The early 1980's in the UK saw the boom of the home bedroom programmer. Systems at the time offered owners exclusive opportunities to learn programming in a way that simply hadn't been available before. The most widely use of these systems was of course the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The Speccy threw you in completely at the deep end, for when turned on simply presented you with a flashing cursor and that's it! To do anything you had to read the coding instructions for the BASIC language at the back of the manual which offered some small tuition and tech details to get started.
Particularly smart people, largely and surprisingly children and teenagers, often surpassed the manual code within weeks and set about making their own forms of entertainment in the form of computer games. These rather smart brats were picked up and actually employed by software publishing houses to create games for them and they were paid extremely well for it too.
One such programmer was a young man named Matthew Smith. Matthew is almost universally famous in the gaming world as the creator of the landmark and groundbreaking game 'Manic Miner' and it's sequel 'Jet Set Willy'. He started his coding career on an old TRS-80 microcomputer on which he made a few games before getting a ZX Spectrum on loan from Bug-Byte software on which to make a series of titles for them.
Smith Followed up Manic Miner with the super crazy Jet Set Willy. The game was now a flick screen adventure rather than a stage beater and featured some of the most imaginative level design ever seen in the genre (A feat considering how early the platformer style of gaming was). The game received some negative reviews due to some bugs on the Spectrum release making it un-completable but these issues were fixed in various ports and it is now widely regarded as one of the best if not the best platform game ever made, second only to it's predecessor. Smith had always stated that he found Jet Set Willy a slog to make in order to top his last game which was far more enjoyable to create.
The miner Willy games were always intended to be a trilogy by Smith with the third game in the series 'Miner Willy Meets the Taxman' never making an appearance due to pressure.(although reportedly as start was made on the game at the time)
Smith's life has been the subject of much controversy. He closed down his company 'Software Projects' in 1988 and a few years later promptly disappeared off the face off the planet. As it turns out he was living in a Dutch commune for most of this time but with the advent of the internet people who remembered the games and the programmer started to ask questions as to his whereabouts. This led to one of gaming's most obscure references "Where is Matthew Smith?" which became an infamous tagline.
While abroad Smith developed a keenness for 'substances' and fast lifestyles. This led to the almost entire obliteration of his amassed wealth he received from his famous games although he took a job as a coder at Runecraft in 1999.
Smith appeared on a retro gaming documentary in 2000 and discussed his life, where he'd been and of course his games. Viewers commented on Smith's odd but extremely likeable personality. This led to regular appearances at retro games conventions and he also gives talks to up and coming young games programmers at career rallies and was filmed talking to a group of potential programmers where he advised them to "Get some sleep now and then!"
Matthew Smith as a personality is just about as wacky as some of the ideas in his games. A mixed human cocktail of being way too ahead of his time crossed with drug adventures that would put Hunter S. Thompson to shame and inserted into an already eccentric mind.
Nevertheless he is a likeable, charming and extremely upbeat man who pretty much revolutionised the gaming world as we know it and for that we should be eternally grateful.