Excerpts from an interview with Archer Maclean by James Hague:
JH: 'What's the story of your first published game, Dropzone?'
AM: 'After getting my degree with the minimum amount of work - too much game programming, aided by copious liquid inspiration - I eventually decided to try and produce a game which at least equaled the quality, speed and gameplay of the arcade games of the time. So I took inspiration from Scramble, Defender, Stargate, Galaxian and many others and went for it. It took me about six months to come up with something looking so good it could be an arcade cabinet and I started showing it. It was a great feeling to see big crowds build up, blocking the aisles, around at various computer shows. It wasn't long before pioneering publishers / sharks were making offers to publish it. In those days, publishers and contracts were mutually exclusive terms, but I did strike up a contractual deal with one of the big UK-based publishers.
The name Dropzone wasn't applied to my effort until it was nearly all wrapped up and ready for duplication. It was very colorful, ran at a constant 50Hz, had masses of lumps of graphics flying around everywhere, lots of explosions and stacks of tiny animated touches that I didn't expect anyone to notice. But it was a huge hit over here in 1984-5 and deemed well ahead of its time. It was number one for months and remained available for five or six years.
Trouble was, the publisher had told me it was no longer in production about eighteen months after releasing it and stopped paying royalties. But they didn't know that I traveled a lot and saw it for sale all over Europe and in Australia, and I used to buy copies of my game, get receipts for it, and often take photos on site too. And my contract with them prevented them selling it outside of Europe. Then in 1987 or 1988, I saw a double page ad for it in a US magazine and bought a copy to run on a US machine. It didn't look or play too good because it was tuned for a European machine, and it looked real bad, almost embarrassing.
On returning to the UK, I sought legal advice on the subject. After four years of "we've done nothing wrong" type defenses from the publisher and masses of leg-work by myself, I got them to settle out of court for copyright infringement. Once I had recovered royalties rightfully due to me, I bought my first Ferrari. I still have one now, a 288 GTO.'
JH: 'What was your favorite part of Dropzone, on a technical level?'
AM: 'Squeezing the hardware in the Atari 800 to its limits and making it better than anything else then available. What was more amazing to me was the challenge of making it work on the less capable Commodore 64. It was a real nightmare implementation, but I did it.'
JH: 'Do you ever drag out a Commodore 64 or Atari 800 and play your old games?'
AM: 'Yes, every now and then I get the Atari 800 out and play some of the classics. Three years ago, I showed the original Dropzone to a games journalist on my PC's monitor, without him seeing the old machine. He said "this is a nice and simple great blast, really addictive! When's it coming out?"'