interview

Unseen Interview: Julian Holtom (Imagitec, Ocean, Team17)

While working on our book about lost video games, we were able to interview many developers who worked on cancelled projects, but we had to cut some of these interviews from the book because of the 480 pages limit. As promised, we are going to publish all the missing articles directly in our website, and the following interview is one of these! During his career Julian (Jules) Holtom has worked at Imagitec Design, Ocean Software and Team17 on such lost games as HMS Carnage (PC), Worms Battle Rally (PS2, Xbox, GameCube) and many more.

Unseen64: To start this interview, we would like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers: we’d love to know more about your career in the gaming industry and what you are working on today.

interview julian holtom - worms battle rallyJules: I spent almost 23 years working in video games, the first machines I worked on were Spectrums, building sprites from character graphics. At the time there were no off-the-shelf art packages to speak of; the few tools that we did have were coded from scratch by the in-house programmers.

Of course as with all things technological this changed, and as an artist you had to be fleet of foot to keep up with the latest tools being developed, to help us to deliver to the ever changing capabilities of target platforms. By the time I quit the industry I was using the same 3D software and rendering tools that the film industry uses to create their cinematic magic.

I’ve been out of the industry now for 7 years, and in that time I’ve turned my hand to photography, design and building websites. I certainly miss the camaraderie of old colleagues, but definitely not the “crunch”.

Unseen64: Which are some of your favourite videogames? Have you been playing anything lately?

Jules: I’ve always had a soft spot for sprawling RPG’s with a few hundred hours of gameplay, such as Skyrim. I also love fps “twitch” games like Battlefield 4 or more recently The Division.

Unseen64: Can you shed any unique / personal  light on Daemonsgate by Imagec, which seems was planned as a trilogy (Dorovan’s Key, Nomads and Homecoming)? Key marketing aspect was that actions in 1 game would have implications in sequels, so kill an NPC in the 1st game i.e. ‘Barry pig-squealer’ and his family would come looking for revenge in the 2nd game (a concept years ahead of its time).

Jules: This game was by any standards, ambitious in scope and scale. We were trying to create a far more involved game world than any equivalent game had to offer at the time, and I expect the mechanics of which have only just been truly realised in these type of games in the last 5 years. The hardware, architecture, and coding capabilities coupled with time constraints meant it simply wasn’t possible to build the game as intended at that time, and I think as with all games, there were some significant compromises from the original brief in order to get the game finished.

Unseen64: What can you tell us about Prophecy: Viking Child? UK Press had claimed that Imagitec had originally planned this as a trilogy of games, was there any truth in this?

Jules: I only helped Blizz (the lead artist) a couple of times on that project, recolouring sprites if memory serves. As it wasn’t my project, I didn’t pay too much attention to what it was meant to be.

Unseen64: Do you have anything you could tell us on canned Imagitec games like Space Junk (which was a WIP on everything from the sega Mega CD, Atari Falcon and then Jaguar CD) or any other lost Imagitec projects that never seen the light of day?

Jules: Imagitec often had games “using as yet unseen technological advancements” in development, it sounded good and helped Martin Hooley, the studio owner, raise funding to keep the studio going. In truth, I have no idea if any of these titles were ever really meant to be completed.

Unseen64: In mid / late ‘90 Ocean Software wanted to develop some really groundbreaking games, they rebranded their internal development department as “Tribe”, invested a lot of money, hired a lot of new talent and asked everyone to come up with amazing original concepts huge enough to fill a CD-ROM (!). One of these concepts was the stunning looking HMS Carnage – a 3D flight sim, set on Mars, in an alternative, Steampunk future. We have read memories from Nigel Kershaw about his involvement on HS Carnage but we’d love to hear your side of the story: how was to work on such an ambitious project and do you think it could have achieved what was planned if only the team had more time?

Jules: Nigel and I had worked together for some years both at Imagitec (which became Dreamweavers, then Runecraft), and at Ocean; he was the designer behind Daemonsgate and Space Junk. Not afraid of taking a brief and creating a game of “epic proportions” from it, he was the perfect fit to drive HMS Carnage. I was the lead artist heading up the 3d team, and at the time, we really were treading water, using hardware and software than no one had any experience of, including the coding team that were getting to grips with real 3D.

interview julian holtom - HMS

Unseen64: What did you work on while at Ocean before HMS Carnage? At the time they were also working on Silver (released in 1999) and on a point ‘n click adventure with Hanna-Barbera characters, called “Zoiks” that was later cancelled. Any other lost games or pitches for unrealized ambitious projects that you remember from those years?

Jules: Jurassic Park, but couldn’t tell you what console it was for. I also helped render some FMV sequences for out of house dev teams. I believe one game was called Central Intelligence, the other was one of the flight sims that came from DID.

Unseen64: Long shot, but whilst at Ocean, we’re you aware if Jaguar proposals for games like Water World, TFX and Robocop ever getting past proposal stage? They often pop up on YouTube videos as lost Jaguar games, but unlike Toki Goes Apeshit (which we have actual footage of) there’s so far seemingly nothing to suggest they were ever started and thus aren’t true lost games..

Jules: Unfortunately I cannot say. When you are in a team, you usually only focus on the task before you and pay little heed to projects elsewhere. You might be better of speaking to a producer of that time, who had a top down view of everything that was in development and what happened to it.

Unseen64: You worked for more than 9 years at Team17 on many popular games, but unfortunately a few of those were never released. One of them was Worms Battle Rally: what do you remember about this project? How was the gameplay like and why was it canned?

interview julian holtom - Worms Battle RallyJules: The Worms franchise has often been shoehorned into other successful game genres, trying to piggyback off of their success to eek out more money from fans loyal to the original game. Worms Battle Rally was no exception, essentially aping Mario Kart. Unfortunately the team bought together to work on it, had little experience of building driving games. That began to tell after a while when the game simply wasn’t living up to expectations, both internally and when compared to games already out there. The lack of confidence to deliver meant the plug was pulled.

Unseen64: Do you remember other cancelled games in development or pitched at Team17 during those years? If so, can you share some details about what they could have been?

Jules: I expect there will be quite a few, but I can’t remember them, sorry.

Unseen64: Working on videogames is often tough and gruelling work, but every development team has both one catastrophic and one funny story (or at least bizarre). Do you remember any such stories from your experience in so many different gaming studios?

Jules: Too many to mention, particularly from the early days of game dev, which were let’s say… a little like the Wild West frontier of old. Rules were far and few between. However a few do stand out; Gaffa taping a programmer to a chair on his birthday then handcuffing them to the back of a car and towing them at speed around the company carpark. The following year we handcuffed the same guy to the drainpipe outside the office and deluged him in buckets of water… his birthday was in the middle of winter.

Another chap we worked with used to get on the wrong side of many of us, one day it was decided we’d mete out a collective punishment and covered his entire car in shaving foam and disposable razors. The man in question was notoriously short-fused, and we knew full well he’d hit the roof upon seeing his car, but I think the cherry on top the pushed him over the edge was the word “cock” on his reg plate.

Unseen64: That was the last question, thanks a lot for your time Jules! 

Unseen Interview: Domenico Barba (Naps Team)

While working on our book about lost video games, we were able to interview many developers who worked on cancelled projects, but we had to cut some of these interviews from the book because of the 480 pages limit. As promised, we are going to publish all the missing articles directly in our website, and the following interview is one of these!  During his career Domenico Barba has worked at the Italian gaming studio NAPS Team on such lost games as Green Beret / Rush’n Attack (GBC), Dark Night and many lost chapters in the Gekido series.

Unseen64: To start this interview, we would like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers: we’d love to know more about your career in the gaming industry and what you are working on today.

naps-team-videogames-logoDomenico: Is it possible to tell 20 years of history in less than 20 lines? :) The passion for the world of video games has brought Naps Team together. We did not know each other before, I was looking for a graphic designer for a fighting game (a horrible thing made on Amiga) and different people suggested me someone called Fabio Capone who had fun doing animations and characters with Deluxe Paint. :) Well we were able to meet, under a newsstand, exchanging two diskettes, without cops in hot pursuit. :) Today we are still here and we have the same passion of that time, even after almost 45 games made and many more to make. At the moment we are finishing working on Iron Wings, a huge project for an arcade flight game set in the second World War.

Unseen64:What are some of your favorite video games? Have you been playing anything lately?

Domenico: In the last year, unfortunately no, I’m fully focused on the development of Iron Wings, but I always keep my eyes on many new games and I’m very impressed, both by AAA masterpieces and clever indie productions.

Unseen64: Did you know Unseen64 before this interview? What do you think of our “mission” to create an online archive to remember those video games we’ll never play?

Domenico: To tell the truth yes, but without being able to follow your updates, the mission is praiseworthy and it is great that there can be a memory of unexpressed creativity, with really beautiful games that sometimes fail to see the light of day for the most different reasons. I’d love to sabotage your mission and release Gekido: The Dark Angel one day :)

Unseen64: Which difficulties did an Italian game development studio find in a market lead by English, American and Japanese studios? Are there more opportunities today thanks to digital distribution on PC and Smartphone?

Domenico: There are huge difficulties, but they are mainly related to the Italian territory and absurd management difficulties, instead digital distribution is undeniably a great opportunity.

Unseen64: Gekido is one of your most popular series, of which the first episode was released in 2000 for Playstation: do you remember how development started, how long did it take to complete, and if the final game is what you originally had in mind or if you had to cut something?

Domenico: Gekido had a somewhat troubled genesis, it was born from the skeleton of a 2D fighting game for PC, then turned into a 2.5D one and finally became fully 3D. A lot was cut, but also a lot was added, such as the “arena mode”, and different gameplay modes were conceived in the wake of enthusiasm that the game was receiving in the internal circuit of testers, publishers, etc.

Unseen64: How did you manage to involve important names like Fatboy Slim for the music and Marvel comic artist Joe Mad for the character design in the development of the first Gekido?

Domenico: Everything was thanks to Travis Ryan of Gremlin and Daniel Matray of Infogrames (Atari), they were able to find the best artistic talents that could have been greatly related to Gekido.

intervista-domenico-barba-naps-team-gekido

Unseen64: Besides the cancelled Gekido: The Dark Angel for PSP (of which there will be a dedicated article in this book) two other episodes of Gekido were in development but never released: Gekido for GameBoy Color and Gekido for N-Gage. What happened to these games and how much was done before the cancellation?

Domenico: More or less the same unfortunate “misalignment of planets” that happened with Dark Angel, it is not uncommon to come across sudden changes in the market or in adverse and catastrophic predictions of analysts that suggest to not continue working on a game, and you are the best witnesses and guardians of these unrealized projects, right? :)

Unseen64: Over the years there have been many different rumors about a new episode of Gekido in development, is there any chance to see this series again in the future?

Domenico: Absolutely yes! :)

Unseen64: Shadow Fighter is another of your most beloved games, Italian and foreign magazines published great reviews for it, CU Amiga gave it 93%, Amiga Computing 91% and so on: how did you feel at the time to receive all these positive comments on one of your first games and did the reviews help to bring a good number of sales?

Domenico: Shadow Fighter was a huge success in sales, luckily for our publisher Gremlin. It was a success beyond every expectations, we were just enthusiasts who certainly did not have a professional approach to the gaming industry at the time.

Unseen64: Another interesting lost game once in development at Naps Team was Dark Night for GBA. Graphically it was truly spectacular considering the console: do you remember how the gameplay was meant to be and why you had to stop working on the project?

Domenico: When Dark Night was canned it was still in beta, and it’s gameplay was similar to Zelda. :) The reasons why it was cancelled is the same unfortunate “misalignment of planets” that i told before, we propose to change our spaceship the next year. :)

Unseen64: Have you worked on other games that have never been published, of which you can speak?

Domenico: Not that I remember, although after several years and difficulties, we always managed to revive ideas that we thought were good, those for which we can still enjoy ourselves as players, and we will continue to do so.

Unseen64: Have you ever worked on some games for Atari Jaguar / Lynx / Panther or the legendary Konix Multisystem?

Domenico: No.

Unseen64: As most of the Unseen64 Staff is also italian, we just LOVE to eat good food. :) What is your favorite food ever? Any secret recipe that you would like to share with us?

Domenico: Unusual question, but tasty. :) Well, being a Sicilian I do not really know where to start, for sure I’m more a good food lover than a good cook, in a ratio of 100 to 1. I would say I love everything that contains eggplant in the recipe, from “pasta alla norma”, eggplant “parmigiana” … i’ll stop here, following on Dark Knight, where there was a huge purple boss named “Milinchan”. :)

Unseen64: Well, that was the last question, thanks again for your time Domenico!  

Unseen Interview: Massimiliano Di Monda (Raylight Studios)

While working on our book about lost video games, we were able to interview many developers who worked on cancelled projects, but we had to cut some of these interviews from the book because of the 480 pages limit. As promised, we are going to publish all the missing articles directly in our website, and the following interview is one of these! During his career Massimiliano Di Monda has worked at Pixelstorm and Raylight Studios on such lost games as Monster Truck Madness (Microsoft), Dukes of Hazzard (Ubisoft) and Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid tech demos for GBA.

raylight-studios-interview

Unseen64: To start this interview, we would like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers: we’d love to know more about your career in the gaming industry and what you are working on today.

Massimiliano: I started working in the world of video games through a friend who worked at Namco in London, we exchanged technical advice on some video games, at some point he told me that there was a team in Naples that was working on a new project and asked me if I wanted to participate. From there, I began this adventure.

So I started to work on video games in 1996 from zero in the QA department, and after years of experience I got into designing and producing video games. In these 19 years, I worked at Raylight Studios on about 30 products for a variety of platforms, ranging from Sony PlayStation and Nintendo GameBoy Color, PC, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and mobile platforms. In 2002 / 2003, I worked at Wing Commander Prophecy for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance, the game was named runner up (2nd place) at E3 2002 in Los Angeles in the best technological excellence category (first place was Monkey Ball). Most recently I worked on games such as the much-acclaimed Sniper Elite for Nintendo Wii, published by Reef Entertainment; My Little Baby (1st prize winner Samsung Bada contest in 2010, Nokia / Microsoft App Campus selected project in 2012) for various platforms including Android and iOS; I also worked on a number of ports and bundles titles for Nintendo 3DS. At the moment we are working on PS4 games, Xbox One, mobile, VR and some original IP which I still can not name.

 

Interview with Yukiharu Sambe, R&D manager of the unreleased Taito WOWOW

A long time ago, Unseen64 was just a shell of itself. It was hosted on the notoriously bad Xoom.it hosting service, and looked pretty much like a 90’s website horribly made with Microsoft Frontpage. However, as old as Unseen64 looked back then (it was 2004!), it wasn’t the first site dedicated to unreleased games maintained by Italians. That particular accolade belongs to The Strange (and Rare) Videogame Pics Page, created by Fabrizio Pedrazzini, an Italian games journalist, known for his work at magazines such as the glorious ‘Super Console’. TS(&R)VPP, as the name says, wasn’t solely about beta games. There were pictures of pirated software, obscure and limited edition consoles, demos, and more. Hidden among those pages was the Taito/JSB/ASCII WOWOW console.

Consoles Plus 010 - Juin 1992 - Page 010

Page 10, Console+ Issue 10 (June 1992) (click to enlarge)

For years, the only available information on the Taito WOWOW was limited to this report from the 1992 Tokyo Toys Show, via French videogame magazine, ‘Console+‘:

Another alliance between publishers and manufacturers has been established in Japan. It’s about JSB (that controls the satellite channel Wowow), ASCII and Taito.

A prototype has been developed. It’s small and equipped with a CD-Rom player. The basic idea is innovative: it’s about distributing games via satellite, like the streaming of TV programs, and to charge only the time really spent to play.

The other interesting thing about the console is that the games that will be released to the public will be the same of the arcade versions, with the video and audio quality of the originals.

The first games available will be Darius, Bubble Bobble and Parasol Stars…

A released date has not been disclosed yet.

Taito's booth at the Tokyo Toy Show 1992

Taito’s booth at Tokyo Toy Show 1992 (picture courtesy of Hardcore Gaming 101 blog)

The interview with Yukiharu Sambe

We have been able to get in touch with the Research & Development manager of TAITO Corporation Mr. Yukiharu Sambe, Professional engineer at the time the Wowow was created, and he was kind enough to share some new informationpreviously unknown, about this unreleased console. Enjoy! 

Random interviews & info on lost games: Chapter 2

Our friend Ross Sillifant send us a lot of contributions every week, with info and interviews about lost videogames and their development, from different software houses and for various consoles / PC. To be able to publish all those info we’ll need a lot of time so we are adding these in the Unseen64 archive in different chapters, here’s the second part, be ready for a lot of obscure unseen games and canned ports of popular titles!

Prolific’s Return Fire 2 was also planned for Playstation 1 as well as PC. Edge Issue 58 has it previewed under PC/Playstation. PSX version was never released.

From an interview with Mick west, one of the developers behind the cancelled Big Guns for Playstation:

‘We did an futuristic racing game, a rally race game, a golf game, and a mech 3rd person shooter called “Big Guns”, which we eventually got Sony to let us do, and at about the same time landed the MDK gig. Big Guns was a fun game, but it kind of got designed out of existence by the Sony Producer, and eventually was cancelled. That’s a shame, but then that led to Apocalypse and hence Tony Hawk, so it’s all good.’

About the cancelled UNITY for GameCube: Jeff Minter’s chief sponsor at Lionhead, Pete Hawley, left whilst Jeff was working on Unity, and Jeff carried on for a while, but as he did Lionhead were getting closer and closer in regards to the relationship with Microsoft and Pete thinks Unity simply did’nt fit in with Microsoft’s plans for what MS wanted Lionhead to develop for their xbox hardware and instead let Jeff loose to develop it as the Virtual Light Machine for Xbox 360 instead. Pete also talked of how he so badly wanted Aphex Twin on-board to do the music for Unity, as that was “The Missing Piece”

About NATIVE II [Nuon]:  More info on why Jaguar version was canned:

Native was stopped because it was a Jag Server game (underground – so no official tools, no alpine, no cart, no CD) ALL code had to be loaded up in one go to ram so thats everything, in 2MB – it’s just not enough ram… on a bank switched cart there’d be AMPLE room, but Duranik are no longer interested in the project and nobody who’s taken it on later has really done much with it. […] Hmmm so this game could not be put onto a cart….Well even if they do bankswitching for it, They still didnt have enough work RAM he said …So did this 1 level game max out the RAM on the Jag for the 1 level so no Music/Weapons/Bosses….rotation effect could be added? Duranik did not have an official dev kit. That means they did not have the compression tools to put this on a 2 meg cart.

 

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