AN INTERVIEW WITH JON RITMAN
Jon Ritman
Hi, I run a web page dedicated to CPC games, part of which contains interviews with a number of ex-cpc programmers/artists/musicians etc. I was wondering if you would be willing (have the spare time from QAD?) to take part in an interview as well?
    I assume you mean an e-mail interview so interview away

          Jon

Cool.

I had a quick look at the piece on your website however i'll have to assume most people who read the interviews won't have seen that so... What was your first computer?

    ZX81

What got you interested in programming?

    Radio Rental (who I worked for at the time) decided to rent games machines so I decided to learn about them by buying a ZX81 and teaching myself to program - I found myself addicted within a week.

What was your first program

    Namtir Raiders - published by Artic computing
What was your first game

    See above (I couldn't think of anything to do with my ZX81 but program a game)
How did you break into the games industry?

    Sent off Namtir Raiders to Artic - I sold it within 2 days

How did you hook up with Bernie Drummond - and is he up for an interview as well?

    He played Drums for some friends band and I knew he could draw so I asked him to have a go with the Batman graphics. Bernie would probably do an interview but he doesn't have e-mail - do you want to interview him via phone?
One thing i've never been to sure about, did you write Matchday 1?
    I wrote the speccy version but other versions were created without my control and hence they were crap :-)
So how did you get a job with Ocean then?

    I approached them at a show and told them that I would be writing a superb soccer game - 9 months later they rang and asked if I had written it - I had and the rest is history
How did Batman come about? Did Ocean give you the licence and ask you to come up with a game or did somebody else design it? Were you happy with it or were there things you wished you could have added? Were Ultimate a big influence on it?

    I had seen Knight Lore and was determined to write a similar (or better) engine - as I did so Bernie and I tried to decide on a hero we could use that people may have heard of - I think It was me who thought of Batman and then we asked Ocean if they could get a license. I designed the entire game with no input from anyone else and looking back my only complaint was that there is a room (about 9 rooms in) with an exploding bridge that many buyers never mastered - that should not have been so early in the game.

If i remember correctly, Matchday 2 was after Batman - was that an opportunity to show what you'd learnt since/from the first game or were you asked to do it by Ocean?

    Match Day 1 had been very popular and of course there were many possabilities for improvements - as Match Day was a game I played a lot myself I wanted some more advanced features so we decided to do Match Day 2. I always made my own mind up about the games to make and often only got involved with publishers when the game was almost finished.
So after Matchday 2 you did Head Over Heels. A lot of people considered it the sequel to batman, did it start of like that or were Head & Heels in there from the beginning?

    I did use the same engine (with changes to allow it to support two characters) and it did use the same style of gameplay so I guess it could be considered a sequel.
I always thought the use of the 2 characters within the game was a stroke of genius, was a lot of time spent designing the layout of the levels & puzzles as a result of this or did the experience from Batman make it easier and quicker?
    It was fairly simple but I did have to have methods of splitting the pair so that they had to go seperate routes.

Did you design it all or did Bernie have a lot of input with the look & feel etc.

    I did it all
Was there anything you would have liked to have added or changed in HOH?
    Probably at the time but I can't remember now - there is a bug in HoH that I would have prefered to have found.
I never actually finished it myself, i got all the 4 worlds done but couldn't get to the final part, there was a big wall in the way with a hole at the top - really annoyed me that did. It's on my list of things to do before i die though ;)

    Can't remember the wall offhand but the main thing to find was a moon base section near the end where you could walk through the near wall and find another route
Head Over Heels will be 10 this year if i'm not mistaken, but you seemed to disappear after that so where did you go and what have you been upto?

    I did a lot of work with Rare (ex Ultimate) on arcade stuff, the Gameboy and also created the development system they used for all their 16 bit game (inc. Donkey Kong Country)
Mark Haigh-Hutchinson applied for a job there years ago but didn't get it, it's considered one of the top companies to work for so why did you decide to leave?

    I had always been freelance and felt I could do better elsewhere (and anyway I run my own company now)
How did you team up with Pete(?) Cook?

    John Cook - I have known John for many years, he is an expert at making deals with the big publishers plus he knows how a business is run so it all seemed a good idea at the time (plus we were both rolling drunk in the back of a taxi)

I was going to ask for a picture but this month's PC Format has a small interview with piccy... In it you are somewhat less-than-complementary about Sony's Yaroze, some would say that Sony are at least trying to create a 8bit style development community, cynics would say it's just a chance for them to make more money. Do you feel that consoles as a whole are having a negative effect on the creation of new programming talent?

    Yes
Do you feel that they are also limiting in the types of games that are written for them and therefore causing what some say is becoming a "stale" industry?

    The whole stucture of the industry is limiting it - it was bound to happen this way as whenever the cash involved gets so large the people who's cash is at risk are bound to get a bit conservative.

How does programming today compare with the way you used to do things? Are there things you prefer to do the old way or do you think huge development teams are a benefit?

    It would be very hard to write a game for today by yourself - for one thing it would take so long to write you would be left behind (in technical terms) before you got to finish the game - There is no doubt that a single programmer can work much faster on his own than when in a team but it's just not on anymore

Now that you've been around for over 10 years, do you still have the same drive that you had at the start?

    It's different now - at first I was driven to find how to do stunning stuff on my speccy but now it's more about designing great gameplay (Whoops, blowing my own trumpet again ;-) - I do feel that far too many of the current games have badly designed gameplay and it does annoy me when I can see simple changes that would improve released games.

Do you think that in another 10years you might decide you've had enough or do you feel that programming games is a job that won't be constrained by retirement age (not to say that you're 10years from retirement age of course :)) and therefore we'll see old programmers picking up awards in the same way we do actors?

    An award for contribution to games you mean... I like the idea, I must put my name on the list - really I haven't the faintest, I just take each day as it comes and never think of the future

You've said in interviews concerning QAD (nearly done?) about how you want to bring back playability to games...
Have there been any games over the past few years that you have liked or been impressed by? Are there any companies/programmers who you think stand out as champions of gaming quality or originality?

    Only a few great games and of those I have to point at Doom as a very addictive game, I bought Doom II when I had a cold intending to pass the time for a couple of days but ended up playing for two weeks solid (all day, every day)

What i find interesting is that nobody saw the potential when Wolfenstein came out but after Doom everybody has jumped on the bandwagon. I think Duke Nukem & Hexen have been the best Doom-a-likes so far. Nobody copied Freescape when that came out and i think that was technically more ground breaking for the time. Do you think there are now too many people shoving out poor Doom clones without really looking at why Doom was and still is so popular?

    The clones just clone the engine and fail to see how the gameplay works - look around at all the Doom wads made by non-id people, none of them come close to id's stuff.

Having left Rare, why did you decide to do PC development rather than sticking with consoles?

    I have always prefered the freedom of proper computers - console designers tend to think of certain styles of game and design the console to do just that, it makes it very hard do stuff they hadn't thought of

Is QAD Dos, Win95 or both?

    Dos but will of course work in a win 95 dos box

DirectX - useful API which makes programming a dream or hyped piece of rubbish which proves Microsoft still don't have a clue about games writing? - i've been reading John Carmack's .plan :)

    Currently DirectX is crap, the next version is ment to be much better - I hope so

Allegedly John Carmack had a meeting with Microsoft recently so maybe they've realised that they need to listen to programmers comments.

    Good

It seems to me that after all the hype about DirectX making faster games all it does is increase the spec needed to run a basic game. The difference in specs for Dos red Alert and the Win95 version proves that, Warcraft 2 didn't need a pentium for SVGA mode so it must be hard to get the speed up on Win95 games. Due you actually rate windows95 as a game platform?

    It make some things easy but as you say it does have quite a performence hit

Peter Molineux made Bullfrog a great success and then made a big mistake in letting EA buy them. If Cranberry Source emulate the success of Bullfrog would you be tempted by money or are you determined to stay independent?

    How much change do you have currently?

    I'm a student so 21p :)

      It's a deal - cash only ;-)

I've been looking through the crimbo issue of PC Gamer which had in it's 1997 preview a another couple of games you are working on. Net 3D which they say should be called Matchday 3D. We'll ignore them forgetting that Matchday was semi-3d anyway - is it your chance to bring Matchday into the 90's? Will we finally see the decent footie game that the PC is screaming out for?

    Yes!

Are you an active footie fan yourself? Which team do you support?

    No I hate watching soccer and don't support any team

Later in their preview they have Citizens which, as strategy game, would seem to mark a bit of a departure for you. have you always wanted to do a sim game?

    I'm interested in all genre's

How come you signed up with Phillips for distibution? Not to be harsh but they're not exactly famed for consistently high profile or high quality releases are they?

    And are to vanish soon in a merger with Ocean-Infogrammes - at the time it seemed like a good idea :-)

I was a bit surprised when i heard that it was Ocean who were in trouble and had to merge with Infogrames. Is Mr Ward still the boss there?

    He is

Well the N64 finally hit the shelves on Saturday at a not too unreasonable price - provided you don't know how much it costs everywhere else on the planet - however the games are 60+ each. Coming from and age where games cost 1.99 upto 8.95/9.95, do you think the pricing of games has become a bit of a joke now?

    As someone who bought in to it on Saturday I must say I do think the games are overpriced - I got Mario and find myself dissapointed with the gameplay, so far I prefer Super Mario on the SNES although the 64 looks great

I remember when the ST and Amiga came out and games were 25 and people said it was because of the power but what do you consider to be a fair price nowadays?

    As in all things it's down to what the market will pay and if they are willing to fork out 60 then that's the right price - even at that price it would be very hard to make a profit unless you are Nintendo

Are you bothered when games for the PC have an RRP of 35-45 but are usually discounted (if they're big enough) down to sub 30 mark?

    As a developer I would prefer people to pay 500 but there isn't much chance of that, the main question is about the balance between on the shelf prices and the cost of development - if the price falls too much then the amount of work put into a game has to reduce as well

We've also seen the death of the small local computer shop since the big boys (HMV, Virgin etc) moved in and forced them out. I see lots of poor suckers paying over the odds for machines from PC World/Dixons etc. Do you have any thoughts on the benefits or otherwise of this change.

    It is a pity as the small retailer knows what he's talking about, not something you would accuse a big multiple of.

Even though computers and gaming are big on the high street, there still seems to be a non-acceptance of them in society. We only have one half-decent games related show on terrestrial tv, the Net is - to put it bluntly - wank while cybercafe is ho-hum. Do you think the media should be giving a more balanced view of computing rather than still showing it as a bunch of nerds or scare stories about porn on the net etc.

    Only to be expected - you only have to pick up a copy of Which that covers an area you are an expert in to see that the journo's often don't have the faintest

I know the government have come up with their IT For All plan but doesn't it seem rather late? There still seems to be little formalised computer training in schools either. Should it be part of the curriculum or should we be left to teach ourselves in the bedroom still?

    It would be good if all kid learnt but the problem is resources - My brother is a headmaster of a primary school and about 9 months ago reported (with joy) that the school had got two multi media PC's - I ask you, two for a whole school???

Have you thought about giving internet support to any of your games or does the expensive nature of the net in this country leave you cold on the idea?

    We have thought about it

With the exception of Bernie, do you keep in touch with any people you ised to work with at Ocean or Rare? Did any of them join Cranberry or did you hire all new staff?

    I still hear from a few people but as on the whole we worked on our own and saw very few others it tends to be the bosses of companies that I knew

Where do you look for staff when you want them? Would you believe in hiring university graduates as American companies have done or do you want people with xx years previous experience?

    Many of our best programmers learnt to hack away at demo's when they were young and then went for the uni degree - we do try for a mixture at cranberry between experienced people and newbies

One last thing, what has been your favourite machine to write for and why?

    Pentium 200 MMX with 96mb of Ram, I'm sure you can guess why :-) Cheers
    Jon


Thanks to Jon for taking the time from his busy schedule to to answer all my questions.