Looking back at the games you did in the old days, are you satisfied with what you've created?
I have been very lucky in this industry, I have achieved critical success, big fish in a small pond style fame, money and personal satisfaction, what more could a man ask for from his career? I consider Sensible to have been the top C64 developer and the top Amiga developer in the world at it's peak, and the early years 1986-1995 were the best.

What was the first thing you ever drew on a computer?
It was a sprite for Sodov the Sorceror on a Spectrum. I think it was the dragon walking across the screen that I did first.

What tools did you use when drawing?
Good question. It was so long ago and my memory for that kind of thing is terrible. Obviously I used SEUCK for the SEUCK games, Koala Pad, erm, another paint package I can't recall the name of. D Paint, my fingers, my eyes, a C64, a big disk drive.

Did you have any special drawing techniques?
BAS relief, strong contrast, clear definitions, light source from top left hand corner. I always saw my graphics as being stylised rather than realistic. They were there to let you know what they represented and be clean, humorous and professional rather than realistic.

Did it ever bug you that the pixels on the C64 weren't square?
I guess it did a bit, but you just learn to deal with it. My attitude has always been to make the very best out of what you have to play with. And anyway square pixels could be used if you were happy to use monochrome sprites. I am talking Microprose Soccer here of course and Wizball himself was inspired by those ridiculous sideways pixels.

Was there anything that drove you insane about drawing on the C64?
Saving and loading to tape mainly. It was a lot better with drives.

What was most fun to draw; title screens, animations, sprites or backgrounds?
Definitely drawing and animating sprites. It's amazing how you can bring something to life and add so much humour to it. I think the limited graphics, necessitated a cartoony style that encouraged you to add as much humour as you could.

Which graphic element you've done are you most pleased with, both on and off the C64?
On the C64, probably the Microprose Soccer sprites because they were the first sprites to use double layers of hi-res and lo-res for extra definition, the Wizball backgrounds and the Parallax title screen (one of the first big things I ever did). Off the C64 probably the little men in Mega lo Mania as they defined the Sensible Software Amiga look and a lot of the stuff in Wizkid which I love. I have not been asked questions about graphics for many years now. This is fun for me.

What was the main difference between working on the many computer types?
Spectrum was too limited. C64 was great because it played into the hands of icon making non-technical artists with imagination (like me). Amiga was the best as it was the best balance between ability to produce without needing excessive man power. Anything beyond Amiga has required too big teams to make the production process any fun at all. Atari ST was a poor mans Amiga. Amstrad was a poor mans Spectrum. I never really worked for Megadrive and SNES directly or liked them particularly. About the PC – how long have you got? Playstation – beginning of the end of 2D art. X-Box, Playstation 2 – my art days had long since gone by then.

Design wise: All of the machines are different challenges, but the most difficult challenge of the more recent machines is how much faith designers have to put into their technical programmers to deliver the goods. They are less hands on by nature, which takes different designing skills, which nearly always need a big enough budget behind them to really have justice done to them.

What were the advantages in drawing on the C64?
At the time the C64 was a dream with all those colours and char and sprite variations. There were some quite good utilities too.

Is there a C64 game that you really wanted to do but someone else got the job?
No. We always did exactly what we wanted to do anyway, it was all our own stuff. In the early days we had an idea called Political Karate, and it was basically famous politicians beating each other up. We didn't do it in the end but no-one else got the job either.

Let's talk about Wizball and Parallax for a while. How did the idea to Wizball come around?
It started with the control of the ball itself which Chris did. I must have drawn a stupid face on it and I can't remember where the catellite came from. The game was influenced fairly heavily by Nemesis at the time. I think it was probably my idea to colour in the landscapes. Tear drop collection I can't remember. I know that I wanted to put a lot more in the bit where you went in the lab to mix the colours up with characters, but that kind of wierd shit happened later in Wizkid.

What parts of the games did you design, and what did Chris do?
For the C64 games in general, Chris designed the controls, I designed the levels and we shared design of the game structure. Maybe in games like Microprose Soccer and 3D Tennis, I may have had some input regarding controls and certainly for SEUCK Chris worked on the bulk of the structure, but in general that was how it went for our C64 games.

When you were working on Parallax, did you know you had something new and exciting on the way?
Yeah, it felt pretty good. The controls were excellent and very innovative at the time.

What was the original idea and how did it evolve into the final product?
The original idea was the control system of flying above and below things. This was something Chris had come up with. I can't remember where the ideas for the computers and stuff came from. I know we wanted to do a lot more with it than we did but it was fun as it was anyway. Once the controls were nailed and the suck in spit out portals added, I designed the graphics and then all of the levels, and Chris added more effects like the moving walls. The game was inspired by a number of arcade games and then we added our own original twists and concepts. We were just having fun.

How would Parallax Deluxe look like?
The computer stuff would have been much more in depth, maybe a few more warps and enemies, maybe more levels of weird and wonderful parallax scrolling semi transparent clouds.

Were you ever part of the demo scene?
No, I never was because we were always too busy making games. Demos would have seemed like going backwards.

No I didn't know that, and yes, it's my design. I am pleased that everyone is still using it.

How was it to work with Martin Galway?
In my opinion Martin was the king of C64 music. He made it sound like a new instrument, and we were lucky that he worked for Ocean at the time.

Parallax and Wizball are considered to be two of the best games ever released on the C64. Did working for yourselves give you the oportunity to take extra time to fine tune the details and by doing that giving the game players lots more value for their money?
That's definitely the case. In all of our Sensible Games up until 1995 we were small enough and independent enough and creatively trusted enough by our publishers to be able to spend extra time working on games. The key to it was that when we went over time with a game, we never ever charged our publishers extra money. We could afford to do this because our teams were so small and none of them were employees even through the Amiga days. We only used people who themselves had a financial interest in the long term success of the game. In the C64 times there was only me and Chris and occasionally Martin Galway to pay. We all had a financial interest in the long term success and sales of the game, so we put extra effort in for nothing at the time, in order to have a chance of earning more royalties from a superior quality game... and it worked. Unfortunately, as games development has eveolved, a sub five man team is no longer a viable option on any easy to develop for mainstream formats and therefore our old approach to development does not really make sense any more. Which is sad because the increase in the quality in the games is very evident.

Did Ocean at any point give you directions on what you should and shouldn't do?
Ocean didn't say anything to us at all regarding Parallax or Wizball except "Thank You". They were very receptive to our ideas and in those days there was no interference at all from anybody in the publishing houses. Colin Stokes and Gary Bracey were our main contacts as far as I can remember, and they were very easy and trustful regarding the content we chose. I wish modern publishers would take note of the fact that all three Ocean games we did were classics and none had any publisher interference whatsoever.

What about marketing? Did Ocean and other companies do a good job in that department?
Ocean's marketing was terrible. Parallax, Wizball and Wizkid should all have done much better then they did in terms of sales. Mind you I am not quite sure how reliable our royalty statements were anyway, but chart positions don't lie and we were disappointed in the sale of all these games, particularly Wizkid.

Palace did a bit with SEUCK and 3D Tennis, and Microprose did market Microprose Soccer pretty well. After a while we took it upon ourselves to do our own "free" marketing in the magazines by providing editorial articles etc. Another lesson that could do with being relearnt in the current market.

Galway told me that around the time you did Insects in Space, time was pretty rough for Sensible and none of you were too happy. Develop that, please.
Hmm, can't remember too much. It would have probably been around the time that we were transferring over to the Amiga. 3D Tennis would have been around. Mega lo Mania may have been in development and we were still looking for a publisher. Martin and I had just started working on a big adventure game which we hoped to get signed with Origin but it eventually got canned. I guess this was what one might call a transitional phase for us. Insects in Space itself was only a budget game and it didn't take very long to do, but it was hardly a step up the ladder at the time.

Martin also said that you and Chris visited him while he was working at Origin in the US. Business or pleasure?

It was business with a friendly visit to Martin in the middle.

I looked at the softography you sent and it says that you worked on International Karate. I thought the game was fully created by Archer Maclean. What did you contribute to it?
System 3 originally commisioned IK through LT Software. I did most of the graphics for a Spectrum version of IK, programmed by a pothead programmer who eventually disappeared without trace before finishing the game. I also did some C64 graphics for the game along with the daughter of one of the guys who owned the company. He was the guy who later changed his name from Mike to Patricia. I don't know what happened to any of my graphics when Archer eventually picked up the project but I do know that I did them. It was my first ever project using a Koala Pad.

Do you recognise any of your stuff if you look at the game today?
Hard to say. The sprites were a rip off from Way of the Exploding Fist and the backgrounds were changed quite a bit. I thought Koala Pad graphics looked very messy in the main screen.

Was Galax-i-Birds the first game you guys did? Quality wise, it's a giant leap between this one and Parallax (which was released the same year).
Galax-i-Birds was done after Parallax as a breather before we started Wizball. It was a piss take and was knocked out very quickly, in just over a week.

What was the idea behind Oh No? Was it a fast knock-up to keep the company going?
Oh No was based on an obscure multiplayer arcade game that me and Chris played in Chelmsford. Can't remember the name now but I think it was Tank something or other.

Microprose Soccer is a very cool game. The controls are so much different than any other soccer game released at the time. Tell us how the game came together from idea to finished product.

Microprose Soccer was based on the trackball controlled arcade game Tehkan World Cup, something I played a lot of at the time. Chris was experimenting with the double sprite routine using hires and lores sprites together and we gelled the two ideas, stuck in a banana shot and bobs your uncle. Actually, this is the only game that ever encouraged us to set up a stall at a trade show in order to flog some games.

What was your involvement on R.M.S. Titanic? Was this something you did on your own or was it a Sensible game?
No, this was me working in messy bedroom in student digs as a consultant graphics artist for ODE. I worked for David "Doc" Pringle's company (via LT Software I seem to recall). Saw David recently at another trade show. He is now one of the people in charge of Empire and a very nice guy as well.

What was your involvement on Trivial Pursuit?
Again this was one of my ODE excursions away from Sensible. I was actually thinking about this today, waking up in yet another hotel whilst I am working away (when you are consulting it seems to come with the territory). I remember staying in a B&B in connection with my work for the very first time and watching Joe Johnson win the snooker world title just after I got back from drawing the last pixel of TPs oversized green nose. Of course you realise he was really Mr Nosey from the Mr Men.

How did the idea for Shoot'em up Construction Kit come about?
I think Chris was making a game maker for us to use to make games to sell, but in the end we decided to sell the game maker itself and chuck in a few games for free.

How long did it take to plan and draw graphics for S.E.U.C.K.?

Not so long, I never planned my graphics much. Once the game was designed I would just knock stuff out that looked good to me and seemed to fit in with the game. A lot of the graphics for SEUCK kind of evolved. I also did all of the game stuff for the SEUCK games. Those four games are basically my attempts at using SEUCK, which was a program that Chris created single handedly. I think each game took about three weeks over all, maybe a little less.

How many products from S.E.U.C.K. have you seen and what do you think of them?
I have seen about four or five. They always make me laugh because it reminds me of when I used SEUCK to design the original games in the product. I think the ones I have seen are OK, but probably not quite up to a publishable standard, although I am sure there are some great ones out there.

Tell us about the making of International 3D Tennis, and how did you end up working with Palace Software for this one?
We had already done SEUCK with Palace before Tennis. Chris wanted to move into doing some 3D stuff and somehow we ended up with this game. Later on Dave "Ubik" Korn did the conversion to Amiga (our first Amiga game), that was another case of working in a messy bedroom in some student digs, but this time in Cambridge instead of Oxford. I love the crazy Czech cartoon look of the game. It is definitely a one off product. I really like the control system too and the bitmap of Stefan Edberg.

I found a game called The Day the Universe Died on a Zzap! 64 covertape while doing a bit of research. Tell us about that game. Why wasn't it released?
I can't remember why it wasn't released. The game was just a demo of some new fancy 3D stuff that Chris had just come up with. I think the demo was entirely his work. The name got selected from a competition in Zzap, and I think my favourite Zzap reader name was Dominion. The game sort of died a death but I can't remember why. And why we didn't finish it is now a mystery to me. It probably turned into International 3D Tennis.

Fill in the following:
Your first game: Twister
The best one: Sensible Soccer
The worst one: Sensible Golf
The best arcade conversion: Microprose Soccer (Tehkan World Cup... shh!)
The hardest one to work on: Mega lo Mania
The one that took lots of time: Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll
The one that was done really fast: Galax-i-Birds
The one that drove you insane: Sensible Soccer '98

What are your fondest memories of the C64?
My very fondest memories of the C64 are myself and Chris playing Dropzone on it and Chris being so pissed off with me for mistiming the smartbomb that he picked up the whole thing and threw it out of his bedroom window where it shattered on the path below. Now that was fun!

Did you ever come to a point where you felt that you'd master the machine and there was nothing more to do?
Never. There's always more to be done. You always believe that you can produce something just as good or better in a different way. This is the essence of the creative spirit. The C64 was the machine that we managed to master the best technically. From my point of view once a machine has been technically mastered that is where my work as a designer can really begin. To have to work around the limited knowledge of a programmer on a machine can be incredibly frustrating whilst he is learning the ropes as it gives you much less control over the design. That is why our C64 stuff was so good and so diverse.

And the best and worse things about it?
The very best thing was how easy it was to develop and publish on. It was such a creative machine and it looked great for it's time. We were very lucky to have been working on such a free platform with none of the litigious shit which swallows everything these days. Also Zzap 64 – godfather of all decent computer game magazines. The worst thing was the size of the disk drives. You could park a small car inside one, and of course the hideous light brown colour scheme.

What was the coolest thing someone invented on the C64?
The drive. Do you remember how slow and unreliable tapes were to work on?

Do you still have the C64 lying around somewhere?
I will give you a clue as to where my C64 is:

My first is in Sack but not in Suck
My second in Tack but not in Fuck
My third is in Tit but not in Job
My fourth is in Shit but not in Knob
My fifth is the shape of a sideways gob

What am I?

No clue mate.
The answer is 'attic'.

Who is your favourite programmer, artist, musician and game from the old days?
Programmer: Chris Yates (the best technical/creative C64 programmer in my eyes). Artist: Dan Malone (ex-Palace, a great bloke and a true artist). Musician: Martin Galway. Game: Master of the Lamps.

What's the most valuable experience you've got from your career in the games business?
My belief in my own abilty to visualise an idea and see it through to it's completion and to manage a team of people during the competion of a large creative task. And people all round the world still remember games I have worked on and genuinely loving them. That is a very special feeling that will never go away.

And the proudest moment in your career?
Wizball Game of the Decade award from Zzap. Receiving the Indin Award for Best Developer for the second year running in 1993. This was the very peak for Sensible.

Tell us some stories from the old days. Any gossip to share?
We never had any fun... we never shared any gossip... we were all dull as fuck.

If someone gave you lots of time and money, would you return to do something on the C64, just for fun?
Yes, I think I would make my "Jops is God, so fuck the rest of you" game, now that would be fun.

We have reached the end of the interview. Any final words?
This is the longest interview I have ever done in my life! How many years is it now Andreas. :) I can't believe it is over.

Andreas: It's only been three years since we started. Why stop now? :) For the record, we haven't been lazy or anything, rather there's been a lot of things going on. In any case, I hope you people enjoyed it.

» Return to the first part of the interview

» Get the games – from C64 to Atari to Amiga and more!

Softography – not only the C64 stuff.

» Tower Studios – this is where Jon works these days.

» Interviews