DIE WOCHE DES JUBELS – Zur Feier der 100. Folge erscheint in der Woche vom 13.7.2020 jeden Tag ein Podcast. Montag sind wir mit der Einleitung und einer freundlichen Plauderei unter Kollegen gestartet, Dienstag kam Folge 100, Mittwoch eine Einführung in die oft erwähnte Welt von Warhammer, Donnerstag das komplette Interview mit Richard Leinfellner zu Dark Omen. Freitag eine Folge „FON“. Samtag folgte dann endlich die neue Ausgabe der „Zweiten Reihe“, heute gibt es dazu noch den Komplettschnitt des Interviews mit Anderson. Wer uns zu diesem Anlass loben, kritisieren, feiern oder flamen will, ist eingeladen, hier zu kommentieren oder auf unseren Discord zu kommen: klick.
Die gestrige Folge zu Moonstone basierte stark auf einem Interview mit dem Entwickler des Spiels, Rob Anderson. Auszüge davon haben wir als Einspieler verwendet. Um das Gespräch als Quelle für andere Spiele-Archäologen und natürlich auch für interessierte Hörer zugänglich zu machen, veröffentlichen wir es hier komplett, mit einem Transkript unseren sensationellen Hörers und Chronisten Anym.
Viel Spaß beim Hören:
Sprecher: Rob Anderson, Gunnar Lott
Audioproduktion: Lars Rühmann, Christian Schmidt
Titelgrafik: Paul Schmidt
TRANSKRIPT: Moonstone: A Conversation with Rob Anderson
This interview was conducted by Gunnar Lott in January 2018 over VoIP. It was edited by Christian Schmidt and transcribed by Anym, a member of the Stay Forever community.
Stay Forever: Thanks for coming by, thanks for agreeing to be part of this show.
Rob Anderson: Thank you!
Stay Forever: I assume, if I may be so bold, that you’re in your early fifties. Is that about right?
Rob Anderson: That is exactly right, yes. I’m 52.
Stay Forever: I’m in my very late forties, so I thought I may be entitled to ask the question. So, how old were you when you joined the industry in the mid-80s or late 80s and what was your first job?
Rob Anderson: Oh, let’s see. When I started in the industry I believe I was about 25, 24 years old, somewhere around there and my first job would be with a company called Gray Matter who made a lot of games with Mindscape particularly. At the time I was actually still in art school, I was taking animation and fine arts and I was hired as an artist. Basically, I was a pixel artist, more or less, and I was creating most of the sprite graphics and doing some design work. It wasn’t my first taste of computers or computer graphics, but it was my first taste of being in the industry itself. But prior to that, I had always been interested since my teenage years. Actually, my first computer was an Atari 400 and I think I was fourteen years old when I bought that. I got a job as a dishwasher and I saved up money for a long time to buy this computer. And it was my intent at the time when I was in high school, about grade 9, to basically learn how to master this fascinating computer device, this new art form that I felt was just so intriguing at the time.
Stay Forever: When I think about people studying animation in the last ten years, it’s always about rigging a 3D model and things like that. How was that in the 80s, animation? Was animation like Disney-style drawing?
Rob Anderson: That’s exactly what I was doing. I was actually looking right into a light table, pieces of paper and flipping through frame after frame. So, 3D animation at the time was just starting to evolve in my colleges around me and I remember seeing the posters. I was still in high school at the time, but I used to go up to the college to use a computer lab once in a while and they had a – I’m not sure what computer they had – but they had a specific one and they always showed the space shuttle in 3D and I thought that was just so cool at the time. And I think compared to today’s world, that’s for sure, the disciplines today are far more diverse than anything that I saw when I was back in that day. My original training was all with pencil, paper, blue pencil, light tables and films, cameras, all that stuff.
Stay Forever: Whoa! You are an artist first and then learned to be a programmer? Which is a rare thing in today’s highly specialised industry from today’s view and then you later even went over to be a full-time programmer. Can you explain a little bit how that came about?
Rob Anderson: Oh, sure, yeah! So, my first thing was using the Atari 400 and I learned how to do sprites and that same time I was also learning how to program. There wasn’t really any programming classes at the time for me to learn, so I had a couple of friends and we were all into this type of thing. So my programming language that I learned was BASIC as with everybody, but I knew you couldn’t do much with that, except display text. So, to really get to the hardware, I had to learn assembly language. So, 6502 was the way to go and there was this book called De Re Atari and that was like the bible of programming the Atari 400 back in the day and if you could figure out the schematics and all the hardware addresses and how to put it all together, you could put sprites up on the screen and that’s basically what I did for many, many years, doing that while at the same time taking drawing classes and stuff like that. So I always had sort of a duality going on there, because I sort of saw the computer as a future art form, in my mind anyways, I thought it was just a fascinating device and when I finally saw Electronic Arts’ Deluxe Paint that was the amazing epiphany. I was saying: “I love this! This is what I want to do!” I’m jumping forward to my Amiga days, but Deluxe Paint was my go-to software package for many years in my early days of the 80s. So my transition over to programming, it was sort of a necessity item, because I was doing the art and then next to me was one of the engineers that was programming, but to get the art out of Deluxe Paint and into the game was often a difficult task. We didn’t have really a pipeline which is kind of funny, because in today’s world, it’s taken so much for granted. Pipelines are pretty much given to you when you use things like Unity and Unreal and all that. But the trick was to basically have your anchor points and collisions and things like that and so I basically learned how to program some tools and I started writing tools that would take my art, that I did on DPaint and format them into structured sequences, so that the programmer could just take those files there and it would align the walk cycles or the stand poses and put in things like that. So I started transitioning sort of writing tools at the same time as doing the art, so that was sort of my beginnings: to serve “professional” programming, I guess you could say, as opposed to just hobby programming.
Stay Forever: So, at first it was a means to get the art into the game, essentially.
Rob Anderson: Yeah, I felt bad sometimes. You know, back in the day, there was no networks or anything, so all the art was just put on a floppy disk and as documentation was a pad of paper or a post-it. So, it’s like at the end of the day, you drop off these floppy disks next to the engineer and say: “Here, here’s all my stuff! And I look forward to seeing come alive.” It was a need to say, we need to build out a better system, so that what I do art-wise is portrayed in a good way in the game itself. Actually, that’s been my theme for many jobs, making sure what the artists have done appears exactly the way want it to appear in the game.
Stay Forever: Let’s cover Moonstone: Can you tell me how the idea and from the idea how the original design was created?
Rob Anderson: Oh, yeah, sure. It was an evolution of different things, but my friend Todd, who you’ve probably seen on the design credits…
Stay Forever: Todd Prescott.
Rob Anderson: Yes, Todd and I were long-time friends, we played a lot of D&D in our day and he and I got together and he says: “You know, there‘s a couple of ideas I got.” And Todd was the RPG part of Moonstone and for me, I took what I had with the art and said, let’s make some really cool combat and for me it was just the combination of the two. But the key thing was the original design was built on our different experiences, things that we liked in different games. Then I’ll give a lot of credit to Dungeons & Dragons as a draw for me. We played that game for years and years and the idea was bringing some of those things to live and I thought here’s an option to make this a visual experience rather than just the dice and the paper. So, that was my biggest goal there. The RPG part was Todd bringing in some of the aspects of it. He was often our Dungeon Master in D&D, so he had that edge of adding in the elements to change up the strategies and things like that.
Stay Forever: How many creative types of your and my age cite Dungeons & Dragons and the early sessions as an inspiration? Everybody has this first experience with fantasy through D&D!
Rob Anderson: I agree. I think it was a wonderful game that gave you a foundation. You and your friends would be put in a role of improvising your character and trying to act out the way a character’s meant to act out and you had to use your imagination to pull it all together. I think that game is the reason that a lot of people in today’s industry are creative designers. It’s an inspiration for people to draw from your own mind or creativity and put all the pieces together to create something new and exciting.
Stay Forever: When we think of D&D that has a distinct feel that certain fantasy vibe that everybody knows, but Moonstone, especially for a game developed in Canada, felt very European, with the druids and the knights and Stonehenge. It had an almost British feel. How did that come about? Were there other sources of inspiration?
Rob Anderson: There were, several actually. One, in D&D I often liked to play the druid. There is a bit of that in there, but I was fascinated with the druid mythology with the nature and I thought that was just cool as a character. The other one is definitely Monty Python and the Holy Grail, probably one of the funniest movies I remember seeing. I never laughed so hard in my life watching a movie. That was just the most absurd thing and the black knight scene is just one of my fondest memories of movie-watching. “Just a flesh wound!” “Come back, you coward!” and the taunting. And I certainly wanted to capture a bit of that, so definitely British/European influences there.
Stay Forever: So, you were still at Gray Matter?
Rob Anderson: Yes, I was still working at Gray Matter. Basically, Todd and I had worked out something and I had talked to Chris about it, Chris Gray, who was the president of the company, and Chris basically helped introduce me to Mindscape and said: “Hey, there’s this great game that I think you should do.” So, it was an independent effort on my part while still working. I did it in my spare time, but basically Chris helped me serve a demo and he just said: “Give me some great visuals!” And what I ended up doing was creating a simulated combat of I think it was the red knight fighting a trogg character with I think he had the hammer. And the key to the whole demo was when you sliced him into two pieces and I remember animating the blood and I kept looking at the blood and going: “Is that too much? Is that too much? I think maybe that’s too much blood.” And I was encouraged: “More blood is better!” So, I went all in on animating this blood and I just remember when I was taking animation in college, we were taught by this one particular professor, that actually worked on Fantasia. And there is a scene in Fantasia where Mickey is scooping up buckets of water and the splashes are going all over the place and I remember thinking: That’s kind of what I want, that sort of fluidity. So, I really started studying a bit of what they did there and so that’s what I did. I created this little visual demo of just an animation in Deluxe Paint and put together what you’d call a video. In that day you’d just load it into DPaint and played it, but they thought that was awesome. They said: “This is great! Let’s do this!” So, Chris helped broker the deal and I signed with Phil Harrison, who was in charge of Mindscape back in the day and that’s how it all began. And to add to it, Todd and I sort of rolled up I think it might be a four-page little summary of what the game’s all about. To be honest, though, it was going in – I’ve seen today’s designs, they’re pretty robust – but this was like: Here is this really gory thing and it looks cool and we’re going to build out an RPG adventure and little did I know how much this two-year adventure was going to be for me which was pretty difficult, but anyways, yes, we got through it, but those days of handshake deals was all it took and a three-page contract.
Stay Forever: So, you didn’t have a real game design to start with. You had a core idea, especially a core idea about art and some mechanics, fighting perhaps?
Rob Anderson: Yeah, that’s all it was, just: Here’s a great concept. We just showed a lot of enthusiasm towards it.
Stay Forever: And they gave you a one-year deal, so a one-year contract? Where there milestone payments back in the day?
Rob Anderson: It was a fixed budget, which I regret, but yes, I was not hired on as an employee, I was just my own company, I just called myself Anderson Game Studios. It was just a contract with I think six milestone payments based on progress. The anticipation was that it would be done in a year and it took me two to finish it.
Stay Forever: And you couldn’t re-negotiate, so you stretched the original budget?
Rob Anderson: Yes. Yes, I did. Very thinly.
Stay Forever: Obviously. Could you tell me how the day-to-day development went? Was there still Gray Matter as an entity involved and how did you work with Todd and what was the role that Mindscape played aside from reviewing the progress?
Rob Anderson: So, Gray Matter wasn’t involved in any development. After the contract was signed, I was independent at that point. And so, as far as my day-to-day I sort of made it up as I went along. I had never done a project like this and until I got knee-deep into it, I realized: “Oh, wow, this is big.” But essentially, my workflow was something like this: So, I had so many characters that I was going to do in the game and I had some preliminary sketches I’d done as to what they were, so what I would do is spend about three weeks animating a character, so I’d set up my drawing table and paper and just animate each of the characters and work through them all. Then I’d transfer them over to the Amiga and render them all up into Deluxe Paint and to follow that then I’d spend about three weeks programming the character into the game and I would just keep repeating each of those cycles for all the different characters. The hard part started coming about when it was: “OK, now I have to tile this together.” There’s the map, there’s the RPG aspect, the inventory screens and it started getting very complicated. Near the end, it was primarily, mainly just me programming. The art was basically done. I’d go in and tweak every once in a while because I didn’t like things: Pixels not aligned or characters shifted once in a while in a way I didn’t like. It went on and on like that. Eventually, though, after I’d got through certain characters I realized I needed help and that’s when I did hire in Dennis Turner, who I had worked with before at Gray Matter, as a contractor to help me animate and he did the wonderful introduction and ending sequences in Moonstone and he did the balok, the northern wasteland character, and he animated the mudmen, too. I did all the painting on those, but he did the drawings. So, my workflow was scattered. It was sort of as needed: I got to do this and this at the same time. It’s a good thing I was younger at the time. And to work with Mindscape was – with the time zones, I’m sort of a night worker, I’d start work usually about eleven in the morning or maybe twelve and I worked till like three in the morning which worked out well, because then I could call England and talk to Mindscape there and ask them any detailed questions that they’d need. Usually, what they wanted was demos to help build promotion stuff. They didn’t get more involved until there was a lot more substance in the game and then they started helping out with packaging and music – they did the audio – the anti-piracy software that was pointless, because it went to pirate boards within two days of being released. So, what was the point of that? I still laugh at that, I still go: “Oh, wow, they got the pirate boards that fast.”
Stay Forever: But they would tell you: “Those two days mattered.”
Rob Anderson: *laughs* Yeah, those initial sales!
Stay Forever: Did I get this right, you developed like screen after screen or part after part and the logic behind, say, the inventory screen came later? Today, you would do a barebones version, where the logic worked and then add art to it and be fine, but you started with the characters and with the animation and with the screens and the logic behind those things came later, is that right?
Rob Anderson: Yeah, I felt that the art should drive the game, so I always developed the art first. For example, the troll, when I did him, I was like: I want to squish this knight, so it’s the biggest explosion of blood and guts and pieces all over the screen, so if I had programmed that first, without knowing exactly the detail, I would probably end up rewriting it. So, it sort of set up the priorities as to what I needed to do and I would just sort of invent the code. I had the advantage because I wrote all the tools to get the assets into the game with the help actually of another programmer, Kevin Hoare that helped me develop a lot of these things. Since we had control of these pipelines, we could adapt them to whatever we wanted to do. So, yes, I sort of juxtaposed the way that development’s done today, that’s for sure.
Stay Forever: How did you playtest the game when everything came together very late and especially as it is a multiplayer game.
Rob Anderson: Testing wasn’t really done.
Stay Forever: Yeah, I know.
Rob Anderson: Testing was primarily done by me, so I would program it and then I would just sit and play it and I would try and get all the edge cases in. It wasn’t until I flew over to Mindscape to wrap up the game that they started really testing the multiplayer part of it. Todd also helped, too, but Todd was in university at the time, so he had very little time to help out with a lot of the testing. But to me the multiplayer was really important, though, because when I started the original design, one of the games that I really liked as a kid growing up was the arcade game Joust and the reason Joust was so much fun was you could play it with a friend. And with D&D it was a group effort. It was all of us playing. I did really want to make a game more than one player could play and it should be fun as a single player or as a multiplayer.
Stay Forever: The whole game has a very tabletoppy feel, it’s a group game. I’ve never played it solo in the 90s, when I played it. Did you the game design, the nitty-gritty stuff: This sword should do five points of damage and this monster should move like that and be that fast? Did you do all this for yourself?
Rob Anderson: The movement and animation part that was primarily me. As far as damage goes, the stats and attributes, Todd helped out with that. We went back and forth many times and he said: this is too easy, this is too hard. We iterated back and forth for maybe about a month or so on that. The troggs were sort of like our test bed. Once we had him built out, the rest just followed similar suit.
Stay Forever: The game has quite a number of different elements. It looks simple, when you first play it, but you have the map and the real-time combat and the progression system with the stats and the whole moonstone thing and the collection and the random elements like the dragon and everything. Did you plan this out beforehand in a growing design document or something or was some of that a spontaneous idea: Ah, we should have a dragon in it!
Rob Anderson: No, we always wanted the dragon! It was pretty well planned out. The map is obviously divided into quadrants of different regions and the troggs are in every one of them, they were the constant and then we had the special creatures. We didn’t necessarily have them as to what they were going to be specifically, but we knew that that’s how we wanted the variety to be. What they did in the end was sort of a free-flow design when we got to it. Some of them are just so generic names. I look back and laugh and I go: Ratmen? Come on, you could have come up with something better than that! Or the mudmen! The balok, I liked his name. The troggs were one of my favourites, which is like “goblins” or “orcs”, but I wanted the dragon to come in later. I didn’t want everything all to be in there at once, I felt that there should be some sense of adventure and the dragon was meant to be the surprise because he can take your loot. He takes everything, if he beats you! I figured it’s a good way to create that element of – if someone’s getting far ahead of everyone else, playing the dragon can change the balance of the game by taking it. “OK, now we have to go after him!” That sort of was the idea there. We did have progression in the characters, as you get higher level, if your stats are high, you can pretty well just slice troggs in two. We thought it was easy, but at the same time, it made me laugh so much, that I was like: we got to keep that, because that’s fun and it’s satisfying. It’s like: You’ve earned it! I think it’s important to reward the player when they win, but also make it entertaining as well when they lose, so the knight dies horribly. It is meant like you want to lose, just to see what happens. There was a game called Battle Chess. That game was wonderful in the way that you just played chess and you just wanted to see how all the characters would kill the other character when you took whatever their piece was. It was so well done. And I love that concept. I think it’s a great idea. And so I tried to apply it here, too.
Stay Forever: The programming was mainly you, but you sourced out some efforts in the end to get it done or did you bring somebody in right at the start?
Rob Anderson: Yeah, Kevin is someone I met at Gray Matter and basically he had an engine that took the OS completely out of the Amiga and then took over the whole hardware. The Amiga back in the day, their OS took up 150 K, so you’re only left with 350 K of RAM and so Kevin, he was a great hardware guy, really good tech guy, and Kevin had created also a link using the parallel ports, so I could link two Amigas together. So I had my Amiga 2000 to develop on and an Amiga 500 that was my slave system that would run the game and I could debug across it. And Kevin developed all of this, so I was using his engine, so that gave me the starting place for the OS aspect. He did take care of all of that.
Stay Forever: So the game was developed in assembler then?
Rob Anderson: Yes, Moonstone was written all in 68000 and so were all the tools. Basically, the trick is – I guess it’s kind of a hack, but if you want to get rid of the Amiga OS, you just re-write the interrupt vector table with your own, so the OS is gone at that point and you just put in your own functions. There was a couple of books that told you how to do the display, that was the Agnus chip, the Denise chip was the audio. The tricky one was the I/O for the floppy drive, so we had problems with the floppy drive. On certain Amiga 500s that were released, Commodore changed the drive motor and we were pushing the drive to be faster loading and it didn’t work on a small percentage of Amigas out there. And luckily, one of the guys at Mindscape had one of those small percentile computers and he asked: “Hey, can I test your game?” I was still developing it in England to finish it up and I said: “Sure.” So I gave him a beta copy there, he took it home and said: “All that my computer does is grind.” So I said: “Oh, can you bring in your computer? And I could take a look at it.” And sure enough it was grinding and then after a little back and forth with Kevin we found out that we were stepping the motor too fast, so we dropped it down and it was good, because actually now he knew why another game he had worked on with a similar thing where that was occurring, because no one understood it, but fortunately, I had found somebody that had the computer so we could figure it out.
Stay Forever: So essentially, you deleted – for the time when the game runs – the OS and then re-created the basic functions of the OS like I/O of the floppy?
Rob Anderson: Yes, and that gave us 150 K which gave me an opportunity to put in a lot more graphics.
Stay Forever: Let’s go to art: You already talked about that, but is there anything else you want to tell about the joint effort on the art perhaps.
Rob Anderson: Yeah, it was just really Dennis and I. There was a few things that were done when I went to Mindscape. There was still the inventory screen and the map that still was not done. It was just this blank screen with some boxes, so Mindscape helped me out there and there was an artist there named Steve Leney and Steve basically helped build out the maps and the inventory screen and a few other introduction screens. At the time, too, they were working on the box art. The artist was David O’Connor and he created a bunch of sketches and I liked some of his sketches and we knew that we were going to use his stuff, so I actually used some of his sketches and incorporated them in the map and that’s where you see Highwood, Waterdeep as cities, that was David’s sketches that were converted into art and also the centre, the Valley of the Gods was a little bit of his work, so some of his inspirational work that he submitted for box art actually ended up being part of the map.
Stay Forever: I’ll come to the box art later. How about the soundtrack, was this something you could choose?
Rob Anderson: So, Mindscape worked with the Bitmap Brothers and the Bitmap Brothers worked a lot with Richard Joseph, so they brought in him and I couldn’t be happier. His soundtracks were amazing. So, during the development of Moonstone, I listened to certain music, particularly Peter Gabriel and various soundtracks and stuff, so I handed over my playlist and said: “This is how I think it should sound, this is the sound I really think works with it.” And Richard really liked it and he just rolled with it after that and made it his own and I couldn’t have been happier, but that was primarily Mindscape that brokered that whole thing.
Stay Forever: And the sound effects?
Rob Anderson: The sound effects actually came early, because I had bought a sound digitizing box for my Amiga and I made a lot of the sounds for the early demos. Some of them I got from various movies, I would take some clanking sounds or swords, that type of stuff. I put all those together and it was a pretty small package, but I handed all those over to Richard and he rolled with it and expanded on the rest of it. I felt the sound, it’s a big part of the animation and it adds the impact, so I felt it was important to have something in there. So, I did spend some time doing audio in the early days. It was a fun diversion.
Stay Forever: You like to do everything, don’t you?
Rob Anderson: I like to dabble, yeah.
Stay Forever: The one discipline I haven’t talked about yet is producing or project management or whatever you would call it. Was there any high-level thing? Did you keep tables in a spreadsheet? Or did you just wing it most of the time?
Rob Anderson: Mostly, I just winged it. Actually, what I had was just old-school: I had notepads and as things came up priorities like Mindscape said something or I detected something, I would just keep writing it down. I didn’t have a spreadsheet. It was just a highlighter and a pen. Which is my natural state, because coming from art, hey, I like that.
Stay Forever: Everybody hates spreadsheets. So, let’s talk about the game a little bit. So, the obvious question is, you already touched it a little bit, but why the gore?
Rob Anderson: I was just fans of it. I’ve always enjoyed it. I don’t think I did anything that movies hadn’t done before. There was lots of films coming out at that time, slasher films and stuff. But I would have to say, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the black knight scene had that comic edge. OK, it was gross and gory, but at the same time, it was funny, so I was like: “I want that in it.” It did certainly create some controversy and certain people didn’t like it, so I added the gore switch which was not a lot of fun to really implement, because it required filtering on every level, basically throughout the whole game, but it was thrown in there and I’d like to know the survey, what the survey says, did anyone play Moonstone without the gore?
Stay Forever: Probably nobody. I, living in Germany, I couldn’t buy the game, because it was banned by the government and it was traded on the school yards like cocaine. But I find this interesting, that you touch on movies because movies have always gotten away with more things than games. So you compare this more to movie gore and not to effects in other games?
Rob Anderson: I compared it more to the movies and when I was taking animation, there was no shortage of people animating things like this just for the fun. The college I went to, Sheridan College, one of the animators that graduated was famous for Godzilla Kills Bambi or Bambi Meets Godzilla. It was this comical thing where Bambi’s eating grass and then this big foot just comes down and crushes Bambi. It’s sort of along those lines of tongue-in-cheek ridiculous humour. For me it was just I wanted to be entertaining and I felt the gore, considering you are running around stabbing things with swords, hitting people with hammers and burning them and ripping them in two and stuff I thought that, well, there has to be gore. You can’t not have that! I just thought it was a fun thing and it was something that I wanted to do.
Stay Forever: Tell me who’s responsible for the cheesy cover art of the game box! I know in the early 90s, there was cheesy game boxes all around, it must have been part of job description: Make it as cheesy as possible! But a game that looks so great and with that cover art, wasn’t that under-sold?
Rob Anderson: Yes. That was Mindscape’s directive because they were fearful that with all the gore that it would be perceived unacceptable and they didn’t want to risk that. Mindscape’s goal was to basically lighten it up and they thought that this was a great way to do it. Originally, it was called Moonstone, but they added A Hard Day’s Knight, because they thought it was a little more fun and same with the box art, they thought it should be a lighter fantasy type feel. I wish they never showed his face, because never once in the game you ever see the knight’s face and for some reason they said: Oh, let’s show the knight, doing his smile.” And the dwarf guy, too, pointing towards the valley, like an introduction and that character is not even in the game, but it was their decision and there’s greater powers at times and I couldn’t control everything.
Stay Forever: When the game came out in 1991, the reviews were mixed, with a number of reviewers really, really loving it and others, especially I remember some German reviewers before it was banned were like: “Well, the gore is obviously there to hide some of the mistakes that the development team made.” This really ranges from 5/10 to 9/10. What’s your view on that? Do you feel unfairly treated by the low reviews?
Rob Anderson: No, not at all. I’m glad people liked it. Sure, I knew that some people won’t like it. And that’s fine. I think some of the bad reviews are justified in the sense that the game didn’t get a lot of testing before it was released and I know there were bugs. I was fixing bugs after the release to try and patch it. There was a couple of things. No save game feature, so I get that: People play for half an hour or something and if the game crashes, that’s pretty upsetting that you can’t just go back and say: “Oh, I’ll just load where I left off.” So I think some of it was justified and I knew it wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Not everyone likes that style of game or combat game, but I’m glad other people did like it.
Stay Forever: Talking of success, the game has – as far as I know – not been a success at retail, didn’t sell that much, that’s one part of the success question, but it evolved into a classic. I tried to buy it on eBay, but it’s like 500 €. A colleague of mine bought it last year for 250 and considers himself very lucky and it makes about every Amiga Top 20 or Top 25 list that’s on the Internet, so how do you explain these both sides? And could you elaborate a bit more on the retail success? Do you have figures?
Rob Anderson: I don’t have figures. I used to. Back in the day, everything was done in faxes and my fax – well, I didn’t have a fax machine – but the fax that I got was a thermal printer that’s faded now, so it’s just a blank page. So, I really don’t know what the numbers are anymore.
Stay Forever: Do you have a ballpark number? Something like 50,000+?
Rob Anderson: Yeah, I think it was more along the lines of 50,000 at most, I think. I didn’t sell well, I think, for several reasons: One, it didn’t get released at an appropriate time. I think it was released in January, because we couldn’t get it out for the holiday season, so it was kind of like after everyone’s already bought their presents. So I think timing was off. I think also with the gaming world was starting to transition more towards consoles at that time. Amigas were still popular, but were on the cusp of changing over to something different. And the fact that it’s a classic now, I think a lot of it has to do with the people that did play it enjoyed it for the fact that it was multiplayer, like a lot of stories I’ve read from people online that did play it and enjoy it and said: “Thanks, that’s a great game,” often say: “I used to play this with my friend all the time,” and I think that’s a reason, it built that memory of “me and my buddy played games”. I think that’s why it has survived and become maybe a classic.
Stay Forever: Also, it still looks great. Pixel art never dies. It feels very much like a game that should be on Mega Drive. I totally understand that Nintendo wouldn’t pick this up, but I heard you did talk to SEGA and Nintendo about this?
Rob Anderson: Yes.
Stay Forever: So it was too gory even for SEGA?
Rob Anderson: Yeah, at the time they didn’t want to touch anything that could create controversy. Nintendo was the family system, SEGA was a little more edgy, but they just didn’t see it fitting in with what they wanted to portray themselves as. I think a big thing was Moonstone was prior to Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat, once that became the phenomenon that it did in the arcades, I think SEGA and Nintendo changed their tunes as to what type of games they would be willing to put out to their consoles. But at the time I was sort of on the edge and it wasn’t really something that they wanted to tackle. So I did lose North America because of that. There was no North American sales at all. When I mentioned it while I‘m here, no one knows about it. So, they go: “What’s that?” Then I say: “Well, look it up on the Internet if you want to see it.”
Stay Forever: My personal feeling is that everybody in my age who owned an Amiga in Germany played it. And obviously as this couldn’t be bought, this must be what the industry calls “lost sales”.
Rob Anderson: Yes, yes. I remember they said in Germany that it was banned. And I knew about that, that a lot of games were banned in Germany. I think it’s ironic, though. I think the first pirate board that Moonstone appeared on was on a German pirate board.
Stay Forever: I believe it had quite the reach in Germany, but only copies. And that might be as well some part of why it came to be a classic, because the people who obtained it, because it couldn’t be bought cherished it. Did you ever leave art fully behind and go fully into programming or were you always on the intersection?
Rob Anderson: For many years, I was always flipping between the two. It wasn’t until long after I finished Moonstone that I actually transitioned more full-time into programming. The time had changed so we had gone more to console development and 3D became more of a standard. That required special specialities with artists and stuff, so I went more full-time engineering at that time. But there was many crossovers, from the art to the programming and when I did Moonstone I was flip-flopping between the two because I did both and then after that I went into producing, so I was mainly managing teams and then after that I went back into engineering, so it was like I kind of blow in the wind sometimes with my career path.
Stay Forever: You even went on to design toys. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Rob Anderson: Oh, yeah, toys was a lot of fun, actually. I didn’t design the toys, it was more just engineering, firmware engineering. They liked the fact that I started out as an assembly language programmer and in toys that’s a big thing, because they don’t really have C compilers or anything like that for most of the toys, it’s usually just a grid board. So I did some toys and some of the toys today were getting more interactive and educational, so it was a fun diversion away from games and it was great because it was this very quick iterative method to game, like games today take years to develop whereas toys, you get about a month. At the end of the year you’ve probably put out like 30 toys or something like that, but a lot of it was just sound, but there was a few with Fisher-Price that I did that were a lot of fun.
Stay Forever: What do you do today, these days?
Rob Anderson: I’m back in games again. I’m doing a couple of things actually, to be honest. I’m sketching some more and reviving some old designs and I’m looking at a possible reboot of Moonstone, as an homage to the original, but really bringing it up to date with what today is, but I’m also working with a Chinese company and I’m working on tool pipelines to help them get animations into their main engine. It’s actually a pretty fascinating job, but yeah, I’m basically doing tool, animation pipelines and design work as a fun little sideline for me.
Stay Forever: Thank you very much! That was very interesting.
Rob Anderson: Alright, thank you, Gunnar.
Stay Forever: Thank you very much and have a good day!
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