Lemmings Post-Mortem

Mike Dailly’s talk at GDC in San Francisco, March 2019, where he talks about the development of Lemmings. I’m in the audience, giggling along with other ex-DMA staff. Many apologies to the guy sitting in front of us for making a noise. (But when Mike put up a picture of us, how could we not react just a little?)

Mike shares a laugh with the audience.
Mike shares a laugh with the audience

The official full-length video of the experience — just a little less than an hour — is over at the GDC site here: https://www.gdcvault.com/play/1025747/Classic-Game-Postmortem-Lemmings

GDC 2019

I will be going to GDC 2019 in a week’s time, in a development I still find quite surprising. Mike Dailly will be giving an hour long talk deconstructing Lemmings*, and has spent the previous month agonizing (I assume) over writing the content. He tells me this will be his biggest audience ever and, in part because I just turned 50 and to consider this a birthday gift, he wanted me to be there too. It’ll be a fascinating hour and you should definitely make time to come along.

If you fancy catching up with me, I’m sure I can talk about Hired Guns for a few hours.

*Wednesday 20th March 2019, from 5pm to 6pm.

Babbling On

In advance of Play Expo in Feb, I appeared on The Retro Hour podcast, which you can listen to at that link.

Play Expo Blackpool

I’ll be on stage at Play Expo Blackpool sometime on the 10th being interviewed by The Retro Hour Podcast guys! There I’m going to talk about what it was like to be part of DMA from the earliest days, about some lesser-known games and some personal highlights. At least that’s the theory. Content may vary depending on what stupid thought occurs to me on the day.

GTA Begins!

It’s been 20 years since the release of the original Grand Theft Auto.

Theoretically I’m currently writing a “complete” history of DMA Design, a task which gets trickier as the timeline progresses. More and more I wasn’t physically present, because how could I be in two buildings at once? But I wrote the internal newsletter at the time, in between my games-related work. And re-reading them has proved to be intriguing.

So I ought to know how GTA came about, twenty years since Dave Jones in a moment of sublime creation declared “Let there be Grand Theft Auto.” Well, it wasn’t quite like that of course. Most people who have an interest in these things know that originally there was a game called Race ’n’ Chase. However in my files — which are whatever I managed to take with me when I left — there is a newsletter item from February 1995. We were trying to get into the PC market for the simple reason that developing for the PC didn’t require a vast amount of approval like, for example, the Playstation did.

The item read, in full:

Late news: the new PC project had its first meeting early on Monday morning. The purpose of this informal get together was to slap some ideas on the table and hope that some of them stuck. As it turned out, the result was inconclusive, therefore more meetings are planned.”

That meeting, dated 23rd January 1995, is where GTA began. Inauspicious. Low-key. Dull, even. So who had the idea for GTA? Was it Dave Jones? I wasn’t in the meeting and any recorded details are currently unknown to me. But here’s what I do know. Ideas aren’t created in a vacuum, and whilst I’ve seen games such as Miami Vice, Elite, Turbo Esprit credited for being an inspiration, I’m not so sure about that. I do have a lot of other information not available on the internet.

So here’s the best lineage, of sorts, that I’ve pieced together.

DMA’s 2nd game, 1989’s Blood Money, featured an enemy character — a two-legged fighting machine in the manner of Robocop’s ED-209, which became the lead character in another game, Walker. Walker was released and enjoyed modest success.

What you probably don’t know is that a sequel to Walker was planned, getting as far as early development. Called Atomic Battle System, the project grew in scope faster than our capability of implementing it. Eventually it fell over and was canned.
Now the team still existed, so what could they do to avoid sitting idle? It was descided that they were to be used for another, simpler, project which could be completed in only six months. Ideas started to be passed to the Design Department.

The eventual winner, a top-down-view racing game concept we called 4×4, was first mooted in October 1993. Car games were not a new idea for DMA even then. We had created a car racing game in 1990 for the ITV Telethon that year, Super Offroad Hot Turbo Buggy Simulator. 4×4, it turned out, had existed as a previous concept but in a plan view instead. That game concept also involved racing as many different kinds of vehicle as possible. (An idea which then turned up, sans the racing part, in Body Harvest, but that’s another story.)

In the newsletter I listed some of the suggestions for replacing the doomed Atomic Battle System. Intriguingly, one in a sidebar of the October 1993 issue was for a “Drug Dealer and Joyride Game”. Unfortunately I didn’t list who had suggested it.

Damn. That might have been a scoop!

Now none of this is conclusive, but it is definitely suggestive. Car racing games had been in the air for years, and Dave Jones was a diehard car nut. Along with the technology demo Legovision created by Mike Dailly, these formed the basis of what was to become GTA. From this point onwards the story of GTA’s creation becomes more familiar. Race ’n’ Chase was a cops ’n’ robbers game until playing the robbers proved to be more fun.

Currently my history of DMA has involved writing down my memories. Now I’m slowly going through all the paperwork and placing events on a timeline, writing down facts and having my memories jogged. Once that’s done, it’ll time to talk to people and get their memories.

Like perhaps someone out there has the minutes of that meeting…

Update: Some typos corrected.

Where Does the Time Go?

So it’s been over a year since the last post. Well it’s been a busy year, but possibly the most relevant part is that I’ve been helping CNN out with a documentary. It’s a series of short pieces about games history and one of them — of course — is about DMA Design. Specifically the 20th anniversary of the release of Grand Theft Auto in October 1997.
A handful of us were interviewed over the course of a week back in May this year.

So for my interview we were on top of Dundee Law — the extinct volcano in the heart of Dundee — in bright sunshine. I talked for most of an hour and managed to get sunburn in Scotland. Not only that I somehow managed to become the default presenter for the day. That morning, as they drove me around, I pointed out parts of local history and the buildings where DMA made their games. All the while they filmed me.
It’s quite an experience being on one side of the road, seemingly talking to myself, when the camera was on the other side.

Oh No!

I’ve been quiet lately. Not as many updates to the site as I’ve hoped. The reason for that, however, is that I’ve been busy writing a book: Oh No! The History of DMA Design. It’s still in the rough first draft stage, it won’t be finished anytime soon. But it’ll be as comprehensive a history as it’s possible to be. Lemmings to GTA of course, but all the way back to the first days when we met at the KIngsway Amateur Computer Club in 1983.

A Short Video History of DMA Design

Please find enclosed a short history of DMA Design, courtesy of Nostalgia Nerd who put together the video. And which I complained about for not crediting anybody for some of the content. And which I then got my ass handed to me because the list of credits is extensive*. Just not in the video itself.

There are clips from the DMA Office tour which I filmed in 1992, gave a copy to Mike Dailly who promptly uploaded it (and the Christmas Meal video) to YouTube. Last laugh’s on him though, because I still have the video of the DMA pudding eating competition and that time we filled Dave’s Jones office with empty coke cans and biscuit wrappers.

*I hadn’t woken up properly, OK?

Lemmings Tribes Pins

Egyptian Lemming Pin

Egyptian Lemming Pin

What amazing things I can find when rummaging around in the attic. I thought I had found all the DMA memorabilia, in boxes and scattered around everywhere, but apparently (and fortunately!) not. They were created, I believe, as promotional items for Lemmings 2: The Tribes. Of course there were twelve tribes in total and I’ve only found three pins. With any luck I have a complete set kicking about someplace. Now I just have to find them!

Space Lemming Pin

Space Lemming Pin

Beach Lemming Pin

Beach Lemming Pin

Newly Appeared Lemmings Graffiti

Graffiti of a Lemmings Level

Graffiti of a Lemmings level in Dundee

Sometime in the last week someone has taken the effort to paint an entire Lemmings level on a wall in Dundee, which as you know is the spiritual and literal and physical home of Lemmings.

As is usual for this kind of thing, no-one knows who the artist is. And if they do then they aren’t talking.

Thanks to David Paterson for bringing my attention to this and supplying the picture. He tells me there’s other worthwhile art there too.