We’ve a real treat for you this week! A member of the legendary Loriciel team, Vincent Baillet left the stricken company for better things and he helped deliver the superb Val d’Isère Skiing as well as manage the Psygnosis Paris dev studio. He truly has a story to tell…
Can you remember your earliest memory of gaming and what was your favourite computer / console while growing up?
The first videogame i played was an arcade Space Invaders. You had to pay 1 Franc for one game, which looks ridiculous now (0.15€), but was not so cheap for a 14 years old boy at the end of the seventies.
How did you get the opportunity to enter the video game industry?
I used to play a board game called Othello (Reversi) . When i bought my first computer (a Sinclair ZX81), I made software to play against me. I was a student, and it was just a hobby. A bit later, I’ve done the same software on an Oric 1. The game was good, so I decided to meet a publisher (Loriciel) in order to see what we could do together with this game. At the first meeting, we signed a contract, and the game was released. After some time, and several games released, I decided to stop studying, and asked Loriciel for a full time job. That was the start of a long career.
Can you tell us a bit more about that Othello game for ZX81 and Oric 1?
It was all done in assembly language, and with a fantastic user interface 🙂 The Oric version sold 1000 copies, so i got around 2000€ from the sales, that was a lot of money for a student like me…
Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding was one of the first Jag games I ever played. How did you get the inspirataion to work on this Jag exclusive?
Val d’Isère was not a Jag exclusive, it has been originally developped for SNES. The SNES was a complex console to program, with a lot of strange things in it. But that was really fun to get the most of the console hardware.
I really do not remember where the inspiration came from. Our boss Laurant Weill wanted us to make an “eagle simulator”, but we were not so enthusiastic with this idea. I suppose the idea came from the team (Olivier Richez, Philippe Tesson and myself), but I’m not sure.
I believe Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding is a great example of how to get the best out of the Jag with its clever 2D scaled sprites, showcasing a smooth 3D effect. How easy was it to create this game and how do you reflect back on this particular title?
I just started this project: after some time, Loriciel was in bankruptcy, and I left (I went to Psygnosis, managing the Paris studio). Olivier has done most of the job on the jag version.
My job on the Jag version has mainly been about understanding the hardware of the console, and trying to get the most of it. That was a real challenge: the Jag hardware is totally different from the SNES one, and quite everything had to be rewritten from scratch. I remember that I’ve worked on displaying the slope, sprites, and play sounds. The Jag hardware was very weird, with a lot of brilliant things in it and some real limitations. But Olivier and myself really enjoyed this kind of challenge.
Tommy Moe’s Winter Extreme: Skiing & Snowboarding for the SNES and Val d’Isère have some obvious similarities. Did you use a lot of the same code for both games and do you have a particular favourite out of the two?
Tommy Moe’s Winter Extreme is just the name of ValD’isèreSkiingAndSnowboarding for the US. The US publisher decided to change the title of the game. I think there were also some changes (there was some advertisement for a chocolate candy (“butter finger” as far as i can remember)) and maybe a few more changes.
Did you ever get to meet Tommy Moe when working on Winter Extreme and if so, what was he like as a person?
Never met him. I even could not tell you what he looks like. I suppose he is very famous. 🙂
Do you personally love skiing and snowboarding and if so, did this knowledge help when working on the aforementioned titles?
Well, my skills at skiing are just average. I used to go in the French alps for skiing some time ago, but my skills at programming are much better than my skills at skiing. Tommy Moe is probably not the right person to program a game, and I’m probably not the right person to give skiing lessons. What I like in skiing is when I remove my skiing boots, sit in a comfortable and warm place, and have a drink.
Apart from Val d’Isère, did you ever work on any other Jag titles (released or unreleased)?
Unfortunately, not. I went to Sony/Psygnosis when they were about to release the PlayStation. And Jaguar games were not the primary focus of Sony at that time…
O.D.T.: Escape… or Die Trying seemed slightly ahead of its time. What was it like working on this title and is it true that an N64 version was completed but never released?
That’s a complicated story. I was managing the Psygnosis development studio in Paris, where ODT has been developed. Then Psygnosis decided to close most of its studios, including the Paris one, and eventually sold our studio to Infogrames. Infogrames was not interrested by ODT, I’m not sure to have understood why! Not sure anyway to have understood anything about Infogrames (you’re not alone Vincent! – Ed).
You have worked on numerous games and worked on many platforms. Which platform did you most enjoy working with and why?
I really enjoy technical challenges. And the Jag was full of those challenges. The SNES was good also on this aspect. But I also enjoyed programming the Playstation, Atari 520, Amstrad CPC, Oric 1, PC, Alice 32… In fact, I enjoy programming.
Out of all the games you have worked on, which one are you most proud of and why?
Val d’Isère is really a game I’m proud of. There was a technical challenge on both consoles, we were a very good team with brilliant people, it was OUR project, clients were happy with the game… What else?
Have you ever worked on any games that were never released, and if so, which unreleased games do you feel would have been the most successful?
Yes, that’s normal life in the videogame industry to work on projects that are not released. A game can become obsolete before it’s released, you can have technical problems… It’s much better to stop a project before it fails. But sometime, a project is stopped for bad reasons.
The Psygnosis Paris studio did work on several games that were stopped because of strange marketing or commercial decisions. One of those games was a multiplayer one, a kind of “Battle of Ants”. This game had brilliant ideas, was technically perfect and had several innovations at that time. The game has been canned because one marketing guy said that “nobody cares about Ants”. So we stopped the project. Several months later, Dreamworks and another movie studio released two movies about ants: “Antz”, and “A bug’s life”, Then the marketing department wanted a game with Ants A.S.A.P, but it was too late: the team was already working on a new project.
Have you ever created an Easter egg in a game you worked on, and if so, can you now share your favourite Easter egg to our readers?
There are some secret things I know for some videogames I’ve worked on. But I promised to never talk about it… (awwwww – Ed)
What are your top three video games of all time and why?
Three is not enough. I’ll put:
Zelda Ocarina of Time.
Zelda Breath of the Wild.
Super Mario 64.
Super Mario World (SNES).
There are lots of other games I enjoy playing, but these four games are perfect.
What projects are you currently working on?
That’s a secret!
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?
My first thought is Princess Zelda, but she is probably too serious (she just wants to save the world) to have a good drink with her. Same for Link!
Ganondorf is maybe not as bad as in the game, he is anyway losing all the time. Maybe he has a funnier side when he is not at work.