AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK HAIGH-HUTCHISONThere's no intro part for this because Mark mailed me first :)
If you're senior programmer/project leader, how come you only ever seem
to get small mentions on games - Dark Forces, Sam 'n' Max etc?
The N64 is a *superb* machine... less than 3 weeks until the launch in
Japan. Mario 64 is one of the best games I have played in a LONG time.
My first BASIC program of any significance was a game based on "Alien" -- you moved around a spaceship trying to find the Alien. However, it would lay eggs & the eggs would begin growing... All text of course. This was on my school's TRS-80 Level 1.
My first machine code program was to draw a line around the screen using character graphics on the ZX81. It took 2 weeks to write, no assembler of course, simply entering opcodes, and I was so satisifed when it worked!
How did you become involved with them?
How did you end up leaving vortex?
I actually sold copies of that at a couple of ZX Microfairs... even packing them into boxes at the show :-) I remember having a great conversation with Malcom Evans about 3D Monster Maze for the ZX81.
At the shows I also got to know the guys from Vortex - Costa Panayi & Luke Andrews. It became a regular thing for me to bug them & show them the games I was developing. In the summer of '84 Luke offered me a part-time position (I was still at University) to learn the Amstrad CPC & perhaps port some of their games to it. I leapt at the chance and in 3 months in my spare time I wrote ANDROID ONE -- without having a disc drive or any firmware manuals! 2 weeks after leaving University in July '85 I started work full time at Vortex -- my first game being HIGHWAY ENCOUNTER, which took 8 weeks to convert. After that I did a number of games for Vortex, including ALIEN HIGHWAY & REVOLUTION. Sadly Vortex didn't have the marketing power to go up against people like Ultimate and after an unsucessful partnership with US Gold, the company was scaled down (to 2 people) & I left to work freelance.
This would have been late '86. Working at Vortex with Costa is one of my BEST memories -- not only did I learn a tremendous amount, but formed some great friendships.
I have still have my old Z80 books... :-)
I keep in touch with Costa. He's now living in the South of England working as a design consultant -- he was originally a Mechanical Engineer before writing games.
Luke is now living in Cyprus where he's teaching English -- he was a teacher before Vortex.
b) it had no sound
c) it was still the best conversion.
Why no sound? I know AA asked if any hackers would be able to add it....
I finished the game on the morning of my deadline... having worked a lot of nights - at least at this time I had a reasonable development system -- I had two CPCs, a 5.25" floppy (700K!), & other good stuff. Helped tremendously. I was very proud of the code I wrote for that game. Sadly at the end of the project I had NO memory left for sound -- that was the only reason there wasn't any! In hindsight I should have done something to get the space back...
Thanks for the kind words -- I felt that my version was closest to the arcade -- it was hard work but worth it in the end. I got a little money from royalties though I'm sure ELITE did very well out of it -- no doubt if it had come out at the same time as the others it would have been very sucessful. ELITE offered me a position as Senior Programmer which I took. I worked there for a while & left to join Tiertex, although people like Ocean offered me a position.
Elite had management problems -- and when I joined Tiertex there were only 4 of us in the company, and things were actually not bad at all. I think as they got more sucessful they lost track of WHY they were sucessful & starting to treat people badly. They had NO management skills whatsoever.
Ocean didn't give me a good impression, and it turned out that it wasn't that great a place to work at either. Of course, it was probably better than my choice...
Interestingly Ultimate (who I also interviewed with) said I didn't have anough 6502 experience... things could have worked out very differently if I had ended up there :-) BTW I ran into Chris Stamper at E3 recently so it was interesting talking to him about the old days.
Amstrad Action was my favourite magazine -- their reviews were fair and I was lucky enough to get "Mastergame" a couple of times.
If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask.
I'm including a list of the projects I've worked on, in case you're interested:
Android One (Amstrad CPC *) Highway Encounter ( Amstrad CPC*, Atari ST*, Commodore Amiga*, IBM PC*) Alien Highway (ZX Spectrum*, Amstrad CPC*) Revolution (Amstrad CPC*) Paperboy (Amstrad CPC*) Overlander (ZX Spectrum*, Amstrad CPC*) Thunder Blade (Amstrad CPC* + parts of ZX Spectrum & Atari ST) Human Killing Machine (Commodore C64*) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Action Game (Spectrum*, CPC*, IBM PC*) Italy 1990 (ZX Spectrum*, Amstrad CPC*, supervised IBM, Atari ST, Amiga) Magic Boy (coordinated Atari ST, initial Amiga conversion) David Robinson's Supreme Court (SEGA Game Gear*, unfinished) Rebel Assault (80386 optimisations for IBM PC) Rebel Assault (68000 optimisations for SEGA CD) Sam & Max (Blitter routines for IBM PC) Zombies Ate My Neighbours (SEGA Genesis*) Big Sky Trooper (Systems programming + Slug AI for Super Nintendo) Dark Forces (minor assistant programming for IBM PC) Rebel Assault (ARM optimisations for 3DO) Shadows of the Empire (Nintendo 64 - Project Leader + programming)The versions with an asterisk after the name are games on which I did *all* the programming. So how would you compare programming nowadays to they way things were done then?
One downside to the improvements in development environments is the "quick change" mentality. When developing games for, say, the CPC on tape, you'd make damn sure that any change you made would be a good one & that you understood why you were making the change. Simply because of the turn-around time for loading the editor, source code, assembler, etc. It's all too easy now to make quick fixes & see if it works -- it doesn't require the same discipline as before.
Naturally having a CDROM & other hardware can give the player a more atmospheric environment, we can have voice & real music, etc. I believe we are on the cusp of a change between technology-driven games & content-driven games. This seems to go in cycles but the next few years will be very interesting indeed.
After the court case, I basically had large debts & had to look for a
job. Around December 1990 I had sent a Xmas card to a friend of mine who
worked at LucasArts. We had met back in 1989 when I did the Indiana Jones
game. For the PC version I had spent a week working at the Skywalker
Ranch fixing 40 bugs! It was a complete blast, though -- despite jet lag
& 16 hour work days :-) I said to myself then that one day I would end up
working for LucasArts.
It's nice to be able to put a face to the name. I think everybody knows what Dave Perry looks like but the majority of programmers go fairly anonymous.....
I would like to thank Mark for taking the time from his N64 project to respond to my questions.