Interview (Richard Costello, programmer)
Thanks to Lost Dragon for this interview
Q)Could you please introduce yourself and give a little background
info on what you've worked on, for the benifit of our readers?
Hi I am Richard Costello. I used to program computer games for a
living, then I used the money I earned to go motor racing and now I am a motor
racing instructor and keep my hand in with web development on a small scale and
mess about with low level code. After leaving college I initially worked at
Loughborough University with Paul Carruthers writing software on
the BBC Micro, and helped write XOR Designer (mask title screen and file
management bits were mine - basically the shell) before creating Way of
the Exploding Fist on the Commodore C16. I left Loughborough to work for
Gremlin Graphics in Birmingham to code on the Atari ST. I created an
unreleased game called RamRod and in my spare time coded Gauntlet II on
ST and Amiga - I also assisted with MASK on the C64. I then left Gremlin and
went freelance, working with Kev Bulmer initially on Golden Axe, Hotrod
and Terminator 2 then independently for Virgin on Motorhead (all on ST &
Amiga). I worked with Paul again on Megadrive MK1 but my final games were
all Amiga only for Probe including Mortal Kombat 1 & 2 and Primal Rage. I
stopped coding games when the Playstation arrived. I have also developed
stuff for the Psion Organiser.
Q)I'm going to focus on your time with the Atari ST, if that's ok? so
to start with, i simply have to ask about the stunning looking Ramrod
(Gremlin Graphics) previews in likes of Zero, The One, Zzap64 made it out
to look like a cross between Robocop and Marble Madness, so any
information you could share with us, regarding it, would be most welcome. (How far
along from concept it reached, why it was canned, what differences there
would of been between the ST+Amiga versions etc).
RamRod was finished on the ST but it had no depth and the gameplay was
rubbish. Robocop meets Marble Madness is a perfect description. It was
very heavy on graphics, which as you mention were gorgeous (all by Kev Bulmer
R.I.P.) they were the best bit. But the game just consisted of the main
character wandering about 3 levels each 4 screens high (vertically
scrolling) and on each level playing 4 arcade games-within-a-game where
RamRod was scanned into the arcade machine (like in TRON) where he became
the central character in Space Invaders etc. The arcade games were added
in an effort to add game play. The whole project was a bit of a dinosaur
with no central control, management or direction unfortunately - I was no game
designer, I enjoyed writing cool code - and I was left to come up with
the game I guess, so all it became was a lump of cool code displaying cool
graphics, bit of a demo I guess. I recently found my ST master discs so I
am trying to get them working (my ST is dead at the moment and the format
of them means they can’t be read on a PC).
I also created an Amiga version, but I can only find a copy of Disc A …
and it asks for Disc B! I have all the source code (I keep everything) so
I could in theory create another master but have no time. The Amiga version
would have been slightly faster than the ST version thanks to the blitter
and the colours may have been slightly better, although still 16 colour
as there was only one set of graphics.
Q)IF my information is correct :-) youve been quoted as saying you
felt the Atari ST wasn't powerful enough for conversions of both Mortal Kombat
and Primal Rage.Could you explain a little about why you felt that way
and, did you ever see the conversions of MK to the Sega Game Gear and Nintendo
Game Boy and also Primal Rage to Gameboy, Game Gear and Sega Master
System (all 8 bit systems) and think a comprimised version could of been
possible on the ST?.
I never saw the conversions you mention. Obviously an 8-bit styled
version could have been produced for the ST but people would have
expected something similar to the Amiga version which would not have been possible
for two reasons: only 16 colours and no blitter. On the Amiga the
backgrounds and panel graphics plus blood used 16 colours, then the
fighters used 8 colours each. Imagine the ST version with 8 colours for
the backgrounds and 4 colours each for the fighters … The blitter in the Amiga
was used to good effect to clean the screen of previous animations and to
cookie cut each fighter onto the screen along with generating the player
In general the game ran 2 to 4 frames per game loop - the ST would have
been very slow and unplayable. Primal Rage needed 2MB on the Amiga too.
Commercially the ST was dying by the time MKI & II were launched so less
and less was being written for it and the economics meant ST games tended
to be ports of the Amiga version as there wasn’t enough money in it to
develop a separate version for the ST and as mentioned above people would
have slated it, if it was much weaker than the Amiga version - which it
would have been.
Q) Or were you like many a coder of that era, not wishing to make
comprimised to your work, whenever and where ever possible?.
It was work, so it needed to always be economically viable, that was
Q) You worked on a number of high profile arcade conversions to the ST
including: Gauntlet 2,Golden Axe, Hot Rod given the ST's lack of custom
hardware- such as no blitter, hardware sprites,limited colours and weak
sound chip...I wonder A) how much of a mountain you had to climb and
B) if you hadwished Atari had introduced the STE years earlier?.
Atari should have introduced the Amiga when they had the chance. The ST
was a panic reaction they had when they realised they had lost the Amiga
and needed a 16-bit machine. The Amiga was a natural progression from the
8-bit Atari architecture given it was created by the same team of people.
The ST was a nice general purpose computer which Atari should have
developed into the PC by licensing the architecture out - that would have
lead to Motorola being Intel today and Atari would be massive too. BUT
they didn’t, instead they reacted too slowly and then tried to develop custom
games machines to make up for it but time ran out and the Playstation
arrived bringing in a BIG hardware and programming shift from low level
code 2D to higher level code 3D and that was that. Atari started dying
when Jay Miner left them.
Plus both Commodore and Atari stood still with 16-bit. Acorn had the
right idea by going straight to true 32-bit and whilst Acorn didn’t
survive, their processor obviously did.
Q)speaking of the ST hardware, how did you personally rate the range
(ST to STE) and Atari's handling of them..constant upgrades to compete with
what Commodore were doing?.
As mentioned above, too little too late. They should not have been
trying to compete with Commodore, they should have continued on the “serious
Q)Also, did you ever work on platforms like the Lynx, Falcon or Panther?
No, they sold in too low volumes in the UK to be a serious platform.
Q) I have to ask about your work on the ST/Amiga game, Motorhead,
based around the band.Many at the time thought it an obscure source to Base a
game around, did the legendary Lemmy (RIP) have any input on the game?.
The game itself seemed a bit too demanding for the ST, suffering from
slowdown and Jerry scrolling, was this hardware related or were their
Motorhead was Golden Axe - it used the same game engine. I don’t recall
it being much slower than Golden Axe, maybe there were more sprites on
screen which may have effected frame rate. I didn’t meet with Lemmy but
the producer I worked with at Virgin did meet him in his local pub a couple
Q)Both Napalm Nigel and Rapido are ST unknowns to myself, so any
information on them would be most welcome :-)
Napalm Nigel was a single screen of graphics by Kev and a bit of
Gauntlet II code - nothing ever came of it as we left Gremlin. There was no
animation or game design as such. Nigel looked like Tin Tin. Rapido was a
development system, a cross platform assembler for Psion Organiser
development on an ST. I am currently trying to convert it to work in a
browser window and remotely develop a Raspberry Pi.
Q) To this day, there remains an element that retains the idea the ST
maintained a strong market presence in the UK, along with good publisher
support, by the time Atari launched the Jaguar console (not a view I subscribe too,
personally), so..when do you feel it was evident Atari had lost the
battle and the ST was in a state of rapid decline?
Once the Amiga appeared the ST started to die. Initially games were
being written for the ST and were ported to the Amiga which was sustainable
given the Amiga was more powerful. But once games were developed for the Amiga
and took advantage of its hardware the ST required its own version which
doubled the costs. The ST game sales then began to slump and that was
When I wrote Mortal Kombat on the Amiga, there was no ST development
happening at Probe that I recall. It was all Nintendo and Sega by then.
Atari lasted a bit longer in a commercial sense with their specialist
business (music and some business use) but I don’t know why - people
should have been using Acorn machines by then until the PC landed in full force
with Windows 95 etc. Its a shame because the 68000 was a MUCH nicer
processor than the Intel offerings … but then they all got kicked into
touch by ARM.
Q)Any other lost games you can tell us about? Any formats, all are welcome.
No, the only ghost in the cupboard is RamRod … I am working on at least
getting a video of it out - in memory of Kev Bulmer. Kev rang me a few
years ago because a magazine was looking to do articles on unreleased
games and they wanted to start with RamRod. So we were going to try to cobble
something together. I got busy and Kev went quiet. It was a couple of
years later when Kev’s partner informed me he had passed away - he was a
Any other 'claims to fame' outside of the games industry?
I coached Jenson Button when he started racing and have qualified and
finished in front of Jan Magnussen (Kevin’s Dad) - which I am pleased
with, but I ran out of cash when racing - it has that effect :-)
Q) Finally, any messages for your fans? and what are you upto these
I would like to thank everyone who has posted videos of games I created
on YouTube, I really get a kick out of watching them every now and again.
I still have all the boxed originals on the shelf, and I still have my BBC
Micro, Amiga A600 and Mega 4 ST (PSU dead) but the video’s are cool. I
will try to get RamRod on there too.
As mentioned above, I instruct on racing circuits nowadays and I also
do some graphic design and web development. I am interested in programming
ARM code direct to metal on the Raspberry Pi, I really wanted to work with
the ARM processor back in the day and I really dislike high level languages
but I am doing it for fun more than anything. If I had stayed on at
University instead of getting into programming games when I left college then I
imagine I would have ended up at Acorn and then ARM or Broadcom looking
back at things.
There is a magazine review of Primal Rage that has an old photo of me
with my integrale (car) I still have it and have recently disassembled
its engine management ECU to see how it works, its got an 8-bit Motorola 6803
processor in it - so thats got me back into cool code again and keeping my
hand in good old direct to metal development.
I have quite a lot of jobs and do all sorts of things - nothing to do
with computer games though. I didn’t like programming in C over assembler
and preferred working alone rather than as a small cog in a big machine.
Games have become business software, rather than engineering tasks.
I have contributed a few quotes to the soon to be released Gremlin
Graphics book, which sounds like it will be a good read.
Been a pleasure reminiscing.