Interview with John Passfield

Company: 

It all started a long time ago when John Passfield, a Microbee progammer who occasionally wrote for comics, met talented comic artist Steve Stamatiadis through a mutal friend working in a comic book shop. Together, they formed Interactive Binary Illusions, which later became Gee Whiz! Entertainment. They are, however, known now as Krome Studios, responsible for the impressive and most eagerly awaited Australian developed title called Ty, the Tasmanian Tiger.

Ty had it's North American release just this week, and beforehand, I had a chance to fire off a few questions to John, who was currently in America amidst the launching frenzy of Ty...

To begin with, can you tell us who you are, and what your position involves at Krome Studios?

I'm John Passfield and I'm the Director of Development at Krome Studios. I'm heavily involved in the design and development of original games, a role which encompasses story and character development, game design, prototype coding and even script writing.

What was your background before you started up Gee Whiz Entertainment? What made you decide to start up your own game developement company?

Before Gee Whiz! Entertainment, Steve Stamatiadis (Creative Director of Krome Studios) and I had a partnership called Interactive Binary Illusions. It was under that business name that we released our first games; Halloween Harry (with Subzero Software) and Flight of the Amazon Queen. Before that I worked at Telecom (now Telstra) as a programmer. I had written two computer games for the Microbee System when I was in high school (Halloween Harry and Chilly Willy) and was working with business software at Telecom when I met Steve. He was an animator and comic artist who wanted to make games. My job at Telecom was incredibly tedious and I desperately wanted to quit. So one day in the early nineties Steve and I decided to go for broke and start making computer games as a programmer/artist duo.

What were the reasons for Gee Whiz turning into Krome studios?

We had been working on Mike Stewart's Pro Bodyboarding for a publisher and really hit it off with Robert Walsh, the game's producer. He was the business guy and driving force behind Pro Bodyboarding and out of all the people we had worked with in the past (and we've worked with a lot) he really stood out as someone who had a great head for business and games - a rarity in the industry. We began talking about working together on a bigger scale, and as Steve and I had great game experience but were lacking in the business side of things we decided to join forces. So after we completed Pro Bodyboarding in 1999 we began Krome Studios as a new entity with myself, Steve and Robert as co-founders.

  • Halloween HarryHalloween Harry
  • Zombie WarsZombie Wars

You have a pretty long history in game developement. Which game are you most proud of and why?

That's a tough call. I'm equally proud of Halloween Harry and Flight of the Amazon Queen because we developed those two in tandem with such a small team, they were our first games and they were titles that we were told couldn't be done. In a different way I'm really proud of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger as it's the largest game we've ever done and is the result of over fifty people's hard work.

Gee Whiz released "Flight of the Amazon Queen" on the Amiga with tremendous acclaim. It was a title that very much delivered the kind of quality (and content!) that a much larger studio like Lucasarts were known for. How many people worked on that game? Do you have any anecdotes or stories on the making of Amazon Queen?

First of all, thanks for the compliment in comparing us to Lucasarts. Amazon Queen had an extremely small development team. Steve Stamatiadis did every single graphic for the game - including the Amiga version and the PC version! I did the game engine code, editors and the scripts, and Tony Ball did the PC version. An external contractor by the name of Richard Joseph did the music. The funny thing is the game took over 3 years to make and we were beating ourselves up because we were taking so long. Afterwards I looked at the development team size for Lucasarts games and realized how small we were and that it was a miracle we got it done in that amount of time.

With Amazon Queen we got to enter the realm of CD-Rom and voice recording. At the time there were very few adventure games with full voice and we got to work with some great people. We met Bill Hootkins, the guy who played Porkins from Star Wars (he bites it in the Death Star battle) and Penelope Keith (a British TV star) who played different characters in the game.

Krome were pretty much responsible for getting the surfing game genre off the ground, the only attempt previously was perhaps the surfing section in California Games on the C64.
With the latest titles such as Kelly Slater Pro Surfer expanding on the genre, are there any plans for Krome to return to this type of game?

Krome doesn't really have any plans to return to the surfing genre at this stage. We were really happy with what we did with Mike Stewart's Pro Bodyboarding then Championship Surfer and finally Sunny Garcia Surfing. I believe we pushed the surfing game to its limits. Of course you could expand the genre by adding in career mode and other stuff, but the actual game play - the surfing on the wave and pulling off cool tricks - I think we did well and are happy to move on to other genres.

  • The Flight of the Amazon QueenThe Flight of the Amazon Queen
  • The Flight of the Amazon QueenThe Flight of the Amazon Queen

Ty, the Tasmanian Tiger is the result of two years of hard work at Krome. How are you feeling in anticpation of its release (October 9, 2002) ?

Bloody stoked! To see the game grow from the first prototype back in early 2000 to the finished game in 2002 on PS2, Gamecube and Xbox is amazing. Plus we have an awesome TV ad that will airing across the world, something we've never had before. Regardless of how the game fares I'm really happy with the work that the team did in making this Triple A game a reality.

Were there any valuable lessons you have learnt in the production of Ty?

Never underestimate the importance of communication, especially with a large team. When there are a few guys working on a game the need for a formal communication process isn't necessary - you can just shout across the room to each other. But within larger teams there's more room for people to miss out on or misinterpret important information. But I wouldn't have it any other way - I love working with a large team. You get an amazing amount of input from so many people and the results really show in the final game - the sum of the whole really is greater then the sum of the parts.

You're heavily involved with game design, and you've written some guides on your personal homepage. As a game designer, what are the common mistakes you see other developers making? What type of games do you enjoy playing?

I think one of the most common mistakes in design is trying to write it all down on paper in one go then implement that design no matter what. Building a game is an iterative process. You need to constantly play it and tweak it. You also need to constantly let the target user play the game and you need to observe what they do. You can learn a lot from this and you should adjust your game design to reflect areas that they have trouble with, or enhance the areas they enjoy. This is something we're trying to do earlier in the development process.

As for what types of games I enjoy playing. I like a lot of different games but I tend to focus heavily on console games. The games I've played recently include Sly Cooper, Buffy, GTA3, Mr. Driller A, THPS3, Baldurs Gate, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, Jet Set Radio Future and Halo.

  • ChampionSurferChampion Surfer
  • Extremely Goofy SkateboardingExtremely Goofy Skateboarding

Krome Studios are by far the most desired development studio to work for in Australia, as evident by our forum members. What type of people are Krome looking for in potential artists? Does Krome value technical skills over artistic flair (ie: knowledge of how to rig a model in Max versus being able to make it look pretty)?

Steve Stamatiadis, the Creative Director says he prefers artists who can make stuff look pretty, as you can always learn the technical skills later.

Are there any particular styles that aspiring Kromers should focus on? (ie: cartoony style of Ty, or the Manga look of Blade Kitten...or reaslitic look of Surf Boarding...)

The ability to be able to adapt to any style is a plus. We've done games that are very different to each other like Barbie's Beach Vacation, Sunny Garcia Surfing and Extremely Goofy Skateboarding as well as Ty. We have artists who've worked on each of those titles but have been able to match the style of the license perfectly - and that's a real skill.

What makes a showreel stand out from the crowd? What is the one thing that you wish potential artists would stop putting in their showreel? (ie: exploding teapots...;))

I'm not the Creative Director (that's Steve Stamatiadis' job) so I don't get to see a lot of the art applications, but I do know that showreels with unique imagery really stand out. The art guys have seen a lot of space ships, elves and hardcore marines, so if you're a modeler and you want to add them to your show reel then you better make sure that they are really amazing. In reality, whatever game you're working on from GTA3 to Final Fantasy, you'll have to build things like trees, chairs and tables - and you'll have to build these within a small polygon budget.
If you're an animator then show us some animations of people - flybys of space ships or machinery don't show off your animation skills as readily as people or animals.

How important is the AGDC with respect to making contacts and hiring of staff to you?

We made contacts at previous shows, but we don't actively seek employees there. We prefer to look at people's showreels and resumes before organizing an interview. If you want to send us a showreel then email us at jobs@kromestudios.com.

  • Ty, the Tasmanian TigerTy, the Tasmanian Tiger
  • Ty, the Tasmanian TigerTy, the Tasmanian Tiger

What are your usual hours working at Krome? Whats a typical day like for you at Krome?

I have it pretty easy compared to some of the guys. I try to aim at getting in to work between 9am and 10am but it usually leans toward 10. I try to leave between 7pm and 8pm, but during deadlines that always drags on to 11pm or later - it all depends. I've also been reasonably successful in cutting out working on weekends - but during crunch time that's not always possible.

Is there a limit to the number of figurines that a programmer is allowed to have on their desktop (and monitor etc)?

The only law that limits the number of action figures on top of desktops and monitors is the law of physics.

What's in store for Krome in the future?

We're going to concentrate on creating original content games as well as licensed properties - and in all cases we're going to push the boundaries on what can be done on console systems.

Is there anything you'd like to say to close off the interview?

If you enjoy playing games, or if you want to get into the business of making games, then I think the next few years is going to be a boom time in Australia.

Thanks for taking your time to answer all these questions, John.. :)

Thank you for asking them.

Big thanks to John for devoting his time to answer these questions. You can catch him at the Australian Game Developers Conference in December where he'll be chatting about Ty the Tasmanian Tiger. Also thanks to Daemon, Gazunta, and the rest for providing some of the questions for John! :)
To find more information about Krome Studios or Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, click on the links below!
Krome Studios Online Ty, the Tasmanian Tiger official website