Bizarre Creations sadly closed its doors in 2011, after delivering a string of classice games, from Wiz ‘N’ Liz to Geometry Wars. Best known for its Project Gotham Racing series, it built a reputation for fantastic racers, but even that didn’t stop new owners Activision from shutting the studio down. Here key staff talk about the early days of the company.
Before the name Bizarre Creations came about, Martyn Chudley’s small team of five initially went under the moniker of ‘Raising Hell’ in 1988. In 1990, the team released an impressive platformer with shooting elements called The Killing Game Show on the Amiga, with the game later ported to Atari ST and Sega Mega Drive. Taking control of a robot equipped with two cannons on each side with the aim to reach the end of the level before the rising water level wipes you out, The Killing Game Show was an enjoyable but punishing title. It also featured some unique gameplay ideas, with the ability to fast forward a level and replay certain areas, a gameplay twist that has become far more common in today’s modern games.
Unfortunately, Sega disapproved of the hellish branding for a development company so a new name had to be found. While you will see that the Amiga and Atari ST versions are credited to Raising Hell Software, the Sega Mega Drive release attributes the game to Bizarre Creations. A submission document penned by Martyn Chudley featured the name ‘Weird Concepts’.
A member of staff used a thesaurus on both words and came up with ‘Bizarre Creations’, which gave them the identity that they were looking for. In 1993, Martyn Chudley and Mike Waterworth designed cutesy platformer Wiz ‘n’ Liz, which would debut on the Sega Mega Drive before being converted for the Amiga. Wiz ‘n’ Liz sees your wizard having to collect ingredients and partake in a variety of mini-games to rescue the ‘wabbits’ that have been viciously abducted. It’s a unique platformer that doesn’t feature any enemies yet the formula works really well. The game, while short, is thoroughly enjoyable and full of charm and also includes a superb two-player mode.
Wiz ‘N’ Liz is one of Bizarre’s earliest games and still great fun to play.
In 1994, the developer would take on the name Bizarre Creations permanently. With a relationship already developed with Psygnosis, the team was offered a contract to develop Formula One titles upon the publisher seeing their concept demo Slaughter. Mark Craig joined Bizarre Creations when the team was fairly small and was there up until the studio’s closure in 2011.
“I was initially hired as a PC programmer but fairly quickly moved up to a senior and then lead programmer, he reveals’ “I also had quite a large role in recruitment and interviewed most of the programmers we hired. I started working there when Bizarre was about 12 people so I initially worked with all the founding members. Throughout the course of my career there I worked with just about everyone!”
As a result of being one of the early members of the team, Mark got to work on licenced title Formula One on Sony PlayStation. “A lot of time was spent looking at how the game was presented on the TV coverage; the key was trying to make it look as familiar as possible to the players, he continues. “We were fortunate to have a crazy genius as our main technical programmer and he managed to make one of the most powerful 3D engines that was ever written for the PS1. The artists all had detailed plans of the vehicles & tracks. They also had hours of races recorded on VHS tapes that they studied in great detail. I think they also went on a few research trips to see the tracks for themselves.”
Mark Craig was responsible for the cool iOS port of Fur Fighters while
working at Muffin Games Ltd.
Asides from being visually impressive and true to the original sport, opposing drivers seemed to have their own personality on the racing tracks. “It was a long time ago but I seem to remember that the AI was based around splines generated by people playing the game,” explains Mark Craig. “I remember that one of the biggest challenges was getting all the cars to go round the track without getting in the way of each other. There were also some personality settings for the drivers to give them slightly different behaviour.”
Such research paid off, as the end result was a realistic and intelligent racing title that appealed to Formula One and racing game fans alike. The game’s release in 1996 catapulted the game into the charts and resulted in being the best selling game in Europe for the year. Impressed by such results, work began on the follow up F1 ‘97. This included new features like an in-game cockpit view and racing additions including flags, changing weather conditions and potential car failure. Improved over its predecessor, F1 ‘97 was once again a hit among critics and was a best selling title in the UK.
For a time, the game was withdrawn from shops due to legality issues with FIA (Formula One’s governing body). FIA was unhappy with the use of its logo upon the cover of the game and although the title was withdrawn from stores and the logo was removed, a court case was pursued. There was also an issue with the use of name and image of Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve which he had copyrighted, so this was then replaced with a silhouette image and the name “Williams numberone” was used instead (Driverone Williams appears within the game menu).
Blur was a fantastic racing game that was hobbled by an
awful advertising campaign.
Undeterred by such legal technicalities, Psygnosis was all intent on signing Bizarre Creations to develop a further five Formula One titles but the developer received a better offer from Sega. Sega had been impressed with the Formula One games and Kats Sato had been given the task of finding out who was behind them. At ECTS ‘97, he pulled out the power cable of the PlayStation running the game so he could see the start-up credits. After a meeting with Sega Europe’s CEO, Kazutoshi Miyake, Bizarre Creations accepted the offer to create a flagship racing title for the Sega Dreamcast.
Lee Carter, one of the artists who worked on Metropolis Street Racer, remembers joining the company well. “I was hugely into my old Amiga computer and Deluxe Paint 4 while at school, but at age sixteen I went to art college and then university. Seven years later after doing illustrations for various magazines and RPG companies, I began to see jobs for artists. I hadn’t had any computer training and in fact, I was pretty much a traditional artist in terms of materials so I thought all this computer technical stuff was well beyond my capabilities. After my initial phone call to a friend who worked at Sony Liverpool, which was in the old Psygnosis building, I was told that they didn’t have any jobs. However, a smaller company just across the road may have had something there. Twenty minutes later one of Bizarre Creations artists phoned me up and set up an interview for me. Basically I was told as I didn’t know any 3D but had strong drawing skills that I would be hired and put in a cupboard till I was needed. I was the twenty-first employee, so it was all still quite cosy at the time.”
Lee was responsible for many of the textures for the cities and vehicles in MSR. “Creating city textures was a relatively simple process as we wanted photo realism so it was a no-brainer to use photo reference. Unfortunately, we didn’t have digital cameras at the time so all the photos had to be scanned in. The photos were skewed and straightened out in order to make them ready for applying to the 3D model. The best bit was removing random people who had strayed into shot, the hardest bit was removing trees and anything else that obscured the building façade.” MSR entered a troubled development process, going from a potential launch title to being delayed numerous times before its final release in the year 2000, right at the time when Sega began to withdraw support for the console. There were many reasons as to why the game was delayed so heavily. “MSR was huge in terms of environments and artwork needed, the team wasn’t big enough so we took more and more people on” remembers Lee Carter. “We had programmers leave and other programmers having to take over and a lot of code was rewritten after a bad demo. But we got there in the end.”
Geometry Wars was a huge hit on Xbox Live Arcade
Around the same time, a separate team led by Mark Craig and Jeff worked on Fur Fighters, an cartoony first-person shooter/platformer that took inspiration from games like Fury Of The Furries, Rare titles, and Wonderboy III: The Dragon’s Trap. “The game was originally going to be 30 per cent bigger with four levels on each world and two extra worlds. It was huge as it was but if we stuck to the original plan it would have been gargantuan! The biggest weakness of the game comes from the fact that we aimed too high and in some places the game isn’t as polished or refined as we would like ”adds Mark. The team would later release a remake for the PlayStation 2 called Viggo’s Revenge, which included features not found in the original as well as whole new look. “Sony wanted something that looked technically more advanced than the Dreamcast version. Our tech programmer had come up with a cel-shader that looked very nice as a little side project when we were doing the PC version.”
“As we were making MSR, Bizarre’s other team were hard at work making Fur Fighters which relied on hand-drawn cartoony textures” recalls Lee Carter. “We got lot of stick for using photos as the artists on that team had to spend a lot more time drawing and designing textures, so we had it relatively easy compared to them. Much easier when you have source material and a real city to copy than it is designing environments and textures from scratch.”
Although the Dreamcast era didn’t pay off financially, it did allow them to enter into a relationship with Microsoft who set them to work on the Project Gotham Racing series. “I was a lead designer at Bizarre Creations,” says Matt Cavanagh. “My role involved overseeing the game design as well as being a leader and mentor for the game’s design team. I would also oversee the implementation of the key game-play features. I worked with pretty much everyone who Bizarre employed at some time or another. When I first joined the company there were little over 40 employees, and I saw that swell to over 200 throughout my time there. Bizarre Creations was beginning to make a name for itself within the industry, but it wasn’t going to be an easy ride…
Notable Bizarre Creations Games
To read the whole feature you can download issue 114 from GreatDigitalMags.com
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