“What is it?” I mused, blowing the dust off the mysterious slender slab with some sort of rainbow effect, nestling in my hands. “A computer”, my dad answered “someone at work was chucking it out, it’s yours.” I’d always had a unique fascination with game systems and computers born out of a sense of longing for that which I did not have and now here it was- my very own computer! I’d spent hours looking through the glass windows to arcade casinos to get a glimpse of the giant colour sprites battling it out, which I try to visualise and draw as soon as I got home. Visiting friends’ houses and getting to play their systems had left me with a buzz for days after. The Spectrum 48k plugged into an old black and white TV. The next day a new treat arrived- a cassette case boasting a most impressive cover to a small child- a martial artist kicking an Egyptian mummy, with a robot and beast creature also involved in proceedings- heaven! “Renegade 3: THE FINAL CHAPTER!”- well this was the opening chapter for me, my very 1st game and it looked like it would be fantastic! I still remember my excitement upon loading this game- the sound that played as lines frantically flickered across the TV before giving way to the games title image.
I wasn't to know then that the game was actually rather flawed. It’s two predecessors ‘Renegade’ and 'Target Renegade’ (acquired later) were actually far better and became the backbone to my childhood love affair with the scrolling beat-em up. Renegade 3 was my first game, and it will always have a special place in my heart!
The Spectrum 48k supported me loyally for a couple of years. But the world outside was changing.
Through visiting the house of the friend who I use to create the card games and booklets with, I had become aware of a fascinating home computer and spent several years trying to convince my Dad (money was no doubt very tight and value had to be proved) that I needed one. The friend helped me, by creating a booklet selling the benefits of owning an AMIGA, which no doubt bemused the adult it pandered to- ha, such endeavour! Still I guess it worked- eventually I got one.
Scorned by 1200 owners, I didn’t care- the Amiga 600 (with 2MB I might add!) was my own, my precious. For the first time the playing field had narrowed. There was such a wealth of varied games on this machine, collections became vast. The magazines of those days are also remembered fondly. On occasion they served up real gems on their cover disks- demos of games I would not normally play and also public domain games. ‘The One Amiga’ and ‘CU Amiga’ were my favourites (I must apologise to Amiga magazine enthusiast James Tate here who might strongly disagree with my choices- sorry old friend but ‘Amiga Power’s’ rating system was too brutal for me!)
One day a demo disk came out that blew my mind. It didn’t matter that each screen took five minutes to load and that I dies within 20 seconds of playing, Beneath a Steel Sky was a passage into another world (yes, I loved that game too!), it was the best art work I’d ever seen in a game and ignited my interest in the click and point genre.
What also made this machine so wonderful was a piece of software I’d initially completely disregarded in favour of playing games. I was not to know that the grinning goon juggling balls on the cover of the Deluxe paint 3 manual was attempting to entice me into the most wonderful piece of art kit. My love of film and animation grew from here. Another lesser known program, movie setter championed by Eric Swartz (which was also my first insight into the world of cartoon soft porn) would further ignite my passion as it allowed me to add sound to my animations which I’d nicked off Team 17’s Worms game.
Here it is- my first animation with sound! 1993! The duck was an asset supplied with the movie setter software and the sound effects are from Worms!
Just when I thought things could get no better, my friend and his brother introduced me to the wonderful world of game making. They were clever, streaks ahead of most people at School and were already dabbling in programming in AMOS. Now, they wanted me involved in creating a game because I had learned to draw with the mouse. I have fond memories of those times. Our first game was a football management sim with animations. You could pick your team and play other sides but every game finished in a 2-2 draw! We then half-finished a general knowledge quiz game where if you got a question wrong you would be treated to ever more grotesque horrific death animations- I think Mortal Kombat had just hit the arcades and I was influenced by the fatalities. The ‘Shoot em construction kit’ had also just been released as a magazine cover disk and this allowed us to create some tile based shoot-em ups. I enjoyed that software immensely due to it’s of use but you couldn't add power ups to your weapons which was my only gripe. So we certainly weren't tied down to any genre- we just loved making stuff (and not finishing it)
My friends then got hold of the Amiga Graphic Adventure Creator (GRAC) and suddenly everything changed, because this software was the real deal- you could create click and point adventures limited only by your own ability. Playing games fully made way for game creation for a whole month... We worked day and night, they programmed and I built all the graphics in deluxe paint. “Beneath a Blue Sky” was our masterpiece; it had laser guns, mad scientists, football hooligans, fights, prison escape puzzles and a bar (so original!) The world would worship us as child genius’ and we were going to be stars and sell millions of copies- that was until we ran out of disk space after four rooms and the game started crashing. The floppy disk was left to rot on the floor and we went outside to play football. The Amiga market soon followed our fall from grace, making way for a PC take over. At the time PC’s were not built in the same way, I felt they were way behind the Amiga’s user friendly qualities and so I moved away from dreaming of making games and started secondary School. Here I met many more Amiga users but the market was dying and mid-way through School I pretty much lost interest in computers altogether for a long time aside from playing games occasionally on consoles. Looking back, I can only wonder what would have happened if we had continued to pursue those dreams that started on GRAC. I did not think that almost twenty years later, a return to game making would come from the most unlikely of sources…
I feel that most of London is in a state of shock at the moment. Started this picture of Boris Johnson after seeing his delighted mop splashed across the Evening Standard following on from the UK election results. Make what you will of the slight alteration I have made to the tongue.
Being able to draw a bit had always been a benefit at Primary school. Doodles of Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles could be created in exchange for protection, food and coinage for the arcades. The best fighters at school were susceptible to such gifts and thus, I was able to stay on the right side of popularity. It’s amusing to remember these days - I think I had a better head for business than I do now. Me and a friend would make Top Trumps cards for classmates to battle with. If someone was willing to pay 10p we might create a card for them that could not be beat, until someone paid more for their own card. Loyalty to customers was fleeting - we adapted to who had power. We’d create little book stories and comics which teachers would continually have to confiscate only to later show to the whole class as examples of good presentation. These tiny books (we loved making books the size of a big match box for some strange reason) were continually stolen or robbed - the ultimate compliment really! I remember getting in trouble because two kids had fought in the playground and the teacher had traced the cause back to card game we had created - with great power comes great responsibility (see Spiderman.)
One guy at Primary school was actually a better natural drawer than me. Man he was good - could draw without source material, I still can’t do that! With this level of rival I had to think outside the box and create products and pictures with stories rather than drawings alone and work in multitude of styles to gain as many fans as possible. The classroom lessons themselves provided a few rare opportunities to refine skills- the ancient Greeks and Romans were ample chances to create battle scenes (I often opted out of ‘the draw a clay pot’ option. My skills and sales would level up when things like street fighter arrived on the gaming scene- now drawing was not confined to the classroom. Precious magazines and sticker albums (thanks Mum!) would be my bibles as I desperately tried to recreate something that vaguely resembled ‘Chun Li’ or ‘Ryu’. I’d change the names of course - I was well ahead of the game when it came to copyright :) In those days few people could afford the Super Nintendo (which had just pulled off a spectacular conversion of Street Fighter II) and so a culture was formed around something which was unobtainable to many - a bit like how people view houses now I guess.
Remnants of my early card sets. Worryingly, I think some of these drawings are better than my attempts now :/
Some people have asked us why we took a month working on our bigger projects to make a game within a month, thus adding yet more work to our schedule. The answer is simple - to see something conclude. Creating games can be a bit despairing at times. If the project is big it is inevitable that at points creators will tire. It felt like we were going to have nothing to show for our efforts for a large period of time and that was a demoralizing feeling. Adapting Lovecrafts “The Terrible Old Man” allowed us to suddenly pour our efforts into something completely fresh and jump right in. It was a real challenge against the clock, but that made it exciting. Also knowing that within a month, the game would be out there for people to play was a huge motivation. For me, the most exciting part of the process is seeing how people react to your game and I wanted that feeling again. As the game only had only a handful of characters and backdrops, it was also a real chance to get to grips with a more polished graphics style. Here’s a bit about how we made our decisions. I think Shaun was a bit pleasantly surprised at how committed I was to trying to make this game look decent.
With ‘The Terrible Old Man’ being such a short game I wanted it to have a high impact ending. Other than Lovecraft’s description of yellow eyes and white beard I felt the character was pretty much open to interpretation. To me it seemed that he still held some small connection to the community - we are informed that he scolds the boy who threw stones at his window but no harm comes to him. I therefore felt that the old man should not be overtly portrayed as a monster all the time and instead had the ability to transform to some degree when roused or under threat. I felt this worked quite well in the end and made his appearance all the more unsettling. He almost looks like he could be friendly but something isn’t quite right. There’s a deperate madness there - something tormenting has a grip over him and years of sea voyages have eaten away at his soul. I quickly roughed up a couple of designs but felt that only one conveyed that haunting vacant look that I was seeking. It’s always enjoyable seeing and hearing the reactions of people to the old man’s sudden close up in the game. With more time, I’d have probably done more with the hair but I’m happy with the result.
The same day that we decided to take part in the MAGS competition, these roughs were drawn up. I was watching “First Dates” at the time, which might have resulted in the rather overly happy faces for the old man himself.
There were two features I wanted to explore with this project to try and enhance the atmosphere. The first was the use of video files to convey the more dramatic moments and the other feature that I wanted to trial was the use of subtle moving portraits for when characters spoke - it’s a gripe I have with many click and points, images that don’t move seem a bit lifeless to me. This portrait use I think adds to the mood of the game and makes the whole experience a bit more unsettling. It’s a feature I’d like to use again and build on.
Shaun confined me to the 640 x 400 resolution which I find very tricky to work in (he wanted to go smaller!) There was no time to waste, so I quickly worked up sketches that would form the basis of the moving portraits. Goodness me, the eyes on the bottom middle character look a bit misaligned don’t they - they stayed that way. I’ll put it down as homage to Francis Bacon’s work :)
Most challenging for me were the backdrops. I seemed to spend ages trying to get these to look decent. The perspective is a bit off but I felt it helped with the claustrophobic feel that we wanted and so just went with it. Backgrounds are something I’ll need to work on getting better at!
Well, that’s it for now from me. Perhaps one day I’ll go into a bit more detail as to how we made the portraits move as I know one or two people have been asking.
Shaun’s graciously given me this part of the website all to myself! Big mistake. Hopefully I’ll mention something vaguely interesting from time to time and reveal a bit more about our processes for those who care. But, for the most part I’ll just be rambling in my attempts to make some sense of the world!