Interview: Richard Davey
MyAtari: Hello Richard, thank you for finding the time to talk with us.
Richard: It's a pleasure.
MyAtari: As webmaster of one of the most popular Atari sites on the web, it is probably safe to say that the majority of on-line Atari users are probably familiar with your web site www.atari.st, but may not know much about you. Can you please tell us how long you have been Atari user and how you became to be one.
I became an ST owner back in 1987. It was the usual case of "my friends had STs so I knew I could get games". I didn't really put any thought into choosing between an ST or an Amiga and at the time the ST was winning the price-war. I remember my Mum buying my ST from a department store in town and carrying it home on the bus, not letting anyone get near it :) When I got back I already had a small collection of software because I had bought a few games I wanted even without owning the computer. The ST itself came bundled with a lot of titles and suffice to say I was well entertained from the start. It wasn't the beginning of my love of computers and gaming (that happened years before with the VCS) but it was definitely a turning point in my life.
For what seemed like the first time ever I had this computer in my possession on which I could do pretty much anything I wanted. I remember the joy of drawing my first graphics and writing my first game. Not to mention the friends I met because of the ST. A daily routine of oft-used jiffy bags arriving in the post, steaming stamps off any envelope you could find, cleaning away the postmark, copying the disks with the wonderful FastCopy3 and mailing them back again in envelopes that had been used far too often :) I used to swap everything - games, demos, utilities, you name it! When I received my first soundtracker disk (featuring the Equinox player and a collection of classic Amiga mods such as Cream of the Earth and the Red Sector tune) that too started a whole trend of mod collecting. To this day I still buy many CDs from on-line shops such as Bjorn Lynnes (www.lynne-music.com) that are produced by well known demo-scene musicians.
One of the most surprising things was the way in which game disks could be used as almost a form of "currency". You knew you could get the latest demos from a contact by supplying the latest games, and those demos in turn could be swapped with another who'd supply more games and thus the circle continued. I cut my teeth programming on the ST, I was never much good at it though but I always thought I had a decent enough flair for design to at least make my creations look nice :)
What is most surprising is that I know this tale is familiar of lots of other ST users who may be reading this.
MyAtari: You passion for the 16/32 Atari platform is quite obvious, how did you come to create the LGD?
Richard: I had just landed a job at a small UK-based ISP, I was basically in charge of this ISP and it was my responsibility to make it grow. I had already taught myself a lot of HTML and Perl, having used and loved the Internet while at University (I remember beta-testing Netscape, and seeing Yahoo for the first time while it was still a Stanford University project). A friend emailed me a copy of PaCifiST and it actually sat in my inbox for a few weeks until I got bored one evening and tried it out.
Nothing has been the same since :)
I was instantly hooked. There were only a handful of ST emulation related sites and I jumped in head-first. None of the sites at the time really had much design behind them so I figured I could change that. I also had a CD with all the Pompey disks on so I grabbed the menu pictures, spent hours typing-up the listing and uploaded the whole thing. LGD was born with a familiar GEM styled interface, the first of its kind (and well copied today). Needless to say it was an instant success, so I continued to expand it adding a forum, a game search engine and more. This was in 1995 and it's still going strong today. The latest version is the most advanced by a long way although there is still much to finish which I hope to do this Autumn. I am however quite famous for missing deadlines so don't hold me to that. I also rebuilt the official PaCifiST website and Frederic (Gidouin) and I became good friends through it.
MyAtari: Over the years, the LGD site has had several domain names including lgd.com, atarist.com and now atari.st. What were the reasons for changing the domains name?
Richard: Okay the site started life at http://www.fatal-design.com/desktop/ This domain was chosen because it didn't cost me any money :) It's just a folder on my main site after all. Then things started getting really popular so I figured it would be a good idea buy myself a sub-domain. So it moved to http://lgd.fatal-design.com which was really nothing more than a mapping to the original desktop directory (which, incidentally is where it still lives today). Then I thought the site should get its own domain name, so I bought www.atarist.com and it ran quite happily on this domain for quite some time until someone tipped me off that the wonder www.atari.st domain was now available again. I grabbed it instantly and the rest, as they say, is history.
MyAtari: It has been drawn to our attention that before you began the LGD site, you were involved in Atari.Org, the popular Atari community site. What exactly was you involvement?
Richard: Actually my involvement with Atari.Org came about during LGD. The domain name was owned by Torbjorn Ose (aka Lord Hackbear from the ST demo scene days). He wasn't using the domain and LGD was in a stable enough state that I was looking to build something new. Also bear in mind I was now working for this ISP so I had access to a good network connection. I talked for a while with Torbjorn and Anders (evl/DHS) and Atari.Org was born from that. I went out and spent quite a lot of money buying bits of hardware to build a server with and also people sent me hardware from around the world. Eventually we had a complete system. Linux was installed, an IP address assigned and the site launched properly. It offered free sub-domains (still extremely popular today), mail forwarding, news and general support for the on-line Atari community. I built the entire thing in PHP and MySQL, my tools of choice for my own personal sites today. Over the years we moved from our own patched-together server to a dedicated box hosted at RackSpace.com in the United States. There the site stayed until it moved once again to Catalog.com who provide the service for free (what a great sponsor!). I have not been involved with the administration of Atari.Org for quite some time now, but the site is still running smoothly and I check in daily. The guys looking after it now are doing a fantastic job, just like they always did.
MyAtari: What made you decide to move on?
Two reasons really - the first is that my personality requires it. I'm the sort of person who blazes into something, gives it my all, my complete dedication, love and attention for as long as it takes to make it successful and then I move on. LGD is similar which is why you don't see major site updates for 12 to 18 months. The second reason is financial, I had sunk an awful lot of my own money into the project and although the returns on the banner adverts were great, if you balance everything out I must have spent hundreds of pounds on it all. My credit card was at its limit, I couldn't afford the RackSpace bill any longer and we needed to sort something out. There was a temporary glitch as the server relocated to Sweden and a complete lack of funds on my behalf meant that until the guys at Catalog.com came up with their wonderful offer it was sort of stuck in a limbo with someone else unfortunately lumbered with the bill. It wasn't a very good time for me or those others helping with Atari.Org. Everyone found expenses they didn't want to take on-board and I probably lost a lot of respect from those involved during those months. My saving grace and parting gift to the whole project was arranging and securing the sponsorship that is still in place today I believe. I'm really happy that the site hasn't gone down, the sub-domain service is still totally invaluable and I must use it daily along with hundreds of other Atari fans.
MyAtari: The LGD was offline a few months ago, what happened?
Richard: Rebuild. The old site was a mess, there were hundreds of (quite poor) PHP scripts holding together something which was drastically falling apart. I had a brand new way of doing things which would ensure I could build a much more comprehensive site that included a lot of dynamic cross-linked content and that's what I made. Although there is a lot of LGD still missing today I am really happy with what is there. I don't believe any other Atari site allows you to search for a game, click the publisher to find all other games by them, filter by year of release or programmer or musician or genre. It's a very versatile system and can do nothing but expand.
MyAtari: In developing the LGD site, have any of the old game developers got in touch with you?
Richard: Plenty! I will receive an email every 3 weeks or so from people who have found LGD, found a game they wrote years ago and are shocked and happy it is still remembered! Recently I've heard from the author of Lethal Xcess, the developer of the amazing Missing Link STOS extension, the author of the great SkyStrike game and many others. It's great for me, I mean I used to respect these games and people with a passion all those years ago.
MyAtari: What is your favourite Atari game?
Richard: Could any person narrow it down to one single choice?! I certainly can't, however I will list a few of the absolute time-suckers that I still play today: Conflict (Mastertronic) (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=348) - a Middle East Politics Simulator! But oh so great (and how very topical today?!). Special Forces (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=1597) which was a highly under-rated Microprose combat game in which you lead 4 soldiers on a do-or-die mission. Also worthy of mention is Photon Storm (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=1253) by the legendary Jeff Minter, get used to the mouse controls and it's a blast! There are of course the other classics I would play to death such as Buggy Boy (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=240), Xenon 2 (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=2064), Dungeon Master (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=485), Oids (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=1191) and Blood Money (http://www.atari.st/view.php?id=190).
I was also a big fan of PD/Shareware games and I highly rate anything by the wonder Animal Software (such as Fatemaster, Color Clash and Sim Pig) - if anyone knows who to contact Animal Software, please let me know!
MyAtari: Over the years yo must have seen the online Atari community change a great deal. What do you think the next two years has in store?
Richard: To be honest - very little change! I think those that love Atari now, always will and their interest will not fade with 2 years, 20 years or more. I have seen a lot of people come and go, but so long as they have had fun in the meantime there is no harm in that. When you are involved with an Atari, you are tainted with something, something that leaves an ever-lasting mark which acts almost like a homing-beacon. Those people get pulled back and inevitably end up on the LGD doorstep in awe. That's the way I like it. The "real" Atari community is still going great guns, just look at the Atari.Org news pages for confirmation of that. I don't really consider myself an "active" part of this community though, far too stuck in the PC world for my own liking to be honest :(
MyAtari: Talking of the future, what exciting plans for LGD do you have in mind?
Richard: More magazines! It's quite fascinating to see a cross-reference view of how the ST mags of the time rated games :) I have a very large collection of magazines here I want to put into the site (including every issue of ST Action ever, damn I love eBay!). I will also hopefully extend the "non-game" related side of things too, but time is short so this will take many months to arrive :)
MyAtari: Well, it has been wonderful speaking with you and best of luck with LGD and everything.
Richard: Thank you - keep up the good work with MyAtari, I always love to read the latest issue and am glad to have contributed to this one in some small way.