Who is Jon Hare?
Jon Hare is best known for being the co-founder of Sensible Software. Although he started making games early on with hits such as Wizball, Microprose Soccer and S.E.U.C.K., many remember the stunning games Jon and his team released on various 16-bit platforms, particularly the Amiga. Sensible Software made war fun with the release of Cannon Fodder, created a fantastic alternative to Populous in the form of Mega Lo Mania and redefined football games with the fantastic Sensible Soccer. Jon looks back at how it all started.
So, Jon, tell us about the first time you met Chris Yates?
We were in the fifth year of school, and I went with a friend of mine called Paul Gibson to a Rush concert in the Hammersmith Odeon. We were living in Chelmsford at the time so we were getting the train in. Paul and I were getting the train back and Paul bumped into one of his mates called Richard Debonair. I remember Richard because he had red hair and when Chris and I began writing music together we made up a song called Debonair, which had a line about Richard’s hair: “Debonair’s got ginger hair” (laughs). So anyway, we’re sat on this train and we started chatting to Richard, and it turns out he went with Chris Yates to the very same gig.
So what happened?
Well I got chatting to Chris and discovered that we were interested in the same kind of music and from that we started speaking to each other at school. I think we were in the same maths class, so we started sitting together and talking about music. We formed a band together pretty quickly after that, in about two weeks I think. We called ourselves Zeus.
Zeus, that’s a pretty epic sounding name.
Yeah I guess it is (laughs).
So who played what?
Chris played the guitar a bit and I had an acoustic guitar which I got for Christmas one year. So I decided to be the bass player, Chris was on guitar – Alex Lifeson, I’m talking Rush here – and I would be Geddy Lee, singing and playing bass.
RG: And what kind of music did you play?
We started playing our own things and some Rush and other stuff and that’s really how we started working together actually. We were in a band from around the age of 15 to about 24, 25. We started Sensible up when we were both 19 so we’d been four years playing in a band together – so we had a great partnership before we’d even begun. We did our first gig in a Scout hut in a park near Chelmsford. It was terrible. You know the queen song We Will Rock You? It has a very simple drum beat but our drummer couldn’t do it. We hired a drum kit for this gig and he’d never seen one before. He’d actually been practising on saucepans.
So how well did your music go down?
At one point we had hundreds of local school kids turn up to watch us. We actually got a bit of a local following going and it kind of set a trend for how we went into games. But then the drummer left us, leaving just me and Chris, and we had all these people wanting to come and see us, but we had no drummer.
And what did you do?
We just totally went over the top. I turned up to the gig wearing this dressing gown and a grey horror mask and Chris put on a dress and a yellow mask and we walked on stage – totally not what people were expecting to see. And that pretty sums up how our software went.
What was your relationship like with Chris?
Between us, Chris and I could be incredibly leftfield, so there was always a lot of reining that in and trying to get some sensibility. If you look back at our products, we did stuff like Wizball, Sex ’N’ Drugs ’N’ Rock ’N’ Roll or 3D Tennis, which is a weird f*cking game, and more regular stuff like Microprose Soccer, Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and SEUCK. We had this definite desire to express a lot of eccentricity but commercially we had to learn how to rein it in. And that’s pretty much how our partnership worked. The best expression of us working together was Wizkid, that was the last game me and Chris really did work on together, just the two of us.
So what happened when you both left school?
I went to college to study art and theatre design and Chris was studying computing. Chris gave his course up after three months and I gave mine up after a year because I just wasn’t interested. I wanted to be in a band. I’d just gotten a new girlfriend and really didn’t care much about education. Both of us had done very well at O Levels and grew bored of education, so for a time I was just picking up small jobs here and there.
So you didn’t know what you wanted to do when you left school then?
Not a bloody clue. I mean when you think about it, when I left school, which was back in 1982, there’s no such thing as a computer games industry. It just wasn’t established. We were just starting to get machines regularly in chip shops and small arcades. So by the time I left college in 1984, I spent about a year playing in the band and doing different jobs, I even worked in a lawnmower place, spray painting lawnmowers for while.
How did you guys first get into game design?
One day I went round Chris’s house to play music. And I was round there a lot. He lived there with his brother and his dad. Chris’s brother was actually a goalkeeper for Chelmsford City so his brother was out a lot of the time and his dad worked in Saudi Arabia, so often we had the house to ourselves, which was great. There was a period of time where I was doing alternating shifts at Chris’s house with his girlfriend. Chris’s girlfriend would come round and when she left I would pop over and Chris and I would play music. Anyway, I went to Chris’s one day and he was messing about with this funny little handheld computer. He’d written this stupid thing on it, I can’t remember what it was, and then we wrote this nursery rhyme on it.
Can you remember it?
It went ‘sing a song of six pence, a pocket full of rye, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie is opened the birds began to sing, get them with a Tommy gun and do the bastards in’, something like that. Anyway, that was the first thing we ever did together on a computer. And then we made this game called Escape From Sainsbury’s, which I think may have been written on this machine. The idea was you were walking down this supermarket and you had to go down the hardware isle and take things, it was all in text. And occasionally you got this message saying ‘Mr Jesus of Naz your lights are on’ (laughs). But it wasn’t much, just an idea. It wasn’t a finished product, just us taking the piss basically.
So when did you both start to take game design more seriously?
It started with Chris really. Chris wanted to teach himself programming more seriously. There were these catalogues, like Kays Catalogues, and there were about three or four companies doing this deal on computers at the time, and what Chris was doing was ordering his Spectrum on a one month sale or return basis and then when the month was up he’d send it back and take up another one. In three months he taught himself how to program on the Spectrum. And then he answered a job advert in the local paper for LT Software. They asked him to create some demo code and they liked his demo and gave him a job as a programmer on a Spectrum game called Sodov The Sorcerer, which was a conversion of a game called Gandalf – a BBC game I think. Well I go to Chris’s house one day and he was programming Sodov The Sorcerer but he was struggling with the art. So I put the guitar down and started drawing little dragons on the Spectrum, I thought it was a bit of fun really. LT Software liked the art I had done and off the back of that offered me some work as well as Chris.
What sort of things were you working on at LT Software?
I worked on the game Skyfox, and worked on some early versions of International Karate, drawing bits of art for the backgrounds and bits of animation.
So how did International Karate end up going to Archer?
Well we were doing all the IK stuff to begin with, but the guy programming it was a real dope head, he was growing thousands of pot plants in his house. And shortly after he started he just f**king disappeared (laughs).
Are you sure he wasn’t arrested?
I don’t know, I remember he had dark hair, not very long, kind of shoulder length, he was very Mediterranean looking. I presume he needed to do a runner.
So what happened?
Well everything we did for the game slipped, and that’s when Archer picked it up. He’s now a friend of mine, but I never had any contact with Archer at all at the time, not until much later on. And none of my graphics made it into the published game, unfortunately. So that was that, and then I worked on Trivial Pursuit for Oxford Digital Enterprises. I remember telling my mum I was going to Oxford to work on a game and her being very pleased; she thought I meant the university.
So how did your parents feel about you working in the videogames industry then?
My dad wasn’t at all happy at first. He hated me leaving college. No, when I said I want to play in a band and tour around with Chris he didn’t like that. But my nature is to do what I want anyway. No my dad wasn’t happy with me.
Notable Jon Hare Games
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