Guest Article: Steve Mitchell (Lore Design) Interview

Lore Design was the company responsible for the production of Highlander: The Last Of The McLeods on the Jaguar CD. Released in October 1995 the game was an impressive Alone In The Dark style 3D adventure that used motion-captured characters along side 24-bit true colour backdrops. It was based on the Gaumont Multimedia animated TV series, that was in turn based on the film starring Christopher Lambert. A further two games were planned but never released. Here, freelance games journalist Kieren Hawken interviews Steve Mitchell, the owner of Lore Design and producer on all three Highlander games.

What are the origins of Lore Design in the video game industry?

The company was founded to do the Computer Moderated Play By Mail game Lore Lords of Britain, which ran for most of the life of the business. Whilst in a gap year I did the BBC Micro ports of the James Bond game License to Kill and Atari arcade game Return Of The Jedi for Domark with my college friend Chris Lowe.

Around the time I graduated I completed Kung Food for the Atari Lynx with Paul Johnson, Tim Harper and Christian Urquhart (who is famous for being employed by Ocean Software in the 80s while still at school). Working with Christian taught me a lot about gameplay and Paul was an inspired artist who could script whole games himself and proved to be a good at business too.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Highlander came about?

Atari licensed the Highlander animated series for a Jaguar CD game. They picked Lore to develop it as we had completed several Lynx games and Dave Worton, who worked with me on some of them, had started working with 3D Studio on a pre-rendered Z buffered backdrop that allowed for the limited polygon characters that were needed for the Jaguar system and the Alone in The Dark style perspective that Atari had picked for the game. Atari also paid for state of the art motion capture studio to be built at our development studio. They paid for all the original voice actors to be flown over and provided footage from the cartoon series for us to use. Sadly this was the last game completed by Lore as a dispute with the then Atari Corp on future titles resulted in the insolvency and ultimately the voluntary receivership of the business in around 1997.

It has long been rumoured that both Highlander II and III were completed, what can you tell us about the sequels?

There was a PC version of Highlander and the sequels were in production but unreleased, as they were licensed games and those licenses had expired. I can't imagine there being any official versions released however. But it is not impossible that either from QA (testing), Atari or an ex-Lore member that something may be out there. So I can't squash the rumour, though I'd be very surprised if it was a final version.

What was the Jaguar like to work with?

Personally I much preferred the Lynx over the Jaguar for development. Generally cartridge consoles had not only RAM but also ROM to work from directly. Adding the CD meant reads had to be cached into your RAM instead of just sitting in the ROM making the CD system less potent that the straight cartridge system.

The PlayStation was a much nicer console to develop for than the Jaguar with better tools, eight times more effective RAM and it could do basic texture mapping. Despite the lack of experience they also offered excellent support, something Atari and the Jaguar didn’t have.

What happened to the members of Lore Design and what have you all done since?

Many of the team stayed in the northwest and joined Magenta Software (who also worked on Highlander but still survive as a business to this day). Paul was a founder of Magenta and still runs it today developing console games for major publishers.

I myself had just got married and started a family back in 96/97 and so left Lore and become Development Manager (Internal) at SCEE in London. Whilst I was there I produced Total NBA ‘97 and NBA Shootout ‘97 before returning north and starting Diamond Apple Ltd. I still run Diamond Apple today making games, accessories and other game technologies.

I work with and see many of the people from the Lore period on a regular basis. For example our original producer on Highlander, who worked for Atari Corp at the time, is visiting the UK right now from the US. Some of the people on my team now were with me back at Lore or during my time at SCEE afterwards.

Are there any funny stories you can tell us about your time at Lore Design?

Whilst visiting Atari Corp in the mid 90s I was invited to a meal with Jeff Minter and some Atari QA guys, this was around the time Jeff was making the seminal Jaguar title Tempest 2000.  Jeff had taken us to a curry house he'd found near the Sunnyvale Atari offices in the Bay Area at which he had persuaded the proprietors to serve vindaloo strength curry to the Atari employees. I distinctly recall him telling the testers, at some point before the meal, to "Put the Bog Roll in the Fridge..." or similar such words followed by a wry smile. Jeff's time in California was legendary amongst the Atari Corp team at the time but I can only confirm this one anecdote from personal experience. The curry was good! I do not know if the QA guys took his advice though!

Do you have happy memories of your time as first party producer for Atari?

I personally loved making Lynx games and would still code for it if I had a development kit!

The Jaguar not so much!

Interview by Kieren Hawken. Special thanks to Steve Mitchell.

Read a full article on the history of Lore Design in issue 128 of Retro Gamer magazine.

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