Saturday, 13 August 2011

An Interview with Ian Terry

Ian Terry has had almost two decades experience in the gaming industry as a computer games designer and artist. During this time, he has established companies such as Target Games, worked on a number of well-received titles, like Magic and Mayhem and Laser Squad, and used his talents to assist developers, such as Bullfrog Productions.

I got the opportunity to talk with Ian about the games industry, find out a little more about his ventures into this field, and where his gaming interests lie in particular. 
Examples of Ian's work in Bullfrog's Theme Park.

Q: How and why did you get into the gaming industry? 

A: Phew. There's no quick answer to that I'm afraid! In my schooldays, I was into SF in a big way. I played a lot of wargames (with miniatures, not computer games) but there weren't too many SF titles - not ones I could afford, anyway. Then a boy at school showed me a rulebook for a game called 'Laserburn' and I was hooked. It was cheap and cheerful, full of lurid illustrations. In many ways, it was the precursor to Games Workshop's Warhammer - no coincidence, as it was written by Bryan Ansell, who presided over GW.

I wrote loads of my own supplementary material for Laserburn in school exercise books and I sent some to Bryan to see what he thought of them.  He was very nice about them (one even got published). He gave me a short internship at his Citadel business when I left school and it was an eye-opener to see how singularly driven he was... he did everything from promo line art, miniatures sculpting, rulebook writing, plus managing the business, all of which he was pretty modest about. For me it was a formative experience!  

There was an enterprise culture in the UK around then, so I got myself on a scheme and set up my first company, which was Target Games. The idea was to produce my own boardgames. The computer games side of it was almost an accident at the time; I'd negotiated a couple of fairly big licences to produce a couple of themed boardgames, but there was a legal issue that created deadlock.  I knew very little about computers at the time but I became friends with someone who'd had some success with his games, so we worked on his ideas (my first pixel art was in a game called Rebelstar 2) then we incorporated the business and developed Laser Squad.
Ian was the Co-Designer during Laser Squad's development.
Q: What was the highlight of your gaming career?

A: Well it's always a thrill to see something you worked on get published. But I'd have to pick a particular phase of development with Magic and Mayhem. Virgin Interactive really had high hopes with that and at one point, a few of us got flown over to California and Las Vegas to pitch it to the US distributors. First class flights, limo shuttles and even some money for gambling. I still have the dollar chip I pinched from Treasure Island.  

Ian was Principal Designer & Lead Artist on Magic and Mayhem
Q: Your career has stretched from the ZX Spectrum up to modern day. Is there any particular genre of gaming during this time that you have preferred working on?

A: Most definitely - those early turn-based strategy games. Some of the ones I worked on never got to see the light of day - it is the hardest genre to pitch to a publisher, unfortunately. But it felt like we were really forging into new ground with those games, which was pretty exciting. 

Q: You've been both a games designer and an artist. Which do you prefer?

A: Absolutely the design side of things. I enjoy the art aspects too, but always the design issues are paramount for me. If I'm doing artwork, I like to have some design issue turning over in my head at the same time. I think it's something to do with creating worlds and then the rules that govern it. Or something. I may need to take this up with a therapist. 

Q: You've founded a variety of companies, such as Target Games and Trip Partners.  a
What drove you to start up your own gaming companies?

A: I think in the early days it was simply because I was bursting with ideas and saw no immediate outlet, unless I made one for myself. I was quite fearless and just pushed my enthusiasm in other people's faces! I mentioned an enterprise culture earlier. The kind of businessmen who'd back my ideas often had little or no understanding of the actual things I was making - I'm thinking of a local newspaper that financed an RPG I developed, for example - you just had to demonstrate a particular drive and a business strategy. My advice to anyone similarly minded: put your ideas on paper; back them up with reasoned arguments and a marketing strategy.  Be passionate. And don't give up. You'll make it. 
Ian worked on X-Com Apocalypse as a Graphic Designer
Q: Why did you leave the games industry, and why did you turn to freelancing?  

A: Good question. Although probably it needs switching around. I became freelance after a nasty health scare, some hospitalisation and quite a long healing period. I was lucky enough to work remotely for a while - but that divorced me from the actual design and development part of the process; I was just supplying art for various projects, mostly Nintendo-based. It was a lucrative but fraught with all sorts of insecurities. The projects were of varying quality and I think I became quite jaded for a while. They weren't games I wanted to play. A lot of my peers had been forced to move around the UK and beyond to stay in the business, but I had a family to consider. So I took a big step away from games completely - I got a diploma in management and immersed myself in 'regular work'.

Q: Can you recommend a game (or games) for my readers to play?

A: The one that really caught my imagination this year was LA Noire. It's so beautifully realised. Rockstar have really tried to push the experience into new areas. I can't imagine how complicated it must be to create games of that calibre. But to be honest most of my gaming fixes are short, simple affairs these days. I'd encourage anyone to look at the smaller end of the scale - stuff on XBox Live, WiiWare, or smart phones. That's where there's real innovation - in many ways analogous with the 8-bit era in terms of creativity. 
Rockstar's 2011 hit, L.A. Noire.
Q: And finally, have got anything new in the pipeline?

A: Funny you should ask. I'm currently right in the middle of a project I'm very excited about. It's a strategy game (no surprises) but with some innovations that haven't been seen before. It's simple enough to run on mobile devices so that's currently where we are concentrating our efforts. I think fans of the genre will love it. That's all I can say for now but I'll happily report back when I've got something to show off

You can watch a clip of Ian Terry's game, Magic and Mayhem below:


  1. Another excellent interview! What's more, the fact that Ian Terry is working on a new game is too exciting to ignore.

  2. Thanks for the kind comment! No doubt I'll be interviewing Ian Terry again when things have progressed with the new game! Stay tuned. :)

  3. I played thousand times Laser Squad on spectrum ... nice to read ssomething about one of the creators, thanks for it!

  4. Ah I am pleased you enjoyed the interview! Hopefully I shall be getting another one from him in the near future!


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