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RIP Bernie Drummond: Celebrated ZX Spectrum artist and programmer on Batman, Head Over Heels, Match Day II
'He went from crazy doodler to craftsman instantly'
Obituary Celebrated video game artist Bernie Drummond has died. His designs were among some of the most loved on the ZX Spectrum, and some of his signature titles are among the computer's top-rated games of all time: Batman in 1986, and Head Over Heels and Match Day II in 1987.
The Batman franchise is huge now, but it wasn't when work on the game began in 1985. This was before Tim Burton's eponymous film (1989), Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's Batman: the Killing Joke (1988) or even Frank Miller's Batman: the Dark Knight Returns comics (1986). It was not an obvious choice for a game, but that's what Drummond suggested to programmer Jon Ritman, who asked Ocean Software to license the elderly comic character. The game's look is visibly influenced by the 1960s TV series starring Adam West.
Batman wasn't the first isometric 3D game on the Spectrum. The system had been implemented earlier by Ultimate for its Knight Lore. Arguably, though, Batman did it better – partly in its distinctive look, and partly via easier up-down-left-right controls as opposed to Knight Lore's turn-then-walk system, along with smooth animation and charming details such as the protagonist impatiently tapping his foot if left to stand for too long.
Programmer Ritman was impressed by Drummond's art from the start. "Bernie created what looked like a random mess of dots with no sign that he knew where he was going… He went from crazy doodler to craftsman instantly, sculpting a matching eye and then an entire character – it was without doubt one of the best bits of game art I had ever seen," he told Retro Gamer.
In 1987, the duo went on to design Head Over Heels and Match Day II, a sequel to Ritman's 1984 game. Unusually, both Batman and Head Over Heels were also released for the Amstrad PCW — among the only arcade games for what was conceived as a semi-dedicated word processor.
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Drummond was surprised by his own success: "It never occurred to me that I was an artist, or that I was going to be an artist – I liked drawing, but didn't have any ambitions."
He compared the work to being like a sculptor, saying "Pixel manipulation is very strange – things look very different on screen compared to the way they might look on paper," he told Your Sinclair magazine. "If you've got a character with a head that doesn't look round, adding a couple of pixels can make the head round and make a couple of ears."
If you'd like to appreciate his work directly, Batman, Head Over Heels, and Match Day II can all be played directly in your browser on the Internet Archive. ®