Neill Glancy (DMA Design) – Interview

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Couple this with the interview released today with Neill’s friend Ian Dunlop and you’ve everything you ever needed to know about the Amiga classic, Walker. Throw in a podcast too and you’re really all set!

Neill Glancy is best known for his design work on Walker but he’s also worked on the hilarious South Park N64 game, the Turok games (with Ian), Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel and the superb VR game Torn (2018). The sequel for Walker was sadly canned but Neill did a lot of concept work for it and has shared some of his prototype visions below. Adrian, as always, asks the questions that need to be asked. And we also need to thank Neill for putting us in touch with Ian!

 

***And yes, please listen to our Walker podcast to get you in the Amiga-ry kinda mood…sorry***

 

How did you first get the opportunity to enter the video game industry and do you remember the first game you ever worked on?

I had always been fascinated by video games ever since playing Adventure on an Atari 2600 as a child. As systems like the ZX 81, Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 came onto the market in the UK so did Art tools like OCP Art Studio. I started working with these art tools and creating little art experiments. After a year or so I had enough work samples that I sent them to a few publishers and they hooked me into a project right away. Some of the first titles I worked on were Earthlight (Spectrum), Tower of Babel (Amiga, Atari) and later First Contact (Amiga, Atari)

 

I loved Walker on the Amiga. Do you remember how this game was first perceived and what were the early ideas and concepts for this classy game?

I met Ian Dunlop in Edinburgh, Scotland and we hit it off right away as we both loved games. Ian mentioned he was working on Walker and I mentioned I was working on graphics and had shipped some games. I offered to create some test graphics for Ian to audition in the game. These graphics focused on three main areas, the little soldiers you shoot at, the game’s backgrounds and finally particle FX. At the time I was really inspired by Akira’s lighting and wanted to create sprites with detailed shadows, dynamic lighting and motion blur. This was unheard of at that time so the results when you saw them in motion were really compelling. Ian integrated these graphics into the game and the results were very impressive, the new look raised the bar from the basic graphics that were implemented previously. Sadly these enhanced graphics didn’t ship in the final version of the game as the newly enhanced look came in too late in production so David Jones chose to keep the old graphics in the game so it could meet its publishing schedule.

After supplying the enhanced graphics for Walker that everyone at DMA was really impressed by Dave Jones hired me as a graphics specialist / designer. Some of the special sequences that I created for Walker made it into the game such as the intro looking through the walkers eyes and the outro where you see the city being blown up with a nuclear blast. My mandate was to continue researching special graphical techniques as well as doing support work on Lemmings and anything else that needed a hand. In addition to this we were spinning up ABS the sequel to Walker and doing pre-production on that. I still have many drawings and sketches from that period. I was not hired to get Walker moving again that’s incorrect.

 

 

I love the joint use of the mouse and joystick to control the mechanised Walker. Why did you end up using this innovative and original control system and how easy was it get working in the game?

When I came onto Walker this work was already in place. It’s kind of a chicken and egg question but in Walkers case the head came first! I believe Scott Johnston created the Walker head 3D model and then used CAD software to render it out at various angles. We then added the 2D legs and placed the head on top. Having the head look at the mouse cursor seemed like the best way to go as it was very responsive and smooth. This also meant the player could use the cursor keys to move the walker left and right, it just felt right.

 

The graphics, animation and amazing look and feel of Walker showcases some of the best ever produced on the Amiga. What tools and ideas did you implement to achieve this?

I’m not sure what tool Scott used to make the Walker head model but all other assets were created in Deluxe Paint on the Amiga 500. Special attention was paid to making elements work together correctly to scale and have smooth animations. We also wanted a good variety of enemies to mow down as well as varied backgrounds to keep things interesting.

 

Is it true that your voice is used within the game, and if so, can you explain how this idea and concept came about and was used?

Yes my voice is used in the game but is only present for users on Amiga who had a RAM expansion. There wasn’t enough RAM in the base Amiga (or Atari ST) to add VO so only the bigger systems got it. The VO consisted of the Walker pilot and their commanding officer talking to each other during the mission start. I think there may have been other lines for when the Walker pilot took down bosses etc but I can’t remember. The lines were recorded on a walkie talkie to give authentic crackle and tone with me standing in Ian’s back garden while he sampled them inside the house. All I remember is it was freezing outside 🙂

 

 

We want to know all about the cancelled Walker 2, can you explain some of the ideas and game mechanics which would have been used?

I lead development of Walker 2 internally called “ABS” for nearly a year until I left DMA to come to the States. There were many improvements we wanted to make to the original Walker formula. Firstly we were planning to stream the backgrounds off a CD-ROM so they could be very much more detailed, epic and varied. In addition to this there would be a meta game of expanding your Walker business as well as full customization of the Walker’s loadout and appearance. I would love to revisit this one day.

 

 

Why was it cancelled and do you feel there is room today for a new game in the series?

I can’t say definitively why the game was cancelled but I think it was in large part due to the first Walker game receiving a lukewarm reception. Had the game done better we might have felt more confident in doing the sequel. At the same time DMA was going through changes as well with a number of staff leaving the company (including myself) so I think it just fizzled out. I would love to revisit ABS though there were loads of great ideas there that folks would enjoy today.

 

Is it true you were never a permanent employee of DMA Design and how do you look back on your time at this respected game developer?

I was a full-time employee of DMA design. I started as a kind of contractor for a few months but ended up moving to Dundee when the full time role opened up. I really enjoyed my time at DMA Design, I got to work with tons of really talented developers and there was a constant sense of “we are discovering this stuff everyday” which was really exciting. Dave Jones was especially supportive and approachable when it came to game ideas and a great boss.

 

 

Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel was the follow-up to Aero the Acrobat. How did you get the opportunity to work on this title and what was your role in this game?

When I first moved to the States to work at Iguana Entertainment Zero was the first project they had me work on. My role was as Lead Designer/ Project Manager. The concept of the game was given to us by Sunsoft the high level story, characters etc. I designed every aspect of the game, its levels, internals, enemies etc as well as created the teams schedules weekly to make sure we were on track. In addition to this I also produced some 3D models that were used in the game for things like the vehicle sequences and jetpack.

 

How different was it working at Iguana Entertainment compared to DMA Design and are you still in contact with some of these companies ex-employees?

The two companies were fairly similar but I would say the DMA work was more experimental in nature. Iguana had paid contracts and worked with some big IP so there was a lot of clarity around what we were doing. At DMA we could experiment more which was nice. I’m still in touch with former DMA and Iguana folks, we are all getting older now and with kids, it’s nice to keep in touch.

 

South Park the game was a huge success. Are you personally a fan of the show and was it quite a challenge to make the game more age appropriate compared to the more adult-themed cartoon?

South Park (Deeply Impacted) was a huge challenge to pull off. I’m a massive fan of the show (as was the team) but we didn’t have long to make the game from start to finish (9 months). It was a huge scramble to envision and build such a game in so small a window. We wanted the game to be as risque as the show and went through many iterations of the script with Matt and Trey. They were really great to work with as they were avid gamers so it made working with them a lot easier. I think we managed to really push the envelope in terms of content back then on N64 with our “Yellow snowballs” and a “Cow launcher” that fired cows on opponents heads – butt first!

 

 

You worked on a number of Turok titles. What was your role on these games and do you feel there is now room for a brand new Turok game?

I mostly helped out on Turok games in between working on other major projects essentially to add a bit more design horsepower or to try and bring the games back into scope. Turok games were often significantly over scoped and this caused a lot of production challenges. As to if now is the time for another Turok game, I’m not sure. The brand always seemed a bit odd to me frankly. I did notice that there is a new Turok title with a cute isometric look coming out soon.

 

You have worked at Acclaim, Midway, DMA Design, Iguana and many more amazing companies. How do you reflect back on your amazing career in gaming and do you have a personal highlight?

As I look back across my career I think the thing that is most amazing to me is the progress in fidelity in games. It’s hard to imagine we would get from Mercenary, a vector based game on the Commodore 64, to titles like Battlefield 2 with high end cinematic production values. Two of my personal career highlights would definitely be making the first South Park game (which was insanely difficult and time constrained) and my last project “Torn” a VR title for Aspyr. The Torn team was amazing and we made something I’m really proud of.

 

 

Out of all the games you have ever worked on, which title are you most proud of and why?

I think that would have to be Torn as it was a 100% original IP created from scratch. I’m most proud of this title because we created a very high quality game with industry leading technology and some new features never before seen in gaming with a very small team of just 5 people. It was also a great pleasure to work with Garry Schyman on the games music.

 

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?

There’s been a few that haven’t made it along the way. The sequel to John Woo Presents Stranglehold had a working title of “Gun Runner” I think that could have been a really big hit. It had many deep (and novel) weapon customization features that I still haven’t seen in other games.

 

If you could step inside any of the games you have worked on and live there for a day, which game would you choose and why?

I suppose it would have to be the world of South Park as it would be so entertaining 🙂

 

If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?

Wow this is a great question, I think I would have to choose Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite. She’s a fascinating character with extraordinary powers and a bizarre backstory so I’m sure she would be fascinating to hang out with.

 

Adrian