February 1992 – May 1993
Core, JVC, Virgin
Utilities, Scroll Programming, Graphics and Design (Atari ST)
Graphics and Design (Commodore Amiga, SEGA MegaCD, SEGA Megadrive, Super Nintendo, SEGA Game Gear, SEGA Master System)
Wolfchild began as an idea in November 1990. At the time it was for me an intentional break with style – having worked on plenty of cartoon style games, I wished to test my graphical abilities with something altogether grittier. Inspired perhaps oddly by the inscription ‘Wolfchild’ that appeared on a belt worn by fellow Core employee Bob ‘Goth’ Churchill the game originally saw a ‘man-wolf’ stalking across a post-apocalyptic future world inhabited by giant mutated insects.
I was all set to go – for the first time given a proper development system to code on (previously all my other projects had been coded on the Atari ST and squirted blind down the printer port to an Amiga). However, as it turned out other projects appeared and with the job of producing graphics for games getting increasingly more time-consuming I had to step aside from coding tasks (and my new development kit) to concentrate more on graphics and design. (A theme that has followed my career in the games industry – ‘the job’s now too big for you to do by yourself anymore – you’re going to have to give up something’.)
Some months later, with the other projects finished I was eventually paired up with John Kirkland to make the Wolfchild project a reality.
By the time we embarked on this new revision of the game, Capcom’s Strider had made its mark, so we changed tack somewhat and with that devised a new scenario that saw our lycanthropic hero, Saul Morrow storming a futuristic take on the Island of Doctor Moreau (ahem). The game comprised five levels – beginning with Saul teleporting onto the deck of a flying sky galleon, escaping its destruction by landing in a jungle of giant trees, into an insect-filled abandoned temple with the final two levels taking place in the villain’s lair.
The principal gameplay came from being able to boost the main character’s health up beyond a certain level at which point he would transform into a man-wolf that would then be able to fire a variety of projectile weapons. This proved to be a most useful mechanic as it really pushed the player to work to conserve their health at all times during the game with the transformation into the more powerful werewolf being a suitably satisfying in-game goal.
Creating the graphics was tremendous fun and a great challenge – my first shot at creating and animating non-cartoon characters for a game. To conserve space on animations I designed the characters to be split at the waist. This meant that the characters could negotiate the game’s various slopes using only one set of shared leg animations. When changing to Saul’s wolf-form it meant only swapping the top half of his body rather than having to animate everything all over again. The space I saved on the more workmanlike animations for running around allowed me to be more ambitious elsewhere, with bigger effects for Saul’s entry and exit into the levels and the Boss characters encountered at the end of each level.
The original version of the game was published on the Amiga and Atari ST in February 1992, but once released on one format it never seemed to want to go away. With the arrival of JVC’s WonderMega console (a souped up variant of the SEGA MegaCD) we were asked to do a conversion to that system. To take advantage of the MegaCD’s extra space I created a new introductory sequence for the game and then spent many more hours revisiting the graphics, boosting the original 8 colour sprites and backgrounds to 16 colours. (Then, as it is now, it’s always easier to draw your graphics highly detailed and remove detail and colour than it is to take a graphic and boost its resolution later.) In addition, extra maps were created using the existing level graphics and characters to almost double the game’s play time.
Then came a SNES variant with even more colours to contend with. Finally, there was a SEGA Game Gear/Master System conversion that saw the whole lot being cut-down, resized and hacked into all manner of odd shapes under the ingenious direction of programmer Sean Dunlevy (who made the Game Gear do things that, quite frankly, the Game Gear was never designed to do).