Team 17

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! 

P.I.G. (Team 17) [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

P.I.G. (Team 17) [Playstation, PC – Cancelled]

P.I.G. is an interesting 3D platform adventure game that was in development by Team 17 for Playstation and PC, with a planned release in spring 1999. The project was started around 1996, following Mario 64 and the 3D platform craze of the late ‘90, but even with some great premises PIG was cancelled after more than 2 years of development. The only proof of existence of this game seems to be its announcement in an old Team 17 special in Total Control magazine issue 1 (November 1998), where the studio shown many of the projects they were working on, along with Phoenix, Stunt Gran Prix, Project WM and Worms Armageddon.

P.I.G.’s gameplay would have followed similar style of popular games in the same genre as Banjo Kazooie, with the main character being a pig named George, working as a private investigator (this explain the title’s acronym: Private Investigator George) hired to solve the mysterious disappearance of a bunch of piglets, kidnapped by the evil Dr. Gotem in the strange and puzzle filled Fun Dazzle Magic Land theme park.

8 main themed areas (as Mars, the Arctic, Fairy Tales, a Volcano, etc.) were planned and each theme was subdivided into 3 or 4 sub-levels, filled with areas to explore, traps and puzzles, giving a total of around 40 different environments to play in. Lots of different minigames were also available to players, as arcade machines featuring PIG-style versions of some classic games and surreal sections where George was swallowed by a giant pumpkin lantern or shrunk to minute size. George would have used different outfits for each area climate, for example by wearing a sweater and wool hat in the snow level, and more than 60 NPCs (between enemies to fight and friends to help) would have moved around the world.

While this kind of gameplay could not be the most interesting one by today’s standard, back in the day when 3D platform-adventures were some of the most loved games, PIG could really have been a hit. After its reveal in Total Control Magazine, the project seems to have been vanished forever and there are no more info available on its features or why it was cancelled. In an interview by MCV with Team 17 Co-Founder & CEO Debbie Bestwick, she remember how in late ‘90 the huge success of Worms made them to lose sight of how to develop other great games, and they lost a lot of money on a series of unreleased projects:

“For around ten of the past 25 years, all of them ironically post-Worms launching, we came so close to losing the business numerous times due to game slippage, less than smart business decisions and publisher traumas. Worms changed everything about the company in 1995. Prior to that we were doing some very cool stuff – similar to what we are doing right now actually – with amazing games talent from around the world and I often wonder what else we would have done had Worms not landed. We should have stayed true to what we had been doing, but overnight nothing mattered but Worms. We really thought we were superstars and everything we touched would turn to gold, but the reality was that a lot of money was wasted on games that were never released. These included Rollcage, Allegiance, Witchwood, P.I.G, and so many more I won’t mention. I’d say, looking back now, that the Worms IP was as much a Godsend as a poison chalice.”

Thanks to Ross Sillifant for the contribution! If you know someone that worked on this game and could help to preserve more screens or videos, please let us know!

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Witchwood [Cancelled – Playstation, Saturn, PC, Jaguar, Amiga]

Witchwood is a cancelled action adventure game that was in development from 1994 to 1996 by Team 17, the studio best known for the Worms series. The game would have been published by Ocean for Amiga and PC, but in 1995 moved to PC, Playstation, Saturn, and Jaguar. As noted by Hallfiry of the Betaarchive Forum, while working on Witchwood, Team 17 was also developing Speris Legacy; another action adventure similar to the Legend of Zelda games that was released on Amiga in 1996.

Witchwood-Team-17-joystick-64

The reason for the project’s termination is as of yet unknown. One possibility is that Team 17’s publishing partner, Ocean, elected to drop the game’s funding in light of Speris’ apparently lacklustre sales; rather than risk making another loss.

Despite the game’s cancellation, its soundtrack was released by Team17 composer, Bjørn Lynne, in 1996, and a playable demo of Witchwood was leaked online some years ago: you can download it from Kult Game.

Thanks to Tom Barker for the contribution!

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Worms Battle Rally [PS2 XBOX GC – Cancelled]

Worms Battle Rally is a cancelled racing / battle game similar to Mario Kart, that was in development by Team 17 in 2003 / 2004, probably planned for the Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube. We can speculate that the gameplay was going to be similar to MK’s battle mode, at least from what we can see from the few screenshots preserved below, thanks to www.dream17.info.

Production on WBR was halted as part of the developer/publisher deal which resulted in Worms Forts: Under Siege.

Thanks to whitestrider for the contribution!

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Rollcage (Team 17) [PSX SAT 3DO – Cancelled]

Rollcage is a cancelled racing game that was in development by Team 17 for the original Playstation, Saturn and 3DO. Even if the title is the same, this game is not the same Rollcage (a futuristic racer) developed by Attention To Detail and published by Psygnosis in 1999. Team 17’s Rollcage was a more traditional racing game, with “realistic” cars and tracks from the real world. There are no more info available on this project, but Celine was able to find some screenshots in CD Consoles magazine issue #7. Rollcage was never released on any platform, for unknown reasons.

Unclejun found a video from ECTS ’95 on a cover disc from Génération 4 issue #78 showcasing the game, it was supposed to be the first Daytona USA-like racing game on the PC, featuring a mix of stuntcar and stockcar gameplay and capable of 60fps on a Pentium.

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