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The team managed to lure Gary Carr into joining them as a director, despite his early bewilderment. Urban Chaos, their first title, was already underway. It was a GTA-preempting, living-city action game for the original PlayStation and PC in which you play a police officer rather than a criminal, complete with driving, shooting, platforming and close combat. It was precisely the sort of action game you'd imagine a bunch of ex-Bullfrog designers making. It's also not what they had planned.
"Our goal was to remain small," says Diskett. "We intended to try and do games with just the three of us. We were hoping to get money from a publisher to just fund the three of us ... but somehow we ended up with lots of money and had to hire lots of people to go and make the game." It's a result of the pitching process, shaped by speaking to publishers and seeing what they were actually looking for. "A 12-man team who'd do a game in 18 months, which would be a AAA title," says Diskett. "Nobody was looking to fund a small group of three people doing games which might be quirky and fun, but didn't have the big production values. That's how we ended [up] changing our pitch as we went along." It wasn't just the scope of the game that changed. Urban Chaos was originally conceived as a Double Dragon-style game, with the environment-as-weapon flourishes of a Jackie Chan movie. In a cafe across the road from Eidos, five minutes before their appointment, they decided - pretty much on a whim - that they would actually pitch an open-world-combat-driving-everything game. It was exactly what Eidos was looking for.
This sudden expansion challenged the team. Like most creative types who set up a company, they found themselves wrestling with entirely foreign business issues. Their account with an unethical bank led to debit cards that didn't seem to be accepted anywhere in the civilized world. "The funniest thing about that bank was getting a check for half a million pounds plus VAT in my wallet, and not being able to find a branch to pay it into," says Simmons. "I walked around with a check for £650,000 in my wallet thinking, 'I don't know what to do with it.'" During the same period, Carr was rejected for a £50,000 loan to buy a house, despite ample proof of how much money was passing through their company.
"The problem was, we weren't paying ourselves particularly [well] at that time," he says. "You'll have to remember, we were trying to fight for good wages for good developers. We actually said we wouldn't pay anyone under £30,000." For a long period, they paid their initial staff £30,000 or more, while they themselves received salaries in the low teens.
While Urban Chaos was signed first, it came down to the wire. Startopia - then Spacestation - had garnered interest from Psygnosis, but Mucky Foot signed with Eidos based on their chemistry with the publisher. "After seeing the way EA were handling Bullfrog and - me at least - still feeling bitter, Eidos felt a little more homey and familiar," says McGechie. That Ian Livingstone came down to hang out with the team was another bonus. "You didn't often get the top dog at a publisher courting you," says Carr. Startopia eventually followed Urban Chaos onto the shelves, both via Eidos. It's a fairly radical take on the "Theme-" concept, running a multi-level Toroidal space station with eight different lifeforms inside it, and rife with Douglas Adams-esque humor. It was a genuine, classic British strategy game.