History – some of us are fascinated by it, others are repulsed. Whatever the sentiment, however, you cannot deny that just like everyone ought to be familiar with the history of their country, so every FM fan should know the history of Football Manager. Now, the fact that I intend to write about FM – of which we have so far seen only one version - and not CM, which has been published in 12 versions or so (not counting CM) - may raise eyebrows. The answer to that is quite simple - FM is the only real CM at the moment. As illogical as it sounds, let me underline this opinion right at the beginning of my article. I will elaborate on this thesis in the last paragraph. Before that happens, in the first part of the article, which you will get to have a look at in a second, you will read about the very beginning – not of the SI itself yet, but of Collyer brothers, and about the first manager, a base and foundation of a ‘genealogical tree’ of the most famous football manager games’ saga – CM 1.
Perhaps not everyone realises that Championship Manager 1 had been created even before the formation of Sports Interactive. Only two people took the responsibility for the first version of this magnificent game. I am talking about Collyer brothers, of course, both of whom unquestionably deserve to be called the fathers of CM (in a moment I will say something about the ‘mother’ as well). They were born in Shropshire. Both are staunch supporters of Everton FC. Paul, the older of the two, was born on 1st April 1967. He lives in Stockholm since 2003, when he married Camila – she is Swedish. Paul often comes to London, where he owns an apartment. He is a fan of movies, he plays squash and – fittingly for a Briton – he is no stranger to pubs. He also likes to tuck into Asian food. As a kid he wanted to be a journalist. Oliver was born on 10th February 1972. He lives in London suburbs, in Crouch End. He is passionate about dinosaurs and travelling. He has already travelled around the world. Unlike his elder brother, he prefers typical English cuisine – scrambled egg with bacon plus a decent cup of coffee. Their adventure with programming began in the 80s, when they acquired a BBC computer – a successor of a famous Amstrad. It was then that they became enchanted with programming. Oliver in particular caught the bug – he eagerly ‘messed’ with the BBC Basic system. They soon came in contact with football management games. I think I do not have to say that they were both avid football fans, and they even went to see the World Cup Tournament – Paul – to Argentina in 1978, Oliver – to Spain, four years later).
It is now time to reveal why the SI game is known as Football Manager. For, the game that inspired the Collyer duo to make the CM was named… yes, Football Manager. In 1982 Addictive Studio published a game by that name for Spectrum computers. Another source of influence was a football management game – League Division One Manager. They liked what they saw in both games, but at the same time they figured they would be able to make an even better manager of their own, and that is how it all started. As the computer games realm was developing at an astonishing pace, there soon appeared a CM designed for Atari ST. It should not be forgotten, though, that first successful ‘writing’ of CM had taken place before that, with a game for Amstad computers, the ancestor of Championship Manager.
Work division between the two was simple: Oliver’s main task was programming, while Paul was to take care of algorithms and the AI (he has been doing that till present day). Their primal intention was that CM should be an amateur project – it is said that they wrote it entirely for their own enjoyment. The best proof of such approach is that they were devising the game in the little study of their flat. The game, however, made such an impression on the brothers’ friends that they persuaded them to publish it and – as we have seen – they were absolutely right to have done so!
Brilliance of the programmers is not enough for a game to make it onto the shelves in shops – now we need a publisher, of course. And the brothers encountered many difficulties in finding one. They showed their product to a number of companies, in the end a small English company, Domark, decided to release the game. The company was established in 1983, and took its name from its founders – Dominic and Mark. Even before the CM they could boast many spectacular titles for different platforms: Star wars, ‘007: License to kill’ or ‘Prince of Persia’, to name but a few. In 1996, Domark was bought by EIDOS – I will tell you more about it in later articles. For now, let us move back to the year 1991, when one day the Collyer brothers walked into Domark headquarters. The general director of the firm was then John Kavanagh, but it is to another employee – namely Kris Hall – that they owed the game’s release. Domark agreed to be the publisher, but only as long as certain conditions were met. The main issue was the name of the new product – few CM fans know that Paul and Oliver had initially planned to name it European Championship, but – coming under pressure from Domark –they finally relented and assented to the name of Championship Manager. Thus, everything was settled and the work on the game went into its final stages…
The beginnings of the work on CM 1 can be dated to the middle of the 1980s. As I mentioned before, it was being written in a relatively uncomplicated programming language – BASIC. Admittedly, the first game of the Collyer brothers did not quite take the market by storm, however, the competition in the genre was fierce, with such magnificent games as The Manager and Premier Manager. CM’s major fault - at least from a marketing point of view - seemed to be its visual design and sound. The latter was totally nonexistent. With loads of tables, data and stats the game reached only very specific audience. In my view, it initiated a totally fresh approach to this type of computer games; I call it a ‘metaphorical realism’. Even now it is quite hard to realistically – in a literal sense – reflect the nuts and bolts of the manager’s job, let alone twenty years ago! That is why Paul an Oliver resolved to do it with the help of massive amount of data. And it has to be said that – given the limitations of the times – they achieved a complete success. In the first CM we could only manage English clubs, but at least from 4 divisions. Quite a few options we now see in FM 2005 have already been available – albeit in a much less advanced form – in CM 1. We had much to say in terms of tactical instructions (choice of formation, selecting the captain and the type of passing etc), transfers (we could already make use of scouts back then), we also could fine our players 1 or 2 weeks wages. What was happening on the pitch was being shown us in a very clear form as well. A text mode, in a no frills shape, also appeared. We could see which team were attacking at any given moment, we did not lack in match stats, too. And even though the graphics of the game was subject to harsh criticism, it has to be said that we had 4 backgrounds to choose from, which certainly made the game play more entertaining to a certain extent. What CM 1 did not have, on the other hand, was training options. Collyer brothers’ game was received with mixed feelings, both by the fans and the press. English computer mag Amiga Format, for instance, rated it at 41 %, Zero – at 82%.
Despite such divergent opinions on the game, it was successful, so much so that soon the French League version (Guy Roux Manager) and an Italian League version (CM Italia) appeared. They were not as popular as their predecessor, though. Main reason for that was that some vital options had been removed from them (e.g. no foreign players lists) and they were bug – infested. Notwithstanding these turbulences, exactly a year after the CM 1 premiere the world was served with its successor – CM 93/94. Again, we could try our hand at English clubs; the most significant change was that team squads had been updated (sounds familiar, doesn’t it…) To be fair, we cannot overlook the fact that some new important options were added, and those carried forward from CM 1 were expanded. Some of the new touches included the appearance of reserve teams and – as a consequence – a significant enlargement of the database, which by contemporary standards was phenomenal. Managers’ history was also incorporated, as was the injury timescale and players’ end of season awards. Player’s profile was enriched with some novel information, transfer system and tactics were also tweaked. The brothers also tried – even if somewhat amateurishly – to better the graphics of their game. After the release of second version of CM, the game started to gain publicity, as far as the market was concerned, mainly due to friendly reviews in the press (CU Amiga gave it 84% - great overall result, especially given low marks for graphics and sound). No wonder, then, that Paul and Oliver started thinking big. To progress, however, they needed more staff and, obviously, more space – to conquer the world from within your bedroom is a tall order…
Fredy: How was the idea of a football manager game born? Did you predict that it would become such an enormous project and tae over the hearts and minds of millions of fans?
Oliver: We had been inspired by others who made similar games. One company, Qualsoft, made a League Division 1 series, which enchanted us with its magic end encouraged us to create our own, and better, game. At first we had no ambitions for the game to be sold in thousands and to have so many fans. It was something we were doing for our enjoyment and it was a challenge. Above all, we wanted to play that game, and so wanted our friends.
F.: Do you remember how the work on CM 1 started? What was the beginning like?
O.C.: CM 1 evolved for about 5 years, from the mid 80s. There was always something to be rewritten, we had to correct a few things here and there, and constantly make the game better and bigger. I can say that this strategy has remained with us and is continued nowadays when we are working on FM series. I will be totally honest with you – I cannot remember the beginnings, it was so long ago. It’s like when you are born – everybody knows that it happened, but no one quite remembers how it felt like. All I now is we had ‘the thing’ that we called ‘the game’ and that gave us lots of fun when we were teenagers. ‘I’m going to work on the game now’ became a sort of a catchphrase that was used very frequently at our home.
F.: How did you team up with Domark? As far as I know, it wasn’t the first publisher you’d shown he game to.
O.C.: The start of our cooperation was very simple; Domark were one of the few firms that had the sense of decency to answer to our letter, in which we’d precisely described our game. We didn’t want to send the game out to any company until we’d been assured that we could trust them. The majority of firms were not interested in our product at all, but a guy named Kris Hall said he liked the game and asked us to send it to him and to drop in to his London office for a chat. Before we sent the game out, we’d written a lengthy guidebook for it, describing in detail all the options that it had and comparing it to other games of the genre (we wanted to show him how our game is better than the rest).
F.: Was CM 1 as successful commercially as you’d expected?
O.C.: CM 1 sold mainly by word of mouth, lack of visual and sound effects really unsettled the PR guys (in earlier stages they’d been persuading us to add something ‘flashy’ to the game, but we wouldn’t have it). A few years had to pass before marketing specialists finally understood what our game was about and who it was addressed to, so that they could start promoting it effectively. First versions of CM are a good example of a product that self promotes itself, through users telling other users about it. I think that they have remained very loyal to us till the present day and their reaction to FM has been fantastic! We are very happy to have fans like that!
Translated by Sol
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