|★ AMSTRAD CPC ★ SOFTOGRAPHIE ★ TERRY GREER ★|
|Terry Greer||Games - Auteurs|
In graphic detail
Jane Leigh talks to computer graphics artist extraordinaire Terry Greer
It's rare for reviews to mention the backroom boys of computer games, but in recent months one name has been cropping up with some regularity -that of Terry Greer, an Exeter-based computer graphics artist. So far he has worked mainly for Interceptor Micros on their adventures series - including Heroes of Karn and Forest at World's End.
These two programs established Terry Greer as one of the most important graphics talents currently working in the entertainment software field. When the programs first appeared the quality of the illustrations - particularly important for an adventure - took most people by surprise. Nothing of their level of detail had been seen before on either the Spectrum or Amstrad. Terry never received any formal art training but has been drawing for much of his 29 years and has produced cartoons, posters and both cassette and record covers before turning to computer art.
It is obviously essential that the graphics displays are developed in conjunction with the game they are to illustrate, both being created at the same time. This involves close co-operation with the game designer, usually Dave Banner the author/programmer for most of the games Terry's worked on. "Dave provides me with all details of the game plot - how it should develop, what happens if, etc - and generally tells me the complete story, a more complete picture in fact than if I just played through the game.
"He gives me a map of 60 or more game locations and I then choose between 10 and 15 to illustrate, with special instructions of any specific details he requires. I aim to concentrate on just doing a few illustrations in great detail to give some atmosphere to the adventure. "Getting a strong feel of the environment is important to grab the player's interest. I don't think illustrations can add much to the plot. Their role, instead, is to help build an image up of the game environment in the mind of the player. And you don't need many illustrations to do that - it's quality rather than number that counts."
The development of a picture using the Grafpad
Pencil and paper play a very small part in the development of the pictures. "I find paperwork incompatible with graphics simply because I have to work within each computer's limitations - the Spectrum's attribute limit of only two colours in any eight by eight pixel square, for example. It's a lot easier to work on the actual machine than on paper. "So I prefer to do any rough work in my head and on the Spectrum, whichever machine it's for, and then start to polish it from the rough.
As for the ideas . . . "You've just got to come up with them. You need a feeling for what you're doing and the rest is down to patience and trial and error.
There are no short cuts to good graphics - people may see them on screen and think they only take 30 minutes or so because they load quickly but nothing could be further from the truth." The Amstrad and Spectrum graphics require completely different approaches. On the Spectrum the pictures are actually drawn using a Grafpad, each one taking 10 hours or more to do, and the code is then compressed to save space. On the Amstrad Terry, with the help from Dave Banner, is developing his own graphics language rather than using a straight screen compression routine. "It suits my style - with detail, texture, shade, etc - and means I can get more pictures into the available space while making use of the Amstrad's colour switching and window facilities.
"I particularly like the facility for drawing off-screen and changing the graphics window, so you can produce the impression that the picture is overflowing out of the screen, overlapping the border." Compared to the Spectrum the system is totally different and takes longer - the graphics for Heroes of Khan took about four weeks overall. "I draw all the elements - plants, rocks, etc - as individual units and then add them to the background by first using a matt image to wipe out the detail then printing over this, building up the picture from the back to the foreground.
"It's a bit like cinema animation, using a number of overlays to develop a picture, and it's proved very versatile, albeit time consuming."
Once Terry's happy with his pictures he sends them to Dave who incorporates them into the game. Both have Spectrum modems so the graphics go along the phone lines from Exeter to Basingstoke -it's reasonably cheap, it ensures the material arrives in a fit state and means it can be tested out within minutes of being sent.
With Amstrad graphics Terry simply converts them to the Spectrum format to send and Dave then reconverts them for the Amstrad. On the Commodore Terry works to the same format as on the Spectrum, drawing the pictures on the Koala Pad, saving them to disc and sending them off to be added to the game. He has done several screen loading pictures and recently finished his first set of graphics for the Commodore version of The Jewels of Babylon - completing his hat-trick of versions of Jewels for three machines -duplicating the Amstrad and Spectrum pictures and adding a few more into the extra memory available.
He has tried a variety of hardware to input his graphics including joysticks, trackballs, and graphics tablets (elec tronic and pressure-sensitive). Which does he prefer?
"I get on best with the electronic tablet (I use a Grafpad for Amstrad and Spectrum work). It beats the pressure-sensi-tive Commodore Koala Pad, chiefly because I find it much more accurate." Of all the machines he uses he prefers the Amstrad for graphics because of its memory capacity and some useful graphics modes. But he's always ready to try any new system and is particularly interested in the potential of any of the new 68000 chip range - the QL, Macintosh, and the Atari ST.
Right now he is finishing work on the next Interceptor adventure Warlord.
And what of the future? "The age of cassette-based software is coming to an end, with disc-based programs waiting to take over. Disc software offers tremendous possibilities for graphics with so much more memory to play with."
Terry stresses that graphics are not put in at the expense of the adventure, but to complement it. "I like to feel I'm playing a creative role in adding the atmosphere to the game." Judging by the reviews to date he's achieved that very nicely so far.
The Broch - Terry and Dave researched ancient British fortifications to make this as accurate a representation as possible. The development of a picture using the Grafpad - Terry works close-up to add detail to a space ship, one of three in the final picture.