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Topics - zapiy

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1
Bitmap Soft Game Chat / [BS008] New ZX Spectrum 128K Game: Unhallowed
« on: October 29, 2019, 21:06:55 PM »
It’s Halloween and you’re on your way home from work, tired and hungry and wanting nothing more than to put your feet up in front of the TV. But something dark and evil lurks within your home, waiting for you to return...

Unhallowed is a classic text-adventure game with a few twists to make it more palatable for modern players.
More info soon.

2

About

Bio-Chem Research isn't all fun...

At Revanox Bio-Chem Research (the pharmaceutical and beauty division) the day started like any other for Professor Peter Poldark. The test rabbits where given facials and some great lipstick to wear, but before long all that fun was about to come to a crashing halt. Sirens blare and from the adjacent Military division explodes a swarm of micro-bot Wasps, Lipstick missiles and genetically modified spider/ants! not to mention the intelligent putty (charmingly called Nigel) and the mini-nanite clouds and they invade your lab!! Surrounded by these pests you grab at anything to stop yourself falling over... unfortunately you grab a tray of experimental chemicals which drench you in a myriad of untested quantities. You lose consciousness.
When you wake you find yourself lying on the desktop and to your horror you are only an inch high!!! Your only hope is your experimental Embiggan Totalis Elixir compound. You left a sample on the top shelf! Its only a catalyst though, you need some ingredients to complete the potion!

Hurry though, you don't feel well and you occasionally change your appearance!! This might be permanent if you're left in flux too long!!

​Find those ingredients and the elixir, Professor! The lab needs you!

3
Bitmap Soft Game Chat / [BS005] Rubicon - Coming soon to Bitmap Soft
« on: September 30, 2019, 18:38:59 PM »


About

Your right of passage to adulthood has arrived!

You are NYM. Your last day of childhood has arrived and as tradition dictates, you must undergo a right of passage. You must cross the Rubicon maze. A fiendish labyrinth that will test your abilities. Find the five Scrolls of Knowledge. Find the three Crowns of Wealth. Find the Ring of Argus. Find the Amulet of Light so that you can pass the gate keeper and find you true love.

​BE BRAVE NYM, BE BOLD!

4
Retro News & Chat / New Kickstarter: Coleco: Berzerk and Frenzy.
« on: September 12, 2019, 16:51:15 PM »

Anyone seen this on KS?

Not doing to great with only 46 hours left.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/903316019/coleco-berzerk-and-frenzy?ref=discovery_recommendations

5
Retro News & Chat / New Kickstarter: NES / Famicom Anthology.
« on: September 12, 2019, 16:47:56 PM »
Geeks-Line are at it again, this time they are producing an NES / Famicom Anthology book that is only ever going to be produced through the Kickstarter campaign, there will be no reprints of this book so you need to get over to the campaign if what you see below takes your fancy.
See more here https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2099439603/nes-famicom-anthology

6
Retro News & Chat / Mega SD - Mega CD via the cartridge slot.
« on: June 28, 2019, 10:38:04 AM »
 


Quote
The ultimate accessory for Genesis/Mega Drive. Complete FPGA recreation of the entire Mega-CD/Sega CD hardware into a plug and play Cartridge

 World’s First Mega-CD/Sega CD FPGA Optical Disc Emulator

• Plays both ISOS (bin+cue) and ROMS
• RAM based cartridge for instant boot
• Compatible with all original and region free patched Mega-CD / Sega CD bios
• Supports Megadrive / Genesis, Sega CD / Mega-CD, Master System and 32X games (requires 32X add-on)

 Fully Supports original Megadrive and Genesis hardware (Nomad included) 

• Fully compatible with Analogue Mega Sg!
• Easy to use interface for navigating your collection with screenshots, genre, year and description
• Save State support for Megadrive and Genesis Cartridge games (8 slots)
• Built in cheat engine for Megadrive and Genesis cartridge games
• Emulates all different Genesis / Mega Drive / Master System / 32x cartridge mappers.
• Stores all different Genesis / Mega Drive / Master System / 32x cartridge saves into microsd card.
• Per game Mega-CD / Sega CD Backup RAM and Cartridge RAM stored into microsd card
• Master System FM Core
• In-Game menu for fast reboot and swapping games (Genesis / Megadrive and Mega-CD / Sega CD)

 Enhanced Mega Drive games with CD audio and Mega-CD / Sega CD hardware (MSU1 like)

• 400GB Exfat microsd supported"

Very interesting product but pricey for me, definately a market for this though.

7
Retro News & Chat / PocketGo Retro Gaming System.
« on: June 28, 2019, 10:30:54 AM »

Quote
You can add your own games via a Micro SD card. Over ten systems from classic handhelds to home consoles are supported with the custom firmware and more are being added regularly. The PocketGo is very portable at just 12.3cm x5.6cm x 1.4cm (much smaller than Revo k101), it is ideal for a quick pick up and plays. And with save support, you can continue at any time even if the original game did not support it.

    Play your favorite retro gaming classics on one portable handheld
    High quality 2.4" IPS Display Screen (tempered glass)
    Supports save states, save then continue where you left off at any time
    Add your own games via Micro SD card.
    Upgrade to custom firmware to add even more classic gaming systems

Features:

L, R buttons, the volume dial
Loads games from MicroSD card (no games preloaded)
Supports game types: NES/GB/GBC/GBA/SNES/SMD/SMS/PCE/NEOGEO/ MAME/ PS1
Save/Load game progress

Specs:
CPU: Allwinner F1C100S
RAM: 32MB
Screen: 2.4" IPS 320x240 (tempered glass)
SDCard: supported up to 128GB
Buttons: L, R, the volume dial, switch on/ off, Reset
Port: TV- out, Headphone Jack, Micro SD card slot
Battery: 1000mAh
Dimensions: 12.3cm x5.6cm x 1.4cm
Weight: 100G

Includes:

PocketGo Retro Game Handheld
USB cable
User manual
Micro SD card

Thoughts on another system like this?

8
Announcements and Feedback / Membership Purge 2019
« on: June 27, 2019, 11:48:02 AM »
Its that time of the year to clean the balance sheets, all zero posting accounts older that 6 mths will be removed, where there is an account not logged in for over 1000 days, and assuming a post count of 10 or less this will also be removed, anything above will remain for the integrity of the database.

10
RVG Interviews / Barry Leitch Questions Needed.
« on: March 29, 2019, 10:38:46 AM »
Barry Leitch is a video game music composer, responsible for the music in a large number of games spanning multiple consoles and personal computers. Most notable is his work from the Lotus Turbo Challenge, Gauntlet Legends, Gauntlet Dark Legacy, Top Gear, and Rush video game series.

Ask your questions.

11
RVG Interviews / Steve Turner Questions Needed.
« on: March 29, 2019, 10:36:24 AM »
Steve Turner is a former computer game musician and designer. He founded Graftgold, who mostly wrote for games published by Hewson Consultants during the 1980s.

Ask your questions.

12
RVG Interviews / RVG Interviews: Simon Phipps.
« on: February 20, 2019, 14:17:05 PM »

We originally interviewed Simon Phipps back in 2014, since then we have updated RVG to a newer and more plush website so we felt we would revisit some of our favorite interviews from those days, Simes is one of the good guys, he's always very approachable and welcomes talking about the old days, so what are you waiting for, its a biggy so read below for the basic version or see HERE for the full interview with images..

Enjoy

Simon

Hi guys, thanks for getting in touch again – it must be about five years since we last spoke. With your website upgrade it’s great to go and revisit the old interview from back then, update some of the answers and get to talk about some of the cool stuff that’s happened in my life of late.

zapiy

Thanks Simon, take a moment to tell us a little about you, how you got into this industry and whats changed since we last spoke?

Simon

I'm 52 years old, 5ft 8in tall, I live in Derbyshire, in the UK, and I love drawing, painting and making stuff. I've had the privilege of being able to make games since 1985 and over that time have been lucky to be able to try my hand at pretty much everything you can do in the Industry - code, art, design, animation, scriptwriting, voice acting and motion capture.

Right now, I'm working from home for Three Fields Entertainment on our fifth game, Dangerous Driving, made by our tiny team of seven people, and it’s great because I get to be hands-on with the game making process once again after many years of managing it.

But, as to how I got here... Well, I grew up during the 1970s watching cartoons and was the right age (11) when the first Star Wars movie arrived at the cinema and blew my mind. I spent most of my time drawing cartoons, making spaceships out of model aircraft parts and desperately wanted to get my hands on an 8mm cine camera to make my own movies. I never got one, but in 1981 I saw something much more exciting.

I went around to a school friend's house one evening to be shown a 1k ZX81 that my friend and his dad had assembled from a kit. We played a Space Invaders game that had no graphics - just letter A's advancing down the screen (and it was so limited the screen literally turned off and on every time it updated.) My friend showed me the block of random letters and keywords that was the embedded machine code that was the game and I realised that if I had a computer I could change what was on the screen. I could make my own art move. So, I saved like crazy, did paper rounds, and in May 1982, with some extra money from my parents, I bought my first computer - a BBC Model A.

Of course, there was practically no software around back then, so I had to teach myself to program - a combination of BASIC and 6502 Assembler, and it wasn't long before I was making my own games. My school friend, Stu Gregg (Dangerstu who worked at Core Design with me years later) encouraged me to send one of the games I'd been making to a publisher. To my surprise, Micro Power (one of the big games publishers on the BBC back then) liked it and sent me a list of changes that they wanted me to make before they'd publish it.


So, there I was, doing my 'A' Levels and my first game was out. It was a simple game, half BASIC (the logic), half machine code (the sprite plotting) called Jet Power Jack, inspired, in no small part by something I'd seen made by a certain Ultimate Play the Game on the Spectrum... I also converted Jack to run on the Acorn Electron. But despite getting a few nice royalties from the game, I committed to staying in education after my 'A' Levels.

I went on to do Computer Studies at polytechnic, but made extra money working a Saturday job in a computer shop in Derby. While I was there I got to know the local crowd, some of whom (Terry Lloyd, Chris Shrigley, Rob Toone and Andy Green) subsequently went on to work for Gremlin Graphics creating games such as Bounder and Future Knight on the Commodore 64.

Once my education was over, I went into serious computing - programming BCPL for a local company making desktop publishing software, but I kept tinkering around with my own projects on the Atari ST.
Five months into my first programming job, I got a call from my buddy Terry (Lloyd) asking me if I could help them out at Gremlin with some freelance graphics for the Masters of the Universe computer game that they were working on.

I went to see the guys, and instead of freelance work I got a permanent job offer and never looked back...
So, with my foot in the door, working full-time in the industry, I taught myself to code 68000 in my spare time and for the next few years I was happily coding, making the art and designing the games I worked on.

zapiy

You have worked for a few iconic British Software Houses, tell us about those days, and were they as rock n roll as we all imagined it to be?

Simon

If, by rock n roll, you mean a small group of early-20s white nerds wearing white socks, hunched over Atari STs and Amigas in rented office spaces with grey carpet tiled floors, white polystyrene tiled ceilings and self-assembly desks…yes…

No, it wasn’t particularly glamorous, we’d all grown-up in small towns and found an escape from Thatcher’s Britain in the form of cassette tapes and magical boxes that brought life to the televisions in our bedrooms. Listening to C120 tapes of recorded chart music we poked away at our games and by a series of circumstances, often through friendships forged at computer clubs or by hanging around at computer shops came together and ended up in, for what was, for many of us our first jobs, suddenly working in offices alongside accountancy firms and solicitors and being looked at strangely when we broke for lunch or made tea in the shared kitchen.

(To be honest, those weird looks still persist. Mostly now, games companies work in their own buildings, but in places where devs interact with the outside world, we’re still regarded with a sense of peculiar fascination…)
But yes, it was all desks piled with cables and computers, tea breaks, lunchtime trips into the local town to check out the latest releases in John Menzies or WH Smith and a daily call by the ‘Sandwich Man’ at around 11.00am where we’d all stand freezing in our shirt sleeves in the car park trying to decide on whether to go for a prawn cocktail baguette or a ham-and-cheese one.

There were moments of mischief, as you’d expect. For us, in the early days in the Gremlin Derby office at Saxon House, most of those were instigated by the lovely Greg Holmes (or ‘Dad’ as we called him, as he was a few years older than the rest of us). Most pranks usually involved hiding something or other, or disconnecting a cable here or there, or maybe a strategically placed piece of paper with a cheeky drawing on it. The most memorable was the time when everyone else in the office decided to prank Greg, and we took the entire contents of his desk – keyboard, mouse, and computers, mug (basically everything except his monstrously heavy 1980s CRT telly) and suspended it all from the ceiling with Sellotape.

So, not exactly rock ‘n’ roll. You just have to seek out those early local TV news reports that are out there on YouTube to see that.

One thing that did impress me though recently was watching ‘Bandersnatch’ - the interactive episode of Black Mirror on Netflix. The scene where the main character Stefan goes into the offices of Tuckersoft for the first time is the most accurate depiction of that time for me – from the clothes, the office space, the characters – Charlie Brooker and his team absolutely nailed it – every office had a boss like that, every office had one guru programmer who was reading Carlos Casteneda and curious about opening the Doors of Perception, everyone had a Competition Pro joystick and read Crash. That took my breath away – they’d really done their research. As far as I can recall, at least in Derby, no one got possessed by a demon or opened a dimensional gate into a parallel future world…

Greyfox

Do you have any anecdotes you can share from those days?

Simon

Anyone who’s spoken to me knows that I can probably wax lyrical for ages talking about all manner of things that happened over the years that seemed perfectly normal at the time. So I’m sure I’ve got stacks of anecdotes about the early years.

But the majority of it was about eight of us, in a little office in Saxon House tapping away on computers, doing tea runs and taking lunch breaks. Oh, and Rob Toone most often arriving at about 9.15 on a pair of rollerblades and not taking them off for a number of hours – he’s a big lad and seeing him effortlessly glide down the corridor, beaming, sporting a giant cup of tea in each hand – no one got in his way.

It was always the afternoons that seemed to be the quietest. Terry (Lloyd) and I for a time had moved into a section of the top end of the office behind a partition wall, and would sit back-to-back for hours on our Atari ST’s creating pixel graphics. No keyboard tapping, just total silence with a constant quiet clicking coming from our mouse buttons. Hours would go by, and then at one point, one of us would drop out of our focused state of total absorption and become suddenly aware of this and say ‘oooooooooooooo….mouse clicks!’ which brought both of us out of our trances and meant that for one of us it was time to make the tea.

TrekMD

How different has it been working in the gaming industry through the years?

Simon

It has been a constant source of change: variety, opportunity, joy, friendship, politicking, nonsense, stress, disappointment and frustration – a real rollercoaster. The highs have been brilliant, the opportunities to meet people, go places and do things I’d never in a million years thought I would. The lows have been utterly despairing and made me very ill. But, that said, having gotten to the place I am, surrounded by family and having some great long-lasting friendships all around the world, I think it’s turned out fine.

The early days were terrific – we were all getting paid to do something that was a hobby and we were all making it up as we went along, spurred on by a love for making cool stuff and putting it on a cassette tape and letting it loose on the world. We started at 8.30-9.00am and finished about 5.30pm, occasionally we’d maybe work until 8pm ‘just to get the game finished’.

Then, came the 90s, when folks that financed the burgeoning industry started getting greedy, making promises that would never be kept, piling on the pressure to get every game done ‘because if we don’t get this out, it’ll be a disaster’. The set up and publishing costs started to escalate – the tiny cottage industry had gone global. With the advent of consoles, you couldn’t make a game without renting a specific piece of development hardware from Sega, Sony or Nintendo for tens thousands of pounds. That was probably the worst time – folks who’d been able to manage a small company were suddenly exposed to vast sums of money-making the disparity between the guys working on the games and those running the companies wider and wider, liberties were taken, promises broken and ‘Crunch’ began.

For me, the mid-90s saw a massive shift, personally. The confluence of a number of circumstances saw me working at Iguana Entertainment/Acclaim Studios Teesside in Stockton-on-Tees – some 130+ miles away from my home in Derbyshire. My wife and I decided that it would be best for me to work away during the week, coming home at weekends. This broke the cycle of non-stop Crunch for me and meant that I had for the next 13 or so years a kind of stability – I could work myself into the ground 5 days a week and then on a weekend, no one could touch me, I was too far away. During the late 90s too, things started to get more professional with the US companies coming into play – management became more professional and measured, companies had actually HR policies and things got better – they’re still far from perfect to this day, and I know the big corporations take a beating on the Internet (sometimes deservedly so) but there are good professional people there trying to do their best.

The downside of the big corporate publishers is sadly, the negative impact that having investors obsessed with quarterly growth brings – you can sell millions of copies of a game and it can still be seen as a failure, and that means that studios packed with hundreds of talented folks whose families are reliant upon stability can get laid off after the game ships. I enjoyed my time working for the big corporations – it’s a million miles away from pushing pixels in a rented office space – standing in front of a team of 150+ folks and telling them your ideas, or grappling with insanely big budgets or literally doing a trip around the world visiting plush offices. And from a creative standpoint, rather than being hands-on, the division of labour on big teams means that you’re only ever working on a tiny part of a game, or spending your time in Powerpoint and Excel making plans for the team you're working with, and the timelines now stretch to years, rather than months.

In the past 5 years, I’ve made another change, and that’s thanks to another technological revolution and quite some daring from my bosses at Criterion, Alex Ward & Fiona Sperry who threw all of their life savings into doing things differently. The past few years have seen a massive shift in how games can be developed – I’m not sure that everyone’s quite caught onto this – the big corporations are still ploughing ahead with their massive teams and gargantuan budgets. But for us, at Three Fields Entertainment (soon celebrating its fifth anniversary) things are very different. With the advent of middleware tools like Unity and the Unreal Engine that are freely available to everyone, we, as a small team of seven people were able to get out of the big budget world and create games using these incredibly smart tools at an astonishing rate and by making some careful choices put ourselves in a position where all seven of us, work, hands-on full-time on each game. For Alex & Fiona, they, for the first time are designing and building parts of the game, for our trio of programmers, Alex, Phil & Ben they have total control over building games the right way, supported by the power of the Unreal toolset, and for Paul and I as artists and designers we’re hands-on with the game in ways we haven’t been for years. (Case in point – working on the front end and HUD on Need for Speed: Most Wanted back in 2010, I was briefing in a small team of coders and artists to build the front end – I’d design it, would negotiate with managers and producers, brief in the guys and they’d build the game. Now – it’s me and my buddy Alex Veal – Vealy builds the back-end of the presentation, puts in any placeholder elements to keep the game running and try out new ideas – I build the art, the animation, implement it in the game using Unreal’s tools and even code up some of the logic to do specific things – with better tools we’re doing the jobs of maybe 10 other folks, faster and with fewer mis-steps because there are fewer opportunities for mis-interpretation.)

The other great thing about all this technology – I’ve been working from home for five years. There to support my family, stresses finally managed, and with the power of the Internet I can work in with the team whenever I like, and connect with other folks across the world, have time to pursue hobbies I’d never had the time before to have the luxury of.

It’s all good, and while there are folks supporting us by buying our games, we’ll continue to do it.

zapiy

Did you create any special tools to help you be more creative?

Simon

We’re always on the lookout for smart ways to improve things – the better the tools, the more you can do, and the more you can focus on making the game right, rather than mucking about shuffling data from one place to the other.

The most tools work I ever did was in the Gremlin/Core days when I was drawing all the art in OCP Art Studio on the Atari ST. I could see the utter faff everyone had transferring data to machines like the Spectrum and, to be honest, I feared spending hours with a rubbery keyboard and a joystick recreating graphics I’d drawn on the Atari in some godawful art package on the Spectrum. So very early on I wrote a sprite ripper that enabled me to build all the art on the Atari, press a key and literally give the coders on the Commodore64, Spectrum, PC, Amstrad, whatever a sprite data file in exactly the format they wanted. After that, I built a few map editors – the most complex of which was the one for my platform game Switchblade – as I built the game, I evolved the editor to add in the data I needed for the next feature I’d be adding.

As things moved along and whole tools departments developed, I spent less time working hands-on with the games and more directing them, with my major tools being Photoshop, Powerpoint and Excel (although over the years we’ve done some ninja stuff to author progressions and the likes in Excel and then export data to the game via CSV files.)

Now, working in Unreal, we’re back to more appealing times and more involvement, and while I don’t code hands-on the tools any more our coding guys are able to add extensions onto the base Unreal editor to allow us to multiply our effectiveness. Case in point, we have a super-sophisticated set of road tools that we’ve developed over the past 3 games that allow us to snap together roads like a super-advanced Scalextric and fine-tune them for gameplay while making them look hyper-real.

zapiy

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Simon

I’m not particularly nostalgic – I’m always excited about what’s new, what’s coming up on the horizon, what the possibilities are – the best games ever are the ones that are yet to come, and I still pinch myself quite regularly when I’m working on a 4K screen, manipulating millions of polygons in realtime, crafting entire environments packed with grass, trees, rocks, water, reflections – all the stuff that was beyond our imagination years ago. And I’m always wary of it. I’d hate to be the guy that did one thing thirty years ago and holds onto that, missing the chance of making new stuff, always backwards looking and not appreciating the wonder that is today and the promise of what’s to come.

But, I also understand it, as over the years, fans have politely gotten in touch to thank me for things I’ve made, things that they hold dear to them and ask me questions about how they came about. I’ve come to realise that those games I made long ago helped define a perfect time in someone’s life – a long summer, clutching a joystick with their mates taking turns to hurl Rick Dangerous screaming into the void, darkened evenings playing Shadowman or Switchblade, being spooked by stuff I’d put in the dark corridors. It’s such a privilege to have been able to touch the lives of folks I’ve never met in this way, and I don’t forget that.

And, with the way the Internet has made us more connected, it’s cool that there are enthusiasts out there that are keeping the memory of these games alive through their sites, forums, podcasts, emulators, retro-consoles and the like.

It does make my head spin though to think that anyone remembers any of my games, decades after I made them, let alone play them when Xbox and PlayStation exist or be kind enough to write and tell me their stories.

zapiy

Tell us about how you got involved with Piko Interactive?

Simon

By the wonder that is the Internet. Eli (Galindo) who runs Piko had bought the rights to Switchblade, to republish the game on retro consoles. Eli got in touch with me, asking if I had any of my old sketches for the manual and I passed those onto him, commenting that if he wanted to commission me to, I’d paint a modern cover for the game. He did, so I did. And since then, I’ve done a number of other modern takes on old covers for Piko in cases where the old art just wasn’t up to it or the original scans are too low res to be useful any more. There are a number of yet-to-be-released titles that I’ve done this kind of work for (follow my Twitter/Instagram/Facebook Art Page and I’ll reveal the covers when the games are announced) and it’s a fun thing to do in my spare time as it stretches me artistically and gives me the opportunity to paint in different styles and tackle different subjects that I otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to do.

zapiy

Whats you favourite game genre?

Simon

I’ve always said that I enjoy making games more than I enjoying playing them, and it’s true – give me an hour to play a game or an hour with a set of tools to make something and I’ll always take the latter – I’m just wired in a such a way that my rewards system gets so much more satisfaction from building or making a thing than it does playing through someone else’s story and not having anything tangible at the end of it.

That said, when I do play games, the ones I most enjoy are ones that have plenty of choice, the fewest number of game-breaking pinch points (if I fail more than 5 times on a boss that’s stopping me from getting through a game, I’ll bail on the whole game), that are easy to pick up for five minutes and put down again, have skippable cut scenes and that don’t take themselves too seriously. If a game really hooks me in and I find myself losing a few hours to it in one session, I’ll enjoy it but then constantly berate myself about what other things I could have done with the time.

zapiy

And your favourite game or games?

Simon

Favourites over the past few years have been the Borderlands games, Sunset Overdrive, Just Cause 3 for all of the reasons above, with the Forza Horizon series thrown in for good measure. Notable mentions Fallout 4, Watch_Dogs and Far Cry 3 – although my teeth tend to grate during the cut scenes when everything’s being taken so darned seriously.

zapiy

Rick Dangerous was one of my favourite games and i still have fond memories of it.. What was it like to create? Did you do the art work for all versions of the game?

Simon

It was tremendously focussed - we knew exactly what we wanted to make and we made it very quickly - 4 months from start-to-finish.

Rick began when me and Terry (Lloyd) were trying to think of new ideas - we listed out everything that was current at the time - we ruled out all the genres that were being done, and then I think I said something like, You know, I don't think there's been an Indiana Jones game that really did a good job of the temple at the start of Raiders...

The sketches above I did in the original Rick 2 design doc to illustrate gameplay ideas. And so we just took a big piece of paper and tried to write down as many ideas for traps as possible. Then I worked out a REALLY simple system we could write that would allow us to do all of them.

We wrote it up, presented it and soon after that we began. I drew all of the sprite graphics and the title page for the game, Terry drew all the background art. I coded the Atari and Amiga versions, and along with Bob Churchill, Rob Toone, Stu Gregg and Dave Pridmore, we made the game for 6 formats.

This is the first 'character sketch' of Rick in his new look - I used this on the front of the Rick 2 design doc and then as reference when I drew the title screen for the game. We kept everything as simple and uncomplicated as possible - like sharing the same sprite dimensions across all formats as those on the Commodore 64, building the maps so they would fit on a Spectrum screen (256 pixels across.) And, being a tiny team (by modern standards) working together was so easy - we just thought of stuff, made it, put it in and moved on.

zapiy

I take it the way most of the characters you create don't start off as they finish.. Do you keep any art of what these characters could have looked like?

Simon

All the early games we'd just start by drawing the main character sprite first and once we'd found something that worked, we'd go out from there. We didn't have the luxury of time to spare when development was only a few weeks long.

This is the first ever drawing of Rick - from the day that Terry and I sat down and came up with idea for him.

As to keeping artwork - not really - it was all just a bunch of pixels back then, so it's not like we had any grand concept visions - it was very much about making a little 32 x 32 grid of pixels work as best as possible.
The only real example I can think of was the character Billy (Bli) Allison came up with for the SEGA Genesis platformer Bubba 'n' Stix. The main character started off as a tall thin green alien, spent a few days looking like a flat-capped Yorkshireman with exactly the same proportions before switching his costume to something less provincial.

zapiy

Which game have you enjoyed creating the most and why?

Simon

I have to say, it’s the one I’m working on right now at Three Fields – we’re just putting the finishing touches to Dangerous Driving, due for release in April (2019) and I’ve had an absolute blast building race routes, landscapes, environments with such a sophisticated and powerful set of tools.

zapiy

What do you see as the main differences from working in the industry back when creating games like Rick Dangerous and now when creating games like Need for Speed?

Simon

When we were making Rick Dangerous and the like, it was a handful of us making a game on a tiny budget in a short space of time and moving on to the next one. We could try things, fail and move onto the next game and get better quickly.

Now, with bigger, modern, boxed products for the big corporations, everything is on a massive scale. The stakes are enormous, and the deadlines are super-critical. You have to get it right first time and you can't afford to fail. And once you've completed some task or other on your way to making the game, it'll be 2 years before you get to try a different approach on the next one.

When you asked me this question first over five years ago, I hadn’t experienced what we’ve managed to do at Three Fields – make 5 games in 5 years with a team of 7 of us. By changing the business model and embracing tools like the Unreal engine, we’ve gotten back to much more like it was in the old days, with 7 of us working hands-on all the time to make cool stuff.

zapiy

Switchblade had good reviews when released, what input did you have in this game overall?

Simon

With the exception of the music I made everything. (Side note – on Switchblade, I had the privilege of working with Benn Daglish who we recently lost – such a lovely guy and so incredibly talented…his music for the game was perfect and I cherish the memory of the afternoon I spent in his studio as he practically put on a concert for me)
After I'd joined Gremlin and decided to learn 68000 in my spare time, I set myself the challenge of making a side-on flick-screen platform game with hundreds of rooms to explore.

It took me eighteen months of evenings and weekends - single-handed I had to draw all the graphics, build all the tools and editors as well as the game. Of course, I was in my early 20s then, so working until 3:00am nightly and then going to work for nine the following day wasn’t a problem.

When Gremlin closed its Derby office and Core began, my coding skills got me programming Rick Dangerous. But it took me another year to finish Switchblade. So I was writing increasingly elegant code at work during the day (in fact I shipped 3 games, I think during the following year) and going home to wrestle with the spaghetti-like code that was Switchblade for months.

I have many fond memories of working into the small hours at home or at my girlfriend's house (we got married in 1989 and are still together so despite all that late-night nerdery I guess I must've been doing something right!)

zapiy

Hiro is a great character, was he your idea?

Simon

Thanks, Yes he was.

This was just around about the time that Manga was starting to appear in comic stores in the 1980s and arcade machines had enough power to feature exciting Japanese comic book-style intros and title pages.
(Also I could always remember a very early anime TV series called ‘Marine Boy’ in the early 70s...and 'Battle of the Planets' - the American adaptation of the Japanese Gatachaman.)

I threw myself at that look-and-feel, and the little guy emerged from there. And once I'd got a sprite that worked, I drew him as the human-proportioned anime-style character that appeared on the front end and on the box. (I'd tried drawing the sprite to human proportions but he was too spindly at 32x32 pixels, so I chose the more super-deformed look you see in the game.

The fun thing is now, my son is massively into anime so I’m introducing him to ‘the classics’ while he’s introducing me to the likes of One Punch Man, Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure and My Hero Academia.

Greyfox

What was it like to work for Core Design?

Simon

The first couple of years were terrific - we ran riot with our ideas and just went for it. The rest of the time…not so much fun.

Greyfox

You was involved in few ST games, what were the biggest challenges on that format, especially compared to the rival Amiga?

Simon

The funny thing was that was it was easier to code for the ST than the Amiga because it couldn't do anything particularly sophisticated.

You see, the ST had zero additional hardware - it was just a big bag of memory and a 68000 chip - no hardware sprites, paralaxing layers or blitter chips, so you had to do everything with the processor. It was always about writing the most optimised code you possibly could, pre-calculating everything you could think of and then crossing your fingers.

Smooth-scrolling the screen sideways was the killer - I had some funky techniques that looked ahead and optimised what was coming on-screen, but ultimately it all came down to having to redraw that entire screen with the chip.

Greyfox

Switchblade, and its sequel, were incredible games, can you tell us about them?

Simon

Switchblade was both inspired by Ultimate's Underwurlde on the Spectrum (I loved the massive scale and the exploration in that game) and the fun I'd had playing stuff like Alex Kidd in Miracle World on the SEGA Master System. So yes, you could say it was. (All the different types of bonuses and pickups came from spending too much time playing Bubble Bobble during those years.)

This image was scanned (with a hand scanner!) and used in the game - the logo below it was the sketch I did of the logo before I then sat down and worked out how to make the logo animate in the game.

Rogue Trooper

After so many FPS games of this generations consoles getting 'mauled' by the press for not being COD, was it a deliberate design move to make Goldeneye 007 appeal to the COD crowd, but still remain true to the 007 legend and what would you change about the game and why?

Simon

In January 2009 our ambition for GoldenEye 007 was to go stealth-based, with organic, evolving firefights - to be as true to the spirit of Bond in the movies as possible. (The body count in the average Bond movie is pretty low.)
Of course, that's an easy thing to say and a tough, tough problem to crack (one, that I think was only finally cracked by the Far Cry 3 team...and much respect to the ladies and gentlemen that solved that one.)

Anyhow, we spent many months trying to make our stealth/firefights work and in November of 2009, a little game called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 landed on the scene (you might have heard of it, it sold a few copies) and everything changed overnight. We were to follow CoD’s lead and make the game bigger, badder and as spectacular as possible.

This meant that we had to make the game more linear, scripted and set-piece driven. I left Eurocom the day after we went Final on the (then) Wii-exclusive version, so I had no hand in the PS3/Xbox 360 conversions of the game.

Rogue Trooper

Shadow Man for the Dreamcast had mixed reviews in DC UK and the official DC Mag. It's a very slow burner that requires the player to invest time in, would that be a fair comment? Also despite the crisp, high res visuals, the N64 origins of the game often seem to hinder level design a little, I found it so easy to get lost in repeated texture generated environments, so if you had designed the game for DC as base platform, what would you have changed and why?

Simon

Yes, definitely - we intended ShadowMan to be a really huge, slow burn and poured as much back story and dark, strangeness into it as possible. For everyone on the team it was our first foray into 3D, never mind trying to create an epic-scaled action horror adventure so we went for it big time, being gloriously overindulgent in every way possible. At its (twisted, gore-pumping) heart we were trying to make a kind of dark Legend of Zelda. It was a tremendous working experience and I learned an awful lot about how to make (and how not to make) games as a result.
If I remember correctly, we started ShadowMan on the SEGA Saturn and PC, and then over the course of development the formats it was going to be released on changed. The Saturn was dropped, the N64 arrived on the scene and at the last-minute we were asked to do conversions to PlayStation (1) and then Dreamcast.

Rogue Trooper

MCD Wolfchild: Do you not think more could have been done with the format? Core later showed just what was possible with taking an established name from the ST/Amiga (Thunderhawk) and using the MCD hardware to the full.
Having paid 270 for the MCD, I was hoping for games that did something more than just cartoon intro, spruced up visuals etc.were you 'finding your feet' so to speak with the MCD hardware or was it just a case of Core getting games out quickly initially, to source money for the Triple-A MCD games to come?

Simon

If we'd known about the MegaCD when we'd started Wolfchild and we'd cut an exclusive deal for it, it might have been a different game - the best games are always the ones that are made exclusively for the hardware that they're made to run on. It's as true today as it's ever been. As it was, the conversion up to Mega CD after the fact was one of many conversions we had to do as Core was keen to get as many of its titles out on as many formats as possible at the time.

My reference for what Saul's human form looked like, again, once I'd got the look right for the sprite.

The finished sprite above and and below are two of my pencil drawings that were then scanned for the intro to the original Amiga version of the game.

Rogue Trooper

Rick Dangerous for the ST, I so wanted to love, looked superb, the audio samples had me in stitches, but by god was it frustrating to play, as a result i barely scratched the surface of it and never bought the sequel, was the difficulty level set so high on purpose? If so any reasons why?

Simon

Because games back then were essentially evil. If I ever go back to those old arcade game I’m harshly reminded of the fact - my scores after all these years are still no better. We made Rick in the era of Jet Set Willy, Monty Mole and all those blink-and-you're dead titles that had their roots in the arcades.

But I think what made Rick particularly nerve-wracking was because we were trying to recreate that first scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark throughout it all. You know, a place packed with varied booby traps where a blow dart, collapsing floor or pit of spikes could come out of nowhere.

And since our trap system, (although very simple to code) allowed for a whole variety of ways to kill Rick, we used it to the fullest. So unlike other titles of the time where patrolling enemies and floating platforms simply went back-and-forth on their merry way and saw you timing your jumps between them, we created a massive memory puzzle spring-loaded with cartoon death.

Also, a fact of game development is, that when you've been playing your own software for months on end, you know it inside-out. What you take for granted with your insider knowledge of making the game is completely unknown to anyone who plays the game at launch. When we made Rick we were finding out all about that - and believe it or not, the version of Rick we released was our easy version of the game.

Rogue Trooper

Not so much a question, but a statement. I just checked your art work out on your website, and it just had me gobsmacked!!!. You've clearly got talent and then some and seem apt at whatever style takes your fancy. What's your favourite type of art to draw and do you do any commercially available stuff?

Simon

Thanks - glad you like it!

In my years at Core, whenever I got home and thought about making art, the temptation was always to carry on working.

So, when I left Core for Acclaim Teesside and stepped away from doing graphics work (the job had gotten too big to do both game art and design), I gave myself permission to make my own art in my spare time.
My friend Guy (Miller) who, among his many other talents is a fine artist introduced me to acrylic paint - I loved it.
I then made a vow to never draw video game subject matter (robots, spaceships, wizards, monsters, etc.) in my own time ever again and so I just went where the (twisted) muse would take me.

As goes style - I guess that comes from seeing other folks stuff, taking a liking to it and setting myself a challenge of having a go at it myself. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but I always learn something. (Sometimes I make the crazy promise to my Disney fan wife that I'll draw Mickey Mouse for the next 365 days... )
In later I set myself the challenge of learning how to paint digitally. I've spent years editing and creating graphics in Photoshop for work, but always wanted to use it to create paintings. So I attacked the problem head-on and I'm quite pleased with some of the results I'm starting to turn out.

My favourite stuff to draw are my pin-ups and alternative art - it's intensely, unashamedly personal and it's a real technical challenge to draw. Since I went digital I've been taking commissions which has been an interesting exercise because each piece pushes me to draw something that I might not have otherwise attempted.


In the five years since I last answered this question, I’ve moved over to using Clip Studio Paint much more (its vector line engine is insane and it’s a fraction of the price of Photoshop), I rock a 4K screen and a 22” Huion tablet (and a Samsung Galaxy Book when I’m on the go) and I split my drawing time between about three different projects: life drawing burlesque dancers at our local ‘Doctor Sketchy’ group, painting cover commissions for folks like Piko Interactive and Storybird Games and pushing my skills in different ways with whatever takes my fancy.

Recently a fan contacted me about signing an old Rick Dangerous poster and that gave me inspiration to paint a special piece of art celebrating 30 years of Rick – here’s the link to my store where you can (if they’re still in stock) grab a signed, limited edition print (https://www.simonphipps.com/store/)

I’m pondering whether to do a few more retro-game inspired pieces at the moment – if folks were interested, I might be tempted to paint some of my other characters, or do a modern take on some retrogaming classics…hmmm…

Rogue Trooper

As an artist, how did you find the move from 2D to 3D? Which took more time to give the rewards as it were, for yourself and the player? The attraction of a game for myself has so often been to keep playing to see what other interesting stuff the environment throws up, how did you try to please cynical (now old) gits like myself? lol

Simon

The move to 3D was a tricky one for quite some time. The thing is, you're no longer designing essentially 2D puzzles but actual environments - you have to think in a completely different way. You build and populate 3D worlds from a helicopter's eye view in editors and you constantly have to keep reminding yourself to walk your environments just like the player will when they’re playing the game:

    Can they see the right stuff when you want them to?
    Will they be looking in the wrong direction at the critical moment?
    Does the elaborate puzzle you’ve designed on paper as a top-down schematic even make sense when you turn it into a 3D space?

When I first moved over to 3D, the fastest method we found for designing worlds was to draw a series of top-down cross-sectional maps and hand those to dedicated artists to build them. This was because it was so easy to spend time getting bogged down in the construction of, say, a spiral staircase, that you’d lose sight of what you were trying to build in the first place.

Now, though, with modern tools such as SketchUp and prototyping environments like Unreal and Unity it's getting much easier for us designers to leap in and build 3D mock-ups and walk/drive them as players do before the art guys come in and make it look amazing. It's much more rewarding too, and you can make changes faster. You can experiment and fail many more times until you get it right. In Unreal, I can literally move mountains, snap roads to them with a right-click and be driving them seconds later.

Rogue Trooper

Long shot, but whilst at Core, was there ever talk of Corporation 2 or a reboot of it on more modern hardware?

Simon

You know, I simply can't remember. I remember the bank holiday weekend when we were finalising he original Corporation. The game had to be in shops on the following Tuesday or the company would have been in dire trouble. A whole bunch of us stayed up two nights in succession and when we had a final disc drove up to the mastering plant in Leeds where we (after being up 48 hours already) manned the conveyor belts packing the discs into their boxes during the night so the game would be in the shops at 9am. We were hallucinating and falling asleep standing up - it's one of the most weirdest memories I have of the early 90s.

Rogue Trooper

As an artist, where do you draw (no pun intended) your inspiration from? the world around you? cinema? manga? or all of the above?.

Simon

(Actually, this is such a cool question - no one's ever asked me this before, although the question rattles around in my head quite a lot.)

There’s a baroque, glamorous and decadent imaginary world that's lived somewhere inside my head for years that gets fuelled by the music I listen to, music videos, alternative fashions, burlesque and concept art. It has an emotional logic and consistency inside my head but makes absolutely no sense if I try to explain it.(I did attempt to write some of it down years ago, and quickly stopped as it read like utter gibberish.) So I've resolved to explore it visually - if I'm listening to a song that fires off an interesting image, I'll quickly sketch it before it evaporates like smoke.

But the blank page is my nemesis - I hate having the urge to draw but not knowing what to draw. That's when I turn to my wife and ask her for a title - she'll come up with some innocuous phrase and then that sets me loose to turn it on its head and twist it.

Which reminds me…with all the other projects I have going on of late, it’s time I did some more of this stuff…

Rogue Trooper

When designing a game, just how much freedom were you given whilst at Core? i.e did you have to submit basic demo type stuff before green light was given or would they just check your progress now and then? Also what if anything was ever 'cut' from your games and why? was it your choice and if not, how did it feel to have something you'd spent time on cast to the cutting room floor?

Simon

When Core was a developer for hire we had to pitch concepts and meet up with the external producers - just like it's done today, but on a faster turnaround. Once Core turned publisher there was a bit more freedom to explore but that didn't stop projects getting cancelled and never making it to market.

I probably spent about 18 months - 2 years during my time at Core working on stuff that never made it through for one reason or another. But that's the way the Industry works - you learn very quickly to roll with it when something gets cut or canned. There's always a good reason for a cancellation - the idea's not working/it's too complicated/you've done a bad job of selling it/it'll cost too much/too long to finish or there's just some business reason that's totally out of your control that has affected you.

If you get too precious and hung up about it, it'll stop you moving forwards. At the end of the day, the player only sees what went into the final product - they don't care what you went through to make it or what you didn't get chance to put in, and they shouldn't.

zapiy

What's your favourite title you have worked on during your career and why?

Simon

It's always the one I haven't made yet on the incredible new hardware that's just around the corner.
...but I'm having an amazing time right now!

zapiy

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us again Simon.

Simon

I really enjoyed doing it - there were some great questions in there and giving me the chance to revisit the interview and update it, after doing all the cool stuff I have the past five years thanks to new tech has been great.

P.S. Folks – follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook  or drop on by my own Website.

Finally

A huge thank you to Simes, firstly for the awesome header image created for this interview and I want to say its been a pleasure to build a virtual friendship with a guy that I grew up being a huge fan of, when someone you have admired for so long turns out to be so bloody nice, its humbling, so thank you fella, next update 2024?

13
RVG Interviews / RVG Interviews: Andy Rixon.
« on: February 13, 2019, 10:29:44 AM »

Here is our latest interview with Andy Rixon, Andy was one of the team behind Special FX, a successful British software house that hailed from Liverpool. They created some amazing games, including Midnight Resistance, Batman: The Caped Crusader and many more, he also worked for companies like Ocean and Rage so read on and enjoy.

Zapiy

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Andy

I was born in 1964 in Bridlington, E. Yorkshire, where I spent my early life. Art interested me from an early age, but my peers successfully steered me away in my latter school years as the subject held limited career opportunities. Therefore I decided wholeheartedly to become an architect, only to realise it was basically drawing by maths, my most hated subject at school. Feeling disillusioned I turned my attention to carpentry, and when I left school at 16 I began searching for work as a cabinet maker, not so easy during the age of Formica!

 
Andy on the frontpage of the Liverpool echo 1993

 

I was a biker in my teens, a proper heavy metal greaser and AC/DC worshipper. I might still be now if I had hair lol. I married my wife Jackie (after a good hair cut) when I was 22, and immediately dragged her off to Liverpool to start a new life in the North West. We are still married, living on a mountain in North Wales, and have two grown up sons, both at University.

Zapiy

How did you get involved in the gaming industry?

Andy

I was offered an apprenticeship as an arcade cabinet maker at a local start-up company called A. W. Electronics, (A. W. being Andy Walker), where I built arcade units (out of Formica) from the ground up alongside a time served joiner. Each unit held a Tangerine computer that housed up to ten individual game boards, the user could select which game to play with an in-game menu. It soon became apparent that the business model was logistically too ambitious for a start-up, and the decision was made to develop software only. I took on the role of graphics artist and never looked back.

Zapiy

What was the first game you created graphics for?

Andy

My first ever graphics were for an arcade game called ‘The Pit’ (A. W. Electronics) the worlds first mining game. It was widely ripped off by the big boys overseas, unfortunately we were too small to take out legal proceedings but that’s another story…
Striker (SNES)

Greyfox

Which one the games you was involved in are you the proudest of and why?

Andy

My proudest game was Striker (Rage Software Ltd.) on the SNES. It spent five weeks at no.1 and launched Rage from a small group ex Special FX veterans onto the global stage and paved our way to stock market floatation. When the story of our success broke we received national TV and press coverage. I can remember Moira Stuart arriving at our studio in Bootle, Merseyside to take interviews. My fifteen minutes of fame stretched about two days, a very surreal, and short-lived experience.

Greyfox

And which game caused you the most headaches?

Andy

My greatest headache was ‘The Untouchables’ (Special FX). I was allocated a number of levels on the 16 bit platforms at a time I was moving home and relocating across country. I was conscious how critical production time was regarding the movie release dates, and any delay on my side could scupper the project. The pressure of doing the film justice also concerned me, the investment Ocean had made on purchasing the film rights also weighed on my mind. It definitely wasn’t my most enjoyable moment, but the game was well received much to my relief.

Greyfox

You have worked for a few iconic British Software Houses, tell us about those days, were they as rock n roll as we all imagined it to be?

Andy

I was lucky to work for some big names in the gaming community during the 80’s and 90’s, God knows why they hired me! After Taskset I left Yorkshire for Liverpool and joined Odin, followed by Special FX, Ocean and Rage.

The industry back then could be extremely tough, burnout was all too common. You have to consider team sizes were normally two or three so the pressure individually could really take its toll. I think its fair to say the bad times were really very hard but the good times were exceptional.

Greyfox

Do you have any anecdotes you can share from those days?

Andy

I have one that stands out quite well if you can publish it! – An ‘unnamed’ software developer used to supply its staff with speed to keep them going through the night when deadlines were tight. They would work around the clock for days on end to complete a game on time. Any wonder burnout was so common…

TrekMD

How different has it been working in the gaming industry through the years?

Andy

Wow that’s a great question. The answer is massively. The early days were spent working alone with no dev tools, only squared paper, coloured pens and a light box, and basically winging it. I had no knowledge of computers, graphics or animation so had to learn by trial and error. For my first five years in the industry I never even met another graphics artist! In contrast by the mid 90’s we had large teams of artists, each possessed a specialisation working with advanced 3D development tools and virtually limitless resource constraints. It sounds in writing like there’s only one winner in terms of preference, but the truth is those early days win hands down, they were so much more fun and rewarding in personal terms. Working within such tight restrictions forced us to be creative with the little we had to work with, and during the 80’s we were pioneering new techniques and processes day by day. The gratification of producing truly original and successful games with small development teams was unmatched in the later years.

TrekMD

Which software company did you enjoy working for the most and why?

Andy

The question I always try to avoid answering as its bound to upset somebody haha. I will bite my tongue and say Special FX, based in the Albert Dock, Liverpool. The team we had there were all massively talented. I don’t use the word genius lightly but a number of the crew there genuinely possessed it and not a single ego across the studio. I still cannot believe the company had to close down when Ocean ceased funding us. It was the most talented team I ever worked with, the creative chemistry there was almost tangible.

Zapiy

Did you create any special tools to help you be more creative?

Andy

Absolutely! My first tool was non-software, a light box to make working with tracing paper over-squared paper a little easier, but the end of day headaches were a real nightmare. Then came the software tools to eliminate the long-winded process of working on paper and as technology advanced so did our custom dev tools. I think I must have been the scourge of many a programmers life with all my demands, but a few weeks work for a programmer could save months for an artist…

Zapiy

Little is known about AW Electronics and Odin Computer Graphics, can you give us a brief history and how the companies were formed?

Andy

A.W. Electronics was formed by Andy Walker (hence A.W.), in sunny Bridlington. This pre-dated home computing and began trading in 1981 as an arcade game producer/manufacturer. At this time we were working closely with Zilec Electronics where the Stamper brothers cut their teeth, they provided advice and guidance, even helped us publish our first title, The Pit.

The company later turned its attention to becoming a home computer software developer as the first batch of machines hit the market. Soon after arcade development ceased to focus solely on the emerging home market and A.W was dissolved and the team became Taskset Ltd.

Odin Computer Graphics (also known as Thor), was formed in the mid 80’s by Paul McKenna and was based in Canning Place, Liverpool (the old Bug-Byte studio). The staff there were mainly ex Imagine and a few other local ex software houses. Odin enjoyed early successes with Nodes of Yesod, Heartland and Robin of the Wood. I joined the company some time later during a difficult period when they were trying to fulfil a ten title contract with Telecomsoft. Unfortunately some of the games didn’t meet the quality standards required by BT and Odin closed down in 1987ish.

Zapiy

Who did you most admire back then for the quality of their work and why?

Andy

Has to be the late, great ‘Joffa’ Jonathan Smith. He was an industry legend and truly brilliant. I had the pleasure of working alongside him at Special FX and Rage. He had an enduring aura that never faded, so sad we lost him…

Zapiy

Was it hard adapting to the changing hardware over the years?

Andy

The biggest challenge was adapting from 2D to 3D. I made it my mission at Rage to fully involve myself with (the original) 3D Studio, believing 3D was the future of gaming. I remember having several lengthy ‘debates’ with other artists who argued 2D would never die, I guess they were right haha!

Zapiy

Did you ever take notice of magazine reviews and did they make any difference to how you created further games?

Andy

Emphatically yes! Magazine reviews could make or break us quite literally. Most of the time we operated on a cash flow knifes edge so reviews were everything and we knew that the kids of the day read them avidly and took notice. We even gave some reviewers credits in our games, just to keep them sweet, lmao.

Zapiy

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Andy

I always thought the game boxes might become collectible some day just like comics, but never for a second did I think the actual games would be played and appreciated like they are. Last year I told a friend of mine, who was a games programmer back in the mid 80’s that his games are now idolised, he thought I was winding him up, I had to drag him along to the Blackpool Expo and show him how big the retro scene is.

Zapiy

Have you thought about getting involved in Retro Game Development?

Andy

I did for a while yeah. Unfortunately I lost contact with most of my old friends in the industry and the opportunity didn’t quite materialise. I kind of like the idea of creating new, original games with old technology, porting across platform never floated my boat though.

Zapiy

So if approached to work on a retro game now you would maybe consider this?

Andy

It’s been a hell of a while since I did anything in 2D, and definitely not if it involves squared paper and coloured pens! but if the right project came my way I would surely listen…

Zapiy

Have you ever been involved with the creation of games on systems like the Gizmondo, Konix Multisystem or any of the other less known or unreleased systems?

Andy

None of the above, but did work on the Oric which crashed and burned spectacularly (thankfully!), it was awful.

Zapiy

What do you for a living now?

Andy

Unfortunately I developed a neuromuscular condition during my years at Rage which eventually meant I had to stop working. I can still do the work but far less efficiently as is necessary to be professionally viable and ’employable’. It took some coming to terms with emotionally (and financially!), definitely wasn’t my greatest hour. I now spend my days messing around with painting and photography, I have a lovely garden studio with magnificent views across the Dee Estuary and the Liverpool skyline beyond. Happy days!

Greyfox

Do you have any early concept art for games you were apart of that you could share with us, maybe any unfinished games?

Andy

I would love to know what happened to my very early work, the stuff done on gridded paper with all the ascii coding mapped out. Sadly most concept art was deemed property of the receivers so was left behind in various studios, but luckily Paul Hodgson (Taskset) managed to smuggle out a small folder of my old work, and kindly reunited me with it just last year (2018).

I have the original design document for Super Pipeline 2 which was weirdly written in green ink (above), I obviously spent weeks writing it up! They don’t do it like that any more haha. There is also a technical design pic and a character layout pic of an unfinished animated platform game – which was hoped to be the follow-up to Pipeline 2. The game involved riding an animated bar graph whilst maintaining the factory workings and avoiding obstacles, all very abstract. I think this was the very last Taskset game and went into early stage production.

It was the first time I’d seen that stuff in 35 years, and now it’s the first time they have been seen publicly!
Also in the folder was a design for another unpublished Taskset game about a time traveller sent back to the middle ages, a whole page and a half of it! I have some very scratchy photo-copies of early background drafts, and a full map of the castle which I’m holding onto for now…

Zapiy

Special FX holds a great deal of magic to me, what was a typical day like when you was working here?

Andy

Being a morning person meant I was usually the first in, that first hour of the day when the studio was quiet was always my most productive time. As soon as Tony Pomfret arrived the quiet atmosphere ended, his energy and his motivation was infectious, what a character, great fun to be around.

We all worked in one room (except Joff who had his own cage) so everyone was fully integrated and involved in every aspect of daily life. Design meetings were very informal and impromptu, teams were small and easy to pull together. The open aspect of the studio meant we could eaves drop and chip in with advice on projects we weren’t part of, good ideas were always welcome, the whole process felt natural and very creative.

Lunchtimes were often spent in Burger King, or we would order Chinese from the takeaway in the food hall, we were a healthy bunch back then.

Afternoons were a mirror of the mornings, but with extra hot beverages to keep us awake, then the day was finished off with a stress releasing ball fight (those things could really sting!), then we would drive home sweaty and bruised. Naturally the job wasn’t as nine to five as it might sound, late nights and weekends were quite normal, I preferred to take kit home with me on a Friday evening and save the long drive in and Mersey Tunnel tolls. I remember carrying a big old monitor down to my car one time and almost colliding with John Barnes (during his LFC playing days), he looked at me like I’d just robbed somewhere.

Zapiy

Which was your favourite system to work on and why?

Andy

I would have to say the Commodore 64, with the SNES in second place. I enjoyed the challenge of the C64 limitations and the short development times which were typically 4-12 weeks. I never had time to feel bored with a game before it was completed back in the 80’s, but it become apparent later that I’m not very patient with 2 year+ projects and the production logistics they involved.

The reason I’ve chosen the SNES in second place is purely down to its magnificent Mode7 , which was tailor-made to create a pseudo 3D pitch on our football game ‘Striker’, it gave us a hardware option not available on any other platform. There were some costs of using Mode7 though and most of my development time came minimising the graphical abnormalities, but overall it gave Striker a unique selling point in the very competitive world of football games.

TrekMD

Are you a gamer these days?

Andy

For many years I played FPS games like the Medal of Honour series, but my reflexes and dexterity finally became a hindrance so I gave up. These days I only play World of Warcraft (poorly) which I’ve played on and off since its release. Unfortunately I’m not involved with the raid team any more, I’m too much of a liability and besides it all seems like so much hassle, age and its ailments are such a wonderful thing….

Finally

A huge thank you to Andy for his level of detail in his responses, I am always humbled when doing these interviews.

14
RVG Interviews / RVG Interviews: Tony Pomfret.
« on: February 13, 2019, 10:28:13 AM »

Here we interview Tony Pomfret, Tony was one of the team behind Special FX, a successful British software house that hailed from Liverpool. They created some amazing games, including Midnight Resistance and Batman: The Caped Crusader, he also worked for companies like Ocean and Rage so read on and enjoy.

Zapiy

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Tony

My name is Tony Pomfret, I’m 53 years old (and feel it)… I’ve been programming from the age of 13. I’m married to my amazing wife Deb, no kids (Deb says she couldn’t handle another one!)

Zapiy

How did you get involved in the gaming industry?

Tony

I worked in my fathers computer shop on Deansgate in Manchester. One day a group of people came in the shop and I got talking to one of them, he turned out to be the lead programmer at OCEAN and it turned out OCEAN was literally a 3 minute walk away. I showed this lead programmer (Dave Collier) a game I was developing for the fun of it on the C64, it was a side scrolling chopper game I called “Bush Fire”, it was using some heavy raster screen and border splitting, Dave was very impressed and offered me a job at OCEAN working on a big secret project!

Zapiy

What was the first game you created?

Tony

My first game was “Daley Thompson’s Decathlon” on the C64.

Greyfox

Which one the games you was involved in are you the proudest of and why?

Tony

Hard question as every game I worked on contained a bit of me… I think Rambo: First Blood Part II was one of my best due to the insane full screen scroll and intense sprite multiplexing.

Greyfox

And which game caused you the most headaches?

Tony

Probably “Roland’s Rat Race” not because of it’s complexity it was just the lack of time we had to make it, approximately 4 weeks from start to finish including all graphics and map layout.

Zapiy

You have worked for a few iconic British Software Houses, tell us about those days, were they as rock n roll as we all imagined it to be?

Tony

Not exactly rock n roll, but they where ground breaking days and great fun.

Zapiy

Do you have any anecdotes you can share from those days?

Tony

I worked with Martin Galway at OCEAN and one evening after Martin had left the dungeon (as the development area was called) myself and a few others though it would be fun to play a little practical joke on him. Martin was very OCD, everything in his sound studio was always perfectly laid out and not a thing out-of-place, so myself and the “crew” decided to invert as much as possible in his studio this included Coat hangers, light switches in fact everything other than a large piano. The following morning the “crew” waited for Martin to enter his sound studio, the studio had a massive glass window looking out into the dungeon corridor so we had a great view! Needless to say the result was hysterical!

Zapiy

How different has it been to work in the gaming industry through the years?

Tony

In the early years we worked without very much guidance, we just got a deadline and got on with the job, we didn’t even have graphic artist’s. The programming teams where normally very small containing no more than three people and a sound programmer, it stayed that way until the early 2000’s With the advent of the Xbox and PS2 the team sizes drastically increased and we had to adapt to a more structured form of game development.

Zapiy

Which software company did you enjoy working for the most and why?

Tony

Hard question! I loved working for all the companies that I helped to build but the two that stand out in my mind where Special FX and Rage, The two companies founded by Paul Finnegan the ex OCEAN marketing director, he is a great bloke.

Zapiy

Did you create any special tools to help you be more creative?

Tony

Oh yes, countless tools from sprite/map editors to full-blown assemblers, the list was endless.

Zapiy

Can you tell us your Special FX story, how you started working for them, any funny stories and what it was like working there?

Tony

It was all because of Paul Finnegan. Paul decided to leave OCEAN and start his own software company close to his home in Liverpool. Paul had an idea for a game based loosely on a comic character from his youth so he asked me to produce a demo to see if the game would work. I was pretty sure I could make a good game from this demo so Paul employed myself and he poached Joffa Smith from OCEAN to work on the C64 and Spectrum versions of the game respectively. We had a scream working at SFX me and Joffa where best mates and creatively we had something very special. SFX grew at a rapid rate and on route acquired some incredible and talented people.

Greyfox

Special FX holds a great deal of magic to me, what was a typical day like when you was working there?

Tony

Loved it, a great Boss in Paul and a group of very talented game makers and not to mention our very own real life FPS at 5pm nearly every evening… we basically threw small tightly packed balls of paper at each other in our office at The Albert Dock… keyboards got destroyed while playing that office game!

Zapiy

Which was your favourite system to work on and why?

Tony

I think the SONY PSX was a great little machine, it had this super co-processer in it called the GTE (Geometry Transformation Engine) that I made sing in games like…

Space Debris

Darklight Conflict

A close second was the ace little C64 though, I loved trying to make everything I coded on run at 60fps 😊

Zapiy

Are you a gamer these days?

Tony

Yes still love playing games, mainly play on PC these days… and of course retro game emulation on PC is great!

Zapiy

Who did you most admire back then for the quality of their work and why?

Tony

One person in particular stands out and that was my good friend Joffa, he was a designer/programmer/artist/musician, very talented at everything he undertook!

TrekMD

Was it hard adapting to the changing hardware over the years?

Tony

Not really as I moved from C64 to NES and then SNES all used a very similar processor and had hardware that aided sprites and scrolling.  It was only when the console changes came to life that things changed as I had to learn new languages and not bother with Assembler very often.

TrekMD

Did you ever take notice of magazine reviews and did they make any difference to how you created further games?

Tony

I loved getting good reviews but nearly every game I worked on was governed by deadline’s and cost, so I just did what was needed to make the games as fun as possible but to hit that deadline.

Zapiy

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Tony

No, old games are still close to my heart and even now I still play on emulated old school games… it was all about fun in the old days and how much you could squeeze out of the machine you worked on.

TrekMD

Have you thought about getting involved in Retro Game Development?

Tony

Not got the time. I’m still programming now but have moved on from games into education and IT.

Zapiy

Have you ever been involved with the creation of games on systems like the Gizmondo, Konix Multisystem or any of the other less known or unreleased systems?

Tony

No, I worked on the machines that where guaranteed to have a big market this unfortunately was a business demand

Zapiy

What do you for a living now?

Tony

I’m a software developer but working in education and IT. Not as fun as my game’s programming days but it pays the bills 😊

Finally

A huge thank you to Tony for taking the time to chat to us.

15
Retro News & Chat / Article 13 - How does this affect you and RVG?
« on: February 12, 2019, 11:12:40 AM »
Hi, I am no legal buff so can someone clued up on this explain how this affects me, you and RVG.


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