Ok all, RVG is please to share our next interview this time with Bill Harbison, Bill has been in the gaming industry for over 25 years and has worked at iconic studios like Ocean Software, Malibu Interactive and Platinum Interactive / Warthog.
Below is a list of some of the games Bill has worked on.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing
Top Trumps: Doctor Who
Worms 2007 (2007)
Ultraverse Prime / Microcosm
Batman: The Movie
Daley Thompson's Olympic Challenge
WEC Le Mans
Tell us how your career in the games industry started, how did you land your first big job?
I started off by sending cassettes with my artwork to various companies like Elite and Electronic Arts. Over the course of a year I was either messed around or rejected by these companies until I sent my demos to Ocean. I was reluctant to send them there to begin with since Ocean were going through a troubled time and the quality of their releases had dropped significantly. After a few weeks I got a phone call to come down for an interview and within the month I had moved from my little village in Scotland to Manchester, the big city.
You have developed games for various franchises. Did you have a favorite franchise to work with?
I find it difficult to pick a favourite as most of my work has been enjoyable in different ways, because of the project, the people I was working with etc. Being a film fan I suppose the latter projects at Ocean hold a special place for me because of the inside access and previews/premieres we got to various movies like Batman the Movie, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2.
You've worked with various software companies over the years. Who was your favorite?
I've enjoyed working at almost every company and it would be impossible to pick a favourite.
Are you a retro gamer yourself? Do you still have any systems?
I sometimes play some old games but only on emulators. I don't buy old hardware or games systems I leave that to the proper collectors.
You've worked on a lot of racing games over the years, was that by choice or just what you were asked to work on?
The early titles were just a progression of one system to the next. Firstly I worked on WEC Le Mans then because of that experience I was put on Chase HQ. After the success of that title the license for Batman the Movie came in and the decision was made to combine Chase HQ and Robocop so I worked on the 3D racing sections of that game. I didn't return to the genre until Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing but that was contract work at Sumo Digital and I was working on another title when they started on the sequel. I would have like to have gone back and worked on that one.
Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is a great game, and shows that good games can be made with Sonic in them! What part of the game did you work on and did you work on the sequel too?
My main task was to use the PS3 tracks and rebuild and re-texture them with a minimal polygon count so that they would run on a Nintendo DS. In some cases the hi-res tracks hadn't been designed so I had to use the basic layout and design the trackside objects and buildings based upon existing concept art.
If you were stuck on an island and only had one game to play for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Legend of Zelda - Ocarina of Time
How did you first get into computers and graphics? (On the Spectrum in particular)
When I first got my Spectrum there was a program that you could type in that displayed a Union Jack flag on the screen but I noticed it was slightly wrong as some of the lines didn't link up properly so I changed it slightly to fix the problem. Then I began to learn to use the line draw functions for other things until I discovered User Defined Graphics where i could plot individual pixels instead of drawing lines. This was fine but only limited to a certain number of characters. I had to wait a couple of years until The Artist 2 came out and I could use the entire screen and the colours, after that I was drawing loading screens and game mock-ups just for my own amusement.
Did you use any special programs to help you create your graphics? Any tools you created yourself for this task?
There was a program that was released on a cassette with one of the Spectrum magazines that allowed you to scan through a game's memory and search for the graphics and then allow you to alter them. This was the next step. There was a game called Rebelstar Raiders which I loved and I used the program to change all the soldier characters into Star Wars stormtroopers and then finally I created a new loading screen for the game. At this point I decided to see if any of the game companies would be interested in employing me.
Ever thought about releasing something retro inspired into todays market?
I have no idea about programming at all so I would need someone to help me. I'd like to do a new game on the Spectrum with todays tools and with all the extra work experience. I was always disappointed that I never got to work on Chase HQ 2 on the Speccy because I was working on the Atari St and Amiga at the time on Batman the Movie.
I did manage to create a game by myself using Construct 2 called Pocket Rocket. It's quite simple and I'd probably struggle to create anything more challenging but I'm happy with the results. Maybe I'll get back into that sometime.
Your time at Ocean has been well documented, what was it like working for the other software houses you worked for?
Other studios are just as good to work for but Ocean holds a special place in my heart as it was my first job and the industry was in a place where teams were small enough to remember twenty years later.
Did you ever do any work for the Konix Multisystem?
No I didn't work on that.
You attend a few of the retro events that go around the country (UK) have you been surprised by the level of interest in what you guys did back then?
I do enjoy retro events but I tend to keep a low profile and don't go to them to seek out attention, if people want to chat to me or get a picture with me or have a game signed then I'm quite happy to do that, but I tend to stay away from talks on stage or anything like that. I'm quite happy to just wander round and see what's going on, and it's a good chance to catch up with people I've not seen for a while.
When we finished a game at Ocean we were straight onto the next one. Even though we would go into shops and see the finished article on the shelves it still didn't sink in that thousands of people all over Europe would be buying and playing our games. It does surprise me that they are remembered so fondly.
How do you feel the industry has changed today, for the better or worst and why?
From a developers point of view it has got worse as, like everything else, it's about making money. Of course it was about making money in the old days but at least then they were willing to take a risk on an original idea sometimes. Back then it was about linking a game to a licence of a movie to make it sell but now it seems like all you get on consoles are the same dull sequels on an annual basis. Mobile games are no better now that the free-to-play model is so prominent. People will actually balk at having to pay 69p for a game that took months to develop but some of them will pay so much more than that on in-app purchases in a 'free' game. Don't get me started ... :)
What are you up to these days?
I'm still in the industry working away, I suppose I'm lucky to be still working as it's such a young person's industry. I guess they still need old buggers like me who have years of experience behind us and can do the work quickly.
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