Retro In­ter­view: Jolyon My­ers

From the 8-bit era to Call Of Duty, we re­flect on the long and hugely suc­cess­ful ca­reer of this artist and de­signer

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

Vet­eran artist and de­signer Jolyon 'Joe' My­ers has been in the games in­dus­try from the days of the 8-bit com­put­ers, all the way up to his cur­rent role at In­fin­ity Ward, and cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ments for the Call Of Duty se­ries. He talks to games™ about the key mo­ments of his 30-year ca­reer

Were you artis­tic at school?

Art was def­i­nitely my favourite sub­ject at school. My teacher was very en­cour­ag­ing to me in my artis­tic en­deav­ours not only on pa­per, but also on the com­puter when I started us­ing my skills on the tech­nol­ogy of the time. I also liked his­tory, al­though I spent too much time on the draw­ings some­times re­quired in course­work! I also learned pi­ano up to grade three, and had an as­tute ear; I could fig­ure out other peo­ple’s tunes on the pi­ano and cre­ate my own. When I was even­tu­ally able to write mu­sic on a com­puter, I was re­ally able to get cre­ative and put all my ideas down rel­a­tively quickly.

Do you re­mem­ber your first ex­pe­ri­ences of videogames?

I re­mem­ber of­ten go­ing to Hayling Is­land and South­sea to go to the large ar­cades that are not so com­mon­place to­day, and be­ing wowed by what I con­sid­ered great graph­ics in early games such as Yie Ar Kung-fu. Mar­ble Mad­ness was a game I thought looked re­ally im­pres­sive too, and still has a nice but sim­ple style. As time went on, I re­ally loved a lot of Cap­com’s graph­ics, and also Irem’s art in In The Hunt.

What about at home?

The Oric-1 was my first com­puter, al­though I do re­mem­ber be­ing en­vi­ous of friends with more pop­u­lar com­put­ers such as the Spec­trum, even though at the time the Oric was more pow­er­ful. See­ing friends play­ing the games by Ul­ti­mate in par­tic­u­lar re­ally made me want to try do­ing graph­ics on a com­puter. Knight Lore and Alien 8 def­i­nitely caught my at­ten­tion.

How did your ca­reer be­gin?

After the Oric-1, my fa­ther bought the fam­ily a BBC Mi­cro Model B. Even­tu­ally I learned enough BA­SIC to write my own line draw­ing

pro­gram to sketch in the rough lay­out of the im­age be­fore I started zoom­ing in and adding de­tail. Once I had cre­ated a bunch of im­ages, I sent them to Su­pe­rior Soft­ware in Leeds, as they seemed to be one of the largest com­pa­nies pro­duc­ing games for the BBC Mi­cro. It seemed like an age be­fore they called me – it was only one week! – and I was asked to do the load­ing screen for a game called Syn­cron, which was like a ver­ti­cally scrolling ver­sion of Urid­ium. It wasn’t long after that I saw that load­ing screen in a re­view of the game along with a nice com­pli­ment, and at that point I knew I re­ally would like to do this for a liv­ing.

Was Do­mark your first job?

Ac­tu­ally, be­fore Do­mark I did some work ex­pe­ri­ence in the of­fice of Top Ten Soft­ware thanks to Dar­ryl Still. He very kindly

IT WAS A FAN­TAS­TIC EX­PE­RI­ENCE FOR ME AS IT WAS GREAT TO BE COL­LAB­O­RAT­ING WITH A TA­LENTED BUNCH OF FUN CHAR­AC­TERS

ar­ranged it as I had worked with him do­ing free­lance load­ing screens for Au­dio­genic pre­vi­ously. Not long after that, I made an an­i­mated car­toon-style movie se­quence with mu­sic as some­thing I could pos­si­bly get work from. I went to the ECTS com­puter show at Olympia in 1989, and at the Do­mark stand was able to show off my work di­rectly to John Ka­vanagh, who was run­ning the devel­op­ment of­fice of Do­mark in Ad­dle­stone, called The Krem­lin. Soon after I started there, and that was my full-time ca­reer.

What was it like work­ing at Do­mark?

It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence for me, as it was great to be col­lab­o­rat­ing with a ta­lented bunch of fun char­ac­ters. Not long after I joined, we had a Christ­mas party, and Do­minic and Mark [Wheat­ley and Stra­chan, Do­mark bosses] came down to Wey­bridge to eat and drink with every­one. They were ex­tremely like­able guys, they ap­pre­ci­ated my ef­forts and were very en­cour­ag­ing. Ian Liv­ing­stone was also my boss for a while, and also a great guy to work for, ob­vi­ously quite an icon as well.

After Do­mark you briefly worked at Arg­onaut in Lon­don be­fore King of the Jun­gle.

I had be­come pretty adept at 2D an­i­ma­tion, and re­ally wanted to trans­fer some of those skills into 3D. But I was only at Arg­onaut for three months be­fore I got a call from my friends Chris and Tony West, who I had worked with closely at Do­mark. They had re­cently com­pleted a re­ally cool game called Street Racer, and wanted to set up their own com­pany along with Raff Cecco and Stephane Koenig. I felt bad at leav­ing Arg­onaut after such a short time, but it was ex­cit­ing to start a com­pany with these peo­ple, and soon after I joined I got the ti­tle of cre­ative di­rec­tor. My first game for them was Agent Arm­strong for Vir­gin, a plat­form shoot-'em-up in­cor­po­rat­ing a blend of real-time semi-3d en­vi­ron­ments and pre­ren­dered sprites de­rived from more com­plex an­i­mated 3D mod­els. This was the first game where I had to learn 3D en­vi­ron­ment tools and the com­plex­i­ties of 3D an­i­ma­tion in 3D stu­dio. Raff had writ­ten a great en­gine that ran at 60 fps, so learn­ing how to limit my­self to make sure the game ran at that speed was in­valu­able knowl­edge that I still use to­day. I also did all the or­ches­tral mu­sic score on my Roland syn­the­sis­ers, and cre­ated all the FMV movie se­quences and sound to go with them. I spread my­self pretty thin on that game!

After Agent Arm­strong, what else did you work on at King of the Jun­gle?

I did a sim­i­lar spread of work with the same team on B-movie, and then Galaga: Des­ti­na­tion Earth (for Has­bro) and Grooverider, which was a slot car rac­ing game.

you moved on from Kotj in 2003 and ended up in the Us with Pan­demic. It was get­ting tougher and tougher to sell our ideas to pub­lish­ers or bid for work, and the golden years of Bri­tish devel­op­ment seemed to be wan­ing. My wife and I had two daugh­ters that we needed to pro­vide for, and it was a re­ally hard de­ci­sion to leave my friends Raff and Steph, who were the re­main­ing own­ers left at that time. I joined Blue 52 as one of the founders, Ja­son Perkins, I had worked with on B-movie while he was at GT In­ter­ac­tive. They had made a great com­pany, at the time over 250 peo­ple, and I had never worked in a stu­dio so large. But like many places, Blue 52’s work started to dry up as more and more Amer­i­can pub­lish­ers chose de­vel­op­ers from other, cheaper parts of the world, or on their own soil. It was then that I started to look at the States. It looked like there was a se­ri­ous op­por­tu­nity there, and al­though I had never com­pletely as­pired to work there, I re­ally liked the games that Pan­demic were mak­ing, cou­pled with the fact that my­self and my fam­ily could have an ad­ven­ture in sunny Cal­i­for­nia for a while!

At Pan­demic you worked on the un­der­rated Wwii game, The Sabo­teur.

I was part of over 100 peo­ple, so by far the largest team I’d worked with up un­til then. After a few months as se­nior artist, I did a talk at GDC about some old-school tricks I was cre­at­ing to make low poly­gon stuff look high res­o­lu­tion, in­clud­ing up­graded ver­sions of what I had done on the PS1 work­ing with Raff Cecco on B-movie, as that was a full 3D game run­ning at 60 fps. Once I did the talk, I was made lead artist and de­vel­oped a lot of the tricks we used to cre­ate props and en­vi­ron­ments for the world. Work­ing on such a large open world, re­search­ing all the spa­ces, build­ing them and fill­ing them all with game­play was a huge un­der­tak­ing, but a re­ally re­ward­ing one. It’s the only game I’ve worked on where it was so large, you didn’t know what the de­sign team had added game­play-wise in cer­tain ar­eas un­til you hap­pened upon it. The Sabo­teur was prob­a­bly one of the most fun games I have had the priv­i­lege to make, with a lovely bunch of ta­lented peo­ple.

After a short stint at elec­tronic Arts, you be­gan at your cur­rent work­place, in­fin­ity Ward, in 2011. Did you con­tinue to use your ‘old-school knowl­edge’?

Yep! On Call Of Duty: Mod­ern War­fare 3, I used it to pull off a Paris level that had you way up in the air in an AC130 plane, show­ing huge vis­tas, while still be­ing able to slam down and have game­play on the ground in the same en­vi­ron­ment. Then for COD: Ghosts, I cre­ated an un­der­wa­ter level that the game was re­vealed with on a huge 180-de­gree screen at E3. With In­fi­nite War­fare, I worked closely with Dan

Sav­age and the ve­hi­cle team to pull off huge de­tailed space­ships, which like my old PS2 games, had to run at 60 fps. I loved the chal­lenge of this game, to try and make a fu­tur­is­tic game as real-world re­lat­able as pos­si­ble, and I cre­ated many mod­els and an­i­mated se­quences to prove what we could do dur­ing the pre-pro­duc­tion phase.

it must seem an in­cred­i­bly dif­fer­ent world to­day – from de­sign­ing lev­els within 48k on the ZX spec­trum to in­cred­i­bly de­tailed and re­al­is­tic worlds on mod­ern con­soles. Do you ever look back and think about that?

I think about the past all the time, as I’m pas­sion­ate about my roots in the in­dus­try,

I’ve been in it so long. I will say I love the fact I’m still us­ing tricks I de­vel­oped and learned on ma­chines 20 or more years ago, and that the games I make to­day still ben­e­fit from them.

Look­ing back at your long ca­reer, what do you con­sider your favourite time work­ing in the games in­dus­try?

My eight years with Raff, Steph and the gang at KOTJ were re­ally fun and hard work. I was young and will­ing to work all night and week­ends, and do a spread of work. It was a time where I could get away with do­ing tons of art, video and mu­sic for a project, which is some­thing that’s not phys­i­cally pos­si­ble for one guy to do on the large scale of games to­day. There was no pe­riod from my teenage years at Do­mark through to Pan­demic and In­fin­ity Ward that I didn’t re­ally en­joy. There were dif­fi­cult times, but also so many great mem­o­ries and learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

Fi­nally, as you are still in the in­dus­try to­day, do you have any ca­reer ad­vice for read­ers want­ing to make their start?

I would say not to com­pletely pi­geon-hole your­self into just one slot if you are ca­pa­ble of more. Re­gard­less of your ac­tual ti­tle, try and use your other skills to prove new ideas or im­prove ones that ex­ist al­ready. My role at In­fin­ity Ward is a de­sign one, yet I con­stantly use my knowl­edge of art and sound/mu­sic to help me in my job. For me, it’s made a pretty long ca­reer con­stantly in­ter­est­ing and en­joy­able.

I WILL SAY I LOVE THE FACT I’M STILL US­ING TRICKS I DE­VEL­OPED AND LEARNED ON MA­CHINES 20 OR MORE YEARS AGO

My­ers’ car­toon-like work on Agent Arm­strong helped give the Playsta­tion game its al­ter­na­tive look.

My­ers con­tin­ues to work at In­fin­ity ward on the Call Of Duty se­ries

A se­lec­tion of still art from the Playsta­tion game, Agent Arm­strong.

Part of My­ers’ work on the aban­doned Dead­light (no re­la­tion to the Deep Sil­ver game) was this odd-look­ing mon­ster.

King Of the Jun­gle’s B-movie was a de­cent-sized hit for the stu­dio.

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