Interview with Jon Hare (born 1966), co-founder of Sensible Software, designer of several top games, including Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. Interview conducted May 2008.

Wywiad z Jonem Harem (ur. 1966), współzałożycielem Sensible Software, twórcą takich hitów, jak Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. Wywiad przeprowadzony w maju 2008 roku. Tłumaczenie na język polski dostępne na Polskim Portalu Amigowym (

Kamil Nieścioruk: You've started your gaming industry career over 20 years ago. For players the main change over that period is technology (level of graphic and sound/music). What is it for designer and programmer? Is it better hardware or more complicated machines or maybe something else?

Jon Hare: The main change from a design point of view is a lot less commercial freedom, which leads to less space for original games. At Sensible between 1986-1996 I designed/co-designed and released 13 original games (non licensed and non-sequel)(4 of which were all format number one games in the UK, 6 if you include SWOS and CF2). From 1997 until 2008 (the same time period) I have designed/co-designed and released 0 original games (non licensed and non-sequel) This is not because I do not want to make original games, it is because nowadays the market does not want to buy them unless I am prepared to take most of the financial risk. Even when original games have been started they have been canned and it is very disheartening as an artist. This risk aversion and lack of trust of designers of original games has killed creativity for me nowadays and in many ways I resent the industry for it.

KN: There's no doubt one of such changes (as in question 1) is in bussines itself. Industry no longer accepts small teams of friends - now to publish a game you need an office full of programmers, designers and advertisement specialist. Why? Is it because of writing games is "serious job" now or is it general tendence in our times - only strong, big corporations may survive?

JH: It is just corporate bullshit, all you need to make world class games is a team of brilliant people to make it and a good marketing and sales department to sell it. You don't need loads of people or huge offices, you just need talented people and to sack all the useless hangers on both in the developer and the publisher. We ran Sensible Software for 13 years at an average 49% profit per year over 13 years. That is shit hot business no matter where it is run from. PROFESSIONAL businesses make profits, the rest is all just bullshit.

KN: Back to your beginnings (but not to first game) - Mega Lo Mania. I've read you think it's your most underrated project. Is it true? What you love most in MLM? It has some similarities with other classic game of 1991 - Civilization...

JH: We started the game in early 1990 and made it blind of Civilization etc, it actually started off as a game about space race warfare, where you controlled the ships as well as doing the resource management. The biggest influence was Populous which came out 6 months before we finished MLM. Populous gave us the idea of humanizing the evolution and starting off with cavemen.
I could go on all day about american developed games like Cicilization, Dune and Command and Conquer getting too much credit. We were making Mega lo Mania and Cannon Fodder before these games, we were just on the wrong side of the pond so no-one in the States bothered to notice that we got there first. The way thet the European Virgin was propping up US Virgin games publishing in the mid 1990s used to sicken me. The european offices in many major publishers have got far too little credit for far too long, except of course if they are french. That is the main reason that our industry in the UK is so fucked today.

KN: The first game of Sensible Software I've played was MicroProse Soccer (I really liked players spinning on the wet pitch). I guess it helped you to gain some experience in football games, later used in Sensible Soccer. Have you used any technical solutions from MP in SS?

JH: I guess we used the ball bending as the starting point for aftertouch and probably some AI methids for the computer controlled teams. But actually the lead programmer was different for both games. Chris Yates on Microprose Soccer and Chris Chapman on Sensible Soccer.

KN: With previous question I started a "chapter" dedicated to one of the best games of all times. I'm serious - I love Sensible Soccer, I've spent hours playing it and destroyed some joysticks... How do you feel knowing you've created such a game? In 2007 it was listed in top 10 of most important games all time, recently "Game" portal placed it on 4th on similar list. Not mentioning community, add-ons, tournaments, parodies etc.

JH: I wasnt aware of Game's list. Of course it is great to have been part of something special and for it to have been acknowledged around the world.
I have said before that as a child I played Subutteo and to me Sensible Soccer was an electronic version of Subutteo where you could play at any time v firends or your computer opponent. I am especially proud that we made ita worlwide game (over 80 countries leagues included) at a time when most people were not thinking on such a grand scale. However Sensible Soccer represents only about one 15th of the games I have made in my career, so it is by no means all of what I am about, nor something I want to be endlessly regurgitating until I am a pensioner, I want to do dome more new original games like the 13 earlier Sensible games I mentioned before

KN: Sensible Soccer has two important features that makes it such a smashing game: easy controls and rich in-game environment. Modern football games are more into realistic graphic, but you need 20 or sth fingers to play it. What is your opinion on XXI century football games?

JH: Pro Evo is pretty good, at least it was 6 years ago. FIFA is getting better. The main problem is that licensing has got a stranglehold on all sports games and the modern, less imaginative, less well educated console gamer just does not get it that a game feeling right is more important than a game looking right. My opinion is that I am slowly becoming a luddite towards many things, not just games and that I wonder why progress is always associated with movement forwards rather than sometimes standing still or going back.

KN: Most of Amiga users (including me ;) don't know Sensible Soccer 2006. Can you tell us a bit about it? What was the market and players reaction?

JH: The game was OK, I wish we had had another 6 months to finish it properly and I wish the goalies didn't suck the ball into their hands(this was the result of a last minute fix for a crash bug and it really pisses me off becuase it ruins the game). What I enjoyed most about the game was working closely with David Darling, David still gives you the feeling that anything is achievable in a time when I often feel like I am living in manacles and chains.

KN: Enough of SS, now other hit - Cannon Fodder. Is it more about pacifism or brutality? "War has never been so much fun" and throwing grenades on wounded enemies to see their bones is... irony? In game manual you can find that war is sensless. Do you think players really think that way while playing? OK, don't get me wrong - I have lot of fun running my small squadron and I've not killed anyone in real world so far. I just want you to share you thoughts on typical problem: do brutal games cause brutality in real life.

JH: No brutal people cause brutal things in life and I would be very happy if these people were exterminated or at least permanently incarserated.
Cannon Fodder strongly comments on the fact that people realy do die during war and people actually did get the irony (at least this side of the atlantic (they didn't even buy it in the States)).
Of course in war all forms of violence are acceptable but I have very strong opinions on violent and crooked people outside of the war environment. I believe in a liberal society and in a strong defence of everybody's liberty. Genrally the decent people among us see the scum in our society and we do not deal with them early enough. For the last 40 years these undesirables have played democracy and bleeding hearts off aganst each other to protect themselves.
My view about these people is very simple, if some piece of scum lays a finger on my/your/someone elses child/friend/mother then I don't give a flying fuck about their childhood problems (all of my sympathy is with the victim and their family) and I want to see the perpertrator suffer, none of this turn the other cheek nonsense, I want an eye for an eye. I am tired of letting shitty people drag my quality of life down, so I would rather they didn't exist.
That comes from being half german I am afraid, I have no tolerance or sympathy for inefficiency or wankers. I bet you wish you hadn't asked me now.

KN: No, I think that's good the interview with well-known game designer is more that talking about games. I know what you mean. I suppose it's a problem of modern, western society, when criminal has more right than victim. It's VERY frustrating...
But back to games and CF - "War has never been so much fun" is also great piece of opening music. It is your song. Please tell us more about musical side of your life.

JH: In truth I love music more than games, but it would not exactly be a good career move now. I have writtner music for the last 25 years and I am very happy that people like the music we did on the Sensible Games. Actually I really miss Richard Joseph since he died, he was a great musical outlet for me and as well as being great musical partners we were also very close friends.
One day I want time to get all of my music together and put it on a website, I have about 200 tracks to sort out, over 60 hours on tape cassette and 80 tracks on my zoom recorder plus a whole case of CDs and DATs full of stuff. If anyine out there is interested please let me know, I can provide the raw material and the artsistic direction, but I need technical power to make it happen. Really it would be more of a vanity project, or actually more accurately for me it would be like some thorough and overdue librarian work.
Myself and Chris Yates played in a whole bunch of original music bands together in the 80s and early 90s, since then I have played in Blues bands, Rock bands, soul bands, another original band playing spanish guitar, trumpet and accordian. A band with Jack Monck who played with Syd Barrett (one of my heroes) and of course SID 80s who play C64 music on rock instruments. Also Eurogamer are due to release the soundtrack to our ill fated game Sex'n'Drugs'n'rock'n'Roll soon, at least I think they are... you better ask Kristan.

KN: In both games you've used unique characters visualization - these small pin-like guys. It was a kind of Senisble Software trademark. Why you've decided to do it that way, while other companies were trying to make characters big enought to show all possible details? Was it comic narration - adding that element of humour to the games environment - or an attempt to show as much area on screen as possible (like showing it from very high above)?

JH: It was definitely to show enough area of the background to play a proper tactical game. The view actually came from Mega lo Mania. Th efirst Sensible Soccer men were literally men in football kits running around on Mega lo Mania landscapes.

KN: SS and CF are you best known games, but, of course, not all. The weirdest one is SimBrick, I think. Don't you like Maxis' Sim series? :)

JH: I think Wizkid is actually our wierdest and most brilliant game. In general I do like the Sims. I have 3 daughters 20, 18 and 13 and the Sims is the most played game in our house (we have 10 different versions) To me the Sims is the ultimate girls game, it is more of a toy than a game, there is no real goal to try and attain and there is endless room for making things for the sake of enjoying making them. This is very female and it workds brilliantly. I enjoyed making people with grotesque faces and the odd strange house but got bored in the end, but not my kids, oh no they love it and still play it right now. Congratulations to Will Wright and his team and to EA, for all the other commercial stuff they do this really is a truly brilliant original game.

KN: Seems like I have strong "women" particle of my nature :). I mean I like games with no goal - just developing something, like A-Train or SimCity and other Sim-series games. I don't need opponent in games, all I need is living environment. I always play Open Transport Tycoon with no opponent... And Sims you mentioned - I've never played it :).

JH: You are right this kind of product appeals to a more feminine, creative and non-competitive side of our natures, as a creative person who is fiercly competitive i can relate to both approaches.

KN: Sensible Software had been sold to Codemasters in 1999. Was it hard for you? Like letting your own kid left family home or something like?

JH: To be honest the last two years of Sensible was hell. I spent a lot of the time waiting to be sued for over $3million, it never happened :)
If the industry had not changed so much I would say I miss it, but the truth is I miss the way I used to work most of all. The feeling of being totally trusted and totally in control, for a creative person this is a fantastic thing and I do not believe that I would be given that today, even if Sebsible were still running, most people considered us to be a slightly off the wall, arrogant, maverick buch of loose cannons who somehow stumbled upon 7 number 1 games. And that does not just apply to me either but a number of my friends in various different UK development houses. To be honest Sensibel died when Sex'n'Drugs'n'Rock'n'Roll died Codemasters was just the death rites.

KN. What do you do now? Is working for Nikitova Games your main professional activity?

JH: Yes I have been Director of Development for Nikitova Games for 18 months now. The people give me enough respect to be able to do my job properly and some of them are very talented. It is also an advantage working in a 140 man company at this time and that would be totally impossible in the UK. I have also been consulting since 1999 and still work for a few other consulting clients in the UK and europe apart from Nikitova.

KN: Do you keep track of Amiga? Do you know anything about its current situation? If so, what's you opinion?

JH: MY opinion is that unfortunately the Amiga has not been commercially viable since 1995 and that the demise of Commodore following our success at Sensible on the C64 and the Amiga is heartbreaking to me. No developer wanted Commodore to succeed more than Semsible... but alas it was not to be.

KN: You're right, Amiga is hobby machine now, nothing more. But I wanted to know if you're aware of recent products associated with Amiga - Pegasos, AmigaOne and operating systems AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS.

JH: Sorry I know very little about these products at all, these days my head is full of DS, Wii and PC.

KN: What do you think of classic Amiga? Was it perfect gaming machine? Unique programming platform? What were it advantages and weaknesses?

JH: Amiga in 1991-1993 was without doubt the best platform I have ever worked on:
a. totaly free format no approvals on the actual format from Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft or whoever to potentially block your game from publication (like every othre medium ie film, music books, TV etc.)
b. no manufacturers charge per disc/cartridge
c. no complicated 3D graphics to distract programmers from gameplay, gameplay, gameplay
d. less of a stupidly split and totally incompatible market like Wii/DS/XBox360/PS3/PSP to cinfuse the market

KN: Could you tell more about that manufacturers charge?

JH: Sony/Nintendo etc charge publishers up to $7 comission on every single disk that is manufactured for their system, very often theis money is charged up front, which means publishers have to take substantial risks to work with these companies, with mno guarantees that their titles will sell well into retail and it has encouraged the conservative choice of games to publish by many publishers over the last 10 years (I feel really strongly about the two points above because the lack of international regulation and centralization of technology companies over the last 30 years has left us with a scenario where the hardware has far too much power over everyone making the software for it.. effectively software makers and publishers are being held to ransom by the hardware companies these days. This is why I love Commodore so much because they never did this. They allowed the artists to shine and were happy to take what they could from it without trying to control the market too much. At the end of day a piece of hardware is not an inspiring thing, it cannot make you laugh and cry it can just provide the medium with which applications that run on it can make you laugh or cry. In the same way language in itself is just dull and functional but the assembly of certain words in a certain order at a certan time have the power to inspire or crush people.)
Sometimes advancement means taking stock and sorting out all the lose ends, of which hardware platform incompatibilty, approval and disk manufacture issues are but 3 problems in the quest to make entertainment software a more uplifting experience for all. I don't mind these companies making money. But I really hate their policies and red tape deliberately blocking and inhibitng my creativity due to the unadventurous manner in which the publishers are forced to operate.
I look forward to the time when our pathetic love affair with sci fi and machinery for the sake of it is over. Personally I care more about DRIVING my car really fast rather than HAVING a really fast car and if you want progress then let's have real fucking progress and get rid of world religion and have every computer company in the wordl working together to produce something absolutely awesome that the whole world canafford and that can genuinely raise the standard of living for all of us in it. I am more interested in my next PC being advanced in the way that:
a. it never crashes,
b. it never loses connection with the printer or the internet,
c. it never drops a frame on any application,
d. it never comes up with an error message for which it does not put forward a concise user friendly solution, it never suffers from incompatibility with anything.
e. it is effortlessly compatible with every other technological gadget at my disposal.
I would sacrifice 5 years advance in graphics and sound to get all of the above points 100% sorted out.

KN: Jon, thank you very much for your time and interesting replies.

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