Since the studio was acquired by Codemasters, you have been often mentioned as a consultant designer. Would you care to elaborate on that topic?
We sold to them and then part of that deal was that I stayed on and worked for them as a consultant. As you said, it was a great, great time. It was working three days per week and getting paid incredibly well. We were making Cannon Fodder 3, which unfortunately never came out – we stopped and started development three times. Codemasters kept on swapping their programming staff around and we kept on losing people in the team so… Yep, it was a brilliant game design. I really regret not having made it. Not finishing that game, for me, was hard to take, because it came on in the back of Sex’n’Drugs’n’Rock’n’Roll, which I worked for four years as well, in the previous deal, and Touchstone was also a wasted year for me. We put a lot of time into some games which people didn’t see; as a creative person that always hurts.
So, I came off the back of that and then did different bits with Codemasters instead. I did some work at the end of Prince Naseem Boxing. Then I made Mike Tyson Boxing with them, and gave some various bits of advice on other Codemasters games. With Codemasters, I was tied in for one and a half years and I liked it, so I stayed there for three years. I really enjoyed working with them, the Darling brothers and Jim Darling, they were great to work for. I couldn’t have worked with better people. But I was tired, I’d done 16 years back to back – 13 years with Sensible and three with Codemasters – with no break since I was 19. So I gave myself about three or four months off, watched the entire 2002 World Cup, every single game on the telly, and then started consulting for some small companies.
I picked very obscure stuff and just wanted to do some fun stuff again. I worked on a great game called Virtual TV (VTV) with a small company called Legba in Windsor, UK. We worked on that together for about a year and we couldn’t sell it, we just couldn’t get a deal. What had happened in the market was the Dot-com bubble. A lot of people who didn’t have the talent were persuading companies they could make games, and basically not delivering what they said they could deliver, and companies felt very burned. After that it was very hard to get original games signed up.
What made Virtual TV original?
Virtual TV was a game about a TV cameraman working with a TV reporter, making a documentary about dinosaurs in the wild. They had to film the dinosaurs and show them laying eggs and stuff without getting eaten by them. You had a camera and you were putting a film together and filming in an environment. It was a really cool game.
I’ll sum this whole era up. I went to Japan and saw three companies out there. I’d never been there before, so I had a terrible jet lag and almost missed the meeting entirely because of it. At that meeting, I saw six guys from the company who were waiting there. They must have hated me. It was almost half-five or six by the time I got there, because I totally missed my alarm. But I showed them the game, VTV, and they liked it. They said, ‘Well, this game is really good. We’ll show it to our accounts department to analyse it.’ So we sat there for another half an hour or so and they came back and said to me, ‘Okay, we looked at your game. Our accounts department says we can’t find any other game like it on the market. Therefore we can’t do an evaluation of it, therefore we can’t sign it.’ That sums up that era.
What year are we talking about?
That was in about 2003. It was the polar opposite to when we went to Ocean with Parallax and they gave us a contract the same day, because they could see the game was good. The whole market got very fearful of making mistakes. In my opinion, it was because, in the old days, when we went to see Ocean, we spoke to John Woods who was an owner of the company and when we went to Virgin we spoke to Tim Chaney and Sean Brennan. Tim was the boss of the company. Sean was the guy running the marketing and one of the leading people in the company. When we went to Palace, we spoke to Matthew Tims – one of the runners of the company – and Pete Stone. When we went to Mirrorsoft, we spoke to Peter Billota at the top of the company, and to all the guys that ran Renegade as well.
Now, we’re talking to guys who are below people owning the company. The problem when you speak to people who are not the prime shareholders, is that their prime focus is to make sure they don’t lose their own job, rather than how to make the company loads of money. So when they look at a game, they see it as a threat; if they’ll make a mistake, rahter than seeing it as a feather in the cap if they get it right. Because they’re personally not going to benefit that much if the game sells a hundred times more than you expect. They maybe get a pay rise, maybe a small bonus at Christmas. So I really noticed the difference in the kind of people I was talking to, and how much influence they had on original games in 2003, which is before we got touchscreen phones. It’s just when mobile phone games just started to kick off, it was kind of like the bottom of the pit, the nadir of original games.
So a year later, in 2004, you and two former members of Bitmap Bros formed Tower Studios. What did you achieve together?
Mike Montgomery, a very close friend of mine, and John Phillips – both in Bitmap Brothers – had found the same thing. So the three of us talked about setting up a company to make mobile games. By this, I mean old mobiles, like Nokia S40s and S60s, etcetera. We set up Tower Studios in London in 2004. We got a small office in London, by the Tower of London – which is why it’s called Tower Studios, for anyone who’s wondering.
Yeah, we started to make some games. Ironically, we worked with Kuju, who got their licenses for Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder, the games I’d recently sold to Codemasters. So the first two games we worked on were Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder again – this time, for mobile. We did a rugby game called British Lions Rugby Sevens, which was pretty good, and started working on a golf game, which was an original mini golf game. Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder did well. I would say that maybe SS was slightly stronger than CF, but they were both pretty good versions. Rugby was okay. The mini golf game, we had a problem with the programmer and he disappeared. He was another bad programmer. So that fell by the wayside which was depressing to me, because that was the original game out of all of them. It was very hard to sell original games for mobile phones and the mobile publishers treated developers like dirt. Games were one and a half or two percent of their income, or maybe three, but they really didn’t care about us. They had no respect for any of what we did in the past and, to be frank, all three of us hated it.
And after a couple of years, Mike, John and me agreed to just stop trying to make new games at Tower Studios and leave it in an almost dormant state. Then we carried on consulting, which is what we did for quite a few years up to about 2009 – it was all consulting again from 2006.
Interestingly, in the same year you established Tower Studios, your name got also connected to a BAFTA awards ceremony. How did you get involved with that, and what has been your role there since then?
Yeah, I’ve been a BAFTA member since 2004 and I just finished my voting recently. I do the films as well as the games voting and it’s a good story actually. So when we were doing Sex’n’Drugs’n’Rock’n’Roll, we were interested in getting involved in the music market. We got working with these guys from a company called LP in London, who were predominantly agents for really good record producers – the likes of George Michael’s and Tina Turner’s producers, etcetera. They wanted to get into games and we wanted some leverage into music, because Sex’n’Drugs’n’Rock’n’Roll was a game about music history with a lot of sound. Me and Richard [Joseph] did over 30 songs for that game, so it was very music heavy. They got us in front of some big record companies to actually try and sell a Sensible band, as a virtual band with tunes like ‘War Has Never Been So Much Fun’. So we were doing a lot of experimenting there, we saw a lot of good music people, but nothing really came of that.
However, I still remained in touch with them. In fact, one of my daughters did some work experience with one of their other companies selling cosmetics. They shared their office with this other guy called Eddy. He was the guy who’d been involved in writing or publishing ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’, a famous ‘70s hit and he was the guy who mentioned to me about BAFTA, because he was a member. He said, ‘Oh well, if you’re interested, your credentials are in the games world and as a music writer. We should get you into BAFTA membership, if you want to.’
I said, ‘Okay that’s interesting,’ and I filled in a form. He endorsed it for me. I actually entered BAFTA as a composer who’d done games, rather than a games person who’d done composing, which was great. So it came from a music angle in my case. Of course, the games helped. I’ve been on the BAFTA committee, I’ve sat on a few juries for awards, and over the last four or five years I’ve actually chaired the juries. I didn’t do one this year, but I did one the year before and I think I’ve done it about four or five times in total. So yeah, I’m very proud to be a member of BAFTA, it’s a great thing.