System 3 has worked with some of the biggest names and businesses in the UK and global video games industry.
As the company celebrates its 30th year in business, we speak to some of those executives, developers and publishers, who share their memories about the company, including big press parties, major expos and crucial business deals.
I first met Mark in 1985 when I was working at a company called Cosprint. We were a production company and we had made a game for Melbourne House called The Way of the Exploding Fist. We made hundreds of thousands of these games. Mark had a brilliant martial arts game called International Karate and he wanted some help with it.
Back in those days we packaged computer games in double crystal cassette cases. That Christmas going into 1986 there was a shortage of supply. We had plenty, but there were some in the market that kept breaking at the hinges. Mark arrived in his orange Mini Clubman packed to the gills with some cases and asked if we could help out. We did. The next time I saw Mark he was driving a Ferrari.
I set up The Producers in 1988 and I worked on Last Ninja II for Mark and on Putty, IK+ and other titles. Mark always knew what made a great game and he still does. Back then Mark’s right hand man was Tim Best. Sadly Tim died some years back and was a great loss to the industry. I am sure Mark will survive another 30 years in the games industry. He has that rare quality, he never backs down. Good luck Mark, you are definitely a one-off.
When a young Mark Cale breezed into the EMAP offices to demand front covers for Computer and Video Games and Commodore User, the Ferrari he had parked outside indicated that the ego and the ‘games industry’ really had arrived.
Mark’s International Karate game had kicked the butt of Exploding Fist, and Commodore users everywhere were very excited about Last Ninja.
Mark’s ‘forthright’ gaming opinions along with his Bedroom to Billionaire growth was occasionally a bit too ‘bling’ for many journalists. Love him or hate him they could rarely ignore him. His passion for game design was evident when he stopped just buying Ferraris and started making games that raced them.
Thirty years later with many great games published, the angry young man of the industry is still out there as an independent, making the games he likes in the manner he wants.
I first knew System 3 as a boy gamer and I’ve followed their work all through my career. Their finest hour for me was Constructor. I liked it because it combined building stuff – which I loved from games like Sim City and Theme Park – with decent objectives and characters. Happy birthday System 3.
Interactive Media Associates
I think of Mark as one of the original industry ‘whizz kids’ first meeting him as a young enthusiastic creator of mind-blowing addictive products such as Last Ninja and International Karate in the mid-1980s.
Mark is, l believe, one of the great understated talents of the interactive sector. He is one of the remaining stalwarts of developer and publisher independence garnered by knowledge, experience and in many ways vision of the business and how to create and generate the consumer addictiveness of products time and time again.
Mark, never to let a deal go by and always negotiating for the last penny, also has a knack for checking the fine detail, whether reviewing a development, publishing or marketing agreement – a testament to his ability to obtain the best even whilst in a position of supposed underdog.
To have the staying power to succeed over the past 30 years as hardware vendors and platforms have come and gone, as consumer tastes have changed, and given how games development cycles and costs have escalated with time
and money – that is an achievement in itself.
My early recollections of System 3 is a young, eager Mark Cale coming into the offices of C&VG and showing a screenshot of International Karate. The amount of coverage he received for that single screenshot – and subsequent ones – was astounding and is a testament to Mark’s enthusiasm and convincing manner.
Mark’s always had an eye for what makes a good game and associated himself with very talented people like John Twiddy. Even the sternest critics will say that System 3 knew how to make highly playable games.
He has consistently managed to negotiate good deals with the bigger publishers. At Virgin in the latter stages we signed Silent Bomber with System 3 and even managed to make money. I remember a press trip to Monaco where I managed to stitch Mark up to pay the drinks bill that night, which was close to £10,000! I am not sure he ever forgave me.
I was heading up Activision in the UK where the line-up was dominated by US games on Atari 2600 or Commodore 64. We were trying to expand into international markets and build a true global company. We decided to back global talent.
Enter System 3, representing the brash impulsive, impetuosity of youth. In 1984, Mark Cale came in, fresh from a triumphant UK Games Championship.
He assembled a small team of highly talented developers, John Twiddy being amongst them.
Titles flowed: International Karate, Myth, Putty Squad, Bangkok Knights – but the great success came from Last Ninja, which achieved global recognition. Mark added diversity with Constructor, which performed well and made The Sims sit up and pay attention.
Creativity was not confined to games: press junkets to Bangkok and shurikens to retail were just two examples of Last Ninja marketing activities that fuelled controversy and Mark courted it.
He has put his stamp on the industry and he remains attention-seeking to this day as his titles appear digitally to a new audience.
System 3 was the first company that gave myself and Chris Yates a chance to create an original game together and for this I will always be eternally grateful. Working on the full development of Twister and doing some early art mockups for International Karate were some of my first jobs in the games industry.
Mark Cale was always creatively supportive of everything me and Chris did, and he taught us a bit about the need for personalities within the games industry. He was a colourful character who understood that for games to be noticed they had to be marketed properly – hence the ECTS show with semi-naked girls dancing on broken breeze blocks.
For Chris and I the work we did for System 3, via LT Software, was our proving ground, our right of passage into the UK games industry, this was the chapter before Sensible Software and a good one it was too.