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Frank Bird

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Frank Bird last won the day on March 29

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  1. I think I mentioned at one point that we (JPM) were very close to Starpoint both socially and professionally. The development of the modular SRU reel unit was a huge step for both of us and the months of development and prototyping were accompanied by lunch time restaurant meetings and quite often, evening boozy get togethers as well as Golf weekends, although not the golf for me, I would rather eat my spleen. During the lunchtime meeting we would often sit around a the table in a local French restaurant where they would put together a very long table for us all to sit together. After most of these boozy lunchtime meetings we would sit there exchanging views and finally end playing a game between us all, this game was called Spoof. For those of you that don't know the game it's very straight forward, everyone starts with three items in hand. These items such as pound coins are held by everyone that wishes to join in, consequently there was always a dash for pound coins. Being in the gaming industry obviously demanded that we'd play for money so each round was a pound in the kitty each. Considering there was at least ten of us that was £10 in the Kitty for each round. Play starts at the head of the table with the initial player presenting his hand with either all three coins hidden in his fist, or alternatively two, or one coin or perhaps none! The idea is to guess how many items, jointly, are revealed when all players have taken their turn at guessing. With ten people playing the guess would be from 0 to 30 obviously although zero would be an extraordinary call, as would 30 although you never know! There would a record keeper and the banter would go along the lines of “ooh good guess” or “really?” and “you must be joking” and they added to the fun. Quite often the total number wasn't successfully guessed, and the Kitty carried on. Anyway, I digress as usual. On one such occasion, before the game started Ken Smith the owner of Starpoint made a speech about how much they enjoyed the game with us and went on to present us all with our own set of solid silver, engraved, spoof sticks in a leather holder in order that we would never again have to scrabble for coins I still have mine as you can see and they are a treasured possession, I have taken this picture on a debit card for a size reference. If you look carefully you can see STARPOINT on one and a set of hall marks on the other! To carry on with this departure, it was deemed that we should always carry this token of friendship and indeed if you met one of the troop and could not display your wallet, you would forfeit a Pound! Years later one of the guys at JPM, one Colin Crossman, he who oversaw the Cabinet and fit out design area, was rushed to hospital with a kidney disorder which demanded immediate attention. Ron Watts made a point of contacting his wife to arrange a visit to his bedside to wish him well. As he approached the bed, Ron being the eternal joker, pulled out his spoof stick wallet to take advantage of the situation. Colin smiled and pulled back the bed sheet only to display his own set laying on his chest next to the heart monitor! Happy days!
  2. Nearly done with JPM now, not much left but the tears.. 1985-6 - Give us a Break and it’s successors JPM finally got the approval from the Gaming board of Great Britain to create a true SWP machine or to give it its full name, Skill with Prizes. The main criteria for this success was that at the onset of any game the maximum prize displayed must always be accessible given maximum skill being applied by the player! (Gaming Board) Questions answered correctly in turn therefore provided progress through an award structure towards the goal of the prize that was offered at the onset. On the earlier machines like Treasure Trail this maximum prize was altered randomly according to the machine’s current pay-out percentage. The higher the pay-out percentage the more often a lower prize would be offered and the time allowed to answer the question would also diminish. It became obvious that this was a distraction as the occurrence of lower prizes more frequently displayed indicated the machines “mean streak” so we turned to another route. In the case of Give us a Break we played with the idea of keeping a tally on the players performance within any given credit period, i.e. the same player or players. For the life of me I can’t remember if we instituted this (honestly 😉 ). What we did do was where the player was proving to be continuously successful at Sport, we would reduce the chance of a sport question being chosen later in the game. Similarly where the percentage was high we made sure that we used questions that had not been offered as frequently as others. We even tried grading questions for difficulty but this proved to be so totally subjective and ineffective that we gave up on the idea. The changing of question topic however worked really well and of course we could change question sets regularly, and simply thanks to the disc. We often tested the product locally and as product manager and part of Marketing, I was asked to go and observe the new breed of players as they approached the machine and see what difficulties that they encountered and perhaps interview them afterwards to see how they found the experience. To our huge satisfaction we found that without exception those people that played it were on the whole, not the usual gaming machine players and that they were loving the experience. The GUAB product was at prototype stage and we had to take the machine off to London to the BBC studios of Radio 1 to get their final approval, this was of course after all the discussion and the legal heads of agreement had been completed prior to the final preparation of this prototype. And so one afternoon I arrived somewhat excitedly outside the Radio 1 studios in Great Portland Street and parked the rather overheated, white Cavalier Estate on the pavement while I unloaded the machine. This was all under the watchful eye of an unusually forgiving Traffic Warden who was extremely lenient after he saw the machine and we had a quick chat. He kindly gave me enough time to drop the machine just inside the building before I had to move the car elsewhere. Alan Parker was there in reception and took charge of the machine so I just found a car park and rushed back in time to see Alan and Peter Cox (Project Marketing consultant) disappear into a lift, but not without me I thought as I rammed my already battered, black, leather pilot case into the closing doors. Emerging from the lift to the offices of the controller of Radio 1 at the time, one Dereck Chinnery as I remember, we walked slap bang into Steve Wright who looked at the machine with some distaste. At the time I only had an inkling of the ‘feeling’ between the other DJ’s and Dave Lee Travis but we were soon to learn more of it The idea behind the trip was to install the machine within the hallowed halls of the BBC canteen (yes that very infamous place) and set it on free play so we could get some idea of the response to it from the company that was going to be associated with it. Now it is important that you read and appreciate the words ‘company’ at this point as a turn of events that we thought might happen made it fortuitous that we had already exchanged proposed agreements on the deal with the BBC’s legal department. In any case we all waited within Dereck’s office for the arrival of Dave Lee Travis. The machine was powered up and working and after a suitable period of time (obviously DLT was fashionably late) he walked in trailing a cloud of evil smelling pipe tobacco fumes behind him and propelling his huge Ego quite a way ahead of him. I am never one to bow, chastened, at a celebrity or the rich and famous, so looking for an entertaining way to meet him I said:- “Hello, I know the face but I can’t put a name to it”. The silent noise that followed was Alan Parker’s hopes being dashed and Peter Cox’s wishes crashing to the floor. “You can call me Sir” he said “and I will call you pratt.” Not a good start, to the meeting I will admit. He went up to the machine and pressed the button and played it and such was the simplicity of the prepared questions, the game and the excellent GUI, even he managed to play quite a way through before he answered a question incorrectly. “Where’s the Quack Quack Oops?” he said. Now for those of you that have never heard the show there was a pre recorded duck ‘quacking’ that followed every wrong answer and that was allied to a deep “Ooops” and together they were an identifiable audible part of the show. “Sorry but we don’t have the capability to do that at this stage” I said although I never truly realised the significance of his question until later. After a few minutes of play and satisfied with the representation he asked about the release schedule and we explained that given the test results our belief was that we would be taking the machine to the ATE in London. DLT asked for our cards and left soon after, leaving us to arrange the move to the BBC Canteen and, yes, I have had a cup of tea in the BBC Canteen and it wasn't that bad! We set up the machine and left that afternoon. The test results proved really promising so the machine was subjected to the final production engineering process. We began developing the marketing materials and, due to the agreement with the BBC, the machine and the brochures carried the description “DLT’s Radio 1 quiz Give us a Break” Prior to the exhibition I was working quietly in the office with the usual day to day project management stuff when my phone rang and the receptionist said “Frank I have someone on the phone, says he is an agent associated with the BBC and he wishes to speak to you, a Mr (can’t remember) from London, will you take it?” From memory .. “Yes of course” I replied and with that a larger than life voice projected from the handset and this is what I recall was the gist of the conversation although perhaps not verbatim . “Fraaaank how are you my dear boy, I trust you are keeping well?” Did I know this guy I thought? “I have been to the BBC canteen this morning at Dave’s request (DLT?) and saw the machine, have to say at the outset, what a great job you made of it, you are the Project Manager? Top class” he went on to say. “DLT’s name is not significant enough and it is called Radio 1’s quiz? Flustered I thought that’s strange I know I had been back up to change the glass to the latest release and make sure the Beeb’s licensing department were happy with it. “I beg to differ” I said “I fitted that artwork myself after checking the design of the logo with the BBC as they were very specific on colour and size etc, you know what these corporates are like?” “Oh dear boy yes” he said “but never mind about the BBC at this point in time, in fact sod the BBC Ha ha. My client, Mr Dave Lee Travis’ name is not that well displayed……” “Oh but it is” I interrupted, “in the help screens, it is displayed quite clearly that ‘this machine is based on the BBC’s popular game show, introduced by DLT’ and of course we have licensed it, and we fully intend to pay our royalties………….. to the BBC.” In a much slower and lower tone he went on "Are you actually trying to be funny?” “Because dear boy, if you are not you are certainly looking for an altercation and believe me you don’t want to tangle with me.” I replied “I apologise but I don’t have time for this conversation which in fact is pointless, I suggest you speak to the licensing department of the BBC, do you need the number….” And of course I couldn’t resist the retort “Dear boy?” Click… And that was my first experience with a London agent although in later life I have met Simon Cowell, but that as they say is another story! A few weeks later and the receptionist introduced a call with “Frank I have one of your crazy friends on the phone reckons he’s DLT” “Hmm” I said, “it could be him!” “Your joking” she squealed. I heard “putting you through Mr Travis” and again, forgive me but this is the gist of the conversation that transpired. “Frank” the recognisable voice of the hairy cornflake (DLT’s nickname) “how are you?” “Fine thank you… (meaningful pause)….. Sir” “Please, it’s Dave" he had obviously forgotten. “I have been speaking to (Agent) and he tells me that the BBC really think they have the deal sewn up with you, but I will leave that to him. For now, I know you have an exhibition coming up in London and I want to ask you about it, do you think the press will be there?” “Well, Sir” I continued “the BBC are making a big thing about it and I am being interviewed for ‘The Arts show’ for some reason, they are interested in the crossover from Radio show to Entertainment in gaming!” “Exactly my point” he went on, excited by now at the prospect. “If we can arrange for me to be there it will be to both our benefits.” “Well” I said “you will obviously be welcome on our stand and I think I have a time and a date when the TV crew are turning up if you want?” Silence. “Ok, now I know you are trying to be a (insert an expletive) ” he said “my appearance fee will be £ x,000 (can’t remember but it was at least 3 zeros). “Sorry I haven’t been clearer” I said “but we don’t need you to be there, your radio show every Saturday is doing a great job advertising our product already?” I can’t remember now how the conversation actually ended, but I do remember it was he that put the phone down and he completely avoided me when he turned up for a camera shoot, well he had to didn’t he? And so back to the testing. To convey a humorous episode we came across during testing I need to describe the screen on which the player was presented the questions and answers. The question was printed and beneath it were four answers, a pair of answers in a column to the left and pair in a column to the right i.e... Question is printed here? [A] first answer second answer [C] third answer fourth answer [D] The [ ] denotes the position of the button to be pressed. The question is printed out and the answers are then displayed, and then the timer is started. One early evening during one of the product appreciation sessions in a local pub called the Malster’s arms in Llandaff village, a rowdy bunch of Rugby shirted Scotsmen, some of which kilted for gods sake, were playing the machine. Perhaps they were not best prepared for the mental agility, due to the amount of Alcohol they had consumed and I guess Wales had beaten them so no doubt they were drowning their sorrows as well, due to their countries performance at the rugby earlier that day. 😉 🤣 Nevertheless, loud, humorous and I have to say somewhat surprising progress was being made due as much to luck, as the number of combined brains that were being put to the task. With one person acting as the player or single handed button pusher (the other wrapped around a dripping pint of Brains Dark) the others became the loud but smiling Celtic font of all knowledge. The ear splitting consequence of every question conquered by those beer swilling Celts (careful) was a deafening cheer and a great raising of glasses. More and more people in the overcrowded bar were becoming interested in the game, as much as those larger than life players, much to my pleasure and great relief. The £10 goal was eventually in sight and was but a single button press away when, much to every one’s amazement, the following simple question was displayed to a hushed and expectant audience. Which of these is a vowel? [A] X M [C] F A [C] Obviously a great cheer of “A” went up and gleefully watching the seconds ticking away on the timer, the elected button presser, as directed, slowly and deliberately pressed button [A], which of course is the wrong answer as the correct answer was aligned with the button [C]. Without exception everyone broke into huge fits of laughter. From that singular moment I knew we had a winning product on our hands and recognised the huge difference between the player, the mode of play of this equipment and the traditional gaming machine.
  3. Hey Molefink, small world. I worked with Mike Furmage in Holland when I was training Dutch engineers, he drove me around most of Holland and Germany as he was working with JacVan Ham in Tilsburg. Funnily enough it was him that gave me my first insight into real HiFi speaker as he had a huge set of Tanoy corner mounted speakers, I mean up to my chest high! I bet you know Speedy? Regards Frank
  4. That's the one, those were the first decals we ever put on and they were a bitch until we learned of the drop of fairy liquid in a bowl of water trick! I have just recalled the ZCA music, my gosh memories.
  5. Hey there Sulzerned, The very first machine was called Criss Cross and was simply the Noughts and crosses game that you must have played as a kid. You tried to make a line, horizontal or vertical or diagonal and the time you took to complete the task was entered into a hall of fame so not SWP but simple entertainment. Obviously if you got a question wrong the square was populated with a 'O' rather than the X you wanted. To my dismay I cannot find the professional video we had made of the evening that I spoke about.
  6. Hi, there, forgive me but given my position I had a multitude of things to think about rather than disk access time 🙂 , but what I can say is that I was instrumental in the software 'specification' later on when we stared getting hit by teams of players but that will come in the next post so watch this space! Thanks for your interest by the way!!! Oh by the way, at one exhibition we had a reel unit that played "the entertainer" on the four stepper units much in the same way that those disks are playing the tune. The guy that did that was one John Trevelyan and he was one of the first software 'gurus' I ever knew and a very clever guy he was too.
  7. Okay hello again. Getting near the end now.. Hope you enjoy these last few posts. SWP (eventually) but for now Criss Cross 1984 -5 As a response to a projected squeezing of the Gaming Market Place a survey was conducted by Whitbread and was made privy to the Marketing Team at JPM of which I was a member. This survey predicted that due to the recognised change in the appeal of ‘the pub’ and the drive towards FEC’ (Family entertainment centres) with their concentration on food as a more profitable product, the smoky, flat cap Pub was going to change massively over the oncoming 20 years. With hindsight, looking back today, how right they were, but I think even they would have been surprised at the scale of the change and the wholesale closing down of pubs across the country and of course the impact that on-line gambling and the lottery have had. The survey showed that the demographic of the pub was changing and the average Socio Economic Group frequenting FEC’s was actually going up market. Alongside those results a survey that we had conducted independently of “the player”, had tried to uncover what created the appeal of a particular machine or game play and what it was that players got out of playing machines in general. Although obfuscated in the language of Market research, a commonality of attitude in the responses came over loud and clear with phrases like “get to know it,” “find the winning streak” and “beat it” used by the typical player. Again thanks to the findings of the research this player was (typically) 18-30, working class, more likely to be a smoker, often a loner and a heavy drinker. Now don’t shoot me (if I’m still here) if you like playing machines, I did say typical and there were certainly those that were also 80 years old and never smoked but you get the picture! The Survey didn’t end there as I remember. I found out most of this first hand as I was one of those tasked with asking people in pubs and arcades but we specifically targeted as well, those that vowed they would never ever play a machine and quizzed them (sic), why they had made that particular decision. A few of the reasons given, amongst many others, were that playing a machine was boring, was not a challenge and was seen as antisocial. So the mold was set and we had to come up with a product that addressed those criteria. The SWP or skill with prizes machine eventually emerged from the joint efforts of several team brainstorming events and on one particular coincidence. At one of many lunch time meetings, all we were talking about was how to put intellectual competition into a machine, while we were playing Trivial Pursuit (DOH) how obvious it seems now. We seriously sat back, stopped playing and sat there discussing how it could be done and with the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end ran to get the Software department manager to come and join Alan and Ron and myself to discuss whether and how it could be done! Days later I was asked to become Product manager and Project leader for the new venture which I jumped at with my usual blissful ignorance and willing attitude. Suddenly I was subjected to GANNT charts, CPA and other Project management tools, this was certainly an eye opener and another career path which has stood me in good stead even until today. (2022) The new product obviously had no spinning reels, instead it sported a video screen which displayed a game that allowed players to answer, hopefully correctly, questions that were displayed with a suitable GUI. The product demanded a particular or peculiar consumable and that was questions, and lots of them, but more of that later. Of course we also needed the physical media to store them on and very early on someone had ventured the idea of a floppy disk as being ideal but the 1.4meg floppy was still in its relative infancy and getting a disk drive into a gaming machine for the first time was seen as fraught with danger. I fiercely defended the idea that the storage aspect of the product was developed in a two pronged attack, one utilising EPROM which was a mature, well known and easy path. The second was to be a floppy disk which meant writing a secure and unique Disk Operating System in order that the question sets could not just get ripped off by other manufacturers or canny punters. I recall we called it Wingcode as the creator was Ian Wingfield! So determined was I to make sure that we implemented this storage medium that I managed to get in touch with one of the buyers at a well known computer manufacturers and obtained both a sample, and the supplier of, the suspension mounts that Compaq had fitted in their Luggable PC’s at that time. We fitted them to a floppy drive and started bashing a machine around while the drive was spinning. We were astounded to find that it would really take quite an extreme amount of punishment without exhibiting any problems at all. We decided to go along with the overhead of duplicated effort and continue with the development of both branches of the project just in case a gremlin jumped out of the box. Coincidentally during the ongoing supplier acquisition stages we learnt that a competitor that you must have heard of, was quite near to us and was having difficulty obtaining an ‘unusual amount’ of Eprom for his production. JPM concluded several things, 1) that he had got wind of our development. (remember the new locks on the doors that I spoke of earlier?) More of that later. 2) that he was embarking on a product like ours. 3) that we would suffer even worse supply problems if we continued with the Eprom route. 4) that we should immediately put an order in for thousands of Eproms just to make the supply even worse for the competition, after all they could always be used in gaming machines. So JPM took the, what was momentous decision to dump the Eprom development and re allocate resource to the disk. We happily prepared for the launch in London at the London Hippodrome. For the moment I need to go back to answer the question of questions. For the production of every machine we figured that we would need 6,000 questions, each with 1 correct and 3 perhaps plausible but incorrect answers. We played around with selecting answers at random but too often we came across totally stupid answers that denied plausibility, or equally as unnerving and totally by chance, alternative but correct answers. We toyed around for a while with several ideas and we developed the final specification for questions and answers and where else would we go for help but to the accepted seat of intelligence MENSA. With the question ‘recipe’ in hand and a description and demonstration of the product, we anticipated that our prayers would be answered, but how wrong would that prove to be. After our meeting with them, and after a very thorough and complete presentation of the product and the philosophy behind it we felt confident that having accepted the brief they understood exactly our requirements. We received the first few thousand questions on disk in sets of 100 questions within a week and I was given the task of assessing them before they were passed on for compression and encryption. These had obviously been developed by a computer programme. It was immediately obvious that answer lines were being used as responses in far too many questions as they were the same and on further analysis I found that the 3 incorrect answers in questions 1, 10, 20, 30, 40 for example were the same but just presented in a different order. "Furthermore this grammar on many cases were wrong, indicating again a computerised production." Do you see what I mean? We also found that answers used in this haphazard way presented by coincidence, more than one answer which just could have been construed as correct! So we decided to set u our own Q+A department which I staffed and by purchasing the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was the font of knowledge in those days (no Google, no Internet), we were able to verify and prepare suitable alternative answers to some of those questions. It wasn’t long before a member of our team and my father in law at that time, Ken Friis, pointed out that with a little help he was sure they could we could prepare many of the factual questions for ourselves and add value to our department so this we started doing. To inject a mix of the more down to earth questions on Pop music, TV and Sport I enlisted teams of students from Cardiff University using one Tutor as a question ‘gleaner’. He would collect and send us the questions in groups of 100 for which we would pay £50 or 50p per question. So lucrative was this that he subsequently left university and set up a company, using me to get another copy of Encyclopedia Britannica which I managed to get at a reduced price. A fact is that after buying several sets for other people I was presented with a copy of the ‘First edition’ by the publishers which is leather bound and presented in a glass fronted, teak cabinet with my name initials engraved in a brass plaque on the lid. The system we employed with the universities worked so well that I extended it to other Countries when we eventually realised the product’s international appeal. We soon became aware of exactly how correct the choice of the floppy disk was when it became clear to the site owners and machine operators that certain individuals were playing the machine constantly and getting to know a lot of the answers, so much so that the machine was no longer making as much as it should. This was not simply because the overall payout percentage had rocketed but also due to a lack of overall plays which confirmed that the appeal of the machine was as a challenge. To combat this effectively we set up a 6 weekly, direct debit linked supply of a new disk with 6,000 fresh questions which proved to increase the revenue of the machine due to the incentive to those players who really wanted to be challenged. A news set of questions was accompanied by a new ZCA flash screen indicating, the revision number of questions, a recent event such as a football match or news headline, and the date of compilation( I think) We released the initial product in the London Hippodrome at a huge and well advertised event that most of the industry were invited to. The product was to be an answer to the demise of the industry and it was creating massive amounts of attention. The machine was centre stage with all the pazzaz reserved for a new car launch. Music was blasting from the PA system. Laser lights were dancing. Hundreds of people listened to the presenter from TV’s “Tomorrow’s World” introduce the product with an explanation of the need for the change and a huge screen displaying graphs of machine ‘take’ and the concept of the question replacement service which I was about to launch. With a final flourish timed to perfection … The house lights went out and, Unseen. A centre stage trapdoor descended. Sprach Zarathustra began to play, extremely loudly. A machine was pushed on to the lowered trapdoor by a colleague. A lead was plugged in to the socket actually on the trap door. The machine was switched on. The trapdoor ascended as the machine booted up. A single spotlight picked out the machine as it rose through a trap door in the floor playing it’s initial boot up melody exactly 1 minute and 40 (?) seconds after the lights went out. I think that was the longest 1 minute and 40 seconds of my life, we couldn’t plug the machine in before we moved it as the connection was sunk into the face of the trap door, so we had to suffer the possibility of a non start. The “Next Generation” product literally rose from the ground. JPM literally lived on the product and its successors for the next year! As addendum #1 to this tale. Many years later when I joined that very competitor that I spoke of earlier that got their product out before ours. I met the people in their R+D and it became obvious that the biggest problem they faced at that time was not only the purchasing of, but also the cleaning, erasing, programming and relabeling Eproms. These devices returned from the customer had been so badly damaged in many cases by ham fisted operators that they could not be used again and a charge for the damaged chips had to be made and of course they had to be replaced. They were losing money on their updates and so had to extend the frequency, whereas our update service was straight forward and with the 8 gang disk copying facilities we made we could copy 4 batches of 8 disks in 10 minutes and of course the old returned disks went straight in the bin. Addendum #2 and further to the new locks on the doors Jack Jones, now armed with the fact that apparently our security had been compromised, guessed that it was either someone inside selling ideas or an outsider getting info from us. He paid a discrete security agency to infiltrate us and obtain whatever information they could. No one questioned the window cleaner that came around with a bucket and cloth to clean the office dividers, or the rodent inspector with new traps in the factory or even the the new guy collecting waste bins from development! We should have, they were all from the same company and when we were all called to a meeting, there on Jack’s desk were old revision specification sheets, programme printouts, out of date Bills of materials the whole dam thing! Days later there were security locks everywhere and no paper ever went out without being shredded!
  8. Thanks for that, It has been fun dragging all these memories from the past to be honest. Also brought out some bad feeling again but hey-ho.
  9. It was insane, we never thought we would fill it. If I remember correctly we had MS Dos and, Lotus 123 was it? ( Memory is not what it was! ) I know we used Ashton Tate's Framework a little later and that was way before it's time. Quite where that product went I don't know as it had Word processing, data base, spreadsheet and a programming language, Fred I think it was and as a user you could switch between them and leave them suspended in 'tabs' - I cant say windows can I, (he he).
  10. Yes Ron was there and we had a great relationship both in work and socially and of course it continued, eventually, into Astra games! I take your point about him not putting up with it, and believe me he was as frustrated as the rest of us but there moves afoot company wise, as well as just machine production. Eyes were on the future and the preparation for the sale I am sure. It was about this time that we had a visit from Margaret Thatcher by the way. Forgive me but I never said I took over R+D, only 'machine' development, the 'hard stuff' not game dev or testing. Things like cabinet proving and fitting, wiring loom development, prototype build, Bills of material, change control, testing suppliers new devices etc. Ron as you may know was the main guy behind most of JPM's 'games', him and Alan Parker. He was a consummate prankster, I am sure it was him that arranged for the strip-a-gram company rep on my 30th birthday! My move to Dev meant I worked more closely with both of them again as I did when I first went into Dev all those years earlier. As an aside we more often than not played Backgammon or Trivial Pursuits lunch time, but more of that later! 🙂 😉
  11. JPM, in the earlier Electro mechanical days. Several colleagues used to play test through dev, then a play test department took over before a limited site trial locally for a couple of weeks. During that time a limited production run would be made to send a couple to each of the distributors and 'Majors' as we called them Music hire, Associated Leisure etc. Quite often last minute changes to the programming of timers etc before despatch. Usually on site for two week before the decision to run a bigger output. We did have a modem operated data collection system running just prior to the takeover by Whitbread hence their huge interest in POS data collection for pubs at that time. Hope that helps!
  12. Merry Xmas to you guys and thanks for the continued supporting comments. Still got GUAB and Astra games to go, oh and Coinmaster and Gamesoft.
  13. From Customer Services, back to Development 1982 (ish) The 'Machine’ Development Department was falling apart at the seams. It wasn’t producing prototype product on time, BOM’s were badly prepared and priced, wiring diagrams were erroneously designed and Prototypes were poorly prepared. This was thanks in no small part to the Toss pots that any of you that have read my previous posts will have recognised. I was asked to leave Customer Services and take it on. It took some thinking about because I had never been trained to be honest, it all came naturally, but leading a new crew in disciplines I wasn’t too sure of? I thought long and hard and decided to give it a go. Just to add here that I left the Customer Service Team in the capable hands of Martyn Stork who worked with me for many years and of course ably assisted by the other colleagues, Huw, Russel, Steve, David, Adrian and of course Julia. First day I brought everyone in and we had a long chat about what was going wrong and what they thought about the problems. Basically they were being treated like idiots by the morons that were now gone. They were not respected, they were being told exactly what to do without any chance of input and they felt like they had no respect in the company like for instance they pointed out, the Customer Service guys (sic). They were constantly told to sweep any problems they had under the carpet. So in a bid to try to raise moral I bought everyone (and me) white coats, we all had ID badges, installed push button access pads with "Authorised personnel only" above the doors. There was a secondary and far more important reason for the latter but I will come back to that later. I started two systems of appraisal, I appraised them and (and this is unusual) they were asked to appraise me, and they were commanded to attend exhibitions. It wasn’t a magic transformation, it took time, but heads were held high(er) and more pride was taken in the work. Things changed. One thing didn’t, my hatred of the huge IBM main frame machine, well not exactly the machine but all that it meant in terms of waiting for the Data guys to prepare reports and input data and Jaisus H christ. (apologies) We would prepare the BOM’s from an available (previous machine) parts list (IBM output, wait). We would then have to ask for that parts list to be copied and have new part numbers input and costed (wait) and of course some parts deleted in the new machine listing, then after they were put back in we would have to wait for a costed BOM to be created or printed (wait) so we could let Jack know how much the new machine was going to cost. So sod that, I persuaded my new boss, Alan Parker (yes the P in JPM) to buy an actual IBM PC, which were by now coming on stream and so we had this new machine delivered with a hard disk! My god 10MB hard disk, we were never going to fill that. Anyway. We bought the new Lotus 123 package and as I had some (limited) experience with spreadsheets we started to make our own BOMs from the system by copying the numbers from the screen on the System 38 terminal that we had into the system. Oh explanation, the IBM PC had the ability to interface with and display, not record, information data from the IBM main frame. This is when I realised that a guy that had been working with us, John Lockwood yes Julia’s brother no less, was taking to this new machine technology like a duck to water. Trouble is he was a little, lets say, wild. All he wanted to do as I remember was go off to Teneriffe and get drunk and shag anything that stood still long enough No one had any time for him but I gave him some brotherly words of advice and tried to point him in the right direction. We enlisted the aid of another guy who described to us some (illicit?) software from the states called SideKick, that allowed us to grab the screen ram contents while were in the IBM’s ‘terminal’ mode and dump them into the PC’s hard disk as a comma delimited file. Like I knew what any of that meant! We bought and installed it and by doing so we could load the data into a spreadsheet, select the parts we needed and prepare ‘live’ BOM’s that were costed at that days buying cost, something we would have to wait days for. It’s hard to comprehend these days, given the distance we have come, but back then the systems guys were hugely protective and, it must be said overly busy, or was it the other way around? The machines were comprehensively labour intensive and of course the GUI was yet to be introduced and many things were command line driven and of course no mouse! I remember the first mouse manual. Honest! Around 10 pages. Anyway, I got called into a meeting in Jack’s office to explain how I was once again bucking the system, and of course the hugely expensive IBM monolith. I seem to remember his wry smile and the shaking of the head as he stood and defended me in front of the Irate Data Team manager. The days of the IBM were numbered thanks in no small way to me, Johnny Lockwood and the other nerd who’s name I cannot for the life of me remember! John went on to become a leading Computer Specialist with a national multi branch company. Good man. One other humorous departure. I asked a colleague to bring me some striped wire as I was helping with a wiring task due to an urgent preparation, cant remember what for! I said bring me some brown-red cable and some brown-orange (colours may be wrong by the way) He brought me some Red yellow and Red-green. I obviously said "don’t be a dick" and with that he looked at me strangely and asked what was wrong? He had been taken on as a junior in the department and was colour blind! You couldn’t make it up! The reason I know it was 1982 is that it was my 30th birthday while I was in Development and I walked in to a clean desk (not my way at all), a bottle of Jameson's Whiskey and a glass. The day went down from there but that's a whole different type of story and doesn't belong here!
  14. Honestly can't remember, sorry! I know this is going to sound strange but I was never interested in the games themselves, just the figures they produced, the mechanisms within them and the design process.
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