|★ GAMES ★ EDITEURS ★ TIGRESS DESIGNS : EYE OF THE TIGRESS|Popular Computing Weekly) ★|
|Tigress Designs : Eye of the Tigress||Tigress Designs|
Plotting to kill Martin Croft exposes the operation of the 007 games ' creators, Tigress.
There was a time when computer games really were written by teenagers, who came up with wacky ideas, worked out by trial and error just how to implement them, and then programmed the whole thing themselves - usually in the gaps between various sets of exams.
More often than not, they would also set up companies with really strange names, publish the games themselves, and go quietly bust.
Those days are over. Now specialisation is the name of the game. One set of people designs the games, another does the programming, yet another the marketing - and a completely different set rakes in the money.
One of the best examples of this new type of product is the latest Domark game. View to a Kill Domark are publishing it, a company called Softstone did the programming, the game design was by Tigress Marketing, who produced a storyboard based on the script of a film featuring a character who was originally created over 30 years ago.
Tigress Marketing used to be in marketing - no surprise there. But now they specialise almost full time on writing game scenarios for people who can't write their own.
Tigress is really three people - Beth Wooding, David Bishop and Chris Palmer. Listening to them, you get the impression that the most important thing about a game is the design of what happens in it - the story, if you like.
The rules, the permissible actions, the victory conditions, the penalties all take precedence over the mechanics of programming.
As Chris put it, "we do the storyboarding to a level where we can give it to a ‘dumb' programmer - technically brilliant, but no creative thought."
“Software houses,'' Beth chipped in, "got their fingers burnt because they were trying to do too much - often they had programmers who just couldn't write games."
View to a Kill started life back at the tail end of 1984. Domark. with whom Tigress had worked in a marketing function on Eureka, asked them to prepare an initial treatment for a game based on the latest Bond movie.
"Domark had contacts into the company running the rights for Bond," Beth recalled. "We had to do a lot of work producing the storyboard to convince the people at Pinewood to give Domark the rights."
"Pinewood weTe reticent at first, but the storyboard impressed them - though they didn't know what the computer game was all about.
"I think the thing which clinched it for us was that we weren't just using James Bond to sell something which wouldn't sell otherwise," said Beth pretty convincingly.
“We took quite a gamble," Beth continued, “that's the thing about storyboards. there's nothing before it. We have to take all the risks.”
Tigress started risking all on the project last October - "Pinewood didn't even have a film!" Chris wryly observed.
"A lot of the game was written on the back of the film storyboard," he said. "The script wasn't much help - it's only when you read a Bond movie script that you realise just how little dialogue there is in it."
Dialogue may be sparse in a Bond film - the finer nuances of human emotion are left to Roger Moore's eyebrows - but you can be sure of plenty of action sequences. Tigress identified six which they felt had potential to be turned into computer games.
Of the six, only three are to be found in the final package. These are Paris Chase, City Hall and The Mine. The ones which didn't make it were a ski run game, with Bond simultaneously taking on a downhill slalom and enemy agents, a horse race game, ditto but the Grand National, and a fire engine game, in which 007 steals a fire engine and, for a change, outwits the police.
The main reason for only half the proposals seeing the light of day seems to have been time. From the first idea to producing the final product took about six months - fairly speedy for three games, an intro and an outro, on both Spectrum and Commodore - ten separate programs in all.
Having identified potential games. Tigress then prepared ‘treatments' of each of the six. These treatments all on paper rather than screen - included basic screen designs, what players would have to do and how they could achieve these objectives.
“We put in the game play first, then we add the nice touches that the computer can produce," said Chris.
"Previously, games were written by programmers - they'd find a new utility, and then write a game around it. More often than not, you load up a game and it has great scrolling or great sprites - but that's it. Our job was to make sure the whole thing works as a game."
"Then we go to the programmers and say we want a map so big, with eight levels of animation on the sprites, five levels of depth - that sort of thing.”
Having handed over the final design treatment to the programming team,
Softstone, Tigress' involvement didn't end there.
"I hate to think." said Beth, "how much time we've spent journeying to Camden." It's a long way from Putney.
"At the start of the project, we didn't have a programming house, so we couldn't get their input. Softstone only got involved later on." That meant they were forced to make some assumptions which later caused problems. For example, in the Paris Chase game, Bond has to manouevre his car through the streets of Paris.
"We wanted a fairly accurate representation of Paris on the on-screen aerial view - but when the programmers had a look at it, they said no way. They couldn't do smooth scrolling and diagonal streets at the same time."
Another restriction facing the design team was that James Bond could never be killed.
After all, as everybody must know by now, 007 is indestructible. No matter how serious the situation he may find himself in, he always escapes.
That meant standard arcade punishments like the loss of a life were ruled out from the start. As a result, Tigress incorporated the daze factor - when the player does something wrong, Bond suffers a time penalty. If Bond fails to save the world (unthinkable!) before time runs out. he gets another chance. It's only a game.
Rather neatly, the time factor is included in the code the player gets after completing each game - load the code from game one mto game two, and the program knows just how much time Bond has left in which to save the world. The better a player does on the first two games, the more time 007 can spend in the silver mine in game three.
View to a Kill - the finished game - is very much a product packaging operation. something Domark excels at. It would be uncharitable to blame Tigress for the games' limitations - they had a job to do and they did it.
They are, however, working on other projects, some of which appear as constrained as the Bond game. Others, however, seem to offer a designer more scope - many of these are game ideas which one or other of the Tigress team has just suddenly come up with.
Most of them were top secret, since they involve complicated licensing deals - however interested in imagination Beth, David and Chris might be, they understand the advantages of product recognition.
Currently, they are working on a design for a game based on the BBC TV series Yes, Minister.
It will be a largely text adventure, requiring strategic decisions from the player. The objective, in best Civil Service tradition, is to ensure that absolutely nothing is achieved.
Mosaic is to publish the Yes, Minister game, while the programming is to be by the Ram-Jam Corporation, better known for their text and graphic adventure Valkyrie 17 - hardly dumb programmers.
Tigress has also submitted a design for a Duran Duran game, or rather a series of games one for each of the band, appropriate to his instrument. That however is still up in the air -"We're waiting for their manager to get back to us," said Beth.
Explaining to the band how their music is going to sound on the Spectrum will be an interesting marketing exercise.
Popular Computing Weekly (1985)