A legend amongst us: interview with Adrian Moore
With a career spanning over twenty years in the games industry and a highly impressive body of work behind him, Adrian Moore is without a doubt one of most experienced and highly respected games developers in Australia. He also boasts an impressive track record in the commercial recording industry working with artists such as Sade, Seal and Pearl Jam. Adrian has just recently gone independent and is opening up the wealth of knowledge and decades of experience as a games designer and musician for fellow games developers.
We thought we'd send some questions to Adrian on his extraordinary career and his new direction in indie development where he desires to help and mentor the next generation of Australian games developers...
You've worked at quite a few UK games studios, but you got your first start at Bullfrog with legendary game designer, Peter Molyneux. How did you manage to score that particular gig and what was it like working with Molyneux and on such iconic titles like Populous, Theme Hospital, and Syndicate Wars?
Adrian Moore: I was very lucky. I was a 15 year old school kid doing a Saturday job in a shop in Guildford. It was 1987. My Mum was doing the bookkeeping for Peter, at his previous company, Taurus Impex. She told me Taurus were looking for beta testers for their new business software and I was very into computers at the time and wondered if I could do that instead of work in the shop. I went to meet Peter and his business partner Les Edgar. They seemed to think I'd be an adequate tester so gave me the job. So then I found myself working Saturdays, some afternoons after school, and during my school holidays, with Peter. We always got on well, he's an inspiring character. He tends to think of things originally, and is hugely ambitious. He has something about him which I can't quite put my finger on, but it's a kind of knowing.
Peter and Les then formed Bullfrog. There was Peter and Kevin Donkin on code and Glenn Corpes doing art, developing Amiga games, starting out with a port of Dene Carter and Andrew Bailey's Commodore 64 game Druid 2. I was actually Bullfrog's first dedicated game designer! While Peter, Kevin and Glenn did real work in an upstairs room above the hi-fi shop, I was sat downstairs by myself on Saturdays and during school holidays, with pencil and sketchpad, dreaming up new games. I will never forget I was paid £2.80 an hour to sit alone and work like that - I was in my element and getting paid for it! To this day I still work like that - I sit with a sketchpad and just think things through.
We actually started making one of my games in those days at Bullfrog. I would come in to the office after school and be trying to direct Glenn on the art side and talking to Peter about the game design. I was a 15 year old school kid and these was grown men with a full time jobs, which was kind of ridiculous looking back. I guess I just believed in myself and Peter seemed to, too. The game we starting making didn't get completed. In the meantime Glenn had taken up coding, mixed that discipline with his considerable art talents and created the Populous landscape engine. Peter got a brainwave for a new type of game using this engine and the rest is history. I playtested this amazingly original game with them and chimed in with a few ideas of my own but of course I was the kid and they were the creators of that. It was very nice for Peter to credit me on Populous.
Later, in 1995, after I had spent many years working in music and had then gotten a testing/design/audio role at SCi, Peter had me back at Bullfrog when it was the ultra-sucessful, creative powerhouse that it was. It was amazing what Peter achieved then (and still achieves now). I created the sound effects for Theme Hospital and Syndicate Wars, which was a brilliant experience, being the first time I'd been given the opportunity to bring games to life with audio. I was always somewhat frustrated, though. I always felt I could design games, it was my driving passion back then, and I desperately wanted to be a lead designer. I remember Mark Webley, producer/designer of Theme Hospital, getting frustrated with me trying to stick my beak into the details of his game all the time. "Just get your bloody sound effects done!" he would say to me. Really, I wanted to do both thing; I wanted to do both audio and game design. I did do some design and level design, there. I loved working as a designer on Magic Carpet 2, for example.
I didn't really work closely with Peter during those mid-nineties Bullfrog years, I was quite green and he was in upper management, doing big league things. It was later, at Lionhead, where he and I collaborated as designers.
What are your thoughts on the Syndicate reboot and the different direction they took with it?
Adrian: I think it's great to reboot old games. I haven't played the new Syndicate but I think it's interesting to mix up the genres; to make a shooter when the original game was an isometric strategy game. I would like to see more games be "rebooted".
You were the lead designer of The Movies, a Lionhead title which went on to win Best Simulation Game at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Video Games Awards. It was quite an ambitious title, took four years to develop, and it certainly went further than what was expected from simulation games at the time. It even included the capability to make Machinima videos. What can you tell us about working on such a big title, and do you have any interesting anecdotes and stories behind its production?
Adrian: Oh my. The Movies for me was both heaven and hell. Peter contacted me while I was happily working at Small Rockets, about a new game he wanted me to help make at Lionhead. He told me the idea was "Theme Park mixed with Hollywood" and as much as I loved Small Rockets and the people there, I couldn't resist this incredible opportunity to go to Lionhead and head up this project that appealed to me so much. The game sounded like the perfect idea for me and I felt it was practically guaranteed to be successful with Peter involved. I was very honoured to be asked to do it.
It began at the start of 2002. We originally intended for it to be a quick game to develop - 18 months, approximately. Ironically it was me that kept expanding it's scope at first, with Peter trying to reign it in. Then Peter had the idea for the game to actually export films and allow players to be really creative inside the game as filmmakers. Suddenly it had became a massively ambitious epic.
I loved the early days. I built the team up from two (myself and engineer/designer James Brown) to about 30 people, through hiring from outside. One of Lionhead's existing engineering geniuses, Jean Claude-Cottier, joined our team quite early on, from the inside. But it soon became incredibly stressful, with pressure from all sides. It's probably the most stress I have ever experienced in my life. Gary Carr came in to replace me as studio head, as the team continued to expand and publisher relations required better management. This left me free to focus on the design.
Developing the game was fascinating, really. I don't think many of the team had been involved with something so ambitious. So many things needed to come together at the same time. The simulation side of the game was one aspect, the movie-making another, and they had to work together to make a cohesive whole that didn't expect any effort from players (making films in reality is hard work!) but would allow them to enter into a light version of the world of filmmaking if they chose to. The film sets, the costumes and the characters, the buildings around the studio lot - they all had to be planned and created as art assets in a production pipeline but the game itself was in a state of flux. Every aspect of the game design was a great challenge. To top it all off, we had decided to track the history of hollywood inside the game, beginning in the early 1900s and progressing through the present day, into the future. I can imagine any designer/producer reading this feeling quite stressed by the very thought of it!
It was a long project, and so many things happened during those years, it's quite tricky to pick out just a few stories. I do recall some funny things, like demoing a version of the game with quite risque content, to the press, and to the rest of Lionhead. At that time it was possible to grab a slider during a love scene and drag it from "mild" to "intense". The intense setting was pretty pornographic. We should have left that in the game.
You've also spent many years honing your skills as a musician and audio engineer at a recording studio. You have quite an impressive list of engineers and artists that you've collaborated with. What was it like working with such notable talents like Geoff Emerick (The Beatles' engineer), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), as well as artists/bands like Tin Machine, Seal, Pearl Jam, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Black Sabbath?
Adrian: Well, there were a lot of artists, bands, producers and engineers coming through the studio, at that time. I was mostly working at a residential UK studio Ridge Farm, in the early nineties. I did some freelance engineering work later but mostly my time was spent there.
Having just spoken about the intensity of The Movies project, the recording industry generally makes the game development industry seem like a walk in the park! It was a case of working 12-18 hours a day, 7 days a week, on the whole. I was the resident engineer in the studio and the artistes would come through and each have their own special time making their record. For them it was a once-a-year experience or even once-in-a-lifetime thing so it tended to be quite full-on, but for residents in studios of course you're experiencing that intensity continuously!
There were times when the hair on the back of my neck stood up, such is the nature of music. We were making an All About Eve record, for example, when David Gilmour came to the studio for a day of guest guitar work. He plugged his legendary Fender Stratocaster into his Fender amp. and began jamming along to the track, and the Pink Floyd guitar sound flowed out through the speakers. All of us in the control room kind of went silent as if we were witnessing something religious. David was incredibly modest to talk to. For such a great player, steeped in the history of Pink Floyd, he was incredibly polite and humble. That really stuck with me.
Hearing Seal sing was awesome. I was a fan of his already, and Crazy was on rotation on MTV, when he came in. It was a real buzz setting up his microphone and hearing him sing, followed by watching the Crazy video on TV with him and asking him about how it was made. Trevor Horn was producing (Seal's first album) so it was a pretty special time. Again, hard work, long hours, but Trevor's demanding nature seemed ok under the circumstances. We were wrapping up the recording of Seal's first album. I remember some pretty magical late nights as Seal got his vocals down on tape. I think he's a very emotional and unique singer.
Helping Tim Palmer mix Pearl Jam's TEN was an interesting one because they were a new band, and although I liked the music, I wasn't blown away at the time. So it was just another day in the office really, only later to find you've been involved with something truly musically historical. I keep in touch with Tim a little, to this day. He's an incredible producer and mix engineer. Very positive, very inspiring. He really taught me about self-belief and that anything is possible. During that session the band were rehearsing for a new drummer so I would walk through the studio area to be treated to a live Pearl Jam show of my own - even then, they were tight! Beautiful people too. I am so happy for them that they became so successful.
The Tin Machine session I worked on was also with Tim Palmer, and Reeves Gabrels, an awesome guitar player. It was just those two guys recording guitars, with me assisting. One day the phone rang. I picked up and a voice asked for Tim. I said "sure, I'll just get him. Who is it please?". It was a quite a strange experience when the voice on the other end of the phone said "David Bowie".
Echo and the Bunnymen were the sweetest people you could hope to meet. Recording their album was a summer of love! Geoff Emerick was producing the record and we all picked his brains. I mean, come on! He recorded Sgt Pepper and Revolver! We often wanted to know how it felt to hear John Lennon sing into the mic. or how the dynamic was between the fab four and George Martin. It was a case of all of us on the session not wanting to continuously be asking him questions about The Beatles! We adopted some really interesting recording techniques from the sixties during that time, things I had never seen up until then such as running half-inch tape around the control room, wrapped around microphone stands, playing loops in that way. We recorded sitar players that had played on Beatles tracks. It was a very happy session for me, that one.
Black Sabbath were very sweet too actually! It was an interesting session - it never really came together because the producer and band weren't happy with the sound they were getting but it was another fascinating time. I found out first-hand how guitarist Tony Iommi lost a finger just days before he was to quit his factory job to pursue the band full time. I really found it interesting how lovely the band were, considering the nature of their music.
The Sade session I was on was probably my favourite memory really - all four of the band and Mike the producer were generous souls and it was all very civilised. They were extremely good to me and and it was wonderful to have a calm time with great musicians, who were successful and confident. On a couple of occasions Sade asked my opinion about verses she was writing, for example. I remember dancing around the control room with her late one night, to Jimi Hendrix's Crosstown Traffic. Some of these memories stick with you forever. I've had some blessed experiences.
Depending on the session, and the year, my role was different. At the start I would make tea and set up microphones exclusively, as I knew nothing, but later on I got onto the meaty stuff of working on sounds, mixing, and working more closely with the artists. It was amazing to go from knowing nothing to knowing a recording studio like the back of your hand, within a few intense years. The audio engineering skills I learned are very useful to me today, and it's amazing to see how an entire studio can now be condensed into a laptop, effectively, such as with Propellerhead's Reason software.
Being able to compose music and designing games are certainly two distinctly different areas of expertise. Which field do you enjoy more or find more challenging? What genre of music do you like, and are there any game designers and musicians in the industry that you admire?
Adrian: I admire too many designers and musicians! Right now, I am loving Jetpack Joyride by Halfbrick. I met Luke Muscat one time but I didn't really get to talk to him much about his design methods. I feel we're quite similar in that we like fun-for-the-sake-of-fun games, it seems. On the music side, Laura Shigihara did a great job with Plants vs Zombies; it's really great game music and the pieces work very well together. As you can see, I've been playing iOS games recently. Other game musicians I hugely admire are Richard Beddow and Scott Marcussen. I have worked with both of these guys and I aspire to their level of musicianship. A game designer I've always greatly admired is Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto.
I find both game design and game audio very interesting in their own ways, and I enjoy them both immensely. Recently I went through a spate of writing music and it was so good to be self-contained, just me and my piano, guitar and sequencer. I love the way that music inspires emotion. Game design, on the other hand, to me at least, is pure invention. That is partly what attracted me to it in the first place. The theory of games is up for grabs, it's about individual thinking, and creating games comes purely from the imagination. Sound design is a lot of fun. I remember creating the minigun sound for Syndicate Wars from the sound of a washing machine mixed with a looping tank shot, for example. It's about exploration and fitting the sounds together to match the game. I enjoy both design and audio but if I absolutely had to pick one discipline over all others I would have to say game design is my favourite. Sitting in a cafe with a sketchpad, dreaming up new inventions, or toying with some tools inside a game that's in development or inventing a set of solutions to transform a game demo into a releasable game - these really satisfy the inventor in me.
You worked under the wing of audio legend, Russell Shaw, who has produced some of the most notable soundtracks ever in games. Shaw has been quoted as saying:
"I would not want to go back to the early days of game audio design. We can all remember the time when audio was very much the afterthought. Nowadays, I need to be in on the early conceptual stages of game design if the game is going to sound any good. The audio designer can bring as much to the early game design as anyone else can."
Do you feel game audio has received the recognition and the level of importance it deserves in games development today?
Adrian: No, I don't. It's probably getting better but it still feels like a secondary consideration to game art, and that's a shame. I hear many audio designers express this same sentiment. I think Russell is right; I think developers would be wise to be developing a game's audio early on, and being more inventive, too.
After a long stint at Lionhead studios, you made the move to migrate to Australia in 2006. What prompted you to make such a life changing decision? What were a few of the things you had to adjust to when you first arrived here?
Adrian: The sun made me do it (laughs). As much as I miss my friends and family in the UK, I don't miss the British climate. I find the winters there very gloomy and what is more important than happiness, right? I adore the sun and like a solar battery, I require it as fuel. It was a lifelong dream of mine to live somewhere sunny; I chose Australia as my Brother and family live here and having visited them years ago, I fell in love with Australia's climate, people, and nature.
The major adjustment coming to Australia was really the lack of freedom. Being born in the UK, I had rights there that I still have denied to me here in Australia. At first the system wouldn't let me work anywhere. I had to stick in an awful job that was making me sick, or be forcefully returned to the UK - great choice! Thankfully I made it through those hard times in one piece and got to a more friendly studio (Firemint). The way I feel is that we're all born of nature, on the same planet, and we're all born free to live as we wish, to journey to where we want to go, do whatever work we want, as long as we do others no harm. We all have our inalienable rights. It was an incredible shock for me to feel first-hand how this global central banking network and it's front-groups known as "governments" had risen up into such a forceful power, treating human beings like cattle, and brainwashing the population that it's normal to be treated this way. Don't get me started.
Other than that, the other shock was the heat! I had wanted sunshine so badly but it was so hot all of the time up in Brisbane, where I started, it was quite overwhelming.
You've worked on a fair number of titles for Firemint during your four year tenure there, the most notable of which is perhaps the critically acclaimed SPY Mouse which you worked on as a lead designer. It retains an incredible 87 score on Metacritic as well as receiving many accolades. What was it like steering the direction of that particular title? Did you have any personal pressure to follow up on the success of a break out title like Flight Control?
Adrian: SPY mouse remains one of my favourite experiences in the industry so-far. I was such a fan of Rob Murray's Flight Control, and so lucky to be one of his cheerleaders before he released that, that it was amazing to be able to work on SPY mouse as a follow-up. I wasn't involved in it's birth; a previous team had given rise to the concept, art style and some inventions such as the teleporting coloured mouse holes and mouse traps. So there was a great little demo kicking around in the studio already. It just needed further content invented, levels designed to create a cool progression to deliver the new content, and all the balancing, love and attention that a dedicated designer brings. I still feel very grateful that I got to be that designer.
I was given the time, and free reign, to do my thing, and with a small team including the very talented engineer/co-designer Joshua Boggs, we carved out the content for SPY mouse. I got to do what I thought it needed, which was to plan ahead, then implement, then evaluate and re-plan, and re-implement, until the game was really well balanced and polished, in my eyes anyway. Reviewers and gamers seemed to largely agree that the game has a nice pace and has some charm and polish, so it was very satisfying experience all around.
I wasn't really under too much pressure, such was the excellence of Firemint's management. Once I was given the project they really understood I needed time to cook it up. At the very end there was pressure to get it finished and out, but we grew the team to help achieve that. Design-wise, I didn't really feel any pressure regarding following up Flight Control. I imagine Rob Murray and the other directors may have! SPY mouse represented their 3rd original IP after all.
You've worked on a large number of titles in your career. What game are you most proud of, and which did you find most challenging to work on and why?
Adrian: Actually I am very proud of Star Monkey, a Small Rockets game I did. Much like I did with Josh Boggs on SPY mouse, I collaborated closely with a very talented engineer/co-designer called James Brown, on that one. Paul Boulden did the art and Richard Beddow wrote the music. It was a scrolling shoot-em-up that we made very quickly; from start to finish in around 8 months. I was given free reign by Jonathan Small, the head of the company, to make this game, and I was very proud of what we achieved. I felt it was a classic little shooter with some nice ideas and well balanced. To this day I still meet people who say they loved that game, which always surprises me because it wasn't very high profile.
The Movies at Lionhead was by far the most challenging game I worked on that came out, although I did spend some time working at Pandemic on a 3rd person action game (eventually cancelled) which was also incredibly stressful. I guess it was a bad match for me; and the senior management wouldn't listen to me yet I was given the blame and responsibility for how things were shaping up; I was kind of made to feel inadequate. That was no fun at all - as a designer it's important to find a good match with who you work with, I've found. Sometimes things just don't gel. What you're good at isn't what's needed and what is needed isn't what you're good at.
I am probably most proud of my most recent iOS game, SPY mouse, though. I reckon we made a classic original little handheld game there at Firemint. For anyone wanting a Mario-esque type experience (levels, hidden levels, themed worlds and boss battles) fused with the interface simplicity of Flight Control, I recommend checking it out!
With over 20 years experience in the games industry, you must've seen and experienced a whole lot of ups and downs during your time. What are some of your personal highlights in the industry so far, and what aspects of games development you wish you could've done without? (e.g crunch time, high expectations etc).
Adrian: My highlights have really been whenever I've felt comfortable, able to express my creativity, and see the ideas come to fruition. It's a leap of faith, game design. You have to have self-belief. People like Jonathan Small, Peter Molyneux and Robert Murray supported me by giving me a platform, and I will always be eternally grateful to them. There are many people out there just as talented as I, and more so, who are wishing for nothing more than a lucky break. The ups are really when you hear someone say they're enjoying your game, or reading a glowing review when it's released. But also the processes can be a high in themselves - getting an idea can be beautiful. Seeing the idea become a reality. Creation is a wonderful thing.
The down times have been harder than I care to express! Not being very technical, it's hard dealing with computers sometimes. I can't code very well, I'm not good with advanced tools. I tend to think about the end result and rely on others to make it happen, giving me relatively basic tools to use. On a number of occasions I have been given amazingly powerful tools and have felt very shy in saying "sorry, I'm not up to using this thing you've just slaved over creating for me. I'm not a programmer." Stress has been the main one. It's not easy to be involved in massive teams, working on massive designs, pressure from publishers and management. The stress compounds because before you know it you're not relaxed enough to be creative or think clearly. This is why I generally try to stick with smaller games these days where I can, games I can dream up on a sketch pad like the old days. Music and sound effects I can create in isolated peace. As a freelancer now, I have a choice over what I'm involved in at any given time, which is a long-time dream come true.
Having been through many studios working on big console and PC titles, what are your thoughts on the rise of independent games development, working on smaller games, and depending less on publishers?
Adrian: I love it. I am extremely excited about what's happening now. I love every story of independent success and the feeling of possible success. I talk to a lot of independent studios these days and they all excite me. Recently I was fortunate enough to be involved with a local indie studio, Twiitch, working on their cool new game Coco Loco. Nothing would make me happier than seeing that game and studio succeed, for example. Really, I would love to see every studio remaining independent. These large corporate takeovers do tend to suck the life out of studios, from what I've seen and experienced, and it's very sad to me that they do that. I've seen it happen on a number of occasions which is why I especially love the indies.
Publishers have their place and can offer great services. I have seen some great examples of developer - publisher relations.
You've moved on from Firemint and have gone independent yourself. Can you tell us a bit about your range of services?
Adrian: Well really it's a case of wanting to be flexible with my own time and work, and wanting to be involved with many projects, and to try to help people with the experience I have gained. The services I offer are a culmination of all the things I have experience of and have always loved to do:
Firstly, design consultation. Developers show me their pitch documents, game design documents, or games that are in mid-development and I evaluate them from an unbiased perspective. They get some fresh ideas from an experienced viewpoint which they can pick and choose from to improve their game. I have found such services useful to me in the past when I was working in studios myself. Sometimes the smallest changes can make all the difference. For example, difficulty curve - games can sometimes be ramped up to be a challenge to the development team who are extremely close to the project but end up being too hard for general public consumption. That's just one tiny example of where an independent evaluation can help find areas for improvement that are sometimes pretty trivial to rectify, actually.
Game design - something I've been doing for almost 25 years now, I create game designs from scratch using my trusty sketchpad and pen (with a healthy dose of written documentation). If a developer wants a new design or one of their existing ideas/designs expanded upon - a "treatment", I offer that service.
Then with levels - I use proprietary tools to build game levels, and also can design levels on paper to give to development studios to turn into working levels, if that's what they're after. I can also create level plans; an overview for a game's levels rather than the actual levels themselves.
I compose original music for games, using piano, guitar, and a range of samples running in a sequencers. Because I tend to understand games quite well, I can write to accentuate certain moods in a game and compose pieces that fit together well for different parts of the game. I have a lot of sound engineering experience so this helps with the recording and mixing of my compositions.
And I also create sound effects, using my own field recordings, library samples and sounds generated with my synthesisers. Again, I've done this enough to have a feel for how sounds should compliment games, and iterate the sounds as they're implemented (where possible) as opposed to simply providing sound effects and hoping they work in-game.
My rates are competitive and sometimes I do some work for free if I can, if there's not much money around, because I want to help developers. Like anyone, I want to thrive, but I am thinking about the bigger picture; I really want to offer services of value to my fellow game developers.
Anyone interested in talking to me about game or level design can contact me at email@example.com
For the audio side, I am contactable at www.adrianmooremusic.com where there is also a selection of some of my most recent music to listen to.
What are your thoughts on community efforts such as IGDA Melbourne and the need for collaboration, helping, and mentoring of others, particularly when students and newcomers to games development have such a limited opportunity to be mentored, hone and nurture their skills on large commercial games in a studio environment?
Adrian: I am so impressed whenever I see someone, or an organisation, genuinely helping others. I am very grateful for what Giselle Rosman is doing here in Melbourne, with IGDA, for example. I can see she helps puts people together, spreads encouragement and much more I am sure I don't know about but I know first hand how she's been helping me get connected. I am sure there are other people - yourself, Souri, for example, with your excellent website Tsumea. That's a great service for the Aus/NZ scene. I applaud all collaboration and mentoring. I recently hooked up with another great guy, Adam Parker, who works at Qantm college. He is passionate about helping newcomers develop their game development skills and in fact runs classes to emulate a studio environment, I believe. It's all very heart-warming and important stuff. I would love to be involved more in mentoring and nurturing young people, myself.
Recently, we've seen your name prominently listed in a new collaboration with Andy Coates and Paul Mitchell who are coincidentally fellow UK expat games veterans like yourself with multiple decades of experience. How did this all come about, and where did you guys come up with Ninth Ninja as the name? Can you tell us anything about the secret original title you're working on or will we be hearing more about it at the GDC in the next few weeks?
Adrian: This is something I'm involved in that I'm extremely happy about. Andy, Paul and I met at Firemint. I worked with both of those guys there on various projects over the years and they are both extremely talented veterans, as you say. Paul's actually Australian but lived and worked in the UK for a good while. Andy, like me, came to Australia from the UK.
The name Ninth Ninja is actually something Andy came up with. As for our projects, well, I can't really say too much yet but what I will say is that the secret original title is based on an idea I had a long time ago, before I set foot in a game studio actually. I suddenly remembered this idea recently and showed it to Andy and Paul who agreed it's worth us developing. It's the most accessible and immediate, joyful, playful game I've been involved with. Andy will be at GDC so maybe you will hear more about it then.
Thanks for your time in answering these questions for tsumea, Adrian!!
Adrian: The pleasure was all mine Souri. Thank you.
You can also read the press release on Adrian's services on tsumea here..