1998 was a great year for IT.
Tencent was founded in Shenzhen, China. Google was founded in Menlo Park, California. Taskmaster Software was founded in Henfield, England.
While you may have heard of the first two, the last has been curiously overlooked in the history of earthshaking start-ups.
Taskmaster Software was founded on the top floor of a double-decker bus on the return from Steyning Grammar School to the village of Henfield. Two friends who traveled together among the chaos of food fights and other less wholesome missiles sketched out plans for a game. The title was The Dragnet Case featuring a detective called Sam Boon.
Edward Toovey had just saved up enough money from early morning newspaper deliveries to finally buy a copy of PAWS from a wonderful computer shop in the heart of Brighton. He had already completed typing in the demo game from the manual that came with it and was looking to cut his teeth on something of his own.
That is where Robert Powell came in with the idea of Sam Boon and The Dragnet Case. During many subsequent bus rides and playtesting sessions the game took shape. One day Robert produced a piece of paper torn from an exercise book on which he had drawn a picture of Sam Boon's office. Edward took this home carefully drew a grid over it and then painfully translated it into drawstring commands.
By the autumn time the game was ready for playtesting and a request for playtesters was published in the October issue of Your Sinclair.
A handful of copies were sent out including one to a house literally around the corner. Feedback was returned ranging from Edward Toovey's atrocious spelling to major bugs. These were worked on over the winter. Then a double disaster struck, firstly Robert Powell's family decided to move all the way to the Isle of White, which was virtually another country from Henfield which had one bus a day running to it unless it had been raining and the local bridge was impassable. The second disaster was the keyboard of the production Spectrum died, probably due to too much pounding on it during Daley Thompson's Decathlon. The Spectrum went to Spectrum heaven, i.e. the loft along with boxes of tapes, etc.
4 Years later while Edward was in Hong Kong a parental clear-out disposed of the Spectrum along with its old rubber keyboarded brother and boxes of tapes. One box of tapes remained along with a lonely Kempston joystick.
Taskmaster software was dead (seemingly). Then in 2022, a message arrived via Facebook asking if Edward Toovey was the creator of The Dragnet Case. Somehow one of the playtesting copies and seemingly an in-house copy had escaped onto the Internet. These copies were early bug-ridden games so Edward finally unpacked the last remaining box of tapes that had traveled from house to house with him to see what remained. A bunch of games and 4 blank cassettes. These were converted into digital format and one contained the various master copies of The Dragnet Case and parts of the proposed prequel. The working files of the GAC game along with the Adventuring authoring system had sadly vanished.
Thanks to inPaws The Dragnet Case was fixed up, the original loading screen was discovered and the whole thing got an official release, a few years later than expected. However, the files of the prequel and a notepad with a hand-drawn map and ideas for the game were too tempting to ignore. Just before sending The Dragnet Case out for playtesting Edward in the closing screen of the game added that there would be a prequel named Murder, Mystery, and Suspension Bridges. Robert took one look at the name and said Murder, Mystery, and Suspenders would be better. This was going to be a three-part game, but what remained wasn't enough to produce the three parts all at once. So it became three separate games each containing one of the keywords in its title.
Strangely the world has moved on since 1988 and the world of computing has changed drastically. Thankfully there is still a great deal of interest in Retro computing and thanks to the efforts of one group the successor to PAWS, DAAD was recovered and made available to the community. Porting the Taskmaster games to DAAD has allowed them to reach a wider range of machines than they would have in 1988.
So Taskmaster wasn't dead after all just sleeping, watch out Google and Tencent you may have got a headstart but Taskmaster Software is finally off the starting blocks.