Stoo Cambridge Interview by Peter Ward
Please tell us what your role was during the making of Cannon Fodder and what you did?
I was brought in along with Jools to work on the first Sensible game that had neither Chris doing the coding or Jops doing the graphics. When we both started the game didn’t even have a name, in fact I recall the deal with Mirrorsoft had gone pear shaped so there was serious uncertainty as to what was going to happen so it was quite a rocky start.
As the only artist on Cannon Fodder I was pretty much left to my own devices to devise the look, the style and overall feel of the graphics. The only stipulation from the management (as we called Jops and Chris) was to adopt a similar scale to the recently finished Mega-lo-Mania. The reason being the more game play area you could see the better the game would play and thus using small sprites achieved this goal.
The original mock up screens and animation tests I did were quite different to the finished game, even the colours used on the soldiers uniforms was undecided initially and I even went to the trouble of creating various different ones so we could get an idea of what worked and what didn’t. Once the look was set I then began creating all the graphics for the level tiles and sprites that were needed to populate the missions. We didn’t know at first what we wanted , it wasn’t quite as bad as making it up as you go along but there was an awful lot of play testing along the way in order to get a feel of the game and tweak the various features just right.
The first major thing was when Jools got the soldiers walking about, that was fantastic seeing my sprites doing their thing.
We then expanded on it, added new features and gradually over the course of time created the game which would then go on to be the finished published title. Graphically one of the hardest things was keeping an eye on memory usage , we even split the tilesets into 2 parts for each style (Jungle, Desert etc.) so we could load a master tile set and then a sub tileset for specific missions to save memory.
The British Legion complained about poppy in the game design and was in the papers do you think this actually helped promote the game a certainly remmeber reading it and thought it was all an over reaction as the game was not promoting War?
It helped immensely with the promotion of the game. I didn’t realise just how much attention until after it had all died down but I can’t argue with what the media coverage did for putting us and our game on the radar. It was clear to anyone who actually bothered to look that we were most certainly not glorifying war and to suggest we were disrespectful to those that fought was equally preposterous. However once a story breaks I guess you just ride the wave of publicity avoiding any potential legals issues along the way until eventually the whole thing blows over, with hopefully your credibility and virtues in tact.
On reflection it didn’t turn out bad did it. Worst thing was redrawing the bleedin’ poppy at zero hour!
I made the big mistake of buying Cannon Fodder 3 which was produced by Codemasters after they took over Sensible I was saddened how bad it was have you played this pile of ********!!!!!?
When I first heard about *cough* Cannon Fodder 3, I immediately did some research as to what it was and whether it was a faithful sequel to the original. I guess if it was a clone of the original done with 3D graphics , well that would be something I guess, even if it was a spiritual successor I could get my head around that too.
I first checked out the screenshots, ‘hmmm… looks a bit generic’ were my initial thoughts , hardly in keeping with the feeling of the original. I then tracked down a video and that’s when I realised it was a lazy arsed attempt to exploit the Cannon Fodder name and the game being sold as the third in the series was more like the turd in the series.
What a damn shame! What’s really sad about the whole thing is in order to createanother game in the series with Cannon Fodder in the title it surely helps to at least have some association or endorsement from one or more of the original developers surely? You wouldn’taccept this from other creative industries of notable works would you? I get the whole IP is now owned by Codemasters but as has been proved with this game, people are not stupid, it’s not really Cannon Fodder is it.
I remember playing a mobile version of cannon fodder did you have any involvement in this???
Yes I worked on this one with Jops, Mike Montgomery and John.M.Philips, what a cool line up of co-workers eh? Jops had set up Tower Studios with Mike and he asked me if I was interested in doing the graphics on their mobile interpretation of the original. It was quite a challenge in many ways but the end result was pretty damn good considering the limited screen size and memory. I can’t recall how much we included but as there’s no way we could have created an exact port as the phone was just not fast enough to shift the graphics about, but the final version we ended up with wasn’t half bad and I’m pleased to have my name associated with it. I recall thinking how mad it was that a version of Cannon Fodder was sitting before my eyes on a tiny mobile phone screen!
I’d been friends with Chris since meeting him during my freelance days prior to working at Sensible, so when he started working with us in Saffron Walden we got talking about various project ideas and initially decided to start a small side project on the PC. I’ve always had game designs I’d written and one of them was a single screen action puzzle game with elements of Kickle Cubicle and Bomberman. This game was called DJ Fresh and featured a rapping radish with a spray can. Crazy really but the character was to form part of a series of games so building up a design hook was important if we were to get anywhere in getting it noticed.
Chris started working at Sensible at a time when they were taking on a lot of staff, mostly to work on Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll. I’d felt a few cracks beginning to appear in the atmosphere at Sensible and it became clear that the magical journey and once dream job was very likely coming to an end soon as the whole industry was changing and we just wasn’t making the transition quick enough. 3D was the new kid on the block and we just hadn’t adapted our tools and technology early enough to keep up. So what started out as a demo game between friends took a turn towards being a more serious business development project when the writing was on the all for the Sensible I knew and loved. I was still under contract for Have a Nice Day (PS1 with Chris Yates) and Sensible Golf(Amiga with Jools) so while I was working on these projects during the day I was going home and planning out the game which would eventually come to be known as Joe Blow – Adventures in Dreamworld. I was sad to leave Sensible but at the time I could see no other way forward for me.
What was your Favourite project at Abstract? (Coming exclusively in the future a feature on Joe Blow including video footage never seen before)
We only officially had one project in development and that was Joe Blow for Telstar, but after about 18 months we did some R&D into a couple of other projects which were going to form the next phase in our plan once Joe Blow was finished.
My personal favourite was a project under the working title of Black Hunger which was to feature a full soundtrack written and performed by Gary Numan. It was a vampire game that had what I guess today would be called a sandbox style of gameplay. Gary was an absolute joy during our initial meetings and was really into the concept, offering up some good ideas that would have added to the game design.
He didn’t live far from our offices in Braintree, Essex so it would have been an exciting game to have worked on. We spent a couple of afternoons together discussing the project and it looked like it was going to happen but alas things took a turn for the worse after Telstar suffered financial difficulties which meant we just couldn’t finish Joe Blow. With that we couldn’t get over the hurdle and as a result we were in a bad place and it soon become apparent the bitter truth was I had to close the whole company down.
It was a very dark period in my life and not a place I’d like to ever visit again having gone from exceptional highs to insanely dramatic lows in such an unimaginably short period of time. I suffered what can only be described as a breakdown shortly after and pretty much found myself existing in an alternate reality for a while, a truly dark place indeed. It’s ok though, I’m fine now, more tea vicar?
I don’t know anything about a specific project but there are always talks of a collaboration with some of my old chums. I guess if the project is right and the finance model is realistic then it may happen. Certainly keep an eye out, you never know!
Blobbit one of Stoo’s games Click here to Visit site I’ve got a couple of video game projects at the design stage one being the next Blobbit game and the other a ‘special’ project I can’t say much more about at the moment, only that it if we can secure funding it will be a lot of fun and pays homage to a couple of well known 90’s game titles we love from back in the day when games had sprites and a palette was more than a file you load into Photoshop!
I’ve recently moved into my own studio which is imaginatively titled the Stoodio, I know hardly original! So now I have the space to get back to basics and design and illustrate a series of books I’ve had on the back burner. Before the move I just didn’t have the space but now I can actually leave artwork out without having to move it every 5 mins. So I’m very much looking forward to getting these finished and out there. I enjoy some modern games but feel more love for the smaller teams of the past I feel the fun factor has gone in modern games and are more like movie productions; games can be bug ridden now as patches can be made. in the past we didn’t have updates and in app purchases. What is your view of our industry now?
The industry has indeed gone through many changes since the days when we waited 20+ minutes for a cassette tape to do it’s thing. Today we are spoilt for choice when it comes to developing a game. The tools are in abundance, the formats are many and the opportunities can appear limitless. However removing the need for a publisher means that developers now have to do everything themselves and to be frankly honest most just don’t have the time, the money or the skills to do this effectively. Of course there are many developers who do have success self publishing via the various app stores and are making a living from it but if you ask many of them the cost of maintaining this position is high.
Here are some questions about retro games:
I have to agree with you on the Amiga being my favourite computer too, it was awesome and was responsible for many, many hours of good times. Now I’ve said that I feel I need to tip my hat at the C64 too! As for a favourite console, I do have a soft spot for the Megadrive but I then I also really like the Sega Dreamcast. I can’t say which of all the consoles I’ve owned is my favourite as they all have in my mind pros and cons. Oh then there’s the PC Engine, and the Super Famicom, let’s not forget the Gameboy and oh… It’s so hard to choose! Did I hear Neo Geo from the gentlemen at the back? Sold..Lovejoy!
What is your favourite retro game?
I don’t really have a favourite retro video game. Hmmmm, let me think about this… I like some of the old classic arcade titles that you could just play and zone out to. Games like, Space Harrier, Empire Strikes Back, I Robot, Galaga, Time Pilot, Galaxian, Galaga and Star Force immediately queue up for a mention. Space Taxi on the C64 was cool!
Do you still game on the current consoles if so whats your favourite game?
I don’t really get the time to get in to any of the new machines much these days but when I do I really like Pinball FX2 they have some awesome tables!
Zombie U on the Wii u is cool too! Oh and I tell you a game that my sons play and that’s Splatoon, now that’s a whole lot of fun.
Now that’s quite tricky as there’s probably loads of them I’ve screamed at the screen in frustration at over the years. I can’t recall that many to be honest. I suspect the emotinal psychological torture was too much for my memory banks and the offending games have been removed from my brain! I’d probably say any games where the collision detection was ropey, and the difficulty levels are so insanely high you pretty much don’t stand a chance.
Finally what game or feature would you like to see on Retrogamesmaster in the future?
I’m really quite a geek at heart so anything technical about the retro machines would go down well with me. Likewise any development features on making games from the old days when 3D was a mere baby and sprites were still king of the mountain, would equally tickle my fancy.