Published: 4 February 2017, 8:38 am
Legendary Game Designers: Geoff Crammond (Part 1)
The chronicles of the man who shaped racing games as we know themI must first start off by saying that I was never much of a racing game fan (try not to hate me too much), so Geoff Crammond is a relatively new name to me. That is not to say I have never played any of his games. As a matter of fact I played a couple of the Grand Prix series games. Though I used to get in trouble as a kid for pronouncing it “grand pricks.” That said, I found the topic really rather interesting to research. I have learned a lot about Sir Geoff and how he earned his well-deserved moniker.
Geoff Crammond is the man who shaped racing games as we know them. Though he did not get his start in the genre, or the video game industry at all. Graduating with a degree in physics, he got his start as a defense industry systems engineer. During his work in defense he learned the high-level language, Fortran. For those non-programmers out there (science major myself), Fortran is a general purpose programming language good for numeric computation, roughly. Looking to learn more about programming, Geoff purchased a book on the 6502 microprocessor assembly language.
He was not without a taste for art as well, having done some oil painting as a younger man. He saw programming as an outlet for his artistic desires. With his newfound knowledge and past love for art, he set to work. In his efforts to learn how to write a game, Geoff created Super Invaders (a clone of Space Invaders). The entire project only took him about 3 months to complete. Not knowing where to start he bought advertising space in a magazine to market his game. Simply mailing off cassettes when someone would order his product. Upon seeing Geoff’s advertisement someone suggested he contact a company by the name of Acornsoft and try to pitch it to them. Geoff did just that and set up a time to show them the game. Acornsoft saw his game, liked it, and decided to publish it. Geoff’s foot was in the door.
Following this success Acornsoft asked Geoff what his next project would be. He told them about an idea he had been kicking around for a while to create a 3D flying game. They liked the idea and told him to get started. At this point Geoff was still at his day job and working on the game in his spare time. Choosing a Supermarine Spitfire as his plane of choice, he got a hold of a pilot’s manual and other data to do the simulation. This project took Geoff a year to complete and the end result was “Aviator.” A 3D flying game with unparalleled quality and realism. His first 3D game was a success. He was beginning to make a name for himself in the video game industry.
Impressed with the realism of his flying game Acornsoft asked him to create a racing game for them. This request came as a result of the company’s sponsorship of a Formula 3 racer by the name of David Hunt. Before beginning this project, Geoff made the decision to leave his day job in defense and pursue video games full-time. This seemed like the right move as he was expecting a new addition to the family and the strain of both was no longer feasible.
At this juncture in his life, Geoff had never really been into racing, but that was all about to change. With access to David and his crew, Geoff was able to experience what racing felt like firsthand. Geoff wanted as much realism as possible, so he decided to use real 3D coordinates to create his game map. This technique had never been done before and the end result was an incredibly realistic racing experience. Revs was born.
After the success of Revs, Geoff decided to go a different way. Inspired by the fact that home computers at the time were not powerful enough to do detailed real-time 3D action, he set out to try something new. To counteract the shortcomings of home computers at the time, he did 3D polygon rendering, that when scrolled, would not need to re-render save for one small bit coming from the edge of the screen. Geoff used his new technique to create his game: The Sentinel. This was the first game to feature solid-filled 3D computer graphics on home computers.
The uniqueness of this game earned it the title of first virtual reality game. Vastly different from his other titles and wildly popular, it inspired 2 unofficial clones. The Sentinel lives on today through user-made patches. Geoff was only loosely affiliated with Sentinel Returns for Playstation. He only provided the source code for the game and his business manager, John Cook, took the reins from there.
For more on Geoff Crammond, look for Part 2.