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"We were halfway through development when we got this phone call saying, 'We've got a new CEO. He's going to take the game in-house. Goodbye,'" says Diskett. "That phone call was one afternoon ... and that was the end of that." With their open-world take on the Marvel hero gone, they found themselves at a clear crisis point. "We knew we were pretty screwed then," says Diskett. "We had a certain amount of money in the bank, which could keep us going for six months or so. At that point, we could have downsized the company and survived with the Bulletproof Monk deal, but we'd have to have got rid of half the staff." This is the one thing Mucky Foot wouldn't do.
"These were our friends. We were all friends," says Carr. "Any time we made hires, we took people down [to] the pub to figure out whether we wanted to be friends with them before we decided whether they were any good at their job. We took on misfits. People who'd never done a game before. People who'd done lots of games before, but seemed to be over the hill. It was a really eclectic group of people. And you can't throw people like that out." Mucky Foot's employees often reciprocated the feeling. "There was a point where we talked to a few people about leaving," says Carr. "When we talked about [how] we may have to lose people, [early member] Mark Adami said, 'Oh, I'll work for nothing.' I think we all cried when he said that."
Several months of deals followed, with the team pitching Skyships, conceiving potential new projects like a Robinson Crusoe-inspired game and - most hopefully - working on ER Tycoon. No one bit. This was surprising. "Theme Hospital was taking off even more than it was in its heyday," says Carr. "Maybe we had become a bad smell. We got a lot of 'It's great - it's cool. We like it.' But we didn't get the return call." And, eventually, that was that. Just after Halloween 2003, they closed their doors.
They harbor no regrets about the route not taken. "One of the things about not downsizing - and it's very 'Mucky Foot' of us - is that I don't think we were really a proper company" says Carr. "We weren't going to 'make difficult decisions.'" Diskett continues, "We couldn't go, 'Who's staying and who's going?'" They remain friends with everyone who passed through their doors. They can - in Carr's words - "still stand next to each other and call each other 'Mucky Foot' and wear the T-shirts." They'd clearly have liked a hit. "I'm really proud of what we achieved," says Simmons. "And I'm really proud of the review scores. I think we kind of went into Mucky Foot as idealists, and I know there were times along the way we batted things away which would have put us in good financial positions nowadays. But I kind of don't care about that. There were down days, yeah, but on the whole, I loved it. I'd do it again in an instant."
They tell a typically "Mucky Foot" anecdote - singing the popular terrace chant "We're Shit And We Know You Are" at any opportunity. The BAFTAs? GDC? Christmas parties in front of game journalists and horrified PR professionals? Easy. And people respond. "Wherever we've been, there are people who stand up and raise their arms in the air," says Carr. "And they're people who've either worked or are associated with Mucky Foot or know what we're talking about." That is British self-deprecation. Not taking yourself seriously. Having Fun. "We didn't think we were the best in the world," says Carr. "We didn't want to be the best in the world. We just wanted to have fun making games, really."
And when they say things like that, I miss Mucky Foot all the more.
Kieron Gillen has been writing about videogames for far too long now. His rock and roll dream is to form an Electro-band with Miss Kittin and SHODAN pairing up on vocals.