Graftgold

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Graftgold
Former type Video game company
Industry Video games
Fate Bankruptcy
Founded 1983
Founders Steve Turner
Defunct Early 1998
Key people Steve Turner, Andrew Braybrook, Andrew Hewson
Website http://www.graftgold.com/

Graftgold was an independent computer game developer that came to prominence in the 1980s, producing numerous computer games on a variety of 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit platforms.

History[edit]

The Hewson era[edit]

Graftgold was formed in 1983 when Steve Turner decided to quit his day job as a commercial programmer to concentrate on producing computer games. Realising that his ambitions were too much for one man to realise, he hired a close friend, Andrew Braybrook, to work for him. After a brief spell developing games for the Dragon home computer, Graftgold soon turned their attention to the more lucrative Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum markets.

Much of Graftgold's early success came about through their association with Hewson Consultants. Formed by Andrew Hewson in the early 1980s, Hewson Consultants became one of the UK's most successful computer game publishers. Whereas many publishers at the time relied on larger parent companies to handle the manufacturing of their products, Andrew Hewson owned his own cassette duplication plant, affording them much greater control over their ability to respond to market trends. Hewson were eventually bought out by 21st Century Entertainment in 1991, but left behind a legacy that includes more than a fair share of classic 8-bit and 16-bit titles. Many of Graftgold's most memorable titles were published by Hewson, including (but not limited to): Paradroid, Uridium, Quazatron and Ranarama.

The Telecomsoft era[edit]

Towards the end of the 1980s, it became apparent that Hewson Consultants were suffering financial difficulties. Two of its in-house programmers, Dominic Robinson and John Cumming, responded to this development by leaving the company to join Graftgold. Steve Turner decided it would be in Graftgold's best interest to seek another publisher, so they parted ways with Hewson and signed a publishing deal with Telecomsoft, the software division of British Telecom.

Hewson weren't happy to see their most successful development partner jump ship, particularly because Graftgold were due to deliver two keenly anticipated titles -- Magnetron (by Steve Turner, for the ZX Spectrum) and Morpheus (by Andrew Braybrook, for the C64). Graftgold argued that because they weren't contracted to Hewson, they were perfectly within their rights to seek an alternate publisher. Unable to sustain a protracted legal wrangle, Hewson eventually settled with Telecomsoft out of court and parted company with Graftgold.

Graftgold's relationship with Telecomsoft was considerably short lived, producing only a small handful of titles. The most successful game to emerge from this relationship is undoubtedly Rainbow Islands, a near perfect conversion of Taito's classic 1987 arcade machine for the C64, Spectrum and Amstrad CPC in 1989. Due to complicated contractual obligations, the Amiga and Atari ST versions of Rainbow Islands were published by Ocean Software in 1990.

The MicroProse/Activision era[edit]

The dawn of the 1990s saw a fundamental shift in the way computer games were developed. Whereas the games of the 8-bit era were typically developed by a single individual within a matter of months (sometimes even a few weeks), the more demanding 16-bit titles required larger teams, longer development times and considerably larger budgets. Royalties from their impressive back catalogue of titles allowed Graftgold to make this transition with ease, hiring in excess of 30 additional people to work on a large number of products within a team environment.

The success of Rainbow Islands solidified Graftgold's reputation as a dependable conversion house, which led to them producing further critically acclaimed conversions of arcade games (such as Flying Shark and Off Road Racer) in addition to their original titles. Graftgold's path through the 16-bit era, however, would remain rocky. The acquisition of Telecomsoft by MicroProse in 1989 worked in their favour, but newly forged deals with Hewson Consultants (by then on its last legs) and Activision proved disastrous. Hewson's liquidation forced them to sell the publishing rights for Paradroid 90 to Activision. While the game sold well on the Amiga, a PC Engine version that had been in development was shelved. To make matters worse, Graftgold had also been developing Realms, an expensive realtime strategy game, for Activision when it was announced that the publishing giant was in severe financial difficulty and had begun closing down many of its international operations. No longer contracted to develop any titles for MicroProse, the future of Graftgold looked bleak.

The Virgin/Renegade era[edit]

Graftgold's salvation arrived in the form of Virgin Interactive. Graftgold had already formed a close working relationship with Virgin through their development of Off Road Racer a few years earlier. Having bought back the rights for Realms from Activision, Graftgold finished the game for Virgin. From 1991 to 1993, Graftgold concentrated on Sega's primary gaming platforms — the Master System, Game Gear and Mega Drive — developing and converting numerous titles for these consoles for Virgin.

At the same time they were developing Sega games for Virgin, Graftgold also struck up a publishing deal with Renegade, who salvaged a number of products that had initially been promised to Mirrorsoft. Graftgold's experience had taught them that one way to ensure survival in the industry was to forge deals with multiple publishers rather than place all their eggs in one basket. Renegade published Graftgold's critically acclaimed Fire and Ice platform game on a number of formats, as well as Uridium 2 on the Amiga.

Somewhere between the early and mid-1990s, two things happened which would prove to be the beginning of the end for Graftgold. The 8-bit console formats breathed their last breath as the NES/Famicom and Sega Master System made way for their 16-bit successors. As a consequence, Graftgold's 8-bit conversion work quickly dried up. The Amiga and Atari ST were also becoming obsolete as gaming platforms around this time. By the time Graftgold had completed all their contractual obligations for the 8-bit consoles and 16-bit computers, it was already too late to establish a significant foothold within the 16-bit console market. Graftgold would only develop one title apiece for the Sega Mega Drive and SNES/Super Famicom (Ottifants and Empire Soccer 94 respectively, although the latter would remain unpublished).

The fledgling PlayStation market remained a difficult nut to crack. Just as the transition from 8-bit to 16-bit had escalated development costs and required a significant expansion of resources, so too did the transition from 16-bit to 32-bit platforms. PlayStation development kits were notoriously expensive. Graftgold were able to afford enough to allow them to begin development on International MotoX and a PS1 conversion of Rainbow Islands, but they couldn't afford to develop any other titles. Their financial security now depended on these two titles alone.

The Warner/Perfect era[edit]

Renegade, who owned the publishing rights for International MotoX, were eventually acquired by Time Warner Interactive, but the Warner company soon began to reconsider their software publishing strategy. Graftgold's game was finished but remained unpublished for six months. By the time it was finally released, it made enough profit to cover the large advances afforded to Graftgold, but very little extra income beyond that. Rainbow Islands (packaged with a conversion of Bubble Bobble) failed to ignite the interest of modern PS1 gamers too.

With very little income coming their way from their two PS1 titles, Graftgold found it difficult to sustain development of Hardcorps, the one title they were contracted to produce for a little-known publisher by the name of Coconuts. With an advance far below what was required to finance the game's production, Graftgold were forced to begin laying off staff. An eleventh hour rescue bid from another developer, Perfect 10 Productions (responsible for the highly successful Discworld adventure games), helped finance Graftgold long enough to seek out an alternative publishing deal for Hardcorps with Psygnosis, but this fell through after numerous delays.

Graftgold finally folded in early 1998.

List of Games[edit]

Name Platforms Released Published by:
3D Space Wars Spectrum, Dragon 32 1983 Hewson Consultants
3D Seiddab Attack Spectrum, Dragon 32 1984 Hewson Consultants
3D Luna-Attack Spectrum, Dragon 32, Commodore 64 1984 Hewson Consultants
The Legend Of Avalon Spectrum 1984 Hewson Consultants
Gribbly's day out Commodore 64 1985 Hewson Consultants
Dragontorc Of Avalon Spectrum 1985 Hewson Consultants
Paradroid Commodore 64 1985 Hewson Consultants
Astroclone Spectrum 1986 Hewson Consultants
Quazatron Spectrum 1986 Hewson Consultants
Uridium Commodore 64 1986 Hewson Consultants
Alleykat Commodore 64 1986 Hewson Consultants
Ranarama Spectrum 1986 Hewson Consultants
Paradroid (Metal edition) Commodore 64 1986 Hewson Consultants
Paradroid (Competition edition) Commodore 64 1986 Hewson Consultants
Gribbly's Special Day Out Amiga, Commodore 64 1986 Hewson Consultants
Uridium+ Commodore 64 1986 Hewson Consultants
Magnetron Commodore 64, Spectrum 1987 Telecomsoft
Morpheus Commodore 64 1987 Telecomsoft
Ranarama Commodore 64 1988 Hewson Consultants
Flying Shark Spectrum, Amstrad 1988 Telecomsoft
Intensity Commodore 64, Spectrum 1988 Telecomsoft
Orion Commodore 64, Spectrum 1988 Telecomsoft
Head the Ball Commodore 64 1988 Telecomsoft
Rainbow Islands Commodore 64, Spectrum, Amstrad 1989 Telecomsoft
Soldier of Fortune Commodore 64, Spectrum 1989 Telecomsoft
Bushido Commodore 64 1989 MicroProse
Simulcra Amiga, Atari ST 1989 MicroProse
Off Road Racer Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Amstrad 1989 Virgin
Rainbow Islands Atari ST, Amiga 1990 Ocean/Graftgold
Paradroid 90 Amiga 1990 Hewson Consultants
Realms Amiga, Atari ST, PC 1990 GraftGold/Virgin
Uridium Special Amiga 1991
Offroad GameGear, Master Sysyem 1991 GraftGold/Virgin
Fire and Ice Amiga, Atari ST, PC 1992 Renegade
Superman[disambiguation needed] GameGear, Master Sysyem 1992 Virgin
Fire and Ice (remake[?]) GameGear, Master Sysyem 1993 Virgin
Uridium 2 Amiga 1993 Renegade
Nipper vs. The cats Amiga 1993 Graftgold
Ottifants GameGear, Master Sysyem, Megadrive 1993 SEGA
Fire and Ice Amiga CD32, PC 1994 Renegade
Empire Soccer 94 Super Nintendo, PC, Amiga 1995 Graftgold/Empire
Virocop Amiga 1995 Graftgold/Renegade/Warner Interactive Entertainment
International MotoX PC, PlayStation 1996 Graftgold/Renegade
Rainbow Islands PC, PlayStation 1996 Acclaim

Key personnel[edit]

Steve Turner[edit]

After leaving a job in commercial programming in 1982, Steve Turner decided to concentrate on freelance computer game development. Initially forming a company called ST Software, Turner rechristened the company Graftgold after employing his friend, Andrew Braybrook, to assist him with programming duties.

Turner's solo projects for Graftgold included 3D Space Wars, Astroclone, Quazatron, Ranarama and Magnetron for the ZX Spectrum. He later contributed towards most of Graftgold's later projects on the 16-bit and 32-bit platforms.

Since the demise of Graftgold, Turner has continued to work in the IT industry.

Andrew Braybrook[edit]

Main article: Andrew Braybrook

After a brief stint programming games for the Dragon home computer, Braybrook made his mark with the publication of Gribbly's Day Out by Hewson in 1985. Combining elements of platform games and shoot-em ups with colourful, cartoon-like graphics, the game instantly made him a name to watch.

Towards the end of 1985 came Braybrook's classic Paradroid. Regarded by many C64 gamers as one of the greatest games ever made, Paradroid was a shoot-em up that featured exceptionally intelligent enemies, unique gameplay and fast-scrolling bas relief graphics that were quickly emulated by many other developers.

Two more Braybrook games arrived in 1986. Uridium proved to be an even more impressive programming feat than Paradroid. It was a horizontally scrolling shoot-em up that required the player to navigate the hazardous surface of a number of colossal dreadnaughts, strafing targets whilst simultaneously avoiding waves of fighters that screamed past at blistering speeds. The smooth, metallic graphics became the standard by which all future games of the genre would be judged. Alleykat arrived later in the year. Balanced somewhere between a vertically scrolling racer and a shoot-em up, the game (while technically impressive) proved to be exceptionally difficult and disappointed a significant percentage of Braybrook's fan base.

Braybrook's next title, Morpheus, was published by Rainbird (Telecomsoft) in 1987. Combining elements of resource development games and the time-honoured shoot-em up, Morpheus was Braybrook's most adventurous game to date. Despite intriguing gameplay and impressive graphics, the high learning curve and somewhat experimental gameplay translated into poor sales. The last of Braybrook's classic C64 titles, Intensity, arrived in 1988. A slightly more strategic shoot-em up, the game enjoyed modest success but failed to recapture the magic of Braybrook's earlier titles.

Braybrook went on to develop a number of titles for the Amiga, including the conversion of Rainbow Islands and sequels to Paradroid and Uridium before joining the rest of the Graftgold team developing their 16-bit and 32-bit titles. Braybrook remained with Graftgold until the company's demise in 1998, at which time he was working on PC and PS1 versions of Hardcorps. He now works for a UK-based insurance company.

Dominic Robinson[edit]

Main article: Dominic Robinson

Dominic Robinson came to prominence as an in-house programmer for Hewson when he converted Uridium to the Spectrum (a feat previously considered impossible) in 1986. This was followed by another classic Spectrum shoot-em up, Zynaps, and a puzzle/shooter, Anarchy, both of which were released in 1987. After leaving Hewson, he joined Graftgold to work on the Spectrum conversion of Flying Shark, as well as the Amiga and Atari ST versions of Simulcra and Rainbow Islands.

External links[edit]