British game design legend Mike Singleton receives tribute in Pillars of Eternity

Mike Singleton

Mike Singleton

I have to admit: A couple of days ago I had never heard of Mike Singleton. He’s a retired teacher turned game design legend who sadly passed away in 2012. I wish I had known about him earlier. Let me tell you how I found out about him.

While playing the newly released, Kickstarter funded “successor” to Baldur’s Gate, CRPG Pillars of Eternity (which is darn good, by the way), one encounters tombstones and plaques with memorial messages that backers at the $500 level and above could write a message on to be read by all and sundry. Although completely optional and not related to story or gameplay, I’ve been reading all of them.

These memorials range from the pithy to the profound, with some being silly, some being inscrutable, some being quite clever and some being blank. The other day I ran across one that read thus:

Mike Singleton:
An often forgotten visionary, giving the gaming world some of its most brilliant games when video gaming was in its infancy.

My interest piqued, I launched a thorough investigation (ok, I googled for a couple of minutes) and discovered more about Mr. Mike Singleton.

The memorial that started it all

The memorial that started it all

It’s obvious from reading about him that his games hold a special place in the hearts of a generation of gamers, mainly British 80’s computer gamers, yet his influence did extends beyond the shores of the United Kingdom.

Initially programming on the Commodore PET, the majority of his most popular titles were developed on and for the ZX Spectrum, a machine that has the same sort of cultural cache and influence in the UK as the Commodore 64 did in the USA. In other words, for a few years it basically WAS computing / gaming for a whole lot of people (people like me and my friends).

Taste the rainbow

The ZX Spectrum: Taste the rainbow

Here are some of Mike Singleton’s more well known games:

Other than War in Middle Earth, these sound like games I should have played them, as if they are artifacts of a parallel Earth that was almost the same, but not quite, as my own. They just ring true.

In their day these were critical and commercial successes, and also credited with breaking new ground.

One article I found even credits Mike and British game designers with the concept of open world gaming:

“Open Worlds are a truly British creation, and all the early manifestations were developed in the UK – David Braben and Ian Bell’s Elite (1984), Andrew Braybrook’s Paradroid (1985) and Novagen’s Mercenary (1985), and of course Mike Singleton’s Midnight and Midwinter series… this is the heritage that leads to DMA Design’s Grand Theft Auto (1997) and the creation of the contemporary Open World concept… Using a ground-breaking technique he called landscaping [emphasis added by Shane], Mike realized he could simulate thousands of locations from small component images that could be composited into first person views on the basis of situational data. The result was magical.”
Only a Game blog:

Computer artist Glen Marshall has this to say:

“RIP Mike Singleton – probably the most inspirational creative figure in my whole life – the greatest game designer ever from the golden era – the beauty and mystery of those computer generated landscapes still inspire me in everything I do. Thank you so much.”
Glen Marshall Computer Art:

High praise.

After stumbling across Mike Singleton’s memorial tribute in Pillars of Eternity and seeking out his story, I’m left with two main thoughts…

First, I wish I would have played his games in the 80’s because I’m guessing I would have the same fond memories as those who did.

Second, how cool is a hobby that I can be enjoying a good CRPG and suddenly walk off into a tangent that where I learn more about an interesting guy and the hobby itself.

Just another example of gaming rising above what it seems to be on the surface. Cool stuff.

Read more about Mike Singleton (and don’t miss the image gallery below!):

Wikipedia Article:

Profile on MobyGames:

1987 Crash Magazine Interview

GiantBomb: The father of home computer gaming died last week

Only a Game: Mike Singleton


Mike Singleton photo courtesy Moby Games

3 thoughts on “British game design legend Mike Singleton receives tribute in Pillars of Eternity

  1. Pedro Timóteo

    Great stuff about one of my favorite designers ever. I wonder about the Carrier Command screenshots, though; a fantastic game to be sure, but Mike Singleton had nothing to do with it (unlike the games in the other screenshots).

  2. Shane Post author

    Thanks for the heads up. A lot of the articles / posts covering his death mention Carrier Command, but on further research I can’t confirm that and I have found other comments saying he was not involved with the game as well. Wonder how that connection got started?

    Regardless, I’m removing Carrier Command from the image gallery. Thanks again.


  3. NIck the Greek

    I am in my early 40s and have been influenced by the games this man made up to this age.
    May he rest in peace.


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