Kristi Louise Herd / Imagitec Design
Added on June 26th, 2012 (3355 views)
Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
Hi, I'm Kristi Louise Herd. I was lucky enough to be one of the very few female computer graphic artists producing graphics for games from 1989-2002. I'm mainly going to focus on my years at Imagitec Design 1989-1992. The best years by far!
How did you first get started with computers and the C64 in particular?
I have always had a passion for technology, but being a young girl back in the 80's, computer games were seen as a boys thing, so it was my younger brother who owned a C64. We used to play games like Daley Thompson's Decathlon, Maniac Mansion, The Last Ninja and so on. I was fascinated about the graphics and how they were produced, but at the time I never saw myself actually making a living from it.
Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit work samples to various games companies looking for jobs, or did jobs come to you?
I fell into it really. I had been at college and I had dabbled with computer graphics and a bit of code. My main focus was to qualify as a professional Graphic Designer, and I would think about a job when I graduated. To gain some experience, I volunteered my services to Dewsbury Technical College producing booklets using Desktop Publishing. It was a cool thing to do as it gave me an opportunity to experiment with drawing graphics on a computer. My tutor there came up to me one day and said: "A mate of mine runs a small gaming company and he's looking for artists. Give him a call." That company was the legendary Imagitec Design and the rest is history as they say. I took my portfolio of work to an interview with Martin Hooley and Neil Young, was offered a job on the spot and I never looked back!
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? Was it as special as we like to think it was?
I took to the C64 without a hitch. At my interview I had to draw with a joystick using Koala Painter on the C64. It took a while to get used to drawing with double pixels, but I thought it was pretty awesome. I had some difficult games to do graphics for, but the C64 handled the task without a problem. It was easy to draw graphics on a 45 degree angle because of the double pixel element, which came in handy when drawing sprites. I think working with the C64 made me a more competent artist because of the technical difficulties to overcome. It was always a challenge to get something different going on the C64, but I think as an artist, I achieved that.
What C64 games did you work on? Write a list with the titles and as much information you remember about each of them.
The biggest and most famous game I worked on for the C64 was Fiendish Freddy's Big Top 'o Fun which was published in 1990 by Mindscape. Zzap!64 awarded the game 91% for graphics and gave it a 89% overall. It was a great game to work on. The humour was quite risqué at the time and the animations were a real challenge as the whole game was based on animation. I wanted to re-produce a version that was technically advanced and matched up to the Amiga version, and we did it well. It's still amazing to think this was a cutting edge game at the time!
Other C64 games I worked on were:
Stratego – which was a really good strategy game. I learnt a lot about how graphics should be done for the C64. This was the first game I actually took original graphics from the Amiga and tried to work with them. It didn't come off well. I made a right mess of things and I took a lot of stick from people in the office, but after listening to advice from veteran artist Peter Goldsmith, the end results came out great. I learnt a lot from this game, not only about the C64 and graphics, but about people.
Ramparts was a strategy game about knights, boats and castles. This was one of the very first things I worked on when I started working in the industry, and to be honest, I didn't have much of a clue. I learnt as I went along, but I always managed to get good results. None of my games were ever slated in the graphical department. Can't say that about the gameplay! :) I don't know what ever happened to the game as I never saw a release of it.
I converted most games from the Amiga and I had the challenge of competing with Amiga artists. I think my C64 graphics are as good if not better because I had a harder job. I can still produce top pixel graphics and I'm known for being one of the best pixel artists in the business. It took me a long time to release that.
What companies did you work for, in-house and/or freelance, and what were your tasks?
Artist at Imagitec Design, Artist at Attention to Detail, Artist/Art Coordinator at NMS Software, Senior Artist at Smart Dog, Freelance Artist at Revolution, Freelance Artist through my own company Graphic Avengers for Rockstar Games and then for Batfish.
What did a typical day in front of the computer look like?
I would love to say it was most glamorous and high-tech, but to be honest, it was hard work and pretty basic. The pressure to be at your best every day, technically and creatively can be quite stressful. Those of us who worked in the industry around the late 80's early 90's belongs to a unique breed. It was challenging, it was exciting, we felt and acted like rockstars, but lived like paupers! There was no money and no glamour, but we produced games that are still talked about and will remain classics forever.
My typical day back then would look a little like this: For most of the day, one of the lads in the office would be yelling about one thing or another, my boss would be swearing because we were behind schedule and some other artist would be mouthing "Lou, your graphics are shit!" Being the only girl in the office apart from the receptionist... it was just jealousy you see. :) "Girls can't do techie things." I loved it and I still love and miss those guys from the Imagitec years.
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to finish your work?
Good question! In those days, deadlines were pretty tight. It would be weeks to finish a game rather than months or years. I think the longest I spent on a game was nine months from start to finish. Although the graphics would be finished, the code would still need a lot of work to get the game polished. Everyone remembers the affectionate name for Daemonsgate = 'Daemonslate'!
What tools/development kits/etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to satisfy your needs?
I used Koala Painter for all my graphics in the beginning and then moved onto Neochrome for the Atari ST and Deluxe Paint on the Amiga. I worked with some incredibly innovative coders and they devised a lot of graphic converters to suit my needs and the needs of the game. My friend and programmer Axel Brown created a converter from Neochrome to the C64 as I produced better looking sprites in Neochrome. Once ported to the C64, a few tweaks were made and they looked awesome.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Many! I worked on a medieval game called Cabal. The graphics were pretty cool as I produced full-screen backdrops which was quite a challenge on the C64 due to pixel resolution. The game never really got off the ground as we wrote it as we went along, which is always a bad idea. I worked on a couple of concept games, shoot-'em-up's and racing games mainly, which we started but never finished.
Which game are you most proud of, which was most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which gave you headaches?
That's a tricky one. I'm most proud of Daemonsgate on the Gameboy and Mass Destruction on the PC. I would say Fiendish Freddy was the most fun and the most challenging one too. I'm very proud of this game because it was my first and it got awesome reviews. I made a game at Attention to Detail called Blue Lightning for the Atari Jaguar. It was absolutely awful! That has to be the one which gave me the most headaches. The company had an idea that we would scan all the backgrounds in and produce 3D models for the sprites. It was such a naff idea. It just didn't work and it caused me a lot of headaches and heartache as I was so unhappy not only with the game but with the company. The models looked great, but the scanned backgrounds looked awful. In the end, we had a mixture of drawn and scanned backgrounds. Needless to say, it got slated and I left the company.
If you had the chance to go back to any of your past games, what would you add and/or remove?
All my bad memories of working in the gaming industry came after I left Imagitec. I don't believe any of my C64 and Gameboy games could have been produced any better at the time when we made them. If I could rework a game today, it would be Blue Lightning. I would remove all scanned images and create a 3D world. It had the makings of a great game, a bit Top Gun if you like. We actually hired a fighter jet and pilot gear for a photo shoot. Those working on the game got to dress up and be pilots for a day; the results of which were used in the select pilot screen. That was the best time I had at ATD.
Were there any particular games that you would have liked to work on or converted from arcade?
There are loads of games I would love to add my name to: Call of Duty, Tomb Raider, Duke Nukem, Horace Goes Skiing, The Sims, and Rayman to name a few! If I was to have converted a game for the C64, it would have been Pole Position. I still love racing games and it has always bugged me that Combo Racer didn't do as well as it should. Umm, maybe I could resurrect it and other C64 titles for the iPhone and the Android platforms. Now, there's a challenge!
Did you get much chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
We didn't really play games at work. There just wasn't time. When a new game came out, or we wanted to rip something off, we would all gather around a machine and dissect it, play it for research purposes, you understand! That did happen quite often. We did go for a trip once to Saga World to check out the latest games and technology. Martin Hooley was fond of taking us off for the day to the arcades in Blackpool and such like not only to play games, but to let off steam and the intake of lots of alcohol.
I have loads of favourite games on the C64, a lot for the memories of playing with my brother who on the odd occasion when I beat him would have a hissy fit! I love Winter Games, Track & Field (the blisters from the joystick after trying to run 100 meters), Stunt Car Racer, Emlyn Hughes International Soccer and Wizball. I could quite happily play those games right now for a good few hours!
I think my all-time favourite games are Duke Nukem on the PC, Horace Goes Skiing on the Spectrum and Winter Games on the C64.
Were there any games which you felt were so appalling and bad that you wished you had worked on to do a better job?
Ha, quite a few. I can't stand bad graphics full stop! Even now I'm pretty critical about in-game graphics. If I don't like the graphics, I won't buy the game. It could get 10/10, but show me a bad graphic and I'll show it the door! *LOL*
Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly gave inspiration to your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
I always admired the Bitmap Brothers and Barry Leitch is a pretty awesome musician. As an individual artist, all my inspiration came from living in a fantasy world and rock 'n' roll. Nothing has changed then!
Share some memories from the old days! It could for instance be something you remember a colleague did or said, about your time in the demo scene, about crackers stealing development disks, or about going to computer shows.
I remember one of the artists, Jolly, brought his replica pistol into work and started shooting rounds off upstairs. I thought I was going to get shot! Or the time we covered a programmers car with shaving foam just because he annoyed us all so much. He was so angry it was all worth it. We had great times at Imagitec. If I could have those days again I would! There are many, many stories, but I'll save those for the book.
We can't ignore the fact that there were other machines apart from the C64. Share with us the software and/or hardware you created on other systems.
I did Fiendish Freddy's Top o' Fun for the Spectrum and the Amstrad. I did American Gladiators and Wheel of Fortune for the NES and Gadget Twins on the Mega Drive. I did The Humans for the Amiga, and I was the main artist on Combo Racer for the same platform. Me and Mark Avory worked really well together. He was an awesome programmer and this is one of my favourite games because I loved motorbikes. If you play this game you will see some Iron Maiden billboards I made as I was, and still am, a bit of a rock chick!
I also worked on these titles:
All Star Tennis 2000 (Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance)
Captain Scarlet (Carlton TV PC)
Daemonsgate (Lynx and Gameboy)
Down Force (Early version demo for Gameboy Advance)
Grand Theft Auto III (Gameboy Advance)
Mass Destruction (PC and Playstation)
Mission Impossible (Gameboy)
Pinball Advance (Gameboy Advance)
Prophecy I: Viking Child (Game Gear)
Reach for the Starz (Mobile)
Roadster (Playstation 2)
Sarge's Heroes (Early version for the Gameboy Advance)
Snood (Gameboy Advance)
Tilt (PC, Playstation and Gameboy Advance)
Games that didn't make it: Rat Pack, Radian and Ramparts for the Atari ST. Cabal for the C64. Blue Lightning and Hulk for the Jaguar. Battleship for the Playstation.
I worked on GTA3 when 9/11 happened (I was in Lincoln at the time where Take Two where based). We had almost finished the graphics, which had been done in a top down style, and BOOM! The world went mad. Rockstar pulled all work, the game was put on hold, and our role came to an end. I was gutted as I had put in a lot of work and it looked smart. We all went out and got hammered on the company. Johnny Wood you are a legend!
What are you up to these days?
After spending some time as a Web Developer and Retail Manager, I'm now a respectable Research Administrator... Yeah right! Seriously, I still dabble in graphics. My new passion is photography so check out my blog www.herdstar.wordpress.com. I would never say never to producing graphics again for a game, but I don't think it will ever be as good as it was when we had that true passion and devotion to what we did.
Thank you for helping us preserve an important part of computer and gaming history! Do you have any last comments to leave a final impression on the audience? Feel free to send any greetings to anyone you know.
Thank you Andreas for inviting me to do this interview. It's been a while since I spoke about my gaming past. Some people I meet still think I made it all up! I do miss the gaming business, but it has all changed and I think I was in it at the best possible time. Being passionate about something in life can lead you to the most amazing places and create an opportunity that will live with you forever. That is what happened to me, and it all started with a few pixels on a machine called the Commodore 64.
A big shout out to the Imagitec posse, mainly Sharon, Barry, Axel, Glenn, Keith, Blizz, Fish, Dave L, Jaz, Jolly and Malc. It's been a blast, thank you!
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