Brian Flanagan / Ocean Software
Added on February 22nd, 2013 (3040 views)
Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
Hi, I'm Brian Flanagan. I worked at Ocean Software in Manchester for ten years.
How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
My parents bought me a C64 when I was about 15 years old. I'd already read and studied a lot about computer basics and used to draw pixel graphics on graph paper before I even had a computer!
Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit sample work to various games companies in order to procure jobs, or did jobs come to you?
In the UK, we have a system whereby secondary school pupils (generally 14 year-olds) get a so-called work experience placement at a company for a week or two. Most of the time, the school gives you a list of crappy office jobs to choose from, in which you will be making cups of tea the entire time you're there. I got my careers officer to call Ocean instead. I then did intern work for them during the school holidays. After going to college for a year, and on Simon Butler's advice, I started working full-time at Ocean.
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? In your opinion, was it as special as we like to think it was?
I like to think it was, yes. For me, the sound chip is still as impressive now as it was then. The overlaid sprite technique and sprite multiplexing made things look good too.
What C64 games did you work on? Please be as detailed as possible.
I worked on Operation Wolf (uncredited) and Operation Thunderbolt (sorry!). I wasn't credited on Operation Wolf because I was only there doing unpaid intern work over the school summer holidays – I got a Target Renegade T-shirt and an unlimited supply of free coffee for my efforts. Hiring two inexperienced guys to do Operation Thunderbolt as their first project and leaving them to it wasn't the slickest idea in my opinion, we should have had an experienced member of staff keeping an eye on us. I sure as hell didn't know what was going on! Once they realised what an atrocious state the project was in, the game was rapidly tackled and pretty much rebuilt from scratch. Pretty amazing, really. I did a few console and ST things after that, as well as a few console prototypes that never saw the light of day.
What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
I've worked at Ocean, Core Design, Warthog, EA, Nintendo and now iNiS. I've also contracted for Wayforward Technologies, Capcom and Namco, mainly in graphics positions, though I have also produced, designed, planned tools and even written music for some titles.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
At Ocean, I'd get in, make a coffee and then try and get my work done, while people around me tried to do the same amongst much tomfoolery.
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work?
It depended on the deadline. We had to scrap Operation Thunderbolt and redo the whole thing in just a few weeks. Sometimes we'd get a few months. It all depended on launch dates, movie launch dates, holiday seasons, etc.
What tools, development kits, etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to fulfil a need?
At Ocean, we had a very nice sprite animation tool on the Atari ST. On the C64, we had Steve Beat's sprite editor and a number of background tools. I didn't get into tool design until many years later, when I designed some nice sprite animation tools and background editors for mobile phones at Glu Mobile.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Oh, yes. At Ocean, I was prototyping a cute action game for the original Game Boy that had a samurai fox as the main character. I also spent a good while developing and designing a game for the SNES called Cold Steel which was kind of a cross between Castlevania and Strider. The project went through three programmers and was ultimately canned when James Higgins left the company.
Which game are you most proud of, which was the most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which ended up giving you the biggest headache?
I enjoyed producing the Game Boy version of Pang. I really got into consoles at that point and had no interest in home computers. It was so obvious they were going to be the future.
If you had the chance to edit your CV of past games, which ones would you add, edit or remove?
I would have liked to have finished Cold Steel for sure, and I would remove Operation Thunderbolt from the memory of everyone on the planet! I would have liked to have made The Addams Family on the Game Boy as I originally wanted. My original design was more in the vein of Rainbow Islands and Bubble Bobble, but the programmer wanted it his way. It ended up a pretty bad mess.
Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on or converted from arcade?
If I could work with a programmer who was willing to make an accurate conversion, I'd probably go for Wardner, Ordyne and/or Star Force.
Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
Yeah, I played lots, mostly in the arcade and on my PC Engine and Sega Mega Drive. On the PCE, I was really into Alien Crush, Bravoman, Gunhed and SonSon II. On the Mega Drive, I was really into the Thunder Force games, Streets of Rage and the Super Shinobi series.
What games did you feel were appalling and you could have done better, given the chance?
I had enough to deal with thanks to the disaster that was Operation Thunderbolt! I must admit, I always thought the NES version of Robocop was too cartoony and bouncy, but I guess it sold...
Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly inspired some of your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
Steve Thompson, Simon Butler, John Meegan and Martin McDonald were major inspirations for me as a newbie graphics artist. They gave me lots of advice, criticism, new ideas and friendship. I love you guys!
Please share some memories from the old days! (Like something a colleague did or said, your time on the demo scene, crackers stealing development disks, going to computer shows, etc.).
Gary Bracey bought a crossbow once, and we gathered around to watch him test it on a door. When he fired it, the arrow went through the door, across the corridor and into the wall. It was very lucky that no-one was on the other side!
I remember going to an ECTS show once and on the train up, I was chatting about current and upcoming projects with the other staff. We didn't know there were two kids sat in the seat behind us taking notes. The little bastards even went up to the Ocean stand and told them what they'd found out. Luckily, they weren't clever enough to find the press stand...
When it came down to it, most of the guys I worked with were extremely helpful and shared a lot of information and technical tricks such as Steve Thompson and the "extra colours" he could pull from sandwiching bands of colour together, and many of the guys were good mates as well as co-workers. Here's some inside gossip: we never tested Steve's colour tricks on NTSC C64s – apparently, it just looked like horizontal bands of colour on a US TV. Oops…
What made you eventually stop creating games for the C64?
Consoles! More colours, higher resolutions and worldwide markets.
What are you up to these days?
I lived in San Francisco for six years or so, then moved to Kyoto, Japan and worked at a small division of Nintendo. I've learned a huge amount while in Japan. The hours are long and hard, but I finally feel I'm working on some worthwhile stuff. I now live in Tokyo and work at iNiS, the company that made Ouendan and Guitaroo Man on the PS2 and PSP, plus Elite Beat Agents on the DS.
Thank you for helping us preserve an important part of computer and gaming history! Do you have any parting comments with which to leave a final impression on our readers? Feel free to greet anyone you know.
Huge thanks go to the entire Ocean crew. Thanks for putting up with my bullshit!
back to the list of available interviews