Skytopia > Games > Interview with a ficticious games company (spoof)

Silosoft Entertainment -
the forgotten games company

Charting the rise and demise of one of the 80s
largest unknown quantities in games publishing.


You might have heard of Acclaim, Ocean, US Gold or Activision. But what about UK Brighton-based outfit Silosoft? Surprisingly, Silosoft Entertainment was just as illustrious a name throughout parts of the 80s, releasing several games each year and topping the charts with a variety of ecelectic titles. Sadly, a shift in gamers' tastes throughout the 90s, together with financial diffulties and various controversies, took their toll. A change of image and name to Silo Interactive in 1996 was not enough to save the company, which filed for liquidation only a year later.

We were lucky enough to secure an interview with Fergus Farnsworth, who managed Silosoft throughout its turbulent existence.

Q: How did Silosoft come in to being?

A: I was with my mates down the pub in the Summer of '84 and I just had this sudden flash of inspiration - why not form a games company? I mean everyone else was doing it at the time and we had the necessary qualifications. We'd all copied lines of code from a Speccy magazine and Biggsy [the team's graphics designer] had an O-level in art before dropping out of college. The guys were really supportive and so it all kind of started from there really.

Q: Who came up with the name Silosoft?

A: Can't remember actually. We all agreed that anything vaguely military sounding gets you extra cred with the kids. I guess the name also seemed catchy at the time - well, after a few pints anyway...

Q: What was the biggest challenge in setting up your company?

A: It might sound a bit unusual but it was our company slogan. Slogans were really a big thing back then but it took us many hours to come up with something exceptional. Our line of thinking was that games were dull to make but actually quite fun to play. So we started off with: "We make the games so that you can play them and therefore don't have to make them yourself." Eventually we went with: "We make the games so that you don't have to" which was snappier and more contemporary.

Q: What was the company's main goal?

A: To create great games. Failing that, we would be happy just making lots of cash.

Q:What was your biggest success?

A: "Danger Forever" (see below) - it was reported to have at one stage outsold R-Type by a factor of 3 to 1 in some shops in Croydon.

Q: And your worst moment?

A: Being stuck in a lift for three quarters of an hour with three other developers at the ECTS [European Computer Trade Show]. As if that wasn't bad enough, all they could talk about was Tomb Raider. I was getting quite bored and piped up: "There are other games out there you know." One of the guys replied "Not with Lara Croft in there ain't" to uprorious laughter from the others. I wanted to punch them.

Q: What are your favourite games?

A: Too many to list, but try Manic Miner, Strider and Zelda III on the SNES. Also any game featuring a tamarind.

Q: What do you think was the main cause of Silo's downfall?

A: Our inability to meet the requirements of the modern gamer. In other words a critical lack of generic licensed sports sequels or 3D musclebound action adventures with unfeasibly long titles such as "Wrath of the Winged Serpent Masters: Extended Showdown at the Edge of Time."

Q: What are you up to these days?

A: I work as a database administrator for Albatross & General. Basically, I spend the day playing Tetris and reading slashdot, but don't tell my boss!

Q: Finally, what do you think the future holds for the games industry?

A: You know on Jet Set Willy when you lose all your lives and that big foot comes down and splat!? Bit like that.



THE GAMES:

Scudmore Island Jolly (1989): Mult-format Treasure Island Dizzy clone, although perhaps a bit too close to the original with some of the graphics lifted straight off the CodeMasters classic. Fergus eventually admits: "Well, what choice did we have? Deadlines were looming and either we cancelled the game and disappointed thousands of eager customers or we took a few shortcuts. We went for the latter option." Codemasters' response was to file a lawsuit. In an astonishing echo of Atari burying millions of ET Atari cartridges in the desert, Silo were forced to offload several dozen cassettes and floppy disks in a skip off Brighton's coast using a dumper truck.

It is rumoured there are only 10 working copies of the game anywhere in the world right now. Due to its rarity, a Spectrum 48K version sold on eBay recently for over 5,000! We were lucky enough to get access to one of the last remaining copies and can assure you that it plays like an absolute dream. The scrolling is silky smooth, the puzzles ingenious and the characters full of expression. At first, we pleaded with Fergus to share or license the game in some way but eventually had to concur that the game's low availability added to its mystique and specialness.

Danger Forever (1991): This was a fantastic R-type/Nemesis style game for the 8 and 16-bit computers. 8 levels of pulsating horizontal scrolling shoot 'em up action with some of the most fiendish bosses resulted in Silo's top-selling game of all time.

We asked Fergus what contributed to its success: "What, you mean apart from the advanced pre- rendered graphics, thumping soundtrack and novelty loading sequence?" he laughed. "Actually there were two more subtle elements which we were especially proud of. We played C64 R-type and noticed it was in some ways more fun to play than the arcade version, but couldn't at first figure out why. Then, like a bolt from the blue, we carefully studied the ship's firing. It was clear that rather than evenly-spaced bullets [like the arcade version], the ship would shoot out a stream of bullets, which resulted in a "ripple" effect, especially when shooting waves of cascading one-shot-kill ships. We called this effect "stream-o-matic" and incorporated it into Danger Forever. I'm quite surprised no other shoot 'em up has used it since, but then again, maybe the whole world's just stupid" (I couldn't tell by studying Fergus' face whether he was joking or not - he looked more concerned than anything.)

"Inspired by the standard shot, and loop-laser in R-Type, we also used patented sound technology so that the sound effects would dynamically alter in rhythm and tone to blend in with the music. The tone of the sound effect for example would alter to add an extra note to the chord in the soundtrack, enhancing the audio experience."

Other titles were not so successful. In "Advanced Commuter Simulator: The Adventures of a 9 to 5 Salaryman" (1985), the player assumed the role of a businessman going about his daily duties. In the first scene, the player used the joystick to manoeuvre around fellow passangers in a cramped London tube (well, you can't deny the game's realism). Occasionaly a fat tourist would board and less dextrous players would be met with a rather unpleasant and squishy death.

The "highlight" of the game was the lunch scene, where you were given the choice between an egg and mayo baguette, a tuna sandwich and tomato soup. With considerable practise, astute gamers learnt to avoid the tomato soup option, as the contents of said meal choice would invariably spill on your report, resulting in a stern reprimand from your boss and another late night at the office.

Advanced Commuter Simulator was both a critical and commercial flop with one journalist declaring "I would rather undergo triple root canal surgery without anaesthetic while listening to Barry Manilow than play this diabolical excuse for a piece of entertainment software." The game sold only three copies, and one of those was to the programmer's mother.

Even more notorious was "Beat the Tax Collector" (1986) where the aim of the game was to employ erm, let's say "creative" accounting to accumulate as many assets as possible and then stash the proceeds away in offshore accounts. Predictably, this title attracted much interest from HM Inland Revenue and was eventually shelved. Ironically, the game's programmer, Max Grabbit, was later sentenced to 7 years in jail for money laundering and gazelle smuggling.

Moving on to more recent times, Silosoft became Silo Interactive Entertainment and launched a STUN Runner/F-Zero clone for the Playstation called "Forward Inertia" (1997) "We let our imagination on this one run riot" enthuses Fergus. The game involved the player taking control of a futuristic bobsled and racing through a variety of superbly detailed courses. It featured night, underwater and snow sequences, neon lights, mutidirectional tubes and enclosures, boosts, lanes, anti-grav pads, just about anything you could think of really.

The music was especially notable and incorporated the dynamic sound properties featured in "Danger Forever" (mentioned above). "Basically," Fergus says passionately, "we were big fans of Super Famicom F-Zero and also its music. However, F-Zero X for the Nintendo 64 was definitely a step backwards sonically. Screeching electric guitars are not the way to go and we made sure "Forward Inertia" featured the sort of retro-futuristic synthesizer arrangements that are absolutely essential for this type of game."

Most people will agree however that the most memorable aspect of "Forward Inertia" was one sequence which fans dubbed the "Ramp To the Stars." This begins with the craft travelling through a glass tube underwater when suddenly a voice counts down "5-4-3-2-1. We are preparing to leave Earth's atmosphere." Your vehicle would slow down to a halt and then go shooting forwards and upwards out of the water, passing Tokyo City and through a diamond-encrusted mountain, exiting onto a vertigo-inducing luminous multi-layer cloudscape. Driving along the clouds is thrilling but doesn't last long as you are still travelling up and eventually enter space, drive past the planets and end up on the rings of Saturn! This has to be experienced to be belived but gets even better with an amazing freefall back down to Earth at lightning speed.

Surprisingly, "Forward Inertia" was vastly outsold by its contemporaries such as WipeOut. Although poor marketing must have contributed to its failure, Fergus adds a more conspiratol slant to the proceedings: "We can only assume the world wasn't ready for the game. In essence it was perhaps a bit too good. From a business point of view, maybe we should have ditched the lush colourscapes and stuck with strictly one-hue grey dungeons and brown/grey outdoor scenes. Perhaps we could have also exchanged the vehicle for an uzi-toting mercenary and had some bland techno or grunge music playing in the background. But then it wouldn't have been Forward Inertia. It would have been Quake."

Although there is some bitterness in Fergus's voice, it is clear he is a man who cared deeply about developing imaginitive and entertaining software. Silosoft may be no more but its memory lives on - may it rest in peace.


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