Interview with

I did indeed. Despite being raised on 8-bit machines (the C16 and then the C64), in 1989 I saw a ‘Wild Copper’ demo running on a friend’s Amiga and knew I had to have one. I think I got my first Amiga (a Batman the Movie bundle) in 1990. I remember being a huge fan of the demo scene, perhaps more so than games. I also used my Amiga quite extensively for the work I did on C64 magazines such as Commodore Format and Zzap!64 - by running a C64 emulator on the Amiga it was possible to get pixel-perfect screen grabs and thus put together elaborate maps in Deluxe Paint.

I’d known the guys from System 3 since 1993, when our company Digital Graffiti had been approached to write a beat ‘em up for the forthcoming PlayStation (which later turned into Blood Lust, a game which almost made it into the arcades). When the Game Boy Color market exploded in 1999/2000, I approached Mark Cale with numerous proposals for Game Boy conversions of their existing titles, one of which was Putty Squad. However, the Game Boy market was heavily license-driven at the time and nothing came of this, although I did work on a couple of projects for them (IK Advanced and Last Ninja: The Return). It was while working on Last Ninja that Mark Cale launched the budget PS2 label Play-It, and suddenly the interest in their back-catalogue of games was rekindled; I proposed International Karate and Putty Squad, purely because the PS2 budget market lacked a decent beat ‘em up and platform game at the time.

I remember playing a demo of Putty on the Amiga, but found much more appeal in the SNES version of Putty Squad purely because the gameplay was much faster and less strategic than Putty. The three main contenders were Putty, Putty Squad, and Putty Moon, but ultimately Putty Squad won the day.

Not until a couple of years ago, actually. I’d had the idea of doing something with the updated assets, perhaps even a PC version, and after scouring the ‘net for information I stumbled across many a frustrated Amiga enthusiast desperately searching for the ‘lost’ version.

We had full access to the assets (code, graphics, and audio) from the Amiga version, but ultimately we turned to the SNES version as our benchmark, primarily because we couldn’t get the Amiga code to compile without a lot of effort.

Absolutely. Mark is very proud of his company’s legacy, and also very protective over the games he has produced, and thus he would call regularly to see what was going into the game and make critiques and suggestions. John Twiddy and Tim Best from System 3 were also enormously supportive during development.

The art was based directly on the Amiga graphics, and the sprites were reworked by Nick Lee, who had worked on the original Amiga version. We effectively doubled the resolution of the existing graphics, which involved taking the source images (still in IFF format) and doubling the size. Next, the artists would painstakingly tweak, smooth, and refine the graphics to take advantage of the extra resolution and colours. With 14 stages, dozens of enemies, and all of the presentation graphics, this amounted so several month’s intense work for the two artists involved, and I ended up having to create some of the presentation graphics myself.

All of the audio was reworked from scratch by a fabulous guy called Jon Colling, but the toughest part was actually the admin: we compiled all of the available sound effects from the Amiga and SNES versions (I believe we ripped the SNES audio from the ROM file using a rather nice downloadable utility), but quickly realized that we didn’t have sound effects for every enemy or event. Thus, we had to play the game frame by frame and compile a vast list of every possible effect we required, then work through this methodically. Ultimately, we ended up with over 130 sound effects, versus just 23 samples in the SNES version and 60 samples in the Amiga version. The music closely mirrored Richard Joseph’s Amiga modules, and was painstakingly reworked and remixed note-by-note. In the case of the speech samples, we couldn’t be sure about the legality of the samples used previously, so we enlisted the voice talents of Marc Silk, an amazingly talented voice actor who does a lot of work for television and movies. Marc would listen to the original sample and then produce his own version, often with stunning accuracy.

Originally the plan was simply to take the level data directly from the Amiga version, which involved simply importing the relevant data. Although FishEd never existed at the time, it has since been tweaked to import the Amiga Putty Squad maps, purely as a ‘rainy day’ project.

Mid-way through the project, Mark Cale began making suggestions along the lines of expanding the maps and adding extra abilities for the Putty character. Although this would have been great fun to do, we simply didn’t have enough time (budgets and timescales were extremely tight).

Absolutely. Although many saw the PS2 as a purely 3D games machine, 2D games did (and still do) have their own place in the videogame market; they play differently, they look different, and they feel different. I was really looking forward to playing something ‘retro’ on my PS2.

There are numerous factors, and from a legal standpoint I need to be careful about what I say here. Certainly the biggest issue was having two programmers breach their contracts and walk away from the project having been paid for work which never materialized. I was working on another project at the same time, juggling 14 freelancers and tight budgets. Ultimately, a lack of programming progress halted our milestone payments and eventually I had to put the company into liquidation. A lot of very talented people, many of which were good friends, lost a lot of money. I lost a company and a roof over my head. As Mel Croucher always said, if you want to make a small fortune in the games business, start out with a large fortune.

In a word, no. When the Game Boy Color (and Game Boy Advance) markets hit their peak of popularity between 2000 and 2003, we put together numerous proposals to bring back some of the old 8-bit games and superheroes (one of which, interestingly enough, was a Game Boy Color version of Rick Dangerous). Sadly, the handheld market is either driven by licenses or money – simply having a good game ironically isn’t enough these days.

That was an incredibly tedious and expensive process, which culminated in some poor chap at the liquidation company clambering over stacks of boxes in an old warehouse to try and find out what had happened to the game rights when the original Thalamus went into liquidation. Apart from a few IPs which were licensed (rather than owned) by Thalamus, I managed to secure rights for many of their 8-bit and 16-bit titles. At first the intention was to bring many of these to the Game Boy market, but this never happened for reasons discussed earlier, so the games sit in a dusty vault just waiting for the right opportunity.

I’m just about to uproot and move from the West Coast of Canada to Nova Scotia on the East Coast, where Government funding for videogame companies is an integral part of their economic development plan. There are numerous projects and concepts under discussion at the moment, most of which I have to be tight-lipped about, but we’re investing heavily in the casual PC games market right now. I’d certainly like to see Putty Squad materialize in some form, indeed I still have all of the Amiga assets to hand just waiting for an experienced coder to put the project together (and certainly, retro publisher Psytronik Software would certainly love to release it). Time to fire up the email editor and harass System 3, I guess... :)