Interview with Gary J. Foreman

I was already working at Graftgold and it was a natural progression from the 8 bit machines. we played around with the Amiga from its launch, but the opportunity to develop for it came a little later. I helped on a few projects before getting to lead the 16 bit versions - and that was only on "Super Off Road."

I contacted Hewson Consultants back in 1986 about doing some freelance work for them, but they didn't have any immediate projects. However, I lived not too far from Graftgold, so Andrew Hewson introduced me to Steve Turner and suggested that we talk. I went to visit them when it was just Steve Turner & Andrew Braybrook working out of Steve's house.

By the time I joined they had John Cumming and Dominic Robinson from Hewson, and around the same time David O'Connor and Jason Page were there too.

I think that it was the original game designs for most, but overall it was the attention to detail. sometimes we'd spend time on minor things that very few people would ever find, but to us it seemed like a natural thing to do. How cool would it be if you'd been playing the game for weeks or months and you were still finding new things? We loved that, and thought that the players might too...

It's been a very long time so my memory of it isn't great, but I think that I wrote some of the higher level code, not specifically the game play but related to it!! Steve worked a lot on the game engine part - it was all object oriented assembler code! - and most of the game play, the rest of us helped out where we could.

It was originally built in-house by Dominic, so it wasn't completely alien to us, but the fact that it was written in object-oriented assembler and most files just seemed to be full of macros, made for an interesting introduction!

I do remember spending a fair bit of time discussing these strange new concepts (back then!) and thinking back to those days, it was amazing that the game was written in such as way. One thing that we (well, i'm using the royal we - it was most likely Steve) did, was to have the game renderer (which could process as fast as the rest of the game) separated from the actual game code (input, game logic, physics, etc.) which could.

That meant that the game ‘felt' fast and responsive (50 fps in pal) and the graphics were drawn as fast as it could (around 17 fps in pal.) it was all about the feel. To this day, it's not about how many polys or anything that you're moving around, it's about how a game feels to the player. Over the years there have been some games with really badly written code, but play so well. I could name names, but... and no, none from Graftgold spring to mind!

Not as long as we could have done, but enough to get the job done!! Nothing is ever finished, it just gets to the point of diminishing returns and it's good enough.

I don't remember how we did that, but might have been using a version of the game to place objects...

No, and not much since!

Yes, very. We had access to the original assets and code of the arcade machine which helped in many ways.

The hardware in the arcade machine wasn't so high tech which really helped. It didn't need to be either so our job was, in some ways, a little easier. Added to that was the accessibility of the original assets & code, it made the task of converting the game more straightforward once we decided to do what they did. We used a lot of their assets as is, just converting to the necessary formats - the trucks, all 412 frames of them (!!), we kept exactly as the original - we would probably never had so many if we hadn't gone that way.

Yes, to all conversions that we did. That was one of the best decisions we made, although it did challenge us in recreating the tracks. We used their collision maps for the tracks and our code was basically a port of theirs (in z80 assembler.) We fixed a few bugs along the way and made some other optimizations too, but the feel of the game was reproduced so well because we used their code. It would have been hard for us to screw it up...

I remember spending a fair bit of time on the rendering of the world, and especially the map view plus a fair bit of the game code and quite a lot of levels. Right near the end of the game I quickly created a load more levels, and when Virgin (our publisher) heard about it, they decided that it was worthy of a sticker on the box!

Definitely. Even then, games were starting to get more complicated than they needed to be - or so we believed anyway!

We used the PC, which we'd been doing for quite some time on 8 bit, so it wasn't something that we spent much time worrying about. It meant that sharing code between platforms (even with the 8 bit machines) was very straightforward - because of the way we wrote games, and heavily utilized some custom scripting languages, a lot of the work was shared.

We generated them from "seed" values so the data required for a raw map wasn't big at all. The exact process is a little fuzzy. If I had the code, I could tell you ;)

After making "Super Off Road" we had some thoughts about other driving games and the landscapes of "Realms" seemed like a good starting point. We didn't do much with the vehicles, but we did create a prototype golf game which was fun, but we didn't get any of the publishers to sign it.

I know that I did something, but have no idea what!

Being around the same people, but being exposed to the Bitmap's way of working was great. We knew them already, but had never done anything with them until this project. We admired their work since their focus was also on gameplay and how games felt, so it was an easy collaboration.

The challenge was working on a new platform, although I'd just come off "Paradroid '90" on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx (almost complete, but unreleased due to what we'll refer to as "complications with the japanese publisher", but it wasn't their fault!) the Megadrive was a great machine to work on, as was the PC Engine.

Nothing is forever. I'd been there quite a while, from being freelance to being in-house for 4½ years and wanted a change.

Working on the PC Engine and Megadrive, I'd been exposed to the console world and through a good friend, heard of a position at Sega. The catch was that I wouldn't be programming again!

That was a tough decision, but the opportunity was too good to pass up - I was the third most senior person at graftgold, behind steve and andrew - I was never going higher, and had some things that I wanted to do.

Grand Theft Auto existed long before there was a Rockstar games.

In its original form, it was called "Race 'n' Chase" and the essence of the game remains, albeit rendered in a different, much more beautiful way! That original design was by one of the other great game designers from earlier times, David Jones, and thankfully he's still making games today. Looking forward to playing the final version of "APB".

Rockstar was created to deliver content that we felt was lacking, and in a way that had really been done before. In the early days, and certainly with a name of ‘Rockstar', there were a few raised eyebrows and interesting comments, but over the years they have delivered on most of the promise. The label has done a tremendous amount to push the art form that video games have become, and maybe one day the world will understand that just because they are called games, they are not all for children. The education of government and the media has a long way to go...

Opportunity. Perhaps it's not exactly the same today, but in video games up until now, there has been an ability to achieve more things. Whether that's due to the fact that a lot of western publishers are based in the us or not is up for much debate, but without a chance to succeed, what hope is there?

That said, pound for pound, European developers are amongst the best in the world. That's not to say I've not met some amazingly talented people elsewhere, but the culture which exists in europe makes for a special kind of person - not better, or worse - just different!

In some ways, yes.

It's about having a fresh start and being able to try new things. The world of video games changed forever following the introduction of consoles, then this thing called the internet. Players are consuming all forms of content in different ways, and we want to deliver game experiences across a range of devices and platforms that they can be connected with at all times.

The game doesn't stop because you switch the console off...

It's not necessarily persistence in the way that MMO's work, but there is an ability to extend the game itself across different platforms and devices, and not by trying to be the same game on a different device, but by delivering elements of the game experience on different devices, that you consume and interact with at different times - maybe when you only have a few minutes to spare...

We have this concept called "constantly connected games" which will deliver that - and we trademarked it too!!