The Gaming Heroes series of blog posts focuses on my own personal gaming icons. This time up, it’s Jeff Minter.
Jeff Minter and Llamasoft have been around since the dawn of home computing. In that time, he has produced some seminal titles, perhaps without ever fully get the recognition that he deserves.
For me, the Jeff Minter/Llamasoft label has always been a seal of quality. You (generally) know exactly what you are getting – a superbly crafted shooter that will give you hours of fun. Minter seems to have an incredible, intuitive understanding of what makes a good game and the coding ability to make it happen. He hits the right balance between difficult and addictive, frustrating and fun. Buy a Minter game and you can probably say goodbye to many, many hours of your time.
Whilst most Minter games fall somewhere in the shoot em up genre, he could never be accused of getting stuck in a rut. Whether it’s taking out (or being) a laser spitting camel in Attack/Revenge of the Mutant Camels or saving the universe in the Centipede-inspired Gridrunner, Minter has a knack for finding a different angle for each of his titles. Rather than churning out similar games with different graphics he manages to introduce a new gameplay mechanic that gives the game a totally different dynamic.
Over the years, this has resulted in any number of superb games across a mind-boggling array of systems. From Gridrunner on the Vic 20 to Tempest on the Atari Jaguar; from the afore-mentioned Camel games on the C64 to the superb (Atari-bothering) TxK on the Vita, Minter has shown time and time again that he can produce brilliant games.
It’s entirely possible that there is a bad Jeff Minter/Llamasoft game out there, but if there is I’ve yet to play it. Of course, there are some I enjoy playing more than others – but that’s a personal preference thing, not because the game itself is intrinsically poor
The other thing that sets Jeff Minter apart is his sense of humour and the quirkiness that often features in his games. I’ve written in a previous blog post about how Attack of the Mutant Camels was the first game I ever bought and over 30 years later, I can still remember standing in the shop thinking that any game with laser spitting camels had to be good (and I was right!). This quirkiness was perhaps most obviously demonstrated by the brilliantly bonkers (and very British) Hovver Bovver – a game that still makes me laugh today (any chance of an update for a modern system Mr M?) Minter might take the process of games creation seriously, but that doesn’t mean the games themselves have to be totally serious.
It’s often said that Jeff Minter has been left behind by the games industry. I’d argue that the opposite is true; that Jeff Minter has left the games industry behind. Games companies have become obsessed the bottom line, resulting in endless numbers of safe sequels. Minter has stayed true to his roots. He remains unafraid to experiment, to try something different because, y’know, it might just work.
He’s also always struck me as one of the industry good guys; someone who has always remained a gamer at heart, rather than someone who creates games because they are a commodity he can sell. As such, he’s not above making his older titles available for free, rather than trying to squeeze every last penny out of them.
I’m clearly not the only one with this opinion. Whilst it fell well short of its target, a group of fans recently launched a campaign on Indigogo with the aim of making Minter a millionaire in recognition of the incredible games he has produced over the years and the enormous pleasure those games have given to gamers worldwide.
It might not bring quite the same practical benefits as a million pounds, but Jeff Minter has the honour of being the first programmer inducted into my personal Hall of Fame for Gaming Heroes.