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This blog has been adapted from an update originally posted on our Kickstarter campaign for a new book my dad is writing called Hints & Tips for Videogame Pioneers.
Dad started Hewson Consultants almost by accident. I'll leave the exact details of how and why this happened for him to explain in his new book, but it begins with dad purchasing a ZX80 and sitting down at the typewriter to write his first book which he called Hints & Tips for the ZX80.
This was the first product ever produced by Hewson Consultants, which would go on to become one of the most celebrate 8-bit game publishers in the UK. It was written by dad, typed up by mum (while she was pregnant with me), photocopied, stapled together, marketed via little adverts in computer magazines and sold via mail order around the time I was born in 1981.
Then something very important happened. Dad wrote a sequel - Hints & Tips for the ZX81. To me this is a very special book indeed.
The book itself is rather humble, with my mum’s simple sketch of the ZX81 adorning it’s minimalist cover. Dad has a copy, still in pretty good condition for something which is stapled together, albeit with a small tear in the bottom right corner of the cover. I’d imagine it must be extremely rare. It wasn't available in the shops, as it was a very niche product at the time, and was probably discarded by most when they moved on from the ZX81. But that’s not what makes it special to me. It’s special because it was a sequel.
Had the first book flopped, or had dad lost interest after making a little bit of spare cash, my life would have turned out entirely differently. A second book turns something that might otherwise have been regarded as a one-off project into an actual product stream from which dad could begin to build a business.
More books followed along with dad’s new column in Sinclair User magazine, turning him into one of the few figures in the UK who were recognised as experts in the exciting new world of the microcomputer.
Then, serendipitously, something rather surprising happened. People started to send dad games asking if Hewson Consultants would publish them and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hewson went on to publish hit games from some of the most iconic developers of the early industry such as Steve Turner (Avalon, Dragontorc, Ranarama, Quazatron), Andrew Braybrook (Uridium, Paradroid, Gribly's Day Out), Raffaele Cecco (Cybernoid, Exolon, Stormlord) and John Phillips (Nebulus).
In 1992 dad's second company, 21st Century Entertainment, received a demo from a Swedish startup called Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment, or DICE for short. That demo was for the game that became Pinball Dreams which set 21st Century Entertainment on a path to domination the 16-bit Pinball genre.
Somewhere in there dad also found the time to become the founding Chairman of the UK's first trade body ELSPA, which continues to lobby for the industry as UKIE today.
Thanks to that very special book Hints & Tips for the ZX81, my childhood was filled with the wonder and very exclusive privilege of growing up engrossed in the UK games industry, which had only just sprung to life itself. My sister and I played all of dad's games, from Paradroid to Pinball Dreams and beyond, which helped to ensure that gaming would forever be stitched into the fabric of my soul.
I remember the day my dad taught me to spell my surname by reading it from the Uridium title screen. I remember climbing around in the Hewson warehouse with my sister searching for new games to take home while dad was working. I remember beating Producer Barry Simpson’s score on the Steel Wheel table of Pinball Dreams and sending dad into work with a bragging note to pin on his office wall. I remember dad passing me off as a Marketing Administrator so I could officially join in behind the scenes at expos. I remember having a summer job opening the mail, answering the phone and writing reports on games at 21st Century Entertainment. I remember my dad casually telling me that of course he would produce the game I was designing on scraps of A4 paper spread across the dining room table; and I remember running to my mum in tears a couple of weeks later when he had to let me down gently.
Today, thanks to that humble little book, I really am a games designer, and despite the fact that getting to the point of Kickstarting our new book has taken years and years of twisting my dad’s arm, it’s also my way of saying thank you to him.
Before I sign off, I'd like to share my favourite quote from Hints & Tips for the ZX81 with you:
“Sadly, the modus operandi of a computer is as unreal to the uninitiated as are the shadows in a darkened room. If this book can help to kindle the torch of understanding in the minds of its reader it will have served its purpose. If it can lead the reader towards better, more enjoyable, more entertaining use of his ZX81 then its author will be a happy man.”
The title of the new book is Hints & Tips for Videogame Pioneers. That, by the way, was my idea.