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 (www.ppa.pl).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 :)
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:
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.)
KN: Jon, thank you very much for your time and interesting replies.