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Oct 18

Monster Floating Heads of Doom!

Russell Doom Head

There’s a story behind that image. Of course there is; there’s a story behind every image. This particular set of gurning bitmaps I only ever saw once – and that particular fragment of the DMA story began in 1990 when I made a visit to the office in Meadowside. The original proper office had already become too small and we’d moved into this larger one. Amongst the original DMA people, Meadowside would ultimately become known as the Old Office, as distinct from the Perth Road office where Lemmings had been created. That would become the Old old office. And by ‘proper’ office, I mean anything which came after the very first office in the shape of Russell’s bedroom. (Dave’s bedroom, on the other hand, was merely DMA’s international headquarters.)

At the time I had yet to become a full-time employee, instead doing freelance graphics for Dave for more money in less time than I had even seen in my life. Turning up one day with my latest progress in what was likely to have been gfx for the PC Engine conversion of Ballistix, I happened to have arrived at the same time as Scott Johnston. Scott was the designer/programmer behind the Amiga game Hired Guns and was demonstrating an early version in Dave’s (real) office.

Brian Doom Head

Most of the gameplay remained to be done in the future, but for the moment it was possible for the player to run around in a dungeon-like environment. I’m not certain whether it was called Hired Guns at that stage; in the very beginning it was a project known as 3DGame and had been on the go since the Old Old Office. HG had graphics for the dungeon walls, but little else. The unique selling point of this Dungeon Master inspired game was the ability to control more than one character – four in fact – and though ultimately there would be a pool of twelve characters to choose from, they were yet to be brought into existence.

For the moment, only temporary character graphics were in play and those were the giant floating heads. Scott had digitized some of the other DMA staff. Russell, Gary and Biscuit – in disembodied head form – were now chasing each other around a 3D maze. With two joystick ports, the Amiga allowed HG to have two players at once and even this was increased later on, via a player on keyboard.

 

Seeing yourself in a game, clearly, was fun! We take the customisability of games for granted now, but Hired Guns would had a rudimentary stab at allowing the player to insert themselves into the action. Sure, they had to be adept at using DPaint, and with enough technical ability use the supplied conversion program, but it was possible.

Gary Doom Head

A few years later in 1998, Scott no longer had an Amiga in his possession and all that remained of the Hired Guns project was a single 170MB Hard Disk. Since I still had, and have, the Amiga 1200 I’d bought through DMA at a discounted developer’s price, I offered to make a backup of the files. Now since I love hardware but am mostly inept with it, the transfer of the files didn’t occur by an entirely sensible route.

Scott posted the drive to me and I connected it to the Amiga. That is, I connected it via a cable I’d handmade to bridge the gap between the Amiga’s 2.5in connector and the drive’s 3.5 in one; a handmade cable constructed by splicing a 2.5in and a 3.5 in cable together using a wiring diagram I’d found online, cellotape and a pair of nailclippers. Astoundingly, it worked and was able to save off a complete archive of Hired Guns from which these images were extracted. Interestingly, the source code and graphics include an unfinished version of what was to be an enhanced CD32/AGA version.

But that’s another story.

Thanks to Russell Kay for suggesting this post.