Interview with Jon Hare about Cannon Fodder

Jon Hare
Jon Hare

Im Zuge unserer Podcast Episode zu Cannon Fodder haben wir ein ausführliches Interview mit Jon Hare den Gründer von Sensible Software geführt und teils sehr interessante Antworten erhalten. So wird ein für alle mal geklärt, wer die Echtzeit-Strategie erfunden hat (nicht Westwood!) und was seine Spielefirma mit den Bitmap Wankers zu tun hatte.

Wir danken Jon für die genommene Zeit und wünschen euch nun viel Spaß beim Lesen.

  1. Cannon Fodder was developed at the same time as Wizkid and Sensible Soccer. This was the first time you had to share your resources. Did that present you with any special challenges?    

    JH: We had been sharing resources before this… as early as 1988 we were working on Microprose Soccer at the same time as an RPG called Touchstone that was never released (Chris Yates and Martin Galway were the programmers with me doing all of the art and leading the design on Touchstone (in general myself and Chris had shared the design of all Sensible Software games up to this point).

    Also in 1990 we were simultaneously doing the 16 bit versions of International 3D tennis and Mega-lo-Mania and starting Wizkid (this involved Chris Yates, Chris Chapman and Dave Korn as programmers, with me doing all of the art and leading the design on Mega-lo Mania). Around 1991 we also took on two new members, Jools Jameson and Stoo Cambridge, Stoo was the first additional artist we ever took on. At this stage we were coping quite well with 3 games at a time, Chris Yates and I were making Wizkid between us, Chris Chapman, Dave Korn and myself were working on Sensible Soccer and Jools and Stoo were working on Cannon Fodder. By this stage myself and Chris Yates as business partners needed to define ourselves clear supporting roles to the team so Chris was doing the Tech Director job and I stepped up as lead designer on all of the games except Wizkid which me and Chris continued to design between us… at this stage we 1992 we were in our perfect set up as a company, 6 people with Richard Joseph providing sound for all the games and Mike Hammond doing our football research, working on 3 16 bit game at once, we managed to retain great creativity and efficiency throughout our team at this time.

  2. Were there any technical challenges that you faced?    

    JH: There were no significant technical challenges for us during the 8-Bit and 16-Bit eras. By and large we managed to control the hardware well and for genius programmers such as Chris Yates the challenge was always to get the most out of the system you were working with. However when we moved onto 3D games in 1995 the technical challenges we faced were huge…. For a start we spent only 25% of development time on making the games, the rest was spent just trying to make the graphics engine work, in those days before Unreal and Unity

  3. The Royal British Legion has officially spoken out against the game and urged players not to buy it. The reason for this was the poppy blossom. Were you planning to get more media coverage with this controversy, or were you surprised by it yourself?    

    JH: We were as surprised by it as anyone else. The poppy is a symbol of people who died during the war, we had no idea the Royal British Region had copyrighted it, we were just paying our own respects by using the poppy on the original game cover design.

  4. How successful was the game and which platform was the most successful? How did the Amiga do?    

    JH: Cannon Fodder was our second most successful game series after Sensible Soccer, Amiga sold the best and is the best version, but all formats sold well.

  5. Was the German games market important for you?    

    JH: UK accounted for about half the sales of all Sensible Software games, Germany, Italy, France and Spain were the next biggest territories, in the rest of Europe millions of people played, but mostly with pirated copies. None of our games sold particularly well in the US and only one, Mega-lo-Mania, came out in Japan.

  6. Did it hit you that the game was indexed in Germany by the BPJM?    

    JH: No we never knew that, what does that mean?

  7. With Cannon Fodder 2 you moved away from realism and towards science fiction. Was that a (finally unsuccessful) attempt to avoid a possible indexing in Germany?    
    Cannon Fodder 2 Purple Level
    JH: No our decision to go down a different route with Cannon Fodder 2 had nothing to do with German indexing. Cannon Fodder 2 was the first Sensible Software game where I did not control the design so closely. I was trying to teach myself to let go of control and give our staff more freedom and as a consequence I probably let go too much…. That is how the purple levels etc sneaked in, in my opinion the game lost some of its reality and therefore some its gravitas with these rather left field graphics.

  8. How do you feel today about the song „War! Never been so much fun“?    

    JH: Well as someone who has written around 300 songs in 40 years it is one of my 2 most famous songs… so I love it and it is great to still be playing it live on stage even now… Covid permitting.
    We play each year at Pixel Heaven in Warsaw and there is nothing better as a songwriter than seeing the whole audience singing your song.. getting up on stage to dance and sing and celebrate with you.. it is amazing.

  9. Looking back, what do you think of the Cannon Fodder project, did you enjoy it?  Are there any things or aspects that you wish you had done differently then or now?  

    JH: I am very proud of Cannon Fodder, it is second only to Sensible Soccer in terms of my own personal back catalogue as a designer. I wish I had done a better job on Cannon Fodder 2 and I wish that Codemasters would have allowed us to finish the Cannon Fodder 3 project that I started with them in 1999… but no regrets at all on the first one… we really nailed it.

  10. What do you think about the „retro gaming“ wave that has been going on for years? Should Cannon Fodder also get a remake or even a sequel?    

    JH: There was a sequel made, a different Cannon Fodder 3 made by a Russian team, not the one I designed. I think that commercially the game could be remade, but from an art perspective it would just be a branding exercise… Cannon Fodder had its time in the 90s and now it is gone.. I find the retro gaming movement a bit strange when it comes to remakes. Most great games, books, films, music etc are not remakes they are originals… attempting to wind back time is futile, best just to move on and embrace something new with find memories of the old classics exactly as they are.

  11. Could a game like Cannon Fodder still work today?  

    JH: Sure I think the Cannon Fodder 3D design I did way back could still work with a few tweaks for monetisation and online play… but it wouldn’t really be Cannon Fodder, which is a 2D game… and 2D games don’t really work today.. especially shooters, the fashion has moved on… so yes it could maybe work, but why not just make something new instead?

  12. Did you found the real-time strategy genre with Cannon Fodder instead of Westwood with Dune 2? This is claimed in certain fan circles. Already with Mega Lo Mania, you had your first touches in this direction.  

    JH: Yes this is really important to me. Mega-lo Mania is often overlooked because Mirrorsoft, our publisher, went down within a month of Mega-lo- Mania launching and getting to number one. But Mega lo Mania was the first ever game with a tech tree in it, the very first in the World. At the time Cannon Fodder was launched there was a bit of a power war going on between Virgin US and Virgin Europe… we went out to the States to show the American guys Dune 2 ScreenshotCannon Fodder, but all they wanted to do was show us Westwood and Dune. The disrespect for what we had achieved with Cannon Fodder was extremely annoying… the only reason Cannon Fodder didn’t sell in the US is that they didn’t promote it, they promoted Dune 2 instead.

    Years later we now see many American led web articles about the history of games disregarding games like Mega-lo-Mania and Cannon Fodder because they didn’t sell very well in the US. BUT history is about getting there first, not about how many copies you sold in the States. Mega lo Mania (1991) and Cannon Fodder (1993) are two formative RTS games featuring a number of innovations that other games would go on to emulate and sometimes claim to have got their first. For example the first Warcraft came out in November 1994 a whole year after Cannon Fodder and 3 years after Mega-lo-Mania.

  13. Do you have any interesting anecdote about this game?  

    JH: So many.. but the funnest day out with the team was making the promo video for “War has never been so much fun” we hired a halftrack and some military uniforms, brought a few plastic guns and ran around in an English poppy field all day filming silly sketches (see youtube video).

  14. Are there any Easter Eggs hidden in the game that no one has found yet? 🙂  

    JH: Hmm no that I can remember

  15. At that time, Britain development teams were the nonplus ultra in Europe or the Western world. How did this come about and how did they differ from other teams outside the UK? Were you aware of this role?  

    JH: Britain had a strong background of successful musical bands in the 60s, 70s and 80s and a strong home electronics and radio hobbyist sector too. These two elements made British people very open to setting up in small groups to mess around with computers trying to make games. We also had a strong publishing sector to get the games into the market. Yes I think we were very aware that we were the leading country in Europe at games for some time and probably still are even now. The games peak also arose at the time of a lot of unemployment in the UK due to mine and steel work closures etc so we needed alternative sources of employment and the government at the time made it very easy for us to set up small companies and even give us money for doing so.

  16. Did you compete with any other development teams, e.g. Bitmap Brothers or Rainbow Arts?  
    JH: Very much so in the early days. Especially before we had success we were very jealous… for example in our old phone book the Bitmap Brothers were called the “Bitmap Wankers”… luckily we later became very friendly with some of them when we met them years later and went on to work with them when we signed Sensible Soccer to Renegade, which was 50% owned by the Bitmap Brothers.