By Peter Ward
9 Lives (1990) (Program Design by)
Hunchback: the Adventure (1986) (Game Design)
N.O.M.A.D (1986) (Games Design)
Cosmic Wartoad (1985) (From an original idea by)
Shadowfire (1985) (Design)
Gift from the Gods (1984) (Game / character design)
The BBC was your first computer you used is that your favourite computer or do you have a different favourite?
I came to this whole industry by accident. I was planning on having a career in advertising but was offered three days work by my friend Steve Cain, the Art Director at Imagine.
I knew nothing about home computers or indeed the industry, such as it was in those days. I was an arcade fanatic but the idea of a career in an industry that I was unware existed never even occurred to me.
I turned up at Imagine, was told exactly what to do in order to convert Pedro’s Garden from one machine to another, did as I was told and was then paid an obscene amount of money for very little work.
Content with that I walked away with no intention of ever seeing another home computer as long as I lived.
How wrong was I?
As for favourite computers, well at the time I had no experience with any of them until I was sat in front of the BBC in Imagine.
But once I found myself actually working in game development I would have to say that the Spectrum is my first choice. Not for any patriotic, it’s British so it’s better than the C64 reason, but mainly because when I wanted to draw somethingt the Spectrum did a much better job at representing what I had in my head than the 64 with those suitcase sized pixed.
Having said that I do love all the 8 bit machines but the speccy just wins by a pixelated nose.
What did you want to do when you were at school for a career and what was your first job?
No idea what I wanted to do when I was at school. No idea what I want to do now to be honest. I’ve stuck with game development because I seem to be reasonably good at what I do and while staying in fulltime work has always proven to be harder than it should be I just keep pluggin away.
I think I’ve got two or three good games left in me then who knows what the future will bring.
I’m cracking on a bit now so I’ve no idea how much longer I can keep going.
When and how did you realise you wanted to get into game industry?
As I said above, I fell into this industry by accident. I was working down in London in Advertising in the mid 80’s and times were hard. Steve Cain contacted me again and asked me if I would like to come back up to Liverpool and join his new venture Denton Designs.
I agreed, thinking it would suffice until I found myself another job in London.
33 years later I’m still in Liverpool, still working on games.
Was it easy to fit in at Ocean and Team 17 who was the first person who made you feel welcome?
Fitting in at Ocean and Team 17 was a doddle. The industry was mostly male back then, Team 17 more so than Ocean, so it was just a bunch of lads being idiots together.
I already knew Gary Bracey and Paul Finnegan from Ocean as I had done freelance work for them on several projects. It was Gary who invited me to join Ocean full-time so I suppose you could say he was the first person to welcome me onboard. But among the inhouse staff it was Steve Wahid who showed me around and did all the introductions. We’re still mates to this day.
Team 17 was an odd one. They seemed to be made up of people who were new to games and a lot of people from smaller companies or tiny indie teams.
Martin Brown was a good friend from the start but within two or three days I pretty much knew everyone.
What is the funniest thing and most frustrating thing that happened to you at Ocean and Team 17?
It would be difficult to name one moment funnier than most from my Ocean days as we did seem to spend an inordinately large amount of time having a great laugh and just being a bunch of galoots. But there was the time Gary Bracey went down to a show in London and we took over his office for an impromptu beer drinking session.
Things got somewhat out of hand and the ceiling was forever beer stained and the office stank like a brewery. Needless to say we never got away with it.
Can’t think of anything overly hilarious from my Team 17 days. We were all as daft as brushes but we just seemed to have a laugh while beavering away every day.
Frustration-wise, I can say that the old programmer/artist debate from the mists of time used to rub me up the wrong way on a regular basis. “Oh, you’re just an artist” was a comment that was bandied about quite a bit and still is these days. It never ceases to put my teeth on edge.
There were some who threw this jibe about with annoying regularity and one or two who came to regret doing so.
That was the Ocean side of frustration, but where Team 17 were concerned it was the straw that broke the camel’s back which frustrated and annoyed me most.
I was not in an official position of authority or “power”, but I think because I had been in the industry longer than most and was considerably older than the majority of staff I would be called upon by Senior Management to give advice on certain matters.
I was asked to sit in on several interviews, which I was more than happy to do until the day I was told that the last person I had interviewed was being hired to be my boss and leader of the Art Department.
I quit post haste.
What is the favourite game you have worked on during your time at Ocean and Team 17?
My favourite game from the Ocean days was Addams Family. It was a joy from beginning to end. Jamie Higgins and Warren Lancashire were just amazing to work with and the freedom they allowed me with my sprite creation was something I’ve never experienced before or since.
Truly a pleasure.
I wasn’t at Team 17 long enough to have a favourite game. I worked on the original Worms, which was fun. I did some sprite work for the 3D version of Alien Breed and I was lead artist on a project called Wytchwood that was going nowhere from day one and caused enless headaches, but was an interesting experience.
I was a big fan of N.O.M.A.D I understand that you done the game design for that please tell us what you did to make this game? (Concept art if possible)
I have no concept art from the development of N.O.M.A.D, in fact I have no concept art from anything I have ever worked on. I have never been so precious about my own work that I ever felt the need to keep anything. With me it was do the job, move on to the next one.
Mark Jones has kept a lot of my stuff from our Ocean days, Lord knows why.
I was working with Ian Weatherburn a lot at the start of my career and Ian basically told me to come up with a game concept.
I’ve no recollection where the idea came from or why the concept ended up as it did, all I can remember is that I did draw a lot of robots at that time and I was partiularly fond of the strange head on the 2000AD character Nemesis the Warlock. So maybe it was an influence on NOMAD’s rather missile-shaped head.
I think we was going to have legs at first but we decided to make it a flying shooter.
It was a fun project apart from the rather dubious story that Ocean had been approached by someone called Cyrus T Gross who was threatening to sue.
I did more than just the game design, I did the original rough layout for the game art which was then finished by Bob Wakelin, I also did all the graphics for every version; spectrum, C64 and Amstrad.
I owned a ZX Spectrum +3 and it came with a disk with N.O.M.A.D, Cosmic Wartoad and Gift from the Gods you must have been honoured as you were involved with all 3?
To be completely honest, I don’t think I was even aware of that fact. I’m proud now that you mention it, but as I have explained at various conventions and Q&A sessions etc, we never really thought about our “fans”. We didn’t think people would be fixating about what we did, to us it was a job and it’s only now, some thirty years later that we’re running into fans of our work.
You also worked for Atari please enlighten about your experience there?
I worked for Steve Cain in another of his ventures and we developed product for Atari under their ARC label; Star Breaker, Badlands Pete etc.
I did one project outside of this arrangement when Graham “Kenny” Everett did the coding and I designe dna did all graphics for Nine Lives, a feline led platformer which got reasonably pleasant reviews for the graphics but less than stellar marks when it came to gameplay.
The horrendous burst-scroll killed it.
I also wrote and recorded the music, which was fun.
My personal involvement with Atari was marred by dickhead management. Less said the better.
I understand in 2000 you went on to freelancing. What sort of jobs did you do freelancing and who for?
To be truthful, I have freelanced for the greater part of my career, but from 2000 I struck out on my own, leaving this green and pleasant isle for the strange and unknown lands of Schleswig Holstein, just outside Hamburg.
I worked for a company called Elkware on a whole slew of mobile phone titles and it was this time that brought about a great connection with Hamburg, which is now my second home and somewhere I would happily hang my hat permanently.
In the years since 2015 I’ve done all manner of things, mobile work, browser titles, online product, indie games, major AAA titles.
Basically I do whatever comes my way and whatever pays.
Tell us what your current working on?
Currently I am working on finding a job.
My most recent client turned bandit on me and dropped me like a hot brick for no good reason.
I do have a solo project I am working on with some of my friends and hopefully this will come to fruition in the next year or so.
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?
I think the industry is as exciting and as interesting now as it was back at the very start. People are setting up small indie teams and the hunger for quality product seems to be causing waves of real creativity outside of the AAA companies.
I play indie product via Steam or via the Sony store. It’s a great time to be a gamer, the focus has been pulled away from the console companies and the mega-hyped stuff. Some of that is ok, but it’s all very samey which now has brought about an industry with something for everyone.
Here are some questions about retro games:
My favourite computer was my Amiga and 2 of my favourite games were Cannon Fodder and SWOS 🙂 and my favourite console the Megadrive do you have a favourite?
The simple answer is No.
I have owned a large number of the major games consoles, loved the Snes and the Mega Drive.
But I can’t say any one console was better for me than any other, they all had their own share of great titles that I remember fondly.
Not that I would go back and play any of them again. I can’t see the point. There’s too much new and fascinating product out there to be played and the new teams need all the support they can get. In my opinion it’s a waste of time playing games that are 30 years old.
Today’s retro-geeks, as much as I love them and thank them for their kind words, are killing today’s development teams by ignoring new product for old titles.
What would have happened if people had said “I’m not playing Wizball by Ocean, I’m going out to play with my hoop and stick?”
It’s tunnel vision and it’s got to stop.
What is your favourite retro game?
I don’t have one, but recently I truly enjoyed Shovel Knight and Not a Hero, both on Steam.
If you’ve not played them, DO.
I’ve you’re not planning on playing them because they’re “new”, then I have no time for people like that.
Do you still game on the current consoles if so whats your favourite game?
I don’t have a favourite game from the current consoles. There are games that I have really enjoyed.
Axiom Verge was excellent, but too tough for my aging gaming skills.
My favourite game of all time is Super Metroid on the Snes.
It ticked all the boxes for me. It’s perfect.
Whats the worst game you have ever played?