I’m thrilled to start off 2022 with a special interview article which has been some time in the making. Dylan Cuthbert is one of the most storied developers to have come out of Britain. Born in London and having grown up in Hawarden in Wales, Dylan began his developmental career working at Argonaut software in 1988, where he most notably worked on the game X. Argonaut went on to collaborate with Nintendo on the release of the first Star Fox game; a title whereby Dylan was among the lead programmers for. After having also worked on the programming of Star Fox 2 before its cancellation and subsequent release many years later on the SNES Classic console, Dylan then went on to work at Sony America where he worked on a further number of games; most notably Blasto.
In 2001, Dylan then founded the development company Q Games based in Tokyo, where has continued to oversee the development of a number of critically acclaimed games, such as those in the PixelJunk series, Nom Nom Galaxy, X-Scape, and The Tomorrow Children. In addition, Q Games have also collaborated with Nintendo on the release of games such as Star Fox 64 3D and Star Fox Command. Last year, Q Games also celebrated its 20th anniversary and has since re-acquired the developmental rights to The Tomorrow Children has announced a re-launch of the game in the near future.
I was lucky enough to be able to get in touch with Dylan and ask him a few questions regarding the future of Q-Games, his time at Argonaut, Nintendo, and Sony America, and what’s next for him and his company as a development outfit. Here’s what Dylan had to say about his career so far:
What games would you play as a child and how would they go on to influence you as a developer?
The first game I played as a kid was probably Pong, I was maybe 6 years old and my Uncle, who was a teenager at the time, had just got one for Christmas. We played it and I was hooked, it was just so much fun! Once I got a ZX Spectrum I’d play any game I could get my hands on and had memorable times with games like Pyjamarama, Monty On The Run, Gyroscope, Lotus Esprit, Fat Worm Blows a Sparky, Exolon, Bugaboo the Flea, Southern Belle, Underwurlde, Tir Na Nog, and then a little later on, 3d games which influenced me enormously such as Tau Ceti, Academy, and Micronaut One by Pete Cooke.
What are your fondest memories of working at Argonaut Games and for Jez San?
I think probably the best memory was of course visiting Kyoto in 1990 with Jez and his girlfriend at the time. It was just the three of us and Tony Harman from Nintendo of America, pitching our 3d games and technology, which of course turned into a pitch for a 3d graphics chip.
What was it like working on Star Fox with some of the biggest names in Nintendo such as Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi?
Mind-blowing eventually, but at first, I’d never heard of any of them. Nintendo just wasn’t a big thing in the UK, and I’d never even played Mario Bros when I first visited Nintendo! The first Nintendo game I ever played was F-Zero because they gave us a prototype cart and a pre-release SNES to take home with us and it was awesome!
I worked for a few years with Yokoi’s group and I always enjoyed talking with him, he was kind of like a stern but friendly uncle. He even gave me a daily expense budget to buy and try all the Japanese candy I could get my hands on after he saw me with a pile of crazy sweets I’d found in the local supermarket.
If you feel comfortable talking about this, I wanted to ask you about your relationship with, and the subsequent tragic passing of Gunpei Yokoi. Obviously, the man is and forever will be a legend within the industry and he influenced everyone around him at Nintendo in a positive way. After having worked with him, what was he to you as a person and how did you deal with losing such a figure you had in your life, who you had a working relationship with, and someone who I’d imagine influenced your career in such a special way as well?
Well, he was more of a boss, than someone I worked with directly, but I always thought he was a pretty cool guy and one who was willing to take lots of risks and innovation. My memories are of him sitting at his desk in the main room (he didn’t have a private office), leaning back and play-testing Yoshi’s Cookie running on a GameBoy projected onto a tv. That idea was one of his babies. Also, one day he showed me a simple prototype of the Virtua Boy before Nintendo licensed the tech. It wasn’t 3d at that point, and the demos running on it were obviously weren’t Nintendo’s but it was interesting. Afterward, he asked me what I thought and I was brutally honest, pointing out the screen was just too small to see clearly and was dark. I hope that’s not why he turned the display’s colors to red!
Of course, you programmed Blasto when you moved to Sony, but what was it like to make the transition from developing for Nintendo to developing for Sony?
That was a huge transitional change in my life because I also moved to California. Well, I was young, so I took it in my stride but I found I really enjoyed living in the Bay Area, it was a comfortable life. Sony was much more corporate, they had HR and office staff who would buy you anything you asked for, and catalogs of CDs you could order free music from each month, etc. Nothing like Nintendo at all. It was a lot of fun, and I met many people who I consider great friends even now over 25 years on.
How satisfied have you and the developers of Q Games been with what reception has been received for your games overall?
The reception has been very good over the years, and of course, not all games can be hits, but each game we’ve made has found a set of core fans, and that’s really important for us. We are always working hard to make our games even better, so I don’t think we’ve ever sat on our laurels and thought to ourselves “well… that one was perfect!”. We just keep trying to think up more interesting stuff to try.
What game or IP are you most proud of having worked on throughout your time at Q Games?
The PixelJunk series in general, and The Tomorrow Children, oh and Star Fox, and Digidrive, and Dead Hungry on VR and…. well yes, all of them!
Most recently, The Tomorrow Children IP was reacquired by Q Games from Sony and you guys plan to revamp and re-introduce it to a new audience. But what’s next for Q Games afterward?
We always have several irons in the fire, so watch this space. We are continuing to work on other games while we prepare The Tomorrow Children for its re-launch.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring developers who may be reading this interview?
Always strive to innovate, and don’t be afraid to take big chances. Sometimes the best gameplay is discovered because of a lucky little mistake. When that happens, run with it and see what happens. Don’t over-schedule yourself and every day simply play your own game and think what could be added to make it feel better.
Is there anything else you like to add at all?
When you’re young you can work incredibly fast, so get your head down and plow through your ideas. Iterate as much as you can, and don’t accept second-best. As you get older, like me, the speed of the work slows down but the experience of all those experiments and ideas from your youth kick in to give you a much deeper intuition than you would have otherwise. Oh, and play LOTS of different games, not just one genre. Force yourself to play games in genres you wouldn’t normally choose. You’ll enjoy them and they will give you inspiration!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dylan and Q-Games’ Jake Campbell for taking the time out to organize this interview and to wish everyone at Q-Games the best of luck with the relaunch of The Tomorrow Children as well as the future of the company.
This article is also respectfully dedicated to the memory of Stewart Gilray. Stewart started his developmental career as a freelance programmer, working for the likes of Hewson Consultants, Psygnosis, EA, Bullfrog Studios, and Argonaut Software. He later went on to founder Just Add Water, where he worked on such games as Gravity Crash, I Am Bread, and Lumo as well as several games in the Oddworld series. Earlier this year, Stewart tragically passed away due to Coronavirus. He was survived by his wife and two children. Throughout the industry, Stewart was held in extremely high esteem after having spent decades within the industry working on so many beloved titles, and tributes to him came pouring in upon his passing. I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to Stewart’s friends and family and to echo his wife’s plea to anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to go and do it.
Stewart Gilray: 1970 – 2022