Q&A: Sensible Software's Jon Hare

The brains behind a slew of legendary '90s titles is back, talks to GameSpot about Sensible Soccer and how the industry has changed in the past 15 years.

Cannon Fodder

After many delays and one aborted launch, Sensible World of Soccer has finally made it to Xbox Live to reach a new generation of football fanatics.

First appearing on the Amiga in the early 1990s, Sensible Soccer was among the first highly regarded football games. With its simple, fast, intuitive gameplay, Sensi and its sequels--most notably Sensible World of Soccer, which incorporated longer-term management options--are still held up by some as examples of football gaming at its very best.

Just after Christmas, GameSpot spoke to Jon Hare, who founded Sensible Software and was the creative director behind Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder, and other titles.

GameSpot spoke to Hare about SWOS coming to XBLA, how development has changed since the time of Sensi, and what he makes of the games industry today.

GameSpot UK: Why did it take so long for SWOS to reach Xbox Live?

Jon Hare: The guys working on the game really wanted to make sure it was as good as it possible could be before it was released, and they encountered some problems with the network code that took them longer to figure out than everyone first thought.

GS UK: Do you think the game has aged well?

JH: Yes, I believe it has as long as you can look past the graphics, Sensible Soccer has always been about how the game feels when you play it.

It is like an ugly girl that makes up for it by trying harder in bed and I believe the value in that has never been lost down the generations.

Also I think the depth of the choice and flexibility of teams and competitions is still unrivalled to this day.

Plus it is still best player/manager game on the market and has been since 1993/4.

GS UK: Do you think that it will engage new players as well as simply satisfying a craving for nostalgia from those who were fans the first time around?

JH: If enough old fans buy it I think new fans will pick it up; there are plenty of kid brothers and sons who will become exposed to this game over the Christmas period and I believe these are the people who can seed a new fan base for SWOS across the playgrounds of Europe and the rest of the world.

GS UK: Have you got any plans for another modern version of Sensible Soccer, after the 2006 edition?

JH: With the backing of the right team I would love to do this. I would also really enjoy the chance to do a proper management game.

GS UK: What do you think of the current generation of football games?

JH: I haven't played this year's offerings but over the last 10 years my general view is that PES has been the best game by far, but FIFA has been steadily improving year upon year and now is starting to become more of a serious rival in gameplay terms. To be honest with the exception of a couple of management games all other football games on the market currently are virtually nonexistent in profile terms.

GS UK: How has the industry changed for developers since the original release of SWOS?

JH: It has changed beyond recognition. The main differences are the size of development teams, the amount of work needed to be done on a game prior to signing, the unstable technology base on which we build our games, and the approval processes by publishers, PR techniques, retailers, and hardware manufacturers.

In 1993 for SWOS:

Development team: 3.5 people (2.5 for Sensible Soccer).

Work prior to signing: Game signed up in two weeks, based on two sheets of design on A4 with biro (plus Sensible Soccer already published).

Technology stability: Game up and running (with no physical world or animation errors) in two weeks (allowing lots of time for gameplay-oriented development).

Approvals: Retailers wanted SWOS as much as they wanted the original Sensi, Amiga was a free platform (like the PC today but not as technically fussy).

PR: We were trusted to do our own PR in combination with Renegade, the publisher. This generated a lot of editorial coverage, demo disks, competitions, and the like and fed the public interest in the game.

In 2007:

Development team: Minimum 15 people.

Work prior to signing: About 12 man months and six months of negotiation and waiting to contract.

Technology stability: Average time to stabilise a gameworld is around six months these days, often leaving precious little time to perfect the gameplay before QA and translations kick in.

Approvals: Retailers only want surefire hits, publishers reserve the right to pull the plug with every change of management, hardware manufacturers have right to total veto on anything for any reason without justification, allowing for enormous political manipulation of products approved and rejected at key moments in the calendar year. Commodore and Atari saw their platforms as media for the world to share; the current batch should be put up in front of the monopolies commission for the creative and commercial censorship they impose on all of us.

PR: In their paranoid desire not to lose control of anything publishers have crushed the names of developers compared to the early mid-'90s and also usually demand a right to control all PR. This gives us the same boring old dry ad-based PR again and again that anyone can do. Truth is that the magazines used to enjoy chatting with the guys that made the games and it brought us heaps of editorial like a number of absolutely free four-page spreads.

When all these s***heads waltzed in in the mid-'90s from their media corporations they vowed to make us more professional. Unfortunately for those of us who were professional enough already it just made it ****. Running a business is about making money, it is about small outgoings and large incomings and creative teams can use their creativity to save money on one hand and generate it on the other, but not when they are being dominated by overbearing, paranoid, and unimaginative corporations. Nowadays all the money seems to be made by the retailers and the console manufacturers...so there is more money yes...but there is less profit and much less fun for us developers.

GS UK: Do you think a company of the size of Sensible Software could succeed starting up now?

JH: Yes, if its main focus was on DS, XBLA, and downloadable PC games. The main problem is getting the ball rolling with your first contract. Making games that have no deal is depressing, pointless, and irritating.

GS UK: Are there any plans to revive the Cannon Fodder brand, whether on XBLA or in a new game?

JH: I hope so... I worked on a Cannon Fodder 3 design with Codies as long ago as 1999, it would be nice to see it again, even if it is just an XBLA port of the Amiga original.

GS UK: Given the controversy surrounding Cannon Fodder at the time of release, what did you make of the Manhunt 2 furore, and the fact that battle is now moving to the High Court?

JH: I do not know too much about the Manhunt case; personally I do find some games unnecessarily gratuitously violent, although I do not think it is a reason to pull them from the shelves, just a reason not to buy them. I am tired of having American morality forced down my throat as a British citizen with a slightly different moral view on the world.

In my opinion the best way to deal with a psycho who runs around the streets gunning people down allegedly because he played a computer game is to turn him into dog food and put the game up for sale on 18-plus eBay.

In the case of Cannon Fodder published by Virgin in the good days, the main problem was the use of the British Legion's Poppy emblem without first asking them permission. Not that we knew they owned it anyway, we just thought it was a poppy. They moaned about the game being disrespectful to war citizens without even looking at the game, which is actually very disrespectful to the dead for a computer game and then when we paid them the £500 they demanded they went quiet, by which time we had pulled the poppy off the cover.

GS UK: Are we ever going to see Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll, be it over XBLA or otherwise?

JH: I doubt it... We are about to release the music CD and people will be able to see the videos, but Sex and Drugs the game is forever destined to be a star that didn't shine...unless Codemasters do a major turnaround.

GS UK: What are you currently working on?

JH: I am currently development director for Nikitova, where we are working on several games.

We have just done Showtime Championship Boxing for Wii and DS and are also working on Casper Scare School for DS and a new original game of mine called CCTV on Wii and DS; I am very excited about this game.

I am also consulting on some MMO and other online products for a number of people, including some other football-related stuff.

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