Hi-tec Software are the team behind all the Hanna-Barbera cartoon games. Everyone has a favourite character whether it’s Top Cat, Yogi Bear, Atom Ant — whoever! And the Hi-tec team, Dave Thompson (general programmer), Richard ‘Rambo’ Morton (graphic artist) and Gary Antcliffe (16-bit programmer — blech!), have taken the characters from the cartoons and stuffed them into smashing Speccy games. NICK ROBERTS, smarter than the average staff writer, drags the team out of Jellystone Park and down to Ludlow and asks ‘What’s it all about then?’
Nick: Righty ho, how was Hi-tec software born?
Gary: We’re actually employed by a company called Pal Developments (is that because they’re your mates? Haw! Haw! Nick). We originally did programming for Virgin/Mastertronic but we really wanted to start our own label, that’s how it began.
Dave: Pal Developments is a totally separate development you company from Hi-tec; we just do games for Hi-tec Software.
Gary: It’s all based in the same building.
Dave: So it was really an offshoot from that. People said ‘Why don’t you publish yourselves?’. Nobody was doing it right, so we thought why don’t we do it? So far I think we’ve done it right. I think part of the reason we re doing so well is because of the cartoon characters. Looking at our original products (Jet Bike Simulator), they haven’t really done as well as we expected, or as well as the cartoon characters, but that’s how it goes really.
Nick: What stages are involved in producing a game from a cartoon?
Dave: It generally works out that the 8-bit version is done first, and I usually do that. We get a character licence for the game, then we all sit down and have a chat about what we’re dealing with.
Gary: Usually we watch videos.
Dave: Yeah, the first thing we do is always get a video, we take the story board from the video. That’s sent to Hanna-Barbera to be approved and they come back to us saying yeah you can do that. We then crack on with it, and write the game and do the graphics. Hanna Barbera have to approve all the graphics and make any alterations, then it’s solved. Once you start it generally snow-balls. I mean, if you saw the original Top Cat storyboard, it’s slightly different to how it is now. I won’t tell you what I took out (smirks!). We try to get as much into every game as possible.
Nick: So you don’t come up with the plots for the games?
Dave: No, we generally base it on a video. Top Cat we based on a video. I think the video was Top Cat in Beverly Hills, so that’s why we called it Beverly Hills Cat, and the original Yogi was based on the Yogi’s Great Escape video.
Nick: How much control do you have over the graphics?
Dave. It depends on how hard we hit him (pointing to Rambo)!
Rambo: They send us sketch sheets with specific drawings of the characters in different poses and things like that. We have to have colours correct on the characters.
Nick: Most cartoon companies keep tight control over what happens to their characters in games, don’t they? Is Hanna-Barbera the same?
Dave: Yeah. for example we can never actually kill any character. It’s always like that: they can go to sleep or sit down, but you can never, never kill them.
Nick: What about sound effects and music?
Dave: We aren’t actually allowed to use the music from the cartoons. It’s licensed copyright material, I think to Hanna-Barbera: they have the right to use it, but that’s it. It’s not theirs at all. But I actually use samples a lot on the 16-bit versions.
Nick: How do you go about actually making the games. Do you use commercial utilities or have you written your own?
Dave: We write on Atari STs and then just port down to whatever machine the game is for. I use a converted utility and Richard, I think, uses DPaint. This makes it all nice and easy: a lot faster than working on the Spectrum — it’s OK until it blows your machine up! It tends to blow the ST up now and again.
Nick: Oh dear. Moving swiftly along... What are your personal favourite characters you would like to make a game from?
Dave: Yogi has been the best one so far for me. I don’t know about Ricky and Gazza. But then that’s because it’s one of the best games I’ve done for ages.
Rambo: I’d like to do Touche Turtle because that would fit in with Turtlemania and we could cash in on all that.
Gary: I’d like to do Captain Caveman, I like him.
Dave: You have to be careful though, there are a lot of weak characters about. Like a lot of people haven’t heard of Jonny Quest (who? Nick). But he is a very, very major character in the States.
Nick: Who comes up with ideas for original games?
Dave: We all just put our heads together basically, and say ‘Oh, we would like to do something like this and we just each add bits until we have a complete storyboard.
Nick: How much attention do you pay to what other software houses are doing?
Dave: None, because we know our games are better than theirs! No, we play quite a lot of Amiga games, but budgetwise we can’t keep up with all the rereleases. If a good game is rereleased at £2.99 you’ve got to expect it to go to the top of the charts. We do look at the charts a lot.
Nick: What plans have you got for the future?
Dave: We’re launching a £3.99 label, starting with Top Cat. The price is a little higher, but if you look at the average amount of pocket money the kids have got, it’s quite high. Something like £5.00 a week. When you’ve got a game selling at £10.95, that’s ludicrous.
Gary: This way we get more chance to develop a game.
Dave: Even though it goes up an extra pound, we don’t make it. We perhaps get 20 or 30 pence. The extra money gives us an extra couple of weeks. I spend about six to eight weeks coding a project, that’s for two formats. Total production time including graphics is about three months.
Gary: I spend about two to three months on the first version and an extra month on the second, total time about five months.
Dave: Two to three months, that’s on a conversion. It just gives us that bit more time to polish it up. We believe that what we’re doing at the moment is the same quality as full-price software, but because we don’t have enough time the games lack depth. With more development time we could spend more months producing a game; we can’t do it at the moment, it just costs too much. That’s why we’re putting the price up. Looking at our average review percentage, 70 to 80 percent, how many can boast that from such a hard-nosed bunch of reviewers? (Dave gets hit from every angle by flying biros).