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Jon hare gets all Sensible...

Posted by boyo on May 6, 2011 22:14 (May 6, 2011 22:14)

Retro Fusion caught up with industry veteran Jon Hare in the small town of Leamington Spa in Warwickshire famous for its pump room and being the home of Codemasters. 

A pleasant evening was had at a local wine bar talking about the old days and specifically about Sensible Software and it’s flagship title, Sensible Soccer.

How did the idea for Sensible Soccer come about?

The idea for Sensible Soccer came about when we were making Meglomania. We were basically working very late each night as the timeframe for the game was very tight, actually ludicrous, and we had very little sleep for a couple of months. We were working long hours in the office and when hanging around for new builds of Meglomania we found ways of entertaining ourselves.

We played a lot of the football game Kick Off and Kick Off 2 and there were a few things that were irritating us immensely as we were playing it. And we were saying to each other if we did a football game we would get rid of this and get rid of that and as much as we liked it we were criticising it. So towards the end of Meglomania we decided to think about making a football game. First thing we did was make a team of players out of the main character in Meglomania. So the first version of Sensible Soccer was a bunch of Meglomania football players running around in a Meglomania world as the pitch was the same perspective as the background in that game.

So when Meglamania was finished, within a couple of months we had a playable demo of Sensible Soccer. Initially it was going to be published by Mirrorsoft but eventually was sold to Renegade.

Who was in the Sensible Soccer development team?

The team was very small. I was the designer and the graphics artist. Chris Chapman was the lead programmer, Richard Joseph did the sound. Chris Yates did some technical stuff.

What technical tools did you use?

68000 Assembler was used by the programmers. As the artist I used Deluxe Paint, I really cannot remember what version we used but we used it to design stuff on Sensible Soccer, Whizkid and Meglomania at the same time.

Did you think you had a hit on your hands at the time?

You get a feeling for it, and very early on with this one we knew it was good. It’s unusual to know that early.

Why did you develop on the Amiga, why not the ST?

If you look at the history of Sensible Software before the Amiga gmaes, we concentrated mainly on the Commodore 64 so the natural progression for us was to move up from the 64 to the Commodore Amiga. The Amiga was the perfect machine for the developer as there was no third parties involved – no Microsofts or Nintendos taking a cut of the proceeds. All the development environment was there. The development process was enjoyable – everything about the Amiga was brilliant.
Meglomania was the first game with speech in it on any platform. Cannon Fodder was the first game with vocals with music – this could only be achieved with the Amiga at the time.

The cost of development in those days is not comparable to these days. The Cannon Fodder music video cost £200 to make, everyone remembers it, the tune the video – financially these days £200 is nothing.

In those days you did not add value to a game by chucking money at it to make the graphics better. You added value by having good ideas, and those come free. These days you have to jump through hoops to get a game out – you have publishers who are worrying about their shareholders, teams of 20-30 people, middleware – everything is different now. The Amiga basically had its own Middleware – everything was provided. These days you spend a year creating the 3D environment before you can do anything. With the Amiga you would have an idea, create some sprites, introduce a control system and you had something playable within 2-weeks. These days it takes an immense amount of time to get that far.

What other systems did you work on as well as the Amiga?

The ST, Megadrive and SNES were used in the studio as well as the Amiga. It was always the host system that the game was designed on that was the best version made. The Amiga, ST and Megadrive all had 68000 processors. The SNES was a bit of a one-off design wise.

Which Sensible Soccer version was the best?

In longevity I think it was the PC version as people are still playing it but I don’t think it was as good as the Amiga version.

I have been saying for many years that I don’t like games on multi-formats – the original version is always the best yet, in this case the Amiga. I do like the Megadrive version now though.

Why was Sensible Soccer such a big hit in your opinion?

It was simple to play and was the best football game around at the time it came out. The football world created was accurate and even people who did not like football games liked it. The game was very polished. These days there is a lot of sloppy work out there. All Sensible Software’s products back then were polished, tight and slick.

There are a lot of good things in the new product that inherit the ethos from Sensible Software in term of quality – it’s not perfect yet – but I am a perfectionist. It needs to be tighter before I will be happy. I think the challenge to a get a 3D game to play fast is huge and I think we have got around that. It plays very similar to the Amiga version so is very easy to pick up. Goal keeper control is with the right stick and we have now introduced a ‘sprint’ action which is familiar to modern gamers.

Why was your first fray into the 3D arena not successful?

Because it was not polished and was not good enough. The 3D engine was sloppy as it was developed by a group of 2d programmers. We came into 3D two years after other companies. We were so successful on the Amiga and enjoyed ourselves and the money we stayed with it and were literally left behind. It really hit us when we had to increase the size of teams and had the challenge of learning how to program 3Dwith a deadline getting closer and closer. We had to get something out. It is by far the worst Sensible Soccer game that has been released.

What about Sensible Soccer 2006?

I had been wanting to do one for the last 4 or 5 years and then was the right time as I felt the Fifa’s and Pro Evo’s had gone as far as they could without changing the way they played and as such they had become stagnated. 

Sensible Soccer 2006 was fast, playable and presentable. A modern presentation but the original Sensible Soccer is still in there.

The initial audience we were aiming for with Sensible Soccer 2006 were those who played the original. A huge number of people have played the game at some point in their life. In a survey Codemasters did, Sensible Soccer was the second most popular game voted by gamers. Number one was Fifa or Pro Evo – gamers liked one or the other so they both shared the top spot. Their second favourite was always Sensible Soccer.

What is your honest opinion of Kick off 2 and Dino?

I have never met Dino but know there is a perceived rivalry between Sensi and KO. There are problems with KO and KO2 that are fixed in Sensible Soccer and as I say both Dino’s games were an inspiration. More people play Sensible Soccer than Kick Off but I know some like KO more than Sensi.

If Sensible Soccer and Kick Off 2 met in a football final, who would win?

Sensible Soccer would beat Kick Off 2 in a final as the game is more fluid and has more variety in play. There is no fluid tactics in Kick Off. In Sensible Soccer you can think like footballer and play as a footballer would play. Sensible Soccer is the best football game in the world.

Thanks must go to Jon for taking the time out from his busy schedule to be interviewed by Retro Fusion. Sensible Soccer 2006 is now out in the shops as you read – I suggest you go and purchase the beautiful game.

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#4 Aug 13, 2012 13:30:54 ( Aug 13, 2012 13:30 )
I met Jon last year at Replay - top bloke! We chatted about Sensi and Cannon Fodder, but I was starting to geek out too much and would have kept him chatting for hours!

Maybe if I see him this year I can buy him a pint or two- at least thats an excuse to have a chat
#3 May 24, 2011 21:14:01 ( May 24, 2011 21:14 )

I loved Sensi on the Amiga 1200. Used to play it with a Megadrive controller - the curve you could put on the ball was immense and you could score goals from even on the half way line. Happy times! 
#2 May 24, 2011 19:57:30 ( May 24, 2011 19:57 )

The Sensible Software guys were legends. Three of their games took months if not years out of my younger years; Sensible Soccer, Wizball and Cannon Fodder. Fond memories indeed.
Great interview btw.
#1 May 7, 2011 05:48:38 ( May 7, 2011 05:48 )

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