Book Review: IT'S BEHIND YOU - the making of a computer game, by Bob Pape

by Paul Morrison


For someone who is currently in the midst of writing his first book, I must confess to not actually reading that many of them.  That's a bit strange because, as a kid, I lapped them up.  You could rarely find me without my nose in the pages of a book, and it didn't matter what kind of book, either: novel, factual, books about the solar system, books about Greek mythology... I enjoyed them all.

As an adult, though, my taste has gone to pot.  I read so little now that I don't actually know what I like any more.  There's also the fact that I don't have a lot of spare time to sit and read these days, which is definitely my loss.  There's one genre that I do know I enjoy, though, and that's books about computer and video games.  That being the case, I was tremendously interested when Spectrum programmer Jas Austin mentioned that his friend and fellow Speccy coder Bob Pape had written and released a book about the making of the Spectrum version of R-Type...

If you've played the aforementioned coin-op conversion, you'll know that it's a technical marvel which captures all the flavour of the arcade game, as well as being a really playable and enjoyable game in its own right.  You'll also have wondered, for more than twenty-five years, just how the hell it was done.  Well, wonder no more as it's set out in great detail in IT'S BEHIND YOU.

"...those crazy Americans were now selling computers you could just plug in and use in your own house, an actual 'home' computer!" 

The book starts out with Bob explaining how he got into computer programming in the first place, including a fair bit of detail about his early projects.  I'm always fascinated by stuff like this... if things had taken a slightly different turn of events at any point, some of our Gods may have given up on programming and some of our classics may never have seen the light of day. In Bob Pape's case, there are more than a couple of these moments!  Thankfully, none of these was off-putting enough to deter him.

Before Bob gets to R-Type, there is a chapter on the making of Rampage.  You might wonder why there's any mention of Rampage here, especially in any level of detail, but it's actually a pretty important part of the story.  And for anyone that likes reading about the making of games, it's a cool added bonus.

"I pity the poor sod who has to convert that." 

With Rampage out of the way, you get to the real meat, and I hope you're hungry because IT'S BEHIND YOU gives you quite a feast.  Starting out with the story of how Bob came to program R-Type in the first place, you get an insight into his thoughts on the arcade game and his approach to the task of fitting it into a machine with 48K of RAM and known, shall we say, "issues" with handling colour and scrolling.

There's something for everyone as Bob includes reference material and screen shots from the arcade version (it's always good to see stuff like that), anecdotes and thoughts on the process and its progress, and for the techies, plenty of detail on the actual programming of the game. 

 "Level eight seemed to be where the designers gave up and went home early."

I'm actually one of the least technical people you'll find.  I took computer studies at school and really struggled with it.   I do find accounts of technical aspects of games quite fascinating, though.  It gives me a lot more insight into how the game works, and a lot more appreciation of an author's work.  In IT'S BEHIND YOU, the technical details are given in a way that means even a buffoon like me can follow them, even if they don't fully understand them.

The book stays interesting at all times by having just the right mix of technical information and life stories from throughout the development of the game.  These are told with refreshing honesty and a sense of humour (occasionally bitter, with good reason), and really open your eyes in terms of what can go on behind the scenes of a major games production and what the games industry was like back then.

There is a bittersweet end as Bob recalls being caught in the middle of a maelstrom of crazy goings-on. and it almost all goes horribly wrong  It may have been difficult for him to write; on the other hand, it may have been cathartic.  It's the kind of thing you would never otherwise hear about or know went on if it wasn't for someone taking the time to write about it though, and I'm really pleased that Bob Pape took the time to do so. 

IT'S BEHIND YOU - the making of a computer game is a 138-page retelling of the making of the Spectrum conversion of R-Type.  It is available as a free PDF download from  :