Superior Software logo The company with a
superiority complex

When you call yourself Superior Software, you've got a lot to live up to. Dave Carlos met partners John Dyson and Richard Hanson, and got the lowdown on their company's high aspirations Visit The
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Originally published in Home Computing Weekly #16 (June 27th 1983)
"HAVING a high opinion of our programs and believing that our overall standard was as good as anything else then available, gave us our name." So says John Dyson, one of the partners of Superior Software.

John and his partner Richard Hanson set out in autumn last year to market their own arcade game software. For Richard, who has a degree in computing science, this is more or less his first job since leaving university. "While studying I spent a year COBOL programming for an insurance company, probably best forgotten," he said.

Both had previously written games for the Acorn Atom, which they marketted through other software companies. But dissatisfaction with the way their games were treated made them decide to see if they could do a better job themselves. John says one company didn't advertise his programs properly, and both believe that screen pictures of the game are essential for the purchasers to get an idea of what they are buying.

After meeting to try to help each other develop their programming skills they began to work together. Now each game is usually coded by one and criticised by the other.

John Dyson and Richard Hanson feeling superior
John Dyson and Richard Hanson feeling superior
John takes aim at a new game for the BBC
John takes aim at a new game for the BBC
Richard works for the company full time, both programming and dealing with marketing. John, who still works as an electronics engineer for a broadcasting company, "only works part time for Superior."

While taking a university degree in physical sciences, John didn't like computing at all. "It was the SPACE INVADER machine at work which first awakened me to its potential," he recalled.

"The Acorn Atom was the first cheap, good quality computer and from opening mine, I was hooked. So much so that I stayed up two nights running just using the machine that first week, until exhaustion took over."

So Superior Software was born, with four arcade games for the BBC micro. Their launch just before Christmas was well timed. They despatched over 300 cassettes during November and over 4,000 during December, and Richard claims that Superior now sells considerably more than that.

The rise in standard of other software writers give both men a continuing challenge. "Our new FROGGER and ROAD RUNNER programs are undoubtedly our best yet and are selling very well. But we are still on the lookout for other games, and have some exciting games from other writers still to come.

"We are getting more programs from other writers now and are impressed by the increasing standard, but wish we could respond more quickly to the authors. Our new staffing plans should help remove this problem."

Day to day administration is in the hands of Cyril Dove, whose role is as hard to define as it is vital to the company. He deals with despatch, correspondence, the telephone, and copying, which is presently carried out in-house at 69 Leeds Road, Bramhope, Leeds.

But due to the interest of the big retails the copying is likely to go out of house soon. A single order, likely to be in the thousands, would swamp their current arrangements.

In common with other software houses, Superior reports that sales to dealers are now outstripping mail order, but sees this as good for customers, who get to see what they are buying before spending any money. They do not plan to drop mail order though.

One project now in the pipeline is a target shooting game for the BBC Micro, which will be sold as a gun and cassette package. The gun fits into the joystick port and responds to a bright dot on the screen. At the moment the project is still at the testing stage, with both partners shooting moving stars in their quieter moments, but they see it as an interesting development for the future.

The addition of more machines to their range is also imminent with ASSEMBLER and TOOLKIT packages for the Oric-1 completed recently and due for release. Arcade games are likely to be the next on the list for this machine. "The public like arcade games more than original ones," Richard said. "But eventually we plan some original arcade quality releases for both machines." The Oric programs may be released in ROM form as well as on cassette.

"We feel we have missed the Sinclair boat now, but would like to write for any new machines they release. The problem is getting in quickly enough, which is why we are working on the Oric at the moment."

Superior's tape duplicating is carried out in house
Superior's tape duplicating is
carried out in-house
One problem they have already encountered with writing for the Oric is that it doesn't have a checksum on loading. "This means that a program may appear to have loaded correctly when it hasn't and therefore won't run. To get around this we have written a routine which does check our programs and gives an error message if all is not well."

Another difficulty with the Oric is that the BREAK key, hidden under the machine, doesn't provide a full hardware reset, so sometimes the only way out of a program is to pull the plug and lose it completely.

John and Richard hope to convert their existing catalogue to run on the BBC-compatible Electron. That doesn't mean that they don't expect problems. Like other software houses, the new Operating Systems and the new BASIC which have appeared for the BBC have brought problems. "But at least the calls are documented on the Acorn machines," said Richard. "On the Oric, we are exploring uncharted territory and don't even know if there is more than one issue of the ROM chip.

"We would like to give a money-back guarantee to our customers so that they could return a tape which they didn't like, but the amount of copying which goes on in this business prevents us from doing so," says John. "People don't really think about the effect of their actions in these cases. Libraries also pose a threat to our existence and if too many spring up they will put not only us but themselves out of business. If they were to pay a royalty to the programmer for each loan then things would be fairer."

With so many plans and ideas, this company should be worth watching. And they don't intend that anyone should ever be able to take their title 'Superior' away from them either. So be warned!