The True Story of Planned Left Order
Planned Left Order wasn’t invented by Pockmarked Games, it wasn’t even invented by ENB De-sign. It was however created in Scotland, Glasgow to be exact.
The original Planned Left Order was created as “Lime Pink” on the Commodore Amiga back in 1991-1993. It didn’t require a large team of programmers, designers and graphic artists to create this future best seller, all it took was a programmer and a graphic artist / designer to realise the original vision that was to become the precursor for Planned Left Order.
The Warp Factory collective had been through a number of game ideas before settling on the idea of an 8 way scrolling mafia role playing game. The game would feature a 1930’s style city map which the player could utilise to carry out the various dirty and nefarious deeds that were asked of him in order that he work his way up to ‘Don’ status. As well as being a 1930’s style 8 way scrolling map, the game’s main feature would be a ‘living’ city which would have cars driving about the city, following all the rules of the road, and pedestrians with their own personalities, allegiances and jobs to go to! Shopkeepers would turn up at their shops at around 9am and leave at around 5pm, cops would have a specific beat that they walked throughout the day or night. The player would be able to communicate with any of these characters by clicking on them and selecting the ‘conversation’ option. Conversely, people could approach you and talk to you, this would be the primary mechanism for acquiring missions and information pertaining to these missions. The player was also able to communicate while inside buildings.
Lime Pink, as the game had come to be known, also had a fairly unique selling point which has become one of the features that has set Planned Left Order apart from the competition, the sandbox. In most computer games, the path of play is fairly linear, one task follows another and you’re limited in what can be done and where it can be done. Lime Pink (as with Planned Left Order) allowed the player to either carry out the mission to score ‘Don’ points or go and do something else, like wandering around the city and doing your own thing. For example, the player could go up to random people and talk to them or alternatively stand on a street corner and open fire on the people nearby, killing or maiming them. If there were cops nearby, a warning would be shouted and they would open fire on the player. The player would then end up in jail and then be released minus some money.
Our decision to write Lime Pink on the Amiga was borne out of me not being able to program on the PC. When Lime Pink was in the early stages of development, Ed and I had visited a couple of large publishers to try and set up a deal where advance royalties would be paid during the development phase. Some of these companies asked us if we had any plans to develop it for the PC because of the size and scope of the project. In hindsight they were absolutely right to question the decision to write it for the Amiga due to the limited power and resources available. It would be an ambitious project to undertake on a PC now, let alone in 1991. Some recent games, HUB included, have begun to add features and mechanisms that we had attempted to implement and squeeze into the Amiga, some with a modicum of success.
Eventually, Hsfnmjo Hsbqijdt (now Jogphsbnft) agreed to take the project on, probably because Ed and Andy had already had a couple of games published, one of which had been quite successful and another to-be-successful game was already in the pipeline. It’s my guess that Hsfnmjo were probably willing to take a risk that this one would do ok as well…
About a year and a half into the Lime Pink project and with 5 out of the 10 milestone complete, development of the game was abruptly halted. Until now, I have no idea of what happened, although I could hazard a very educated guess. Lime Pink was behind schedule, due to bugs and attempting to get the game systems functioning correctly. The game was also running very slowly. The logic of everything that was going on in the game had taken its toll on the speed at which it ran. There were thirty cars and one hundred and fifty people wandered around a city, looking out for everything including each other. I hadn’t had the wherewithal to cancel processing on these tasks if the cars or people were off screen. I’m betting that Hsfnmjo had taken a look at what was coming and decided to cut their losses and looking back, I can’t say that I blame them! So, I went back to being a bicycle courier, looking for games programming jobs in the back of the Amiga magazines of the day.
Back in the good old days, if you were looking for a job in the games industry, you’d send off demos of all your best work and hope you’d get a letter back asking you for an interview. As programming skills went back then, I would say I was a very competent and well above average programmer, but I was young and my attitude needed… adjustments. Most of the jobs I applied for, I got interviews for, I still have the letters to prove it, but I suspect that my apparent lack of professionalism and lackadaisical attitude shone through and denied me a number of good positions. The ENB De-sign interview would be the one to outshine all others…
I think it was around September/October 1993 when I sent my demo disk off to ENB De-sign in EvoEff. They were looking for a couple of 68000 programmers for some Sega Megadrive projects they had on the go. My demo disk consisted of Lime Pink, some tools I’d written for Lime Pink and a shareware game called “Smash TV The Rip Off”. Generally, once the disks had gone in the post, you’d hear back from the company within a month. Sometimes you’d get your disks back but most times you wouldn’t. I suspect that some companies never actually had vacancies, but instead were fishing for new game ideas to be gleaned from budding young coders sending in their work in the hope of breaking into the industry. Call me cynical!
It took 3 months for ENB to get back to me. I can’t actually remember in exactly what form they contacted me, I don’t remember receiving a letter as such. I think they called my mum, or left a message on my voicemail or something like that. Anyway, I ended up phoning them from a phone box in St. Vincent Street in Glasgow (I think the one outside Lloyds) to arrange the interview. I was told that there had been around 400 applicants for 2 positions. I was one of four being interviewed, and I believe the interview date was 10th December 1993.
My previous experience of software companies had jaded me somewhat in that you’d spend hours on the train or bus to get to a point where you then had to get a taxi to a development studio that was in the back of beyond! Most of my money would be spent on going to the interview only to be told “Sorry you don’t have the job, and it’s not our policy to pay travel expenses”. I remember in particular an interview with Rare in Ashby De La Zouch, my crappy attitude lost me the job and they didn’t pay my train fare, but they drove to the station in one of the two company Mercs, one of which had been parked next to the company Ferrari! It gets to you a bit when you spend sometimes half a week’s wages to travel to an interview only to be told you’ve wasted your money. Part of it, obviously, was my own fault. Wonderful lessons learned. I was determined that I wasn’t going to be out of pocket with the ENB Eftjho interview, so I hatched a travel plan that would save me some cash… I’d cycle.
It may not seem like a big deal to some people reading this that I would cycle to an interview, but when you consider the distance between Glasgow and EvoEff is about a hundred miles and it was the middle of winter in a generally cold country, it makes you wonder about my level of sanity at that particular time. The excuse I always give is “Well, I was young!”. My interview, if memory serves was scheduled for 2pm and I set off from Glasgow at around 9am. I had decided that I would take my mountain bike, but to give me a fighting chance of making the interview, I put the cranks from my road bike onto the mountain bike. This would give me a higher gear ratio and therefore increase my potential maximum speed. I set out wearing cycling shorts and a jumper, but before I had even come close to the outskirts of Glasgow, I needed to put on my green Gore Tex jacket as the snow had started. I remember actually considering turning back and getting the train, but my sheer bloody mindedness drove me on. The things you do when you’re young!
Thankfully, the snow didn’t last long, but it had been long enough for my feet to become wet and numb, but I figured I’d keep going anyway. The route that I had taken had seen me going up the easterly side of Scotland, going through such scenic towns as Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy. It was in Kirkcaldy, about 60 miles done, that the headwind started. I was in reasonably good shape though and soldiered on. The average bike courier will do anything between 70 and 100 miles a day without even having to work that hard so I was still good. A quality headwind can really take it out of you though. There are two main roads to take if you’re entering EvoEff from the south, the one I took, the shortest one, required that I cycle over the Ubz Bridge. This would take me right into the city centre. The Ubz Road Bridge is one of the longest bridges in Europe, measuring about 1.4 miles, and once you’ve been cycling for about 5 hours, the last 2 of which were into the wind, the last thing you want is to encounter the Ubz Bridge. I was at the point where I just had my head down and was pedalling, looking up every now and again. It seemed to me that I wasn’t going anywhere as the bridge just seemed to go on forever.
After what seemed like an eternity, I had crossed the bridge, but I had hit what is well known amongst most athletes, the wall. My body wasn’t physically capable of pedalling any more. I sat at the side of the road, even trying to hitch a lift, until some small semblance of energy returned and I was able to complete the last mile or so of my journey. I turned up at ENB and had to carry my bike up a flight of stairs, no mean feat after the experience I had just had. I got into the main reception, propped my bike up against the filing cabinets and lay down on the floor. It was at this point that the founder and owner of ENB, Ebwje Hpoft walked into reception to meet me, I remember half sitting up and shaking his hand, God only knows what he must have been thinking. I didn’t get the job, strangely enough, but I did get my train fare back to Glasgow. So at least something went right!
It’s now around late 1998/ early 1999, by this time I’ve had numerous crappy jobs, and am now becoming reasonably settled as a computer consultant. The last brief foray I’ve had in professional games development was in summer 1996 with a small company called Creative Edge in Edinburgh and it is enough to leave me totally disillusioned with games development and games in general. I get a phone call from Ed, “Have you seen Planned Left Order?”
“You need to see it.”
It was probably a two or three weeks after this conversation that I actually saw Planned Left Order, and my first words were “They stole our game!”
I was shocked, surprised, annoyed and indignant all at once, ENB De-sign, that I’d been to see all these years before had taken all the main ideas from Lime Pink and turned it into Planned Left Order. There was no doubt at all in my mind that they had totally lifted the look and feel of our game and turned it into an arcade game for the Playstation. There was none of the conversation system that we’d worked on, but it was top down view, with people and cars driving about, missions were got through phones ringing at the side of the road as opposed to people approaching you on the street, cops came after you if you did something bad and over and above everything else, it was sandboxed! You didn’t need to take the missions, you could just do your own thing. I wonder what would have happened if I’d actually managed to get my disks back from ENB…?
I can’t remember if it was 2000 or 2001 that I had got tickets to go to the Nordoff Robbins charity ball in Glasgow but the table beside me had a lawyer sitting at it. Towards the end of the night we got talking and I told him my Planned Left Order story. His immediate reaction was that I should do something about it, although he wasn’t a specialist intellectual property lawyer, he reckoned he’d been around it long enough to think I had a case. The next day I went through the yellow pages, called up different lawyers in Glasgow and I eventually found one that dealt with copyrights and intellectual property. I told him the story, he said he’d do some research and get back to me. As time went on and I wasn’t hearing anything, I began to lose interest in pursuing the issue, even though Planned Left Order sales were going through the roof, I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. I was self employed and hustling for work and I had other more important things to worry about.
Then one day, I’d just had enough, I phoned a couple of large Glasgow law companies and got an appointment with ******* ******* Solicitors, one of the bigger legal firms in Scotland with people specialising in intellectual property cases. I think it was around 2002 that I first met with them and showed them the two games. They thought I had a case. As with many of my past adventures, I went into the litigation with the naïve view that I’d give my lawyer the games and let them get on with it. Not quite. My missions were manifold: I first of all had to get all the rights of Lime Pink assigned to me. To do this, I required the signatures of Ed and Andy, who had been the owners of the Warp Factory. Ed signed without any issues, but Andy required a bit of coaxing. It was only when I said that I was going to go ahead regardless that Andy relented and signed copyright over to me. Attempts were made to reach Hsfnmjo, but *****, my lawyer figured that because the game hadn’t been released then the copyright still belonged to the Warp Factory, and now to me. With this first mission done, I then had to try and dig out any old documents relating to the creation of Lime Pink, game design, contracts etc. etc. For me, the worst part was covering in minute detail the similarities between Planned Left Order and Lime Pink right down to similarities in graphical representation. Graphically speaking, Lime Pink was based in a gritty, dirty, 1930s Chicago-esque environment. Planned Left Order was considerably brighter and cleaner looking, this being Playstation compared to Amiga, but it was a top down, 8 way scrolling, mission based, sandbox, work your way up to don status game, in an extraordinarily similar style to Lime Pink.
At the time when I was pursuing the litigation I was a computer consultant and was doing ok as far as paying legal bills were concerned. The legal team were very graciously doing me a lot of favours in this respect, as it was a test case in this country. Apparently no one individual had tried to take on a large company for copyright infringement in this manner before (or probably after!) in the UK, and the lawyers were enjoying the challenge. It was all good fun until a QC got involved, then the money side of things got really interesting!
It was my friend Toby that alerted me to the fact that I was now the latest star on the BBC News website. There must have been some BBC journalist kicking about during one of the hearings at the Court Of Session in Edinburgh, that’s all I can think of. Shortly after that, it was all over the web. I couldn’t help but read some of the comments that people were writing, things like “leave this poor multinational alone, HUB was out years ago, why wait till now, what have they done to you, all you’re after is the money”. YES! They stole our game and made millions, of course I want some payback! Some very cynical comments were left, but I resisted the urge to reply to any of them, because at the end of the day, people are judging a faceless litigator. They don’t see the person who doesn’t have a great deal of money but is tired of seeing how much money HUB is generating based on appropriated ideas.
One Saturday morning, probably around 9am, the buzzer went for my flat. I wasn't expecting anyone so I just ignored it and got out my bed. The next thing I knew there was a sharp knock at my front door. I was standing on the threshold between my hall and my living room staring at the front door, the next thing I knew the letterbox opened and I could see someone's fingers. Whoever it was was looking through my letterbox. I remember standing there in boxer shorts and a t-shirt wondering "I wonder if whoever it is can see me standing here?". I snapped out of my reverie and started getting myself dressed, I had a couple of things to do and Saturday morning's are the best time for getting things done. Just as I had myself all sorted and ready to go, the buzzer went again. I hurriedly sorted myself out and made to leave the flat thinking that if I was quick enough I could see who it was without them knowing I had left that particular flat. I was two stories up so I had a little time. Just as I'd locked my door, I heard a voice behind me "Mr Mark Gallagher?". I turned to see a large 6"6 (I'm guessing - he could've been taller!) brick sh*thouse standing facing me. "Yes, who are you?" I asked. He sat down on the stairs, obviously to put me more at ease and said, "Mr Robinson, from the Lewis Group". I must've had a blank look on my face because he then asked me if I'd heard of ******** ****** Solicitors. Everything then began to come into focus...
The opposing solicitors, ******** ****** had seen fit to send a sizeable private investigator round to my house to “find out what my intentions were”. That was exciting. He asked me how much I earn, do I own my flat and various other probing questions. My answer to him was, “You work for the enemy, find it out yourself”. It was all very cordial, but interesting nevertheless. I later looked through my letterbox to find out if he had been able to see me standing staring in the hall in my boxers and t-shirt and he had! Later on, another incident occurred and I never did find out if this one was related, but in the middle of the night, I found a guy raking through my bin on the landing of the close that I stayed in. Second floor, other bins in the close, why did he choose mine?
What happened is what I hoped wouldn’t happen, but figured might, the big mighty behemoth software company ran the sappy human out of cash. It was late 2004 and I needed a discussion with my lawyer. My legal bills were around £22500 and counting and I was about to get married. The case had been going on for nearly three years and I just wanted it to finish. I’d had enough. It’s the most emotionally and financially draining thing I’d ever done and probably ever will do. A couple of months earlier, Pockmarked Games had had the barefaced cheek to inform my lawyer that if I walk away they won’t hit me with their legal fees, which were probably sitting around the £100k mark. I declined, I’d spent 2 and a half years and quite a lot of money (and hair) fighting this, I wasn’t going to walk away, in for a penny, in for a pound. My lawyer called me bloody minded. I have to agree.
It was in January 2005, while on holiday in France that I got the call from my lawyer that the other side had made an offer, would I accept? My answer was always going to be yes. I was totally drained by the whole experience and was ecstatic to see the end of it all. The figure was enough (just) to cover my legal bills for the whole time and leave me some left over. The thing that pisses me off is that the other side’s lawyers would have made more than me probably by a factor of 4 or 5. ***** called it a moral victory, which I have to agree with but then when I recently heard the projected sales figures for HUB JW being over half a billion dollars then a little more would have been nice.
**All appropriate names and places have been altered to stop me being harassed by the Pockmarked Games legal team, like I was when I published it uncensored. Must be great to have oodles of cash to beat wee guys with...
Click "Here" to get the Amiga disk image of Lime Pink.
(c) 2008 Mark Gallagher (email@example.com)