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Chris Sorrell is a veteran video game developer and former producer at Sony Computer Entertainment.

Interviews

MediEvil EU site

1998[1]

  • Education: Usual school qualifications, but (to the horror of my parents!) I left as soon as I could to pursue a career in games.
  • Joined Millenium/Sony: July 1994
  • Colour of Socks: Black… Like most of my clothes
JAMES POND

What do you do?
On MediEvil my official title is producer, but I was also responsible for the initial design concept. As the project progressed I became increasingly involved in its programming side too. By the end of the project this was the main thing occupying my time.

What's your background?
I've been working in games for about nine years now. I started off working for a small development company called Vectordean, in Derbyshire (where I grew up). There were only three of us to begin with and my initial work was as a graphic artist. After a couple of projects, I went on to the thing I really wanted to do, which was programming. After a simple conversion title, my first 'big' project was James Pond, for which I handled design, graphics and programming. James Pond 2 and 3 followed, before I left the fish behind and moved on to the PlayStation.

How old were you when you started making games?
From the time I was given my first computer (an Atari 400) when I was 11, I knew that I wanted to make games. Atari BASIC wasn't great for this however, so I moved on from the Atari to a Commodore 64. I taught myself assembly language, and spend all my spare time writing pieces of game and demo code (and creating fonts and sprites to use in these). By the time I had done my GCSEs and had by this time moved on to the Amiga, I took the first opportunity to leave school and take some practical steps towards my goal!

STANDARD IN POLISH

What games do you like to Play?
My favourite genres are action adventures, platform games, and action RPGs. There are some great examples of these genres on PlayStation - my favourites would certainly include Resident Evil 1 and 2. I also have a lot of admiration for the Crash Bandicoot games - they set a standard in polish and graphical quality that's quite remarkable.

When you designed Medievil, what area did you start with?
Its inspirations were the arcade classic Ghouls'n'Ghosts, and the art style of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. This set the look and feel for the game, which meant the next big step was to build up our gameplay and visual ideas, striving for a combination that would set the game apart from the crowd and make good use of the target platform.

At present, is it pretty much how you envisaged it?
Visually, it's certainly all I hoped it would be. On the design front, things have shifted away from the simple arcade feel to offer a more involved, quest based structure containing a real mix of gameplay styles, and certainly greater diversity in play than I had initially anticipated… It's certainly a more complex and larger scale project than I first envisaged!

How many people worked on the project?
The core team consisted of around 10 people, 4 programmers, 5 artists and 1 mapper but there have been a number of extra people working on the project at various times during development. In addition, our internal A/V team were responsible for all the music and sound effects, our technologies department offered general support, and several vital development tools, and our QA group provided all important testing and feedback, helping us to bring all the elements together. So, all in all it's been a pretty big project.

LATE NIGHTS

What was your working schedule like during Medievil?
Pretty crazy (or sad, depending how you look at things!)… Since December '96, I've worked pretty much every day including weekends, working late on most. Most of the core team have invested many long hours and late nights into the project. 

My favourite time to work has been weekends. It's quiet, no other office duties to worry about, and a great chance to put some music on and get absorbed in some programming work, usually until four or five in the morning… Fortunately my girlfriend, being part of the team, has been very understanding of all this. We're looking forward to a nice break now things are complete!

What's the game's camera system like?
A big challenge of the game has been the camera, our goals being a system allowing the player the freedom to explore, offering a clear enough view to counter attacks from all sides, and allowing for cinematic and interesting views. We started with a purely spline based system (like Pandemonium, but with full 3d freedom). Unfortunately this proved to be rather inadequate for the game we wanted to make, and we lost quite a bit of time reworking things to enable a freeform 'chase' style camera. The final game uses a mixture of spline and chase camera styles, and I believe meets the initial goals pretty well, especially considering the complexity of the worlds it has to work within.

DIVERSITY

In the game what is your favourite part?
I'm really pleased with the diversity of the game - all the levels are very individual, both graphically and gameplay wise. There are also plenty of weapons and enemies, and so quite a few different ways that the player can tackle the game. Also, Medievil doesn't take itself too seriously - it has a sense of humour, offering some genuinely funny moments, something not often found in an action game.
If I had to name a single favourite part, it would have to be the final showdown with the evil sorcerer Zarok. This is a pretty unique blend of action, humour and wacky ideas that define the game very well, and should offer a few surprises to the player!

FORTY HOURS

How long do you think it will take to get through the entire game?
It's hard to say. We've got people in QA who know everything there is to know about the game and it takes them about four to five hours of solid play to get through. First time, it will take people a lot more than that, probably between twenty and forty hours.

Retro Gamer

March 27, 2008

Behind the Classics: MediEvil

September 7, 2012[2]

What was the original concept for the game? Did you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular for the game’s look and feel?

Chris Sorrell: The first design proposal for the game had the working title ‘Dead Man Dan’ and described a game that was a fusion of Capcom’s Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts with the art style of Tim Burton – especially the look and feel of The Nightmare Before Christmas. In both cases these were things that I was a huge fan of back in the mid ’90s. Lead artist Jason Wilson shared my interest in dark, gothic influenced artwork and we worked together to define the look and feel of the game.

It was an ambitious title for its time – what were your biggest challenges in realising that original vision?

Chris Sorrell: MediEvil presented a real mountain of challenges. The game started life as a project of a small, cash-strapped independent developer – Millennium Interactive. In addition to bringing together a brand new team – none of whom had really made a 3D game of this scale before – we were in ‘sell’ mode almost from day one, with the future of the studio riding on our ability to attract a major publishing deal as quickly as possible.

We were initially working on multiple platforms including Windows and Sega Saturn as well as PlayStation before we finally had the chance to demo the game for Sony. Thankfully that was probably our best pitch ever: SCEE had some really inspiring people in management, they loved MediEvil, and within a few weeks we were signed to make an exclusive PlayStation game. In a few more months we became Sony’s second studio in the UK.

Of course another layer of challenge came from the fact that, like most other developers at that time, we were still feeling our way with 3D. Things like camera and character control presented a lot of interesting new challenges and required us to try out a number of approaches before we settled on solutions that seemed to work.

How close to your original concept was the finished game?

Chris Sorrell: Actually really close. Over the course of development the game became less arcadey and a little more of an adventure – which, being a huge Zelda fan, I was very pleased about. As for the game’s look, I think that was extremely true to our initial goals as you can see if you track down some of the concept art that’s out there on the internet.

Which element of the game are you most proud of, and which element, if any, do you feel fell short?

Chris Sorrell: At the time I might have said I was most proud of how our team pulled together to finish the game without compromising on the quirky attention to detail or scope of the game. Looking back now, I guess I feel most proud of the fact that we managed to create a game which – and I believe this is down to the game’s personality and charm – a lot of people still seem to remember. As a developer, it’s a real privilege to be told that your game brings back fond childhood memories for someone and that seems to happen quite often with MediEvil.

Where do I feel we fell short? Well I would have liked to travel a little further down that ‘Zelda’ path – I think a genuine, deep adventure set in the MediEvil world could have been something quite special. The game was also supposed to feature Morten the Earthworm – who lived in Dan’s empty eye socket. Alas, he didn’t make the cut.

What do you see as the game’s legacy? How would you like it remembered?

Chris Sorrell: Certainly I think we were one of the first games to capture that Tim Burton vibe and I think there may have been a few spooky themed action games that followed MediEvil where the developers probably looked at what we had done. [2002 Capcom fantasy adventure] Maximo springs to mind. I’d be quite happy if people remembered MediEvil as ‘that game with the weird, grunting skeleton dude with one eye and no lower jaw who throws his own arm like a boomerang’.

A PSP version came out in 2005, but the series has been largely dormant since. Do you ever think about where you might have taken the franchise?

Chris Sorrell: I’d certainly love to work with Sir Dan one more time and I have lots of ideas that I think would make for a great new MediEvil game. Sadly I think it’s an unlikely prospect since I no longer work for Sony, not to mention how times have changed in the years since Dan first left his crypt.

MediEvil Boards Q&A

May 7, 2013[3]

1) In one of the files of the prototype, there is an item called the "Trident". Was this intended to be a weapon in the game? If so, what would its use have been like (melee or ranged attack)?

CS - We never got very far with that one. It would most likely have been a ranged weapon - like the lightning - and because of that similarity we decided we didn't need it (or couldn't justify it!).

2) There's a file in the Sleeping Village level called "Ducky" and "Duck shoot". Was there intended to be a duck shooting mini-game similar to the one featured in the PSP remake?

CS - That was a little extra added by one of the level programmers (Matt Johnston). There's a rock jutting out of the pond in the village and the idea was that if you stood there for a moment or two the game would start to spawn ducks swimming across the pond that you could shoot with a ranged weapon. I don't recall exactly why it didn't make the final cut. Most likely there were just too many other things to finish and debug. Shame - I love little easter eggs like this!

3) An in-game model of the exterior of the Asylum is featured within the prototype; 

Asylum

How would this have been incorporated into the game? Was there originally planned to be an extension of the "Asylum Grounds" level which would end when the player reached this area, or could this have even been the introduction to Morton the Worm's level?

CS - That's really part of the grander notion that we originally had for the Asylum - that you'd complete the maze and then go inside, playing a side-viewed platform section as Morten. That platform section never materialized, and we ended up almost having to cut the Asylum interior altogether - until we realized that we could pretty easily create those 'Smash TV' style attack rooms that we finally shipped with. ...Sometimes you put a lot of effort into something and it doesn't pan out and other times something really simple to create totally pays off as those I think those rooms did.

4) This is a bit of an oddball; there's a message in the beginning of the Graveyard level which talks about "visitors from space in sci-fi movies and how genetic cloning is making Mary Shelley's Frankenstein closer to reality";

Prototypebook

Would you happen to remember what the purpose of this message was?

CS - I think that was me - around the time that the demo was being prepared I was working on a display mechanism for the help 'books'. The text you see was just some random words I came across and dropped in as a test case prior to having any real content.

5) There are several level files within the prototype which do not seem to match the levels in the final build of the game;

(The Coffin Vaults, The Fields of Dust, The River, The Muddy Riverbank, The Mud Slide, Circle of Shadows, The Silver Wood, The Halls of Illusion, The Hub, The Great Machine)

This is probably asking a bit much, but would you happen to remember if any of these were levels that were cut from the game? If so, is there anything you'd be able mention about what these levels could have been like, such as with the Jabberwocky chase level?

CS - These were all levels that were originally conceived as full levels and were cut either because a) we didn't have a clear concept for them, b) the idea was more purely 'arcadey' than the RPG-lite feel that we ended up moving towards or - most likely in combination with one of the previous points - we just didn't have time to do justice to the concept. In most cases the best parts of anything we had already done for those levels were spliced into the levels we eventually shipped with, e.g. the Coffin Vaults were the basis for those rooms with the witch puzzle at the base of the Hilltop Mausoleum (and also for the interiors of the Haunted Ruins if I remember right). I think the Circle of Shadows ended up as the tiny scene you see after you come out from the Ant Caves (or was it after the Haunted Ruins?!).

I think you guys have discussed the Jabberwocky level on the forum and got it pretty much right - it was a chase section where Dan was pursued by the Jabberwocky that ultimately we see only in FMV. I did do a little work on this sequence myself (which was unusual because it was the only actual level programming that I did), and it wasn't really working out either in terms of fun gameplay or our ability to make a convincing looking forest chase within our tiny geometry budget so cutting this one was an easy choice (I think I'd been playing too much Crash Bandicoot!). The Halls of Illusion were going to feature lots of mirror based puzzles and doppelganger Dans that you'd have to fight. This was another one where the concept was a little more ambitious than our relatively humble tech could really accommodate without consuming way too much development time.

May 7, 2013 - additional Q&A[4]

1) An English disk of MediEvil 1 has been uploaded online in Spain, and this version is a full build of MediEvil 1 but contains several minor differences from the game we're familiar with. A main difference is that the battle-axe is obtainable during the first visit to the Hall of Heroes. Do you know if this was a beta version of the game? If so, would you have an idea of how it got to be in Spain?

CS - I don't recall anything that would explain this one, sorry... Perhaps it was a review build (i.e. pre-release code) that was leaked? As far as I recall, our shipped European builds of the game were all created at the same time and differ only by the languages present on the disk (was it two per disk, I don't recall?). Spain wouldn't have received an official version that shipped with English as a default and there were never any intentionally released Beta builds. North America had a very slightly different build - actually with one or two more (minor) bugs since our US ship date was slightly earlier.

2) This question is just related to an image in MediEvil 1, which is found in the "Gallows Gauntlet" stage; 

Romantexture

Would you happen to know what this image is? Is it possibly an easter-egg of sorts?

CS - I don't think the image has any real significance - just a texture created by Jason to convey the feel of a worn away ancient mosaic. ...It seems to be a Roman centurion which doesn't make it an image that's especially 'true' to the MediEvil world, but then again we never really defined where (or when) the game is set... Since MediEvil 2 was in Victorian London, its fair to say that Gallowmere must have been a 'Dark Ages' realm somewhere in Europe and hence somewhere most likely ruled by the Roman empire a good while before that? :)

June 24, 2013[5]

1) In one of the early builds of MediEvil, there is an item called the "Lake Key". What was this to be used for?

CS - I believe that was for an area of The Lake that got reworked and the key was no longer required.

2) On Jason Wilson's old website, it was written that:Underneath Gallowmere is an ancient land that Zarok seeks to plunder. Part of this ancient land is the sunken village. Each area of the ancient land contained a number of crystals that Dan must activate in order to cause the land to implode thus ending Zarok's plan of domination.

CS - That's one you're better asking Jason! There are certainly aspects of the MediEvil universe that we never discussed and which weren't fully fleshed out at the time we made MediEvil 1. Different people, e.g. Jason or the MediEvil PSP team may have taken things in slightly different directions to the path I might have chosen. To me, Zarok's underground domain was really just The City of Madness which existed inside within a hollowed out mountain - the area seen in the panning shot after Dan falls down from The Entrance Hall.

3) Also, the Lake is usually the penultimate level in level listings found in the game files.

I think that's just a consequence of it being one of the later levels that we started working on (plus it didn't exist in the very first design documents).

4) Was the Lake meant to play a larger role in the game?

CS - No, I don't recall that being the case.

5) Also, I have question about a character called "Uncle Mad" who can be found in Sleeping Village in the prototype;

Why was this character cut from the game?

CS - Another good question. I don't recall the exact answer but it was likely a combination of

  1. We had to trim a few things to make best use of our time in the last months of development.
  2. Any in game depiction of drugs, alcohol, etc used to be very frowned upon so a drunk looking character could have been a problem with QA regarding the quality/content checklists they have to follow.
  3. He was a character rooted on the spot who threw bottles at you - i.e. very easy and not very interesting for the player to take out!

June 24, 2013 - additional Q&A[6]

1) There is a level called the "Programmer's Playground" listed among the other levels in the code. What exactly was the purpose of this zone?

CS - The Programmers Playground was a test level with geometry built to represent all of the different types of landscape seen across the game. By this I don't mean how the landscape looked - the PP was pretty ugly looking with just placeholder textures - but things like different slope gradients, platform spacing for jump height and length, that kind of thing.

Most games feature a test environment of this sort. The advantage is that it allows the programmers to try stuff out, to work with designers to pin down the right player control dynamics, and to get these things right in a prototype form that the art team can then use as a reference as they build the real levels.

Our PP also featured some areas where we would test out enemy AI. We had a few different 'pens' where we had different kinds of zombies mapped and another area where you could pick up one of each of the different weapon types to go shoot them - like fish in a barrel - when tuning things like weapon hit strengths or setting up hit effects.

I wouldn't say this was a problem so much with the MediEvil team, but quite often programmers really don't like having to actually 'play' a game in order to test out features that they're working on - having a test environment allows them to jump right to the content they need (quite a time saving when you need to try out something many many times as you're hooking stuff up or trying to recreate a bug).

July 24, 2013[7]

1) Hey Mr. Sorrell, I have something that I've been hoping for some time to ask; it's about MediEvil 2 and your involvement with the project. I read in the interview with RetroGamer that you had several ideas written down for the MediEvil sequel, one of which involved the game being set in Victorian London.

If it's alright, I'd like to ask what other ideas you may have had for MediEvil 2 or, more specifically, what direction you would have taken the game in if you had directed it. Would characters like Kiya and the Professor have existed in your version?

Chris Sorrell - I really only had a few high concept ideas in mind for MediEvil 2. These were: that it could be set in Victorian times, but instead of playing as Sir Dan, you would play as Sir Henry Fortesque, a more recently deceased descendent of Sir Dan's (much like the way they reincarnated the same character in the UK TV show Black Adder). I had a sketch I'd done late one night while working on M1 of Sir Henry wearing a tattered Victorian cape, top-hat and monocle. Also in that sketch was a owl that I had in mind as the game's 'mentor'. …And I had a few random ideas of story/world elements that might be incorporated, a couple that I recall being Jack-the-Ripper and - as an end of game boss - Queen Victoria who, due to some crazy magic had been inflated into a fifty foot tall lumbering giant zombie under the spell of the game's antagonist.

I don't know if every one of those ideas would have stuck had I directed M2 myself, but I passed them all over to James Shepherd during a couple of meetings we had at the start of the project. After the first such meeting a couple of things we'd been discussing clicked together and I went into the second session with a sketch of Dan's head atop one of the severed hands - the basis for Dan-hand.

James ran with the ideas and - of course - introduced many of his own. Jason was involved too, although I don't know how he and James worked together. Overall I liked most of what they came up with for M2, although I disliked the squeaky voiced helper ghost, and definitely in places the game's humour crossed a line for me from the silly/bawdy tone we had in M1 to something a little too puerile for my liking! (I guess the Professor embodied a lot of that.) I would also have definitely kept the Hall of Heroes since I always thought that was one of the more distinctive presentational mechanics we created in M1, oh and Dan's voice was *horrible* - incoherent mumbling was a far better way to go!

On balance I was probably more in tune with what they did in M2 than the changes that were made in MPSP.

RETRO

July 25, 2015

Push Square

December 14, 2017

PREVIEWSworld

September 17, 2019

MediEvil Madness Facebook Q&A

December 9, 2019

Q. Why isn’t the comic longer?

A. We had a very limited page count, primarily due to the time available and the crazy amount of work for one person to draw and color it, not to mention the additional animation requirements for the digital version. Despite that I wanted to try and tell a worthwhile story and to pack as much as we could into the constrained space. Honestly - we would have loved for it to be longer, but as it is I have to stress just how hard Jason worked on this. It’s amazing that he created as much glorious looking artwork as he did in the time!

Q. Why is Canny Tim now a girl?

A. Well obviously the idea is that she always was, but was just hiding the fact in order to fight alongside her male peers. Ok, I admit we never really though of her that way originally, but to be quite honest none of those guys ever had much depth. I loved some of them nevertheless, and I wanted to give one of my favorites a little more back-story. I liked the idea of doing something a little surprising, of adding another much needed female into the MediEvil world, and, like I say, of fleshing out the character a bit!

Q. Why was living Sir Dan such a horrible person?

A. Well the gargoyles always said he was a coward and a cheat that didn’t deserve to be celebrated as a hero. …All of which - combined with being given a second chance - made him step up and become the hero that we know and love. It may be a little jarring to see him be quite so obnoxious, but his journey was always one of redemption - literally from zero to hero. Personally I think it’s much more interesting for us to truly dislike him, so that we can also see how far that spark of redemption has taken Sir Dan. …Another take on this: I’ve always (even back in the early days) had the original Black Adder series in mind when I consider who living Dan might have been. I think Captain F is something of a composite of Edmund from series 1 and Edmund from series 2. Truth be told I might have subconsciously borrowed the Canny Tim as a girl idea from there too :)

Q. Why did Kiya’s design change?

A. Conceptually I think Kiya was a great addition to MediEvil 2 - I love the idea of Sir Dan having an undead soul-mate. Unfortunately to me, her appearance and character depth never extended beyond the typical ‘male gaze’ tropes so familiar in that period in game development. That’s something I’ve always found pretty embarrassing - video games should be for everyone. I believe Jason felt the same, and was only too happy to give her a look more becoming both of an Egyptian princess, and more befitting a central character in the series.

Q. Why didn’t we do more with Kiya?

A. Primarily page count. I preferred the idea of offering a (hopefully) touching conclusion to their relationship over having her as a bit of a third wheel in a story that clearly needed to be about Sir Dan. So is that absolutely the end for her? No, I really don’t think it has to be - at least I know just how I’d like to see her make a re-appearance ;)

[About Present Day Dan's Voice] There was supposed to be a slightly 'electrical' look to his speech bubbles to suggest a voice-box. I'm not sure if that got lost along the way?!

BTW (for the record) Dan's death date was supposed to be 100 years earlier than it says. I accidentally put his resurrection date instead. Stupid!

December 10, 2019

Q. What about the super-armor?

A. Sorry, it wasn't deliberately ignored, I just didn't think to reference it (my thinking tends to be more around M1 than M2 for obvious reasons).

Q. What about Dan in the future?

A. There was a time when I thought having the series jump forward in time was a good idea. I was picturing it a bit like Blackadder (which I mentioned above). In fact my original premise for M2 had not Dan, but Sir Henry Fortesque as a Victorian descendant of Sir Dan. ...But anyhow, I have nothing against 'future Sir Dan' storylines, but I did come to think that the further you head from the Medieval roots, the more the game loses its identity. Victorian London had a suitable vibe, I'm not sure too many other places and times do. Just IMO of course :)

Q. Did we come up with ages for the characters?

A. Not really, just Dan. Please note my comment earlier that in the comic I stupidly wrote his resurrection date when it should have been his year of death (so no deliberate shifting of that!). I picture Dan dying in his mid thirties, King P in his late sixties.

Q. Was Gallowmere still a kingdom by the time of the first game?

A. Yeah, I think so, albeit I think it would have been a kingdom very much in decline. Obviously the whole concept of Gallowmere is taking liberties with real history - as I touched on in the comic, I notionally imagined it being one of a number of 'kingdoms' within dark ages England. Clearly those must have all long disappeared by the time of M2!

Q. Had Dan already died a hero in M1?

A. Definitely not would be my take! I like to think of the comic as the ending of the first time through these events. With the comic's ending, yes, a time-loop begins. So how did the King's forces win the battle prior to M1? Probably by some random act of good fortune - as one of many divergent possible realities where in most others they would have lost terribly. Dan's act at the end of the comic 'locks down' that victory and causes those other timelines to fade away. In a bigger story I would have loved to see some conflict between timelines that clearly only Dan's sacrifice can resolve.

Q. Why did Dan have to redeem himself?

A. Because previously he had failed his men and his king. His failings and inaction meant they went into battle with no battle-plan, no belief in their leader and no hope of victory.

Q. Are Sir Dan and Captain F separate entities now?

A. My take on this would be yes!

Q. Who locked up the Shadow Demons.

A. Sorry, that one's not had any thought to date.

Trivia

References

  1. Memory Card Sorcerers - Chris Sorrell on MediEvil Official EU Website (archived version).
  2. Fred Dutton, Behind the Classics: MediEvil on PlayStation.Blog. Published September 7, 2012.
  3. Proboards Interview with Chris Sorrell on MediEvil Boards. Published May 7, 2013.
  4. Proboards Another interview with Chris Sorrell on MediEvil Boards. Published May 7, 2013.
  5. Proboards Interview with Chris Sorrell on MediEvil Boards. Published June 24, 2013.
  6. Proboards Another interview with Chris Sorrell on MediEvil Boards. Published June 24, 2013.
  7. Proboards Interview with Chris Sorrell on MediEvil Boards. Published July 24, 2013.

External links

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