Interview with Paul Holmes

Well I started programming on an 8 bit (Commodore + 4) actually, the reason being because I didn't like the idea of people younger than me, "wizz kids", knowing something that I didn't.

I was on the dole living in London at the time just messing around with my Amiga, I took a bit of a 3D demo into CRL, which was the basis of S.O.L, to see if they were interested, and they offered me a job.

Immediately I think, I can't remember working on anything else at CRL anyway.

It was Siege on London (SOL) as far as I know, I don't recall hearing Attack on London, but it was a long time ago and it wasn't me talking to the magazines

No not at all, I don't remember CRL even having an ST at the time, again though I could be wrong about that.

68000 assembler.

Ha, well I guess that depends on how much detail would be required, if you could live with the Houses of Parliament consisting of 20/30 polygons and were not too fussy about realistic scale then we may have gotten away with it!

Um, well you could shoot things in a few different ways, apart from that not much by that stage, it was basically going ot be a War of the Worlds style shooter i think. We (the artist and me) had a few ideas at the time to make it a bit more than that, but I can't even remember what they were now.

We had a project manager at the time who would try to gauge how much work myself and the artist had done respectively, by asking us how many kilobytes we had created. Alas, the artist won every time, those damned bitmaps!

At the time things were looking rocky for CRL, it went into administration. For one reason or another a few of us left to co-found Digital Magic. So from Hackney Wick to a back street in Widness, situated far too close to a glue factory.

Not very (15% ??), though the artist, Jon Law, had put in a gargantuan effort plotting the whole of London onto around 25 square yards of graph paper on the floor!

No not really, though in terms of experience of coding 68K and creating animated 3D objects I guess it contributed.

As above.

No, I think I installed UAE on my last Windows Mobile phone, but didn't do anything with it. I'm an Android fan now, maybe I will install it on that if someone does a port.

No, I got out of the games industry over 10 years ago, though I have since then done one or two spare time projects, including Bubble Bobble for the Sky box.

Well during the development of Hunter, in the later stages, Activision was taken over by The Disc Company (T.D.C), who were not a games company, all the current Activision staff were ousted.

Initially I had a meeting with Colin Fuidge at Activision, with an early version of what became Hunter, it was not much of a game at that time but had the landscape and a few objects, including a couple of vehicles. He offered me a beer, looked at what I had and then immediately offered me a contract (6 months). From there on in I basically had a free hand and was left to get on with it, with an occasional hook up with Colin to discuss how it was going.

No not difficult at all really, "you get to take various vehicles, travel round and blow things up with various weapons, in 3D".

I guess there was a little more scope for creativity and innovation back then, but then it was far cheaper and less risky for publishers to fund a development than it is now.

It was developed entirely on an Amiga 500, the ST version was a port that took a few weeks, mainly replacing the bits of code using the Amiga's fancy hardware which the ST didn't have.

I think it sold reasonably well but I do not have the actual figures.

That said, I don't think I have ever met anybody who had owned Hunter and actually paid for their copy, that is mainly people I have met from within the games industry though.

Hmm, well at least the grenade message is logically consistent! I was not aware of either of those particular bugs. As far as I know there was no formal test department/procedures at Activision back then, so it was a case of fixing problems as and when I or the publisher identified them, so yes, bugs were missed and/or deemed not important enough to hold up publication.

Approaching the release date the main pressure on me was when T.D.C decided they wanted French and German language versions at the last minute, the text generation engine was very much geared to English so it was quite a bit of work to implement. Though I did get flown out to Paris twice to sort it out so I wasn't complaining too much.

Right, well the one with a man holding a gun was a pre-publication version, which to my knowledge was only sent to a certain magazine, as a preview, *somehow* it found it's way onto the pirate scene. The other one was the official release.

Hunter mode was initially what I wanted to do, but the missions mode was a fairly natural addition, and made it easier to sell. Also the game world seemed well suited to a locate and destroy mission format so I did not want to pass that up. I had some concerns too that the Hunter mode game alone, in the time I had to do it, would not be substantial enough. The Action game was just a big mission strung on the end.

Well I think the most important thing there was the application I wrote to create the 3D objects, I could create objects quickly using mouse and keyboard, set rotating parts and other forms of animation, select colours, trigger points etc. and do all this in real time. This was a huge improvement from working out the objects on paper, which I had done previously.

Other than that, it was basically a flat shaded n-gon renderer, using the blitter chip on the Amiga. The landscapes were generated from a seed at load time. Interiors were just rendered once and then stored and displayed as a bitmap.

Yeah sure, it would have been technically possible, but I had to deliver a game in 6 months. Those things and others were in my plans for the next game.

Well it was all about balancing the object/polygon count to keep the frame-rate somewhere near reasonable. I was aware it could be a bit of a problem when the frame-rate was low, if you were trying to land a helicopter without crashing it. Of course during the development of a game you become a complete expert at it, and so I probably didn't notice these things as much.

I think it was more a game-play and a feasibility decision, working alone in the time given there was only so much I could put into game world building and populating. Plus there was not enough (um, any) variation in the landscape for it not to become bland or repetitive if it were too large. It could already take too long to get anywhere if you were on foot or shot down over water as it was.

Interesting you mention Mercenary, the 8bit version of this game was one of a few games that inspired me to do games in the first place. A real classic.

No not really, again it would have required time and resources that I didn't have.

Yes kind of, part of the problem was that I could only really have 2 other characters on the scene at one time because of the polygon count required. I also wanted to have in game music which would change to reflect the current mood, but I never got the music so it never happened. Instead you got the peculiar wind and sea sounds!

For the objects I used the object editor mentioned above.

The maps were generated by a random seed until I got a one that I liked, then populated via an in game editor.

I put most of the early effort into the object editor app, but that was well in development by the time I got the contract, so from then on it was game coding, object creation, attribute setting and map editing. This was all intermingled so I couldn't really tell you what the relative efforts were.

I did make an initial list, mainly the military stuff and key buildings, but lots of things were added along the way.

The windsurfer for instance was requested by Colin, Bermuda shorts included, which was about the same time that I added the sharks!

There is an aeroplane, it is in the game data but does not appear on any map. It had to move too fast for the size of the map so I left it out. I used to use the plane in the in-game editor, because it was fast.

The title screen was done by T.D.C and I had no say in it, I didn't let them know about the plane in case they insited on it being in.

No, but there was a small robot named Mad Bill, this was a cameo from the first (unpublished) game I did on the Commodore+4, I do not recall why I left it out now, maybe it just didn't fit or maybe it is actually in there somewhere, I can't remember now.

However, there is a hidden vehicle in a hidden building, the ‘Amphiunisuperduperbigmobile' (what can I say, I was young). The publisher never knew about it and I do not know if anybody ever found it, (a quick check reveals that Google doesn't know about it either) In the Hunter mode game if you go to the patch of water at location 200/249 and swim north into location 200/250 you should enter the hidden building.

As you phrase that question in the present tense I will assume you mean in terms of the whole enterprise.

Most, That it was a critical success and a lot of people seem to have liked it at the time, more so that people still seem to have fond memories of it 20 years later.

Least, The publisher's post publication accounting practices.

Yeah lots, the music, a better targeting system, better character logic, more enemy foot-soldiers etc. to name but a few. Alas, time and resource constraints didn't permit.

Yes there was one started around 1997 for PC and Playstation, but for various reasons it never came to fruition.

Yes I have it archived with the source data, the code is all in one ridiculously long 68000 assembler file, hunter.s, perhaps I should have learned how to use Devpac properly!

The rights reverted to me after a few years, but I no longer have any desire to do a sequel and am not in the games industry anyway. I do not think it would make much sense though, it was nearly 20 years ago and there are now lots of far better known games where you can do the same kind of things and a lot more.

Yes, it should have come out two or three months later, then I could have added all the above mentioned features, and fixed all those ‘non-critical' bugs!

Oddly enough yes, today, I could not remember the location of the hidden room so I had to see the map again and go find it. I had to start the game three times before I made it there without being killed, I must have lost my touch. :)