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Posted by drew10 on Oct 12, 2007
Interview With Durell Games Chief, Mike Richardson

Interview With Durell Games Chief, Mike Richardson

With the news that Harrier Attack II is out on the PC, I caught up with chief wmike.jpgriter Mike Richardson, who now has the dubious honour of being the first person interviewed on Game4Anything. The author of some of my favourite 8&16 bit titles from the 80’s has recently set up Durell Games from the ashes of Durell Software and has agreed to take the time to speak to me about the past, present and future.




Drew: Mike thanks for taking time out to speak to me, what have been up to for the last twenty years?

Mike: When Durell Software ceased developing games in 1989 (I think) I did a little work for Elite, just to finish the game I was working on, ‘Spitfire’. Then things got a little difficult for me and I found it pleasantest and easiest to work for Durell Software again, on their database system for Insurance brokers. After doing that for a few years I was getting a bit bored and was ‘head-hunted’ by Nick Wilson (who also used to write games for Durell Software). He cheekily came into the Durell office one day and offered me a job. We worked first on porting ‘Space Hulk’ (the PC version of the Games Workshop board game) which Nick had already written in 16-bit assembler, to 32-bit, for Electronic Arts. Then we did a new version of Space Hulk, ‘Vengeance of the Blood Angels’ first for the 3DO console and then PC. Electronic Arts then ditched us, but we were signed up by Eidos to do two games, one a progression from Space Hulk without a Games Workshop licence, and the other was a new version of Saboteur. Both titles were eventually abandoned by Eidos before completion. Then I got a job at Runecraft and did a few titles there; ‘Barbie Explorer’, ‘Pajama Sam III’ and ‘Butt Ugly Martians – Zoom or Doom’. Runecraft then went belly up, but some of the remnants, including me, were taken on by the BBC, forming their Gamezlab studio to do the ‘Fightbox’ game and TV program. Gamezlab continued and was working on a game derived from the ‘Spooks’ BBC drama, but after a while that project was dropped and the studio closed, which was when I started work on Harrier Attack II.

Drew: So you left games for a while, what made you decide to come back to writing games?

Mike: Well, I never really left for long. I enjoy the freedom and creativity of writing games.

Drew: People from my generation are bound to remember fondly Durell Software, is that why you were keen to keep the Durell name when starting Durell Games?

Mike: Yes. I remember it fondly too, and in an attempt to put a business hat on, I thought it might give me a little head start, as some people may recognise the name.

Drew: The original Harrier Attack is a personal favourite of mine. What, specifically, made you choose to do Harrier Attack II over your other games?

Mike: Firstly Robert White (of Durell Software) suggested it, although only fleetingly, and I usually do what I’m told. Secondly, again trying to be a business person, it was a popular game in its time, and I thought the name may get recognised. The original does hold some fond memories for me, mainly because it was so popular and really got Durell Software started. Although I am often credited with creating it, the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad versions that I produced were almost entirely based on the Oric version, written by Ron Jeffs.

Drew: Do you have any plans to adapt Harrier Attack II for any of the consoles online like Xbox live?

Mike: I would like to do console versions; I’d rather be working on consoles than PC to be honest. I would need some backing from a bigger publisher though, it is something I need to look into.

Drew: Are there any other of your classic franchises that you would like to revisit, personally I would love an update of Lotus Esprit any chance of this?

Mike: I would quite like to do new versions of Thanatos and Scuba Dive, I like the big bright animals. The trouble with Turbo Esprit is that these days it would probably need a licence from Lotus. The Harrier licence I got from BAE Systems for Harrier Attack II took quite a bit of effort, and leaves you with a few restrictions. A licensed game is never entirely your own product. I could do it with a different title of course, but that would take a lot of the point away for me. Also, to do it justice, a new version of Turbo Esprit would take more resources than we currently have.

Drew: What are the plans for the future? Are there any new Durell games in the pipeline and if so for what formats?

Mike: My next project is SlapTrak, a car racing game, but one like I’ve never seen before. I don’t want to give too much away at the moment, but there are clues in the title. Initially it will be for PC download, like Harrier Attack II.

Drew: Finally, is there anything you can tell me about Harrier Attack II that you haven’t told anybody else yet?

Mike: Originally I had planned to make Harrier Attack II a multi-player game, and in the early stages did have two Harriers flying, controlled from different machines. I thought it would be really cool to be dog-fighting against a human opponent using Harrier Attack II’s key-code command system. It was to be very similar to a fighting game like Tekken, but with planes instead of characters. Unfortunately, I had to give up on that fairly early on when I realised how much extra effort it was going to take. Not only is there the extra networking, tracking and prediction programming to do, but it also requires a special set of multi-player missions. When I started out I had planned to spend about six to nine months on the game. Ultimately it took me three years, and that’s without the multi-player stuff.

In the spirit of returning to the Durell way of doing things, I didn’t write a design document for Harrier Attack II and made decisions about what was going into the game pretty much on the fly. Hence the badly predicted length of the development period. When I wrote a game in the old days, I would just keep going until the memory was full. That doesn’t really work with a modern PC. I won’t be doing that again! It’s proper design docs and schedules for me from now on.

Drew: Mike, I hope Harrier Attack II does really well and we see lots of cool stuff coming from Durell Games in the future.

Mike: Thanks.

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7 Responses to “Interview With Durell Games Chief, Mike Richardson”

  1. NM says:

    Welcome back Mike Richardson. Good luck on your new games. You are one of my favourite ZX Spectrum programmers of all time!
    Harrier Attack, Scuba, Turbo Esprit, Thanatos, Jungle Trouble, need to say more?! 🙂

  2. anthony says:

    Hi, nice article on Harrier Attack 2, I’d like to buy this game and have searched the net high and low but to no avail, just a demo version available. Anybody know where I can get the game? It seems very odd to just dissappear after only 3 years of launch considering the original is still available for download!?? any leads appreciated. A.

  3. “Lotus Esprit”? 😉

    Did Mike design Turbo Esprit then? I’d say DMA Design own him a favour.

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