Julian Alden-Salter - Imagitec Design Jul 16, 2015 12:13:47 GMT
Post by The Laird on Jul 16, 2015 12:13:47 GMT
I started coding on a ZX81 that i got for Xmas in 1982, after a few hours I was hooked and knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. After that I progressed from the ZX81 to the Commodore 64 and then the Atari ST. I taught myself assembly for all these machines and wrote a few demo's / games. Eventually I landed a job at a company called Orpheus who amongst other things did a popular C64 music composer called electro sound and the young ones game. Whilst there I worked on various projects such as Indoor Sports, Delphian and Spy Vs. Spy 1 & 2 but 10 months after I started they went bust and I had to find a new gig.
This was the start of my time at Imagitec, I joined in 1988 and left some time around 1992. I saw 2 office moves, and worked on 15 or more games, most of which were published.
It was an interesting time with the camaraderie and parties but the irregular pay and occasional fireworks made it a little unnerving at times. During one of the worst times for being paid I got a job offer from Origin in Texas and decided to take the offer. I worked on the games Wing Commander 2 for the SNES and Metal Morph for the SNES and Mega Drive. Unfortunately my time at Origin was quite short, about 2.5 years in all as there was some restructuring going on after their EA buyout and I became a casualty. I decided to move back to the UK and joined Argonaut as a producer. I spent 5 years at Argonaut working on Hot Ice (unpublished), Alien Odyssey (unpublished), Croc, FX Fighter Turbo and Kanaan but was made redundant when the project I was producing (Kanaan) was canned. After this I moved to DDI and spent about 5 years there working on Tonka Joe adventures, Tonka Space Station, Tonka Monster trucks and the underlying engine for all their racing and platform games before going freelance for personal reasons. When the freelance work dried up I was offered a job working on video slots / pub games for Eclipse Gaming however after a few years they too went bust and I decided to take a sabbatical. After resting I found work with Blitz Games Studios in Leamington Spa and spent 4 years there working on games such as Power Up forever, Karaoke Revolution, The Biggest Loser, Dead To Rights, Invincible Tiger, Droplitz and others. At this point I was tired of making games and the fickle nature of the industry so i left and now work outside of the games industry, still programming but for embedded systems with a small private company.
I started at Imagitec in around 1988 after the company I worked at previously went spectacularly bust. One day we had jobs, the next the company closed up shop and our pay cheques bounced. I was living at home at the time and was desperately phoning everyone I knew looking for work. I spotted a small ad for a company called Imagitec in one of the computer magazines I regularly bought and called them. Martin and James invited me up for an interview on the Friday, offered me a job and I was working there Monday morning. Unfortunately I was now technically homeless so was given space on James' living room floor until I could sort myself out. That was how Imagitec rolled, impulse followed by panicked dealing with the fallout. This kind of carried over into the way the projects were run, Martin and James would make these awesome presentations, promise the world and then we'd have to deal with it. I remember talking to several of our customers after I'd left Imagitec and every single one of them was impressed by the quality of the sales pitches we made.
My first project was a case in point, Zone Warrior was a monster of a game, the concept art was fantastic, the sales pitch promised so much but of actual design there was none. I remember asking for more design direction and being told 'go write some more code, and then we'll give you some more design'. Hmmmm cart before the horse springs to mind but ok I went off and wrote more code, more code for various projects actually as I was pulled off ZW multiple times to fight fires elsewhere. Eventually I got more design, then the design changed, and then changed again and finally nearly 3 years later the game was released to thunderous derision - except for The One, they loved it - thank you Mr Paul Presley. It wasn't a high point of my career that project but even though it sounds like the bataan death march, I had a lot of fun writing it, mainly because of the people involved.
Other projects followed including Wheel of Fortune, Daemonsgate, American Gladiators, and the unfinished Space Junk. It was during this last project that my frustration with the lack of regular pay, the increasingly wild promises of 'jiffy bags full of money' as my reward for sticking by the company while discussions were being held in the pub to repay money owed to another company by filling a coffin with the amount owed in £1 coins, snapped. A colleague had been offered a position at Origin in Texas and he was leaving he'd been asked to find a couple of 'Sega guys' for some projects they were looking at doing and I put my name forward. A phone interview and some fast talking later I tendered my resignation and was on a plane for Austin. Looking back on my time at Imagitec it was always about the people I worked with, the pay was crappy, the games were great in ideas but the execution sometimes was lacking but the people were the best, those people made the work parties legendary, they made the day to day grind less grindey and I count many of them friends to this day.
And the stories I promised...
Sometimes Imagitec couldn't make payroll so it became a tradition for us to be given a fistful of cash with which to buy as much cheap alcohol and meat as we could and then a party was
thrown at the mill house offices. It's quite amazing how much alcohol you could buy for £100 in the '80 and it's also amazing how we didn't die drinking it. Another feature of these parties was the bonfire, anything wooden and not nailed down went onto them, one time there were discussions about renting a chainsaw so the fir trees outside could help fuel our pyromania. Most of the time during these soirees the boss(es) would sit in their office with various people talking rubbish whilst the rest of us were let loose in the office and grounds. One of the early parties took a wrong turn at some point during the night after dares were made about jumping out of the first floor window, the jumps were successfully made without too much pain and drunken thoughts turned to what else could the window be used for. At this point someone came up with the idea of throwing the upstairs office out of the window and setting it up again on the lawn outside. So we set to throwing whatever we could lay our hands on out of the windows. Books, chairs, keyboards, mouse mats all went first, we were struggling with a table when the boss stormed in and (quite justifiably) started screaming at us that he'd just seen a load of stuff fly past his window and what the f*ck were we doing...
After we brought everything back in the decree was made that any future parties would be prefaced by all computers and expensive equipment being moved into the 'visage' studio behind a locked door. Other parties included someone trying to shoot one of the bosses with a firework, me having to go to hospital after standing on a broken bottle, someone kicking a hole in a wall and then being pushed face first through the wall and some other shenanigans I really can't go into here as the UK doesn’t have a statute of limitations.
Leaving The Mill House
Imagitec was moving from the mill house to a new office in the centre of Dewsbury town. Vans were rented and Equipment was packed up and the boss and those old enough to drive the vans went off to unload everything at the new place. This left about 20 of us with nothing to do in some empty offices. A game of football was half heartedly started in the car park I think, then someone decided to make a giant water bomb out of a black plastic bin bag and drop it onto the unsuspecting souls below. Hilarity ensued. However there was something far more sinister brewing, after several hours of boredom we decided that the fitted desks downstairs would need to be taken with us so we decided to dismantle them, unfortunately tools were in short supply so the obvious solution seemed to be to jump on them until they broke and then fling them across the room like a pack of wild chimpanzees. At this point someone decided that the electric wall plugs offended them and systematically smashed all of them with the only tool that we had managed to find, a hammer. At this point the boss and the rest returned to a smoking ruin of MDF and exposed electrical outlets.
There is no polite way to put this, the last office I worked in at Imagitec was situated next to a 'massage parlour'. Every day when entering or leaving the office you'd catch glimpses of over coated men sneaking into or out of the place or a middle aged woman leaning against the reception desk in lurid 70's style lingerie. The layout of the place needs to be explained here. You had Sunshine Supertan on one edge of the floor, us on an adjacent edge and on the other adjacent edge were the loos and a small kitchen area with a door into Sunshine Supertan. We used to use the kitchen as a smoking area, unfortunately the Sunshine Supertan clientele used to use the back door as a shortcut to the loos and quite often you'd be confronted by a portly balding towel wrapped 'client' doing the walk of shame to wash his undercarriage in the loos next door. If you were really unlucky you'd walk into the men’s and find the guy with his leg up on the sink mid wash.
This interview was conducted by Kieren Hawken and is not to be shared elsewhere without strict permission.