Norse Code: Odin remembered
Odin consisted of up to 15 people at any one time and had rather smart offices right opposite the Albert Dock in Liverpool (home of This Morning and Richard and Judy, although they might have been taken off the air and incarcerated by now for all I know).
There were 4 main artists - Paul Salmon, Stoo Fotheringham, Colin Grunes and Andy ???. The programmers that I remember were Robbie Tinman, Mark Dawson, Keith Robinson, George ???, Tommy Laningan, Derrick Rowson, Steve P., and myself. There was a musician, Keith Tinman plus a receptionist and secretary. Paul McKenna was the MD.
Yes, I admit it! I was actually the main Commodore 64 artist and Colin Grunes was the main speccy artist, however, I did occasionally load Melbourne Draw from micro-drive and get stuck into some speccy graphics (very significantly in Nodes and Arc, some bits and pieces on Robin and I.C.C.U.P.S., possibly one or two small pixels in Heartland and most of the loading screens). This explains why the hero of the Yesod games was Charlie Fotheringham-Grunes, if you ever find the packaging.
In the beginning there was Thor, a software house that bought its games from "bedroom" programmers; it released an endless catalogue of poor quality, mainly Speccy, software (the only, debatable, exceptions being the Jack and the Beanstalk trilogy) [Jack and the Beanstalk, Giant's Revenge and ... um... something else - Ed.]
Thor became Odin Computer Graphics (O.C.G.) for three key reasons:
After the initial successes of Nodes and Robin under the O.C.G. label, the powers that be decided to bring Thor back from the dead, but it's name was changed to Thor Computer Software (T.C.S.). It was to be a sister company to O.C.G., with the purpose of publishing "budget" (£7.95 as opposed to £9.99) Odin games.
Odin was signed by BT shortly after shipping the Spectrum version of Nodes. We had a deal to deliver 10 titles in one year for a six figure sum. I think we just about delivered 10 titles, but only barely. By the time the last title was delivered there were very few people left and it was obvious the place was falling apart. I'm sure that this was a very similar situation to a lot of other small development houses back in the 80's.
I could tell many a tale about Odin. Like when a certain artist tried to summon a Demon to "get" one of the programmers; or when an nameless party barfed in the sink in the kitchen after a particularly heavy lunchtime session, only to discover that the sink was not actually plumbed-in yet; or when an advert appeared in on of the Odin windows: "Fit Girls Apply Within" which lead to one of the programmers getting married. Needless to say, it was a young company with very young employees and these types of antics were only to be expected!
Colin Grunes (firstname.lastname@example.org) and myself, Stuart Fotheringham (email@example.com), produced most of the OCG graphics [in fact the hero of most of our games was called Charlie Fotheringham-Grunes, if you ever find the packaging]. The exception was Robin O' The Wood where Paul Salmon produced the majority of the Speccy version graphics. Steve Wetherill (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote the code for all the major Speccy titles.
Odin won the "Golden Joystick Awards" Best Advertisement Award for 1985 and 1986. A local commercial artist called Gerry Fisher painted them.
QUESTION: "What did you do after you left?"
Most of us ended up working for Denton Designs (a Liverpool based software development company) who were then made up from ex-Imagine people. We didn't stay very long and then went our separate way: freelancing, setting up business, being unemployed, et cetera.
Today Colin and I work for the same international management consultancy company producing business graphics using Apple Macintosh computers; we work in many countries around the world, and live in hotels (but get great air-miles). Steve Wetherill is the research and development director of an American games software company [Westwood Studios] based in Las Vegas. Marc Dawson is a manager for a games software house in Manchester (Barbie - The Game is his latest title). Paul Salmon was last heard of on the dole still in Liverpool. Keith Tinman is the in-house musician at Ocean Software. Paul McKenna has gone back to the construction industry. I don't know what anyone else is up to.
(Colin was the only Liverpudlian).
If you want to know anything else you should e-mail:
Stuart Fotheringham - email@example.com
Colin Grunes - firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Wetherill - email@example.com
Crosswize came after Odin's demise but was a follow-up to Sidewize and was published through Telecomsoft.
QUESTION: "Why were so many games unreleased?"
I.C.C.U.P.S. and Mission A.D. were low on gameplay, On the Tiles had no gameplay, the unpublished games were laughably unplayable; in fact they were probably some on the worst video-games in history but with nice graphics. I think Telecomsoft was embarrassed about the whole deal.
QUESTION: "What went wrong?"
Even though we were based in refurbished Bug-Byte's offices (with a nice river scene through the windows, pleasant secretaries/receptionists, and a phone system from the future) we were all so very young (I was sixteen when I joined, and eighteen when I left). Most of us were naive, innocent of money matters, just after partying full-time and/or not working too hard. We were totally unmanaged: there was no proper management structure in place, the strategy/sense of purpose was vacuous (it was to make Paul McKenna rich), there was no resourcing of projects, no proper plans or design, no clear measurable objectives and milestones (deadlines), no clear roles within the company (except Paul McKenna was in charge), no responsibilities or accountabilities, the initial teamwork (that created successes like Nodes and Robin) died out, there was no communication from Paul McKenna or between programmers, hardly any input and no feedback, there was absolutely no respect for others opinions, everyone took a very short-term perspective, and when the going got tough everyone left (I admit I was first). We did produce some colourful game specs through. Thinking back ten years, I'm surprised the company lasted as long as it did.
Nodes and Arc (in the Spectrum 48k versions) were somewhat of a team effort. I completely deny any involvement in [I.C.C.U.P.S., Gunpowder and P.L.O.D.], and would like to apologise to anyone who might have seen them - I'm sorry, we didn't mean it and it won't happen again . . . . !
The Enterprise version of Nodes was interesting. On the Enterprise you had a copper-list sort of affair. This made it possible to specify the start address of each pixel line and its attributes. I was able to set up a Spectrum screen (with only minor differences in the attributes) and once that was done the rest was plain sailing!
Most of these titles were also released on C64, but we're not bothered about that, right? ;-)
Stoo & Colin:
QUESTION: "Did you try anything off the wall?"
Before the Telecomsoft deal...
We were interested in LaserDisc games so much that we bought a Space Ace arcade machine (free-play all day), a converter kit and LDs to play Dragon's Lair, and the first two commercially available LD players outside Japan (only because they were shipped from Tokyo) that could be controlled by an external computer (via an RS-232 interface). One of the LD players was later sold to Software Projects (with the Dragon's Lair LDs) to help them develop Dragon's Lair for the Spectrum, C64, etc.
We commissioned the techie who designed the Psyclapse and Bandersnatch mega-games' hardware for Imagine to design an add-on for the Speccy. This enabled every pixel to be displayed in 8-bit colour from a 24-bit palette, and to give the speccy a lot more RAM. You may not be surprised to learn it was much too expensive to produce commercially.
We tried to talk a major Japanese arcade game manufacturer into letting us write a game (Robin of the Wood arcade version) for them. However, they just wanted us to convert their arcade games to the fledgling console market (Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System); we believed there was no future in these systems so we declined.
We tried to get movie licences for the film The Terminator and Dune (that coincidentally were out at the cinema then), but both film studios seemed to think video-games were too trivia and would demean their product; how times change.
We tried for the longest time to get speech in Spectrum Nodes, but it worked out well in the end (even if it was Mark Butler speaking). We had calls from many C64 owners asking why there was no speech in their version; but they did have a Nodes super-speed re-mix on the flip-side of the cassette.
After the Telecomsoft deal...
We became a warehouse for a while as Telecomsoft didn't have the storage space for its unsold Rainbird, Firebird, Beyond or budget ranges of software (the Odin offices had warehouse space built in), for a fee.
Many thanks to Stoo Fotheringham, Colin Grunes and Steve Wetherill for providing this information!