A sister site to Lemon Amiga. Made in Sweden by Kim Lemon 1998-2013.
|An interview with Dan Phillips and Robin Levy
People who know me also know about my passion for The Last Ninja games. Let's put it this way: back in the old days I adored them. Hell, the word 'adore' doesn't do justice here…I worshiped them. The beauty of LN1 got me interested in assembly coding and eventually it resulted in me becoming an electronics engineer. The music of LN2 made me pick up electric guitar and learn how to play it. And up to this day playing guitar is still one of my biggest hobbies. So as you can see, I can say that those games shaped my life and made me who I am today, and my friends, this is a very strong statement.
After all these years my love for the LN games hasn't decreased even a bit. I still finish each one of them at least once a month, as I'm yet to come across a game that is as fun to play as any of those three games, which were not much bigger than the icons on my PC desktop now.
This time I had the chance to talk to two of the people who worked on LN3, and I had so many questions to ask. Dan Phillips and Robin Levy, both were very patient with my long list of questions and other million inquiries. These guys also did Armalyte, which is probably the best ever shoot'em up on C64. I hope you guys will enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it…
Hi Dan, Robin! Thank you for doing this interview. Please introduce yourself a bit more for the readers who may be less familiar with you.
Dan: Hi, I'm Dan Phillips, 34. I'm been living in sunny Croydon for the last 9 years although originally come from Exeter. I'm married (Hi Snehal) and have 2 great kids (Lo Dylan and Aadishri).
Robin: Hello there, my name's Robin Levy, I'm 33, have been tinkering with games graphics and design for around 17 years. I'm currently stuck in the hellhole known as Croydon.
I was raised in Devon, a sleepy paradise I yearn to return to, and moved to the London area in 1990 to work on the Last Ninja 3... it's been downhill since then.
What made you decide to join the C64 gaming industry? Had you always wanted to be a game designer, or did you stumble into your careers by happy accident?
Dan: Messing around with a first generation Expert (UPC1?) cartridge led me to look at the code behind the games. I wouldn't say it was a conscious decision to get into the industry, but I knew that I wanted to make games and enjoyed messing around with getting things moving on screen.
Robin: Oh, definitely by accident- happy or otherwise :-)
As a kid I was a bit of a dreamer and loved drawing my own characters and worlds so I wanted to do something creative very early on whether it was drawing comics, working in film or making games. Getting my C64 and reading Zzap! cemented my fascination with games and a chance meeting with Dan and John (Kemp) provided the means to actually do something about it.
Ok starting with Dan…you were involved in Hunter's Moon, Armalyte and The Last Ninja 3. Any other games?
Dan: I wrote the code for the End Sequence of Hunter's Moon, the bulk of the main code for Armalyte, the intro for Last Ninja 3, some minor bits and pieces for Citadel and the sprite multiplexor for Turbo Charge. Deadlock would be the only C64 title missing from that list although that was never released (Soon to be available from Frank Gaskings brilliant "Games That Weren't" site).
And you Robin, you did the graphics for Armalyte, The Last Ninja 3 and Turbo Charge. Any other games?
Robin: First real commission was the loading screen and end sequence for Hunter's Moon- a job I loved doing as it was our first step into the wider world of games development, we also got to meet the fabulous Martin Walker (a nicer guy you could never hope to meet) and stayed up for 80+ hours playtesting the game at Thalamus' Aldermaston offices- happy, carefree days!
I did the loading screen for Hawkeye as well as a few bits and bobs for Martin Walker's Citadel (a very underrated game)
After Armalyte Dan, John and I worked on Deadlock- a game that was justly scrapped after a year of sheer hell. During Deadlock's development I had the honor of being asked to do the graphics for the third Last Ninja which effectively put an end to Deadlock, but got diverted to do the graphics for the Ninja Remix intro.
Ninja 3 came and went and I started on the game graphics for Turbo Charge- a job I didn't much enjoy and after finishing the sprite animations, left to work with Dokk, Doug Hare, Jason Perkins and Gary Liddon at Strangeways but eventually got drawn back to System3 for some Amiga work and the Turbo Charge presentation art.
My final C64 work was on the unreleased C64 versions of Putty and Fuzzball.
Since then I worked on the Amiga and ST for the Putty completion sequence, the Fuzzball intro sequence and the tying together of all the graphical loose ends for the 16 bit versions of Myth.
Spent the next two years working with Jason Perkins on Ruff'n'Tumble for which I handled the graphics and level design.
I returned to System3 where I worked on many games that never got finished including a full 3d Playstation1 version of the Last Ninja Trilogy. There I met John and Steve Rowlands who at the time were working on the Bloodlust arcade game (a cross between Killer Instinct and Capcom's Street Fighter style games) which looked absolutely fantastic but was tragically canned due to circumstances beyond their control. The three of us were fed up with our recent lack of published work so we banded together to do an update of International Karate on the Gameboy Color- which turned out quite well. We continued working together on a trio of well received BMX games on the GBC and the GBA until I left for an in-house position at a company in Croydon. My last published game was Medal of Honor: Infiltrator for the GBA where I acted as lead artist and animator and oversaw the playability towards the end.
Whoaa! There was going to be a 3d version of Last Ninja games on PS1?! Really? Why was it canned?
Robin: This is way back in '95 or '96.
Mark Cale wanted a new version of the Last Ninja for the lucrative Playstation market and many of us at System3 at that time wanted to get into real-time 3d. Resident Evil had been released and Tomb Raider wasn't even heard of.
I was the sole artist on it at the beginning and was learning low-poly modeling and texturing and we had one coder who concentrated on the animation and landscape routines. Despite the addition of more artists for the background modeling and texturing and keen interest from a publisher the game never progressed beyond a demo of the ninja running over a 3d landscape.
It genuinely had a lot of potential on paper but we didn't have the experience or the manpower at that time to really get it off the ground and work ceased within 6 months. The original Tomb Raider appeared under a year later and blew our socks off!
Armalyte was hailed as one of the best shoot'em ups for C64. How did you manage to keep the game from becoming another cliché shooter?
Dan: We aimed incredibly high, and played it and played it. Minor incremental revisions to the code and level design without any real regard for how long it was taking allowed us to "craft" the game. Living at home with our parents and making it because we enjoyed playing it automatically lead us down the right path.
Robin: I'll try to keep this short :-)
We had access to some ground-breaking techniques so we aimed to make a game that we wanted to play. We were all pretty exited by the advent of progressive shoot-em-ups on the 64 and were extremely impressed with Salamander in our local arcade but didn't really enjoy playing the games of that type that had appeared so far on the 64, barring Delta.
We knew the limitations of our systems very early on so instead of trying to deliver the earth and a load of features that were implemented in a limited way we stuck with refining and building on what we had and found that a lot of happy accidents appeared with the game-play. For instance, the way that the munitions pods are activated by your gunfire requires the player to choose between getting a shield and guaranteeing short term survival or take the gamble, concentrate your firepower away from the aliens and improve your chances later.
We also chose to make the game multi-load quite early to provided long levels and a good variety in background themes, sprite animations and attack patterns and sequencing. This had a knock-on effect on the game's frustration factor. A lot of single load games and even some arcade games had short levels and the player restarting at an arbitrary checkpoint minus all his weaponry, which is a horrible way of extending a game's life-span, so with Armalyte we had the player restart immediately with a limited penalty on his arsenal which (hopefully) meant that the player never got stuck on a single part of a level but would scrape through to see just that little bit further.
This leads on to our philosophy on game difficulty where we thought that it's better to give the player the benefit of the doubt on the core mechanics but ramp up the pressure in other areas. The full screen play area and generous background collision allowed the player a lot of freedom to move which was cool, so we maxed out on the mutiplexor and chucked as many aliens on screen as possible to keep the adrenaline flowing. Basically, make it HARD but FAIR as there's nothing worse that a dull game that feels as if it's cheating you. Obviously all this was made possible by Dan and John's outstanding work on the code side of things.
We still tried to put in the occasional break in the onslaught for players to catch their breath though :-)
Finally and probably most importantly an awful lot of hard work was put into the playtesting and tweaking. We had loads of feedback from Martin Walker, who's input and encouragement was invaluable, as was Julian Rignall's playtesting towards the end. Folks, if it wasn't for Mr.Rignall, the game would have been a LOT harder at the beginning!
There are a lot of things "wrong" with Armalyte- it's very pattern oriented and the bosses and levels are very generic but we loved making it and I think that shows.
Do you remember people's reaction to the game shortly after it was released?
Dan: Pretty much everyone loved it. Even if they found it hard they still appreciated the technical achievements and the sheer beauty of some of the levels. There was no pressure put upon magazines, they were just sent review copies, I don't think we got a single review that we weren't bowled over by :). Zzap's reaction was probably the most pleasing.
Robin: People seemed to appreciate our efforts...which was nice :-)
Where did the name 'Armalyte' come from?
Dan: John Harries thought of using it. It Originally came from an album by Marilion and was the first word of the last song. Was supposed to have been spelt Armalite but we couldn't get permission from a certain arms manufacturer.
Robin: Yeah, the Armalite (with an "I") was the precursor to the M16 assault rifle and was suggested by the lyrics on a song from one of John Harries' CDs.
Originally there were legal concerns from Thalamus/Newsfield about using an existing "product" name so we changed the "I" to a "Y", thought it looked more sci-fi and the name stuck.
Ok, let's talk about The Last Ninja 3! Had you played the two previous TLN games before working on TLN3? What did you think about them?
Dan: Played them, didn't really enjoy them. But I did admire them.
Robin: Beautifully crafted games with good game plots, lovely graphics and music but I ultimately found them both to be unrewarding due to their size and difficulty (both games took me a little under a day to complete) and I'm not too keen on games that compensate for their small size by having areas of trial and error like the Ninja 1's swamps.
(Ali's note: He was GOOD! It took me about four months to beat each of the two games…those bloody boxes in the basement! :)
Dan, you were involved in coding that cool intro for the game…Can you please share more details about it with us?
Dan: Not much to tell, we were around when they were thinking of doing it and so we said we would help. Psygnosis had started putting intros into all their games and Mark Cale felt he had to do something similar to compete. I don't think it did but it was a USP for a C64 game (although we did an intro for Citadel, not sure if that was ever released?).
Did you do any coding for the actual game too?
Dan: The bit of code that scrolls the whole screen on at the beginning of a level, that was mine :)
Was it your idea, or did they ask for it?
Dan: It was my idea and because it only took a few lines of code it went in very quickly :)
How long did it take to complete?
Dan: About 6 weeks, a week of coding and the rest waiting for Rob to finish up the graphics :)
LN3 was written using PDS (programmers Development System), which Stan ran on a 12MHz 286 PC…was that the same system you used for the intro?
Dan: Think I was stuck with an 8MHz 286, but very similar.
Do you still have the source code?
Dan: Sadly not.
Did you also use PDS for your other games too?
Dan: Not for the C64. I did use PDS to write Silly Putty on the Amiga.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face?
Dan: There wasn't really anything technically hard for the intro and the people I was working with were fun to be around, not drinking too much every night was quite hard :)
Rob, LN3's graphics are probably the best that have ever come out of the VIC chip…What tools did you use for designing the graphics?
Robin: Thank you but I feel that full credit must go to Hugh Riley for producing the template for the Ninja games.
I used Vidcom64, Steve Beat's Sprite Processor and John Twiddy's "Integrator tool" for Ninja 3's graphics.
Yes, The two previous Last Ninja graphics were done with an in-house editor called 'Integrator', written by John Twiddy. How was it?
Robin: It was a very powerful graphics system but needed a careful eye to keep drawing speeds, masking speeds and attribute clashes down. It took a bit of getting into, but in the end I really enjoyed using it.
What were the steps you took for designing the backgrounds and sprites?
Robin: Tim Best sketched out the level layouts on a couple of sheets of A4- from there I produced an asset list and sketched out all the individual elements that we'd need- wall sections, trees, floor textures, etc.
I'd then use Vidcom to draw them all on a couple of bitmaps taking care not to overdo the multicolour usage on areas where you'd expect to see the background poking through. From there I'd produce silhouette masks for all the elements that the player could walk behind- to keep the drawing speed down it was better to create one big mask and waste memory than rely on the system to "integrate" multiple elements, if I remember correctly.
Finally I'd import them into the Integrator tool where I paired up the elements and their respective masks, made reusable collections of elements called panels to keep the memory usage down and finally created screens from individual elements and panels. If I remember correctly, care had to be taken to "prioritise" the order of the objects but John Twiddy's editor was quite friendly.
The characters were designed on paper- isolating the key features. Then I'd modify the sprites that Hugh Riley put together for Last Ninja 2.
From what I know Armakuni's character was four sprites (two for the body, one for the face and one for the weapon). Is that correct? What about the enemies?
Robin: We built the characters almost the same way as the previous ninja games:
One vertically expanded muticolour sprite with two HiRes sprites overlaid for the detail with one more sprite for the weapon. The enemies were done same way with the same core animation.
Was it difficult to get the running of the characters right?
Robin: All the hard work had already been done by Hugh Riley :-)
Did you ever meet him? Do you know why he wasn't involved in LN3?
Robin: I've never met Hugh Riley but wish I did because people always spoke very highly of him. From what I heard he was living the good life abroad and working on other games around the time of Ninja 3.
Currently he is working for Legend Entertainment. He has the lead artist for a few big games such as Unreal II and Morrowind…Anyway, any information you can give us about the LN3 intro?
Robin: Mark Cale wanted a sequence like Shadow of the Beast 2 on the Amiga and Adrian Cale, who had just seen Duran Duran's "Wild Boys" video suggested having the ninja approach in a storm with a large cloak flapping in the wind 'cos it looked "dead moody". Going on this I storyboarded the "movie" and started putting together the graphics in Vidcom and sprite processor.
It set the scene well and had some great sound but some of the animation makes me wince when I look back at it.
Arthur Van Jole did some additional graphic design for the second level. What did he exactly do? Why was he got involved in the first place?
Robin: Time was short and I had a slow first couple of weeks getting started on the graphics- I also asked a lot of questions about the Integrator and John Twiddy assumed that I wouldn't be able to use it competently. Flimbo's quest had been finished and Arthur was available so Mev Dinc who was our project manager at the time, decided to get him over for a month or so to split the workload of the levels.
He ended up doing the panel graphics for Ninja Remix and versions of the Wind, Water and Earth levels. I had to redraw the Water level because of Integrator overload and the original Earth level got scrapped for graphic and gameplay reasons but his version of the Wind level made it into the final game relatively intact.
So was Integrator also used in Flimbo's Quest?
Robin: I don't think so, it was a different type of game to Last Ninja with a very different way of displaying the background graphics.
Did you also participate in the concept design of the game?
Robin: I was in on discussions but the game's concept was really "owned" by Mark Cale and Tim Best.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face in the whole game?
Robin: Staying sober and maintaining a positive mental attitude :-D
What did you think of the music of LN3?
Dan: Reyn did an absolutely outstanding job.
Robin: I thought it was beautifully atmospheric in places and had some nice, distinctive themes.
Dan, how was working with John Kemp? How did you divide the tasks?
Dan: It was fun. John had excellent technical ability. He would code most of the editors and would occasionally help out with some of the more tricky game elements.
How about Stan Schembri?
Dan: Always a pleasure to work with, great entertainment :)
Do you know why John Twiddy didn't do LN3?
Dan: He was busy running his own company and getting the technology right for the Commodore console (making a cartridge file system that emulated a disk drive).
Robin: During Ninja 3, John Twiddy and Mev Dinc had their own development company called Vivid Image and were pursuing their own projects. Both were still on the scene in their own office, which was fairly local and supported us whenever they could.
I remember back in Iran I stood in a line for two hours to buy LN3 on the day it was released (Last Ninja games were extremely popular in Iran)…It was definitely worth it because it brought me so many hours of pure fun. Thank you! Do you remember how well it did in the market (especially compared to the two previous LN games)?
Dan: Review wise System 3 had an excellent PR guy, but he would pester the magazines so much they ended up hating it and would give good reviews even if the games were poor.
It sold pretty well, it was due to be the first release on cartridge to go with the C64 console but as the game was late we missed the Christmas release and a lot of the pre-orders dried up. I don't think it sold anywhere near as well as the previous two.
Robin: Glad you enjoyed it :-)
As far as I can remember Ninjas 1 and 2 sold incredibly well in all territories but I think that 3 sold a fraction of the units of the prequels due to the time it was released. Personally, I preferred Ninjas 1 and 2 but 3 had some good reviews at the time... although the 100% review score it got in one mag didn't sit well with most of us.
Dan, did you ever meet John Twiddy in person?
Dan: Yep, top bloke. One of the best C64 games coders.
Robin: Very clever bloke and a consummate professional.
Dan: Yep, again good man. Currently running a games studio based in Turkey I believe.
Back in those days System3 was probably the hottest company to work for…how did you guys get to work with them in the first place?
Dan: They liked Armalyte and thought it would be cool to get the guys who had made that working for them, we showed them Deadlock and they seemed to be slightly more professional than the previous company we worked for.
Robin: Yeah we were seeking publishers for Deadlock and replied to an advert in CVG placed by Doug Hare as we were bewitched by the quality of System3's back catalogue. Doug liked the look of Deadlock and enjoyed Armalyte and we were signed up shortly afterwards.
How was working for System 3 in general?
Dan: It was a blast, good bunch of people.
Robin: Blurry and stressful. Made some very good friends though.
Can you describe your typical day on the job there?
Dan: Either walk in the 3+ miles or grab a lift in Chris Butlers old Celica. Chat up the receptionists. Do a small amount of work, grab a sarnie and wait for the pubs to open :)
Robin: It was never dull so we rarely had a "typical" day at System3 :-)
Was Mark Cale really that difficult to get along with? ;)
Dan: Naa. At the time I didn't really have much to do with him, He was a games player and although we had a few heated discussions I enjoyed working there.
Robin: Y'know the extremely distasteful outro sequence for Turbo Charge where the Dominator gets the electric chair? Well the Dominator character was modelled on Mark. Look closely at the Vendetta intro too :-)
Seriously though, sometimes he was alright and a real laugh and sometimes he was the boss from hell. As a result System3 didn't hang on to some of the major talent they'd used in their golden years. Ultimately the guy had a passion for making good games and that had to be respected.
I was awkward to get on with at times so I think we kind of cancelled each other out :-)
As you might already know, System 3 is currently working on The Last Ninja 4 for PC and XBox. What's your opinion on this? Would you have accepted to work on it had you been asked to?
Dan: I think it has a lot of potential, but it has been going a very long time. Tomb Raider has probably stolen a bit of the thunder it could have brought to the marketplace had it been seriously worked on during the mid 90's.
I don't think they could have afforded me :), if they had been bigger maybe.
Robin: I honestly wish them the very best of luck.
I'm not sure how well the Last Ninja would perform in the current, marketing led games climate where excellent, original games just seem to disappear.
I was asked for input at the very beginning of the project but had other full-time obligations but I did strongly suggest that they took a good hard look at Soul Reaver, MGS and Zelda. In my opinion those games successfully told involving stories, had good hand to hand combat and had some very Last Ninja style puzzle moments.
Dan, what can you tell us about Hunter's Moon?
Dan: I only coded the completion sequence and oversaw the mastering (all done in a single 72 hour stint with next to zero sleep).
Which one your games is your favorite?
Robin: Armalyte, followed very closely by Ruff'n'Tumble.
I'm also quite pleased with some of the handheld games I've worked on in recent years.
Which one was the most difficult to create?
Dan: Deadlock, but that's another story.
Robin: On the 64 I'd say Turbo Charge and I think it shows.
How does it feel to see people still love your creations so much after more than 12 years? :)
Dan: Makes me feel good, warm and fuzzy, encourages me to get out my special red/pink lensed viewing enhancers and fire up the occasional masterpiece on CCS64 :)
Robin: It's magical :-)
I'm sure that all C64 game creators are as thankful as Dan and I are to people like Kim Lemon and Frank Gasking for immortalising our work on the internet and keeping the pioneer spirit of the C64 alive.
Did you play other people's games too? What were your all time favorite C64 games?
Dan: In no particular order, is my top 100 ok? ;)
Laser Squad, RocketBall, DropZone, Wasteland, Morpheus, S Rally Speedway, Kick Start 1 & 2, Summer/Winter Games, Paradroid, WizBall, Ultima 3 and 4 (some people might remember an editor for Ultima 3 on Compunet?), Defender of the Crown, IK+, Delta, Stunt Car Racer, Impossible Mission and Racing Destruction Set.
Robin: Whoa, big list coming.
These are most of the games that left a lasting impression:
Bouderdash, Impossible Mission, Paradroid, Wasteland, Laser Squad, Ancipital, Sheep in Space, Batalyx, The Ultimas, The Portal, Rescue on Fractalus, Koronis Rift, The Eidolon, Zack McKracken and Maniac Mansion, Dropzone, IK+, Elite, Neuromancer, Wizball, Delta, The Sentinel, Head over Heels, Mercenary, Scarabeus, Bombuzzal, Citadel, Hunter's Moon, Encounter, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Shadow Fire, Iridis Alpha, Nodes of Yesod, Starquake, Spindizzy, Nemesis the Warlock, Psi-warrior, Park Patrol, Raid over Bungeling Bay, Strangeloop.
Oh my God, I've just realised I completely wasted my youth!
Who inspired you the most?
Dan: Andrew Braybrook, John Twiddy, Jeff Minter, and the team behind the arcade version of Salamander.
Robin: Graphically, the gods of C64 graphics, BOB, DOKK and Hugh Riley, but also the coders and musicians that regularly made you sit up and applaud their work such as Jeff Minter, Andrew Braybrook, Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway.
Martin Walker was also a huge source of inspiration and encouragement.
What is your best memory of the C64 days?
Dan: Visiting my uncle and spending a whole week just playing games.
Hearing the speech on Ghostbusters for the first time.
Thrashing everyone in sight at RocketBall.
Having competitions to complete Wasteland in one sitting with Rob :)
Accidentally not clearing the previous bullet and creating the Super weapons in Armalyte.
Re-writing our scroll routines with background animation in 8 hours overnight for a fiery Salamander level because the disk got corrupted, otherwise Paul Cooper and Martin Walker wouldn't have been very impressed the next morning. Fun fun fun.
Robin: Heh, we were young so there are many when we got to London but from a purely game design point of view most are back when we were still working as Cyberdyne: doing the prototype for Armalyte's first level whilst drunk, working with Martin Walker, seeing people's responses to the finished version of Armalyte, thinking we'd killed Stan Schembri after a vodka contest in the office, having to dress as a ninja for a mag article on System3 but the one that sticks most in my mind was doing Armalyte's fifth level:
We were getting a lot of feedback about the game being too hard and we decided to do a replacement for level one. It didn't take too long to map and by this time I was really getting the hang of the attack patterns and sequencing so I did a mammoth work stint to populate the level. Now usually a level would take about a week to do because we'd playtest it at regular intervals but as I was so confident I did it all in one go. When it was finished and I unveiled the fruits of my labours to Dan and John who sat back to watch me play it alone because I knew what was coming up.
It was a MASSACRE! It was the fastest, most frenetic, traumatic and deliriously evil level ever made for a shoot-em-up. I lost my first life within 5 seconds and only survived to about the halfway mark because I was using the pick-up pods as shields, shouting the whole time, physically jumping out of my seat whenever a walker jumped on me or some complete @#%*! of an alien sniped me from the opposite side of the screen- the whole time Dan and John were in hysterics.
The only feedback I got from them was "you bastard!" which was fair comment. The sheer exhilaration that it produced was too good to loose completely so we toned it down and used it for our mid game difficulty spike which probably explains why most gamers didn't get past the fifth level :-/
What is your worst memory of the C64 days?
Dan: Realizing it was going to die soon and I'd have to move on.
Robin: The development of Deadlock had to be the most unpleasant, then again, falling asleep on a 1541 and waking with a pinstriped face wasn't too pleasant either :-)
Oh yeah and getting "sacked" by John Harries back when Armalyte was called ManoWar. >:-[
Why was Deadlock so painful? What is the story behind it?
Robin: Without repeating too much of what we've said on Frank Gaskin's outstanding Games That Weren't site:
We were aiming too high- after playing Wasteland, Dungeon Master, LaserSquad and a few Games Workshop titles we wanted to make a platform game with RPG elements but we wanted to PLAY an action packed platform game. The way that some things were implemented because I wanted it to look gorgeous meant that just wasn't going to happen.
In comparison with Armalyte, it never had that "EUREKA!" moment where we thought we were on to a winner... but it was to be a very different type of game.
Would have made a brilliant Amiga game and we've both learnt a lot since then :-)
What was story of John Harries & ManoWar?
Dan: John was an original member of Cyberdyne and we fell out, he left and joined Thalamus 6 months before Armalyte was completed. ManoWar was one of the names that we went through before Armalyte was chosen.
Robin: This is truly ancient history:
ManoWar (as in the warship) was Armalyte's working title for a month or so when the game was little more than a tech demo and we were in talks with Thalamus.
John Harries joined Cyberdyne Systems, probably back when it was called Terminator Systems :-) and his parents were kind enough to let us use their house as a base for a few months. I think it's fair to say that out of all of us he was the most business minded even if he never quite settled in to our creative vibe.
For instance: right back at the beginning then I was still trying to get the hang of a good way of producing character based graphics, I didn't want to meet up at the office when summoned as I was in the middle of a new graphics set, so he sacked me over the phone- which was great because none of us were being paid yet, no one else was consulted and I'd effectively dropped out of college to work on this full time.
He left shortly after the Armalyte contract was signed but not without insisting to Thalamus that the game would be finished within 3 weeks (!?) and all the code had been finalised. The game was eventually mastered around 6 or 7 months later.
Is there anything about those days that you would change, had you the opportunity?
Dan: I wish I'd got into the programming side a little earlier, maybe could have taken over one of the big companies that are dominating the industry today.
Robin: Design Deadlock properly or do Armalyte 2. The Zzap interview. Don't start smoking.
So what are you doing now?
Dan: Working at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe as the Head of the EyeToy Technology Group.
Robin: Still doing game graphics and design and getting some ideas down in my spare time for a modern revamp of Armalyte.
Do you still play computer games? Any favorites?
Dan: Oh yes. Generals Zero Hour, Battlefield 1942, Devil May Cry, GT3/4.
Robin: I'm still a massive games junkie. Recent faves I can think of are:
Battlefield 1942, Homeworld, C+C Generals, HALO, Zelda, Powerstone, Ico, REZ, GTA, Ikaruga, the first 2 Oddworld games, Deus Ex, Half Life and Metroid Prime.
How do you compare the games released these days to the ones released back in the old days?
Dan: It's a different age. Technically we have progressed a huge amount but I don't think we've come very far in the playability mechanics stakes.
Robin: Games and gamers expectations have evolved a lot in the last quarter century and I generally think that modern good games are better than old great games, nevertheless, I am concerned about the extortionate retail cost of new games and increasing development costs and times driving down the number of releases.
I'm also becoming increasingly worried at the generally poor commercial success of original games. It seems that a game will bomb unless it is either a console's launch title, the nth sequel in a successful franchise, a licence or endorsed by a celebrity. I'm all for games being mainstream but not at the expense of creativity or quality. Non-hardcore gamers won't take the risk on investing 40 quid on a good game with no name and as a result publishers don't want to risk investment in interesting game concepts. There's always been an elite few great games versus a legion of bad games, but if the total number of games is reduced so is the quantity of quality titles.
Have you ever visited the Last Ninja Archives? It is THE ultimate LN site! :)
Dan: Been there a few times :)
Robin: Indeed it IS the ultimate LN site and I still pop back there occasionally to check for any new gossip and news :-)
It's a shame that System/Studio3 (or whatever they're called now) doesn't have as great a presence on the web.
Well, thanks for your time! Any last words?
Dan: Hello to Martin Walker. Hope your ok and enjoying life.
John Kemp, if you're around post up on the forums sometime.
Stan Schembri, hope you're ok.
Robin: I'M NOT DEAD YET!
Oh, okay: big hellos to Dan, Jim, Gaz, Dave, Nick, Steve, Rob, Will, Joe, Phil, Chris, Jason, Adam, Stan, Mark, Tim, Jed, Martin, John, Matt and Andy...you know who you are.
Dan: Cheers. Keep up the good work, Lemon 64 is possibly the best website bar none and I can't help but check in on the forums every couple of days.
Robin: Cheerio, thanks and keep up the good work!
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