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The Pickford BrothersJohn and Ste

 

Career timeline

An overview of the Pickford Brothers' career in video games

Here we hightlight some of the more notable companies we've founded, worked for, or who've published our games during our career to date, and we list some of the games we produced for each company.

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1984

Virgin Games

At age 16, whilst still in high school, John Pickford sold his first game to the newly formed Virgin Game; Ghost Town, a text adventure, written in BASIC on the ZX Spectrum computer, which was published as one of their very first batch of releases in 1984.

» Ghost Town (1984)

Software Super Savers logo

Software Projects logo

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1985

Software Super Savers (Software Projects)

John wrote a second, more ambitious, adventure game while still at school, with a friend, which they sold to Software Projects' newly formed budget label 'Software Super Savers'.

» Ziggurat (1985)

Elite logo

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1985 - 1987

Elite

Ste's first 'professional' video game work was as a freelance artist hired by the programmer of the Amstrad version of Ghosts n Goblins for Elite Systems whilst still at high school. Ste ended up working on about four Elite projects as a freelancer over the next few years.

» Freelance work for Elite

Binary Design logo

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1985 - 1987

Binary Design Ltd.

John, (and the school friend he wrote Ziggurat with) blagged their way through a job interview to become part of the founding development team of Binary Design, one of the first big independent development studios in the UK. Through John, Ste got a work experience placement there, which led to a job when he finished high school a year later.

John and Ste worked on literally dozens of games in the few short years they were there. John took his first steps towards becoming video game designer as well as programmer, and Ste was managing a large art department at the tender age of 17.

» Games we worked on at Binary Design

Quicksliva logo

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1985 - 1986

Quicksilva

Whilst at Binary Design, John programmed a number of games for the then prestigious Quicksilva label, taking over the game designer role for the first time with Glider Rider.

» Games we worked on published by Quicksilva

Mastertronic logo

MAD logo

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1986 - 1987

Mastertronic (MAD Games)

In the later years of Binary Design, the Pickford Brothers worked on many titles for the massively successful budget label Mastertronic. Although Mastertronic got a lot of their games as unsolicited submissions from 'bedroom programmers', not everyone was aware that a lot of their titles were commissioned and developed by professional studios like Binary.

Feud marked the first example of John designing a game which he wasn't actually programming, and the result was a massive hit.

» Games we worked on published by Mastertronic

Zippo Games logo

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1987 - 1990

Zippo Games

Frustrated with the increasing factory-like grind of Binary Design, John, Ste and two other programmers left to form their own development studio - Zippo Games - with the plan of focusing on original game ideas for the new 16-bit computers.

Big hits were elusive, and after a couple of Amiga and Atari ST releases, and a couple of canned projects, we responded to Rare's request for developers to come and work with them on the then unknown (in the UK at least) Nintendo Entertainment System. Zippo were the only studio that they choose to work with, and we switched almost overnight from producing unplayable, arty 16 bit computer games to making fun, accessible 8 bit NES games.

» Games we developed at Zippo Games

Rare logo

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1988 - 1990

Rare

We produced a number of NES titles for Rare - and had a few canned as well - with only a small team, but they weren't paying us very much and we couldn't keep the studio afloat. Eventually we folded Zippo into Rare and became 'Rare Manchester' for a short time.

Rare were great to work for as an indepenent studio, but horrible to work for when they became our employers, and morale dropped very quickly. The debacle with the Gameboy Wrestling game forced John to resign, and Ste followed soon after, but we learnt a lot about video game development from working with Rare and from early exposure to Nintendo games.

» Games we developed for Rare

Acclaim logo

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1989 - 1995

Acclaim / LJN

Rare had a close relationship with Acclaim while we were working with them, and later Software Creations had a similar relationship while we were employed there, so we've ended up working on a number of titles for this once massive name in video game publishing.

LJN was a toy company purchased by Acclaim because they had a Nintendo publishing license, back in the days when Nintendo only allowed each publisher a limited number of release slots each year. By effectively having two publisher licensed, Acclaim could release double the number of games each year, so many of the games we worked on for Acclaim were officially published by LJN.

As well as the Wizards and Warriors games we created at Zippo, John was the producer of lots of Acclaim / LJN titles at Software Creations.

» Games we worked on published by Acclaim
» Games we worked on published by LJN

Software Creations logo

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1990 - 1996

Software Creations

After leaving Rare Manchester, John and Ste were invited by Software Creations (one of the few other NES developers in Europe at the time) to come and work on a top secret project on their new SNES hardware which they'd managed to blag from Sony Japan. This was actually the first SNES outside Japan, as Nintendo of America didn't have one at the time, and we gave them a demo when they came to visit Creations' scruffy Manchester offices!

We worked on dozens of titles during the years at Creations, some good, some terrible, and at one point John was the producer on 20 titles at once!

Eventually the studio was taken over by Rage. We had a plan to form a mini-studio within the company to concentrate on high quality original titles, which were impossible to produce in the increasingly political and depressed factory atmosphere of Creations at the time. When the Rage management backout out at the last minute, history repeated iteself and we left to form another small studio to specialise in high quality original games.

» Games we worked on at Software Creations

Nintendo logo

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1989 - 1995

Nintendo

Rare and Software Creations were both close to Nintendo as they were very early NES developers, so we were fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work with the world's best video game creators over a number of years.

Both Solar Jetman and Plok!, while not doing brilliantly in the US (despite great internal reviews by NOA), were published by Nintendo in Europe where they did pretty well. Solar Jetman was even bundled with the NES hardware in Europe, and was adapted for Nintendo's Play Choice 10 coin-op system,

We were apparently pretty close at one point to getting Nintendo to take on Plok! during the development phase, with Mr Miyamoto supposedly going to help us make Plok! better than Sonic (but not as good as Mario, hehe), but the deal fell through. John eventually got to work with Mr Miyamoto on the ambitious Creator title, although the project got bogged down in the politics between Nintendo of America and Japan, and was eventually released as Mario Artist after John had left the studio.

» Games we worked on published by Nintendo

Zed Two logo

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1996 - 2004

Zed Two

John and Ste formed Zed Two in 1996, with no money, no contracts, no equipment, and no notice as we'd had the rug pulled from beneath our feet by Rage. We spent the first year working without income from Ste's spare room, feverishly developing a number of new game ideas before finally signing Wetrix to Ocean.

Everybody told us that we were mad to try to start a studio at that time, especially without any financial backing, as the industry had moved on and only large, well funded mega-studios could survive. Looking back those people were probably right, but we pressed on regardless, and despite the increasing hostility within the industry to original game ideas we did pretty well overall, bringing a number of new 'IPs' to market, and running a profitable studio during a period of very difficult conditions for small independent devcos, and creating the best working environment we'd ever experienced.

In the end we couldn't survive the double whammy of one of our clients cancelling a £1m contract, and another failling to pay us over $1m for work completed, and we sold the studio to Warthog at the end of 2002, continuing as a subsidiary until they closed us down in 2004.

» Games we developed at Zed Two

Ocean logo

Infogrames logo

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1997 - 2000

Ocean / Infogrames

Ocean, the biggest game publisher in the UK, were based in Manchester, so as developers working in Manchester for over a decade it was surprising that we'd never had any dealings with them. We finally got to work together when we signed Wetrix to them in 1987, literally days before before they were taken over by French giant Infogrames, and Wetrix was the last game ever released on the famous Ocean label.

We worked closely with Infogrames on a number of projects in the early days of Zed Two, and made some very good friends there, but they were not a nice company to work for. The trail of dead developers they left behind is testament to this, and as Zed Two we were lucky to survive our business dealings with them!

» Games we worked on published by Ocean
» Games we worked on published by Infogrames

Warthog logo

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2002 - 2004

Warthog

Our PLC neighbours Warthog saved Zed Two in 2002, as we would almost certainly have had to close after the failure of both of our main clients to pay. After the sale, the plan was that we would continue as Zed Two, keeping the same offices, staff, management, name, and most importantly the studio's culture which we'd worked so hard to cultivate.

In practice this didn't quite work out, and we spent a lot of our energy fighting corportate politics and inter-studio rivalry instead of making games. Once again we had the bad experience of seeing a decent small development studio being ruined after being taken over by a larger one.

We were made redundant by the closure of Zed Two in 2004, although Warthog - later to become the Gizmondo in-house dev-studio - continued to develop some of the original IP we created at Zed Two.

» Games of ours developed by Warthog

Pickford Bros logo

Zee-3 logo

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2004 - onwards!

The Pickford Brothers / Zee-3

The difficulties of the later years of Zed Two, particularly trying to sell original games to publishers only interested in 'safe bet' sequels and licenses, dampened our enthusiasm for the mainstream video game industry. Neither working on endless sport license games for soulless mega studios, nor facing the constant rejection of disinterested publishers unwilling to fund our game ideas, particually appealed as career choices.

Instead we formed Zee-3 to publish future games we develop as The Pickford Brothers on-line. We feel that on-line distribution offers a way to bypass the traditional channel of publisher > manufacturer > distributor > retailer, each of whom filter the content and take a cut of the revenue, leaving the actual creators with little profit, and even less infulence over the games they can make, and no connection whatsoever with their audience.

Our first game, Naked War, was released in 2006 to critical acclaim. We're very close to releasing our second game in late 2008. Inbetween we've worked as design consultants on a number of original console games for other UK developers.

» Games designed or developed as The Pickford Bros
» Games published by Zee-3

 

 

We are The Pickford Bros, veteran independent video game designers based in the UK.

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Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint now available on the App Store

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All our games:

» Softography

Recent stuff:

Magnetic Billiards

Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint

Naked War

Workshop

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