This guy shouldn’t need any introduction. He was for many THE face of games during the Amiga days and long after. Stu (better known as Rev – I think because someone purposefully stole his name on some forum if I remember though I’m probably wrong), like some others from that time are examples of an age where devs, journos and the average joe could ‘happily’ mix. Well, as long as you weren’t on the wrong side of him!
Stu is perhaps the very best example of this. He would often frequent places of discussion such as forums and the like, actively taking part in that community. Even though he was such a prominent figure within the whole industry at a time most kids envied video game journos, Stu didn’t give a damn; he was a gamer first and foremost and wanted to participate in the relevant issues of the time. He was, dare I say it, ‘one of the lads’.
There’s so much to him in fact that I would be writing ad infinitum, though I am sure you will find out more from his excellent blog. To get a basic lowdown though Stu has written for or been editor to such publications as Amiga Power, Digitiser and numerous others as well as having developed Cannon Fodder 2 and Sensible World of Soccer for the Amiga. Once again thanks for your time Rev.
[Toops] Q1 – What are you up to nowadays?
[Rev] Freelancing, writing WoSblog, working on some iPhone apps and a couple of secret projects and – as ever – fighting crime and injustice wherever I find it, unless there’s a new episode of Family Guy on.
Q2 – How did entering Pong competitions come about? Was it for the rewards, kudos, as a challenge to yourself, simply because it was a hobby or the faces of the defeated? (and to find out more on why I asked this go to Stu’s blog – link at the end)
I’ve never entered a Pong competition. That’s the magical thing.
Q3 – What do you think about today’s level of competitiveness compared to when you were competing? Would gamers today be able to compete at your level?
Gamers today would destroy me. I’m still pretty good at picking up a new game and getting a decent score, but the insane level of practice and dedication that kids put in nowadays is far beyond this old man. I watch superplay videos of bullet-hell shooters or dancing games with my jaw agape.
Q4 – Do you think that the level of competitiveness is less than it once was bearing in mind that many tournaments can take place online?
I think this is the greatest era for videogaming competitiveness there’s ever been. Online leaderboards bring the arcade into your home, and you can test yourself against either the entire world or just your personal friends. The advent of the likes of XBLA, OpenFeint or iPod games that import your Facebook friends list is the best thing that’s ever happened to high-score gaming – friends lists give you bragging rights among your mates and worldwide tables show you how much or how little that means.
I don’t know what the situation’s like with live competition – you’d need a whole army of men with guns to get me into a room full of sweaty PC nerds playing mouse-and-keyboard FPS games – and I’ve never really cared about deathmatch-type contests as opposed to score tables, but whichever you prefer it seems to me there’s probably never been a better or more fun time to play videogames competitively.
Q5 – Having had insight not only into the video gaming press but the production of such titles as Sensible World of Soccer and Cannon Fodder 2, how do you view present state of these? Has it gotten better or worse in your eyes?
The mainstream boxed-full-price game has been a creatively dead zone for years – I can scarcely remember the last time I loaded a disc-based game. But the sudden opening-up of console markets to indie developers, whether it be Xbox Indie games or the iPod and iPhone, enabling the swift development and release of inventive, original and cheap games, has been like a whole new era of creativity dawning. Suddenly anyone with an idea who can knock a few lines of code together can put a game out to an audience of tens of millions almost overnight. (And literally overnight in the case of some iPod games.)
And what’s even better, if they do and it’s a hit, they – rather than a publisher – can get rich off it. This week I was reading a piece by Mel Croucher in old mag The Games Machine – the March 1988 issue, if you know where to find the scans – where he interviewed a bunch of coders who’d made Speccy games and the like, and uniformly been massively ripped off by publishers because they didn’t know any better. Their games had made hundreds of thousands of pounds and they’d seen about 500 quid. Now the creator gets to keep the lion’s share of the proceeds, and no scummy middlemen get their snouts in the trough. (And, y’know, it’s nice to have been proved to be right all along about the effect of low prices on sales figures. The majority of iPod games cost less than £1.20 and Apple can’t count the profits fast enough.)
Q6 – Which magazine (if any) do you remember back to as one of your childhood favourites?
Crash was the games mag for me. I was absolutely captivated by their honesty, and the way they’d tell you what was going on behind the scenes if some game publisher threatened them, and it made me think of games journalism as an honourable profession. (If only I’d known, etc.) I read lots of stuff – Your Sinclair for entertainment (it was useless as a buying guide), then Zero for a slightly more adult version of the same thing, even Sinclair User if I could shoplift it – but actually my favourite magazine of all when I was a youth was LM, Newsfield’s short-lived lifestyle mag. There still isn’t really a modern equivalent of it, an all-encompassing culture mag that assumed its readers had an IQ above 60 and cared about other stuff as well as football and tits. They could even make a lager review dignified (but still fun). I wish someone would scan all the issues, because the newsagents round our way stopped selling it after about issue 5 and I couldn’t get hold of it after that.
Q7 – AP or Amiga Power is one of the most memorable magazines of its era and so firstly how did you go about trying to differentiate yourself from the other Amiga mags?
By not being shit. We couldn’t even begin to grasp how we could possibly fail to make something ten times better than what existed at the time. It was like shooting really big fish in a really small barrel, with a sawn-off shotgun and a bag of hand grenades. We used to go and get drunk on Newcastle Brown at lunchtime just to try to make it at least challenging.
Q8 – Whose idea was it to use the full 100% range when reviewing games and what was the incentive for this? (if not already discussed in the above question).
It wasn’t anyone’s specific idea. Naive as we were, it seemed staggeringly obviously like the only way you could possibly approach the notion of awarding marks. And yet, we’d actually get letters from people who were spending their money on games, telling us – and this is literally true – that games should get a base minimum score of 35% just for loading up and working. I’ve never been able to get my head round that sort of mentality and never will, because it’s so self-evidently retarded. If you’re scoring out of 10 but only actually using the digits from 6 to 9, stop dicking around and just mark out of four in the first place.
Q9 – Like Richard Leadbetter had mentioned about his experiences starting out, was your motivation as deputy editor to try and live up to the great Matt Bielby (those who don’t know he had formerly worked on CVG, Your Sinclair and founded Amiga Power and PC Gamer)?
++ NO CARRIER ++ (lol)
Q10 – What do you remember most about your days at Amiga Power, knowing now that it had spawned one of the largest number of internet tribute sites and had outlived the format by some time?
The thing I remember most is probably the day Gary Penn ate catfood for a bet. You literally couldn’t stay in the room. But what sticks in my mind overall is how proud everyone was of what they were doing. When an issue came back from the printers we’d literally race through the building to get it, then sit around reading it and laughing at our own jokes. We were in the incredible position of being able to do exactly what we wanted, with basically no interference from publishers and no pressure to keep advertisers happy. And if you’ve got a bunch of creative young people together in those circumstances, it’s pretty hard NOT to make something that’s full of life and character that readers pick up on. When I hear about the horrendously restrictive conditions today’s mag teams work under, I don’t blame them so much for their magazines being so fucking awful.
Q11 – Would you agree that today’s magazines are not as good as they once were? What do you feel the reasons are going by your experiences?
See above. The arrival of the era of “Official” magazines was the death-knell for decent videogames journalism, and the funeral was the day the writing staff of Edge resigned en masse because of what their own publisher was trying to make them do. Nowadays reading Edge causes me physical pain, and almost all of the others are much worse than that. There were plenty of bad mags around in AP’s time too, but mostly they were at least bad for good reasons. Nowadays mag publishers like Future openly see themselves as part of the games industry, which is so sick and twisted and wrong that it makes me want to kill again.
Q12 – You will perhaps be best known for a certain eccentricity (hehe), is this what’s primarily lacking in video games today – a Rev to set things straight?
Well, I’m not dead yet… There are still talented and entertaining people writing about games, it’s just that they’re nearly all found on the internet rather than in magazines. But sadly I’m not sure there’s a significant demand for the sort of stuff we used to do back in those days, not just on AP but in mags like Superplay and Sega Zone and Mega. The mainstream gaming market nowadays (and by that I mean the self-styled “hardcore” gamer, so we’re clear) doesn’t trust the opinion of professional journalists any more – and I can’t really blame them for that – and they just want to read “news” sites (that are actually just extensions of game-publisher marketing departments), so that they can try to be first with opinions themselves. Gaming journalism (and other forms too, but I think games have suffered the worst) has been democratised by the internet, and as is always the case with democracy, the loudest voice is the voice of ignorant mediocrity.
Q13 – Ok on to games if I may? What was your motivation behind Cannon Fodder 2 and what were the qualities that you look to see implemented at the time and how were you able to work around the original? Was there a certain level of artistic license given to you?
My motivation with CF2 was to make a game as different and new as I could within the framework available, while fixing the problems with the first one (most particularly the messed-up difficulty curve – I never did get past Mission 8 in the original). I had total artistic licence as far as the level design went, but couldn’t add any new gameplay elements – it was really just a level pack – so I had to try to think of new ways to use what was already there. I was really happy with what I managed to achieve in that regard, particularly in terms of making it more of a thinking game. You could still play CF2 and beat it just by charging in all guns blazing, but you’d have a much easier time if you looked for the “proper” solution, and I designed it deliberately that way.
Q14 – Are there any changes to the game you would have made in hindsight?
As I’ve said before in my own CF2 retrospective, notwithstanding the previous comment I’d probably have ratcheted the overall difficulty down a notch. It’s a classic mistake for a first-time developer – you spend so much time testing the game you can do it in your sleep, and come to think it’s far too easy – and there are a couple of levels that are just TOO mean.
Q15 – How do you feel the dev scene here in the UK has changed compared to when you were working on SWOS?
I wouldn’t have a clue, to be honest. I can’t imagine that they’re at all similar – we were eight or nine guys largely left on our own to do what we wanted, much like it was at AP, and I don’t imagine coders can get away with rolling in half-cut at 4pm any more.
Q16 – As Kieran Gillen (another Future Publishing writer/editor – EDGE and PC Gamer) once said: “it’s this creativity in the face of technological adversity where Stuart’s most pleased.” How do you feel about this in today’s market? Is it harder for designers to implement what you aspire to in this day and age?
I’ve never seen that quote, but again, I wouldn’t really know. I assume not, as you rarely see games struggling with their frame rate or whatever now, as was a standard occurrence in the 90s. It seems to me, from an almost totally technically ignorant perspective, that today’s gaming platforms are capable of handling just about anything a designer can think of. I do love to see people remaking games to run on old 8-bit formats, though, and getting performance out of them that nobody would have dreamed of when those machines were current.
Q17 – What games do you play at the moment if any and what has been the best/your favourite game in recent times and why?
EDF! EDF! EDF! But apart from that, I barely play the same game two days running these days. I get up every morning and check the App Store to see what’s new today, and if there’s something good I’ll play it all day, then see what comes out tomorrow. Or I might lose an entire day to Squid Yes! Not So Octopus! on Xbox Live Arcade, or to foolishly booting up Geometry Wars 2 again, or Pixeljunk Racers, or if I’m REALLY stupid firing up Orbital or Bankshot on my iPod Touch. (The latter ought to be illegal – as soon as you make a mistake and miss a shot, it just carries on and automatically starts a new game for you without a moment’s pause, and the next thing you know it’s dark outside and you STILL haven’t called the fire brigade about that thing that’s happening in the kitchen.)
Q18 – What do you want people to remember most about you and what you offered to games players around the world?
I hereby officially withdraw any offers I may have made to games players around the world.
Q19 – How can people find out more about you?
There you have it the great Rev Stu Campbell has spoken. May I take this opportunity to thank you once again for your time!
*Picture courtesy of Stu’s WOS blog.