Developer Profiles, Memories, Retrospectives

A Quintasensible Conversation

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 18.29.44Earlier this year, MegaBites posted an article on the legendary British developer Sensible Software. The piece concluded by outlining the imminent release of Sensible Software 1986–1999 – a Kickstarter-funded publication that gives a pixel-by-pixel account of the sights, the sounds and the software of this quintasensibly British gaming software house. Hot on the heels of the book’s release, MegaBites speaks to Darren Wall – the owner and Editor of Read-Only Memories publishing.

As a company etched in video gaming folklore, Sensible Software was headed by long-term school friends Jon ‘Jops’ Hare and Chris Yates, who went on to realise some of the late 80s and early 90s greatest gaming successes. Sensible Software provided gamers with unforgettable memories of incredible gameplay, quirky comedy and some of the catchiest theme tunes this side of the Bitmap Brothers. From the creation of Commodore 64 classics, to iconic Amiga adventures, Sensible also went on to create some of the Mega Drive’s most beloved ports, including Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Mega Lo Mania.

Dust off your disk drives and blow out your cartridges as we uncover the making of a book that gives an account of a software house so vibrant and so revolutionary, it was anything but sensible. 

MegaBites: Let’s start with the book itself. What is Sensible Soccer 1986 – 1999 and what were your main motivations in seeing it realised?

Darren Wall: It all started around six or seven years ago, when I made a few trips to Japan. Out there, they publish a lot of magazine-book hybrids called ‘Mooks’. There’s a large number of Capcom publications in particular, with incredible production art and paintings. I bought stacks of these books while I was out there, on Mega Man, Street Fighter II, R-Type and various RPGs.

The concept for the Sensible Book sprung from a conversation with a friend, who was in Japan with me at the time. I had a strong desire to see books containing similar production artwork for the games that I grew up playing as a kid – games by Psygnosis and titles such as Another World came to mind. I wanted to see books that documented the ‘feel’ of what it was like to actually play these games. Continue reading “A Quintasensible Conversation”

Memories, Retrospectives

The Mega Drive at 25 – A Musical Celebration

MD25On the 29 October 1988, Sega Enterprises unveiled a machine that would change the games industry forever – one that introduced us to blue hedgehogs, golden axes and castles of illusion. Its name was the Sega Mega Drive. This year marks the almighty console’s 25th anniversary since it’s Japanese release – the country where the legend began.

In a modern world where the latest mobile phone is outdated almost instantaneously, where HD TVs are rendered redundant within weeks, where fashions and trends are extinguished in the blink of an eye, the 25th anniversary of the Mega Drive marks a poignant moment in gaming history – one in which this humble console has passed the ultimate test – the test of time.

For any hardware developer, whether it be Sega, Nintendo, Atari or Commodore, the 25-year milestone is one of of huge significance. A quarter of a century is a long, long time in the world of electronics and technology. But what is it that makes the Mega Drive stand out amongst all those that came before and since?

Prior to the Mega Drive, we had console-greats such as the NES, the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum and the Amiga. However, what made the Mega Drive so outstanding, what made it so extraordinary was down to one key factor – it was the first console that made gaming ‘cool’.

A mega musical celebration

Photo 26-10-2013 08 47 53 (1)
Click image for gallery/tracklist

In celebrating the mighty Mega Drive’s anniversary, Mega Bites has decided not to write an account of the Mega Drive’s history, nor compile an obligatory chart of its greatest releases. Instead, I have decided to take things in an altogether more musical direction – ‘The Mega Drive at 25: A 16-Bit Cassette’. A 90 minute reel-to-reel celebration of the Mega Drive’s 25 greatest tunes, in no particular order (because they’re all so incredibly outstanding!). Although, if I had to choose a favourite, based on pure nostalgia alone, it would have to be Lemmings’ ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’. It takes me right back.

The origins of this project can be traced back to a few weeks ago, in a Twitter conversation with fellow retro enthusiast @Retrob8, who discussed his intention to commit his favourite 8/16-bit gaming tunes to cassette tape. An excellent idea I thought – and a music format incredibly befitting of this era of gaming.

My enthusiasm for the cassette project was further enhanced in a chat at the launch party of Read-Only Memory’s publication ‘Sensible Software 1986–1999’ (a truly excellent book and one that you simply HAVE to buy).

It was at this party that I was talking with Read-Only Memory’s Director and Editor Darren Wall (@romalerts) and fellow blogger Julian Hill (@JulianHillUK) of Boxed Pixels and SingStar world record fame. We reflected on gaming music and its incredible capacity for nostalgia – even more so than in playing the games themselves. More than this, we realised just how great some of these tunes were, not just in their simplicity, but also in their dynamics. 1041874394Despite the limitations of the hardware, the composers of cartridge based gaming were musical masters, with a persistent attention to detail, in a world of incredible hardware limitations.

It is only recently, through stereo sound and high definition re-releases that I have come to truly appreciate what these musicians achieved with their electronic masterpieces – something that my RF cabled portable mono Mitsubishi television could never hope to do justice, back in the day.

It’s on this note (no pun intended) that I leave you, with an analog homage to 25 of the Mega Drive’s greatest musical moments – a fitting tribute to a console that not only looked and played superbly, but also sounded absolutely fantastic. Happy birthday old friend.


Click to hear ‘The Mega Drive at 25 – A 16-Bit Cassette Celebration’ on YouTube.

Memories, Retrospectives

Food for Fought

Aladdin AppleFor us mere mortals, when hunger strikes, a tasty treat from the refrigerator, café, restaurant, or local supermarket is usually enough to satisfy most of us. Not in the gaming world – a place where chicken is typically sourced from trash cans, fruit is found suspended in mid-air and pot roasts can be extracted from wall cavities. Tasty. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the weird and wonderful world of game-based food.

Pixel-based foodstuffs provided much more than nourishment for gaming’s protagonists. Amongst its many properties, it could revive health, enable power-ups and supply bonus points. Best of all, an otherwise innocent-looking snack could easily be used as a projectile with murderous consequences.

Join us now as we explore some of the Mega Drive’s culinary highlights. Let the food fight begin!

Pot RoastPot Roast
As seen in: Castlevania Bloodlines, Golden Axe series, Final Fight CD, Streets of Rage 1, Chuck Rock series
Function: Health / points

Who needs a band-aid, when you can have beef? Or is it lamb? Chicken? Dinosaur, even? One thing that we do know of this mysterious meat is its incredible power to heal. Whether it’s discovered within the walls of centuries-old castles, or in the sacks of little green imps, this particular foodstuff is a welcome treat for any gaming warrior – even if the inevitable food poisoning isn’t. Continue reading “Food for Fought”

Memories, Retrospectives

The 90s Cheat Survival Guide

debugCheats, hints, tips – call them what you may, but us Mega Drive gamers couldn’t get enough of them. From invincibility codes, to extra lives, and debug modes, if we weren’t playing a game, we were feverishly hunting down that illusive cheat, the one to – quite literally – take our gaming to the next level.

Those of us who remember the early-to-mid 90s will also recall one glaring factor – there was NO internet! Back in ye good olde 1990s, if we wanted a gaming cheat or strategy guide, our options were severely limited. More often than not, we had to rely on word of mouth – gaming secrets handed down from friend, to friend in some obscure alpha-numeric Chinese whisper.

I was recently thrust back into this mindset on a recent holiday, in which time I became re-acquainted with Sonic CD on iOS. A browse through the game’s menus revealed a number of unlockable extras. But how to enable them? A quick Google search would usually reveal all, but not in this case, not on this holiday. On this occasion I’d chosen to spend my vacation in a place beyond the far reaches of civilisation, a location where the concepts of wifi and 3G are as alien to its locals as a decent phone reception was to E.T. That’s right, I was in Cornwall.

Stuck as I was, I swiftly became aware of one key fact – I was back in the 90s, to a pre-Internet era, where I’d actually have to work to unlock Sonic CD’s deepest, darkest secrets. But how did we do it back in the day? Kids, read on… Continue reading “The 90s Cheat Survival Guide”

Memories, Retrospectives

Through the Pages of Time

IMG_3521In the Mega Drive’s early to mid-90s heyday, my fascination with the console was matched by one other obsession – gaming magazines. From Games Master, Sega Pro to Sega Power and Mean Machines Sega I couldn’t get enough of these publications, their glossy covers, freebies, and not forgetting those all-important cheats sections.

As much as I loved these magazines, they ultimately lived a short life, either damaged by younger siblings, lost through the loan to school friends, or cut up and stuck upon my bedroom wall. Although, as you can tell from the image above, a lucky few managed to make it intact.

Despite my regrettably throw-away attitude to my magazines back in the day, my 10 to 11 year old self was still aware of how treasured the contents of these magazines would be in the months and years to come. This in mind, I began compiling the best (and some of the more obscure) features, reviews and listings from the height of the era.

It began on a summer holiday visit to Italy in 1995, where I picked up a hardback Photo 02-08-2013 11 41 36 (1)diary from a local market. What was to follow was an entire summer, leafing through my gaming magazines, hand writing and copying out articles related to some of my favourite Mega Drive news and releases. Do not be fooled by the cheesy 90s footballing nature of this book’s cover, contained within its covers is total retrogaming gold, as a glance over its contents page reveals. Continue reading “Through the Pages of Time”


(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – Revenge of the Fifth

In the summer of 1994, a bright, young (and incredibly naïve) child, set out on an epic voyage of discovery – a quest to unleash the greatest character in Mega Drive gaming since Sonic the Hedgehog, since Alex Kidd, since that kinky centurion was first commanded to ‘wise fwom his gwave’.

What follows is the fifth and final installment of the Megabites Blog’s (Mis)Adventures In Game development. We rejoin our tale in March 1996, as an unlikely contender attempts to steer our adventurer off course.

A keen eye on his older sibling’s efforts, it soon transpired that my ten year old little brother had been secretly making considerable progress, schmoozing with the great developers of the 16 bit era. His Bumble concept, although not making it past Virgin Interactive’s publishing assistants, spawned a freebie in the form of a badge. Although memories of this particular badge have been lost in the mists of time, I vividly remember what later transpired.

Continue reading “(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – Revenge of the Fifth”


(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – The Fourth Is Strong In This One

goroclassicSeptember 1994. I was ten years old, barely able to tie my shoe laces. By this time, I’d already entered Goro’s Lair twice (if Electronic Arts, Berkshire was indeed to be considered a lair inhabited by an underpant-clad demon).

Alas, Stick Man had tried his best, to no avail. Round one to EA.

Super F-14 Tomcat showed great potential, only to be dealt the equivalent of a pit fatality in the final moments. Double flawless victory.

Two months as a game designer and I’d already been hung out to dry. Cruelly defeated by one woman and her exquisite office stationary. I was at a complete loss. What could I do?

Continue reading “(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – The Fourth Is Strong In This One”


(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – Part 3

RejectedAnd so it came to pass, the world witnessed one of the greatest losses to the nineties video games industry. Despite my best efforts, Stick Man vs Mr Hammer Head and the Nail Men never made it onto the Mega Drive.

A number of things struck me about my response from EA. First and foremost was the paper Elaine Hyslop from Development had selected to print her response upon. In my short ten year existence, never before had I seen or felt paper of such high quality. Retrieving the envelope, I realised it was made from the very same acid-free top quality sheet. Running my finger over Elaine’s signature, I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. Biro. A real signature. The combination of these elements alone seemed to be telling me something. It was almost as if Ms Hyslop was sending me a subliminal message:

Stick Man is never gonna make it, not in a million years kid. But, you know what? I see potential here. Dig a little deeper, come back to me with another idea and we’ll see what we can do for you. (You’re a fantastic artist by the way).”

And so it came to pass, the world was about to witness one of the greatest (attempted) comebacks in the nineties game industry.

Continue reading “(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – Part 3”


(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – PART DEUX

ShadowRemember the first run through Earthworm Jim, confronted with the cow and refrigerator? What about Streets of Rage 2 where the baseball pitch descended down to the depths of the earth? Who could forget Shadow Dancer’s ascent to the top of the Statue of Liberty, only to find a boss nigh on impossible to defeat (damn rotating blades). How about the beach in Stick Man vs Mr Hammer Head, where the man in the sombrero gives you a boat, for no apparent reason? What do you mean you don’t remember?

Having nailed characters (no pun intended), genre and concept, it was time to move on to the next point of call in my quest.

No matter how great the character, no matter how fantastic the graphics, or soundtrack, one thing is always key: level design. For me, it’s the little things that truly matter, those little details that stick in your mind for years to come. The rotating bolts in Sonic 2’s Metropolis Zone, those damn cows in Road Rash, that weird little dancing man in Desert Strike. The list goes on. Continue reading “(Mis)Adventures In Game Development – PART DEUX”


(Mis)adventures In Game Development – PART 1

Up until the 16-bit era, video games, for me, were objects that simply seemed to appear on store shelves, as if by magic, seemingly out of thin air. Of course, I was aware of developers such as Sega, EA, Capcom and so on, but I never spared a thought for how these games came to be. Being a kid at the height of the Mega Drive vs SNES rivalry, I never batted an eyelid, absorbing as much as a child consumer with a 50 pence per-week pocket money allowance, and the odd generous relative could at the time. Then one day, it came to me… “Where did these games come from?” Join me as we embark on a voyage of discovery and creativity, all through the eyes of my ten-year-old self.

BoxArtIt was 1994 and I remember hearing about an uncle of a school friend who’d made a name for himself as the software developer and inventor of some pocket dictionary / thesaurus software. As a ten year old, nothing seemed more mind-numbing than writing a dictionary. It was bad enough being told to write my name out 100 times by my head teacher, when I failed to use capital letters in handwriting class.

Some time later, I watched an episode of video games review show Bad Influence on TV (remember that one?). This particular episode had a feature in which presenter, Violet Berlin, talked about a group of kids who had developed ideas for a game which they had sent to a games developer. If memory serves me right, the game in question was a sim, in which the player ran a newspaper, set the task of finding stories to fill its pages. Seeing how these kids had set about inventing their own game concepts, I decided to go about it myself.

Continue reading “(Mis)adventures In Game Development – PART 1”