Gary Harrod - Art Editor
What are you up to at the moment?
Writing answers to these questions.. Oh, work wise? Well I am still a designer but I broke the chains of full-time slavery over two years ago and now run my own business. The prospect of working for the Future conveyor belt horrified me so I took the big step and started out on my own relying on contacts and partnerships made over the years to get things going. Not able to avoid the games industry completely as most of my work is still games related but that will change this year as I branch out into other things.
How did you get involved with EMAP and Mean Machines?
Back in the 80's I was a huge arcade fan. Spent many a coin down the Quay Amusements playing classics such as Bomb Jack and Mr Do's Wide Ride. I knew the owners very well so myself and Mike Dicken who owned the joint would close up for the night then bust through the game with endless free credits. This mad fascination led me to follow the coin-op adventures of Julian Rignall around the time he won the Coin Op championships. Without boring you with details I finally got in touch with him at C&VG and asked for freelance illustration work. Pitched with a Final Fight comic strip and managed to spawn a career that's lasted for far too long.
What was it like working on the magazine in the early years?
The work was a hard slog and paid terribly especially considering how much money Mean Machines was making. I still have the Panasonic TV I was given as a 'thank you' for the hard work. That's right, some tug black box which I thought was the business while Emap bosses rolled naked in rivers of cash. Terry and Co must have laughed SO hard. We did not have Macs or Quark so layout was prehistoric but the gang and the adventures made up for all the woes. You could not wish for a greater bunch of deviants and monkey boys to work with and then kick during the frenzied gaming sessions we would frequently indulge in. Though whether this took place in the games room or out in the main office was dependant on the questionable body odour of particular members of staff on that day.
Your artwork was one of the highlights of Mean Machines and gave the mag an indentity no other publication could match. Could you give us a little insight into your technique and inspirations?
Technique? Good one! Inspiration along with everything else from those days came from the god of games mags, the mighty Famitsu. We lived for imports and even though we did not cover most of them we loved the better art, packaging, manuals, and stole ideas like no tomorrow. I have no idea why the little staff caricatures came about but you can easily see the anime/Japanese influence in the deformed bodies. Except Richard who really does have a head 3x bigger than his body. I gave out a lot of art when I left Emap but I still have a ton of pics in my possession. Maybe I will throw them on a website one day for nostalgias sake. I must add that even though I got my break with the artwork I always wanted to develop as a graphic designer. During the years at Emap and then in the States I gradually did less and less hand drawn art and now I do next to nothing. Though I am considering picking up the pens once more to do the fantasy art I used to knock out for Games Workshop. Maybe, we'll see.
We've heard from various ex-staffers that you were a bit of a demon when it came to videogames - Super Tennis, Street Fighter II and Mario Kart to name a few. Care to give us a few stories of your own?
Not much to say really on that front. Beating the other guys was a doddle as they sucked hard but slowly over the years games have got easier and easier and pretty much anyone can be good or complete most games. In the old days it was all about winning and the humiliation that followed. Don't really have that desire as much nowadays though anyone who utters nOOb in a Frozen Throne match will receive a trademarked string of mother insults that will rival anything from the Priory Court days. The best competition was always in the arcades especially with the coin-op scene in London. Tekken and King of Fighters drew huge crowds of highly skilled players both at the Soho arcades and the Electrocoin test centre but that's pretty much all gone as coin-ops are nothing today compared to then. Most of my gaming is PC based and online. Anything from Blizzard is usually installed within seconds of release, FPS games like F.E.A.R., DoD, Wolfenstein etc. Quake Wars is looking likely to be my big game for this year.
After working on Mean Machines you created the ill-fated Maximum with Richard Leadbetter. Rich has already given us a little insight into rather troubled production of this underrated publication. Could you give us your viewpoint on it, as the designer?
Yeah, it sucked to work so hard for nothing. What made this a tougher assignment than previous roles was the lack of staff on the magazine. That was part of the reason why we never had a masthead for the mag, there was hardly anyone to put on it. I had just as much work tracking down the software, getting materials from the publishers and then screen grabbing the games. Our bonkers Tekken coverage was only possible due to my good relationship with Namco at the time. Though me and Dave had to lock ourselves in a room with the disc because we where not meant to have the game. Lack of staff, funding, promotion and interest from Emap killed the magazine before it could find its feet. Though it did lead to four sunny years in California so it wasn't all bad.
You also designed the excellent American magazine Gamers Republic. I was a massive fan of the magazine and in terms of design it looked fantastic. Could you tell us a little about your time with the magazine?
Well, looking back I still think the mag failed to live up to its potential. The Editor was a maniac who would rant and rave over everything from the logo to the time we had started an issue and too many pages used the colour red. We ended up just designing to please him rather than pushing the magazine forward. I would rewrite his articles and add that he was playing the games on easy because he sucked at games. David Hodgson and I would hear him rant from the other side of the office as he proofed every page. Still, the creativity was there despite the stifling control of the Editor and we also managed some good Strategy Guides which where handled without any of his involvement. These again provided much hilarity as we would keep reducing the font size of the bosses name and making the rest of the staff credits really large. The books would come in and we would all be flicking through copies waiting for the moment he got to the masthead. First a moment of silence then he would storm out of the office and yell for the rest of the day while we laughed uncontrollably. Classic!
You now run Digital Foundry with Rich. What's it like working on the 'bleeding edge' of publishing?
Slow...lol. This side business is still early in development and whilst we do indeed have a lot of experience in this area we are up against a huge array of studios from broadcast backgrounds. More often than not a lot of the publishers would not know good footage of their own games if it fell out of the sky in front of them so education is the first step. When they see the difference in footage quality and then the difference between carefully chosen and edited gameplay and the kind of first level slap you might see on Bravo then they usually come to their senses. This is also just as important for the gamers also. With all the decent games mags dead and buried then the rest of them with covermounts have no incentive to provide anything worth watching. I spent six pounds on an Xbox rag the other month and the disc was atrocious. Though the comedy value was almost worth the price of admission.
What's your all-time favourite videogame?
That's actually hard to answer. Not sure there is one title that does it all for me. I do know that multiplayer games have always provided the most fun. Playing against somebody else is a thrill that single player doesn't quite match. Games like Street Fighter, Warcraft, Mario Kart, Myth, C&C, Madden etc are titles that have brought epic, long standing duels with mates everywhere I have worked.
Apart from Rich, do you still keep in touch with the other staff?
A few of them. Not working in London means you slowly drop out of the social circle but I know how to reach most of them if I need to. Richard Leadbetter and David Hodgson are probably the two I harass the most. Occasional banter with Oz Browne and Paul Glancey but not as much as I would like.