Jon Hare comes from a bygone era when videogames weren't bloated multi-million dollar projects that had to tick boxes to ensure they repay an anxious publishers' dollars. Creativity, he would argue, was never better than before 1994. Soon, however, it could be. Take a bow, the App Store.
Hare hopes his Tower Studios can pour old-school design through a modern-day funnel and relive the glory days of Sensible Software. Through a close relationship with Sensible IP holder Codemasters and best friend The Bitmap Brothers, Hare has a wide array of golden oldies he can recreate, although he's equally passionate about introducing a bundle of original game ideas he's been sitting on for years.
After Shoot to Kill, Hare's second iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch venture is Speedball 2: Evolution, due this month. But what about Cannon Fodder, Sensible Soccer, Mega-Lo-Mania? And what are his new games? Eurogamer invited him for a cosy February chat to find out.
Eurogamer: I was trying to think of someone in the world of videogames today that represents what you were to the games industry back in those Sensible days. I came up with Cliff Bleszinksi.
Jon Hare: Who's Cliff Bleszinski? No, I don't know who he is.
Eurogamer: He works for Epic Games. He's creative director of Gears of War. And he looks a bit like he should be in a boy band. He goes on talk shows.
Jon Hare: Oh does he really? Good for him! I'm glad that they're taking someone on board who's making good quality games and treating him actually as someone who matters.
I've not played Gears of War. All I ever play is Angry Birds and Scrabble on my iPhone. That's it.
Eurogamer: When you look at today's videogame industry, what's the biggest problem you see?
Jon Hare: The number one problem is that the industry has forgotten how to seed and generate new games IP. We used to be really, really good at it. The [industry] is awash with unnecessary middle-management, none of whom are interested in new games IP. That's why we've got such a stagnant pool of games.
Making games, from a publishing perspective, should be about educated gambling; you've got to take a risk or you won't get anywhere. All I see at the moment is people not taking risks at all. Doesn't mean you have to lose money; means you have to be smart, reduce your wage bill so you can survive longer. Don't have this huge machine you've got to feed even though half the people you don't really need and the product you're putting out is banal crap people have seen for the last six years. What's the point? Half the products we blatantly don't need.
The appetite isn't strong enough from the consumer. The consumer will buy stuff whatever. I was talking to my friend today; you look at first-person shooters, barring graphical enhancement and the ability to talk to people and work in groups (which is great), we haven't had clear innovation in 20 years! It's like... It's boring. If I look back at the old games I used to make at Sensible - every one was a bloody original game, well 90 per cent of them were. And they were genre-defining in their own way. And no one batted an eyelid.
Suddenly, in 1994, someone decided you couldn't make original games any more - all the genres had been made. That's bullsh**! If I look at the games I made that didn't come out - Sex 'n Drugs n' Rock n' Roll, CCTV, this word game - they're original games. It's really easy to make them. That's not the problem - the problem is getting someone to back you to actually put it out in the market...
This Cliff Bleszinksi - the reason people are interviewing him is no doubt because he's a guy who's made things happen. There are too few people in the industry like it. There's a whole younger generation of people, in general, who don't understand the value of origination as opposed to emulation. It's amazingly creatively dis-empowering to be smothered by sequels.
With iPhone and iPad we now have a chance to make games with relatively low budgets, but not the awfully sh***y low budgets mobile have been working in up 'till now. Speedball [2: Evolution] is a quality game, it's not about a low budget at all.
Eurogamer: What did it cost to make Speedball 2: Evolution?
Jon Hare: It's hard to evaluate. Let's forget licence fees and stick to development. It would be somewhere in the region of £120,000. And that's a lot higher than most people spend on these games.
It happens to be a retro licence, but it looks like a very new, fresh game. I don't really want it to get stuck purely as a retro game, because if you look at what FIFA is - FIFA is just a conversion of a retro game, it's just in its nth iteration. If you look at what most first-person shooters are nowadays, they're just conversions of old games with new labels on them.
It's called Speedball 2: Evolution because it is an evolution of Speedball. It's not just simply a port. This is made from scratch with access to the source code by the Bitmaps, under my direction, so you'll see lots of elements of Sensible Soccer in the game: the competitions you've got, the underlying engine bits...
For now we're releasing it on iPhone and iPad and iPod Touch, and then we're developing it on PlayStation minis and we're looking at Android and Samsung Bada and Steam and Mac and Windows Phone 7. All these things are open. We take it platform by platform.
Eurogamer: Will we ever see a Speedball 3?
Jon Hare: I don't own the rights to Speedball. The rights to Speedball are owned by The Bitmap Brothers, which is Mike Montgomer's company. However, Mike and I are extremely close friends. I work with Mike representing and pushing out those Bitmap brands into the market. Yes there's every chance that if this is successful you'll see Speedball 3. Ultimately that's up to Mike, but I would have thought Mike would be very happy to do Speedball 3 if we're successful.
Eurogamer: Why are The Bitmap Brothers not a part of Tower Studios any more?
Jon Hare: Mike and I set up Tower Studios with a guy called John Phillips in 2004. A couple of years ago, because John and Mike were both busy, I bought them out of Tower, effectively. So now Tower is 100 per cent my company. But I still work very closely with Mike.
We are effectively developing a series of Bitmap games of which Speedball [2: Evolution] is the first.
Eurogamer: What are the other Bitmap games you're making?
Jon Hare: Well all the obvious Bitmap games are kicking around. We're pretty sure what we're going to do next but not 100 per cent convinced. The candidates out there for the next game will be from Gods, Xenon 2, Magic Pockets, Chaos Engine. That's about it. Maybe Cadaver.
Eurogamer: Chaos Engine! Our readers will go bonkers for that!
Jon Hare: It's one of the frontrunners for what we're going to do next. I'm also looking at other games. I want to do a football game soon.
Eurogamer: A football game like Sensible Soccer?
Jon Hare: Something like that. That's something that's in the running. I'm talking to Codemasters about maybe doing some of our old games. The door's open to do those if we want.
Eurogamer: Can you say definitively whether it is Sensible Soccer you're making?
Jon Hare: No, I can't. It's something that's only at very early planning stages at the moment. We've not started the development of it yet. It's an idea at the moment. But it's something I want to do - it's the right thing to do for these platforms.
Eurogamer: Is Codemasters in a similar position whereby they've given the thumbs up to anything you want to resurrect?
Jon Hare: No, no - it's a slightly different situation. With Codemasters, we opened a conversation last year and they said to us let's keep on talking if you want to do something. We're not that mature in our talks to say anything is definite.
Also, I have to weigh up whether it's what Tower needs at the moment. Although it's very attractive to people to see old IP come through, it doesn't really add value to our company - new IP does. As much as I like Mike [Montgomery], I don't want to just be building up his IP! Ha ha.
Eurogamer: You mentioned recently that you were investigating getting Cannon Fodder and Mega-Lo-Mania onto iDevices. How's that quest going?
Jon Hare: This is the Codemasters conversation. Codemasters haven't moved on these titles yet on iPhone, certainly to my knowledge, with anybody else. They could become a reality...
Let's take the ultimate situation where we decide to do five Bitmap games and three Sensible Games - or maybe four or five Sensible Games - all at once. That's 10 games. At the moment, until the market decides that it likes Speedball as a game, we can't commit. We're in the perfect position to do it; the only thing that's stopping us doing it is knowing we can get the money back. Only time will tell.
If people really want good quality on these platforms they've got to be prepared to pay a bit - it's only a few quid anyway, not a lot of money, and it makes a huge difference to us guys.
Eurogamer: Did you hear about Cannon Fodder 3 being made for Russian markets by developer GFI?
Jon Hare: I think it's quite funny. To my knowledge Cannon Fodder has hardly sold at all in Russia. I've seen all the royalties for that game since 1993, and I can't remember seeing any sales in Russia.
I started working on the design for Cannon Fodder 3 in 1999. We took it into development three times ourselves at Codemasters, but unfortunately it never got finished. So I'd be interested to see what they do. I would actually be happy to go and talk to them about it, you know, to make sure they don't mess it up.
I just hope they do a good job. We had one version of Sensible Soccer on PlayStation technology that was really bad. We don't really want another example of that, where a good old licence gets diluted by a bad conversion.
But also I'm working on new games; I've got a word game coming out soon, which is a brand new game. I'm a game creator. I enjoy most of all working on the brand new things.
I've got 10 game designs that have been accumulating. There's not been an outlet for original games for a long time, commercially, so I've been designing them and basically shelving them. From my point of view, in the long term, if this keeps on for a number of years - I'd like to get maybe one a year of these original games out.
Eurogamer: Are these new games in concept as strong as, say, Sensible Soccer?
Jon Hare: It's hard to tell. I like to think so, yeah.
There's a game called CCTV that we announced two or three years ago with Nikitova but that never came out in the end, mainly because we couldn't get it signed. That's a great little game and I hope we get the chance to work on that going forward.
And there's this word game...
Eurogamer: What kind of word game is that: crossword, word search...?
Jon Hare: It's taking word games, particularly crosswordy kind of games, to a new level. I know there is space for the kind of approach we used to have for games in the 16-bit era, the pre-console era, on iPhone and some of the download platforms. We can re-introduce old-style game concepts to a new bunch of users. There's so much that can be done.
Sony's already signed up for two of our products, one of them being Speedball. I think you're [also] likely to see this word game from Sony.