Harry Holmwood, Director, In2Games
SPOnG managed to catch up with In2Games Director, Harry Holmwood, recently, for a quick chat about its 'Fusion' technology.
Fusion, for those not aware, is a motion-sensing games control technology that promises to bring full motion-sensing control to both current and next-gen platforms. For this reason, SPOnG recently dubbed it a potential 'Wii Killer'.
We thought it only fair and proper to find out more about this intriguing, potentially disruptive, technology. Read on to find out more.
SPOnG: What inspired the idea for the original Real World Golf?
HH: “Basically the feeling that we could do so much better. Even on the minuscule budgets we were working with back then we were able to create a game which sold about 2/3 of what EA's Tiger Woods Golf
sold in the UK. By putting a club in someone's hands, the game just comes to life.”
SPOnG: How long was the GameTrak technology used in Real World Golf in development?
HH: "It was invented late 2000/early 2001, and launched commercially in October 2004, initially with a PS2 fighting game called Dark Wind
SPOnG: With Fusion, you’ve been accused on a number of forums of being ‘Nintendo copyists’ - what would you say to a gamer who accused you of this?
“I can't say I'm surprised - Nintendo have a really loyal fanbase which is great - they're one of the best game developers in the world and deserve their reputation. My DS probably gets more use than any games console I've owned before - we're huge Nintendo fans.
“That said, we invented Gametrak six years ago - before Nintendo launched the Gamecube, let alone the Wii! Elliott and Steve were making tilt controllers back in the mid-90s, and looked at camera-type technologies before discounting them for the experiences we think gamers will really want in the long term. I'd never be so churlish as to suggest Nintendo copied us, but we were there first!
“The Wii remote is a neat idea... there's basically an infrared 'camera' in the handset which looks out for the infrared LEDs in the bar attached to your TV. When you're pointing at the screen, it's an elegant solution to giving the user an onscreen pointer, and can also determine the distance from the screen. Once you're not pointing at the screen, it obviously loses all that data. At that point, all it has is the 'accelerometer' which is a tilt sensor... accelerometers don't give you a 3D position, only information on the angle you're holding it at and, to a degree, acceleration. These are good for soft, slow controls (I remember playing WipeOut
on PS1 with an 'Airpad' which was an early tilt pad, and it worked pretty well) but, as soon as you move them quickly, you lose the data as it all gets scrambled.
“We actually use a tilt chip in the Fusion to give us information about how you're holding the controller but it's the ultrasonics which is the really useful part: combining the two together gives something extremely powerful and intuitive.”
SPOnG: Many gamers know of In2Games for Real World Golf on PS2 and Xbox and, more recently, for the Fusion announcement - but can you tell us a little bit more detail about the background of In2Games and the backgrounds of the principal directors and execs in the company?
“Probably easiest to answer these in one. The company was founded in November 2000 by Elliott Myers, to focus on creating new gaming experiences. Elliott had previously worked at a peripherals company called Leda Media Products (LMP), and created their 'Gamester' range of gaming accessories in the 1990s. Gamester went on to become the leading third-party peripherals company in Europe, with Elliott based in Hong Kong heading up design, QA and manufacture for a range of products such as joypads, steering wheels and so on. In 1998, LMP was sold to the US toy company Radica. Elliott stayed with Radica for a couple of years, overseeing the launch of the Gamester brand into the US, but left to found In2Games as he wanted to bring more innovation to the market.
“Shortly after this, Elliott was joined by Steve Lavache, former colleague at LMP and a games industry veteran. Steve was formerly with the legendary Imagine Software in the 1980s, later becoming a founder member of Psygnosis before a 10-year stint as R&D Manager at Ocean Software (later bought by Infogrames). Steve is an expert in both hardware and software - as a child in the 1960s, he famously built a receiver to listen to the broadcasts from the moon landings, and now lives in an office full of oscilloscopes and soldering irons.
“My background was in software - about 15 years ago I started as a games programmer, moving to Sony in 1993 to become part of the team that launched the first PlayStation. After that, I founded my own games development company, which I listed on the stock exchange in 1999 and from which I spun out an internet games company called freeloader.com (which was sold in 2001). I joined Elliott and Steve a year or so after that to help on the commercial and 'games industry' parts of the business - basically I know a lot of people and have done a lot of deals in the games industry. I met Elliott at a trade show and saw a demo of the first Gametrak prototype. It was the size of a kitchen sink and made out of bits of wire and formica, but it blew me away. They had a really simple flash demo running on a PC which allowed you to hit a punchbag in 3D - it excited me in the same way the original dinosaur demos on PS1 had convinced me to go and work with Sony, so I just had to get involved.
“Together, we raised some money (an incredibly small amount in games industry terms) to get the company started. We started working with some game developers to get prototypes and work out what we could do with the Gametrak. What we quickly realised was that being able to track a point in 3D space allows you to do almost anything.”
SPOnG: We heard (on the grapevine) that you’d received some veiled threats from Nintendo fanboys in particular. Is this for real?
Ha ha! Yes, one kind soul emailed us to say (and I quote) "I really hope your company burns to the ground and you are all homeless one day". The vast majority though have been from Sony and Microsoft 'supporters' delighted to be looking forward to a, to quote SPOnG, 'Wii Killer', for themselves. It's nice to know that 'platform passion' still lives on. I have fond memories of arguments along those lines when I was at school. By the way, the BBC Micro pissed all over the Spectrum.