Mike Singleton

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Mike Singleton
Mike Singleton 2005.jpg
Mike Singleton in San Diego, California in 2005
Born 21 February 1951
Died 10 October 2012 (aged 61)
Switzerland[1][2]
Cause of death
Cancer
Occupation Computer programmer
Employer Cheshire Education Authority
Postern Software
PetSoft
Beyond Software
Melbourne House
Rainbird Software
Simon & Schuster Interactive
Mirage Software
Microprose
Known for Designing computer games

Mike Singleton (21 February 1951 – 10 October 2012) was a British author and video game developer who wrote various well-regarded titles for the ZX Spectrum during the 1980s.[3] His titles include The Lords of Midnight, Doomdark's Revenge, Throne of Fire, Dark Sceptre and War In Middle-earth. He also wrote a novel, The Eternal Empire, whilst at university.[4] Before developing video games, Singleton was an English teacher in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, England.[4]

Learning the game[edit]

Learning the game

Mike was obsessed by games. While he was a teacher at Sutton Comprehensive School in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, he inspired a small cadre of colleagues (4 of them plus Mike) to seriously play games with him. For several years they spent every lunchtime (except Friday - pub day) playing board games, some of which Mike had invented himself and would try out on them. He'd had several rejections from Waddington, the board game publishing house and it was no surprise when he started to program his own simple computer games. Computers were just appearing in schools and a good number of teachers shared Mike's interest in writing games.He also at this time started to play a multi-player computer based game. It was always an event to see him opening an airmailed envelope containing his opponent's next moves and then moving to the computer to input them. But we knew him best for the board games he played so seriously. 'Kingmaker' was the preferred game for much of this time, a game of strategy as its title implies, set in the time of the English Wars of the Roses. Soft on the kids and often lacking in concentration as a teacher, he was cool and ruthless as a player and often won. And when two of the cadre combined to defeat the others he was appalled at their lack of personal ambition. He was a fearsome opponent who shared little. And he was a bit like that in real life. Few people have temperaments that fit their surnames as perfectly.

Early work[edit]

Singleton originally started programming in 1980, teaching himself BASIC on the Commodore PET,[5] and writing Computer Race, a horse racing game he designed for a betting shop.[5] Moving on from this, he began working on arcade games for the Pet, working with PetSoft, where he wrote Space Ace entirely in 6502 machine code.[5] The game broke sales records of the day by selling three hundred copies,[5] which was a considerable achievement given the number of compatible computers at the time.[5]

Singleton's association with PetSoft turned out to be short-lived, as PetSoft, who had been due to enter into a contract with Sinclair Research in Cambridge to write software for the new ZX80, lost out on the deal to Psion.[5] Mike contacted British inventor and entrepreneur Clive Sinclair and was asked to send his games along.[5] Some time after, in November 1980, he was then asked to visit the site in Cambridge, and invited to work on software for their brand new ZX81 micro.[6] Mike used this as the platform for his GamesPack1 project.

GamesPack1 was a series of games, each fitting into just 1 kilobyte of memory. It was one of the first commercial software programs written for the ZX81, and something of a runaway success, selling a massive 90,000 copies, earning Singleton £6,000 for his efforts[5] (in those days, this was the approximate new price of a large family car in the UK), particularly pleasing as it had taken him just two weeks over the Christmas holidays to complete[6] and net what was essentially an entire year's salary.

The Golden Age of the home microcomputer[edit]

Whilst the arcade game writing business was making him a living, Singleton, who retired from teaching completely in 1982 to become a full-time freelance games designer, was always an old school war gamer at heart,[4] hooked from an early age on war board games and play-by-mail (PBM) strategy gaming, working for a time on Seventh Empire, a PBM game he put together for Computer and Video Games magazine (C&VG),[4] which eventually led to Beyond Software when C&VG editor Terry Pratt moved to run Beyond.[6]

In March 1984, Singleton’s spy-themed board game, Treachery, which had its complicated game logic controlled by a computer program, was featured in C&VG, with a type-in listing for the Spectrum, together with a keyboard overlay (a common feature of Mike’s games), centre-spread board and a set of counters. The game was so popular among the readers that the editor asked for conversions for the Commodore 64 and BBC Micro to be produced, and each of them featured in C&VG’s 1985 yearbook.

It was from Beyond that Singleton, who remained freelance, was by September 1983 being pressed for more programs, and having progressed to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, he wrote what are widely regarded as some of the best strategy adventure games ever to be seen on those early home micros,[7] the Midnight Series, Lords of Midnight (released in July 1984) and Doomdark's Revenge, which were originally intended to form the first two episodes in a trilogy of which, the final episode, Eye Of The Moon, never came about. Each of the two games played out on a scale never seen before back in the mid-eighties, at a time when many games were boasting 50 or even 100 locations, Lords of Midnight's groundbreaking gameplay featured over 4,000 locations, and Doomdark's Revenge, 6,000, plus well in excess of 100 player controllable characters. Had Eye Of The Moon come to fruition, it was to have had around 24,000 locations, in a map featuring twelve distinct regions, each with a local sub-quest completely separate from the main objective of the game.[5]

Moving on from the Midnight Series, Mike worked on several games of a more arcade-like nature, the first of which, Throne of Fire,[7] a side viewed live action game, featured a multiplayer option where each player used the same computer to explore simultaneously, each trying to complete a set of objectives which lead to the overall completion of the game. Dark Sceptre,[7] released later the same year, was also in essence a sideways viewed live action game, but returned to a more adventure-like feel, with a long, drawn out challenge awaiting the player who would need to build up their forces to consolidate their position before seizing on the opportunity to actually complete the game.

Two years later, War In Middle-earth,[7] whilst essentially an adventure game on a similar scale to the Midnight Series, represented a switch from the adventure to an action philosophy, requiring the player to interact with the characters under their control directly, moving them individually in each of the battles,[5] giving the game much more of an arcade/adventure feel.

Later home micro productions[edit]

In the late '80s Singleton moved onto the 16-bit machines that were making an appearance, and worked on the classic Midwinter trilogy, also producing another work in the Lords of Midnight series in 1995.

21st century[edit]

Singleton continued working in games design, making him one of a few developers to have made the transition to more modern consoles from the early days of home computing. Singleton worked for Midas Interactive and Lucasarts on several games for the Xbox and PlayStation consoles, such as the action games HyperSonic Xtreme and Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb. Singleton had most recently worked on the strategy game, Wrath Unleashed, with his latest productions being Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, a continuation of the 80s arcade classic Gauntlet series of games, and Race Driver: Grid, a racing game developed by Codemasters.[8]

At the time of his death, Singleton had worked on an iPhone port of his 1984 ZX Spectrum game Lords of Midnight.[9]

List of games[edit]

8-bit titles
Title Distributor Year Platform
Space Ace PetSoft 1981 PET
GamesPack1 Sinclair Research Ltd 1981 ZX81
Shadowfax Postern 1982 BBC, C64/VIC-20, Spectrum
Siege Postern 1983 C64/VIC-20, Spectrum
Snake Pit Postern 1983 C64/Pet/VIC-20, Spectrum
3-Deep Space Postern 1983 C64/VIC-20, Spectrum
The Lords of Midnight Beyond Software 1984 Amstrad, C64, Spectrum
Doomdark's Revenge Beyond 1985 Amstrad, C64, Spectrum
Throne of Fire Melbourne House 1986 Spectrum
Dark Sceptre Beyond Software 1986 Spectrum
War in Middle Earth Melbourne House 1988 Spectrum
Star Trek: The Rebel Universe Firebird Software 1988 C64
16-bit titles
Title Distributor Year Platform
Star Trek: The Rebel Universe Simon & Schuster Interactive 1987 Atari ST, PC
Whirligig/Space Cutter Melbourne House 1987 Amiga
War in Middle Earth Melbourne House 1988 Atari ST, Amiga, PC
Whirligig Firebird Software 1988 Atari ST, Amiga
Midwinter Rainbird Software 1989 Atari ST, Amiga, PC
Flames of Freedom Microprose 1990 Atari ST, Amiga, PC
Ashes of Empire/Fallen Empire Mirage 1991 Atari ST, Amiga, PC
Starlord Microprose 1993 Atari ST, Amiga, PC
Lords of Midnight: The Citadel Domark 1995 PC
The Ring Cycle Psygnosis 1995 PC
Console titles
Title Distributor Year Platform
HSX: HyperSonic Xtreme Midas Interactive Entertainment 2002 PlayStation
Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb Lucasarts 2003 Mac, PC, PS2, Xbox
Wrath Unleashed Lucasarts 2004 PS2, Xbox
Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows Midway Home Entertainment 2005 PS2, Xbox
Race Driver: Grid Codemasters 2008 PC, PS3, Xbox 360

References[edit]

External links[edit]