Author Topic: RVG Interviews Jim Bagley.  (Read 397 times)

Offline zapiy

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RVG Interviews Jim Bagley.
« on: October 02, 2018, 10:38:40 AM »


Here we have our latest interview, this time with the amazing Jim Bagley. With over 27 years in the business Jim is a legend in the games industry! He has worked for companies such as Ocean Software, Special FX, Rage and Ignition Entertainment. You can look at his website HERE for a full bio of his work.

Zapiy

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

Jim

Well, for those that don't know me, I'm Jim Bagley, I've been in the games industry for 33 years working on games for most systems from the ZX Spectrum days to the current gen consoles.

Greyfox

How did you get started in the video game industry?

Jim

I used to frequent a semi-local computer shop ( 3 towns away from where I lived ) after school and or weekends, whenever I could, to go see what games were available and talk to the shop staff about games, and upon leaving school I just happened to ask the guys if there were any local computer companies that came into the shop, and to my surprise, as I ( as a kid ) didn't know where the companies would be, little did I know at the time, the North West was probably the biggest part of the UK games industry at the time.

Zapiy

What was the first game you created?

Jim

The first game I created for myself was a scrolling car game for the Sharp MZ80K, which most was originally out of a book, which I modified, to make the roads get narrower and wider, and added obstacles.  I then did a Pacman clone for the Sharp MZ80K once I had enough of a grasp of the BASIC language.

Zapiy

Are you surprised by the resurgence in retro gaming?

Jim

No, I'm not really surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming, because although new games have amazing looking graphics some lack the gameplay that we enjoyed back in the day, and especially for the casual game player who doesn't have much time to invest in a big story game, can have a better game experience with a retro game than an iPhone game that wants you to pay to speed up the waiting for things, because that's how current mobile gaming has gone, hence it's better to pay a great game from the past.

Zapiy

Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day

Jim

Yes, amongst others, I have SMS Striker, which I never got to finish back in the day because I moved onto the Megadrive as the SMS was left behind, I still have the source and it's still assembles, I just need to finish it, should I have the need and the time.

TrekMD

You've written games, designed games and produced games. Which is your favorite role in the game development process?

Jim

For me it has to be the design and coding, which is all part of one package when I'm making a game, as when I'm writing it, I like to make sure it's playable, as that's the reason it's a called a game haha, and so that also entails designing, because the levels have to be laid out well to make it enjoyable.

TrekMD

What games from back in the day (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Jim

My biggest inspirations, is arcade games of the past, because that's what got me interested in games, it was always about playability, what made it so addictive that you had to play one more game, and bringing the joy to others playing my games, that I got from playing arcade games both back in the day and now.

TrekMD

What is the biggest challenge you face with the limitations of the hardware, particularly as you continue to expand features title-to-title? (Memory? Graphical capability? Speed?)

Jim

The biggest challenge is figuring out what you can fit into the lesser machine from the game you're porting, like level sizes, sprite animations, cut scenes, etc, how to fit it all in, like going from an arcade game that has for example Midnight Resistance, that has 3MB of ROMs to fit into a 128KB Spectrum, even if you go with the fact that MR's graphics were 16 colours, and the Spectrum is just 2, that means we can divide it by 4, which gives us 768KB then you can see there is still far too much to squeeze into 128KB, so then cutting out some frames of animation help bring it down a bit, and maybe reducing the sizes, and reducing tiles from the backgrounds, and lots of tweaking to get it down as much as you can, until you can eventually fit it in, sometimes whole sections need to be removed from it, like the C64 version didn't have the cut scenes in it, unlike my Spectrum and CPC versions which had everything apart from 2 player. ( which C64 didn't have either )

Greyfox

Do you have a favorite game that you were involved with?

Jim

I have many, I've been blessed in my career to have worked on some great games, like Road Runner, Midnight Resistance, Cabal, Doom, Apple Bob, IK+, Super Dropzone, Hudson Hawk.

Greyfox

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

Jim

Not really I loved it, and to be honest once you realise all computers pretty much behave the same it's quite easy, all you need to know is a computer has memory that you can get info from, and usually do something with that info, like some addition or subtraction or other forms of maths or compare it with another number and store it back where you got it or somewhere else, and that's pretty much all they do in a very basic term, then all you need to know is what numbers to store where, and where the screen is, and any extra hardware, like sprites and sound chips etc, plus I've always embraced furthering my knowledge with computers, and seeing the differences in the hardware.

Greyfox

When you first started did you ever think that the video game industry would become as big as it has and still be going strong all these years later?

Jim

Not really, because when I was at school, it was a geeky thing really to use computers, but I just knew I enjoyed playing games and making games, and to be able to do that as a job was the best!

Zapiy

Are you a gamer yourself? Do you own any retro systems? Modern systems?

Jim

Totally! I love playing games. Yes, I own quite a few retro systems, and some modern ones too!, I own an Atari 2600, ZX81, Spectrum 48K, Spectrum +3, Amstrad, C64, Master System, Gameboy, Gameboy Colour, Gameboy Advance, NES, SNES, Megadrive, Saturn, Dreamcast, PSX, PSOne, PS2, PS3, PS4, Gamecube, Wii, Switch, Xbox, PC, and of course a Spectrum Next.

jdanddiet

Hudson Hawk was never an obvious movie license. What did you have to go on when creating the game?

Jim

Basically when we were given this project, we were supposed to go and watch the movie, but it wasn't ready in a preview state at this time for us to watch, so we were given only an early script, and I might add, they said it may change for the final script, and it did! So basically we had to work out set locations to base the levels on, and what kind of game to put in it, and come up with various baddy types for those locations, based on main characters in the movie, and fictional ones that may be at the location, and some comedy ones, as the movie was a comedy, we pretty much had a free range of creativity on what went in.

jdanddiet

And have you actually seen the film and what did you think of it?

Jim

Back in the day, we never got to see it, as stated in my previous reply, and then when it did come out, it flopped big time, so I never went to see it! It was only until about 4 years ago that I saw the dvd for sale in HMV for £3.99 so thought to myself it can't harm, and decided to get it, and I knew the movie was going to be a cheesy one from the script, so when I watched it, I was expecting the cheese, and level of humour and corn from the script, so I was surprised at how good it was with taking it as it was meant to be! It was actually quite clever too, with them using the songs for timings etc. don't get me wrong it wasn't a brilliant film, but I just think it was watched in the wrong frame of mind of the viewers, maybe they were expecting it to be a typical Bruce Willis action movie, and not a cheese-fest.

Rogue Trooper

Going off memory from interview you did with Games tm, years ago, you were basically told to just port PlayStation Doom to Saturn (and pass codes work on both versions), had things been different - how would you have approached Saturn Doom? Would you have put in any Saturn exclusives such as custom lighting or exclusive levels?

Jim

Yes, and no, we were given the PC and PlayStation data, but initially, I wanted to use the Saturn's hardware to its max potential, and wrote a render engine to display the PC levels drawing the walls with the GPU, the problem I came across, was apparently John Carmack wasn't happy about this, he wanted it to look exactly the same as the PC version, but it looked a lot nicer, and was running full screen at 60fps, he said it had to be drawn using the CPU, and not the GPU, he even suggested I used the two DSPs on the Saturn to render the screen, but as they only have 4KB, and if I remember correctly, as it's been a very long time since I used one, 2KB code space and 2KB data space, doing it this way to render a complete screen full of game, would have been a huge memory bandwidth bottleneck, so I ignored that, and did it using the two SH2s to render the screen, each of the two CPUs splitting the draw time, doing a line each of the walls or floors, and to save time having to reduce the PC levels to fit into the Saturn's memory, we decided to use the Playstation levels as they had a smaller memory footprint than the PC ones, so it made sense to convert the PlayStation levels, I was quite happy with the end result, as the SH2s ran at 33Mhz and 28Mhz respectively, and I remember playing doom on a 33Mhz PC and it having to play in a stamp sized display to play at a reasonable rate, where as the Saturn was pretty much full screen but this isn't dissing John Carmack, he's a very talented coder and clever bloke all round, it's more me being proud of what speed I got out of two relatively slow cpus.

Rogue Trooper

Do you think given the time and freedom, you could have done a version of Doom as good (or better) than the PlayStation version?

Jim

Given the time and freedom, yes, I'd have done a better version of Doom than the PlayStation version, and it would have looked better than the PC version too. I know for a fact, as it did look better.

Rogue Trooper

I loved Super Dropzone on SNES, so much so I bought it again on PlayStation, were there any other 8-bit classics you'd have liked to have brought 'tarted-up' version of to the SNES/PlayStation?

Jim

I'm not surprised, Super Dropzone was a great game on the SNES! Hope you liked my visual port of it to the PlayStation! There were many 8-bit classics, Manic Miner, 3D Deathchase, Chuckie Egg, Mission Impossible, Knight Lore, Wheelie, Scramble, Zaxxon, Mr Do!, I'd have liked to have done Cabal or Midnight Resistance also.

Rogue Trooper

Also the PlayStation version was a little too much of a straight SNES port, any reason it didn't really go to town? And if you could do it again, what would you ideally like to do with it on PlayStation?

Jim

The PlayStation version as well as the GBA version, were from a set of 9 games that I ported in just under two years. The company I was hired by at the time were in trouble, they needed to get all the games finished ASAP, this meant that I didn't have time to create anything new, nor did I have an artist, so I converted all the graphics to PlayStation format myself, and if I had time to do it again, I probably wouldn't have been able to revamp it, as it was Archer's IP, so it had to be a straight conversion.

Rogue Trooper

IK+ again I loved so much on C64/Amiga/ST i ended up buying again on PlayStation, but it was straight port really, no chance of really enhancing it? at the time and what would you have liked to have done?

Jim

Again, IK+ was Archer's IP, and this too had to be a straight conversion. As stated in previous reply, I also didn't have access to an artist, and was on a very tight schedule, if I have of had time and access to an artist, and the permission from Archer to revamp it, I would have, but to be honest, it was a great game in the first place!

Rogue Trooper

Were you a fan of Dropzone and IK+ or were they merely jobs that needed doing and you'd have been mad to turn down?

Jim

Yes, I was a fan of both Dropzone and IK+, which is why I made it play and look as close to the original as I had time to do.

Rogue Trooper

Rumour had it you were working on a PS3/360 game, if true, what was it and what happened to it?

Jim

This is true, I was the only coder working on a PS3 game, called WarDevil, the investors canned the project before it was completed, for reasons of a financial nature. Which was a shame, because at the time, it was the only PS3 game to my knowledge that was rendered at 1080p and looked amazing!

Rogue Trooper

With the Spectrum having no hardware sprites, what was your approach when undertaking an arcade conversion and did you ever find yourself wishing the hardware had anything the C64 or CPC for example had, to make your life a little easier? Or did you just see the limitations as more of a chance to find a creative solution, rather than relying on hardware to take care of everything?

Jim

When converting arcade games to the Spectrum, I often wished it had sprites, but I'm glad it didn't have the C64 sprites, as they were too blocky for my liking, with being just 12 pixels wide, they just didn't have the detail, yeah, it was great that they didn't get attribute clash, but I liked the detail of finer pixels, and yes, I didn't like attribute clash either, but it was one of the things that made you have to think outside the box when converting games, and I liked the challenge.

Rogue Trooper

From a technical perspective, what other 8-bit coders work did you admire - i.e was there ever a game you saw that made you think blimey, wonder how they did that/wish I'd written something like that?

Jim

Joffa Smith, was not only a great coder that I admired, and had the good fortune of working alongside, he was also a great artist, it is a very rare talent to be competent at both skills! Also his multi channel music driver for the Spectrum beeper is still amazing!

Rogue Trooper

Along the same lines, what programmers have produced the kind of games you like to play?

Jim

I must add here the great Malcolm Evans! As 3D Monster Maze was and still is an awesome achievement for the ZX81, I spent many an evening playing it, trying to see how many times I could escape the maze before Rex getting me :D as thankfully I've gained gamer skills over the years, there are many more, probably too many to name here, but they are two of my fave 8-bit computer games.

Rogue Trooper

With Sony currently 'wooing' indie developers for PSN, any chance we could see future work from yourself popping up?

Jim

I'm tempted, I'd love to get the chance to do Apple Dash on a console.

Rogue Trooper

And in ideal world what would you love to write and put out there?

Jim

I really should read all the questions first lol, I'd love to write Apple Dash for a console, or even PC/Mac, something with a real controller.

Rogue Trooper

As a coder, did you ever pay much attention to press reviews of your work? If so was it frustrating to read say Saturn Doom being slagged, when reviewers had no idea of the 'bigger picture' (you being under strict orders just to port it)?

Jim

Back in the day, we never got any feedback from the public about our games, so yes, the magazine reviews and the charts were our only way of knowing if the games we did were liked or not, so yes, it was kind of frustrating about Doom, but I know that when you play a game, you only get to see what's on the screen, you don't get to see the inner workings of the game, or any orders you had to follow to port it, but now thanks to the internet, and things like the retro events that I've been going to each year since my first one in 2009, I'm getting to be able to talk to the players in person, which is great! I mean I didn't even know my Speccy games were being sold outside the UK, it was only when I was working on WarDevil, one of the artists, Gore, was from Greece, he said he was honoured to be working with me, as he grew up playing my games, they had such good memories for him, I was truly gobsmacked I had no idea my games were affecting people in this way, especially on a global scale! He is an awesome artist too!

Rogue Trooper

Being a keen Biker yourself, how have video games 'fared' in delivering anything like the real thing over the years and are there any titles that stand out?

Jim

It just doesn't give you the same feeling, it's hard enough for them to get a car to feel right, even with very expensive hydraulics, I just don't think they'll ever get the leaning feel sorted, you need the breeze also, maybe the Oculus with motion tracking will help by removing anything outside the game screen visibility, and a nicely weighted bike frame, that stands you back up straight as you power out of an apex, but as for with a joypad, it's just not the same, don't get me wrong, they can still be great games to play, they just don't compare anything to the real thrill of riding a bike!

Rogue Trooper

Have you ever been tempted to have a crack at doing the definitive bike racing game yourself?

Jim

Yes, with an Oculus Rift and an unlimited budget to do some amazing mechanical bike frame, but that's a dream that'll never come true, maybe if I ever release a game that becomes a global hit and I have enough money to fund it haha.

Rogue Trooper

Saturn Doom (again sorry, lol). Word has it that John Carmack wouldn't let you code it for the Saturn hardware specifically, so it ended up more akin to the DX33 PC version than say the Jaguar version being on par with the DX66 version. Why on earth didn't John just let you handle the conversion in the way you best saw fit?

Jim

I have no idea on his choice, but as it was his IP, we had to take his wishes into account, if he said no to hardware rendering, then we had to not have the hardware render it, that was just the way of the contract.

Rogue Trooper

Word has it you came up with a software routine on GBC that allowed around 2,000 colours to be displayed compared to the normal 54 and still allowed sprites to go on top, how on earth did you manage such an amazing feat and what was Nintendo's reaction?

Jim

It was the guys at Software Creations who came up with the original idea, I did however go the extra bit and get it so that I could still have plenty of sprites on top, as I wrote a clay pigeon shooting game to test it out, with exploding clays made from sprites, it was just a case of making sure the timing was as optimised as possible, to allow sprites also, as the GBC actually slow the Z80 down slightly when it's drawing the scanline with sprites on, as for Nintendo's reaction, I have no idea, I never asked them.

Rogue Trooper

As a coder, what was more important to you? Press scores or fan reaction?

Jim

Back then, we didn't know the fan's reactions, and it was fan reaction that would have been more beneficial to me, as press scores weren't always true to the game.

TrekMD

You've had the opportunity to develop games for several different systems. Is there a system that you'd consider your most favourite to work on?

Jim

Good question, I've enjoyed working on all the systems, each have had reasons to like, I don't have an overall favourite, as I just enjoy making games, as much as I enjoy playing them.

TrekMD

Along the same lines, is there one that you consider most challenging?

Jim

I'd say the most challenging have been the early 8-bit ones, when you didn't have all the extra hardware and processing power to help you as you do today, where you had to think outside the box to get the extra performance or even to achieve something like what you wanted to do.

TrekMD

Have you heard of OUYA, the Android-based gaming system? If so, any interest in developing games for it?

Jim

The OUYA, and many of the recent android-based gaming systems, and to be honest, I'm not overly keen on them, as I had i3 published for Android, and it was on the warez sites on day one, and I've literally not seen a single penny from sales of it, so it was just a waste of my time, I guess to be fair, it was originally designed as a one purchase, you get the whole game, and no IAPs, and Android is all about IAPs because of the huge piracy issue it has had from day one! I'm not a fan of IAPs, I think they spoil a game, I know the developer is trying to get their costs back, but I'd rather pay once for a game, and that's it you get the full complete game. I know there will probably be a time down the line, and probably soon, that I will have to join the band wagon and use the IAP route in my games, but it doesn't mean I have to like it as a business model.

TrekMD

Over the 22 years you've been working in the video game industry, there have been many changes in the industry itself as well as in the technologies available for developing games. Where do you think the video game industry will go moving forward?

Jim

It's 27 going on 28 years I've been in the games industry and yes, over the years things have got bigger and faster, companies have got bigger and popped due to changes in the way things have moved, and it's going back to the small teams again, especially on mobile, which is nice, as it keeps teams dev costs down, but now, as mobiles are getting to the point where they're getting closer and closer to current gen consoles, they also will have to start going to bigger teams to do the big games, as it'll only be the big games that get seen on the flooded marketplaces, due to the heavy advertising strategies that will be needed to get the games seen by the gaming public.

TrekMD

Do you own any retro systems that you collect for or still like to play to this day?

Jim

Yes, I have an Atari 2600, a ZX81, a ZXSpectrum 48K and two +3s, a mixture of 8, 16 and 32 bit consoles :D and making the sprites big as the game was full of big sprites, and big baddies, it was a HUGE game to fit into a 48K machine, and especially to get it all into a 128K single load also. Again, I was also very, very proud of this port also.

Not so much the Amstrad versions, as unfortunately, we were on really tight deadlines, as I had to convert the spectrum games to the Amstrad whilst the artist got onto the next game, so any art were just quick extra skin colours etc adding to the sprites for the amstrad version, we didn't use the C64 graphics, as the sprites and code would have to be re-written to accommodate the sprite size differences etc, I hope to one day down the line fix this and do an Amstrad worthy remake of Midnight Resistance.[/color]

TrekMD

I noticed you worked on the Sega 32X version of Striker while at Rage, this was never released so how far along was it?

Jim

Yes, we got the 32X kit just a bit too near the end of its shelf life, when I started doing Striker for it, but I did manage to get pitch in real 3D and even had little cut scenes for throw ins and fouls and goals, that would have all the pixels appear to implode into an image of the event, and then explode again when it had finished showing,I was happy with how the game was looking, it took it to a new level, but after a short time with the kit, the 32X died in the shops, so the game was scrapped.

TrekMD

On the same kind of note, do you know anything about the Jaguar version of Striker? It was previewed alongside an almost identical 3DO version.

Jim

If I recall correctly, it was done by Rage's Birmingham office, so I never got to see either, only the initial part of the 3DO version before the programmer was moved to the Birmingham office to work with the other guys there on it.

TrekMD

Do you know the reasons why the Sega Saturn port of Revolution X was so poor and why it didn't have any light gun support?

Jim

The Saturn wasn't as powerful as the PS1in terms of draw performance, plus the game was a port of the PS1 code, so understandably it was off to a bad start to begin with, as for the light gun support, I can't remember why it wasn't included.

Zapiy

When you're not working on games what are some of your favorites to play?

Jim

Scramble ( Arcade ), MR Do! ( Arcade ), Road Runner ( Arcade ), Midnight Resistance ( Arcade ), Cabal, ( Arcade ), Tapper ( Arcade ), Silent Scope ( Arcade ), Quick 'n' Crash ( Arcade ), Ice Cold Beer ( Arcade ), Pac-Man ( Arcade ), Point Blank ( Arcade ), OutRun 2 ( Arcade ), Crazy Taxi ( Arcade ), CS:GO ( PC ), PUBG ( PC ), RFactor ( PC ), Project Cars ( PC )

Zapiy

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

Jim

It has changed in so many ways, from back in the 80s it was one coder, one artist and a musician was enough to make a game, there wasn't many one man bands, then when it got to doing games that went on a CD like when the PSX came out, then companies saw the increase in team sizes grow, and then programmers and artists started getting pidgeon holed into specific roles, then ( and this is the worst part ) middle management came in, most of the time they didn't have a clue about actually making a game, then teams got bigger, then came publishers closing teams down once they finished a game, to save themselves some money each month whilst the team thought of the next game to do, which was a nightmare for all those who were made redundant, again some dick in a suit came up with that idea, then we have the mobile phone revolution which was supposed to break away from having to have publishers and big teams, meaning it could go back to bedroom coders and small teams again, but then there was the race to freemium, where nobody wanted to buy a game, which made it unfair on developers, and also unfair on gamers, because those who were, shall we say stupid enough to pay for the in app purchases don't realise they're pretty much the ones paying for those that don't pay for it also, as the likes of EA with micro payments, to get you to pay for every stage of the game, thus fleecing the poor sod who would pay to play it, whereas I'd much rather charge my users one price to buy the game and have them get the whole game, and not pay to win, or pay to speed it up, and now with the Spectrum Next, hopefully it can loop back to the beginning, where you pay one price and get the whole game. haha

Zapiy

What company back in the day did you most admire and why?

Jim

Back in the day, it was Ocean, they usually always came up with great games, the odd occasion they threw out a turkey, but the majority of their games were awesome.

Zapiy

Can you tell us about your involvement in the Spectrum Next and how that came about?

Jim

My involvement in the Spectrum Next came about, about 2+ years ago at Play Expo Blackpool when I was doing a talk, and Henrique said I should watch his talk too, which was where he announced the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next, I was so amazed by the look of it, it was an instant classic, it had all the looks of the original, which becomes apparent when you realise it was designed by the original guy the late awesome Rick Dickinson, it was pretty much a spectrum clone with an SD card built-in, and a Raspberry Pi add-on to give it a boost, so at the end of his talk when he said does anyone have any questions, I put my hand up and said, where can I get a dev kit, to which he gave me a kit straight away, and with it being called a Spectrum Next, I thought what would be the best thing for me to do on it, well, I thought since the Rasperry Pi was supposed to be the device to get kids programming, I thought how would a kid get to program a game on a Next, then I looked back at when people have talked to me at shows asking about wanting to make a game themselves and how do they get a sprite on the screen or scroll it, and to be honest, for a newcomer to programming it's a bit of a nightmare, due to the strange way the spectrum screen is laid out in memory, so I thought if I can bypass all that awkwardness for newcomers, I could help people get the same buzz from making games as I do, the joy of seeing something you put move about the screen, so anyway, I decided to use the Raspberry Pi to add hardware sprites and a scrollable screen, then when I posted a video of it, there were lots of people who liked the idea, and as I was the only one of the developers who were given a board to add features to it, rather than just make a game, a little later it got incorporated into the FPGA and I got added to the team, then I started showing it at shows, and kinda became the face of the Spectrum Next, and Henrique and I did the kickstarter which went incredibly well, and the rest is history.

Zapiy

What games are you looking to create for it?

Jim

Baggers in Space, Warhawk, and many many more that I can't mention just yet. :D

Zapiy

What limitations are you currently finding with it?

Jim

None really, It's an amazing piece of kit now, I love coding on it, as do the other guys coding for it, we even have C64 coders coding on it, which goes to show if it can convert C64 coders to using it then it must be good :D


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Re: RVG Interviews Jim Bagley.
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2018, 00:14:26 AM »
Really nice interview.  Very thorough answers!  Thank you!

Going to the final frontier, gaming...