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Interview: Jools Watsham (Iguana Ent. Artist)

When it comes to game design, most people stick with one particular area. Few ever willingly venture into other areas, and fewer still adopt more than one post at the same time. Jools Watsham is a man who can wear more than one hat at a time, and after eighteen years in the industry, he’s still going strong. With over thirty published titles to his credit, Watsham has spent the past two decades working in a myriad of different capacities, as everything from an artist to producer, and in some form or another he’s contributed to hits such as NBA Jam, Aero the Acrobat and Sigma Star Saga (GBA).

Watsham spent almost a decade at Iguana Entertainment, and was there when the company was absorbed into the Acclaim empire. He was also there when that empire folded, and since then he’s gone on to found his own company, Renegade Kid LLC, where’s he has directed and produced games like Moon and the Dementium series.

Sega-16 recently chatted with Mr. Watsham about his time at Iguana and Acclaim.

 

Sega-16: As an artist, what did you think of the Genesis hardware? How did it compare to the SNES?

Jools Watsham: Most of the titles we developed at Iguana were for both the Genesis and SNES, which meant we always had to wrestle with the different graphical abilities. The Genesis has a higher screen resolution, and it can also throw more sprites around the screen without slowdown. But, it had a much smaller palette depth than the SNES. The screen resolution on the SNES was considerably smaller than the Genesis, but its palette depth was much deeper, which allowed for richer colors and smoother gradients. However, I remember that whenever we wanted the smoothest gradient on the Genesis we’d use blues. The blues on the Genesis blended together so much better than any other color for some reason.

Sega-16: Iguana did work for big publishers like Sunsoft and Acclaim. Was there any major difference between them, or were all the jobs similar in process?

Jools Watsham: From my perspective, at the time, the publisher didn’t make much difference. I was just loving the fact that I was working on games. However, the Sunsoft games were a lot more creative than the Acclaim games. Working on Aero (the Acrobat) and Zero (the Kamikaze Squirrel) for Sunsoft was a lot more exciting than NFL Quarterback Club, for example. 🙂

Sega-16: You were involved with NBA Quarterback Club for Genesis, which was also brought to the 32X. What did Iguana think of Sega’s add-on? Did you feel like it had any potential at all?

Jools Watsham: Yes, at the time it was awesome to have the extra power to throw more goodness around the screen. I remember everyone being excited about the 32X. Personally, I saw potential in it at the time.

Sega-16: Were there any difficulties in porting a game as popular as NBA Jam to the Genesis?

Jools Watsham: The aspect that I was involved with was converting some of the artwork from the coin-op to the Genesis. The two challenges were the lower screen resolution and smaller palette of the Genesis. Scaling the player sprites down and cleaning them up was a big job, which was not all that much fun. 🙂 However, I think the result was great. The Iguana UK team did an incredible job of capturing the spirit of the original game.

Sega-16: You worked on the first of the Aero the Acrobat games. What was it like doing so much on the spin-off, Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel? You did everything from character animation to tile sets, even the fonts!

Jools Watsham: Yes, I created a single enemy character for the first Aero. That was a very exciting opportunity. Having the chance to be the lead artist on Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel was incredible. I focused on the main character animations, as well as some enemies, backgrounds, and even fonts like you said. It was a really enjoyable project for me. Working with Matt Stubbington, Iguana’s incredibly talented art director, was a truly inspirational experience. He helped me a lot. We had a very small team, so everyone pulled their weight to get the artwork completed. Mark Pitcher and Robbie Miller both did a great job with enemies and backgrounds. It was a very enjoyable and fun project to work on. It was great to work with Justin and David Siller at Sunsoft too.

Sega-16: Many gamers note the style and fluid animation of Zero as its greatest strengths, and you set a high standard for quality in those areas. What was it like managing a team and getting them to meet those standards?

Jools Watsham: Thank you. That was one of our goals from the beginning. We were very inspired by Disney’s Aladdin, and impressed by how fluid the animation was in that movie. Again, Matt Stubbington was a huge inspiration on Zero, especially in the animation department. We analyzed Aladdin frame by frame to see how they utilized squash-and-stretch to add life to objects and characters. Incredible stuff. Asking the art team to deliver such quality was a tall task, but I think everyone came through because we saw it as an exciting challenge.

Sega-16: Zero was rated “M-13” for mature, and it had a darker tone than its source material. How did this affect your art style?

Jools Watsham: Wow, was it really? I had forgotten that. Honestly, we didn’t go into the creation of Zero thinking it would be a mature game. Most of the artwork was bright and colorful, with a slight emphasis on the main character’s attacks, which must be where the mature rating came from. I think compared to today’s standards, it would be rated E or E10+.

Sega-16: How did you feel about Iguana being sold to Acclaim in 1995?

Jools Watsham: At the time, it was great. In retrospect, it may have worked out better for Iguana to stay independent. 😉

Sega-16: You stayed with Acclaim right up until the end. What happened to it? There are stories of shady dealings and lawsuits culminating in the company’s demise. How much of that is true?

Jools Watsham: Yes, I was with Iguana/Acclaim for over twelve years. Amazing, really. I tried to leave a few times, but was tempted to stay by different projects and such. I’m glad I stayed until the end. It was a great experience overall. I do not know any information about any dodgy dealings, but in hindsight, it was probably a good thing that Acclaim was put to rest. It was incredibly difficult for everyone at the time, but it has allowed for many other companies and opportunities to blossom.

Sega-16: Lots of Acclaim’s properties have been bought up by companies like Throwback Entertainment, which have revived franchises like NBA Jam. Which other Iguana series would you like to see return?

Jools Watsham: I think Turok should come back, but not in the way it did in 2008. The first Turok on the Nintendo 64 was a truly incredible title. I did not work on it personally, but I have always regarded that title as a milestone in FPS gaming. Turok 2 was pretty awesome too. After that, I think the Turok series lost its way. Getting back to what the team achieved with Turok and Turok 2 would be amazing. I have much respect for what David Dienstbier and the Turok team accomplished in 1997. Turok 3DS anyone?

 

Our thanks to Mr. Watsham for taking the time for this interview.

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