60 rooms, each one of them was a shimmering psychedelic jigsaw. Each one had a name : THE ATTIC, INSIDE THE MEGATREE, THE FORGOTTEN ABBEY…
Soon I started wondering where to go and how to get there.
I started drawing maps. I wasn’ t the only one.
It’ s a place we know very well. It’ s our house.
We have lived here for 20 years.
01.02.30 Keith Ainsworth
- I think the first time I played JET SET WILLY I thought: - Why have I got so many men? – You know, it seems of like seven, eight men. And I thought: - It’s too may, isn’t it? -. But as soon as you start to play, and you die, and you die, and you die again, you realise it’s to few.
So that was unusual. Most games you have three or four men, but this one gives you nine. And you need them.
- My first contact with Miner Willy was in MANIC MINER. It caught on enormously. It spread like wildfire throughout my school.
During that time there was a lot of advertising for the sequel. On the day did come out, I went down the computer shop from school and bought a copy.
My friends were all talking about JET SET WILLY for many weeks and eventually it worked its magic on me and I was hooked.
Everybody was playing it. Everybody wanted to explore the inaccessible rooms like THE FORGOTTEN ABBEY, and…
- Back in 1981, I was working for the Ministry of Defence, and had access to computers. But when sir Clive Sinclair launched the ZX81, I decided to purchase a kit and build my own computer.
Sinclair was selling by mail order, so I sent away my 49 pounds for the kit and one Saturday afternoon I put it together and by Saturday evening I was up and running with my own computer.
The early micros, at the 80s’, when you turned them on, they did nothing. There was no built-in application. Anything you wanted to do you had to load from the tape, or write yourself. A lot of people were writing software. A lot of people my age in I.T. actually cut their teeth on the Spectrum, writing games and software for it.
On the Spectrum, we used to play MANIC MINER, JET SET WILLY… Classic games.
The game was so addictive you just had to play it again and again.
We used to have evenings where we used to get together and drink lots of beer and play Spectrum games.
01.06.49 Simon Mallion
- My name is Simon. I've lived here all my life. I used to work in a factory in the late '80, but now I write software for TV companies.
When I first loaded the tape JET SET WILLY, and started from the bathroom and went through a couple of screens, I started to realize, you know, this game was quite bigger than MANIC MINER.
You didn't actually know how big the game was, it seemed infinite. And you didn't actually know how many objects you had to collect either, before you where allowed to go to bed.
Some rooms where one-way rooms, which made it quite difficult to follow an ideal course through the mansion.
The most psychedelic room I can remember is THE NIGHTMARE ROOM. At this point your character wasn't Miner Willy anymore, you were turned into a flying pig.
The game seemed to go on endlessly, as if it was infinite.
And made me think what sort of person would write a game like this.
- Matthew Smith was probably one of the scruffiest people you’ d ever likely to meet. His favourite upper clothes were dungarees and even now he’d wear this old buggy pullover with rainbow stripes that cross it.
I used to work for Bugbyte. During the1980s’ it was one of the world’s first software companies. We produced games such as MANIC MINER, who was written by Matthew Smith and I, at that time, was one of his closer friends.
We were a bunch of misfits, Matthew being the biggest misfit of us all.
He used to write SPACE INVADERS type games, GALAXIANS… for his spare time hobby.
We actually got into programming by accident. We used to like playing around the computers. The Tandy computer was the one we had, but we launched our programs in the Z80.
Matthew was in it for different reasons. Matthew basically wanted to prove he could do better than everybody else.
- Penge, an empty pocket of streets behind Crystal Palace. One hour on the bus to go to town.
Matthew Smith is born here.
When he’s 7, his family moves up to Wallasey, a suburban village on the river Mersey.
- Wallasey is situated on a peninsula. Across the river Mersey we have Liverpool.
There was a lot of mods and rockers. Lots of mods and rockers. Motor bicycles, bicycles everywhere.
Everybody at the front door, opening at the next-door neighbour, popping in, putting the kettle on and the children were running from houses to houses, playing.
Man in the pub
- Buses used to be on time. Cheap fares. Everyone was subsidized. People were working. Everybody had a job. Families were happy, you know. Now they’ve just build all the promenade... Looks nice, but there’s nothing there anymore. So it’s like a ghost town, really.
It’s changed over the years like…
- Matthew Smith lives his teen years here.
One day at school he fiddles with a Tandy, a half-decent computer, and voilà, presto, he becomes the programmer of the best selling videogame for the ZX Spectrum, MANIC MINER.
He’s just turned 16.
- The headmaster and the vice headmaster were very tough on people who did cause trouble. Mossland School, where we were at school, was a very strict school. It had a very clear code of uniforms. You had to wear specific colour jumpers. It had to be a blue or grey jumper, it couldn’t be black or… And you couldn’t wear white socks and you had to have the right tie.
He was always slightly an odd kid. He didn’t seem quite healthy somehow, he seemed to spend too much time inside and maybe not enough time getting clean.
At Mossland School in Wallasey there was a teacher called Mr. Simcon who set the computer lab and in there he had three TRS 80, Tandy machines. I remember vividly Matthew Smith had created a scrolling game… very much like a sort of DEFENDER type game, except vertical.
- Mother Red Caps was an inn where the smugglers used to go and do all the business.
And under Mother Red Caps was caves underneath Wallasey
- And they stretched from the promenade, as far as New Brighton, as far as Wallasey Village.
- But I believe these tunnels are still there, you know…
- MANIC MINER was written over, it must have been about maybe three, four weeks maximum.
It was the first multilevel game. It was the first game on the Spectrum to capture people imagination.
The DONKEY KONG was around, that was around, and was only four levels up and that was a very popular game simply because it had four levels… MANIC MINER had 20 levels. Wow, how the hell are you gonna finish that?
Alan Maton, he was the person who saw what it was. He was the person who recognized Matthew Smith’s talent before anybody else. And kind of took him on board and made Matthew the star that he did become.
He realized there was something there. We didn’t. Matthew certainly didn’t.
It was written purely as a whim. How to, basically do things Tandy machines hadn’t done before. That’s all Matthew wanted to do.
We had these computers and we just wanted to be able to make them do what we wanted. We wanted to do something and we wanted them to do it, so we programmed them to do it. And if we didn’t know how to program, we looked in the book. Eventually we’ve got this embryonic idea of programming.
- Back in the day, They called it “home computers”. The keys were soft rubber. They perfumed. Parents put them under Christmas trees, like a toy. Children knew better.
ZX Spectrum was a real computer. You could play and program.
01.21.37 Trevor Collier Moore
- Computing in the U.K. initially started back in the 1940's with the need to decode the german cipher from the Enigma machine.
The Colossus is, without doubt, the first computer ever used in the world and used mainly for code breaking.
Moving on from then, we have all big, huge, room fully machines and used mainly by people in government, the military... Most people didn't even know the existence of computers, to be honest.
Sir Clive Sinclair was known mostly to hobbyists and enthusiasts for the first LCD watch that was actually affordable to the public, home-built, cheap amplifiers...
There wasn't really brought out in 1981 the Z80, when people could actually build their own kit, plug into their own television and then they could sit down and start programming their own programs.
These machines were bought in absolute thousands and supply could not match demand at that time.
So this was for the first time was that people could go out to the shops and could generally afford to have a home colour pc with sound on their own television for less than 200 pound.
- It’s 1984, 7am.
Willy, a miner turned millionaire, wakes up in his bathtub. The mammoth party is over. The guests have left the place in a dreadful mess.
Willy just wants to go to bed. Maria won’t let him until every bit and piece has been picked up and tidied away.
This story fills 48k of memory on an extinct computer.
- It was great coming from MANIC MINER, because MANIC MINER just had 20rooms, 16 - 20 rooms.
And so, you can think: - Ok, sequel’ ll have more.
Drew my own map back in the 80s’ and I got so far until: - Right, I’ve got the all. I’ve got the all of the house. Every room -. And then I discovered something else. And discovered that I didn’t have ever half the house really.
- I think that the most disturbing graphics for me in the game is the large guardian in rooms such as ENTRANCE TO HADES. He’s got a star on his forehead under his mouth, which is constantly opening and closing as if he is talking to Willy or he’s laughing at him. It’s bizarre, to say the least.
-There are some really weird objects on the screen.
This is Maria in the MASTER BEDROOM. She’s supposed to be your housekeeper. She’s making you clean up, before you can go back to bed. That’s the all purpose of the game.
- The plot of JET SET WILLY, I find it quite weird really. Willy pays her wages for her to tidy his house. Why does she hold him to do so? Maybe she’s blackmailing him. Maybe they are really in love. Maybe Willy is infatuated with her and he’s paying her to sleep in the MASTER BEDROOM. Maybe Willy confided something to her and she put him under her foot and says: - Well, now you pay me money to keep me quiet.
- The game was just bigger than anything that happened before. Every single room in JET SET WILLY was different. Flying telephones, being chased by the toilet, getting trampled by this huge foot when you die.
- There are deities, there are rooms called PRIEST’S HOLE. There is a chapel, crosses. There are monks.
- I suppose there was religious conflict in the 16th hundreds, with Catholics and Protestants in Britain. And so people went around to try and find the opposing religion and take them away and they’d hide in a little thing we call THE PRIEST HOLE, which is just a concealed room in a house.
- I don’t think the big wigs, or the big wig, at that time, was particularly bothered how good or bad the game was. One’s gonna be a bestseller, that went without saying. We had pre-release orders, which were far far beyond anything we’d ever seen for the other games.
- In the early 80s’ in the Liverpool software scene everybody seemed to know everybody else.
And more or less everybody was friends.
They went out drinking, and the parties were pretty legendary. With the IMAGINE, with their sports cars and their big motorbikes, the get-togethers. They were living legends, like Matthew Smith.
- He was so rich he could use ZX Spectrums to proper-fix tables, because the legs wobbled, or to hold open the door
The worldwide success of Sinclair started with a thingy big like this. It rises and rises for four years.
Then comes a tricycle and takes it away.
01.34.22 Simon Webb
- When the C5 was launched, I put an order for one in immediately. I paid my 399 pounds and I think two weeks later he arrived in a very large box on my doorstep.
Sir Clive Sinclair obviously saw the market for electric vehicles. The C5 was the first of supposingly a range of electric vehicles to satisfy the market.
The reality proved to be somewhat different from the dream, it proved to be very unreliable.
Bits used to fall off it.
The gearbox frequently broke.
Top speed was supposingly 50mph but if you went down a steep hill you could go significantly faster than that. Stopping at the bottom was a different matter then.
The C5 was very low to the ground and you did certainly feel vulnerable especially with some of the largest vehicles on the road.
Prices fell down rapidly and it was being sold for 140 pounds at the end. It was just something that never took off.
The C5 was obviously the end of Sinclair as he was but the advent of IBM meant that the all market dissolved and everyone wanted to produce pc compatibles.
01.36.20 Chris Cannon
- He was getting very introspective around this time. He was quite thrown anyway, he was a very, very quiet person the best of times. But around this time there was far too much pressure on him from his business partners to actually sort of trying make them some money. It wasn't in his personality to do that. He just collapsed on himself.
01.37.02 Keith Ainsworth
- So Matthew Smith programs MANIC MINER that was a big hit. Then programs JET SET WILLY and was even bigger hit. Months went by and rumours of MINER WILLY MEETS THE TAXMAN, MEGATREE, things like that.
No games emerged. Few more months went passed and ATTACK OF THE MUTANT ZOMBIE CHICKENS was supposed to be coming out. Adverts in the magazines, a little article, but no game ever came out. After that silence.
01.38.02 Chris Cannon
- Well he disappeared at the height of his career, really. He's the international man of mystery for computer geeks.
He did what people wanna do these days: he came from nowhere, made a name from himself and then simply disappeared. You know, is what everybody likes to do, you know.
There was no long prolonged death in the media. He just disappeared.
- People find new games, people forget. Years go by. The Spectrum tapes re-emerge in junk markets, in boot car sales among rusty toasters, paperbacks…
People start to remember.
Slowly Willy walks again.
01.39.41 Richard Hallas
- When I was in my early teens, I went down to this computer shop near my school and found this tape called JET SET EDITOR, which, as it turned out much later, was one of the very few copies actually to be released.
I came across this editor, as I said, and created JOIN THE JET SET here, which I gave to my friends and they seemed to enjoy it. And that’s where it started.
I took him up on a mountain, into the sky, out to see, to a desert island, into town, to hell even.
What I was trying to do was just capture the spirit of the original.
I wanted to make another JET SET WILLY game that lived up to the standard set by Matthew Smith in the original.
- 60 rooms were not enough anymore, so people started dreaming up more rooms.
- There are certainly aspects of me and my life in my games. Of course a JET SET WILLY designer takes things from the experiences, from the influences…
There are around 30 different variations of it, which is quite astonishing.
I write my games in the evening, when there’s usually nothing else on the telly or I’m just bored and I think – Oh, you know, I just knock up a few screens.
My favourite night walk is around a little park. It’s got a large lake and plenty of trees and a wildlife, and that’s quite nice. Just to sit there sometimes and watch the birds, if there are some.
One dream I had is based around a MANIC MINER room. All I can really remember is that it had a white paper background.
01.44.39 Jet Visji
- I think one of my first memories is from my birthday. I hid under our parents’ bed. I think I was 3 or 4. But I know that I didn’t have the computer at that time.
When I was 5 years old and I got the Commodore 64, that was the first time in my life I even saw a computer and I said: - I’m going to be a computer engineer when I grow up.
The room’s original name is MATTHEW SMITH PRESUMED DEAD, that’s why the flag is in the half-mast. I changed the name in the LOST LIVES CHAMBER so it would be like a honourable room for the died Willies.
A pixel-block version of Matthew Smith’s head. He had long hair and he had this crazy smile on him.
I didn’t even believe it myself. We are looking at the newest game of the Matthew Smith that I found in the net.
I can really believe this is a Matthew Smith game. Bubble trees and bubble men, running around and you just have to kill them.
He really was thought about as a freak. He was very different from the other programmers. He looked quite different.
We both are on computer very much and programming. I think it is not very uncommon for him to program all night long. So the differences are not so big in the end.
- Well, I can report that the elusive Syd Barrett of the computer world is alive and well back in Wallasey.
- I never really knew much about Matthew Smith, but he was always at the back of my mind, wondering how this one person produced games… Maybe because he had his name emblazed on the screen.
It was always a common conversation among my friends at school, say: -Oh, wouldn’t it be great to be him, or to have written that, we would be millionaires by now…-
We were wondering where he was, who was he, what he looked like…
We just decided to maybe collect all information together and see what was genuine fact.
I received emails about Matthew from pretty much all over the world.
I think one email said that he’d actually confectioned this new vehicle: a vacuum cleaner motor and a car battery engine to produce his own battery powered bike.
He was in Holland spending his time repairing bicycles for cash. Staying in a commune, a squat or a hostel.
- I first met Matthew when he was rich and famous and he still knew how to draw a good party.
I recall a free bar under the stairs and magic mushroom tea for all.
The rest of evening is lost in a blur.
- I think to understand he was working in a fish factory somewhere, which, like the email said, was very disappointing, you know. To have all that imagination being used to slice fish.
I think one of the strangest ones I received was regarding the rumour that he doesn’t actually exist. It was purely a codename for the computer. That MANIC MINER was actually written on by some unnamed individual.
Matthew Smith’s interview, December 1984
- Things get hairy when we get machines which are more intelligent than us. I want to lead a simple life. I think a lot of people do. True communists are people who live in communes, villages, tribes. I'd like to live like that, but always with the communications we've got.
There should be an end to cities. Cities should have walls around them to keep the city in.