Looking back... with Jon Hare
11th Nov 2005 | 15:43
Jon Hare was the main man behind Sensible Software, the British developer that ruled the gaming world in the early '90s. Hare is most famous for Sensible Soccer - the first great arcadey kickabout. Sensible Software also produced another mega-hit in Cannon Fodder. He's also notorious for developing a game known as Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll, which was unfortunately never released.
What's he doing now? Well, Hare is still involved in the videogames industry and it was recently announced that he's working on a collaborative game design with Codemasters for the remake of Sensible Soccer, which will be out next year on PS2, Xbox and PC. Our colleagues on PC Zone magazine recently caught up with the man for a chat about his videogame industry past; here's what he had to say...
How did you get into the games industry?
Jon Hare: I went to the same school as fellow Sensible Software founder Chris Yates. We both dropped out of college and got into computers. Chris did a little demo of Snoopy playing in a kennel and got a job with LT Software, but he was struggling with the graphics. Having done art at school, I started helping him out and LT Software offered me some work on a game called Twister. Soon we discovered that our employers were taking 80 per cent of the money for doing f*** all, so we decided to set up ourselves.
So why 'Sensible' Software?
Jon Hare: The name was Chris's idea, although we can't remember how it came about. We started working on a demo for the Commodore 64 that would eventually become Parallax. We took the game to Ocean Software, the first company we'd seen and they signed us up. They gave us a cheque for a grand, and a contract, that in retrospect, was diabolical. We smoked cigars on the train back to celebrate. In the end, we made three games for Ocean: Parallax, Wizball and Wizkid.
How did you get the idea for Sensible Soccer?
Jon Hare: We did Microprose Soccer, which was the best sports game around at the time and the kernel for Sensible Soccer. Chris Chapman and I had put in a lot of late nights on Mega Lo Mania, and during our breaks we'd play a lot of Dino Dini's Kick Off and Kick Off 2. We really enjoyed the games, but there were some irritating niggles which ruined them. So, towards the end of Mega Lo Mania we decided to have some fun by dressing the players up in football kits, in what would become the Sensible Soccer style. Sensible Soccer is basically Mega Lo Mania in football kits; that's why they have big hair and stuff - they're cavemen in kit.
Just like Rooney then?
Jon Hare: Yes! Chris Chapman knocked up some clothes, made a pitch and got some gameplay going, all in two months - it was brilliant. Everything just seemed to work right away. We'd found a formula that from that point on we didn't tamper with because the gameplay was just magic.
When Cannon Fodder was released, were there complaints about the poppy on the cover?
Jon Hare: Yeah, the British Legion said they weren't happy with the moral aspect of us using the poppy in a game. If they'd played it, they'd understand there's an underlying message about how war is bad, and the expendability of your soldiers shows this. They've all got names and their own gravestones - it was a subtle message.
Why was Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll never finished?
Jon Hare: With Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll, we signed with Warners and it paid us a seven-figure sum. It wasn't some pipe-dream idea. However, Warners wanted control - it wanted us to change cocaine to 'space dust' and stuff like that. The game was like Leisure Suit Larry but didn't pull its punches, so you could go shag women, snort cocaine and tell somebody to f*** off. I'd written 1,500 pages of script and we were about 75 per cent finished when we ran into problems. We needed Warners to drop the game so we could let staff go. It was a huge financial relief when it did.
Where did Sensible Software go wrong?
Jon Hare: We probably got a bit greedy. We used the same engine for Sensible Golf and Cannon Fodder 2, and both games suffered because of it. We were 3D virgins and we totally underestimated the knowledge and manpower needed. We'd moved into a huge, modern office - at one point there was just myself and Chris there. We used to play cricket with an Amstrad computer as a bat, the box as a wicket and a rolled up ball of masking tape for the ball!
Which games would you consider to be your best?
Jon Hare: Sensible Soccer obviously, the last version of SWOS on the Amiga. I liked Wizkid a lot too. That was the kind of direction we wanted to go in - if you look at our games, we always tried to do safe stuff and adventurous stuff - unfortunately, that's a direction the industry just doesn't want to go in now.
This article originally appeared in PC Zone magazine, issue #161.