Exile Tribute: the authors

The authors

'Exile' was designed and written by Peter J.M. Irvin and Jeremy C. Smith and released by Superior Software in 1988. Both authors were at the time already accomplished programmers of Acorn's BBC Micro and had released 'Starship Command' and 'Thrust' previously as separate efforts. The screen scrolling effect in Thrust particular was one element which was apparently largely retained in Exile.

It was Exile which was by far the most impressive product of their collective skills. The result of Smith and Irvin's 'contempt' for the restraints that the 8-bit hardware was perceived to have makes the game, for many, a milestone in computer game history.

Irvin and Smith worked 'full-time' on Exile from the conception of the game idea to the publication of the game in 1988. Both were uninterested in the jobs available at the time of finishing their respective universities, Cambridge and Imperial College. With their programming background and knowing eachother from schooldays, Smith and Irvin decided to collaborate to earn their livelihood.

The Elite factor

It is tempting to draw comparisons to the remarkable partnership between David Braben and Ian Bell in terms of the end-product of collaborating. The Braben-Bell partnership generated the classic Elite game which lead eventually to huge and reportedly international sales, two sequels and inspiration for numerous later games. For various reasons however, it seems that (apart from a couple of unmemorable conversions to other platforms) sadly, there will be no further products directly related to Exile. It is surely enough though to experience the enjoyment and maybe inspiration that playing Exile provides!

Drawn on this topic, Peter Irvin made the following comments, knowing well the creators of BBC Elite:-

Elite really is "open ended" and its complexity depends on a limited set of elements (like flying around, trading) and computer generated random events (like enemy attacks) combined together to provide almost infinite choices to the player. Exile has the same philosophy to let the player have freedom to experiment in the game world, but overlaid there are a lot of carefully considered manually defined events, by way of creatures and puzzles, to provide novelty and a "plot" as you progress through to the end. Exile seems open ended because there are usually many ways to solve problems and the game is so vast.

Indeed, the authors emphasise in the instruction manual that the player has the oppportunity to tackle various problems in a number of ways. It is arguable whether this makes the game much easier but certainly it limits drastically boredom and the desire to abandon the game!

The response

After such a marathon amount of work put into the development of this epic game, one can imagine Smith and Irvin hoping others would appreciate their efforts. Despite, game authoring being, in effect, their profession at the time, Irvin admits:

It became soul destroying towards the end though because of the time it took and the continuous technical compromises that restricted our creativity.

However, the reception generated in the Acorn press was to the best of my knowledge extremely flattering with Acorn User and The Micro User revealing clearly how impressed they were. A rather terse review from Beebug magazine did not do the game justice really. I do not know how Exile was received in A&B Computing (later, the now-defunct Archimedes World). The Micro User made the following conclusion:

...this is the arcade adventure for the BBC Micro...

Peter Irvin is pleased at the response that Exile received at the time. In those times when internet access and email was reserved for very few, no doubt highly specialist, computer users, one can imagine feedback was scarce and Peter comments:

It is always a bit of a come down after a game is released after all the rush and then nothing. Apart from magazine reviews you really don't get to hear much reaction from the people who play them.

From the people who have held discussions on the game on the comp.sys.acorn.games newsgroup, it is clear that many people found the game stunning and have gone as far as hacking the game to discover its inner workings and praise it as being the best game they have ever experienced! This view is suprisingly commonplace given that many of these comments have been made over 10 years after Exile's publication. In fact, Peter Irvin informs me that The Edge magazine (a major computer / console entertainment magazine) awarded Exile the '69th best video game of all time' in their millenium issue.

So, it appears that Exile has been appreciated by a great number of people and has consequently made a lasting impression. I'll finish with a few words from one-time co-author William Reeve:

I regard Peter [and Jeremy, RIP] as one of the true 'craftsmen' in the historic sense. He was a great guy to work with and an inspiration to me at the time.

Views for the future

Peter makes a number of striking comments about any future versions of Exile on the remarks page but perhaps many people would like to see any future developments take place on the Acorn / RISC OS platform. Peter realises there is not a great deal (at least when I interviewed him) happening at present in the Acorn gaming scene but digresses on the current state of play in the computer games market:
think we're in turbulent times for computer games developers and publishers where, with the internet, anything could happen. Up to now to compete with the big name developers with a game reliant on graphics it has required a lot of resources (for artists, programmers, etc) and the traditional means of delivering a game to the players - through publishers - meant that if it's not what they want they won't be interested. This has restricted innovation since the publishers won't take risks with unproven concepts, preferring to run off clones of successful formats. It's analogous to the movie industry. Now however with the internet anyone can publish their own game, so even if the graphics aren't state of the art, or the concept is unconventional, we will see some innovation again, I hope. Also we will see funding for big projects from sources other than the traditional publishers - e.g. banks, venture capital, maybe even ISP's, so publishers beware!

There is significant relevance to be found here to the current Acorn / RISC OS gaming scene. From personal discussions and from published views of people currenlty writing games software for the Acorn platform, it is clear that major releases native to the Acorn have ceased and this is mainly due to the publishing of games usually for PCs created by teams of specialists with large budgets made available to them. In the past most Acorn games have been the efforts of one person or a small number of people. In order for a game to sell large quantities today though, development must be comparable to the aforementioned PC titles as expectations have risen.

Titles are being converted slowly and one company is developing alongside other computer platforms to secure funding but Peter's point can be interpreted as the internet has facilitated the ditribution of ideas which has become increasingly important in recent years for Acorn games enthusiasts. This distribution has enabled the production of several 'innovative' and highly enjoyable titles which despite been relatively simple stimulate interest and inject life into the platform. The relevance to Exile is that innovation can pay dividends!

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Last modified 01/04