ASCII by Jason Scott

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Ever Heard of Henk Nieborg? —

My previous discussion of experiences with Psygnosis neglected to mention Henk Nieborg. By the 1990’s, Psygnosis was generally more like a record company bringing in outside talent rather than a software house producing everything from within. This meant that there were a bunch of people who would just grind away at a game for a year or two and then present it to the firm, ready to be published after a few “tweaks” from producers and other folks. (The winner of the all-time “incubation” award was Andrew Spencer and his astounding six years to produce Ecstatica, but I digress…) As it were, there were a couple of developers who actually rode this wave of develop-refine-produce a couple of times, where most would develop a game and get out of that into some sort of independent deal. Among these special few were Henk Nieborg and Erwin Kloibhofer.

They produced two similar programs for Psygnosis, Flink and Lomax. They are what are called “Platform” games. They are simple on one level: land in a place, and head towards another place, generally blowing up or removing obstacles in your path. Eventually you fight a very big guy and you win.

However, they are breathtakingly beautiful.

There is something truly magical and wonderous about someone’s ability to create an alternate world just by hand-creating a bunch of graphics. And hand-created his work is; his website allows you to browse them very closely and see how he worked. You don’t look at them and see a picture; you just see a fully-formed drawing, not lacking any perspective or angle that makes you think something’s “wrong”, and yet not like reality in the least. So when you’re playing, you’re truly immersed, in a way that the latest attempts to make a bunch of triangles appear like a roving tank don’t quite accomplish.

And his animations… now you’re talking. While at Psygnosis I saw some prototype animations Henk did for a possible Lemmings game, and those little guys moved! Their little robes swayed, every hair on their heads went back and forth in time to their steps, and yet the whole thing was pixellated, drawn by hand but capturing their movements perfectly. Lomax has some remnants of that work, when someone deep with Psygnosis (was it you, Greg?) indicated that it would be a better idea to turn the “Lomax” character into a Lemming, to push the property a little further.

I had the good luck to see the breathtaking prototype of Lomax, back when it could only run on the Blue Playstation. Quick mention of that; the Blue playstation had 8 megabytes of memory where the regular ones only had 2. During the wild and wooly early days of playstation development at Psygnosis, a few products and prototypes took full advantage of the 8 megabytes, only to find they wouldn’t play on regular Playstations! This means there’s intense versions of a few games (like the secret development version of Darkstalkers that Psygnosis did that nobody’s supposed to know they did… oops) that just don’t exist outside of a few CDRs. The version of Lomax that I saw in that prototype had many more backgrounds drawn, as well as much more intense animation. They had to remove frames for the production version!

My point of going into all this about Henk is that Psygnosis was, and the world is, full of guys like him, intense, talented folks (Henk is only about 35 now; he did Lomax when he was 26 and was already a veteran) who slave away at their craft, quietly producing these works with true quality that are thought by the buying public to be “throwaway”. Hello, Tim Wright. Hello, Andrew Spencer. Hello, Yak. Hello, Mark Hosler and Don Joyce.

So don’t get me started on the saga and miracle of Psy-Q.

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