2006 Retrospective


"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."
- Winston Churchill

The timely success of Wrestling Encore ensured that I would stay in business deep into 2006 - which is just as well because it was the first year that every single project struggled to make an impact! Up until now the success stories had always outnumbered the inevitable misfires, but the entertainment industry was becoming an increasingly unforgiving place and the relevance of my humble work was brought into question like never before...

1 Pro Wrestling
January 2006
The year got off to an exciting start as the revamped Wrestling Encore engine began to open up new doors. Within weeks of its release, the up-and-coming British promotion 1PW were in the market for a game - and it just so happened that my previous publishers Idigicon were overseeing the project! The old address book was dusted off and I was promptly contacted about putting together a dedicated 1PW version to be sold at live shows. I had always had ambitions of lending my gaming expertise to the real world of wrestling, and an organization that had Bret Hart and Jeff Jarrett on the payroll certainly had my attention. Unfortunately, it turned out to be yet another half-baked Idigicon collaboration. Having spent valuable time recreating the 1PW roster and working their logos into the game, I was nonchalantly told that the project would no longer be going ahead due to "legal complications" (I.e. 1PW didn't own the rights to the American stars they were shipping over). By the end of this 6-month saga, a one-off project to be sold at live shows had somehow evolved into me selling the rights to the original Wrestling Encore - and even the lure of meeting the wrestlers in question couldn't stop me from turning my back on the debacle...

Booking Encore
March 2006
n amongst the doomed attempts to create a 1PW version, Wrestling Encore still had its natural companion to look forward to. The managerial "booking" instalments tended to be the most appealing to diehard wrestling fans, and could always expect to materialize once a generic "arcade" version had paved the way. However, from Wrestling MPire onwards that symbiotic relationship had started to turn sour. The RPG-style career mode had been moulded to perfection by the time Wrestling Encore stepped into the ring - giving that game the potential to be both deeper AND more enjoyable than its office-bound counterpart. Coupled with the fact that the early bird catches the worm (i.e. audience), these follow-up instalments had increasingly less ground to cover. And matters weren't helped by the dreadful Booking Encore title that the project was doomed to inherit! Unlike the original "wrestling" moniker, neither word here articulated the game's content for casual players - and the result was that the project died at download sites. It failed to attract any new fans and had to make do with crumbs from the master's table. That's not the end of the world when your "master" is an affluent glutton by the name of Wrestling Encore though! The few players it did inherit were treated to the luxury of the complete series, and could spend 2006 hopping from one concept to the other without getting bored of either...
ing Encore can be downloaded here! (25mb)

Grass Roots
July 2006
By the time Booking Encore was released, the wrestling scene was once again losing its precarious appeal (myself included) and I was happy to draw a line under the genre. On the rebound, I attempted to court the attention of some equally passionate fans with my own unique take on soccer. Given the timeless popularity of sports games, I was bewildered that nobody had ever looked into the genre more deeply and given it an RPG twist - whereby the characters were more important than the teams (and even the sport itself). That was my intention with Grass Roots - an urban 5-a-side soccer romp, which saw an ever-changing team of amateurs playing their way around the globe. That refreshing twist aside, the game could never hope to match the smooth gameplay and polished presentation of its mainstream counterparts. They, like my wrestling games, had been honed to perfection over numerous years - whereas this was my first serious stab at a notoriously tough nut to crack. For those reasons, I stand by it as an admirable independent achievement and a charming piece of entertainment - even if the outside world begs to differ! The project wilted terribly under the pressure of those mainstream comparisons, and failed to find an audience with even the most diehard of soccer fans. It was a classic case of trying to please everybody and ending up pleasing nobody. The casual concept and fictitious setting didn't appeal to purists, and yet no amount of gimmicks could convert a player that wasn't already sold on the sport itself. In any case, the fact that I couldn't sell a soccer game in the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup was like failing to sell water in the desert - and proved to be the most damning indictment of my career yet...
Grass Roots can be downloaded here! (33mb)

World War Alpha
September 2006
After the disappointing performances of Booking Encore and Grass Roots, I was somewhat relieved to make a game that I KNEW people wouldn't like! Being an indirect sequel to both Sure Shot 3D and Wrecked, World War Alpha practically had failure in its blood. That scarcely mattered though, because I intended to make it for my own amusement no matter what. Besides, the concept was only loosely connected to those previous games so there was no logical reason why it would inherit their fate. In fact, the concept pre-dated them all. The premise of a modern-day army travelling back in time to conquer the world in advance had formulated in my mind as a movie idea before I even had my first computer! When I found myself making games for a living, that naturally became the medium in which it had the best chance of being realized. It was a fairly smooth transition too - as the world domination took place through large-scale 3D battles and Risk-style map management. There was no shortage of breakthroughs on the road to making that happen either. The sheer scale of the concept demanded that I rethink the way my games were made, and resulted in the character models being carefully pruned to allow up to 50 of them onscreen as standard! Ironically, these low-fat models also looked more appetizing thanks to much improved high resolution texturing throughout. The terrain on which the battles took place was also a much needed step forward - as I harnessed Blitz's inbuilt generation system to produce natural looking, malleable battlefields. No amount of technical wizardry or inventive storytelling could save it from being slaughtered though. It was yet another game that found itself in no man's land as it veered towards mainstream territory, and was inevitably gunned down by superior firepower. The strategy was sophisticated enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Age Of Empires, and the fighting gameplay was too simplistic to hold its own against Star Wars Battlefront. As an independent release, however, it was a remarkable achievement and provided lots of fun for those who were willing to look past its flaws...
World War Alpha can be downloaded here! (17mb)

The Squared Circle
October 2006
Although the year's releases were mostly commercial failures, I had no doubt that they were the 4 most impressive games of my career so far and I looked forward to presenting them as one solid compilation. Now in their third year, these collections had become a much appreciated annual tradition - as latecomers picked up a whole season's worth of games for a fraction of the price. For me, the pay-off was that the more overlooked games then got a chance to shine. Like album tracks that you only learn to like after taking the time to listen, the games on these compilations could finally expect to be played properly once an investment had been made. That was certainly the case with The Squared Circle, which encouraged players to look beyond the flagship wrestling series they had come for - and finally had Grass Roots and World War Alpha being played through to the end credits. As the title suggests, the games actually had more in common than it would first appear. They were all about world domination of some sort or another, and players could enjoy approaching that one rather ambitious task from 4 different angles...

Ear Shot ~ October 2006
One of my most remarkable creations never saw the light of day. Quite literally, because it was a game that had NO visuals! I marvelled at how blind children were still somehow drawn to the world of gaming, and endeavoured to create a game that didn't rely on vision at all. Instead, the appropriately titled Ear Shot relied entirely on sound to convey an experience. It harked back to the simplistic concept of Sure Shot, as you found yourself blindfolded in the middle of a room as enemies approached from the North, East, South, and West. Listening out for their footsteps in 3-dimensional stereo sound, you simply used the cursors to fire in the appropriate direction and kill them before they could get their hands on you. Your gun only had a limited amount of ammo though, so there was no room for mistakes. Although the project was never completed, the prototype I was working on can finally be made available here - complete with source code for those who wish to take the concept further. Look out for my uncanny Tom Cruise impression that sets the scene!
Ear Shot can be downloaded here (5mb)

Popstar Manager
November 2006
We in the English-speaking world take it for granted that these games are available for everybody to enjoy, but the truth is that thousands of foreign players struggle with their rather text-heavy content. As an independent, there's not an awful lot I can do about that - but throughout 2006 there were plenty of offers from publishers hoping to translate the games on my behalf. I must say that many underestimated how ambitious it was to translate one of my games, given that the deeper concepts tend to include tens of thousands of lines of text! Not to mention the fact that practically every word is carefully chosen to fit in the space where it needs to be. A German company called Netmin eK seemed confident about giving it a try with Popscene though, and duly proceeded to create their own version of it. Even the catchy title found itself being translated to the rather generic Popstar Manager, which stated the game's purpose with ruthless German efficiency! As admirable as the gesture was, it was always going to be difficult to sell a game that was some 2 years old by this point - so I'm not entirely sure the project succeeded in bringing my work to new audiences...

TalkSport: Clash Of The Titans
December 2006
The good thing about being creative is that you can go beyond being a mere "fan" of something and endeavour to be a part of it. Over the years, my game-making prowess has put me in touch with my favourite sportsmen, musicians, journalists, and all manner of TV personalities. Having discovered the magic of talk radio, I decreed that should be my next port of call! The British station TalkSport had been ringing out in the background of my working day for the past couple of years, and they seemed to enjoy being creative with their opinionated hosts. In fact, a game was the only thing missing - so I took it upon myself to put something together for them as a festive treat. It was a predictably simple affair, involving the presenters fighting over the phones like a bizarre version of Hungry Hippos! It barely worked as a game in its own right, but the addition of dozens of real sound samples ensured that there was plenty for fans of the station to enjoy. However, in a chilling twist, the featured presenter Mike Dickin was killed in a car accident within days of the game's release and it was promptly buried. The result was that the project made absolutely no impact, and did little to stem the overwhelming feeling that making games had become a waste of time... 
The game can be downloaded here! (8mb)


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