unchanging layouts) would have had a big impact for a small amount of coding.
What did your mates think about you being Mr Chuckie Egg?
I never really noticed! Lots of my mates were writing their own games. I think they get more mileage out of it these days. I was on a stag weekend last month and was introduced to someone as ‘the guy that wrote Chuckie Egg’. He was flabbergasted! He actually bought me a pint 🙂
Did you realise at any point during the early days that Chuckie Egg was going to be the classic that it is now?
Not at all. It did really well in the charts for ages – I think it was number one on one format for nine months but then as all games did, it faded away onto compilations then bargain buckets, then disappeared altogether. And I thought that would be that.
What do you think of the game now?
Obviously it looks rather dated now, but I’m still really proud if it.
Are there any hidden cheats in the game that nobody knows about?
Have you been involved in the creation of any other games?
Yes I did a few conversions of arcade games including Commando on the Speccy and Ghosts and Goblins on the Amstrad, both for Elite.
Who was your favourite hero as a kid?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Being an 80’s teenager, I think I probably dreamed about being cool, or rich, or winning Wimbledon .
How did you come to write Chuckie Egg? How did it all happen?
I wanted to write a game that I would enjoy playing and I also wanted to do smooth pixel movement not the character movement which unbelievably was the norm at the time. Pixel movement was perceived to be ‘very clever’ . I also wanted to design a game based around dexterity and reactions not puzzle solving, and I also wanted it to be for one to four players not the normal one or two players.
The inspiration for the game came from two arcade games of the time – Donkey Kong which is well known and Space Panic by Universal which is a bit more obscure. Some reviews of Chuckie Egg compared it to Donkey Kong and also Manic Miner which came out a few months earlier. The Manic Minor comparisons really annoyed me because I hated the game! I had a loathing (& still do) of games where the collision detection of the sprites is unforgiving pixel-to-pixel checking. I don’t think anyone noticed how similar the game was to Space Panic. I started designing and coding simultaneously. I’d sketch out ideas on paper or mull things over in my head and write the beginnings of core routines like the main loop and graphics routines. I took some code like the keyboard routines from my first Speccy game – Blaster – reworked it and used it in Chuckie Egg. At first the design and the program evolved together but gradually as the coding progressed, the game design crystallised in my head and I knew exactly how I wanted the game to look and play by the time the coding was about half finished. Then it was just a matter of working away until it was complete. Unfortunately as I mentioned before, A & F had other ideas.
When was the last time you played Chuckie Egg?
Last week! Emulators are great aren’t they 🙂
When you play Chuckie Egg, both when you were developing it, and whenever you last played it, what level do you get up to (without cheating)?
After it was released I played it quite a lot and got to the point where I could keep going gaining more lives than I was loosing, even on the hardest level. After that there was no point in playing it any more.
Which programmers do you most admire?
Mike Webb who I met at A & F and went on to work with at Ocean was (and probably still is) a very clever guy, a brilliant lateral thinker, and an all-round decent bloke. Paul Holmes (Speccy Bomb Jack) I met at Elite could break down the most complex problem into it’s component parts and then write beautifully well thought out code from first principles.