Here is our latest interview with Ian Stewart the Founder of Gremlin Interactive.
Huge thanks to Ian for agreeing to take part.
Tell us a bit about you and Gremlin Interactive started?
In the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked for a hi fi retailer called Laskys who were the highstreet leaders at the time with Stores across the country, I worked at the Northampton store and then moved to Sheffield to open a new store as Manager. I moved on to a role as area controller at about the same time the company decided to start getting involved in the sale of computers in 1981, Laskys sold the hardware but did very little on software sales.
I recognised an opportunity and decided to strike out and open a software retail shop in Sheffield called Just Micro, this became the meeting place for anyone interested in computer games and attracted some of the early talent that laid the foundations for the games development scene in Sheffield and who now work all over the world.
We identified a small group of programmers who we thought could develop games, took some more office space on Carver Street and formed Gremlin Graphics.
Zool and Zool 2 were both very popular games and well recieved, how come you never made any more Zool games?
ZOOL was and still is my favourite game character and was very successful, I wanted to carry on with the series of games but could not get the support of senior managers in the company and was unable to force the situation. The company had reached a size of about 150 employees and decisions had to be democratic when it came to product selection! Big mistake!!
(Amiga CD32 version)
My car registration is S 2OOL, it looks sort of like ZOOL J. I’m looking at re-introducing ZOOL as well as allowing Games Britannia use the IP for its 2013 games design competition. I have also been running a competition at Sheffield Hallam University that allows students to use the Zool character to come up with a game that will be eventually made into a PlayStation minis game.
I was a massive fan of the Lotus games, did you get the license first and build a game around it or was the game already made and called something else at first?
It was a bit of both, Magnetic Fields had a demo of a racing game and we worked together on creating the Lotus game in tandem with obtaining the license.
The only Monty Mole game on the 16-bits was the quite different Impossamole, was there ever any plans to resurrect him properly?
No, during the 16 bit era the company fell out of love with Monty and he was retired with a small pension and a tunnel under carver street to see out the rest of his days!
Your one and only Atari Lynx game, Switchblade II, was excellent. Was there ever any plans to produce more games for the Lynx?
I knew the guys that did the original design who worked at Epyx Games and it was a great machine, unfortunately it had a short life and software sales were limited and it made no sense to develop any more titles.
With a name like Gremlin how come you never made a game actually based around some sort of Gremlin?
We never actually owned the Gremlin name! Not long after the company started we received a very strong legal letter from Warner Bros accusing us of passing off of its Gremlins property! Baring in mind that at the time we were a very small company it made no sense in getting in to a fight, so after some lengthy discussions we signed a royalty free license to use Gremlin with the understanding that we would not develop games with Gremlins.
How difficult was it being under US Gold in the late 1980's i remember reading it was not an easy time?
I wouldn’t say it was difficult but it was difficult at times with a few characters clashing, however this was a fantastic time in the growth of the computer games market with some very smart people getting involved.
US Gold were having a great time and Gremlin was generally second best, the best thing happened when I bought the company out of Centre Gold and was able to define its future.
Was there many cancelled titles during this period? If so can you recall any and would any of the code be available on a disk somewhere?
There would have been cancelled titles then as there is today, Beaver Bob in Dam Trouble never made it to the shelves and one that I remember well was a game called Ramrod, we just couldn’t get it right!
Some code may exist somewhere but I do not have any!
What was it like working with Magnetic Fields? And did they keep to time schedules or were they left to finish in their own time?
It was always good working with Doug, Sean and Andrew. Whilst we may have been flexible with schedules the guys worked really hard and never let us down.
What was your favourite platform to work on, 8bit, 16bit and console?
I would say 8 bit because we were stepping into the unknown with no barriers apart from our imagination and a maximum of 16-32k to work within!
What was your best selling title?
ZOOL followed by Lotus Series and Prem Man.
What do you miss the most about the industry you were once part of?
The people and the parties, I had some great times with some great people! Couldn’t possibly reveal any more detail
Any plans to revive any of the old I.P on the newer digital platforms?
I have already re-imagined Bounder for iOS and Android, Prem Man will be available soon via Thumbstar Games and you might just see ZOOL sometime soon! Others that I am looking at are Thing on a Spring Jack the Nipper! I am also re-introducing the Actua brand on Facebook as Actua Poker.
How did your company end up with the name Gremlin Interactive? Was someone a fan of the movies?
If I remember rightly, we were looking for an incentive to keep customers coming back to Just Micro and had a whole series of gremlin like characters for people to collect to obtain a discount. Then when we came to choose a name to publish by, Gremlin hit the spot and Gremlin Graphics was formed.
Are you aware of the Android OUYA console? If so, any interest in developing games for it?
I have to be interested in any new console/platform especially where there is an opportunity to reuse code and assets.
I recently interviewed former Imagitec Design staff and they talked a lot about the close relationship with Gremlin that eventually saw them being bought out by you. How useful was it having a programming house like that to help you out with music and multi-format conversions?
At the time it was a great resorse for us to use, they were a smart team of people that worked extremely hard for the group. Music was always produced to the highest quality and complemented the Sheffield music studio with some very different sounds.
When Gremlin took over DMA Design did you have any idea just how massive the Grand Theft Auto series would become?
If we had we would have had to pay a lot more than we did for DMA, unfortunately DMA had already sold the title to Bertlesman who then sold it on to Take Two!
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