Martin Holland – a tribute

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Picture of Martin, possibly from his Software Creation days.

For years i’ve been talking of setting up a page to showcase and celebrate the artwork and life of the late Martin Holland, but have rather ashamedly never got round to it.  When finding an old email from 2006 when I was still talking about sorting something out, enough was enough… Martin sadly passed away at the far too young age of 35 back in August 2003, and it was a massive shock at the time – as we had only been emailing previously a few days before.

I was privileged to have known Martin for a few years – who was very influential in helping me when I first started up the Games That Weren’t website around late 1999 – gathering information (and even help find) on titles such as Solar Jetman and many more. He also had a cracking sense of humor too – demonstrated by many a funny email over the years. I’ve only really been aware of Martin’s C64 work specifically, so searching across the web for games that included Martin’s artist works was a huge eye opener for me – mainly due to the variety of platforms that he had covered, which must have required a huge level of skill and patience getting to grips with each machine’s quirks and flaws. During my research and travels, i’ve collected up various screens and materials along the way (with sources listed below) to create a slideshow in Martin’s memory, but i’d like also to give a bit of background to Martin’s work too where I can.  As I only interviewed Martin the once and knew him personally only for a few years, most of what I write is based from what I know from that short time and what i’ve found online.  There are no doubt gaps (and also inaccuracies), and I invite anyone to contribute any more details or corrections which i’ll happily add/change over time.

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One of Martin’s first published games in BigK magazine for the Commodore Vic 20 – Egg Eater.

Martin was a Wigan-born computer game graphic artist, working the majority of his career at Software Creations – which span approximately 11 years over a large number of titles across multiple formats.  He had always wanted to get into the games industry ever since seeing his friend’s ZX81 in action, running a blocky Space Invaders game.  Martin felt he could do something a lot better visually and so his journey into games began. Martin didn’t kick straight into producing graphics, but actually started off as a programmer on his very first machine, the Commodore Vic 20.

He produced a number of BASIC titles in his bedroom which were published in the likes of BigK and Computer and Video Games. They were very solid efforts overall  – especially Egg Eater, which would have made for a solid budget effort on the machine.  The coding period for Martin was brief, and it wasn’t long before he found that he enjoyed the design aspect of games instead of coding them.

Egg Eater

Egg Eater running on the Vic – thanks to http://www.vic20listings.freeolamail.com/

Other games included Kubert, Tunnel Snatch and an interesting title called Archie The Archaeologist.

Tunnel Snatch

Tunnel Snatch screenshot – thanks to http://www.vic20listings.freeolamail.com/

The latter title was initially done on the Vic 20, but never released – but it was later converted to the Amstrad CPC and released on one of Your Computer’s tapes that they sold.  We can’t find it though -so do you have a copy? In 1987, Martin went for his very first job interview at Denton Designs, hoping to get a role as graphic artist.

Sadly it wasn’t to be, but Denton saw the potential in Martin and arranged a role for him at Canvas Software with the likes of Steve Cain and Dawn Drake.  During his time at Canvas, Martin produced graphics for a number of titles including Charlie Chaplin, Wizard Warz and Road Runner.  During a two year stint at the company, there was particular concentration on the Atari ST and Amstrad CPC platforms.    Towards the late 80’s, Canvas unfortunately hit financial trouble, and shortly after closing its doors – Martin found a graphic artist position going at MC Lothlorien (aka Icon Design), where after impressing with his portfolio, he was put onto the Commodore 64 for the very first time (only being aware previously of the machine via seeing games on his friend’s machine).

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The Psycho Hopper development team in the “Back Passage” (as John describes it), with Martin hiding on the back right. Far left is John Buckley, bottom is Neil Thompson and far right is most likely Doug Anderson (TBC).

It was this stage of Martin’s career that his work began to really stand out and get recognised – brightening up titles such as Demon’s Kiss and Psycho Hopper, which would have surely been very drab without his artistic flair added to them otherwise.   Towards the end of 1989, Martin became involved in an ambitious RPG project along with John Buckley, Doug Anderson and Neil Thompson called Vale of Shadows – an Elven fantasy title where you would create a character and go on quests.

The game was going slowly, but looked very impressive.  However, MC Lothlorien’s days were numbered towards the end of the 80’s before the game could be finished. exploding-wall-1Not only did Martin’s work cover the C64 whilst at MC Lothlorien (and later Software Creations), he flipped between platforms with relative ease – covering the Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga, PC and ZX Spectrum.  Many graphic artists would struggle to work effectively across all the different screen modes and colour restrictions, but Martin seemed to take to the differences like a duck to water each time.

As with any artist who has their own distinctive style, Martin certainly had his too.   Bold and vibrant use of colours could help you spot a Martin Holland picture a mile off (if the MACH tag didn’t give it away that is!).  Martin’s face drawing in particular was very striking and distinctive – with one of Martin’s most impressive achievements coming during his time on Vale of Shadows, where he had built an effective and very clever way of generating faces using limited character-sets.   John Buckley reflects on Martin’s work for the game:

“Martin’s graphics were very nice, especially the faces. I had him drawing 16 faces, each face was split horizontally into 4 sections. Hair, eyes, nose and mouth, and chin and neck. I remember the tavern screen especially. I told him I wanted each section to fit graphically to any of the other sections and I wanted both male and females splitting into four horizontal sections, and ten different strips for each section and I wanted them all to match up so I could mix and match them. He told me in not so many words it couldn’t be done, and then went away and did it.

And it worked. It worked so well that as I generated the faces I would give them a name suggested by their graphical appearance.”

Gauntlet_IIISadly it seems that Martin’s work on the title has now been lost for good.  John no longer has anything of the game.  Martin did have parts of the game and even made a video for myself  of the game running, and along with a few loading screens he had produced which were never released (including a game called Chocablock Charlie which I believe was meant for Bug Byte).

Sadly the video was lost many moons ago, which I still kick myself over losing it today. However, much of what was learnt from doing the face generator was re-used for Gauntlet 3 to save some character space, so something from the Vales work surfaced in some shape or form. After MC Lothlorien closed its doors – Martin moved over to Software Creations (along with John Buckley) for his longest job stint yet.  Here Martin continued to output work at an exceptional rate, producing the majority of his C64 related output.  Martin worked on the majority of the Magnum Light Phaser games produced for Virgin Mastertronic and contributed graphics to big name titles such as Gauntlet 3 and Sly Spy for US Gold and Ocean respectively.

The C64 market dried up for Software Creations, but Martin was already working across multiple platforms anyway, and was straight onto the likes of the SNES, Megadrive, Gameboy and also PC.   One of Martin’s well known pieces of work from his post C64 era was on a solid vertical scrolling shooter with Ste Cork called Overkill, which was published by Epic MegaGames back in 1992.  Although the game itself was nothing too special, the graphical work was very solid and the game went on to sell many copies, with the graphics no doubt helping.

Martin also worked on the unreleased Indy Heat conversion for the Sega Megadrive, doing a superb job yet again. Martin also worked on a relatively unknown conversion of Jet Set Willy 2 on the Amiga platform, which although looked superb thanks to Martin’s graphics, wasn’t too hot on the game play stakes.  Compared to the original, the Amiga conversion featured scrolling screens and inbetween pictures for different areas of the mansion. blastermaster2-2Faring a lot better and more popular was the sequel to Sun Soft’s Blaster Master (originally a NES title) in the originally named Blaster Master 2.  This was released on the Sega Megadrive back in 1993 and Martin was one of the lead graphic artists on the game along with Andrew Threlfall, but eventually ended up taking over all the artist duties when Andrew was moved onto other projects.   There is a great interview over at Blaster Master Under Ground website with Martin, where he talks about the game’s development.

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Martin’s business card which he sent along with a video showing Vale of Shadows – sadly lost. The card turned up when digging through some old boxes recently.

martin-creationscardIn later years, one of Martin’s key roles was as leading artist on the Rugrat series on the Gameboy Color (and Gameboy Advance?) – which although the press slated according to Martin, sold very well indeed and led to many more titles being produced.   Martin made excellent use of the limited colours per sprite limitations on the GBC and produced some awesome looking titles overall. Dawn Drake (now Hollywood) worked with Martin both at Canvas and later at Software Creations and had the following to say regarding Martin…

“I knew Martin from the beginning (as would Simon Butler) from the Canvas days in Crosby and we worked together again at Software Creations until early 2000. Although we all worked hard to get the stupidly short deadlines met for the games at Canvas (and mostly we made it ), we also had a good laugh together too. The Calvert brothers, Simon Butler and Scott Johnson providing most of the humour! He was a quiet lad who loved his curries & drinks.

He was passionate and rather meticulous about his artwork. He had a great sense of humour and had been collecting old computers, of which I had donated to. He had been briefly engaged but I never met her. He was also a great listener when I was feeling down and stayed in touch when I left Creations. He had told me he hadn’t been well and I replied that he should take it easy, but never thought that he would have passed away so suddenly. It still saddens me today as I miss him as a friend and colleague.”

Sometime in 2002 (date not accurately known), Martin moved away from Software Creations – possibly once they were taken over by Acclaim in the same year.  It is possible that Martin had worked briefly for Acclaim in the Manchester studios – but we need to confirm this. Martin moved over to new developer Virtuacraft/Genepool around 2003, and this was where his final work would be on X2: Wolverine’s Revenge.

We’re not sure at this stage in what capacity and it’s uncertain what parts of the game feature Martin’s work, but hopefully someone will point out some screens for our gallery some day.  Martin sadly passed away on the 15th August 2003, at the age of 35.    At the time, Virtuacraft’s MD, Brian Beuken made the following tribute:

“A typical computer and gadget geek, he liked nothing more than spending his entire life in front of a screen making games or playing them,” said Beuken. “His unassuming and jovial manner hid an awesome talent for shifting pixels, that really set a standard which others could only keep up with, never quite matching, before he leapt ahead again. His encyclopaedic knowledge of games, almost all of which he owned, was always useful when discussing so called new ideas and innovations.

“To lose someone with such talent and at such an early age, is a loss to the industry as a whole, our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time. He will be sorely missed.”

To celebrate Martin’s life and work, below is a gallery of a large selection of his artwork – as well as scans of some of the games he produced during his Vic 20 days.  These have been collected from a variety of sources (of which we have listed below – if anyone is unhappy with their use, please contact me).

There are sadly many gaps which need plugging, as unfortunately I can no longer ask Martin any more questions. Additionally, there are many pieces of work likely to be lost for good in the form of Vale of Shadows, Psycho Warrior FMB, Chainsaw Warrior, Aircat – which Martin at some point was to recover for GTW, but didn’t quite manage it. If you have any information to add or any of Martin’s missing artwork, please contact me or leave comments below with any memories that you have of Martin and you wish to share.   Thanks to Mauricio Muñoz Lucero for recently highlighting a number of CPC games which Martin worked on, and which i’ve now added below.

Sources

World of spectrumHall of lightLemon64Gamebase64My abandon wareMobygames, Blaster Master Underground, Super Adventures in Gaming, Spong, CPC-Power

Gallery

4 Responses to Martin Holland – a tribute

  1. Richard Kay says:

    I have just stumbled across this article of Martin, and I had no idea that he had passed away. So so sad and so young!

    Martin was the most loyal, amazing human being that I ever had the pleasure of working with. He never ever complained and always gave 100% to whatever job he was assigned, he lived and breathed computer art!

    His passion was unparalleled!

    Kind regards (and a heavy heart)
    Richard Kay

  2. Unkle K says:

    A lovely article Frank. A great talent 🙂

  3. Excellent text that homage Martin Holland. I would to like to know, if I have permission to translate this text into brazilian portuguese to publish in TASBPAN!, a blog dedicated to shoot ’em ups.

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