Author Topic: RVG Interviews: Andy Rixon.  (Read 1076 times)

Offline zapiy

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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.
Own: Jaguar, Lynx, Dreamcast, Saturn, MegaDrive, MegaCD, 32X, GameGear, PS3, PS, PSP, Wii, GameCube, N64, DS, GBA, GBC, GBP, GB,  Xbox, 3DO, CDi,  WonderSwan, WonderSwan Colour NGPC

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Re: RVG Interviews: Andy Rixon.
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2019, 02:19:20 AM »
Another excellent interview.  Thanks to Andy!

Going to the final frontier, gaming...

Offline zapiy

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Re: RVG Interviews: Andy Rixon.
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2019, 11:48:58 AM »
Yes its amazing to be able to do these.
Own: Jaguar, Lynx, Dreamcast, Saturn, MegaDrive, MegaCD, 32X, GameGear, PS3, PS, PSP, Wii, GameCube, N64, DS, GBA, GBC, GBP, GB,  Xbox, 3DO, CDi,  WonderSwan, WonderSwan Colour NGPC

 

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