The story of Graftgold spans from the start of the 80s to the early PlayStation era. In between the company created a string of excellent Amiga games. Amiga Lore traces the history of Graftgold and speaks to the people who made it possible.The full interviews can be found here: Steve Turner, Andrew Braybrook, Iain Wallington, Gary J. Foreman, Jason Page, David O'Connor, Lee Banyard, Jose Doran, Darran Eteo.
In 1983 a Systems Analyst left behind the world of business programming languages and entered the field of videogames. Graftgold, the company that eventually resulted from this move, would go on to produce a brilliant harvest of games before it closed and its developers went their own way or returned to the commercial sector. Graftgold's reign started in the 8-bit era, lasted through the 16-bit (and 32-bit) period and only ended at the dawn of the Playstation age.
However, back in the early 80s, that was all in the future. Steve Turner entered a games industry that was still in its infancy but there was a fascination in the potential and immediacy of microcomputers: "It seemed amazing that something so small was better at some things than a whole room of IBM computer equipment. It was really satisfying seeing the results of your programming immediately. In my job you submitted your program and got the results back hours later."
Initially trading under the name ST Software, Steve began to develop games on one of the major systems du jour, the Spectrum. This produced a trilogy of games; 3D Space Wars, 3D Seiddab Attack and 3D Lunattack. In the early days one the company had a successful partnership with Hewson Consultants, who handled the publishing part of game-making. The team had some input from Hewson but, as Steve relates "mostly we just did what we wanted. We did not get any advances so there was no pressure from Hewson to make a game to a commercial formula".
In September 1983 Steve was joined by friend Andrew Braybrook. Andrew agrees about the freedom: "During those times we were doing whatever we wanted to do. We weren't getting advances and the royalties from each game were paying for the next one to be created."
Steve and Andrew’s working collaboration was to last beyond Graftgold's time. Andrew recalls the interview process:
Steve: "Do you want to come and work for me?"
Steve: "OK, let's go for a beer".
Steve and Andrew weren't quite bedroom coders; they worked from a dining room in Steve's house instead! However, Andrew noted that they "kept to office hours, which was quite different from a lot of programmers at the time, who tend to be nocturnal." In an industry where long hours and burnout is common perhaps these sensible working practices helped foster an internal environment where creativity and commerciality could co-exist.
Andrew recalls that "Steve and I were quite competitive with each other and also with other games coming out at the time. I always wanted to do something new and better in each new game." Writing bespoke tools was also a practical consideration in early game development: "I wrote a graphics designer in Basic to be able to draw the graphics. I remember writing it secretly as it took me a few days and Steve was expecting me to be writing the game code. I thought it would speed up development and allow me to draw my own graphics easier. Up to then we were drawing on squared paper and converting the images into hexadecimal by hand. It did speed up graphics design no end."
Andrew swiftly converted some of Steve's games to the Dragon computer, including 3D Space Wars: "I did manage to buy a multi-pass assembler for the Dragon 32 and that helped tremendously, I could write my conversions of Steve's Spectrum programs very quickly."
However, Steve and Andrew had an early lesson in the unpredictability of the industry when Dragon Data, the manufacturer of the Dragon computer, collapsed. Steve says: "What took us by surprise was the sudden turnaround of Dragon program sales. Hewson informed us shops were just returning previous orders rather than buying new titles. Our releases sold a couple of hundred each rather than tens of thousands, it was a disaster."
The release of the Legend of Avalon (1984) on the Spectrum was a major landmark for Steve and gained both significant sales and positive reviews in magazines such as Crash. Running in an impressive 3D system it was subtitled “The 3D Adventure Movie” and twinned adventuring and action-oriented gameplay.
The success of Avalon demonstrated the importance of a stable company for financial reasons. Steve notes that "when it became apparent how much royalties would be coming in I realised I would lose a lot to tax. It was important to be able to use the royalties to cover years when we did not have a hit." The result was a limited company with a pre-registered name of Graftgold: "We had a couple of weeks to come up with the name we wanted but in the end we decided that Graftgold was better than anything we came up with."
In 1985, after writing conversions for the Commodore 64, Andrew turned to writing an original game for the system. This was Gribbly's Day Out (1985), featuring Gribbly Grobbly on the planet Blabgor rescuing Gribblets! Although not a big hit, the game is nonetheless well regarded.
During these years, Graftgold enjoyed their first golden era. Steve believes that it was a time when "we had enough money to finance the next couple of games so had complete creative freedom to program what we wanted. It was a period where commercialism had started to reap rewards for the game developers but had not taken over to the extent that the publishers dominated the development process." Andrew recalls that "during those times we were doing whatever we wanted to do. We weren't getting advances and the royalties from each game were paying for the next one to be created."
Graftgold followed up the success of earlier games with straight sequels, such as Dragontorc (1985), the successor to Avalon, but also came up with new titles including Paradroid (1985), Astroclone (1985), Quazatron (1986), Uridium (1986), Alleykat (1986) and Rana Rama (1987).
Dragontorc, a sequel to the Legend of Avalon was billed as “The Living Adventure Movie” and featured a number of updates to the original game’s 3D system, adventure engine and setting. Steve comments that the sales were good but didn’t reach the level of the original. However, Hewson also published a compilation containing both games.
Paradroid is set on a spaceship where the player controls an Influence Device, a special robot designed to control other robots. The aim is to round up all the roaming droids on the ship. Andrew’s work on Gribbly’s Day Out had led to a Zzap!64 magazine article series. In this diary of a game, Andrew detailed the making of Paradroid on a day-by-day basis.
Astroclone was set in the same universe as the Seiddab trilogy and combined shoot-‘em-up action and an adventure section similar to the 3D Avalon games, played across a number of sectors in space.
Quazatron was written by Steve and takes the concept of Paradroid and relocates it to a 3D tilted landscape. The reason for the graphical engine change was Steve’s belief that the scrolling system on Commodore 64 wouldn’t work on the Spectrum. The Spectrum version retained Paradroid’s droid transfer game.
Uridium was Andrew’s next Commodore 64 project and went on to become one of the most famous games on the platform. Andrew aimed to achieve a very fast scrolling speed on the 8-bit machine as the player’s craft zoomed backwards and forwards across the surface of long Dreadnought spaceships. The Spectrum release of the game became a classic in its own right for the quality of the conversion. Dominic Robinson programmed the Spectrum version for Hewson and went on to join Graftgold itself.
Alleykat is a fast racing game and shooter. On the Commodore 64 Andrew had previously used multi-directional scrolling (Paradroid) and horizontal scrolling (Uridium) but now created a game with an impressive vertical scrolling engine. Hewson brought Alleykat to the US market but sadly it didn’t sell as well as expected. Steve composed the music for Alleykat.
Rana Rama is a top-down fantasy game where a sorcerer’s apprentice, Mervyn, has turned himself into a frog and must defeat a number of warlocks. Although superficially similar to Gauntlet, Steve again utilised a number of concepts from Paradroid. Intriguingly, rooms in the maze are hidden until the frog apprentice explores each one. Rana Rama was also ported to the Atari ST but not the Amiga.
Despite a string of successes and critically acclaimed games with Hewson, the situation would change very quickly. Steve recalls an ominous piece of advice: “One afternoon I had a phone call from one of Hewson's senior staff tipping us off that the company had no money and may shortly go bust. We were warned that our games would not be published, just sold on for some ready cash to another publisher so we had better get out quickly. We also received calls from other staff that confirmed things were getting chaotic. We felt betrayed by Hewson as we had been completely in the dark about their situation and suddenly the whole trust in our relationship was gone. Soon after we had a call from Telecomsoft inviting us to talk. As we had no advances from Hewson and no formal contract we were in a very weak position. They advised us to sign with them and said they would put their legal team on our case to ensure they could publish the games. We felt we really did not have much of a choice. To lose two games almost ready for publication would have been a huge blow and may have meant the end of Graftgold. We were just grateful for being thrown a lifeline.”
Steve and Andrew were working on several games which expanded on tried and tested ideas or mixed them up a little; Morpheus (1987) and Magnetron (1988).
Morpheus was published by Telecomsoft’s label Rainbird and created by Andrew. At first glance it is similar to Uridium. However, the concept is more complex and includes a larger ship with a docking bay, modular upgrades and adaptable enemies. Morpheus was very well received scored 90% in Zzap!64.
Magnetron was released on Telecomsoft’s original label Firebird and was a follow-up to Quazatron. One of the major differences from the original game was that the scrolling was changed to a flip-screen update in order to increase the speed of the gameplay. After coding a number of games on the Spectrum, Steve also coded the Commodore 64 version, his first game on that system.
Graftgold's conversions had traditionally been from the company’s own games but now the development team was tasked with converting Taito's arcade machine Flying Shark for the Firebird label. The Spectrum and Amstrad CPC versions were expertly converted by Dominic Robinson on programming and John Cumming on graphics.
David O’Connor joined Graftgold as a programmer on the strength of a technically advanced Spectrum platformer demo. David jumped at the chance to work at Graftgold: “I was working on my third game for the Spectrum and was so enraptured with programming at that point that I dropped out of college. I saw an advert from Graftgold in, I believe, Popular Computing Weekly, and quickly sent in a copy of my work-in-progress game. Steve, being Steve, disassembled my software and called me to ask a bunch of questions around why I had put data in certain places and where I learned some of the optimization tricks I used. I guess he liked the answers because within a couple of weeks I had completed interviewing and he offered me a job. They could have asked me to work for free and I would have accepted!”
David’s Spectrum demo and a similar game that John Cumming was writing for the Commodore 64 were both named Soldier of Fortune and released on the respective machines.
In 1988 Andrew’s created his last Commodore 64 game which was called Intensity and was a shoot-‘em-up that Steve describes as a top-down Defender. Steve converted the game to the Spectrum. Andrew’s attentions were turning to newer machines.
In early 1990 Steve created his only original Commodore 64 title which was an action adventure called Bushido. One of the game’s highlights was an overlapping sprite display that allowed the characters to walk in front of each other. The game also used interactive music to match the game’s action.
In the second half of the 80s the home computer industry slowly moved from the 8-bit to 16-bit machines. Although games like Bushido pushed the older computers to technical limits it was harder to make an impact alongside newer and more powerful systems. The Commodore 64 and Spectrum were replaced gradually with the Amiga and Atari ST. Of course, the two eras would overlap for some years but this left Graftgold with a conundrum. The 16-bit machines would require a period of experimentation and familiarisation with the hardware but the 8-bit machines brought in immediate income. Steve remembers that "it was our intention to move onto the 16 bit machines when they first appeared. It was obvious from the media cover where the future sales would be. Hewson wanted us to concentrate on 8 bit games. He was expanding into the budget market and wanted us to churn out budget games. The figures just did not add up for us. We would have no time to create, we would have to reuse games putting in new graphics and turn out titles in a few months."
In the end Graftgold continued to exist in both worlds. Steve notes that "Telecomsoft offered us advances to experiment with the 16 bit machines but wanted us to write a number of 8 bit titles. We were in no position to choose, with a legal case threatening any sales of our two games we were happy to do what they wanted."
Andrew admits that he perhaps lingered longer in the 8-bit world than he should have: "My move to 16-bit was maybe a bit late. It was around 1988 and I was developing a new game on the C64. Graftgold was starting to develop for the Atari ST. The development software was quite similar to the 8-bit systems as we were using PCs to write the code on still. The break came when we got the deal to do the conversion of Taito's Rainbow Islands arcade machine to ST and Amiga. I was keen to get started and my C64 development was shelved."
Once again Graftgold had to make decisions on which machine to back. Andrew remembers that "I had been studying the 68000 assembler and we had the Amiga hardware books, but at that time the Atari ST was outselling the Amiga and we were leading the development on the Atari. We all knew the Amiga was better for us but we had to wait."
As 16-bit games became more complex and advanced they required bigger teams. Steve notes that "we had already picked up two of Hewson's in house programmers [John Cumming and Dominic Robinson], one who was very good at graphics. We quickly realised we needed to specialise and for the first time worked as a team. We employed a trainee who quickly became the sound and music developer."
The fortunate apprentice who joined Graftgold was Jason Page. Jason would later work at Sony but began his career programming on the Commodore 64. “I was in the right place at the right time. I joined as a trainee; taking on C64 programming as the shift to 16 bit (Amiga/ST) had started.”
Gary J Foreman, who converted Rana Rama to the Commodore 64, joined around this time too: “I contacted Hewson Consultants back in 1986 about doing some freelance work for them, but they didn’t have any immediate projects. However, I lived not too far from Graftgold, so Andrew Hewson introduced me to Steve Turner and suggested that we talk. I went to visit them when it was just Steve Turner & Andrew Braybrook working out of Steve’s house. By the time I joined they had John Cumming and Dominic Robinson from Hewson, and around the same time David O’Connor and Jason Page were there too.”
With a somewhat expanded team it was time for Graftgold to start creating games for a certain machine called the Commodore Amiga.
Rainbow Islands is the sequel to Bubble Bobble and swaps that game’s single screen action for a vertically scrolling raise against time to escape islands sinking into the sea. Like its predecessor’s bubbles, rainbows are used as both an offensive weapon and a method to reach higher points in the level.
A common hurdle with conversions was the difficulty in transferring a game from powerful hardware to a lesser machine. This was evident in many coin-op conversions on the Amiga; in essence, the game was superficially converted but the gameplay and fluidity of the original was lost. With Rainbow Islands Graftgold achieved a conversion of the coin-op which was perfectly at home on the computers of the day.
The conversion was off to a good start for Andrew because of Taito's input: "We were very fortunate that we were sent a huge folder of game design documents from Taito. Some of it had been modified slightly by the time they had finished the game, but I was amazed at how much design was done up front." Andrew further notes that this comprehensiveness from the original manufacturer supported Graftgold's work so that "the conversion job here was to get the most accurate copy we could. We had all the algorithms for the bonuses, the speeds of the meanies, all the behaviour of the main character and the rainbows."
One area in which the Amiga conversion was cut back was in the number of levels. Three of the arcade levels were removed but was it a memory limitation? Andrew explains: "Memory was starting to get tight and the levels were getting bigger, certainly. We had all the graphics for the 3 bonus islands coming out of the water, and the code to run them. When we started the job we had costed it out for the only 7 islands we knew of. So when we found out about the extra 3 we had a problem. They were big levels, probably double the work, and also the background palette completely changed on island 9. So we decided to go with 7 levels, and organise the 3 endings into 2."
David converted Rainbow Islands to the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum and confirms that those versions were converted directly from the arcade machine: “We worked from the coin-op. We had some documentation that was mostly in Japanese, but we were able to figure a few things out from the drawings. Steve rigged up a button that connected to the coin-op CPU to pause the game. We would play the game then freeze it at interesting points to study what was happening on screen. The only downside was that the coin-op crashed after every freeze, so to look at something again we had to play through the game again.”
According to Andrew, David was "best arcade game player by a mile": “Well that’s a nice compliment from Andrew, and he’s right :). I played RI a lot! Often I would justify it as research, but I flat out enjoyed it. Eventually I was able to complete the game on a single credit, which came with a huge score bonus!”
The reviews of Rainbow Islands were universally high across the stratum of Amiga magazines. Andrew acknowledges the positive effect of this: "It took a long time for the game to actually come out at all. Probably it wouldn't have come out at all if it hadn't been for the magazines. Gary Penn had seen the game and I think was instrumental in banging a few heads together and getting the game released. We always enjoyed promoting the games and took the magazine reviews very seriously. It was nice to be recognised, and the game was a true team effort."
Rainbow Island's most notable appearance was in the number one position in the first two Amiga Power All-Time Top 100 game lists, until Sensible Soccer knocked it off its perch. In issue zero of Amiga Power, the writers spoke of its lofty position: “And why? Well, quite simply, there’s no game we’ve enjoyed playing more.”
Simulcra is an ambitious 3D shooter set inside a virtual world where a hovering and gliding craft strives to shut down a number of encircling shields. It was programmed by Dominic Robinson. "Dominic was keen to try out some of the latest software techniques, and he was doing two jobs, he was writing a 3D game and he was developing a Core system to enable us to write games for both the Atari ST and Amiga, with minimal game code changes." says Andrew. The Object Oriented system was called the "O.O.P.S. Kernel" and allowed Graftgold to very quickly port an ST game to the Amiga.
As Andrew notes the system worked well for games which didn't make use of specific Amiga hardware; "That approach was OK for a 3D game because the scrolling and sprite hardware features on the Amiga were not much help for 3D games, and even for Rainbow Islands with only vertical scrolling it was OK."
When Dominic left Graftgold Darran Eteo was brought onboard. Darran had applied for the job of game developer through a newspaper advertisement and relates how he began writing games: “I started at Graftgold. Previously I had done assembly language on Dragon32, QL, and was doing a Computer Science degree. I was at Essex University and like all students at the time needed a job.” For Darran the process of developing games was exhausting: “We used to work Saturdays, and all night during the week when I was working.”
The 3D engine of Simulcra was optimised even if it meant limiting some of the features. Steve recalls that "Dominic had designed and written the engine to be optimal from the outset. He accepted compromises in functionality in return for a better frame rate. For example the camera could not roll, the horizon had to be horizontal. He spent ages trying different techniques and measuring frame rates."
Darran took on the task of optimisation too and remembers that the “biggest optimisation was taking out translucency from the ship's wings. Looked nice but slowed down the engine to a crawl.”
Although the 3D vector graphics were superficially atypical for the company, Steve points out an underlying similarity to other Graftgold titles: "For the graphics yes, but gameplay wise we had been working in 3 dimensions in many of our games. The game model was very similar to other games."
Andrew says that “3D was something Dominic specifically wanted to do. We had simulated 3D in our earliest works but had gone more in the direction of using the hardware after that, which was usually 2D and character-set based. We didn't revisit 3D again until the hardware caught up.”
Since many 8-bit gamers had graduated to the 16-bit machines it made sense to build on past successes when creating new games on the Amiga and Atari ST. One such success was the Commodore 64's Paradroid, a game of droids running amok in space. The aim is to board six space freighters in order to neutralise the droids and before space raiders turn up.
Although Paradroid 90 was based on Paradroid there was an opportunity to revisit some aspects such as the graphics. Andrew recalls: "Having discarded the 4 colour version of the original graphics I was free to start again from scratch. I wanted to add in some depth so I had bits of the scenery above the robots. We wanted real-looking robots rather than a computer display. We had a lot of difficulty designing the space ship walls. I ended up doing them myself. Probably the colour palette limited things a bit as we have 16 colours only and we wanted metallic graphics, which requires a lot of shading."
Although the Atari ST was ostensibly more powerful than the Commodore 64 Andrew found some restrictions: "Horizontal scrolling on the Atari ST was going to be difficult. It can be done, but requires limiting the background colours, or using hideous amounts of memory to store pre-scrolled data, or by reducing the size of the scrolling screen. We implemented the backgrounds in less colours and had a demo running with all direction scrolling, which the Amiga could have done with ease, but we needed a solution for both formats. The limited number of colours were also not the look I wanted."
Andrew's solution was to turn Paradroid 90 into a vertical scrolling game: "The only way to get all the colours involved was to use our Rainbow Islands vertical-only scrolling system. I worked out that the maps in the C64 version were not especially big, and by rotating them 90 degrees I didn't need to scroll horizontally and the game would use almost the full screen. It was a compromise but I thought the benefits far outweighed the loss. Amiga fans may have been less forgiving, so we all lost out.”
An interesting aspect of the original game and Paradroid 90 is the control of other droids, which could be taken over instead of being destroyed. In order to complete the process a transfer subgame is initiated. Although an interesting puzzle game in its own right Paradroid 90's menu featured an option to remove it. Andrew explains: "The ships were getting bigger as the game progressed, and I was quite conscious of the time taken to play through the game. I originally opted out the transfer game as a way of speeding up the testing. There was also a feature to try any of the ships on its own. Removing the transfer game made the game quicker to play and more arcadey, I also had made the transfer game a bit bigger and it took a bit longer to take that all in. Probably it wasn't my original suggestion but I am happy with that one."
Although Graftgold had had some problems with Hewson, they again became a publisher and released Paradroid 90. Steve clarifies why this was: “Andrew really wanted to develop a 16 bit Paradroid and the only way that was going to happen was with Hewson. We made sure we had a solid contract and advances for the PC Engine version as we went along.”
However, Hewson eventually went into liquidation. Although Amiga Paradroid 90 was published the PC Engine version was never released. Steve relates that “the PC Engine people promptly asked for the kit back and would not let us finish the game. As we were almost done we finished anyway and tried to get them to deal directly with us. They were unaware that the game was being developed outside Hewson but said they would be interested in dealing with us if I could produce irrefutable proof that Hewson would not contest the rights to the game. I needed Hewson to sign a letter saying they had no interest in the game. I did eventually get this after many months by which time it was too late. Although I felt sorry for Hewson I was bitter that a simple letter may have let us get our reward for all the work we had done."
The accomplishment of Rainbow Islands had demonstrated that conversions could be an important source of income for Graftgold. Steve expands on this: "It was a strategic decision to keep at least half the company working on cash products. They were our bread and butter, while the royalty products gave us the chance to get rich. The success of Rainbow Islands showed publishers we could do the job and produce a quality product."
Graftgold's next conversion was of a racing coin-op branded with the name of a driver who isn't very well known outside of the US and off road racing; Ivan "Ironman" Stewart. A single screen top-down racer, the coin-op was notable for its simultaneous multiplayer mode with three steering wheels, a feature also implemented in the Amiga version.
One of the Amiga programmers, Gary, remembers the conversion process: "The hardware in the arcade machine wasn't so high tech which really helped. It didn’t need to be either so our job was, in some ways, a little easier. Added to that was the accessibility of the original assets & code, it made the task of converting the game more straightforward once we decided to do what they did. We used a lot of their assets as is, just converting to the necessary formats - the trucks, all 412 frames of them (!!), we kept exactly as the original - we would probably never had so many if we hadn’t gone that way."
For David the process of conversion was markedly different to authoring new titles. “In some ways in those days converting a game was harder than writing an original game. First, we were going to be compared with the original game, which almost always was running on more powerful hardware. Second, we were constrained by the data we were given. For example with Ironman Off Road Racer, there were bugs in the data that didn’t show up on the coin-op, but did for us. We were very limited in our ability to edit this data to fix it and had to come up with some innovative workarounds (aka hacks). With original games we developed all the tools we needed to build the game, and had much more freedom of expression. That said, I’m very proud of what we did with the conversions, especially Rainbow Islands.”
Jason Page converted the music from the coin-op to the computer but he notes that there wasn't much scope for composing: "I was given the sheet music from the arcade machine, and we had the arcade machine in the office. Again, RAM was short on the Amiga version too. I converted the sheet music over to SoundTracker. And from there, typed the info in as assembly into the game."
Unlike some other Super Sprint-style racers the car has a close connection to the surface of the track which is fairly uneven, being off road. The car bumps along the surface and drives up and down slopes. In fact, the arcade machine simulated the truck's four wheels and this was converted to all the platforms. According to Gary, "That was one of the best decisions we made, although it did challenge us in recreating the tracks. We used their collision maps for the tracks and our code was basically a port of theirs (in z80 assembler.) We fixed a few bugs along the way and made some other optimizations too, but the feel of the game was reproduced so well because we used their code. It would have been hard for us to screw it up..."
It was for the later 1992 Sega Master System release of Super Off Road that Iain Wallington joined Graftgold: “After leaving college in 1990 I knew I wanted to write games professionally but didn’t know how to get into the industry. I was working on a few projects in the evenings in the hope that I could take them to a publisher when they were finished. I’m far from being an artist, so I got an old friend from school, John Kershaw, to help out on the art side. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing at first, (some say we still don’t), so it took a lot of experimentation and reworking to get something playable. Of the 3 or 4 projects we worked on there was one, (Bouncer), that became our primary focus. This was based on a game I’d had on the Spectrum, called Bounder, which was a top down view of tennis ball bouncing on blocks. Instead of a ball we created the main character as a Ribena berry, in the hope that we could license the game to SmithKline-Beecham and let them do all the hard work of producing / marketing etc. In January 1992, we were progressing in talks with their licensing dept. when we saw a job advert in the local paper for a games programmer and artist. Until seeing the advert I hadn’t known there was a games studio anywhere nearby, and at that time I’d never heard of Graftgold, but John and I both applied and went along for the interview together. It was only when we got into the office and saw all the pictures and awards for Uridium, Quazatron, Paradroid, etc that I realised who Graftgold were, (Until this point I’d only known these games by the publisher’s name... Hewson). We demonstrated the projects we’d been working on to Steve and Andrew, then sat down for the formal part of the interview. We briefly talked about the demos before Steve noticed in my C.V. that I played drums. From that point on Steve, Andrew and I talked about bands and music, (Steve plays guitar and Andrew plays Bass), while John sat quietly to one side. Anyway, we both got offered jobs, and the rest is history. As for the Ribena game... talks continued for a while, but it eventually came to nothing. At least it got us both into the games industry, (or was it actually because Steve and Andrew’s band were looking for a drummer...hmmmm?)”
Iain recalls being slightly confused when he started work on the Master System Super Off Road: “I started at Graftgold a month before John because there was only room for one more person in the old office, before moving to a larger office the following month. On my first day Steve sat me down with some graph paper and explained how the Off Road Racer maps were constructed. All the time I was thinking "He’s got us mixed up! He thinks I’m the Artist!!". But after explaining everything Steve remarked, to my relief, that it really needed a programmer’s technical mind to create new tracks. So, my first professional programming job wasn’t actually programming at all, it was to design track layouts for Off Road Racer. After planning them on graph paper I then used an editor running on a spectrum to build the collision maps, and place the animated flag objects, etc. Once this was complete it was transferred from the spectrum to a PC, then over to the Master System for playtesting. I think I designed 3 new tracks in total, which all made it into the final game... Not bad for a programmer. ;o)”
Realms is a simulation of a fantasy kingdom with city management, strategic and warfare elements. Since the release of Bullfrog’s Populous any isometric strategy game was compared to it but Realms isn’t a god-game as such and has more in common with Powermonger.
Realms was to be published by Activision until the company behind the brand, Mediagenic, was deep in financial trouble. For Steve this was a familiar situation: "We seemed to be having a run of publishers that contracted with us and then went out of business or sold up before our game was published. (Hewson almost twice, Activision, Mirrorsoft, Telecomsoft, Renegade, Warner Brothers)." However, Virgin became the game's publisher and it was eventually released. Steve remembers: "I think the game design was pretty much decided before Virgin was involved, they just let us get on with it and were very easy to work with."
The game was Steve's personal project and came from his passion for strategy. As a Graftgold game it wasn't just a dry exercise in strategic thinking. Steve was trying, in his words from an Amiga Power interview, "to get a strategy game for people who don't like strategy games" and to make it more realtime. Steve explains the reasoning behind this: "I liked action games but liked a bit of depth in a game. Most strategy games were turn based. I loved games like Civilization and saw no reason to restrict them to static gameplay. The realtime aspect of arcade style games adds to the tension, the player has to act fast to survive. I think that really adds excitement to any game."
As a detailed strategy game much of the design was written up front. Steve recalls: "For Realms there was a great deal of planning. We tried models for population growth in a simple basic program so we could see what worked. By this time publishers would only part with cash if you gave them a firm idea of what the game would be like. That usually meant lots of pictures rather than detailed gameplay descriptions."
David recalls that “With Realms we deliberately set out to write more shared software than we had in the past. I was lead programmer for the PC game, but there were some fairly large sections that were shared. I wrote the fractal map generator that was used in all versions. I may have written more but my memory is a bit fuzzy :) My colleagues also wrote large pieces of code that I incorporated into the PC version, such as the game AI.”
Realms features a tilted landscape, the generation of which was a tricky problem to be solved. Steve relates the solution: "It was a combination of techniques. Dominic had written a fractal landscape generator that input a map of seed heights and output a realistic looking 3D terrain. Ironman had a way of tiling a landscape in regular polygons. I married the two techniques so we could generate an Ironman style landscape automatically from a coloured contour map. This had the detail fractally generated. Then a tile generator chose tile patterns to join up all the generated landscape types. That was a real trick bit to write. Say you have snow, rock, grass and water, any of the combinations may join. So you have to assign the correct joiner character tile. There were several of each tile combination to make the landscape appear irregular. The tiles worked rather like a top down display. They were drawn with a highly optimised version of Dominic's 3D landscape engine. We literally counted the machine cycles for each graphic loop to get it fast enough."
Following Paradroid 90, Andrew began to look at writing another follow-up to one of his Commodore 64 games: "Fire and Ice started off as a son of Gribbly's Day Out. I liked the idea of a bouncy character. Initial demos to Renegade and their demos to others indicated that the bouncy character was too unconventional. We were persuaded to change him to a walking and sliding character. I wonder if that demo still exists?"
Fire & Ice is a colourful and slick platformer where the main character, Cool Coyote, goes on a quest that takes him from country to country, with an increase in temperature along the way. The first part of the game is set in a snowy landscape but later levels are set in a jungle.
In addition to Gribbly’s Day Out, the concept was further influenced by Turrican, a game which Andrew highly rated: "I was really impressed by Turrican and in fact we had some technical discussions with the authors. They even got us invited to a show in Germany. We implemented their scrolling system, which was very clever and economical, but still couldn't run as many objects as we needed. The eventual game was more platformer than shoot-em-up. We actually had a lot of changes along the way with this one as my original design used the fire monsters from the last area in all the levels. It also transpired that the slippery ice level was one of the hardest to control and yet needed to be at the beginning."
Cool Coyote, can be accompanied by a number of puppies. Andrew recalls the companion AI: "The puppies were interesting. Getting something behaving sensibly is always tricky. I'd have to say it wasn't as difficult as getting balls rolling around on the contoured backgrounds realistically. I think I should get the game out and have a play."
On this project Andrew was able to utilise the Amiga fully without being held back by a multi-platform approach: "Fire and Ice was the first Amiga-led game we did. There was never going to be an Atari ST version. A PC conversion did follow."
When the game starts Cool Coyote is seen playing the titlescreen music on the piano and barking along to the tune. Jason explains this simple but effective touch: "I just had to tell AB what instrument to check for when a new note was triggered (the one that had the dog bark sample). He then just animated the graphics whenever it was triggered. Not sure how well he makes the hands move in time with the piano parts. That may just be all smoke and mirrors! If it was in sync, it would have used the same technique as the dog bark synching."
Jason was aware of the level themes and so was able to compose with these in mind: "Most of the levels were playable by the time I started writing music. So that wasn’t a problem. Even though, even if there were some unplayable levels, I’d already have been told what kind of levels that were expected to exist."
Jason also notes that the size of the team allowed for close collaboration: "As Graftgold was pretty small (I didn’t know that at the time, until I left and started at Sony...), it was always easy to see what the latest features or levels were added to a game. Each coffee break, people would sit and play other people's games and enthuse about what else could be added or removed to make it even better. I loved those break times, for this reason."
Even the Fire & Ice coverdisk demo was interesting in its own right and featured a special level. The demo was a Christmas themed version which appeared on an Amiga Power coverdisk. In a world before the Internet really took off Steve explains the coverdisk as the primary means to connect to gamers: "Publicity was everything for an original game. We had strong links with most of the magazines and Renegade were good at exploiting any opportunity."
Jason composed the Christmas-themed music for the demo too but admits that it wasn't a big job: "I think this only took about 30 minutes to write, actually. Writing that style of music is quite easy for me. It’s not cool. It’s not edgy or moody. It’s just fun, blippy bloppy, melodic pop."
Steve remembers Fire & Ice as a successful title for Graftgold: "Fire and Ice generated advances from Mirrorsoft but reverted to us when Mirrorsoft went into administration. Renegade gave us a profit sharing deal that was the best publishing deal we had ever had."
Graftgold had become involved with Renegade through another legendary development team, The Bitmap Brothers. Steve recalls that: "We had worked with Bitmap Brothers converting one of their games [Gods for the Megadrive]. When Mirrosoft went down they made us a very good publishing offer, first for Fire & Ice then for options on our original games."
Steve believes that Renegade's developer-friendly ethos suited Graftgold well: "It was a relief from the commercial straightjacket we had been experiencing and encouraged us to develop original games again. They were very keen in Andrew and I developing our own personal ideas but it was too late for that. Games now needed a team approach and the team had to be managed. That left little time for us to program. I did eventually employ someone to take over the management to allow me time to do more programming but the days of a one man game were gone."
One of the most obscure Graftgold games was never released publicly and was written for the energy company Powergen (now known as E.ON). It didn't seem to have any specific name and is generally known as "The Powergen Game".
The Powergen Game was essentially a cut-down version of Fire & Ice. Jason explains what it was like: "Imagine Nipper vs The Katz. Replace Nipper with a miner. Replace the Nipper graphics with mine shafts. The most tricky part was trying to get the title screen to be the right colour. PowerGen wanted it to be "PowerGen green". With the Amiga's palette (it required very low RGB values, that, when mixed, just couldn’t produce the right shade), it just wasn't possible to get a colour that matched. PowerGen people couldn’t understand the problem."
Steve sheds some light on the game too: "You collected pieces of coal and took them to a generator to create power. I remember there was a mole with dark glasses to avoid, I can’t remember what the player was. Maybe a boy similar to Rainbow Islands. Both games were essays in the art of game development. Jason put in a cracking soundtrack on each and they were very playable. Each had a strict time limit so players would take turns."
Nipper is the familiar dog associated with HMV, the entertainment retailer. HMV wanted a small game featuring the mascot. Steve describes the work: "It was a job for a fixed fee which brought in extra cash. We had to use an existing game engine and insert a small game with its graphics in a very short time period in order to make a profit; and in this way was very successful. Working on a smaller project was a nice change from the large scale games that could take over a year."
Jason programmed Nipper Versus The Kats, a game which had a curious hybrid of an intended audience: "We were required to write both the game for both HMV and as a coverdisk, if I remember. I was given the task of stripping down Fire & Ice and building this game on top of its framework. Actually, that’s not true. There was another game we wrote for PowerGen (which I see you’ve heard about already!)".
Jason acknowledges the Fire & Ice and “Powergen Game” base that Nipper was built on: "Even though I "wrote" Nipper, obviously a lot of the credit goes to AB too. As for devising game play, we knew that we had to ensure that people couldn’t play it for extended periods. So, by putting a timer on the game, we knew that no matter how well someone did at the game, they *had* to lose eventually. It also gave me another excuse to put yet another dog bark in a game"
Andrew recalls: "The game code was a stripped out version of Fire & Ice. The movement algorithms and background definitions were mostly there. We had a very tight time budget to get the job done, it would not have been possible to start from scratch. The guys managed all new graphics, movements and sounds. I think they had to get that done in less than 10 weeks."
It was a task that Jason found satisfying: "It was a job that I enjoyed working on. Considering that games could be written in 9 months to 1 year, a month project - especially when we had a lot of the code already written - wasn't really that difficult. I do remember working some late nights and early mornings with my now wife, Emma, though (she was a graphic artist at Graftgold at the time)!"
The game appeared on the December 1993 issue of Amiga Power and invited readers to complete the game and send their high score and a code to the magazine to be entered into a competition to win £1000 of gear from the HMV store, Level One.
The game launch at the Oxford Circus featured various guests including Dexter Fletcher and included alcohol, resulting in a party that got a little out of hand. Jason has memories of this event: "Hehe. I’m guessing you’ve heard various stories? I don't think he was there too long. Although, I’m not sure if it were his decision to leave! I do remember that the whole party was held in the store, where people would be putting empty bottles of beer and half eaten sandwiches behind the games on the shelves... Guess HMV regretted that decision on opening the next morning."
The original Uridium had been converted to the Atari ST in 1986 but there was no Amiga version although Andrew has some recollections of an attempt: "I think they had planned to do an Amiga version. They ported the C64 code over and tried to get the Atari ST to just run the game as it was, with no attempt to think how to get the Atari to do it. I think they did have an Amiga version but they hadn't cracked the smooth scrolling at that time. It certainly wasn't released in the UK."
Although missing out on the original game the Amiga hosted an exclusive sequel called Uridium 2. The concept is fairly similar with a small ship flying across dreadnoughts in space and destroying their defences.
Andrew notes several impetuses behind the follow-up: "The disappointment of the Mindscape conversions was definitely a motivation. Once we had the working scrolling system from Fire & Ice we wanted to push it further. We started off with a dual playfield version but found 7 colours too limiting, and with no pretty sky to add colour we reverted to a more conventional 32 colour screen, which ultimately expanded to 64 colours on the A1200. We had a CD32 version all ready to go as well."
Often 8-bit games that pushed technical boundaries would be converted into something underwhelming on 16-bit platforms. Andrew doesn't see this as inevitable: "There's no reason why the Amiga shouldn't have been able to take any 8-bit game and have a better 16-bit version, provided that the programmers think about the backgrounds."
The jump between computer generations resulted in an visually upgraded game, as Andrew explains: "The 8-bit computers used 8 pixel wide character graphics and the 16-bit computers used 16 pixel wide blocks for the background, so we had to redesign the graphics to the strengths of the machine. It took us a while to get to grips with smooth scrolling a large bitmap without taking most of the CPU time. It was so rewarding when we got that working. That was all down to the generosity of the Turrican guys, they were really helpful."
Although the initial plan was to keep the design fairly similar to the original, Andrew notes that it soon evolved: "I wanted to use the exact same control mode parameters, so that no-one could say one any version was better or worse. Then we just thought about what we could improve on. We added more weapons, dual player/ship modes, vertical scrolling was added. Anything the team could think if was considered. We also had a completely new set of graphics for each set of 4 ships. We had a fair amount of trouble getting a look that we could live with. Steve Rushbrook did a lot of the art work as he seemed more in tune with the original game."
Another change on the Amiga was to the dreadnoughts' destruct sequence. The Commodore 64 sequence was a simple reaction-based sub-game. On the Amiga it was a more elaborate action affair. Which of the two sequences did Andrew favour? Andrew responds: "The sub-game on the C64 seemed much too simplistic for the Amiga. I worked for some time on a top-down Paradroid-style system. The pilots would have to destroy the reactor. Unfortunately we ran short of graphics space and needed to change it, so we went for something a bit more immediate. Pity really, I wanted to show what Paradroid might have looked like on the Amiga. It did rather slow the game down though. To answer the question though, the C64 original was quick to play and right for the game at the time. I don't think it was enough for the Amiga."
Uridium 2 is a dual-format game in that the same version runs on the A500 but includes A1200 improvements. Andrew explains the reason for this: "From a publisher's point of view they wanted one product to market, it cut down on production costs. We did try to put in features that used the extra CPU speed available. The CD32 productions did allow us to produce proper A1200 versions, but games were taking 18 months to do, and with two or three graphics artists on the team that's a lot of work to do again with more colours. We did Uridium with proper shadows but again we had only a few weeks to get the A1200 and CD32 product ready. The market didn't support completely separate works. I think by the end of a development we would want to get on with something else."
In Uridium 2 there were several options for players who wished to work together to take out the dreadnoughts. Andrew expands on this: "Multi-player modes were something we had steered clear of. Running 2 players at once requires good design up-front. Uridium 2 supported alternating player turns as well as simultaneous. We did find it hard to play well in that mode, but never underestimate the game players. I did like the two-ships-at-once mode though. Fire & Ice wasn't really a 2 players at once game, nor was Paradroid. We did try the latter though, as we were asked to do a two-player version for the PC Engine. It did cause us to think a lot about how it was going to work, what with the possibility that two players could try to transfer to the same target."
The CD32 version of Fire & Ice was the only CD-based game that Graftgold released, although it wasn't the only one in development. Steve's view is that Graftgold weren't able to fully explore the CD32's potential: "We had little funding to develop the CD version so could not spend long on it. The format disappeared before any real publishing success had been achieved."
Some CD32 games were simply floppy versions running from CD, with several disks' worth of files taking up less than 1% of the storage capacity. With Fire & Ice CD32 Graftgold took the opportunity to significantly upgrade the original game with better graphics and a new CD soundtrack.
Andrew explains that the CD32 chipset allowed graphical features that weren't achievable in the original game: "Our artists did a great job of adding some 16 colour backdrops for the CD32. These also worked on the Amiga 1200. The A500 didn't have the chipset to support the two layers in that many colours. The backdrops and extra objects all helped the look of the game. I did have a nicer sunset algorithm which would have worked nicely with the extra colour definitions on the A1200 and CD32, but the algorithm had been lost by then. It simulated a proper sunset rather than a coloured roller blind. So it would have been great to include the backdrops, but not technically possible, alas."
For the CD music Jason was able to start afresh: "For each soundtrack, I started with a long looping ambience (for example, jungle sounds for the jungle levels), and then wrote music on top of those. Think I wrote them all in about 2 weeks. Some of them sound a bit rough today, but this written using quite an amateur recording setup. As each level had such a unique identity, it was quite easy to write level-specific music. Ice = Winter = Christmas = Sleigh bells. Scotland = Bag pipes, etc."
Such a big leap in storage capacity was an excellent opportunity for Jason: "Loved it. This was my first "real music" project. Although, it was obvious that there was an issue with how the music couldn’t be interactive. Back to that Fire & Ice dog bark - we couldn’t sync that kind of thing from CD music, which is why the original soundtrack remained on the CD32 version, actually. Although, the fact that looping a track wasn’t possible anymore (there was always the delay when a track looped, due to the CD head having to re-seek back to the start), it made me realize that the way games music had always previously been used was going to change for quite some time to come."
With a CD title such as Fire & Ice should Graftgold have followed the “shovelware” releases of other companies and been more commercially minded? Jason answers: ”Difficult to say really. The fact that the CD32 didn’t sell may well have been down to "shovelware". I think Graftgold showed that they always wanted to be pushing hardware, and I respect Steve and AB’s decisions. However, if Graftgold had just chucked out a quick port, would they have made more money (they could have focused more on new titles)? Who knows… However, if they (and when I say "they", I guess I mean Steve) had just gone for quick ports, would you have been asking me about the nice Fire & Ice CD32 music?“
The 1994 World Cup was due to be held in the USA and gave Graftgold an opportunity to write a football game. Steve recollects this: "We were approached by Empire to do a game specifically for the World Cup. It was for the Nintendo and was for a profit sharing deal, which could have given us a huge amount of royalties."
Empire Soccer '94 was named after both the publisher and the year of the World Cup. Steve's experience with the publisher was somewhat familiar: "We had a good relationship till we had finished. Then it was time for them to do their bit."
The original SNES version was never published although Steve does not know the exact reason: "You will have to ask Empire that. I believe that publishers had to preorder huge numbers of cartridges from Nintendo making the commercial risk huge. They also had to agree every title with Nintendo. Either Empire decided not to publish or could not get approval. Either way we failed to get the expected royalties and felt let down by Empire."
The Empire Soccer credits use football themed roles so it's not immediately clear who did what. Andrew clears up the confusion: "Jose Doran was the lead programmer on the Amiga version. This game had what must be the maddest copper list ever. I was on hand offering moral support, I think I got involved in the goalkeeper algorithms. Jose did some of the graphics too. Lee Banyard was doing the sound by then, I reckon. Jose wanted to credit everyone in the company."
Following some pressure from a friend, Jose had approached Team 17 with some impressive coding demos, including one which used Project X graphics running at 50MHz: “The Team 17 plan unfortunately fell through. Graftgold were up the road from me so my friend got me to go around and show the same stuff to Graftgold. I showed Steve the demos, at the time Andrew was busy with Uridium 2 so I didn't think they would need anyone else who was doing an arcade shooter. Still the demos showed I could at least code.”
Jose continues: “A few weeks later I got a call from Steve, they needed someone to do an Amiga version of football game, the complete opposite to the sort of games I liked, but another of my friends loved football games so I wouldn't have been able to have show my face if I'd said no. So I started work a few weeks after that. Up until that point I had done a few bits ‘n’ bobs for people on the C64 with my Amiga code just gathering dust.”
Empire Soccer is strikingly different from football games like Sensible Soccer and Kick Off 2 because of the large sprites and more restricted view of the pitch. Jose explains how this came about: “As the A500 was a conversion of the existing SNES version most of the art assets had been done so it really was just a case of getting them to work in 32 colours and make everything look as close as possible, large player sprites were standard fare on the SNES so using small sprites would have probably seemed rather odd. On the Amiga where larger objects would take more time to blit it would be a case of the more you wanted on screen the smaller everything became, on the SNES with its hardware sprites this really wasn't so much of an issue you just had to contend with the fixed number per line limitation.”
Additionally, the overall feel is very arcade-like and there are a number of fantastical special abilities. This came from various influences, says Jose: “One of the design ideas was for it to be the Speedball of football, also as it was originally intended for the SNES where arcade style games where the norm this to some extent dictated the direction the game would go, the Amiga did however help lend the name to one of the games special abilities the 'power drive', this name came from when looking at the Amiga where you had the two status LEDS with the words power and drive next to them.”
Steve agrees about the design goal: “We wanted to make it more like the football arcade games of the time, to be different from the current genre of football games that were increasingly like a simulation. We wanted to make it more fun.”
Jose hit the Amiga copper, part of the Amiga’s graphics chipset: “It wasn't really used much for the main game, it was mainly used for the front end and various menu screens. For the various menu screens it was used for various colour changes and for the scrolling background this was simply done with the paired sprites for 16 colours, the copper was used to keep updating the x-coordinates so they filled the whole screen.”
By using the copper in creative ways, Jose was able to increase the number of colours: “The main menu had a logo based around the stripes on the US flag (World Cup 1994 being in the USA) this logo would never fit into 32 colours and look good. By using the copper you could write into any one of the colour palette entries if you did this repeatedly to the same entry on a line you would get a different colour every 8 horizontal pixels, so the stripes where interleaved to have 16 true colours with the copper block colours, this gave a strip that changed colour every 4 pixels. Of course this trick only worked if you used 4 or less bit-planes when you went to 5 the timings all changed, as the main logo needed more than 16 colours part of the screen was 5 bit planes, then it swapped to 4 for the stripes. In both these cases the copperlist was quite large 30-40k but they were pretty simple so procedurally generated before use each time.”
The copper was further used for a purpose that is not immediately apparent: “The other odd use for it was the bouncing ball next to the busy text that appears between matches. To get everything to fit in memory there was a lot of decompressing of graphics and remapping of the player graphics to fit within the 32 colours and copying data around the place. This took time so rather than just have a black screen I wanted some sort of on screen indication of something happening, flashing the border may have been fine for a demo but not in a game and having a black screen even with music playing for 5+ seconds may have made people think the game had crashed. The copper list could be made branch off to another copper list so the bouncing ball was done this way branching off to a different copper lists each time, with the final one pointing back to the start, it was nice and simple and as it was done with sprites so the maximum amount of cycles could be given to the CPU, but it did catch me out a couple of times.”
In order to aid the development process, Jose’s setup was a mixture of computers: “Development of the game was done using an Amiga connected to a PC (the same as consoles today) when debugging you would set a breakpoint play the game then when it would hit that breakpoint everything on the Amiga’s screen would stop moving. Obviously the breakpoint didn't stop the Amiga’s hardware so the screen display was still active it just stopped the CPU. I used this behaviour to save me having to constantly look back n forth between the Amiga’s screen and the PC monitor; you'd watch the Amiga’s screen wait till it all paused then look back to the PC screen and start debugging. Of course in the case of this bouncing ball it was never going to stop bouncing, when you’re sitting there 2am you can be a bit slow to realize this.”
Jason composed the music for the original version of the game: "The game started as a SNES project, written by Rod Mack. It was excellent, and we played it every lunch time for a very long period. I wrote 8 channel SNES music for that one. However, for some reason (companies going bust, or something like that), it never got released."
However, Jason only has vague recollections of the music: "The music itself, I can’t remember. I think it was the same time as the whole World Cup / New Order thing, so I tried to do something that was more dance related, rather than "Match Of The Day", which so many other football games copied. However, I can’t remember how the Amiga one sounded, or if I even did it (I left Graftgold in 1995-1995. So it may have been handled by Lee Banyard, who was employed to do audio duties after I left)"
A separate A1200 version of Empire Soccer was coded after the A500-based version. Jose reveals more about this it: “It was written afterwards but used a lot of original code and unused code from the original A500 version. A key feature of the AGA version was initially prototyped on the A500 apart from some of the obvious graphical changes it ran on the A500 but was just a bit slow. The A500 version of the game ran at 50MHz but the large player graphics placed limits on the amount CPU time I had for AI as you needed a large portion of the frame devoted to the blitter, with the increased speed of the A1200 CPU it was possible to reuse some of the older code that had to be cut for performance reasons.”
However, the A1200 version was never released. Intriguingly, Jose sees Empire Soccer AGA as superior: “It really was a night and day difference, I would class the AGA version as the true version. The main challenge for the A500 was to get it to be a single load game, with it having large player graphics compared to other games it used up a lot more memory than other football games, this placed limitations of what I could / couldn't do. Even though the game used 1meg in reality you only had .5meg for graphics and sound, while later Amiga 500's had the fatter Agnus chips most didn't so you where limited to .5 chip and .5 fake fast memory. This meant there was a lot of copying data back n forth in and out of chip and fake fast.”
Jose continues: “The game didn't need to be a single load but in the case of a football game I just felt it wouldn't have worked very well if at the end of each half it would load in some stats screen, or if part way through a match you decided change formation forcing another screen to be loaded in, then after making any changes you load the pitch and players back in. In most games you would play level 1, followed by 2 etc so there was a natural break so the loading wasn't really much of an issue. At the time most football games on the Amiga were really not going to be winning any best graphics awards so while making it a single load certainly imposed limits on how good the game was going to look, it wouldn't look any worse than any of the other football games out there.”
For Jose the A1200’s 2Mb of chip RAM lifted the limitations: “When it came to the AGA version this memory limit was not going to be a problem so it could look a lot better than the A500 version. There were a couple of ways to go, one was to increase the vertical resolution of the screen, due to the memory limits on the A500 rather than using a 256 pixels high screen it used a bit less, for the AGA version it would have been simple to just up the resolution and the colours and be done with it.”
Although the A1200’s AGA chipset allowed more colours on screen the graphical update needed a rethink: “However I thought the original A500 version suffered a bit from the cursed 'Amiga look' compared to the SNES version so giving it 256 colour's worth of Amiga look wouldn't have been much better. One thing that the SNES version had was this perspective shear, that is when you where in the middle of the pitch, the verticals lines where straight when you got to the edge there where diagonal. To do this on the Amiga wasn't a problem it was a pretty trivial thing for the copper, the problem was on the SNES the players are hardware sprites so these were not affected by the shear, on the Amiga they would be which would look stupid, one way to solve this on the Amiga by using dual playfield but there was no way on the A500 you could get the large player sprites to work with 8 colours and even though AGA dual playfield was now 16 colours that wasn't enough either.”
The released Amiga version had been cut down from Jose’s original vision: “I'd played around with ideas of how to do this effect on the original A500 but the only way to do it and make everything look good was to not bother with dual playfields and discard some of my other more interesting ideas but instead draw the players counter to the shear. In other words rather than blit the full player you would do them in chunks that where in the opposite direction to the shear, this way when the shear effect was applied the pitch would be sheared but the players would appear normal, this worked fine however on the A500 but it would have been very hard to maintain 50hz as you had to draw the players a couple of lines at a time on the A1200 with the extra speed this was the first thing that came back. From a graphical point of view it was the best feature, it also had the advantage of improving the amount of pitch that you could see making it seem a lot bigger than it really was.”
Other features of the A1200 were put to use by Jose: “As the AGA chip set had much better hardware sprites (64 pixels wide, rather than 16) these where used for the stadium on the side this then scrolled past at a faster rate for a parallax scrolling effect the stadium also has the same perspective shear applied, the sprites where also used for various text overlays. Unlike the original A500 game this time the copper was getting a hefty work out during the actual game not just the menus.”
The A1200 version included other features as well as visual upgrades: “There were some subtle things like using an extra bit plane to do an extra half bright style mode on some of the colours so that the players appeared darker in the shadows. The various menu screens also got a graphical upgrade to take advantage of what the AGA chip set offered. Other new features, where an indoor pitch which had no corners / throw in's as the ball would just bounce back. A team editor that let you change the names of the players and a lot of other attributes for the players, plus not forgetting the book-o-meter, which was really me having a bit of fun and pushing the arcade nature of the game, when you were fouled by a player there were a few factors that would determine if you got booked.”
The referee saw some changes in the new version, according to Jose: “In the AGA version rather than just getting booked the ref would appear and then the book-o-meter would be active, this being a bar that slowly filled up. By waggling the joystick you could argue with the ref and overturn the booking to a warning instead. It did cheat in single player in that each time you won it would get harder and harder till the point that all you could do was just stop the bar from moving but never get it to go down. In two player mode it was different in that the player that was fouled could waggle the bar to get the booking so who ever waggled the fastest would win. Depending on how serious the game thought the foul was would determine how much of the bar was full to start with.”
“There was also an auto replay after a goal in place of the goal celebration as this seemed more appropriate, you could always replay the goals in the original A500 version but the replay buffer was pretty small so by the time you had got to the replay menu most of the time you had missed the goal.”
The AGA version was also an opportunity for Jose to fix some issues from the original game: “The player graphics also got a bit of an overhaul and had more polish applied to them, from some angles the originals looked good but from others there were a bit off. With Graftgold being a small company the artists would be working on a couple of projects at a time so there normally just wasn't the time to polish everything to the nth degree for fussy people like me, for the AGA version there was time to add that bit of polish.”
One interesting approach that Jose remembers was the use of modelling package, 3D Studio 4: “We tried modeling the player in 3ds4 and rendering it out the theory being that this would give us good results in all 8 directions but at the time getting 3ds4 to render something out into a 32x32 tended to result in a large anti aliased blob, the same way that Mario was made short and fat with a big head so he would work within the limitations of what you could do with early hardware, the players would have been the same. Overall the changes really did make it look like a completely different game rather than being an A500 version with a few more colours.”
Lee Banyard started at Graftgold to replace Jason as the company’s musician and joined around the time of Empire Soccer and Virocop: "I was halfway through my A-levels when I got a call from Steve Turner, to come in and interview for the chance of working during the school holidays to produce music and sfx for an Amiga game they were doing, called 'Virocop' - I'd sent them a demodisk of my work, just playing back mods via AmigaDos, and I guess someone must have liked it! I think it may have helped that I'd called one of the tracks 'Silmarillion' and either Steve T or Andy had a bit of a thing for Tolkien."
Lee also worked on the AGA version of Empire Soccer: "I worked on the A1200 version, though there was a RISC PC version (I don't know if this was released) that I may have worked on to some extent."
For Empire Soccer A1200 Lee remixed Jason's original ECS music: "Jason did the original Amiga track in Graftgold SoundEd format, and I'm pretty sure the SNES version was identical to the original ECS Amiga version. I wasn't really all that au fait with the Graftgold SoundEd at that time, I was much quicker with Protracker, so Jose added a mod-player to the A1200 version. The music I did was simply a remix of the original Amiga track, with some instruments replaced, a kind of spruced up re-imagined version if you like. It still retained the same piano chord samples and the crowd SFX which were present in the original title track. I may have done some original menu music that wasn't based on anything Jason did, but I can't quite recall. All in all I just rejigged what was already there."
Although the A1200 version was complete, or at least nearly complete, it wasn’t published. Jose sees the state of the Amiga at the time as a reason for this: “No market for it, publishers where far too late to do anything for the A1200, however you can't blame them as the A1200 was too late to the party IMO, it should have come out a lot earlier as the AGA chip set was certainly powerful and when used well was a match for the MegaDrive and the SNES (discounting Mode7) but with the Playstation on the horizon it was going to be quite dated.”
Commodore’s release of Amiga’s machines didn’t help developers like Jose: “It's a shame as the A1200 was a really good machine but it should have come out in 1991 instead of the A500+, the A600 just confused things more. It would have been nice if the AGA version was the only version of the game that came out in but with the Amiga being an expensive machine I would imagine it sort of fell into one of those catch 22 situations for most people, no point getting an A1200 as there are no A1200 only games for it, and from the publishers point of view why do an A1200 only game when an A500 version will work for it. Which is why I suspect most of the A1200/CD32 games were just more colourful versions of the original A500 version.”
Jose sees some similarity between the Amiga and modern consoles: “Still from a coding perspective, unlike the PC, the game consoles are really like the Amiga in that they all have the same hardware, so while the Amiga is no longer around at least the games consoles offer a similar programming experience.”
For Lee the reasons for the non-publication are unclear: “I think it was pretty much completed. At least 90% there. I have no idea why it remained unreleased, my only guess is that Empire didn't see it as being worthwhile publishing it or they just exercised some option not to release it. I can't remember, it may have just been down to politics, it taking too long to do, or something. They just had Jose working on it and he wanted to do a bloody good job of it. So on one hand it was under-resourced, with only one guy working on it, but on the other they gave the AGA project to one of the most perfectionist game coders I've ever known in Jose. I'd say it was a little mismanaged, doing that - no-one could tell Jose to cut corners as he was such a quality-oriented guy.”
Iain Wallington had been involved in a number of projects at Graftgold, including a Sega Master System conversion of Super Off Road and some OS support for Fire & Ice CD32. Iain was given the opportunity to work on a new title, which was sadly to be the final Graftgold game on the Amiga: "I was the Lead programmer / designer on Virocop, although at the time we didn’t have such official titles. As with everything at Graftgold, everyone contributed to all the games, but this one was "my baby". It was the first full title that I worked on from start to finish."
Virocop features the character D.A.V.E. (“Digital Armoured Virus Exterminator”) as he zips around levels set inside a computer, a theme which had been visited before by Graftgold in Simulcra. The game's origins were from the console world. Lee explains: "Virocop started life as Tanky2. This was a game that Jason Page was writing on the MegaDrive. For one reason or another Jason stopped working on this and it was handed over to me to continue on the Amiga instead."
On the Amiga the game was further influenced by an old Graftgold game: "After a month or two it was decided that we needed to completely redesign the game away from being based on tanks. I really liked the stuff that Jason had been doing so didn’t want to deviate too far. Being able to fire in one direction and move in another seemed like a good mechanic. I’d also been a huge fan of Quazatron so was very happy about Steve’s suggestion to base the character a bit on KLP2, and D.A.V.E. was born... and reborn... and reborn, etc until we settled on the final version."
There were also some interesting ideas about scale: "As for the level themes, this started out with an idea I had about making DAVE appear to grow as you progress through the worlds. The original design had DAVE as a tiny robot in an oversized garden, with giant plant pots, leaves, etc. The relative scale of the world graphics would decrease on each subsequent level, ending on the final level where he would appear to be a giant robot fighting tiny soldiers. Over time this changed into the different game genres that make up the finished game."
Originally to have been called Virus Alert, Lee came up with a better name: "Ha! That's quite funny really as it was actually me personally who came up with that name. Not especially proud of it though! I just sat down and wrote a list of names and for some reason that one was chosen. I remember having more of a leaning towards 'Viracop' at the time but I think Andy Braybrook preferred it with the 'O' instead of the 'A'."
The process of coming up with level themes was collaborative, as Iain explains: "We had a number of artists working on the game's worlds and they each came up with ideas for themes, and suitable enemies to populate their worlds. We then selected the ones that we thought would work best and provide the most variety between worlds. Of all the worlds that were planned for the final version only one didn’t make it. This was based on board games, with Chessboards, Dice, Snakes and ladders, broken Egg timers and lots of sand. It was shaping up to be a nice looking level but due to time restrictions it had to be shelved."
With the level themes fairly fixed Lee was mostly able to compose appropriate accompanying music: "Where possible I tried to follow the theme of a given level, they were mostly clearly delineated. I don't think I did a spectacular job on that music! In fact, it's worth noting that after Graftgold I quit writing music for games, and eventually stopped composing altogether to concentrate solely on sound design. Now I look back, I still can't quite believe that Andy and Iain went for that strange choice of jazzy title tune. That wasn't done with Virocop in mind at all, I should mention."
Virocop is packed with detail. Iain tells us how this came about: "We had some great artists working at Graftgold at the time. Colin Seaman in particular was great at adding a lot of character and humour to his art. If you look at the wall of the skyscraper you’ll see a poster for 'Rockin the Pig'. This was actually the name of the band I was playing in at the time, and Colin scaled down one of our gig posters my wife had designed for us and added it to the level as a surprise. Another example is on the racing track level where there’s a caricature of Murray Walker commentating, (one of my heroes). We just tried to get as much humour and life into the levels as possible to make it a fun experience to watch as well as to play."
Andrew is also keen on these the small touches: "It's nice to put a nod to other games in. A bit of Gribbly's Day Out is in Fire & Ice, for example. Graphics artists quite often come up with things like that. We usually go through a number of rounds of development before the game is finalised. Often things don't make it in because they don't work in the game, or they don't look right, so the graphics artists used to work hard and were quite competitive. "?
Virocop was an A500 game but an A1200 version was also released. Iain confirms the A500 origins: “It was developed on the A500 mostly, with Mr. B., (Andrew Braybrook), doing a lot of the A1200 updates right at the end. The extra A1200 level was written after I’d completed the main A500 game.”
Furthermore, Iain notes that the final game was always going to be Amiga-only exclusive: “No, it was only ever planned to be on the Amiga, although I think it would have gone down well on the consoles of the day too.”
The AGA release features an extra zone which isn’t included in the A500 version. However, Iain says that this zone was something extra for the A1200 rather than something which was cut from the A500 version: “The A500 version was as it was meant to be, but we had a small amount of time for A1200 extras and a complete graphics set for the medieval level ready to go, so we quickly put together the maps and coded up the extra enemy behaviours. It was too late to retrofit the level into the A500 version so it was left as a bonus for the A1200 owners.”
Unfortunately, despite being a great game and scoring well in Amiga magazines, Steve says that Virocop didn’t sell well: “it was very disappointing. It seemed difficult to get an original game noticed, it was the time of big licences taking most of the limelight.”
Iain doesn’t have any precise figures but does remember publicising the game through a magazine diary, something that Graftgold had done before: “To be honest I don’t know what figures count as ‘selling well’ back then, and I don’t know how many copies we sold anyway. There was so much piracy around at that time it had a huge negative impact on sales. We had some good reviews and a lot of press coverage in the UK. I’d also been writing a ‘making of the game’ diary for a German magazine that had gone down very well. Unfortunately the project wasn’t due for release at the time the diary series ended so a lot of the hype we’d produced over there was wasted. When you put so much time and effort into a product you want it to do its job, which is to provide entertainment, so I just hope that the people that did buy the game enjoyed it.”
Virocop was Graftgold's Amiga swansong. Steve says that there might have been more Amiga games if fate allowed: "I would have liked to have finished with something like a rewrite of Avalon, we had been trying to get Renegade interested for ages. When Warner bought them we did contract to develop a big budget game with them called Dragonwrath but they pulled the plug very soon after we had started."
Andrew notes that the Amiga's commercial viability was inevitable due to its parent company's problems a few years before: "The fall of Commodore was very sad as it meant no new hardware was going to be produced, so you can only expect the market to shrink. I was getting involved in the Playstation version of Rainbow Islands and was using the Amiga version to prototype changes. So I had a gentle transition into the new toys."
For Lee other machines were taking over the Amiga's traditional terrain: "I think the Amiga had a pretty good innings as a games machine but it was clear that the consoles were where it was at, especially once Sony got involved. The Amiga and ST kind of sat between the consoles and the PC as time went on, and once the PC really got up to speed with its gaming capabilities, the Amiga was in a position where it didn't do console style games as well as the consoles, and it didn't do first person shooters (which for me is what made the PC market explode) well at all. The games market was divided along new lines, and in that game of musical chairs the Amiga was left standing."
Iain has some regret about the Amiga expertise he had gained but newer machines were gaining strength: "It was sad to move away from the Amiga as I’d invested a lot of energy into understanding the machine, but it was onto the next challenge, (PC, PS1, Saturn, and onwards). I came into Graftgold where there was a very strong history of great titles and although Virocop isn't spoken about as another true Graftgold classic, like Fire & Ice or Uridium, I don't think it let the company, (or the Amiga), down at all. I think we left the Amiga days behind us on a suitably high note."
In the mid-1990s and after the Amiga, Graftgold moved to the big machine of the next generation, the PlayStation. However, Steve says that Graftgold was well prepared: ”We had learnt how to write for multiple platforms and had a common shell that worked on any platform when you wrote the routines to interface with the hardware. That was the beauty of the C language, you could actually use the same code for 90% of the game. We had been writing in C for the PC and Archimedes for a while.”
Andrew also remembers that the transition was manageable: “We had a constant turnover of programmers and new guys started on new platforms. We had good experience of working on consoles having done work on Megadrive and Master System, so getting used to new hardware wasn't too bad. We had to change languages from Assembler to C, that was probably the biggest transition. Some of the guys had already done C at university so it wasn't so bad.”
However, the PlayStation development kit was expensive, development costs were rising for CD games and many members of the team were leaving for new opportunities. Graftgold was also in the situation that it was putting all its effort into one big release instead of a number of smaller games.
The company was working to release International Moto X, a motorbike racing game for the PlayStation but development was being maintained by advances from Renegade. However, in 1995, Renegade was sold to Warner Interactive. Things were looking up when Steve demonstrated a prototype of a game based on the Avalon concept but the relationship with Warner became strained when a number of projects, including Graftgold’s game, were cancelled. International Moto X was finally released by Warner in 1996 and was a successful title but Graftgold was still struggling financially. A Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands compilation on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn was the last Graftgold release.
Graftgold was also working on a game with an early title of “MBT” for a Japanese company called Coconuts. Steve explains more about it: “It started out as a 3D shoot em up reusing the Motox ground engine where one or two players would crew a futuristic tank that was airlifted to the scenario by a chopper. Perfect were adding additional graphics scenes to make it like a television covers war where tank heroes were followed as if it were a sport. I think the concept could have really worked well.”
A reduction of the monthly payments from Coconuts caused Graftgold to lay off most of the developers and the company looked to be going under. Perfect Entertainment, a game company that had released a number of Saturn games and the Discworld adventure series, then bought most of Graftgold and turned “MBT” into Hardcorps. Sadly, the game was never released and Graftgold’s time in the games industry game to an end.
Today Jester Interactive owns a licence for the Graftgold games. Steve clarifies what happened: “I think they approached the receiver when they heard of our demise. At first they had a meeting with Andrew and I and we discussed working for them. We both had jobs by then and said we would consider it if we got a regular wage. We did not want to work again in the hope that we would get paid when the games sold.”
Gary had left Graftgold some years earlier and saw his departure as a natural progression: “Nothing is forever. I'd been there quite a while, from being freelance to being in-house for 4½ years and wanted a change. Working on the PC Engine and Megadrive, I'd been exposed to the console world and through a good friend, heard of a position at Sega. The catch was that I wouldn't be programming again! That was a tough decision, but the opportunity was too good to pass up - I was the third most senior person at Graftgold, behind Steve and Andrew - I was never going higher, and had some things that I wanted to do.”
Gary was involved in Grand Theft Auto and the foundation of Rockstar Games. He now has an independent studio in New York, 4mm Games, which may hark back to the freedom and creativity of the Graftgold days: “In some ways, yes. It's about having a fresh start and being able to try new things. The world of video games changed forever following the introduction of consoles, then this thing called the internet. Players are consuming all forms of content in different ways, and we want to deliver game experiences across a range of devices and platforms that they can be connected with at all times. The game doesn’t stop because you switch the console off... It's not necessarily persistence in the way that MMO's work, but there is an ability to extend the game itself across different platforms and devices, and not by trying to be the same game on a different device, but by delivering elements of the game experience on different devices, that you consume and interact with at different times - maybe when you only have a few minutes to spare... We have this concept called "constantly connected games" which will deliver that - and we trademarked it too!!”
Jason experienced a departure from the company more than once: “I left twice, but only came back once. 1994, I left to work with Richard Joseph as a freelance musician. I worked on over 20 games in a year. At the end of that period, the industry had changed. PC games were BIG (I’m thinking Doom here), and more developers had gone “pro”. They had music studios in house and such like, so freelance work dried up. It was also a strange period for me, as it was the first time I’d worked on so many games, yet had received so little feedback during the audio development. It really was just a matter of writing music that I thought would suit the developers brief, and then I’d read reviews of my music in magazines 4 months later. I didn’t enjoy the process at all, to be honest. I then went back for another year of Graftgold fun, but left again in 1996 as I got a very good opportunity to work for Sony (the PlayStation had recently been released), and to be honest, I did have concerns about how long Graftgold could survive. There were very big changes happening in the games industry, and for whatever reasons (I’m sure a lot of it was bad luck with publishers), I just didn’t feel that Graftgold could survive.”
Now at Sony, Jason has had a varied time: “I started as both audio developer support engineer (fixing problems with developers code for PSOne audio), as well as writing the audio engines, music and sound effects for Playstation games (Porsche Challenge, Gran Turismo, This Is Football, Cool Boarders 2...). Since then, I’ve moved into the R&D division, where I now manage a team who create a lot of the Playstation platform audio libraries, DSP effects, codecs and the like. So, still programming, still doing audio stuff..Just a lot less time to write music than I used to… However, I’ve recently started again, just for fun... Check out http://soundcloud.com/noothermedicine”.
After departing Graftgold in its heyday David emigrated overseas: “I left Graftgold in May of 1991 and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve been here ever since.”
David now works at Electronic Arts: “I worked at EA in the early 90’s, and now again since the acquisition of Bioware/Pandemic in 2007. Currently I’m Chief Technology Officer for the EA Games Label. This is the largest business unit within EA, with 15 development units and approximately $1B in revenue annually. I spend the bulk of my time working collaboratively with our studios to manage development risk, and driving cross-studio initiatives to support them as they make great games.”
Darran left Graftgold around 1991/1992: “After working on various games such as Shadow of the Horned Rat, Shogun, Startopia left the games industry. Now a contractor in the Telecoms industry.”
Jose left Graftgold in 1996 and now works at Treyarch: on games such as “Spiderman, James Bond, Call of Duty. I primarily do graphics programming so mainly deal with low level engine work, shaders, postfx's, lighting etc”
Iain was at Graftgold until the final days: “I left Graftgold in 1998 after around six and a half years. Unfortunately it was the end of Graftgold. The games industry is a volatile place at the best of times, with publishers seeming to decide the fate of small developers based on..? (I don’t know, but a proven track record of producing top quality games didn’t seem to count for anything). I loved my time at Graftgold, and may still have been there today had they survived.”
Today Iain works at Slightly Mad Studios: “Having moved around the country a few times, working for various studios such as ATD, Acclaim, Kuju, and others, (most of which have gone the same way as Graftgold...Is it me?), I’ve been working for Slightly Mad Studios, (formerly Blimey Games), since 2005, leading the online team. We released Need for Speed SHIFT in September 2009, followed by a number of downloadable expansions over the following months, and are now working on a currently unannounced title so I can’t give any details away. In many ways the working practices at SMS are very similar to those at Graftgold, with everyone being encouraged to contribute and comment on all aspects of the games we make. This results in everyone feeling a greater personal ownership of the game, which in turn produces top quality titles. I was very fortunate to start my career at Graftgold working with such talented people, and equally so to be continuing it now at SMS with some of the best people in the industry.”
Lee’s last day at Graftgold was understandably difficult: “It was pretty sad to be honest. I can't really remember all that many specifics. I think I got in to work in the morning and at some point was taken into Steve Turner's office and given the rather crappy news, along with one or two other people I think (sorry guys, I might have this detail wrong but it was half my life ago!). Graftgold had been bought up by Perfect Entertainment or whatever they were called - they did sod all with the Graftgold brand as far as I remember - and they had their own audio department so I was deemed surplus to requirements, even though I was probably the lowest earner there. But hey, it was the first of a few redundancies that the games industry would throw my way, so at least I got that particular cherry popped quite early on - no danger of disillusionment after that!”
Lee now works on games like Batman: Arkham Asylum: ”For me, it's another world entirely. It's literally half a lifetime away, and I find it difficult to draw many comparisons e.g. when I left Graftgold they were still passing data around to each others' machine using floppies! (Was a sad irony I thought, when I revisited the company some time later to see they finally had invested in a LAN, although with barely enough staff to justify it.) For me that kind of typified the company at that point, in that they didn't quite move with the times in their latter days and ultimately they slipped away as a result. Which is sad, of course, but they did some excellent stuff in their day and it's for that which they'll be remembered, and rightly so.”
Andrew remembers the last day all too well: “It was rather difficult. We knew it was coming but it was tough to let go. In fact I signed on at the Job Centre virtually next door and went back to the office! Steve owned the building so there was clearing up to do so that he could let it out to someone else. I applied for some jobs and made contact with some agencies and they found my current employer, at which point I just sort of drifted off to a new job, which it turns out I got because games programmers do have a reputation for being quite bright.”
Steve has very vague memories of the last day of Graftgold: "It's funny I can hardly remember the last day. I can remember telling the staff I had not received any money from our parent company for the second month running. They wanted to continue working for nothing but the sad fact was that as a director I was obliged to put the company into receivership if we could not pay our creditors. All I could do was issue the parent company with an ultimatum but they were unwilling or unable to comply. I remember the feeling afterwards, like a bereavement. It took me weeks to pack up all the kit, working long hours on my own in an empty office full of memories. Once that had gone I had to decorate it so I could rent it out. My wife and I did that and it seemed to take forever. Luckily we both got jobs very quickly, we had no money at all and could get nothing from social security or the receiver. Being a director sucks, the ss told us the receiver should pay us some redundancy, he told us the ss should so we got nothing. It could have been far worse though, I still own the office and get a rent out of it."
Even considering only the Amiga releases, Graftgold had an extraordinary run of quality games. What was the secret behind the company’s string of great games?
“Can’t tell you, it’s a secret :)” says David. “Seriously though, one of the many things Graftgold did well was something that still very much applies today; hire the very best people you can find. Quality will take care of itself when you have good people making good decisions on a daily basis. I have great memories of Steve, Andrew, Dominic Robinson, John Cumming, Gary Foreman, Jason Page, and everyone I worked with at Graftgold. I learned a ton from them about making great games.”
Lee, although a team member in later years, agrees: “Well, I got there at the wrong time to have witnessed the work going into the better quality output, sadly - when they were at their peak I was still very much at school and an end-user. So I can only guess, but if I had to pin it down, I'd say it was because they were fortunate enough to have some very talented people pass through their doors to work there. I include Steve Turner and Andy Braybrook in this group of course, seeing as they were the mainstays of the company, but there were many people that contributed greatly in all sorts of ways to the games that came out. Graftgold made a decent transition from the old 8-bit machines to the 16-bit era but they never really got going when it came to the Playstation etc. in my opinion. At their level though, they were very good at what they did. I do think they didn't quite know what direction to go in when it came to making the transition to 3D gaming.”
Iain believes that hard work produced great games: “The focus was always on producing something fun, (both to play and to watch). There was no luck involved in getting playability into the games, we all worked very hard to ensure it was the best experience we could make it.” Darran has a similar view and is straight to the point: “Hard work. Long hours.”
One interesting aspect of Graftgold’s Amiga games is that there is a lot of variety with the genres covering platform, racing, shooters, sport and strategy. For Steve this was a freedom that the company enjoyed: “We just wrote games we wanted to play and what I thought would sell. Andrew in particular never wanted to follow up on a hit with what was expected. He liked to stay one step ahead. In that way we were not commercial. However we did reuse a great deal of code. I suppose if any of our games were outrageous hits we would have kept producing new versions.”
Andrew agrees that the varied choice of genres wasn’t accidental: “Yes we did, for good or bad. By the time you finish a game you've pretty much exhausted your ideas in one particular genre and are keen to try something different. Sometimes you'll get ideas that need to be filed away for a different time and a different style.”
Which Graftgold games is Andrew most and least happy with? “Difficult one. I'm not unhappy with anything as there were reasons why each game is like it is. I was never pushed to let something go before I felt it was done. I am unhappy that we fixed the last bug in the Playstation version of Rainbow Islands at about 11pm on the last day after desperately searching for it only to find 3 months later that they released the previous version with the bug still in it. The end sequence crashes. Fire & Ice on the CD32 was particularly pretty.”
Steve also recalls the best and worst: “Paradroid is one of my favorites. I just love the way the gameplay self balances itself. There was one game "Bobo" we did for Probe that we were happy not to put our name on. I think Jason did that one. It was a conversion but there just wasn't a game to convert. Of the arcade conversions Rainbow Islands stands out. I don't think there has been a conversion that matches it ever.”
Steve and Andrew have left the games industry and this has left Steve with more time to experience games from the other side: “Funnily enough I play more now than I ever did. I used to work to 5 or 6 in the morning before I sold the majority I was just so busy. Now I actually have leisure. I mostly play strategy games such as the Total War series. I was writing a Realms 2 which was very similar but lost my momentum when I saw it had been done so well. At the moment I have been playing Evony Online.”
Andrew is also still a gamer: “I have a PC and a Nintendo Wii, so yes, I still play some games. Super-Swing Golf amuses me. Mostly I still prefer the 2D retro games though. 3D games are OK for some things but they aren't the be-all and end-all. If we had the computing power in 1985 that we have today you'd see some fabulous things.“
According to Steve, he and Andrew still work at the same place: “I have worked for the same company as Andrew ever since we left Graftgold. I am in the RnD department sorting out all the technical stuff. I have often considered going back to games programming. That was one of my interests with Evony, I could blow it away gameplay wise and hey, no need for a publisher! I may retire soon and will need something to pass the hours.”
Andrew, even though no longer creating games for a living is nonetheless coding: "I’m still programming, mostly in C, on a PC. I get to check other programmer's code and deploy our software systems. I've been to Ireland, Kuwait and Singapore on business so I get to travel a bit. I might get round to writing something games-like one day. I've installed a development system on my PC at home. It's a long old day though in business so I don't know if I'll get round to writing anything meaningful. Never say never."