Sensible Software: 1986–1999

Few names in the pantheon of game developers can evoke such bittersweet feelings as Sensible Software.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

Sensible was the leading gamemaker in the UK throughout the 90s, scoring hits such as Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder, and Wizball.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

That is, until it all came to an abrupt stop at the end of the decade, when the company virtually folded.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

Sensible's tragic rise and fall is the focus of Sensible Software 1986–1999, the definitive anthology on the storied "Britsoft" developers.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

The book is the brainchild of graphic designer Darren Wall, who grew up a Sensible devotee.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

Wall thought that Sensible's venerable name and unfortunate history warranted the monograph treatment.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

The book includes interviews with Sensible founders Jon Hare and Chris Yates, and text by pioneering gaming journalist Gary Penn...

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

...plus plenty of eye candy in the form of Wall's colorful collages, which incorporate 8- and 16-bit graphics from Sensible titles, beloved and obscure alike.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

The 340-page book is littered with stills and ephemera, which Wall sourced directly from original materials.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

This means he had to revisit games he hadn't played in a decade and a half, or longer.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

He also dug into Sensible's archives and unfinished titles, among which he found a canceled game project that more or less resembles Grand Theft Auto avant la lettre.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

Part of Sensible's appeal, Wall says, was its sense of humor. Here, an alternative gag version of Sensible Soccer--one of the top video game titles in history--swaps humanoids with fruit.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

Yet for all its inventiveness, Sensible couldn't make the jump to 3-D. By the new millennium, the newly popularized PlayStation offered up inexpensive 3-D titles that eclipsed Sensible's even most memorable offerings.

Sensible Software: 1986–1999

Dig into the Sensible Story with the Sensible Software 1986–1999, which you can purchase here, for $40.

Co.Design

"Britsoft" Legends, The Jarvis Cockers Of Gaming, Are Anthologized

Long after it closed up shop, legendary UK gaming house Sensible Software gets a new Kickstarter-funded book.

Sensible Soccer. Cannon Fodder. Wizball. For graphic designer Darren Wall and other UK kids of the Britpop generation, these titles were household names. As Blur was climbing the charts and Oasis was picking fights with the rock elite (and frequently themselves), Sensible Software was building a 16-bit empire with smart, witty, and veddy British games. At their peak, Sensible founders Jon Hare and Chris Yates were local pop heroes up there (or almost) with Jarvis and the Gallagher brothers.

Darren Wall's new Kickstarter-funded book Sensible Software 1986–1999 vividly details the rock star days of the storied "Britsoft" developers, as well as what came next. For Oasis, not long after the fade closing out Be Here Now had dissolved, the demise was the heaving sound of dimwitted swagger overtaking the music. For Sensible Software, it was the arrival of PlayStation and 3-D gameplay. The reign of the joystick was over. In its place rose the D-pad.

The definitive new anthology captures this dramatic rise and fall, with a narrative by pioneering gaming journalist Gary Penn. "I wanted to equally balance the written and visual content of the book," Wall tells Co.Design. His book charts all of Sensible’s prolific output, from the mega-hit games to the failed projects, easter eggs to yes, pop singles. It also explores the personal dynamics between Hare and Yates and others who came to shape the fortunes of the Sensible machine.

Sensible Software weaves long-form interviews with Hare and Penn’s adjacent commentary with Wall’s constructed or collaged visuals. Presented in the manner of an art monograph, Wall's work combines graphics, storyboard sketches, and other archival ephemera. "alf of the volume’s 340 pages feature in-game art, level maps, sprites, texture tiles and development artwork," he tells Co.Design. The spreads, he adds, create immersive representations of the game worlds that wouldn’t have been possible with straightforward screenshots.

The matter of sourcing the visuals proved difficult. Wall’s widescreen ambitions for the project forced him to revisit the Sensible canon for the first time in more than ten years. The ensuing hours and hours of button-mashing were draining, as he explains: "Some of the more complex compositions took days to create, as they often involved playing the game over and over to collect the necessary screenshots and then piecing them together in Photoshop."

Luckily, Wall was armed to the teeth with cheat codes, saving himself much physical and psychological duress. He did, however, come to a somewhat embarrassing realization. "I have become hugely crap at old games in my advancing years," he says.

It’s understandable. Sensible released its last game on the eve of the new millennium, and its unfinished magnum opus, an adult-themed romp called Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll, fizzled out like the Britpop comebacks of the last decade.

Even so, when Wall launched the book project on Kickstarter, the response was immediate. "It was really encouraging to hear from hundreds of Sensible fans who had exactly the same relationship with the games as I did myself," he says. When the campaign sailed passed its $30,000 goal a year ago, "it became clear just how important Sensible still are to a lot of people, even decades after their biggest games were released."

Pick up a copy of Sensible Software 1986–1999 here, for $40.

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