An overview of Ste's career in video games
Ste was born in Stockport, near Manchester, UK, in 1969, and was first introduced to home computers at the age of 11 when his brother John got a ZX81 for christmas. Spending most of his spare time drawing comics, Ste spent the rare moments he was allowed onto John's computer to either play games, or use John's self written 'art' programs to draw accurate versions of his favourite computer game adverts on the Spectrum screen, or pictures of Tharg to send into sci-fi comic 2000AD.
Ste jumped at the chance to have a week off school, at age 16, by getting a work experience placement at young developer Binary Design where his brother had started work. Instead of making the coffee, Ste knocked out three top quality loading screens in five days, and was asked to extend his placement for another week (yay!), and was bunged £50 from petty cash at the end of the fortnight and offered a job when he completed his O Levels in a few months time. Much to the consternation of his parents and art teacher, Ste decided to accept the job offer, planning to take a year out to earn some money before carrying on with his original plan of art college followed by a career as a comic artist.
Ste drew the animated hand for the best selling 180 on his first day at work (using his brothers amazing 'windowed' Spectrum sprite editor tool), was interviewing graduates for other artist jobs during his first week, and was managing the 'Sight and Sound' graphics department of the 25 man studio before his 17th birthday. At the end of his first year at Binary Design Ste was plotting the formation of a new development studio, Zippo Games, with his brother and two other programmers, and all thoughts of art college and the life of a penniless comic artist had evaporated thanks to a £5k a year salary and a celebrity right hand.
Zippo began producing Amiga games and Atari ST games for the new 16-bit computers, but changed direction when their response to a request for developers in a magazine interview by Rare led to an early introduction to the world of console development for Nintendo's NES. Zippo developed several NES games for Rare, with Ste easing into a game design and game production role, in addition to being just a 'pixel pusher', and the studio became Rare Manchester in 1990.
After a dip in morale once the Zippo team became employees of Rare rather than contractors, Ste accepted the invitation from Richard Kay to join his brother at Software Creations, co-designing Equinox on the new Super Nintendo (SNES) platform.
After Equinox Ste was promoted to Art Director at the rapidly growing developer, overseeing the expansion of the studio to include professionally trained animators, and the switch from 2D to 3D, and co-designing and co-producing several games such as Plok, Maximum Carnage, Ken Griffey Baseball and Spyral Saga for publishers like Acclaim, Nintendo and Sony.
John and Ste were frustrated by the difficulties of trying to create high quality and interesting games in the increasingly factory like environment of Creations, so negotiated a deal to form a sepreate, internal 'crack' team within the studio to specialise in new IP and R&D with new owners Rage, but Rage backed out of the deal at the last minute, forcing John and Ste to resign.
With no money, no funding, and no business plan in place, John and Ste had little choice but to try to continue with their 'tiger team' plan (as it had become known), forming a new studio rather than an internal team. Starting off in Ste's front room, and in a business climate which had grown increasingly hostile to small development teams and original games, the brothers successfully got their studio off the ground, selling puzzle game Wetrix to Ocean / Infogrames in 1987. Zed Two (as the studio was called, in a nod to Zippo) had a profitable six years, growing to around 20 staff, and successfully mixing original IP creation with work-for-hire licensed games to pay the rent, completing 15 titles (and several more prototypes) before being hit by the double whammy of two clients each failing to pay $1m owed during the same year, and forcing the studio to sell up to their richer neighbours, AIM listed developer Warthog, in December 2002.
Their new parent company hit similar financial difficulties a year later, and Zed Two was closed, and John and Ste made redundent, in early 2004.
Forming another new studio was no longer possible without significant finance, in an industry which was demanding higher and higher production values, with larger and larger development teams, working on increasingly derivitave and conservative licensed games. Facing a choice of looking for a well paid job working on dull movie licesnses, sports sims or driving games for one of the few surviving mega developers, or trying to continue creating interesting games without pay, the brothers chose the latter option and turned to indie development.
John and Ste formed Zee-3 in 2005 to self publish their games online, and began developing new games as The Pickford Brothers, working from home and trying not to spend any money.
Their first indie game - Naked War - was released to critical acclaim, and is considered by the brothers to be the best game they've ever made. They now divide their time between developing new, original indie games, and working as design consultants for various UK console game developers.
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