Mark Healey has been in the games industry since 1988 and first worked at Bullfrog, on Magic Carpet and Dungeon Keeper, for which he did the majority of the graphics. When Peter Molyneux left to form Lionhead, he soon followed.
After working on games such as Black & White and Fable, he developed Rag Doll Kung Fu in his spare time and released it over Valve's Steam network in October 2005.
He left Lionhead and went on to found Media Molecule with Alex Evans, Dave Smith and Kareem Ettouney in January 2006 and they created yep you guessed it, LittleBigPlanet.
Mark is currently creating a version of LittleBigPlanet for the C64...
Enjoy the Interview.Zapiy
Thanks for agreeing to the interview, could you take a moment to tell a little about you and how you got into the gaming industry?Mark
I was born in 1971, in Ipswich Suffolk, I am a father, I live with a mad Argentinian woman called Sol, I like making stuff, especially computer games and music, I have a dodgy back, which forces me to swim a lot.
My first computer was a commodore 64 which my step father bought on HP (hire purchase/credit), which I fell in love with straight away, I taught myself to program in basic, then assembler - and started many games that never got much farther than some graphics moving on the screen - but was determined to somehow end up working in games (it wasn’t really seen as an ‘industry’ at the time, you certainly couldn’t go to college to study it), it was either this or be a rock star.
I ended up going to art college to study ‘graphic art and design’ as I was quite into drawing, and obviously loved making graphics on c64, I had to leave the course after a year though - coming from a family that lived on social security, I received a grant to buy equipment - I spent my entire second year grant in one go on a disk drive for my C64, and had to leave the course as I couldn’t afford to buy paper/pens any more.
I then ended up on a YTS (Youth Training Scheme - or ‘You’re Thatchers Slave’ as we used to call it), on a business programming course, which was a bit weird, as my programming knowledge was way ahead of the tutors - I’d get an assignment for the week, make it in about an hour, then secretly make stupid things to make the other students laugh - I remember being very proud of my ‘random insult generator’, which got me into a lot of trouble. To give one of my tutors credit - they knew I really wanted to make games, and introduced me to the boyfriend of a friend of theirs that was making computer games for the Sinclair spectrum - that was really my big break - we met, I showed him some demos of stuff I had half finished, and he arranged to take me to go up and meet Code Masters who he was making games for. On the way there it suddenly dawned on me I was supposed to be pitching an idea for a game, so I made something up in the car and feebly pitched it to David Darling (Celestial Garbage collector! It’s basically a defender clone, where you collect garbage cans and,…..um,….yeah, cool hey?). He wasn’t too impressed with the idea, but could see from my demos I wasn’t a complete idiot, so suggested I make a C64 version of my friends game he was making on Spectrum, that game was KGB Super Spy, my foot in the door, after that I worked a lot with my spectrum friend (Christian Pennycate is his name btw!) - I did a bunch of educational software for Europress (Fun school), and ended up specialising in graphics, which was much less of a headache than coding, which was the start of me working in the industry as a graphics artist for many years.
Much is said about KGB Super Spy being your first published game but what was the first game you actually created?Mark
I used to make simple games in basic for my sisters and friends to play - I can’t remember which one was actually first, but the first bunch were “Ghoul Busters’ (inspired by Ghost busters), ‘Way of the Imploding Foot’ (can you guess what game that was inspired by?), and ‘Agrophobia’ - a text adventure game with three locations and lots of filth which I actually sold at school, I think i sold three copies, and was well chuffed.Zapiy
What was you experience of working at Codies in the heyday of gaming?Mark
I didn’t actually physically work there, I just got a contract as a freelancer and worked from home, I only got to visit their offices once(a bunch of porta cabins in the gardens of their family mansion I seem to remember) - I used to talk on the phone every now and then with a producer, that was it really. On one occasion towards the end of finishing the game, my mum ripped the phone of me and started nagging down the line, about how I hadn’t paid any rent, and they should give me some money, I was freaking out, “MUM, for gods sake, you’re going to mess up everything!!”…..I got a check through the post promptly, and handed it over to mother. Zapiy
Do you have any incomplete gaming code or graphics for unreleased games in you collection that you might consider sharing if aloud?Mark
Well, I started a C64 game a few years ago called ‘Mega Annihilation Death’, which I planned to be a kind of Delta style shoot em up, but in 3d, you can see a video on youtube - I lost the source code though, and couldn’t be bothered to start again, I might attempt this again one day.
I’ve also started various little projects in Unity, but nothing really worth shouting about. I’ve been very lucky in my career to only work on games that actually see the light of day, so I’m grateful for that. Zapiy
Are you an 8bit or 16bit fan and please expand why?Mark
I’m more an 8-bit fan than 16-bit, probably because of the C64, which I spent so much of my youth obsessed with, it was my life really - by the time 16-bit computers were a thing, I was already working in the industry, so it was work now (which I still loved, and still do) - the C64 is like a time machine for me, taking me back to my childhood, and many fond memories. Greyfox
Whats the reasoning behind the name Media Molecule?Mark
We wanted a name that wouldn’t pigeon hole us into making games, I liked the idea that we might dabble in other things in the future (like music, film, that kind of stuff), or make things that weren’t really ‘games’ as we think of them.Greyfox
Can you tell us about how you guys met up and formed Media Molecule?Mark
We worked together at Lionhead Studios - which is where I started getting back into coding (I’d been doing solely graphics for many years now) - I decided to teach myself C++, as I was getting annoyed by coders who claimed my ideas weren’t possible to code - I decided I would do it myself just to prove them wrong, I ended up making Rag Doll Kung Fu in my spare time as my learning project, which ended up being the first non Valve game released on Steam, I got some help towards end from Alex,Dave and Kareem - making this was a kind of crash course in all that is involved in making a modern computer game outside of my comfortable life as an artist, (it’s the first time I had had to deal with things like localisation for example), so gave us the confidence to go and do it again, but bigger and more ambitious. TrekMD
What are the real draw backs to creating LBP for the C64 that you have found so far?Mark
Well, the main drawback is finding the time to actually make progress on it, I’m very busy at the moment trying to finish Dreams (our current game for PS4), as well as being a father and dealing with all that life throws at me, so progress will be slow I’m afraid, certainly don’t hold your breath! The various restrictions that the C64 has aren’t really drawbacks for me, that’s what makes it fun,obviously it won;t be a feature matched port, more a game inspired by LBP (Proper Physics is out of the question, but I’m going to try something Tetris/boulder dash inspired here, we’ll see how I get on with that…) - I do wish you could double buffer the Colour Memory like you can the character screen though….
The main thing I love now about making a C64 game compared to back in the day is that we have the internet, so finding out how to do a particular thing in assembler is only ever a google search away, that and a nice dev environment - no more having to wait for ages to compile and see results of what you just coded! Greyfox
Have you created any special tools to help you create LBP on the C64?Mark
So far, All i’ve made is a crude map editor in Unity, which spits out a text file I can put into my source project. Eventually It would be nice to make a map editor that runs on the C64, but that can wait, first I want to get some gameplay happening. Zapiy
What was the inspiration in making Littlebigplanet for the C64?Mark
I was bored one day, and drew Sackboy in a Pc based C64 sprite editor, it just kind of carried on from their really - it’s been cool to see other recent C64 games based on modern games (Prince of Persia for example), I thought ‘why the hell not’, let’s see how far I can get with this. Greyfox
You have worked for some iconic gaming companies like Codemasters, Bullfrog and Lionhead Studios, do you have and stories from you time with these software house?Mark
Hoho, yes, lot of stories, but most of which I could get into trouble for, or get other people into trouble for.
I remember my first day at bullfrog, I mangled someones car trying to park, and had to enter the office saying ‘Hi, I’m Mark, the new guy, by the way, I just totally mashed in someones car door, sorry!”
The Bullfrog parties where always a good laugh - as well as the piles of booze, there was often two huge pots of chilli-con-carne to choose from, one ‘normal’, and the other one loaded with hashish, which led to all sorts of shenanigans.
There was the coder (whose name I won't mention) at Lionhead who used Peters chair to code while receiving 'oral pleasure' one weekend from an Italian female fan who just turned up at the office one Friday.
I will stop here. TrekMD
Are you shocked at the current resurgence in retro related gaming?Mark
No, not at all, many people who were kids when home computing first hit the mainstream are getting long in the tooth now, and like me, probably pine for the magic of their childhood.
It’s a bit like your parents or grandparents being really into steam trains I guess, Greyfox
Which Software company do you have the fondest memories of and why?Mark
In terms of where I’ve worked, Bullfrog takes some beating, I met some great people there, and got up to lot’s of naughty fun stuff, and also learned a lot from Peter Molyneux about making a larger game with a team.
In terms of C64 and games I admired, Thalamus stand out to me, they just seemed to be a notch above others in terms of quality. Zapiy
What games and genres were your favourites?Mark
My all time favourite C64 game is probably Wizball, I have fond memories of playing it with my stepfather, the ‘Creatures’ games were amazing in terms of art and technical quality, and I remember spending a lot of time with Shoot’em up Construction Kit (which was inspiration for LittleBigPLanet in years to come..).
To be honest, though, I’ve always enjoyed making games more than playing them, I’m not really a big gamer, there’s only so much your eyes can take looking at a screen. Greyfox
Who in the industry did you idolize when you was starting out?Mark
Jeff Minter was quite a star in my eyes, he made it all seem so cool, and he loved Pink Floyd, who happen to be one of my favourite bands too.Zapiy
Will you do a physical release of LBP with one of the many retro publishers once complete?Mark
If I ever finish it(which I do have a great desire to do btw), and assuming Sony are cool with it all (which I'm sure they would be), then yeah, sounds cool to me, let’s wait and see if i manage to make something that resembles a game first though. Zapiy
Do you have any other unfinished projects for retro titles that you might share?Mark
Just the one I mentioned before (Mega Annihilation Death), and I’d love to do something Rag Doll Kung Fu inspired for C64 too, watch this space!Zapiy
Which one of the games you have been involved was the hardest title to create code or graphics for and why?Mark
My current project ‘Dreams’ is the hardest thing Ive ever worked on, it’s ambition is massive, it’s been a long one, but I think it’s amazing, so hopefully nothing drastic goes wrong between now and it’s release.Zapiy
Also which are you proudest of and why?Mark
I think Rag Doll Kung Fu, as I did 99% of this on my own, and it felt the start of a new chapter in my life which I’m still living in, if I hadn’t done this, I think my life would be very different right now.Zapiy
I loved Sleepwalker and James Pond 2, what graphics did you create for these classic games?Mark
I don't actually remember doing much for James Pond - I think it was literally a few textures for a PC port (I didn’t actually work on C64 version), but Sleepwalker, I did all the Graphics for the C64 version, back in those days it was much more typical to only have a single artist on a title.Zapiy
Black & White received universal acclaim on release, the AI was mind blowing for the time and according to reports the game took 3 yrs to complete, can you expand on what you was tasked with on this game and what it was like to work on perhaps one of the biggest game changing games ever?Mark
I was an artist on this title, I made the Chimp/ape character, the Good and Evil characters that floated around trying to persuade you to do various good or bad deeds, and various bits of scenery. I also threw in lots of design ideas.Zapiy
Thanks Mark and hope you like the variety of our questions?Mark
It was a pleasure, hope you find some of my answers interesting!