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Steve Hayes: Memories about Philips Media Games

>> Monday, June 1, 2009

Connect Four, CD Shoot, Jigsaw, oh yeah lets throw Backgammon into the mix and arrange a night in with the local book critic club! Hardly the most inspiring "Must Have" collection of games. It wasn't until 1993 that the tide started to turn and Philips began to realise the importance and profitability in games. The 7th Guest, Space Ace, The Apprentice, Lemmings and Striker Pro were just a few of the games that marked this changing attitude. We learned that a small team was formed to bring these conversions and the occasional original idea to CD-i games. So it's with a hint of pride that Black Moon got the opportunity to speak with Steve Hayes, a former member of the European team responsible for many of the CD-i games we enjoyed and probably still play today.

Devin: Can you tell us how you came into employment at Philips Media and what your job actually involved?

Steve: I first started talking to Philips Interactive Media Europe (P.I.M.E) about working with them in March 1992. I didn't join them until December of that year. At the time Philips was still emphasising CD-I's multimedia credentials using with the "Imagination Machine" strapline and I had been working as a programmer for a small but progressive multimedia company called New Media Productions. Based in Camden North London, about a mile away from PIME, New Media were churning out good quality entertainment and educational multimedia titles for a range of platforms. New Media could have been called 'The University of New Media' because if you were able to hang in and survive in the deep end long enough you got to learn an incredible amount very quickly. From the sweaty confines of New Media's rather cramped back office I was either working on or sat next to other programmers coding not just CD-I titles but also those for DVI, CDTV and Video CD. Everything was done in-house at New Media from film production, video editing, voiceovers etc... the complete end-to-end production and post-production was under one roof and digital encoding and transcoding for different platforms plus the integration of video, audio and interactive applications by us the artful programmers. There was no testing department as such so we all had a hand in debugging and testing each others applications. The drive to stop re-inventing the wheel and shorten production and development timescales came from a real economic need to get titles finished and out the door. The quicker we got things done the more likely our survival. But most development tools that make a coder's life easy these days just didn't exist so we had to either write them or hunt down something vaguely useful and adaptable by searching online through the arcane academic backwaters of what's now the Internet. PIME had commissioned a number of post-production houses across Europe to develop general multimedia CD-I titles. Whilst these were generally strong on the video and audio production-side, many were less adept at solving some of the early technical 'Gotchas' of CD-I that couldn't always be unearthed from simply reading the Green book. As well there was difficulty in circulating good " to..." tricks and shortcuts.

The PIME office was in start-up mode when I arrived, and as the only person with 'technical' in their job title at the time, I was jumped on to order, configure and get machines networked together just so we could function as a proper office. As the organisation scaled up, my focus was to get titles 'in production' throughout Europe 'unstuck'. As a consequence, in the early days I did a lot of travelling, dropping into various developer studios, sometimes trying to solve their immediate problems, more often than not these weren't technical at all or at least get away with enough information to feed it back to either Eindhoven or the development outfit in LA for a solution if I couldn't solve it. Some, like the coders at SPC, already knew loads about developing games. Developing game engines was an area I had to get up to speed on, what with how sprites worked, AI and the like.

So in essence my job morphed as the emphasis of the organisation changed. Whilst the CD-I specification had been around quite a while, there'd been late attempt from Philips at dovetailing into the games industry just prior to CD-I's launch. In 1991 when Nintendo were at the height of their powers; through Super Mario, a plumber supercharged on mushrooms, and a deal between Philips and Nintendo was announced at CES in June 1991. If it had come to fruition, CD-I would have been transformed into an entirely different beast. Nintendo was Japan's most successful business at the time, earning an estimated $1.5 million from each of its 850 employees that year, even outstripping Toyota in prosperity and influence. With this late deal scuppered, Philips attempted to appeal to a wider audience. CD-I technology had the potential of delivering not just code, graphics and audio but a platter stuffed full of video as well. So CD-I was launched with a relatively high price tag and Philips attempted to go mainstream in the US consumer market using multimedia titles as leverage. ('Where is the money' - WSJ Mar 21 1994). But consumers were reported to be confused, not sure enough of what this new multimedia 'Imagination Machine' was supposed to be ('How Philips flubbed its US introduction of electronic product', WSJ Jun 28 1996).

The games industry was then, and still is now to some extent, a continual armaments war. Technical prowess includes better graphics capabilities with more colours, higher processing speed, better software etc... To put it frankly CD-I by itself was pretty low on armoury in comparison with what was out there. So no wonder Philips didn't fancy going head-to-head in the games sector and preferred staying in the multimedia 'twilight' zone. Multimedia was the market to make rather than a market to break. If CD-I had been touted as a games machine at its launch in 1991, it would have been obliterated instantly by the games press. After I'd been in PIME a little while, it was clear that games titles actually were selling better than expected compared to others in the offering, especially in Europe. But on the gloomy side it was being reported that CD-I's introduction into US market was faltering (WSJ Mar 21, 1994). As a publisher with expectant masters we had to go with the money. Sometimes it felt like a race against time.

I'd been working on getting many of the European games titles out (i.e. The Apprentice, Don Bluths' Space Ace, Dragon's Lair I and II etc...) so when Philips Media Games was formed I was asked to join and carry on much of the same work. At the time that meant not only project managing third party games titles to ensure they were delivered on time as a master copy to the testing facility but also signing-off most of the CD-case art and booklet text or sometimes writing it. I got the original developers to write cheats for the magazines or sometimes had to write them myself. I got to know some CD-I games a little too well sometimes.

Devin: What sort of reaction did you typically receive from game developers when approached to make a game for CD-i?

Steve: There weren't too many around in the games industry who had the time to open their doors to us. In terms of armoury and market share, CD-I was, from their perspective at least, at the bottom of the pile. And the lack of integration with commonly used games development tools meant many of the games industry veterans I met felt it'd take an inordinately huge effort to write games for CD-I. But what counted most was market share. The number of units you had in homes around the world (termed 'the installed base') equated to future cash for what was likely, for most games developed, to be a loss making effort. Developing for a platform with a huge installed base would afford that platform a large amount of shelf space in retail stores. That meant even if your title was an 'also ran' you might still recoup your losses. If it were a hit then there'd be the opportunity to make £££millions in sales. However, CD-I had a relatively small market share in the early 1990's and when we began approaching games developers most would simply wave the latest CVG figures at you. Initially CD-I wasn't even listed in CTW, which shows you how bad things were.

Crucially though, persistence is everything and doors did open. There were some extremely friendly developers out there who were willing to listen and give us an inside track. The contacts that Eric Lux, Julian Lynn-Evans and others fostered within PMG, helped raise the profile of the platform and as more developers started to take us seriously things became a little easier. As I found, working on a platform with less 'umph' has its own challenges that todays mobile games developers are faced with. Sometimes less really is more (difficult). And some developers find that challenge worth taking up because no matter how flashy things get, a good game is all about excellent gameplay within the right context.

Steve Hayes was interviewed by Devin

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Games 0-F

3rd Degree - PF Magic
7th Guest, The - Philips Freeland Studios
Accelerator - SPC/Vision
Adventure of the Space Ship Beagle, The - Denshi Media Services
Affaire Morlov, L' - Titus
Alfapet - Adatek
Alice in Wonderland - Spinnaker
Alien Gate - SPC Vision
Alien Odyssee - Argonaut
Aliens Interactive CD-i - Dark Vision Interactive
Ange et le Demon, L' - Smart Move
Apprentice, The - SPC Vision
Apprentice 2, The - Marvin's Revenge - SPC Vision
Arcade Classics - Philips ADS / Namco
Asterix - Caesar’s Challenge - Infogrames
Atlantis - The Last Resort - PRL Redhill (Philips ADS)
Axis and Allies - CapDisc
Backgammon - CapDisc
Battle Chess - Accent Media (for Interplay)
Battleship - CapDisc
Big Bang Show - Infogrames
BMP Puzzle - Circle (for ZYX)
Brain Dead 13 - Readysoft
Burn:Cycle - Trip Media
Caesar's World of Boxing - Philips POV
Caesar's World of Gambling - CD-I Systems
Cartoon Academy - Bits Corporation
CD-i mit der Maus - SPC Vision
CD Shoot - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Change Angels Kick-off - HMO
Chaos Control - Infogrames
Christmas Country - Creative Media
Christmas Country - The Lost Levels - Creative Media
Christmas Crisis - DIMA
Clue - 3T Productions
Clue 2 - The mysteries continue - 3T Productions
Connect Four - CapDisc
Creature Shock - Argonaut (for Virgin)
Crime Patrol - CapDisc
Crow, The - Philips POV
Cyber Soldier Sharaku - Japan Interactive media
Dame was Loaded, The - Beam Software
Dark Castle - Philips POV
Dead End - Cryo
Defender of the Crown - Philips POV
Deja Vu - Icom Simulations
Deja Vu 2: Lost in Las Vegas - Icom Simulations
Demolition Man - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Demon Driver - Haiku Studios
Discworld - Teeny Weeny Games
Dimo's Quest - SPC Vision
Domino - Wigant Interactive Media
Down in the Dumps - Haiku Studios
Dragon's Lair - Superclub / INTL CDI
Dragon's Lair 2- Time Warp - Superclub / INTL CDI
Drug wars - Crime Patrol II - CapDisc
Dungeons & Dragons - PF Magic
Earth Command - Visionary Media
Effacer - CapDisc
Escape from Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Evidence - Microids
Falco & Donjon & The Sword of Inoxybur - BMi / Zephyr Studio
Family Games I - DIMA
Family Games II - Junk Food Jive - DIMA
Felix the Cat - Philips Sidewalk Studio
Flashback - Delphine/Tiertex (for US Gold)
Flinstones Wacky Inventions - Philips Funhouse
Fort Boyard: The Challenge - Microids
Frog Feast - Rastersoft

CD-i Games Index G-M

Go - CapDisc
Golden Oldies - SPC Vision
Golden Oldies II - SPC Vision
Golgo 13 - Japan Interactive Media
Great day at the races, A - CD-I Racing, Dove Films, Total Vision
Guignols de l'Info, Les - Canal+ Multimedia / INTL CDI
Heart of Darkness - Amazing Studio (for Virgin)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The - Philips Kaleidoscope
Holland Casino CD-i - HMO
Hotel Mario - Philips Fantasy Factory
Inca - Coktel Vision
Inca 2 - Coktel Vision
International Tennis Open - Infogrames
Jack Sprite vs. The Crimson Ghost - PF Magic
Jeopardy - Accent Media
Jigsaw - Novalogic
Joe Guard - DIMA
John Dark: Psychic Eye - CapDisc
Joker's Wild!, The - Accent Media
Joker's Wild Jr., The - Accent Media
Kether - Infogrames
Kingdom - The far reaches - CapDisc
Kingdom 2 - Shadoan - CapDisc
Labyrinth of Crete - Philips Funhouse
Laser Lords - Spinnaker
Last Bounty Hunter, The - CapDisc
Legend of the Fort - Microids
Lemmings - DMA Design / Psygnosis
Lettergreep - Wigant Interactive Media
Lingo - SPC Vision
Link - The faces of evil - Animation Magic
Lion King, The - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Litil Divil - Gremlin Graphics
Litil Divil 2: Limbo Years - Gremlin Graphics
Lords of the rising sun - Philips POV
Lost Eden - Cryo (for Virgin)
Lost Ride, The - Formula (Lost Boys)
Lucky Luke - The video game - SPC Vision
Mad Dog McCree - CapDisc
Mad Dog McCree II: The lost gold - CapDisc
Magic Eraser - Circle (for ZYX)
Mah-Jong - Japan Interactive Media
Making the Grade - 3T Productions
Man Before Man - Cryo
Marco Polo - Infogrames
Mario Takes America - CIGAM
Master Labyrinth - AVM AG/HQ
Mega Maze - CapDisc
Memory Works, The - Compact Disc Incorporated
Merlin's Apprentice - Philips Funhouse
Microcosm - Philips Freeland Studios
Micro Machines - Codemasters
Monty Python's Invasion from the Planet Skyron - Daedalus CD-i Productions
Mutant Rampage - Body Slam - Animation Magic
Myst - Sunsoft (for Cyan)
Mystic Midway - Rest in pieces - Philips POV
Mystic Midway 2 - Phantom Express - Philips POV

Compact Disc Interactive

Compact Disc Interactive

Games N-Z

Name that tune - Philips Fantasy Factory
New Day - Bits Corporation
NFL Hall of Fame Football - Philips POV
Othello - HMO
Pac Panic - Philips ADS / Namco
Palm Springs Open - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Pool - SPC Vision
Pinball - CapDisc
Plunderball - ISG Productions
Power Hitter - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Power Match - Two's Company
Pursue - BEPL
Pyramid Adventures - Compact Disc Incorporated
RAMRaid - PRL Redhill
Return To Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Riddle of the Maze, The - Fathom Pictures
Riqa - Bits Corporation
Rise of the Robots - Mirage Technologies
Sargon Chess - Spinnaker
Scotland Yard Interactive - AVM AG/HQ
Secret Mission - Microids
Secret Name of Ra, The
Shaolin's Road - Infogrames
Skate Dude - Viridis
Smurfen, De - De Telesmurf - Infogrames
Solar Crusade - Infogrames
Solitaire - BEPL
Space Ace - Superclub / INTL CDI
Space Ranger - Studio Interactive
Special Operations Squadron - SPC Vision
Sport Freaks - SPC Vision
Star Trek - Philips POV
Star Wars: Rebel Assault - LucasArts
Steel Machine - SPC Vision
Striker Pro - Rage
Strip Poker Live - Greenpig Production
Strip Poker Pro - Interactive Pictures
Super Fighter - The Super Fighter Team / C&E
Super Mario's Wacky Worlds - NovaLogic
Surf City - Philips Sidewalk Studios
Tangram - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Taco's Toyroom Troopers - Creative Media
Tankdoodle - Creative Media
Tetris - Philips POV
Tetsuo Gaiden - Creative Media
Text Tiles
Thieves' World - Electronic Arts
Tic-tac-toe - BEPL
Tox Runner - ISG Productions
Treasures of Oz - Philips Kaleidoscope
Ultra CD-i Soccer - Krisalis
Uncover featuring Tatjana - SPC Vision
Uninvited - Icom Simulations
Video Speedway - ISG Productions
Vinnie the Pinguin - Pandemonium Labs
Voyeur - Philips POV
Voyeur 2 - Philips POV
Whack-a-Bubble - Creative Media
What's it worth - Marshall Cavendish Multimedia / Spice
Who shot Johnny Rock? - CapDisc
Wordplay - BEPL
World Cup Golf - US Gold
Zaak Sam, De - Toneelschool NL
Zelda - The wand of Gamelon - Animation Magic
Zelda's Adventure - Viridis
Zenith - Radarsoft
Zombie Dinos From The Planet Zeltoid - Philips POV

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