Championship 93/94 ended the non commercial nature of Collyer brother’s adventure with the game. The making of it turned out to be very profitable, and so they decided to turn professional. In order to do it, they had to fulfil two criteria: firstly, they needed to register the company, secondly – they had to take more staff onboard; trying to develop the game when you only have two people working on it is virtually impossible. Before we go on to the actual story, it should also be mentioned that in 1995 Domark were bought by giants Eidos – from then on a new publisher of CM.
Chapter 1: ‘The third musketeer’
One of the people most involved in the development of the game has been Mark Woodger, who was the first one to join Paul and Oliver. How did it come about? He tells us more in an interview (see below). Mark hails from Ireland; he was born on the 7th May 1969 in Dublin; however, he studied in London, where he lives. He has become so fond of England that, when asked about the national team he supports, he says it’s the England team. His main hobby is, of course, football – he prefers to play as a goalkeeper (and admires Peter Schmeichel), he often plays in amateur leagues. He divides most of his time between family (wife and two children) and work. On a side note, I can tell you that Mark has got a camper van car, and every summer he packs up and takes his family – in the said car - on a tour of Europe. Mark started his gaming experience with ‘the King of the Jungle’ company, but since 1999 he has concentrated only on working with Collyer brothers and on Championship Manager. Currently he supervises the work of researchers and translators (we will come back to these later in the article).
Chapter 2: The First Revolution
As I have already pointed out, CM 1 and its sequels were quite successful, but it was not yet as though they sparked some kind of a boom on the market of management games. It was just one of the more interesting games of the genre, that’s all. However, CM 2, released on 22nd September 1995, struck like an atomic bomb, unleashed by Eidos at the world of computer managers. The code of the game had been created from scratch – VGA graphics were replaced by SVGA. The interface was more intuitive than in earlier versions – as a result, the game was more fun to play. Pictures of all English stadiums also appeared. Thus, graphics – wise, the Collyer brothers’ manager not only stood its ground against competing managers, but also surpassed most of them. The greatest asset of CM – the database – was continuously being perfected, courtesy of the efforts of Marc Woodger, as it was his area of responsibility. And although we were still limited to playing in England, a fifth tier – Vauxhall Conference – was added to the already playable Premiership, Div 1, Div 2 and Div 3. New player attributes appeared (taking the total to 20), and statistics (not much less than in FM 2005), player career histories were introduced, and the fixture calendar was made realistic. In short, the database was sensational – especially given that it was only the dawn of the Internet.
Match commentary was another breakthrough. Textual commentary had been there before, of course; what was new was Clive Tyldesley’s voice coverage of the game. It was not used in later versions, but it constituted a nice touch for at least some fans nonetheless. The possibility of coaching national teams was yet another important novelty.
Championship Manager was received by fans and reviewers alike with due appreciation. Sales figures reached such levels that the Collyer brothers decided to leave the flat and rent an office in a block in London’s Islington.
Not to paint an over – rosy picture, however, it has to be said that the conversion of CM for Amiga in 1997 ended in total disaster. The game would load very slowly, switching between main page and any other window (eg tactics) lasted as much as a couple of seconds, while the time between clicking on ‘Next Match’ and the actual start of the game could be counted in minutes! In the meantime, the screen would just go pitch black…
Chapter 3: Right, let’s get it rollin’
Let us go on to more pleasant events of that time, though. As I have just said, CM 2 swelled the guys’ coffers to such an extent that they were then able to rent a proper office. Let me remind you that – up to that point – they had been working in a flat and had had at their disposal an ‘overwhelming’ number of THREE computers( one P60 – which was then a last word in computers, and two 486 machines), and it was still more than before CM2 had come out. In early 1996 Paul, Oliver and Mark registered a company – Sports Interactive (Mark will tell us more about the name – see below) and rented one small office. Initially, it was enough. In 1997, however, SI were massively boosted by the arrival of Marc Vaughan (April), Kevin Turner and Paul Norman (June). Thus, in mid – 1996 CM makers moved to a much more spacious office. Here – in contrast with the previous place – they had so much space that they even played football there and raced each other in the staircase. This idyll did not last for long, though. Year by year the company’s staff expanded, and the office proved to be too small for their needs. In 1998 a company renting an office one floor above moved out and the SI took their room over; with time they rented two additional offices.
Currently, the company rents half of the office block at Islington, employs 35 people full time and 15 testers. Each employee has access to two computers; moreover, there are a few server – machines and a test lab, containing gear for testing the game on different types of computers and conducting various multi season simulations. The SI headquarters’ name – SI Towers – only adds to the firm’s legend.
Chapter 4: A time of transition
In the history of management games made by SI there sometimes appeared ‘transitional’ versions of the game – they were limited to updating of the database, fixing the bugs and – from time to time – adding some little frills. Certainly, this is how we can regard CM 96/97. The whole database had been updated (up to date transfers, new footballers, players’ and competitions’ histories), a number of players from outside of England also increased. Another step was taken in the direction of optimisation of the game code, hence the game loaded more quickly. There weren’t any breathtaking new features added, apart from the possibility of changing stadium capacities. Groundbreaking novelties were to be the staple of the next manager, 97/98, but – first things first…
Chapter 5: Reinforcements
As I said, the year 1997 brought three new faces to the SI team. The major reinforcement was, of course, Marc Vaughan, whose involvement in the team systematically grew with time. Marc joined the firm in April, and immediately started writing the code of CM 97/98.
Marc was born on 23rd July 1971 in Royston; he took his degree at he University of Brighton. He wrote his first programmes for Spectrum computers. He developed an interest in CM series ever since the first version of the game; at some point he started corresponding with Oliver; in his letters, Marc included constructive criticism of the game. Finally, in early 1997, Marc was invited for an interview at SI Towers. He passed with flying colours and joined the company soon after that.
Currently, Mr Vaughan is the main programmer of the FM and a person contributing the largest amount of information and advice to the fans via the SI Forum. He has edited the famous Hints & Tips guide for a few years now. Flight simulators are his main leisure pursuit, and as a child he wanted to be an astronaut. He loves good food, which forces him to go on diet quiet often, with varying results. Just like the others, he is a football fan. He supports Brighton & Hove Albion.
Two other programmers signed on at the time – Kevin Turner and Paul Norman, are still at SI today; their responsibility is getting rid of bugs in the game. Kevin is 30 years old and hails from Falkirk in Scotland. He currently lives near London, in Barnet. He supports Falkirk and any national team that just happens to play against England (just a thing with Scots I guess…).He is a fan of ‘24 hours’, the Formula 1 and Pro Evolution Soccer. His stint with programming started already at the age of 8(!), and Amstrad CPC 464 was his first computer. In the early years of his life – besides planning to be a programmer – he wanted to be a bus driver.
Paul Norman is 34 years old. He lives in Surbiton, London. He likes sci – fi movies and board games, as well as cards. As his birth place might indicate, he loves Everton FC. As a kid he wanted to be a captain of a spaceship. He is widely regarded as a very hard working man.
Chapter 6: ‘We are family’
Before I go on to writing about the last manager of CM 2 series, I would like to spare a few words for one phenomenon that we have experienced throughout the years from CM 1 until the present day, and it is possibly one of the biggest phenomena springing out from the game itself. It is an extensive network of researchers, gathering data about clubs and leagues; it is on the basis of their labours that the FM’s database is compiled. On the genesis of the network see the interview with Marc, below; the Poles have also done their bit in that area, Krzysztof Ścibiórek (Polish Head Researcher) elaborated on it in one of his earlier interviews for our website, so I will not go into too much detail. Let me just give you some food for thought with few numbers. According to Marc Woodger, ca. 1500 people are currently working on FM’s database, and they are doing it without any financial incentives, out of the passion for the game. The database of FM 2006 comprises 275,000 players, managers, coaches, scouts, physios etc. Each player is defined by scores of attributes, such as date and place of birth, height, weight, favourite club etc, most of them also have a complete career history in the game. Coaching staff is described magnificently as well. FM 2006 gives you a chance to take over one of the 50,000 clubs from 50 countries. We can play in Polish First and Second Division, most tiers – 6 – are playable in England. The SI are adamant that no new leagues will be added, but the numbers I have just mentioned will probably still look impressive in 5 years time anyway.
Chapter 7: Knock out
That was probably what the management games’ makers thought once they saw CM 97/98. Many people consider CM 3 version as the first truly great of SI managers, but to do so means to overlook the mighty CM 97/98. Collyer brothers, Kevin Norman, Paul Turner and Marc Woodger with his army of researchers produced an instant hit! They worked on the game for ten months (originally the predicted timeframe had been a couple of weeks). In the end, the game was released on 31st October 1997 and became a bestselling game of the year for PC, and was placed 13th in a similar ranking amongst games for other platforms. Such sales figures have been the order of the day ever since.
To what did the new manager owe such popularity? The unprecedented feature was new leagues. We could play not only in England, but also in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Scotland and Spain. All these have been prepared as diligently as earlier the English League had been. As far as the database is concerned, SI were and are second to none, and that is how it will be for ever, presumably. It is here that I feel compelled to praise a fabulous job done by the researchers yet again. It seems that this game, not only in terms of database, has surpassed its times. To prove it, let me just say that contemporary computers allowed only three playable leagues to be chosen at any one time, and that only if you had 16 MB of RAM. If you had 8, you could only pick one league.
Introduction of the editor was a very innovative measure as well as it facilitated the creation of unofficial updates. One of these, by Danny Allesen – Verns, is coming out to this day, which shows that CM 97/98 clearly has a group of die – hard fans. Naturally, the pioneering manager boasted an updated database and competition structures (e.g. 24 teams in the Champions’ League and the new format of the UEFA Cup). U 21 competitions were thrown in and the transfer system was tweaked considerably.
Other elements of the game did not lack in fresh features as well. It is in CM 97/98 that we first could select set pieces’ takers; we were also given a chance to retire. The news system became more appealing, too. From then on, not only were we filled in about the injuries, transfers and results of our team, but also about those of the giants of European football. What is more, new backgrounds were added and some other, lesser changes were introduced. And it was only a foretaste of what would come later…
Interview with Mark Woodger
Fredy: You have been in SI Games from the beginning. How did it all start?
Mark Woodger: I have known Paul and Oliver Collyer for many years and actually went to school with Paul. I was working in London and was looking for a place to live and some old school friends were also looking for a place so we all moved in together. Although there were 5 of us we took a six bedroom house so Oliver could have one as an office to carry on work on Championship Manager 2. I had a fixed term contract with my job and this came to an end, so while I was looking for another job, Oliver asked me if I wanted to do some work for him in the mean time. I started on inputting all the player histories for all the players playing in England. A few months later I still had not found a new job and realised I was working pretty much full time with Oliver and that suited me just fine!
F.: Do You remember who invented the name Sports Interactive for your company?
M.W.: Oliver wanted to set up a new company for work on Championship Manager 2 and thought of this name. I think he wanted a name that promoted both football and the fact that he made computer games. I am not certain he intended it to be able to cover any sport but it was a good choice seeing as we have recently branched out to include a couple of other sports (Ice Hockey and Baseball) and are always on the lookout for people who have at least a basic management simulation in place and the passion and know how to use our engine and technology to apply it to their own favourite sport.
F.: You are responsible for preparing the database for SI Games' managers. Could you tell us how the beginning of creating the network of researchers looked like and how many people are working on the database right now?
M.W.: It is a process that has evolved over many years now. When I first started over 10 years ago we decided it would be great to get some input from real fans of as many clubs as possible as they were watching their favourite clubs week in week out and would be able to rate their team's player better than most people. We decided to try a project and produced a one page document with the names of the players for a club in a grid system with all the attributes across the top and sent them out to one of the fanzines of all the clubs in England with some brief guidelines. It was a simple system where we asked them to rate their players with pluses and minuses to indicate a player's strengths and weaknesses. We got over a 50% response which was much more than we had anticipated. After CM2 was released we thought about how we could build upon this initiative and with the Internet and use of email steadily on the increase we decided to make our own website and include a registration page and were overwhelmed by the response with 50+ registering on the first day and a continual steady amount of people kept on registering for months and months to come until we had tens of thousands of fans of our game registered. We asked them to provide us with some brief details of where they were from, which team(s) they supported and if they were interested in helping out with research in our games. From this we were able to find head researchers and assistant researchers for clubs and our methods of data collection went from a piece of paper to an electronic copy and eventually to a small utility we call the "mini-editor" which is used by the assistant researcher to furnish data about their favourite team's players and staff. We are not sure exactly how many people round the world help out but estimates are around 1500 people currently work to some extent helping out with putting together what we consider is the best and largest database about football that exists. We have plans to push the quality and scope of the research even further for FM 2007 by providing better tools for the Head Researchers and some standardised ways of accessing assistant researchers and keeping them motivated and involved.
F.: How would you rate the work of Polish researchers?
M.W.: The Polish researchers have done a huge amount of changes to the database this year and done a good job but, as with all research teams, there is no doubt room for improvement. Being a Head Researcher is a tough job as when it comes to football there are a thousand opinions, so when it comes to trying to be subjective you are not going to please everyone all the time. The more people that are involved in the research the better it can be, as long as the efforts are co-ordinated well and the right kind of people are picked. Anyone who wants to help contribute to the Polish research should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org telling me their area of knowledge (i.e. which teams they could help out with research) and why they would make a good researcher and I will pass this on to the current Polish research team.
F.: Could you briefly tell us something about SI Towers? I am interested mostly in what your place of work looked like before (how many rooms did you have, what kind of computers did you use etc.) and what it looks like now.
M.W.: As mentioned earlier in the interview we started off in one room in a house and we had 3 PCs - a P60 and two 486s (The P60 being cutting edge technology at the time !) In about 1996 we hired a small room as an office in Islington, London and once we'd taken on Marc Vaughan and Paul Collyer was working full time again we realised we needed some more room if we were going to take on more people. So we moved to a larger office down the road mid-1997 and had plenty of space with about 6 of us in a large office. I remember we used to have a penalty shoot out area and had bicycle races round the spiral staircase and a pillar ! However this quickly changed as we took on more people and space became more scarce. Eventually we were able to get another office on the floor above as another company moved out and since then we have managed to get two more offices in the same building of various sizes. We have about 35 employees now and a testing team that will have about 15 people at the height of testing. I have not idea how many PCs we have now but it's a lot as each employee will have at least 2 each, there are many different server machines and the testing lab has a wide range of PCS so we can try and test on lots of different spec and make machines.
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