It’s rare that we feature anything Nintendo-related… Bad pun out of the way, here is Rare and Core Design’s very own Ady Smith, their Computer Graphic Artist and a man whose artwork adorns some of our favourite games including Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct and GoldenEye! He’s a true retrogaming great and it’s a pleasure to introduce his chat with our very own Adrian… (and I was joking about lack of Nintendo content of course – Ed)
What are your earliest memories of gaming and art and when did you realise these two amazing worlds could be combined?
My earliest memories of gaming were playing ‘Pong’ on the “Binatone” Games Console and playing ‘Space Invaders’, ‘Scramble’, ‘Pac-man’ and ‘Defender’ in the Arcades in the summer at the seaside.
I only realised I could combine my art and design training when I completed my MA in Computer Visualisation and Animation at Bournemouth University. I had intended to go into the Visual Effects Industry and my aim was to work towards a dream role at Lucas VFX Company at ILM. However, I was approached by five gaming companies all offering me a position as a Computer Graphic Artist.
How did you first get the opportunity to enter the video game industry and do you remember the first game you ever worked on?
My interview at Rare went so well I made my decision then to move to the Midlands and work at Rare in Twycross. After a month of my probation I was given a contract and a position on Tim Stamper’s team developing ‘Donkey Kong Country’ for Nintendo on the SNES.
Rare Ltd is such an iconic game developer. What was it like for you personally working at this amazing company and are still in touch with any ex-Rare employees?
I feel I was very fortunate, I made the right decision to work at the right place and at the right time. It was very hard work in those days and long hours but it was exciting and rewarding. You needed to be dedicated and passionate about the work you were developing. I am still in touch with a couple of people Chris Seavor, both of us graduated from Bournemouth University at the NCCA (National Centre Computer Animation), I also see Robin Beanland Audio Director at Rare in Ashby sometimes.
Killer Instinct is rightly regarded as very well polished and clever beat-em-up. What was your exact role in this game and do you have a personal favourite character within the game?
After completing the work on ‘Donkey Kong Country’ and releasing the game in 1994 I found myself with little to do. I’d been working at such a high rate I asked the team who was working on KI if there was anything that I could help them out with, I knew that they were struggling for background graphics. On ‘Killer Instinct’ I produced the rooftop levels for the ‘Dessert Level’ and the ‘City Level’. I also created some of the hit effects of ‘Orchid’ (Bolas), ‘Frost’ (bouncing snowball) and ‘Inferno’ (Fireball). I am not credited on the game. At the time it didn’t go down well teams collaborating together on work. My favorite character in the game was ‘Orchid’, I enjoyed playing and developing my skills with game effects along with developing game environments.
Donkey Kong Country is again another amazing title. How did you get the opportunity to work on two classic Donkey Kong titles and what inspired you when working on these great backgrounds?
Really it was down to Kevin Bayliss and Tim Stamper and how I’d done in my art test. Kevin gave me the challenge to work on a ‘Frog’ Character (Winky). I modelled and textured and animated the character. It was Tim who then moved me on to the DKC Team. I was then given the ‘Mine Cart’ background to work on. The inspiration I got was my influence of the work of the people at Lucas ILM, specifically ‘Indiana Jones – And The Temple of Doom’. It was the mine cart sequence which I referenced for the development of the graphics. The ‘Industrial Level’ I was more inspired by more of a ‘Steam Punk’ influence. My Design training really came in very handy with developing the asset for the details in the level. I did eight years of design training at Art College and University, from foundation art course, packaging design, product design and finally computer visualization and animation. This was all invaluable experience to lead me to a career in the Games Industry.
Donkey Kong Country and Diddy Kong’s Quest seemed to push the SNES to its graphical limits. Was it a challenge to develop and create such high-quality graphics and backgrounds for these games?
Yes, it was a challenge to develop and create the pre-rendered graphics for both games. It was a game changer in relation to the production pipeline for the work that needed to be generated. It took a substantial investment in the hardware and software to create both games. The investment and time did produce a benchmark title that was the spring board for the revolution in hardware and software development. It was taken from the Film and VFX industry in the days of ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Terminator 2’ and it is now the games industry that is influencing the hardware and software technology for the films and visual effects industry.
GoldenEye 007 is one of my all-time favourite FPS games. How did this opportunity arise and can you remember the early ambitions of this title and did you realise from day one that you were working on such an incredible and genre-defining game?
I was moved from DKC 2 on to the Goldeneye Team. It was another steep learning curve and my first experience of developing full 3D scenes and polygon modelling and not using any pre-rendered graphics. Although the rendering experience did help me with texture generation and the special effects work that I did stood me in good stead.
I don’t think any of us really realised that we were breaking any conventions at the time. In fact the odds were really stacked against us. No film or franchised title ever made it to a AAA successful title in to a game title, as a development team only Martin Hollis (Lead Programmer) and myself had any game experience under their belt, Martin for KI and myself for DKC. The rest of the team had no prior experience to the best of my knowledge.
What was your exact role on GoldenEye and how to do you personally reflect back on this game?
My role on ‘GoldenEye’ on the N64 was again to build environments, namely the ‘Jungle’ and ‘Arecibo Dish’ game levels. In addition I produced the weapons and the HUD for the game, the only weapons I did not produce was the rocket launcher, AK 47 and the Shotgun. I was responsible for the VFX work in the game and for the Frontend Graphics. My effect works included the tracer fire, explosions, hit effects, bullet decals, animated blood effect and FX.
I wish I had patented the HUD, and made more of the graphics, but I was limited like we all were with poly counts and texture sizes for the new U64 Console.
OddJob certainly divides opinion within the gaming community. What are your personal views on this iconic character and were you a big fan of the multiplayer mode within GoldenEye?
I don’t really have any personal views on characters in games, they are there for a reason and they invoke such controversy which makes and enriches the gaming community. You are going to get people who always want to have an advantage to those who have a disadvantage, it’s working with the gameplay to overcome those areas, you get them in all game genres. It is even more so, these days with the pay-to-play models in games. The multiplayer is what made GoldenEye, the single player mode owes a lot of credit to Sam Mendes for creating a compelling story from Ian Flemming’s “GoldenEye” book adaptation for the James Bond franchise.
Do you think there is a room for a newly remastered version of GoldenEye or even another Bond-inspired FPS game, and, if so, would this be a title you would like to work on?
Of course, all games can be improved upon. Although I am probably too old now to work on another FPS game, it’s the next generation of game developers who should work and push the genre.
Why did you leave Rare and how did you get the opportunity to work at the awesome Core Design Ltd?
It was mainly down to health reasons. While working on ‘DKC2’, I was rushed into hospital with suspected heart attack, but this was not the case. I was suffering with stress and had suffered a panic attack. Working 15 to 17 hours a day and working weekends, does in the end catch up with you at some point. I nearly suffered another attack and I would not wish that on anyone. A culmination of these two things lead to me resigning from Rare. No job is worth your health, yes I may have missed out on the financial rewards, but your health and well-being is a high price to pay for monetary gain.
Fighting Force 2 should have pushed on from the original but was sadly panned by critics. What was it like working on this game and why do you think it was so poorly received?
This was another learning curve for myself, trying to learn 3DS Max and a new game engine. Sadly this was down to time. The game engine was great and the features of the editor were getting better and better. It just needed more time and development to increase the content and the gameplay.
If you could go back in time, would you have pushed the team working on Fighting Force 2 to do anything different?
No, not really. The team couldn’t have done anymore in the time they were given. This is where working at Rare had its benefits. Tim and Chris Stamper would only release a game when it was ready to be released.
You have worked on so many iconic games and characters, none more so than Lara Croft! What was your role when working on Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness and how did you aim to capture the mood of the game with your stellar artwork?
I was a Senior Graphic Artist then, the ‘Curtis’ Development had been cancelled and the Tomb Raider Team were falling behind with the production. Our team was task to do the work that was outstanding in the development. We were given the ‘Paris Louvre Gallery’, ‘Prague Square’ and ‘Prague Hanger’ levels to work and complete. Additionally, my name sake the other Adrian Smith (Jeremy Heath-Smith’s Brother) Production Manager tasked me to work and manage the game cut-scenes which nobody wished to do. So I had to liaise with designers, programmers, artists and animators to successfully produce the in-game cut-scenes for “Tomb Raider – Angel of Darkness’.
What would you say are the most important skills needed to succeed in the games industry working in the art department?
Time and dedication! You need to immerse yourself into the games industry and gaming culture. You also need to be a team player and work well with others and to support and help each other with overcoming design and production issues.
Out all of the games you have worked on, which one are you most proud of and why?
I would have to say ‘GoldenEye’. It was a unique experience and pushed me more in terms of games development. It was a flat team structure and we worked with no team hierarchy, everyone contributed to making it a benchmark game title. The whole team not one person was behind the success that Goldeneye attained. Goldeneye’s success was because of the team of people behind developing the game.
You worked at Rare Ltd during their peak years. Why do you think this company became so highly regarded and respected and which game do you think is their best ever title?
I don’t think you could really separate one game as a standout game of the best title ever for these reasons. They all had their own merits and distinctiveness that made them unique at a time of major innovation in terms of the use of hardware and software development. In each of the game genres and the platforms that they were developed for, that’s why it is regarded as a ‘Golden Age of Game Development at Rare’. If you want me to though I would have to say that it’s was ‘Donkey Kong Country’ that started that era.
Are there any games you started work on but were never released, and if so, which unreleased game do you think would have been the most successful?
Race Nation was cancelled, while I was working at Core Design. We had just managed to get a playable demo working and Eidos cancelled the development. It was a racing game that was a mixture of ‘GTi Club’ and ‘Ridge Racer’. Another title that was cancelled while I was working at Core Design was a spin off character on the game from Lara Croft “Tomb Raider AoD”, based on the Curtis character from the game.
What projects and games are you currently working on?
I am currently the Programme Leader at Doncaster College University Centre. Where I am developing the next generation of Game Developers on programmes in ‘BTEC HND Games Design and Animation’ and a ‘BA (Hons) Games Design and Animation Top-up Degree’. The College has over ten years of developing games design and art and animation students. Students regularly enter ‘The Grads in Games Competition’ which is run by Aardvark Swift Recruitment. Also the students enter the international ‘The Rookies’ Graduate Showcase from around the world. I also do freelance and consultancy work and looking in to development of VR and AR applications for development.
If you could be transported into any one of your video games, and live there for day, which game would you choose and why?
DKC Island. (Desert Island discs). I remember having completed working on DKC, I booked a holiday to the Singapore and the Maldives. It was the furthest I had travelled around the globe and the diving experience there was truly amazing. The people, the food, the weather and the environment were just great. I would recommend visiting the islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would you choose and why?
I bet you want me to say Lara Croft! Yes, I did have to adjust her chest for marketing and magazine purposes, but no! I would have to say Conker, only because I know Chris Seavor and I would have such a laugh with his sense of humour.
Adrian (our one)