Friday, March 30, 2007

Missing links

I found myself surfing around this morning over some old press stuff and comments, as sometimes happens. I got to following up some of the crackers comments and thoughts that still go on, some 13-14yrs later about "missing games" and what the hell happened.

Lord only knows what the folks would think if they were party to some of the "nearly made it" titles that never go public. Pretty much every developer I know (and I know a stack) has their own stories which are often much grander than these below - many of which would make your toes curl.

Anyway, some of Team17's best known titles to never make it are;

Final Over - Think of Sensible Soccer meets Arcade Cricket. Would have been massive had the guy doing it (Alan - I'm still intrigued as to why you ran off!) not disappeared all of a sudden. I read a nice web comment from him that suggests he was well treated by us - I'm not sure why he decided to avoid fame and success, but there you go.

Pussies Galore - A platform game featuring kittens to rescue. Looked good initially but a combination of Amiga AGA (advanced graphics architecture chipset) only when the market was saying "doom" and nothing hugely to celebrate about it, meant we ended up culling it. We never enjoyed culling anything to be fair and it was around this time, early to mid 90's when dev costs, marketing and things became a lot more serious and "grown up" than they had been when we first began, somewhat niaively.

King Of Thieves - An Amiga game by Andreas & Rico (Alien Breed, Project X, Superfrog Etc) featuring Alien Breed style play with a Pirate theme. Ultimately this wasn't really going anyway despite fine incidental art by Rico. Again, I think this title came at a bad time when we found ourselves having to raise the bar a little more and it was going to be so-so; something I was desperate to avoid given our history over the previous 5-6yrs. I can remember falling out with Rico about it pretty badly at the time, but fortunately it was very short-lived and we moved on to bigger and better things after that (actually I think it was X2).

Rollcage - A PC off-road title which its closest theme would probably be Motorstorm, this struggled on for a couple of years, again highlighting all the mistakes that Team17 (and myself) were making around that time - a steep learning curve beyond the Amiga years - before it was ultimately canned in 1995/1996, around the time that Worms focus tended to outfocus everything else.

Allegiance - A spy thriller that got not much further than some crackers budget FMV when again the company was knee deep in Worms focus elsewhere. I shudder to think how it all happened, really. The idea was sound, it just suffered from a total disregard of planning, design and implementation.

Witchwood - A promising fantasy RPG that rolled on and on before it was clear that the team was never going to finish it. There's some conspiracy that the title was canned because another Amiga title (Speris Legacy) arrived in town, but that's nonsense since Witchwood was a PC title. It was very disappointing actually, Bjorn actually released an album of the music he did for it and if anything, something good did come of the project; Colin Surridge - who's still at Team17 some 12yrs on - Colin is top. But again, like a cluster of projects around that time, all suffered since Worms got all the real focus - and looking back, it's fair to see why.

Euromanager - A football management game we began (I think) in 1994 and rolled on until it's demise in 1996. We bit off more than we could chew and again, it was finding it difficult living in the same space as Worms (competing for quality time) as well as being guilty of some glaring omissions code wise.

There are more, including ABC, a 3rd person Alien Breed RTS title which looked the bee's-knees but struggled to find favour at then publishing partners, Microprose, there's FDML (Fun-Dazzle Magic-Land, no really!) which Ocean and then Microprose passed on, on PSX and perhaps most painful, Worms Battle Rally, which went quite some way to major completion around 2002 - the last great mistake/cancellation which happened in a pretty difficult industry climate.

Reading briefly, that sounds like a ton of stuff, but there's so much water under the bridge in 17years and with the industry going so hit-driven, so many lessons to learn and opportunities to make mistakes, we were always going to de-rail occasionally, an important lesson in reminding you that no-one has the midas touch.

I have lost count of the number of CV's I've seen where people have worked on titles that never made it; it's the same in the film industry with tons of actors appearing in many pilots, but rarely any actual released movies. Some games developers went through 1994-2004 with no actual game releases on their CV. It really was a fairly brutal period - you had to be there to understand it.

We've long since stopped making those mistakes - and taking un-necessary punts. It still amuses me (only a little, not a lot) that people are making the same mistakes today; building something because they believe there's a market for it - without any real understanding of the mechanics of getting stuff out there. It really isn't as straight forward as it would seem, even with all the new digital platforms.

People should be applauded for being creative, taking risks and trying something new and brave; it's just that you can't do that when you risk the roof over your family's head, bread on the table etc. I guess the same implications were abound when Andy Davidson headed off after Worms: Directors Cut and the mid-stage of Armageddon; the industry had moved on and Andy didn't understand that, just citing our worries and doubts as obstacles to letting him create what he wanted without question - but Worms was an anomaly, a freak - perhaps one of the very last of it's kind.

Above all, the great shame is the opportunity cost of all this, the fact that you see a group of people go off to rule the world and create something marvellous; only to collapse 2-3 years later after a ton of effort, a stack of money and ultimately 6-7 man-years down the pan.

The money is not important, not really, it's the time you'll never get back and it takes some experience in life to understand that time is the only resource that matters - so don't bloody waste it. It'll be over before you know it.

The above rant is in relation to a group who split from T17 around the end of the 2d series of Worms around 2001, to do their own thing. I'm not bitter about it one bit, it's just a shame to have foreseen how it would all go; something I took no pleasure in and often shook my head - not because of their abilities but because the market was so very, very difficult.

And as is the case today, talent only goes so far - it is not guarantee of immediate commercial success, however unfortunate that might be. We lost some good people - and they lost their way, the industry, Team17 and gaming in general robbed of some quality folk - but that's life as they say - they'll sure as hell not make the same mistake(s) again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeez, for some reason I've been trawling around the internet, looking at the past.

Anyway, I was gutted at the time when Pussies Galore was cancelled; maybe angry at the time... But when I think about it, T17 had no choice at the time to cancel those projects on the Amiga - the market was dying out.

I agree with Martyn's point of view on this. That was a real rough period for the industry at the time; I struggled for a couple of years but like anything else things work out in the end.

And now I live in Australia, still in the games industry, working on mobile/handheld platforms, and part owner of a development studio...

I'd like to say one thing, when T17 cancelled the project, we were treated very well, and were basically paid off - I'll tell you one thing, that will never happen in the industry now. Anyway Martyn, thanks for doing that.

Andy Coates