The Cambridge Years
On a cold, snowy, November day I moved to Cambridge, to start work at Jagex. To be honest, I'd never heard of them; I knew they did some sort of online game, but had no clue how widespread and popular it was.
Jagex were located in Cambridge Science Park in a building that was far too small for them. I had joined as a tools programmer, and was immediately tasked with updating their audio tools (surprise).
Jagex existed because of the game Runescape, a hugely popular MMORPG. When I joined it had been running for about 12 years and was played by millions of people all over the world. They were constantly adding to it (there was an update every two weeks), which was great for the players; unfortunately it also meant that it was a strange mixture of 12-year-old code, mixed with code that might have been written yesterday. The whole code base seemed to be held together with Blu-Tack and Sellotape.
Some of the tools they used to create the game were ancient, written in Java, and were very tired, dated and difficult to use.
The programming room was very intimidating; the holy alliance of engine programmers at one end of the room were very unapproachable (and untouchable too, as only they knew how the game worked). Divas, basically. They ruled the roost and they knew it.
However, I plodded on, trying to decipher all this prehistoric code, make the tools easier to use, and improve the game audio (which was of an awful quality).
I was pretty miserable really.
The only thing that kept me going is that I got on really well with the guys in the audio department, spending more and more time in their room. I felt at home there. I even started doing voice-overs for the game. Claim to fame: I was the first ever voice actor in Runescape; I played a talking rock!
Then the best possible thing happened. I was given the chance to move in with the audio guys, and support them in the huge task of making the game sound better. A new head of audio, Steve Lord, had joined the company, and had huge ambitions.
So, overnight, everything became a lot better. Jagex started getting adventurous, and began making games other than Runescape.
What could possibly go wrong?
Runescape was first released in 2001, and is the world's largest and most updated MMORPG game. When I joined the company, the audio was of very poor technical quality. All sounds and music had to be downloaded on-the-fly, so the audio was in low bit-rate 8-bit Ogg Vorbis format - nasty!
Eventually, we moved over to live orchestral recordings, 16-bit stereo audio, and voice acting. This was a huge undertaking, due to the hours of music that had to be orchestrated, and masses of existing dialog to be recorded, as well as an unimaginable number of sound effects.
The work was never-ending, as new quests and adventures were released every few weeks.
Still, it paid their bills...and then some.
Jagex decided to branch out a bit and create another game. They teamed up with Hasbro (yes - them again) to create an MMORPG based on the Transformers franchise.
The game used all-new technology, the artists were allowed to use actual commercial 3D software, and I created the sound system (based on FMOD). Under the hood of the new engine, the game logic was written in Lua.
This was a very exciting project to work on. A lot of new staff were hired, and the company was split into two - Runescape vs Transformers Universe. My old mate Kevin Buckner (Knights of the Sky) was brought in to oversee the project.
Somehow, though, the project still lost its way. A public beta was released, but was not greatly received (it had its problems), and Hasbro weren't happy.
Very late in the day, a decision was made to switch the game to use the Unity Engine (ironically, something I'd suggested right at the start), and a lot of people lost their jobs.
Another foray into something different. I have no idea how this came about, but Jagex acquired Carnage Racing - a game designed to run within Facebook. It was written in the USA, using Unity, and our audio department was tasked with providing the audio.
So, it was back to the old Grand Prix times; interminable car engine loops, revband editors, and the Unity audio engine. Such fun.
All this was happening at the same time as Transformers Universe, so it was all a bit hectic.
Here endeth an enjoyable, if hectic, stint at Jagex. Cambridge had some other software houses dotted around, and London wasn't too far away, but I decided to take a bit of a break. I had a big house in Cambridge, so I took in lodgers. This took the pressure off a bit, and allowed me to take my time deciding what to do next.