UK Games Industry: Beyond Software

British Telecom

The earliest casualties of the BT take over where Bill Delaney and Clive Bailey, who steered the company through the purchase but who then left to set up a new publishing label of their own called Nexus.

However, there were already rumblings from within Telecomsoft and BT in general that they had paid well over the odds for Beyond. Difficulties with some of the programming teams were causing some friction, and then there was First Star’s ‘Superman’ game, which was believed to have been a major factor in the decision to buy the company.

“The Superman game turned out to be a real disaster”, says Ederyn Williams, whom with hindsight now regrets the purchase of Beyond by BT. “The game was delivered late and was mediocre”. The Commodore 64 original was published via the Beyond label using the familiar Beyond packaging, but it was critically slammed and with good reason. It was a very poor use of a license and it was a very poor game as well. Nobody had a good word to say about it.

Telecomsoft had also only recently launched their premium publishing label called Rainbird, and it seemed apparent that there was not enough room to cater for yet another new label. Beyond really needed a new captain to steer the ship through this troubled time, and it came in the familiar form of Sales Manager, Francis Lee.

“Francis had the gift of the gab and we all thought he would be the best figurehead for the new Beyond, and I was delighted when he took on the role”, remembers Simon Goodwin.

Star Trek

Francis grabbed the opportunity to run Beyond with both hands, and was keen to get Beyond back on track, as he explains.

“Given that Beyond was not performing as well as it had previously, it was felt that something special was needed to lift the label back to its place at the top. With that in mind we assembled a team of the best programming and design minds who had worked previously with Beyond and put them all to work under the leadership of Mike Singleton, who was keen to design a Star Trek game.”

Two ex-members of Denton Design (Graham Everitt and Steve Cain) had just turned freelance and were enticed by Peter Moreland and Herbie Wright (from Firebird) into working on the Star Trek game for Beyond, with contracts signed at the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool.

As the Star Trek license was being concluded with Simon & Schuster in New York, Francis Lee recruited a new Marketing Manager in the form of Marc Peirson, whom Francis had known for a few years before and during his time at EMAP. Marc became an important and enthusiastic part of the new BT-era Beyond team.

Marc got to masquerade as Captain James T. Kirk for three days on the Beyond stand at the 1986 Personal Computer World Show. The stand was dressed up to resemble the bridge of the USS Enterprise, complete with framed digitised pictures of the original Star Trek characters adorning the walls.

Unfortunately, the game was destined to be published for the Atari ST over a year later than planned, and it wasn’t quite the mega-game everyone had hoped for. The conversions to the Commodore 64 and the IBM PC also took a further two years to appear.

A Play on Words

Another decision that Francis Lee took whilst in charge of Beyond was to generate fresh interest in the soon-to-be released Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC conversions of ‘Doomdark’s Revenge’.

“I came up with the idea of taking the novella that came with the original Spectrum version and converting it into a dramatic radio play which would be produced as an audio cassette and given away free with the conversions. This involved actors, special sound effects and music specially written for the project. Many long hours were spent in the recording studio producing the play but the end result was great.”

Marc Peirson also has reason to remember this part of Beyond’s history, as he provided the narrator’s voice.

“The reason I speak in such a silly fast voice as narrator is because I originally did it in a ‘by the fireside’ comfortable, slow voice and the recording engineer reckoned we didn’t have enough tape on the cassettes to talk at that speed, so I had to speed it up. Nowadays, with digital equipment it would be really easy to do it in post (production), but back then I just had to speak a lot quicker – hence the funny characterisation!”

As Beyond were now part of a huge telecommunications company, the decision was also taken to make the play available via a premium rate phone number. The audio was sliced up into different chapters, and each chapter could be listened to by dialling a particular number. The play was also included on a cassette bundled with a compilation that BT released later called ‘The Best of Beyond’, with a slightly different collection of games for each platform (Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC).

All Good Things

Unfortunately, more of the original Beyond staff decided to leave soon after the move to BT. Francis recalls how difficult it was to climatise at BT, and the hard decisions that people had to make.

“Despite the continued innovative ideas that we strove to bring to the label during our time at BT, it was clear that there were fundamental differences in how we had been doing things at EMAP and how BT now expected us to do them. This unfortunately eventually led to most of us leaving a wonderful label that we had built up and had so much fun with”.

“It was an era of great change in the industry, with the smaller cottage industry type software companies being snapped up by the bigger corporations”, remembers Marc. “The arty or indie nature of the industry was changing into far more mainstream type of business, so it was time for some of us to hang up our boots and move on. Simon, Peter, Mary and I did look at creating something on our own, but it never happened.”

In the end, only Pete Moreland remained at BT and became part of Telecomsoft’s Product Development department, working on titles for Firebird and Rainbird. Once the games in development had been published, the Beyond label was quietly laid to rest. ‘Star Trek’ and Mike Singleton’s ‘Dark Sceptre’ had originally been promoted as Beyond titles, but by the time they were eventually published in 1987, they had been moved to BT’s Firebird label. Beyond was no more.

Thanks for the Memories

Simon Goodwin looks back on his days at Beyond under EMAP with great fondness.

“It was a small, close-knit company where everyone got on well. I loved the work and the environment. I haven’t had a job since where at the weekends I looked forward to going back to work on Monday!”

Terry Pratt’s outstanding memories of his time with Beyond are quite clear.

“I remember having endless discussions over a few beers with Mike in an empty pub on the Wirral coast were he lived, talking about the game that became The Lords of Midnight. I also remember the sheer learning curve that we had to face at the start. Once we were outside of magazine support, we had to invent everything ourselves with a very small number of staff. It was quite a big job to take on.”

“I can honestly say that my time at Beyond while it was owned by EMAP was great fun, working with a bunch of talented and passionate people”, says Francis Lee. “We were used to thinking outside the box and there was a more independent, creative and maverick approach at Beyond under Bill and Terry’s. It was relaxed and yet focussed in a way that only happens when you have a great team of people who like working together.”

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