It was just over a year ago that we joined the Kickstarter clamour to make Darren Wall’s history of iconic computer game developers Sensible Software a reality. We were delighted when Darren duly hit his target and excited to see the finished product, which dropped through our letterbox this week. And praise the heavens; Sensible Software 1986-1999 is a ruddy triumph.
Written by games writer Gary Penn in collaboration with Sensible’s Jon Hare, this is a comprehensive, funny and honest account of the rise and fall of the organisation that bought the world classics like Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder and Wizball.
There’s plenty here for computer games geeks to enjoy; original designs, hand-scribbled game treatments, photographs, a huge archive of Sensible visuals and plans for games that never saw the light of day, but there’s much more to this intriguing title. In many ways it’s about much broader themes; creative control, the changing nature of the games market across the 1980s and 90s and what factors cause fortunes to shine, and to wane.
“It was one of the best runs you could have but all good things come to an end. We found our end…by accident.”
This is made possible by the candour of the interviewees; rather than a two-dimensional hagiography we find out that the team hated Sensible Golf –"so dry, so humourless" – and where the much-vaunted adult game Sex ‘n’ Drugs ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll went wrong – “so overdeveloped.”
And Jon Hare’s meditation on the problems the company went onto face is wonderfully poignant: “All I can say is – fuck… we had seven, eight years at the top. It was one of the best runs you could have but all good things come to an end. We found our end…by accident.”
That end was of course 3D (or “Fucking 3D”) but this chapter of computer game history deserves a history this good.