Steve Hammond is one of the main team who formed DMA Design back in the late eighties. Now, you may have heard of DMA Design, but you’ll definitely have heard of Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto – two landmark games for us here at Arcade Attack. Adrian approached him in hope more than anything else, and I’m pleased to say that he spared us some of his precious time for this interview. Steve – we love you! Enjoy…
How did you get into the gaming industry?
It was pretty much by accident. I went to the Kingsway Amateur Computer Club during the mid eighties on a Thursday night, where I made some friends. A few of them – Russell Kaye and Dave Jones – were making their own games, which I found frankly amazing. Mike Dailly was equally inspired by them and we started to make our own games with me on graphics duty and Mike coding. The four of us hung around together at the breaks in the canteen and talked about making games. It was a few years until I was officially employed, though.
Lemmings and the subsequent sequels were major successes in the gaming market. When you were making these now iconic games did you ever realise you were working on such ground-breaking games?
Never. We did it because it was fun to do, that’s all. Can’t remember ever thinking that it was in any way special, because there was nothing for me to compare it against.
After the success of the first Lemmings, how did you get involved in making the smash hit sequel; Lemmings 2: The Tribes?
I was part of the design department and everyone was free to pitch in with level design. A few of mine made it into the final game, though I can’t remember which ones they were. It made a change from the first ones where my levels were either too easy or too hard. That was part of the genius of Lemmings, that the difficulty of the levels and the progression of that difficulty was pitched just right.
There are 51 skills a Lemming can have in the Lemmings 2. Which skill was your favourite?
I like them all equally. How’s that for avoiding the question? Actually, the digging is pretty satisfying.
If you could adopt and master one of these 51 skills for yourself and use in your day to day life which would you choose?
Well that would be Super Lem, surely. Not sure I could handle the pose at the end, but the flying around would be good. Only trouble is that it would no longer be a day to day life. It would be a day to day SUPERlife (has he got that copyrighted? – Ed). In that case, the day to day skill would be Builder, because I could certainly use that when I move house.
Which tribe was your favourite in the game?
Highland? At least, given where I live, I could master the accent.
How did the infamous ‘paws / pause’ button come about?
It’s a secret*.
Is it true that the SNES version of Lemmings 2: The Tribe allows you to plug in the Super Nintendo Bazooka and shoot lemmings on screen? If so, how did this great idea remain a secret for so long?
Completely true. I saw Mike blasting away at them with the device in question. I suspect he adds in features like that because he gets bored. It would have gone in the manual, cryptically suggested if nothing else, had I written it. As it happens I wrote the Lemmings III manual. It was such a high priority that I had to literally scavenge the temp folder in the network for images I could use. That is not a joke. (AA EXCLUSIVE! – Ed).
Would you ever like to own a pet lemming?
Nope. Little buggers keep blasting holes in the skirting board.
Do you think there is any room in the gaming market for another Lemmings-esque puzzler? I personally feel this type of game would greatly appeal to casual gamers using tablets.
Undoubtedly. At some point the Save-em-Up genre will be rediscovered and there will follow a flood of similar games. It all goes in cycles.
Is it true that Amiga Power magazine had a long-running joke regarding the postponed release of Hired Guns?
I have no idea, I only saw that referenced in Wikipedia. In any case, Hired Guns had exactly the release date it was planned for. It might have been a while between the cover demo and the release, but nothing was ever postponed. Scott did get pissed off that a magazine had reviewed the cover demo and not the game itself. Don’t know if it was Amiga Power though.
What was your role on Shadow of the Beast and what did it entail?
I converted the Amiga graphics into Commodore 64 graphics, for the C64 port which DMA was doing. I took the shiny 32-colour bitmaps and turned them into 3-colour chunks of character set.
The game was initially launched at £35.00 (this was obviously a high price for a video game at the time) were you worried the high price may put off gamers?
I honestly hadn’t given any thought to it. We didn’t always get a complementary copy of the games. For C64 Shadow of the Beast I was given a cartridge as a present by Mike when he found one kicking around on eBay.
The levels design and graphics for Shadow of the Beast were almost ahead of its time, how exciting was it to be involved in a game that was pushing the boundaries at the time?
I did the graphic conversion from the Amiga to the C64, so I had no involvement in the original or any say in the design. I did innovate slightly in that it was my idea to have some text between loading levels on the C64. That’s how I became a writer, effectively.
The cover art for Shadow of the Beast is iconic. What was it like to get Roger Dean (artist) involved in the game?
That was all down to the publisher, Psygnosis. We had no direct involvement in that. Though I do remember the office cheering at a demo when it became clear – and I can’t remember if it was Shadow of the Beast – that composer David Whittaker had finally treated himself to a new set of audio samples.
Are you surprised how successful Rockstar North has become, especially with the success of the Grand Theft Auto series?
Surprised is the wrong word. I would be surprised at their success had I assumed that they would fail, but the truth of it is that I never had any expectation either positive or negative. After DMA I didn’t pay much attention to the industry for many years. Only after the perspective of all that time having passed does it sink in for me that it was something really quite remarkable. My own contribution to GTA is slight – I was mainly working on Body Harvest at the time – but it was enough for me to become animated about after a few drinks.
Which games console / computer system do you have the fondest memories of?
Unquestionably the Amiga 500. I blew my entire term’s grant money on a second-hand one and never regretted it. Oddly, once it became known that I had one, the number of visitors I got peaked… I still have an Amiga 1200.
Have you ever had an idea for a game which you believe could have been successful but was never released?
Too many. A couple of years back there was a team who had the idea for a space-based game where a player could control not a ship, but a console on a ship. A player would take the science station for example. I had that idea, and indeed DMA even worked on it for a while, back in 1995. The technology wasn’t where it needed to be.
What are your views on the video game industry of today?
I am astounded at the sheer size of it, but other than that my feelings are mixed. What’s now called a AAA game doesn’t seem to have innovated much in the last 20 years. We’re still for the most part shooting stuff, picking up stuff and pulling levers. And the quality of dialogue is often risible. I would love to see a FPS where the player influences the progression of the game through persuasive dialogue, for example. Using psychology instead of a gun. In fact it probably already exists but I’ve missed it.
Indie games are far more interesting. At Dare Protoplay last year some of the ideas on display make me want to applaud.
Which video game character would you most like to share a few pints with?
Obviously Cheule Siygess from Hired Guns. Although since she’s one of my characters, that might get awkwardly metaphysical.
You can follow Steve on twitter here.
DMA Design website here.