Interview with Martin Holland
(First published on Oct. 9, 1999)
BMUG: We're here today with the artist who led the Blaster Master 2 graphics team at Software Creations in 1993 . . . MARTIN HOLLAND. Let's start off with some insight into your background, Mr. Holland. Currently, what position do you hold at Software Creations (SC)?
Martin Holland: At present my position at SC is Graphics Artist (the current project I'm working on, I hold Lead Artist position).
BMUG: What attracted you to join that particular game development company, and how long have you been working for SC?
MH: Well, I've been working at SC for almost 10 years now - long time for anyone in the industry - what attracted me was the type of games they produced and the high profile they gained within the 8-bit gaming community back then. Also, having not been paid for 2 months at my previous job, I was looking to earn a decent salary.
BMUG: That is a long time. So when did Sunsoft approach SC with the idea to produce Blaster Master 2 (BM2)? Also, when did SC start working on BM2, and how long until it was completed?
MH: I'm not sure when SC was actually approached by Sunsoft to produce BM2 as all the contracts and legal stuff went through administration - I first started work on BM2 at the end of May 1992 (I was initially brought in to help Andy Threlfall with his graphics on the game as he was posted to the project a month or so before) and gradually it started from there. The game was completed around mid-February 1993. BMUG: What was it like to work on BM2, and what parts of the game development were you responsible for?
MH: It was a good project to work on and allowed us to freely develop our ideas for the game with input from Sunsoft along the way (i.e. did they like this bit or not...) I was initially responsible for designing all the backgrounds and title screens within the game while Andy Threlfall was in charge of the sprites (I seem to remember he worked from an Amiga system initially) and gradually I took over the entire graphics side of the project as Andy was needed on something else...
BMUG: An Amiga system, very interesting! Were there any significant events during the production of BM2 that you remember? Did Sunsoft request anything special of SC for BM2's development?
MH: There were no real significant events as I recall and the project seemed to move smoothly throughout. We did have to drop some ideas along the way which we were all really keen on like Jason's Bike being a prime example.
MH: Memory and time constraints were tough at times. The most challenging part I would say was coming up with new and interesting ideas for the bad guys and how they looked and moved.... Sunsoft didn't make any major demands - so long as the game played well, looked and sounded good, and followed the spirit laid down in BM.
BMUG: That (the bike) would've actually been very cool to take a spin in around the underground. What happened? Project time did not allow for the bike?
MH: Yeah, it got cut cause of programming time and difficulties implementing it into available memory space - it was actually capable of driving up walls and hanging from ceilings (traction wheels)....
BMUG: Sounds wicked... would've added some interesting elements to the game.
MH: By the way, have you seen the concept art for Jason's partner/girlfriend from BM2 - can't remember if she appeared in the final version of the game (memory/implemenation/etc....)
BMUG: He was going to have a partner??... that's news to me. The only person I could see was Jason, and no mention of a partner (the storyline said that he rebuilt Sophia... presumably by himself).
MH: Yeah... she was gonna be in SOPHIA throughout the game and communicate with Jason with hints and tips when he went 'walkabout' - the storyline was tweaked to not include her - can't remember if we gave her a bane too...... I think he was supposed to rescue her from the giant maggot/caterpillar on the first level....
BMUG: That's very interesting... because Sunsoft of Japan's BM-BA team is using that same kind of aspect in the new game (having the player communicate with a female scientist outside of Sophia). Well, she's not in Sophia, but either way shes helping the player.
MH: Well, when we were planning the game it wasn't specified where Jason's partner would be located so I assumed she would be in SOPHIA that's why she is drawn sitting in the cockpit....
BMUG: This is amazing, that everything is still archived.
MH: Yah - I went through all 13 disc which the game was developed on - started in late September '92 and finished around July '93....
BMUG: 13 discs? That is alot of code!
MH: Well, those 13 discs were just for MY graphics - when you consider there was another artist and 2 programmers........
BMUG: Many people have commented on the extreme differences between the graphics of the original Blaster Master (BM) and BM2. Some have even said it has a more "arcade" feel to it, both in graphics and gameplay. How and why did this change in BM's style come about?
MH: Well, as we only had a few references to the original BM and could only play so far through the game we could only guess at what was to come later. So, in that sense the look and feel of BM2 differed greatly from BM - and with the Genesis being a faster and smoother machine we had the freedom to add a lot more of an arcade feel to the game.
BMUG: Have you played any of the other BM games (BM and/or Blaster Master Boy)? In your opinion, how do they compare to BM2?
MH: I only briefly played BM during the development of BM2, and of course BM2 to test that level designs worked and there were no bad-areas in the maps... never did see the Gameboy version of BM.
BMUG: As the main graphic artist of BM2, in your viewpoint, what prompted the re-design of the Sophia the 4th vehicle, and who was responsible for it?
MH: SOPHIA was designed prior to my involvement in the project by Andy Threlfall and he in turn recieved design documents from Sunsoft detailing the look and feel they desired. I was quite intrigued by the new design and saw some good possibilities in there.
BMUG: Is there a reason why the label art of Sophia the 4th on the back of BM2's box looks somewhat like a tank, as opposed to the general appearance of Sophia the 4th in the game itself?
MH: The box art was designed over at Sunsoft and we only saw it late into the project - about 2 months before completion - to be honest I've not looked at it closely as my copy of the game went missing some time ago (boo hoo hoo).
BMUG: That's terrible. A boxed copy of BM2 is generally hard to find. BM2, out of the entire game series, has the only ending sequence that uses existing sprites throughout the ending. What was the deal with the ending sequence?
MH: We were short on time and memory so had to use what we had available in the game to make the end sequence work. And as you can see, we left an indication of a possible follow-up - BM-BA anyone??? :)
BMUG: (laughs) That was a good idea, to leave it open. Most people have only seen (or can only find) the Genesis version of BM2 (myself included). Are there any other ports of BM2? The Mega Drive perhaps?
MH: To my knowledge BM2 was solely for the American market hence no Megadrive version - but it was available on import here in England in limited numbers. Also, it worked perfectly on the British Megadrive (for which it was initially designed on) so there was no problem in gameplay. I'd be interested to know if it actually sold well in America.
BMUG: Unfortunately I don't have an answer to that question. After BM2's release, I haven't found much information concerning it since. Do you recall if there were any merchandising tie-ins with BM2 (i.e. posters, toys, etc.)?
MH: No, I don't recall any merchandising deals - we at SC were only involved in the actual game design and coding and all marketing fell to Sunsoft. I'd be interested to see if there was any spin-offs from the game.
BMUG: Whats your viewpoint on the current development of the new BM: Blasting Again game?
MH: I've only recently learned of it's existence about 2 weeks ago and only seen the demo version in MPEG format. Looks promising.
BMUG: Out of curiousity, what happened to the section of SC's website that contained listings of pre-N64 developed games?
MH: The design of the website was recently contracted out of office and a total redesign was decided upon by management to reflect the company's current releases and future releases. The last project I worked on which is listed there is 'Rugrats: The Movie'.
BMUG: Is there any chance that SC will be doing more game development for Sunsoft in the future? Also, is SC going to expand into developing for other game platforms (i.e. Dreamcast, Playstation/2)?
MH: No idea if we will be working for them again - back around BM2 design days we had a number of projects running with them and a good working relationship. As to the future, anything is possible and we're looking forward to next generation platforms.
BMUG: Any closing comments for the BM fans who are reading this?
MH: Enjoy what we, the BM2 team, designed and coded for your enjoyment, and most of all KEEP ON BLASTING!!! :)
BMUG: BMUG thanks Mr. Holland for his time and for agreeing to this interview. In closing, here's the original title screen designed by Mr. Holland during the early stages of development on BM2.