Hi there.... Well, you've come this far,
I suppose I'd best tell you a little something about what I
do. Sit back, relax, and prepare for a five minute potted
autobiography... Who knows, it may just cure your insomnia!
In a nutshell (a thinly veiled potted CV)
Paul Hughes, or Paulie to anyone that knows me, popped up on this fair planet some 41 years ago in sunny Wigan, Lancashire. Little did anyone suspect that in less than 13 years time he would be bitten by the computer programming bug that would drag him, kicking and screaming, into the games industry for the last 29 years with no signs of ever growing up!
I wrote my first commercially released game in 1981 (yup, I was 13 at the time), and in the ensuing twenty-nine years I've developed well over 40 titles (some of which can be seen HERE).
Apart from pure "gameplay" programming I also focus a good deal of time developing and managing cross team, cross platform gaming technologies - the underlying tools and technologies "under the hood" that make the development of the games across multiple platforms so much easier, thus enabling the development teams to focus on gameplay rather than worrying about the quirks and tricks required to render the pretty graphics on the various consoles!
My "big things" are Data Compression, Games System Architecture, Rendering Technology, Encryption, and Code Optimisations (both algorithmic and peep-hole cycle counting). I've now got four pending patents, two in the field of data compression, two in the field of computer graphics.
For my own amusement I developed a new high performance video codec, specifically designed for use in games, called "Chroma" which has evolved into a bit of a beast now running on six gaming platforms (from Nintendo DS all the way up to High Definition PS3) and looking rather groovy if I do say so myself.
I am currently Director of Technology at TT-Fusion, a wholly owned subsidiary of Travellers Tales (which now is a wholly owned subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) and home to LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Indiana Jones, LEGO Batman, LEGO Rock Band and now LEGO Harry Potter. I'm still bursting with the same enthusiasm at Travellers that I had back in the 80's. Suffice to say I don't think I will ever grow up!
Previously, I was the Chief Technology Officer at Warthog, a large independent game development company that we founded from the ashes of Electronic Arts North West in 1997.
When I'm not sat in front of a PC you'll most likely find me performing card tricks, or designing big flashy illusions to saw the missus up in!
Computers and Consoles
In 1981 I got my first real taste of a "real" computer when my parents bought me a ZX81, which my dad lovingly built from kit form for me (this, despite the early kits having errors in the board instructions). I'd already learned BASIC courtesy of a bunch of books from the library, and once I got "prodding" the membrane keyboard I realised I needed to learn the mystic runes of Z80 machine code, so down to the library searching through the record cards for Rodney Zaks "Programming the Z80".
OK, I was hooked, machine code made perfect sense and I moved on up to a "real business machine" - enter the Commodore PET, 16K of green screen power! Along with a new computer came a new machine code - the PET used the MOS 6502 for a CPU, so it was time to break out the books from the library. Enter my second book by Rodney Zaks - "Programming the 6502".
The next two events were the catalyst to my career. Firstly Commodore announced their first colour computer - the VIC-20. Real colour, real sound, real user definable graphics - the possibilities were mind boggling. Then I went to Florida on holiday, and there the video arcades had a new craze, a little game called Pac Man. That game ate all my quarters, and when I returned home I was determined to write it for the Vic-20. I crammed a version of Pac man into 3.5K of RAM, sold it to a publisher and the rest, as they say, is history.
At this point, totally bitten by the bug, I started dabbling with other computers. I wrote a few games in BASIC for the TI-99/4a followed by a machine code conversion of Activision's River Raid. Around about the same time I started fiddling with both the BBC Micro and Dragon 32 - both nice machines but with relatively small markets, and so despite putting together game demos for the machines for my own amusement none where ever commercially released.
Things were about to change though....
The Ocean Years
Then the games industry really took off - the launch of both the Sinclair Spectrum and the Commodore 64. The '64 was my machine of choice and after a chance meeting with a musician, Peter Clarke, in the local computer shop we started working on sound tracks for C64 games - Peter writing the music, me writing the audio playback code. We did a few titles together - Scooby Doo for Elite Systems, Repton 3 for Superior Software and finally Double Take for Ocean. At this point in late 1986 I joined Ocean's in house games development team, Pete followed on to help and then eventually take over from Martin Galway.
Ocean was an absolute blast; in the late eighties and early nineties they owned the software industry - during one Christmas we had nine of the top ten game titles in the charts! Recently Bill Harbison (one of the great, great artists from Ocean) put together a website called "THE OCEAN EXPERIENCE" that contains info, pictures, movies and a forum detailing "the good old days". It is frequented by many of the old Ocean crew and is well worth a visit.
During my time at Ocean I put out a few games across several platforms and developed a penchant for technology. All the tape and disk fast load / protection systems were done by me, and so you've got me to blame for putting the Ocean Loading Music on a bazillion C64 titles. For the curious I've put up a page all about the FREELOAD fast loader and protection for the C64, and the SID Music Player that was used on dozens of games.
When the C64 GS Cartridge based "console" was launched I wrote all the operating software for it, whilst Dave Collier designed the actual hardware. It was a lovely system with almost instant loading which just didn't take off.
Check out these Scary Pictures from the late eighties at Ocean Software.
When the 16 bit computers started to appear - the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST I developed a fixation with realtime 3D graphics and immediately started to digest any and all texts on 3D rendering and linear algebra. This early fixation from first principles would stand me in good stead when the future 386 PCs and 3D consoles would start to appear.
The Rise of the Consoles
Just as the 16 bit computers started to take a hold in England, the next turning point in the games industry was about to begin, and it came from a little known playing card company from Japan... Called Nintendo!
The Nintendo Entertainment System or NES was something new. It didn't have games on tape or disk, they came on "instant loading", pirate proof (for a long while) cartridges and featured (for the time) near arcade quality sound and graphics. The real shock was at a time when cassette based games retailed for £6.95, these NES games were selling (and selling by their millions) for £40, and this was back in the 90's!!
Ocean set up a new building to research and develop new titles for the new incoming game consoles. Ocean was one of only three developers in Europe with access to Nintendo NES and Gameboy hardware. We put together our own cross assembler development systems along with our own interface hardware, and we started to churn out the titles.
Just before I bailed out from Ocean, circa 1992, the cartridge development teams were working flat out on the NES, the Gameboy, the Super Nintendo, the Sega Megadrive, the 64 GS and the Amstrad GX4000.
Let the (3D) games commence
At this point PC clones were just starting to become affordable, and, with the advent of the new Intel 386 processor, capable of giving the consoles a run for their money, especially in the 3D graphic stakes.
I'd been using PCs for years as development systems, but never really considered them as a games machine - this was an important lesson for developing future technologies; sometimes you just have to try things out! Once id software had released Wolfenstein 3D the penny dropped, maybe all my 3D jiggery pokery from the ST days could be reworked for the PC. Within a few days I had a Wolfenstein style display up and running only to be knocked into a cocked hat by id's next release - DOOM.
Now it was time to go full blown six degrees of freedom with perspective correct software rendering. Now it was time to enter the Wing Commander Universe...
Electronic Arts / Origin - the start of something Special
I'd been a HUGE fan of Electronic Arts for many, many years - they treated their developers like rock stars. Up until then game developers where hidden away in back rooms with no real credit for the products they produced. When I heard EA had set up an studio in the North West I jumped at the chance to work for them. This really was the turning point in my career; at the Manchester studio I met, without a doubt, the single most creative, technically brilliant group of people you could ever wish to work with.
The project I was charged with being lead on was the sequel to Erin and Chris Roberts' Privateer. Erin had setup the Manchester Studio with his old friends from school (the very guys that worked with Chris on his early BBC Micro games). His brother Chris had just come off the back of directing Wing Commander III - probably the most ambitious space game of the time - which featured over two hours of interactive movies, starring Luke Skywalker himself - Mark Hamill.
With the success of Origin / EA's first Interactive Movie, Privateer 2 was upgraded to contain a fully interactive story containing over three hours of movie shot at Pinewood Studios in London and starring Christopher Walken, David Warner and Clive Owen.
It was a HUGE project from both a logistical point of view and a technical point of view. Development was a long, hard, slog, but every minute of that project was a pleasure, and that was purely down to a team of people that were driven by a passion for the product and a company that supported and trusted its developers to deliver.
Privateer 2 shipped during Christmas 1996, with a Windows 95 version shipping in early 1997 to rave reviews the world over.
Following the release of P2 EA decided to consolidate all its UK development into one new "super studio", which meant the Manchester team relocating to the south of England. Some of the guys moved, some of the guys (myself included) couldn't move due to family commitments. Erin went back to Texas to form Digital Anvil with his brother Chris, and some of the team decided to set something up of their own in Manchester - after all we all worked incredibly well together - and so despite having the time of my life at EA (a company that did indeed treat its people like Rock Stars) I decided to "give it a go" and form our own company...
Welcome to the wonderful world of Warthog
TO BE CONTINUED....
You sold out to Gizmondo?
This is one story not to be missed! Trust me!