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16/09/2011

Amiga Games - Richard Hewison - Project Mangager and Games Tester

Richard Hewison
Richard Hewison worked as project manager and games tester during the 8-bit and 16-bit era's on machines such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore Amiga.

With a vast library of titles under his belt including classic games such as Beneath a Steel Sky, Cannon Fodder, Sensible Soccer, Stunt Car Racer and Speedball II he has project managed and play tested some of the most recognisable games to grace best 16-bits in history.

Richard was more thank kind enough to take me through his days working in the gaming sector on the Commodore Amiga...


One of the greatest games ever...


1: Hi Richard. First of all how did you get into the games industry - and when did you make your first foray into this area?
Short version - I happened to know someone who managed to get a job at TelecomSoft and just a month or two later he called me to let me know there was a tester's position that had become available. I went for the interview and got the job!
Long version - I was writing a regular Adventure helpline column and computer game reviews for the computing section on BBC2's teletext service CEEFAX in the mid-1980s.

The section was called NEXT and was edited by a guy called Martin Cooper.

I started by posting the mode 7 teletext pages on 5.25" floppy disks to the editor at BBC Television Centre every couple of weeks, and I then started subscribing to Prestel & Micronet so I could upload the pages via a 1200 baud modem connected to our BBC Micro. Heady stuff!

Anyway, I made friends with a number of other subscribers on Micronet and Prestel who were adventure game fans. I was a full time student by then, doing Business Studies and specialising in Business Computing (as it was back in the mid-80s!).

I saw an advert in Popular Computing Weekly in early 1987 for a job at Rainbird Software in central London. I applied, got as far as an interview, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Fast forward six months or so and I was now an unemployed student but busy trying to get a job in 'the industry'.

I got interviewed for a job at EMAP in London (writing for Computer & Video Games magazine) but didn't get that job either. I did get a few reviews published though as some kind of compensation.

It was shortly afterwards that one of my Micronet & Prestel buddies managed to get a job working at TelecomSoft. I was of course very envious having failed to get a job at the same company the previous year, so I told him to let me know if any jobs came up.

A few months later and I'd only just started a new job when my friend phoned up out-of-the-blue and told me that a game testers job had just been suddenly vacated and I should get in there before they have the chance to advertise the post.

I did this the very next day and was interviewed in London the following week. They called my home to offer me the job before I'd even got back. Oddly, it turned out that I knew the previous post holder (who had been sacked). Sometimes it's a small world!
You could say this was all pre-ordained though, as I had done some early games testing for Kevin Toms' Addictive Games back in 1983/84.

I was constantly pestering him by letter to do a BBC version of Football Manager, so in the end I like to think he caved in and did one, then phoned me up and asked me to play-test it. This I did and was rewarded with a free copy when the game was finished.

2: Did you spend much time working in the 8-bit scene? If so - which games did you playtest or project manage and on which machines?
Ignoring my brief games testing stint in 1983/84, I was joining the industry when 8-bit was on its last legs in early 1988. I had been a BBC user, then bought a Spectrum and then persuaded a friend to sell me his Commodore 64 in 1986.

 I considered myself a naturalised Speccy user (owning both a rubber-keyed 48k model and the souped-up Sinclair 128k+ when that came out in Feb '86) so once that became known at TelecomSoft, I got to critique and test the 8-bit conversions of the 16-bit games like Starglider 2, Virus, Carrier Command and so on because I still cared enough about those platforms to try and make the conversions worth doing.

I even got to contribute some artwork into Carrier Command (one or two of the icons in the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC versions are mine) and I contributed the stars and the space clouds on the Starglider 2 Spectrum loading screen! Ahem... I'll get my coat!
I was involved in lots of 8-bit stuff in general. The very first game I ever professionally tested at TelecomSoft on my very first day was Graftgold's highly underrated 'Intensity' which was published by Firebird.

I also play-tested classic games such as; Soldier of Fortune, Dynamic Duo, Savage, Virus, Starglider 2, Carrier Command, Corruption, Fish!, 3D Pool, P47, Mr Heli, Action Fighter, Exploding Fist +, G.I. Hero, Rainbow Islands, Betrayal, Stuntcar Racer, Rick Dangerous, Samurai Warrior, and Star Trek: The Rebel Universe (which Commodore User magazine amusingly credited me as being the programmer when I wrote their two-page players guide in an early '89 issue).

At Mirrorsoft, I managed the 8-bit and conversions of Bloodwych, Predator 2 and Robozone for C64, CPC and Spectrum.

3: When did you move into the 16-bit market?
I didn't 'move' into 16-bit; it was already there when I arrived in early 1988! I had bought myself an Atari 520STFM about six months earlier and was busy playing Magnetic Scrolls adventures and Dungeon Master on it before I started working in the industry.
4: What was best - the Amiga or the Atari ST?
Well, at first I would definitely say the Atari because you could actually do useful stuff with TOS and Gem without the need for a hard drive or two floppy drives. Trying to do anything useful on an Amiga A500 via Workbench 1.3 with just one floppy drive was almost impossible!

However, the Amiga was technically superior and although the ST had the early advantage, I think the Amiga took over within a few years.

Certainly the A1200 with an internal hard drive and a second floppy became a very useful machine in the early 90s once the ST/STE/Falcon had pretty much died a death. It wasn't until near the end of my stint that ST conversions of games were not being considered.

5: Can you tell us some of the titles you worked on during the Commodore Amiga years?
Lots!
As a tester - Starglider 2, Virus, Savage, Corruption, Fish!, Verminator, 3D Pool, Action Fighter, Rick Dangerous, Druid II: Enlightenment (Pete Molyneux's first ever game!), Oriental Games, Elite, Whirligig, Flying Shark, Mr Heli, P47, Quartz, Rainbow Islands, The Sentinel, Tower of Babel.

As a Project Manager - Predator 2, Robozone, Blade Warrior, The Final Battle, Sensible Soccer (before and after it went to Renegade), Cannon Fodder (before it went to Virgin), Legend (before and after it went to Mindscape and I also wrote the manual and the Adventurer's Handbook), Lure of the Temptress (before and after it went to Virgin) and some unpublished titles including Duster, Terrarium, Drop Soldier.

I also tested Reach for the Skies (before and after it went to Virgin), did rudimentary testing on a slew of Cinemaware titles including Wings, It Came from the Desert (the pre-prod disks came from the duplicators labelled as 'It Came from the Dessert' which made us laugh!), Ant Heads, TV Sports Boxing and a little bit of Roller Babes I seem to recall too.

Also got to do some testing on Cadaver, Speedball 2, Flipit & Magnose, Back to the Future II and III, The Killing Cloud, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Overlord, Dino Dini's Goal! (I wrote the manual as well), Battletoads, Beneath a Steel Sky, Liberation: Captive 2 (I also wrote the manual), Dune II, Elf Mania, Frontier: Elite II, KGB (I'm listed as a KGB agent in the end credits!), Worlds of Legend: Son of the Empire (I also wrote the manual), Rise of the Robots... which I probably shouldn't be admitting too!... and probably a few more besides that I've blotted from my memory!

6: Which titles give you fond memories and why?
Quite a few - on 8-bit I loved Intensity. Starglider 2 and Virus because they were pretty cutting edge back then on 16-bit. Rainbow Islands was just a terrific conversion and it was so hard to see us do all the work and then Ocean snatch the publishing and the glory afterwards.

Legend was a terrific little RPG with a wonderful magic spell casting system. Sensible Soccer and Dini Dini's Goal! were both terrific footie games (but I actually prefer Goal! out of the two). Dune II was special although the Amiga conversion was really only playable on an A1200.

Frontier was almost great but suffered from trying to do too much on hardware that wasn't quite up to it.

7: Conversely which titles give you less than fond memories and why?
Quite a few of these too! Where do I start?

On 8-bit Dynamic Duo was a mess and should have been a budget release not a full price Firebird title, G.I. Hero was just awful and had no real game in it at all (and I got lumbered with testing it because nobody else could face doing it!). Robozone was a great idea that got watered down so much as development went on that in the end it was a huge disappointment.

I had a much better idea for the Predator 2 game design but it was all decided before the project was given to me and shoot 'em ups were never my thing. There's a reason why Terrarium was cancelled - it was terrible - and the list could go on and on but I'll stop there and try and be a little diplomatic.

8: Can you tell me any coders you watched working and just thought 'wow'?
Well, I didn't do too much 'watching' because I was based in the publisher's office and we didn't have many/any in-house programmers. I'd say that the guys who impressed me with their work were Geoff Crammond, Sensible Software, Ross Goodley, Dino Dini and the guys at FTL.
9: Do you play any the games you tested or project managed these days?
Yes, thanks to the wonders of emulation and my web sites I get to revisit the good/bad old days on a regular basis. I don't get much time to play games at all due to work and family, but when I do I nearly always go back to the 8-bit and 16-bit games rather than boot up modern PC, Wii or PS3 stuff.

At the time you can't wait to see the back of most games once they're finished, but now with years between the pain and the game I actually quite like playing most of them to varying degrees!

10: Can you tell us what you have been up to since the Amiga scene faded in the mid 1990s?
I went freelance for a while (Virgin, Domark, Mindscape, Renegade, Abbey Road etc), then worked for Sony CEE for a while on the new Sony PSX console (this was back in mid-1994 the year before it's launch) then got out of the games industry all together.

I then decided to set up my Bird Sanctuary web site all about TelecomSoft and I'm planning to do one all about Mirrorsoft too. I also get to write on a semi-regular basis for Retro Gamer magazine and have done articles about TelecomSoft, Beyond, Virgin, The Electronic Pencil Company, Hewson, Mirrorsoft and a whole load of other publishers and developers over the last 6 or 7 years.

It's a great excuse to get back in touch with some of the people I used to work with and it gives me an excuse to research the period of computer gaming (the 1980s and early 90s) which I honestly believe were the most innovative and exciting in the UK.

Once again many thanks to Richard for taking the time to talk to me about his Amiga days.

Classic Games, Arcade Games and Amiga Games

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice interview. Didn't realise until the end it was "Rainbird Rich"!

Ben master said...

congratulations for you interview...

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Nice Games....

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One of my favorite games of all time :-
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