>> Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Legends never die. That was the last sentiment left by the team behind some of the most spectacular games on CD-i. Pac-Panic set the high benchmark that Philips Advanced Development and Support (ADS) continually maintained in every game they released. With Arcade Classics and the DOOM clone Atlantis - The Last Resort joining the trilogy of in-house ADS games. This was no typical games developer, as the name suggests the studio was supposed to be a facility for outside development support. So how did ADS get involved in the business of making games? Devin went in search of answers and found Johnny Wood, an Artist and one of the technical wizards behind this unsung hero of CD-i gaming. In the coming period we dig in the stories left by ADS following on the contacts of the past years.
You've been credited with the pretty pictures from Pac-Panic, the graphics for Ms Pacman from Arcade Classics and also the highly unexpected first person shooter Atlantis - The Last Resort. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to work for Philips on these acclaimed CD-i games.
Johnny: "I am Johnny Wood. International Sex symbol, original bad boy of video games, and err, the ex- Lead CGI specialist for Philips Media Advanced Development and Support. Never done an interview before, apart from the time I ran for government as the leader of the undead, so I'm pretty clueless... I'll just tell you how it happened!
Back in the 80's I used to work for a guy called Lance Mason. I was doing graphics for search for sharla which was pretty ahead of its time really. Way ahead of its time actually. Like 10 years. Unfortunately Thalamus ended up closing and despite them not wanting to let Sharla go, they had to, Lances company ESP shut down. Not being good at selling myself, I ended up living rough in Birmingham. My main source of income was pavement art, so I can't say I was a beggar, but that's how society saw me. After I kept getting into trouble I decided to clean my act up and went on this experimental government training scheme where you put your skills into the community. I ended up on the video group and there I met Pete Dabbs sister. Pete was doing a beat em up for the amiga and needed an artist. Petes mum would pay me with hot meals.
Meanwhile in the World that was emerging of CDi, Philips had decided that they needed an old school games expert to head up the games division at the Dorking Studios. Lance had been appointed. He set about building a team of old school game coders. Of the crew he built, Pete was one of them. So when they needed a pixel pusher artist, (most the artists there were degree educated photoshop guys and hadn't heard of sprites!) Pete told Lance that he knew where I was. Lance gave me the job. Though I think he was scared I would f*ck up. Not because I couldn't do the work, but because my attitude was a bit "different and unusual". He took the risk and I suddenly found myself in the stockbroker belt of surrey in a beautiful house, on a good salary and working in a showcase studio.
That's how I got the job. It was a lucky break I guess, if ever there was one."
Your background seems far from typical for a games developer Johnny! As the name suggests, Advanced Development and Support (ADS) this division of Philips Media wasn't supposed to be a games developer but a "Support Group" for technical assistance to outside studios working on CD-i software. What did this supporting role involve and how did ADS evolve into a developer for some of the most playable and technically outstanding games witnessed on CD-i?
Johnny: "Well although my background is far from todays typical games developer, once it was the norm. The whole industry started off in bedrooms with people like me and Pete. So I think we were typical games developers. Well for the 80's!
But you are right with ADS not supposed to be a games developer. That sort of came by accident. The ADS in its original format was supposed to be a support centre for the existing external development that was still underway after the sad demise of the Dorking Studios. What had happened is that when Philips made the desision to shut down Dorking, there were a lot of titles being developed elsewhere that relied on its resources, such as Digital Video Encoding for the mpeg movie sequences. Back then it was a big thing to encode something to mpeg and needed thousands of quids worth of kit. You couldn't just run it through a windows converter. Software encoding was not an option. And you had to do it by hand to do it well, set up the cut scenes, otherwise you'd get major artifacting (Thats the big oity toity a-level word for those weird squares you get when you're trying to watch porn on your computer!). The number of times I've had problems setting up non-standard Intra Matrixes on non-standard output resolutions. I can tell you Lost Eden with its wide screen aspect ratio was a total bugger!
But I digress. There was never any intention of the ADS being a developer. Of the few of the Old Dorking crew who were offered the chance to join, many declined because of one reason or another. So it basically began life as 3 blokes (Me - CGI and Digital Video, Paul Reid - Inhouse net work guy and Tim Page on the coding side)... sitting in a tiny office in Redhill, packed to the brim with millions of pounds worth of the latest computers, animation tools, and Digital/Analogue Video Equipment. Which was cool because I taught myself a lot by having access to this stuff. I was listening to MP3's, originally the Audio standard for mpeg-1 many years before anybody else had heard of them! We'd answer the phones all day and It just was "The IT Crowd" but for real.
Then to ease Tims support Job. The old 'have you tried turning it off and turning it on again trick didn't work with CDi, we had to replace the programmers that decided not to take the ADS role, so I got him in touch with these gamers I'd met in mosely who were writing shit hot PC games from their bedroom. Andy Morton and Tom Drummond. When they joined Pac-Panic (or pac attack as it was originally called) was going to be published by Philips. Andy Morton wrote a multiplexer that could fill safe areas with animated sprites (A MEAN FEAT on CDi), so the go ahead was given to add the CDi version to the catalogue. That was the ADS entry into games development as a sole entity, though we had a hand in a lot of the other games out there too."
Credits: The Black Moon Project, Devin Shockwell