October 27th 2015
To tell the story of InterDimension Software is to tell the story of the ‘two Jims,’ level builder James Romanov and tech designer James Vandyke. They may have begun their game development careers in disparate ways, but once introduced, they became (and continue to be) an apparently unstoppable force for developing a string of massively successful releases, from the kid-friendly Admiral Cool to the highly realistic Star Marine.
Shy, quiet and difficult to approach, James Vandyke very much fits the classic stereotype of the spectrum game developer. Underneath his cold exterior, however, lies unquestionable brilliance: from his early childhood it was apparent that he had a natural empathy with machines, and a level of understanding that allowed him to make them sing. Vandyke naturally gravitated towards game development not only because he was as a player himself, but because the game industry tended to push hardware and logical systems to their extremes. Fueled by a genuine desire to further technology on all levels, Vandyke skipped a formal education in favor of a job offer to develop his own game technologies through indie-publisher Perigree Press.
Seemingly Vandyke’s polar opposite, Romanov was an outgoing young game designer brimming with such confidence that he quickly inspired a cadre of fans eager to follow his career personally. He was inspired to begin building his own games at a young age, designing his own stylized versions of popular titles for release on the Spectrum. At age twenty, with a host of simple mobiGlas games under his belt, he took his first formal job at the industry powerhouse Oakhurst Online. His first project was an aborted port of 3400 AD, followed by six months making dungeons, quests and monsters for Henry Garrity’s ULTIMATE III. Unfortunately, he was clashing with his bosses over creative direction to such a degree that, shortly before the release of ULTIMATE III, when Perigree approached him with an offer to be their Lead Designer, he quickly accepted.
And with that, lightning struck. Vandyke and Romanov, the cardinal introvert and the shameless self-promoter, struck up an unlikely friendship that lead directly to their first co-authored game, Admiral Cool versus the Karate Dogs from Mars, released by Perigree under a ‘try before you buy’ license, that helped make the pair household names. Bright, colorful and fun, Admiral Cool’s kid-friendly outlook belied outstanding technical achievements under the hood. As he has done with all projects since, Vandyke viewed the project as a technical challenge: how could he recreate the experience found in arcade machines and dedicated gaming rigs on the common mobiGlas? Turning to an encyclopedic knowledge of assembly language and machine logic, he created a stunning interface unlike anything else available for wearable systems at the time.
Two additional Admiral Cool games followed, including a final title, Admiral Cool in Vegetable Panic, created solely to fulfill a publishing contract. Romanov built the levels foreach game, turning colorful blocks, cartoon dogs, hamburgers, Opi-Ola bottles and glittering candies into an immersive, fast-paced world.
Upon seeing a demo of Original’s ULTIMATE spinoff series, ULTIMATE: Downbelow, Vandyke sought an even greater technical challenge for their next project: replicate and then surpass the total immersion interface being developed by high-end publishers, but in a faster-paced, action-oriented world that better suited the design aesthetics of Romanov and his growing team. This time around, Romanov opted to forgo the kid-friendly graphics that defined Admiral Cool, and instead turned to the gritty details of history: an action title based on the internecine warfare of the Messer era. The result was named Tiger3D, and the response was immediate. Players everywhere hailed the impossibly realistic environments, the sheer speed of movement allowed by the engine … and countless others focused on what they saw as a tasteless appropriation of history. While the gaming industry is no stranger to unwarranted protests, there’s some truth to the claim that the team at Perigree intentionally hit a nerve. From levels covered in totalitarian banners to the final episode in which the player must battle a titan-suited parody of Ivar Messer, the game’s design seemed intended to offend more delicate sensibilities.
Despite the outrage, Tiger 3D was a hit and catapulted the pair to the next level. In 2941, Romanov and Vandyke quietly exited Perigree and set up their own shop, founded on the idea of building out innovative technology and flavoring it with great game design. InterDimension Software sought to be a different kind of game creator, with a small-scale ethos that appealed to hardcore players around the Empire. Their first title, announced well in advance via Romanov’s over-stuffed personal Comm-Link updates, was Star Marine. Building on the technology premiered in Tiger 3D, Star Marine was intended as the most ultra-realistic ground combat simulator ever attempted. Building around carefully constructed maps of a Gold Horizon station, Star Marine was crafted from Day One to immerse the player in the very heart of an epic life-or-death struggle.
After a series of unexpected and much publicized delays, Star Marine premiered recently to great acclaim. Based in the present-day and featuring incredibly realistic design, Star Marine has become the “it game” of the year, with the response ranging from the creation of massive communities of competitive players and other fanatics to headlines about companies bemoaning the productivity lost to employees playing it on extended lunch breaks. It seems that nearly everyone in the universe has become a Star Marine. Asked at their launch event why they thought their latest title would be successful, Romanov, speaking for the pair, responded simply, “because it’s pretty damn fun.”
SettingsOne column Two columns Oldest first Newest first Most appreciated first