If there is one thing to be learned from many of the stories of Italian software houses is that developing games in the 80s was quite difficult. But even harder was finding a publisher, as there was no way anybody could find a public with DIY. In researching the history of Idea Software and the origins of Milestone, it became clear how, despite similarities to other companies like Genias, the history of IDEA soft and Screamer was different. With the backing of game distributor Leader, the company worked together with developers and graphic artists from all over the country, in order to produce games. In some cases, they would also release titles already finished by external developers, along with a couple of Italian versions of games developed abroad.
Still, there never was an actual office where developers worked together, nor really a company per se, except for the single desk office of Antonio Farina where he greenlighted the games that, then, Leader would market and publish. IDEA is also where Antonio Farina would meet many of the developers who, years later, would form the backbone of Graffiti (later, Milestone), among the most important Italian software houses.
From Software Copyright to Idea Soft
The history of Idea Soft and Screamer begins, once again, with gaming piracy. By the late 80s, the biggest national games publisher, Leader, had had enough of having most of their games shamelessly pirated. As former president John Holder recounts, the market was absolutely chaotic, with companies making huge money selling pirated copies, since in late 80s Italy it was still (basically) legal. In order to try and improve on the situation, Leader tried to strike a deal with notorious tape duplicating company Armati, since fighting them via court cases was proving to be quite ineffective. In a joint venture with Ital Video, the newly legitimate business company founded by repented pirate businessman Mario Arioti, Leader created Software Copyright. Right from the name, their objective was clear: publishing legitimate titles, licensed from the original copyright holders.
The agreement with Ital Video ended up going downhill pretty soon, because, apparently, the former pirate company thought there did not seem to be enough money in selling legitimate licensed games. Later, that would also lead to Leader suing Mario Arioti’s company (to no avail), as Ital Video also started pirating copyrighted software, but that is another story altogether. John Holder decided that he would keep Software Copyright alive for another different project: developing and publishing their own games, to sell them nationally and internationally. Head of that project, which would be (later) called Idea Soft, was one Antonio Farina.
Farina mentions being a programmer himself, ever since an early age. “My first game was actually a 1:1 replica of the Donkey Kong Game & Watch, programmed on a ZX Spectrum. Later, I tried to interest several English publishers with some of my other game ideas, but nothing ever materialized” he recalls. Later he got an office job and, to break away from the monotony, did make another game, Incas, a Tetris clone programmed in Clipper/Dbase III (available here, thanks to Luca Stradiotto!) Giving up on his dreams of being a games developer, after an adventure he developed with his friend Luca Stradiotto sold exactly one copy, he realized the experience could be used for IDEA.
“I acted as a producer. I would keep contacts with the programmers around the country, managed the deadlines while tracking all projects. But my role often would go beyond that, as I was really a factotum: several times the ideas behind the games actually came from me, so I had to find the right people to make them a reality. Thinking back, in three years as a company we managed to develop and publish something like twelve games. Those were incredible years!” Antonio remembers.
It is unclear if Farina wrote to Leader first, looking for a job, or John Holder met him at a fair and, later, hired him. Either way, in a small office in Varese (near Milan), in 1989 Antonio Farina would be the only person in Software Copyright’s books. The name IDEA would, by the end of the year, be used for the games published by the new company. “Indeed, the whole business was about finding promising projects around the country, producing and publishing them,” remembers Antonio. While the idea was really the same as Genias (or even Light Shock), there was one big difference. Leader, at the time, was the biggest publisher of video games in the country, keeping contacts with all major national magazines. Thus, IDEA did not have to worry about marketing, trying to shop their projects around or even printing boxes or manuals. They could just focus on developing games.
First ideas: animals
How would the average Idea Soft project come about? “After publishing ads in the magazines, everything would start with a developer, from somewhere in the country, sending me a demo. Naturally, it is worth remembering that at the time, most of these people were kids or young adults doing it as a part-time job, either while studying or working, all of them with no experience whatsoever. If I liked the demos, I would work together with the developers to finish the game. Publishing and marketing were all done by Leader, which I don’t remember ever interfering with our projects or even contacting me to try and push any agenda.” One of the proposed launch titles for IDEA was Crossfire, the only (potential) game programmed by Farina: a sort of cartoonish take on Operation Wolf. The game, originally developed for Atari ST, never came out. Farina mentions that his brother was the tester on that game, while the graphics were drawn, once again, by Luca Stradiotto.
Indeed, Stradiotto worked on many of the initial titles developed by Idea Software, among them their first breakthrough hit: Bomber Bob, published for Amiga. Starring mostly animals as characters, it was a classic 2D vertical scroller shoot ’em up, with additional levels which changed graphics to a vectorial 3D shooter. Stradiotto mentions how they decided to scale down the frame rate from 60 to 25, in order to be able to develop the game in overscan in borderless full screen. “The sprites could be as big as 100×100 pixels, and the level end bosses could even take up more than one screen. Technically, at least, it was on par with other shooters on the market.” It would end up as the first big success by Idea Soft, at least in Italy.
A comedic actor sings a song of marketing
The name Bomber Bob was decided based both on the canine’s race (a Bobtail) and the name of the sprites on Amiga (Blitter-animated Objects). Stefano Lecchi was the main programmer: “I remember starting my development career on a VIC-20, later I managed to to get my hands on an Assembler manual for the Amiga. So I succeeded in put together a demo, which was heavily inspired by Xenon 2, especially for the overall cyberpunkish/metal look,” Lecchi remembers. “I contacted Farina and showed him my demo, which he liked but decided to modify to better fit the overall comical look and tone of the shooter. Then I showed him some vectorial graphics I made, in the meantime, for another demo, and we also implemented those in Bomber Bob.”
As a small marketing stunt to launch the canine shooter, Farina had quite the peculiar idea: Bomber Bob would feature a song by comedic actor Francesco Salvi. The actor, at the time, was quite the presence on the charts, scoring a first hit single with C’è Da Spostare Una Macchina (“There is a car that needs to be moved”). In 1989, he managed to repeat the feat, placing 7th at that year Italian Official Song Festival, in front of well known artists like Mia Martini and Jovanotti. Farina mentions the reasons behind using the song, Esatto (Exactly), for the intro of Bomber Bob: “despite it all, it made sense since the song does feature a lot of animal grunts and verses and Bomber Bob had animal enemies. We went ahead and used a sampled version for the intro, while also bundling music cassettes in the box”. Clearly, the song could not be used for other versions of the game, as Salvi was unknown to non-Italian gamers. It was changed with the slightly less interesting, but appropriate, “Old McDonald had a farm”, which at least came for free.
Francesco Salvi - Esatto (Live in Sanremo 1989)
Along with being quite a success in Italy, as mentioned, the game was exported in several other countries, like England and Germany, receiving ratings all across the board from magazines. From the quite high rating of 88% from CU Amiga to the slightly punishing 34% of German magazine Amiga Joker. To the extent of my research, Bomber Bob was also probably the first commercial Amiga title, made in Italy, to be successfully exported in other countries (in August of 1990). The ending of the game also teased a sequel which, in the end, would never come to be.
Together with Bomber Bob, the other launch title for IDEA was Moonshadow, which Antonio Farina remember as being basically finished when it was first shown to him. An action adventure developed by Paolo Galimberti on his own, a talented C64 developer who would also work with Idea again later on several other projects. He would also be called by Farina on several IDEA projects and also his future software house (see infra), even though Galimberti would leave before developing anything. Moonshadow was also successfully exported, in 1991, in England and Germany by Leader, receiving decent reviews (76% by Commodore Format and 65% by Zzap!).
But IDEA’s big hit was yet to come.
The license to comic books
A few months after Bomber Bob, Farina was already announcing the new game from the pages of Italian magazine K. It was going to be a licensed title, which definitely fits in with the whole “comic book craze” in the early 90s in Italy (Simulmondo was doing the same with Dylan Dog). Continuing with their sort of tradition of games starring animals, the next IDEA title would star Lupo Alberto, a quite well known comic book character in the country. Drawn by Guido Silvestri (Silver), they were strips with a comical overtone where the wolf protagonist, Alberto, constantly tried to steal Marta, the hen, from the nearby farm. The protagonists of the comic book strip seemed to really be everywhere in the early 90s: from t-shirts, candies, mugs and, especially, birthday cards. As one of the strongest brands of the time, especially one aimed at both kids and young adults, it only makes sense that it would also get its very own 2D side scrolling platformer.
Published in 1990 for Commodore 64 (converted by Paolo Galimberti alone who also did the soundtrack) and Amiga, Stradiotto still speaks about it with starry eyed enthusiasm. “Silver [the strip’s author] got interested in the project and asked to see several of my drawings, along with the design of the levels. At one point, he commented that the pixel art looked like Lego, which definitely made sense! He got so interested that he sent us a specific story he had thought for the game, in order to somehow explain the reason why the player would go from point A to point B in the platformer. It was pretty clear that Lupo Alberto was very dear to him and he wanted to be extra careful that we would make it justice”. The strip was also included in the boxes of the game.
Lupo Alberto is really a classic 2D sidescrolling platformer, with the added possibility of playing as multiple characters. Farina remembers that they were supposed to present the game at a press conference, along with showing a brief demo. “The demo still wasn’t finished the day before the event! We had to pull an all nighter together with the programmer, Eugenio Ciceri, in order to present something to the event. We basically finished a few hours before it started, talk about something really intense!”. The game was released to pretty good national reviews and decent international ones, from the 78% of Amiga Power to the 39% of Power Play. The Commodore 64 version definitely fared worst, with Zzap! mentioning the lack of variety in the gameplay and graphics. Clearly, the fact that Lupo Alberto was only popular in its homecountry did not help international sales.
The success of the Lupo Alberto platformer, especially in Italy, would mean the collaboration between Silver’s comic book creations and IDEA would continue. Two other quite similar games were also released, later: Cattivik and Sturmtruppen. Both games deviated a bit from the classic platformer gameplay, by adding puzzles or just simplifying the action altogether. By all accounts, these games seemed to be less successful experiments and, overall, seemed to receive a smaller marketing budget by Leader. Silver was also less involved, since Sturmtruppen wasn’t really his creation (it was drawn by older comic artist Bonvi), while Cattivik seemed to be an overall less important character.
Covering all bases: from shooters to sports
IDEA, since they did not really have a “plan” or overall philosophy, ended up covering most gaming genres in the three years of existence of the company: action adventures, platformers, shoot em ups, sports and puzzle games. Dragon Fighter (not to be confused with Natsume’s 1990 NES game), for example, was a 1991 Amiga shoot ’em up, developed by a team made up of several people who lived in different parts of Italy and who never even met with each other. Among them, were Ignazio Corrao from Palermo and Gabriele Petino who lived a few clicks away from IDEA’s office.
Gabriele Petino who, together with his friend Andrea Bernasconi, worked on several games with IDEA, remembers that he would make daily treks with his bike, as he lived quite close to Farina’s office. The would hand in finished work or simply ask if there was something they could do. “We were just kids and while making the music for the games, like Dragon Fighter, Smash and Cattivik, we tried to cram in as many references to our favorite bands as we could. Depeche Mode, metal bands, what have you. Farina was pretty cautious that he did not want to see floppies being taken out of his office and used between us, so we mostly worked via fax.”
Ignazio Corrao, who at the time lived all the way in Palermo in the south of Italy, instead, mostly worked on graphics. When working on Dragon Fighter, he was actually among the few IDEA developers who already published a game. Together with his friends Marco and Sergio Zimmenhofer, Ignazio had worked on an RPG published by Lindasoft, Time Horn. “That idea was born mainly because we were a bunch of nerdy kids playing with D&D all the time, it just catered to our interests!” mentions Ignazio. The game was, as far as my research seems to show, the only RPG developed in Italy and published, at least in the 90s. Corrao would also continue working together with Antonio Farina, first on the graphics for Screamer then later joining the Milestone team in Milan.
IDEA was also behind the first Italian game to be released on a Sega and Nintendo console, even though it was not converted by any Italian programmers. Clik Clak, a 1992 puzzle game, was originally developed by Stefano Lecchi with graphics made by Luca Stradiotto. By using cogwheels, the player was tasked with connecting all the various pieces of the puzzle. It was originally published on Commodore 64, Amiga and MS-DOS. Farina mentions that he got in contact with Sony Imageworks for a conversion for both the Game Boy and Game Gear, which would be developed by the Teque team. The game was also retitled Gear Works by Sony, as it was a title easier to understand title for the international public, but nothing very much changed otherwise.
Cars, football and tennis
Among the many genres they touched upon, IDEA would also release several sport titles, along with soccer and tennis games. The first would be the Italian version of Audiogenic’s Emlyn Hughes International Soccer, which would arrive in Italy in 1989 under the excited title “Retee!” (which one would roughly translate as “Goal!”). As for games developed internally, their first racing title would be Champion Driver on Amiga, developed by father and son Luca and Roberto Podestà, which was a sort of take on the overhead racing title popular at the time. The game was also quite well received internationally, as a solid take on the Super Sprint kind of gameplay. Much less successful, as the last racing game developed by IDEA, would be F1 GP Circuits, published for Atari ST, Amiga and Commodore 64, developed by Magnetica Development (a team led by Gerardo Iula).
Smash was a 1992 tennis game, with a 2D sidescrolling view, developed for Amiga and Commodore 64 by Michele Izzo and Fabio Corica. Going back to soccer, IDEA released two soccer games, both on Amiga and Commodore 64, back to back. Developing them were two people that, having already worked with Genias, would be given the job because of their experience: Ivan Del Duca and Antonio Miscellaneo. IDEA would first release Dribbling in 1992 and, several months later, Championship of Europe. Del Duca remembers working on Dribbling first “I was actually called by Farina, together with Antonio [Miscellaneo], to work on a soccer game called European Championship, but then things changed because he wanted us to first work on Dribbling. I remember this was developed as a sort of demo version of the second game, there was little time to do something decent.”
The two games are indeed very similar, with the latter Championship of Europe (also sometimes known as European Champions, even though it is not clear if there are any differences between the two) having a better gameplay. The games clearly shared an influence from Kick-off, as that game was the big realistic football title from the time, and also pretty big in Italy. Overall, Del Duca remembers the experience as something he is not that proud of “at best, I think we did okay work, we were not in the best mindframe to successfully work on these, we were still young and probably a little bit too self-confident. Frankly, I don’t think those are really anywhere near to the best football games available on the Commodore 64.”
The end of IDEA, the start of a new era
By the end of 1991, after releasing more than ten different games across Commodore 64, Amiga, PC, Atari ST and even consoles, Antonio Farina mentions being quite tired. He had seen how little Leader seemed intent on investing in their own game studio, while he was aware that other countries had serious software houses where people worked a daily job. Antonio decided to demand more money and investments, so to start actually making games that could compete on the market.“IDEA could not continue working with freelancers from all over Italy” he comments, “it was time to either make games seriously or stop making them altogether. For me, the Italian market was never really my focus, I wanted games that could compete internationally. I was tired of hearing that a game was good, FOR BEING ITALIAN, either it was good for the global market, or it just wasn’t”.
Seeing his sensible proposition declined by Leader, Farina packed his bags and, at the beginning of 1992, would leave the company. Despite his departure, IDEA would publish several other titles in 1992. Leaving IDEA leads to the beginning of Antonio Farina’s second game development studio, one he chose to call Graffiti. The new company would have an office in Milano. Antonio, being already in contact with many developers already, decided to call those he had already worked with during his years in IDEA. The initial idea for Graffiti, Antonio Farina explained in issue 38 of magazine K: “it will act as an intermediary between publishers and the talented developers and graphic artists in Italy. It will not be a relationship between a supplier (software house) and a client (programmer), instead an active partecipation in order to reach our common goals“. Among the people he called first were both Stefano Lecchi and Ivan Del Duca.
Graffiti' short lived 16 bit experience
Graffiti’s first work as a development team would actually be on the Super Nintendo. Through contacts with Audiogenic, Antonio got the team to work on a conversion of Super Loopz for the Nintendo console, released mainly for the Japanese public. It was intended to be a sort of upgraded version of the original Loopz on Amiga, also with the whole “Super” moniker to fit on the console. Released in March of 1994, to this day it stands as the only game developed by an Italian team for a 16-bit console, at least in the 90s. “The Super Nintendo was incredibly powerful compared to the machines I was used to working with. Since it shared the overall CPU architecture with the Commodore 64, for me and Antonio Miscellaneo that meant being quite familiar with it”, remembers Ivan.
After the release of Super Loopz, Antonio told his team to take advantage of the SNES development kit. Their follow-up project would have been actually a rally game, with a top down view in the style of Super Off-Road. Del Duca worked on a prototype with designer Marco Spitoni providing 2D graphics for the backgrounds and cars. “Unfortunately,” remembers Spitoni “the publisher told us that by 1994, the market for the Super Nintendo was rapidly drying up, so they advised us to concentrate our efforts on other platforms.” In the end, the Rally project was shelved and despite a beta version still floating around up until a few years ago, unfortunately nothing seems to have survived.
In the meantime, Stefano Lecchi was working on PC on the engine for Iron Assault, which would later become the team’s first title.
Graffiti jumps on PC
Stefano mentions that in 1993 he was already busy developing a pseudo 3D engine from scratch, which was actually inspired by Wolfenstein 3D. “The huge problem was when Doom came out that year. It made me quickly realize that my technology was already outdated, even though our game hadn’t even come out yet!” comments the programmer. Iron Assault is a MechWarrior inspired shooter with mechs, complete with interesting stop motion sequences shot by Marco Spitoni who, as a graphic artist, also created the models for the robots used in the sequences. It was released by Virgin not long before Screamer, in 1995, probably a few months earlier in Italy.
With Lecchi busy developing the graphical engine, the office receives a CD which will change the entire history of the software house. One day, a guy named Antonio Martini shows up with a burned CD in his hand. “I think it was early 1994,” Marco Spitoni remembers “when Martini showed us this fluid 3D engine he developed. The demo was very simple: a spaceship flying through some buildings. It was not very exciting, so we decided to swap it with a car racing on a straightforward track, no crazy loops or anything.” After tinkering with that 3D demo, Antonio Farina remembers bringing it to the 1994 ECTS in London, where that technology would immediately turn heads.
It was Virgin Interactive which, then and there, would sign up the team for a publishing agreement for two games: the mentioned Iron Assault and arcade racing title Screamer. Farina mentions “to the English publisher it was pretty clear that the team’s whole attention would have to be on Screamer, as that one was the most promising out of the two”. Since at the time there was not really an arcade racing scene on the PC, Virgin was banking on Screamer having basically no competitors and selling like hot cakes. By 1994, Iron Assault was basically finished, Ivan Del Duca and Simone Balestra had worked on developing the DOS setup, while also providing music and sound effects. At the beginning of 1995, Stefano Lecchi was left alone to finish it and squash out the bugs, while the rest of the team went full-time on Screamer.
Screaming for success
Despite the clear resemblance to Ridge Racer, both Farina and Del Duca remember other influences for Screamer: SEGA’s Daytona USA and Virtua Racing. The programmer also mentions how the team worked in full crunch mode. “We literally worked 16 hours each and every day, sometimes 7 days per week with no pauses in between. It was really a project entirely developed in crunch mode, but honestly we didn’t mind. On one hand, there were Antonio’s promises that pushed us on, but we were working as a tight unit and everyone was pretty enthusiastic about the game. I think, overall, Screamer took us less than nine months from start to finish.”. Spitoni adds “we had Daytona on PlayStation and played it non-stop. We were really trying hard to replicate its sense of speed, which felt really special.”
Del Duca also turned in double shifts, designing the tracks and even programming the DOS setup, which was pretty important back then. Del Duca also mentions an interesting experience with the English producer to work on the vocal tracks to be used in Iron Assault and Screamer. “Virgin had quite an array of experienced actors, and I worked with them as a sort of voice acting director, so to speak. Quite the unique experience for me as I had never done anything of the sort!”. For Screamer‘ soundtrack, Del Duca worked with notorious Amiga musician Allisteir Brimble which, for a Commodore fan like him was a moment to treasure, being right alongside the musician responsible for such soundtracks as Alien Breed and Treasure Island Dizzy.
Virgin kept supervising all the team’s work throughout, which led to a couple of interesting episodes mentioned by Marco Spitoni. “We pitched them a couple of potential magazine advertisements which did heavily feature alcohol and they replied there was no way they would feature marketing mixing alcoholic beverages and driving. Thinking about it now, definitely makes perfect sense to me, but back then we were just a bunch of rowdy young Italian guys, We really had no clue how it was to work with an international publisher!”. Virgin also came to Milan to try an alpha version of the game, along with paying journalists to come and try the game. Marco continues “it was a wonderful sight, all these people playing in multiplayer, just hollering and having fun. One of the best moments of my life, for sure!”
Finally the international hit
Screamer was released to immediate success, both in its native country and also mostly everywhere else in the world. Virgin was right, there weren’t many other PC games in the arcade racing game genre, as Gamestop also mentions in a quite positive review. German magazine Power Play nominated Screamer as the best racing game for 1995 (in Germany the game was released as Bleifuss). Spitoni, thinking back to the popularity of the game, remembers an interesting episode: “a few days after the release, a young guy came ringing the doorbell to our office, complaining that Screamer did not work with his expensive PC steering wheel. Well, in the end, we let him in and spent a couple of hours fixing his problem. Or at least, I seem to remember we did fix it…”. That was, indeed, great customer support.
Still, there was one issue with the release of Screamer. Ralph Barbagallo, former Papyrus developer, remembers how someone at the company noticed that the engine sound in Screamer was quite similar to the one they used in NASCAR Racing. “The sound engineer was quite proud of what they had recorded, as they went out on the track with professional equipment to get the sound directly from a real NASCAR car.” It definitely makes sense, then, that he would recognize right it away.
Indeed, Ivan confirms “yes, we borrowed the engine sound from their game and slightly modified it. Then again, in Italy in 1994, there was not really such a thing as professional game development, we mostly created an industry by using reverse engineering techniques and piracy. We thought, with Papyrus being an American company, who’s gonna notice that we used their engine sound? Everyone in the team knew about it, Antonio [Farina] included. But, well, in the end Papyrus noticied and their legal team made sure that we would never do anything like that again…”. Apparently, the issue was sorted with Virgin paying a sum of money to Papyrus and the sound was kept in.
NASCAR Racing (1994)
After the big success: Graffiti becomes Milestone
Legal issues aside, the blockbuster hit ended up changing the nature of the company itself. In 1996 Graffiti modified their overall organization and name, transforming into the present company: Milestone. Ivan remembers “while originally, in Graffiti all developers had equal shares in the company, that obviously changed with the release of Screamer. Milestone became a company with an ordinary hierarchy and organisation, we just worked for it as employees”. In some way, that first big success ended up also being a sort of Damocles sword hanging over their heads. Indeed, ever since 1996 and up to this day, Milestone has been working exclusively on racing games (with a couple of exceptions, mainly small budget licensed titles).
Antonio Farina does mention the team was afraid of being pigeonholed in the racing genre. Thus, after the success of Screamer, they pitched to Virgin something quite different: an horror action adventure. “We wanted to design a sci-fi/horror story and feature it in an adventure environment, a bit like Alone in the Dark, also completely in 3D and with polygonal graphics.” Ivan del Duca continues: “The prototype was simply called Alien. But the publisher, again Virgin, told us it was simply too risky as an idea.” Antonio remembers that, despite being quite proud of the 3D demo they had completed, he agreed with the publisher. “For us, the most economically sensible decision was to start working right away on a sequel to our first hit”, he concludes. Alien ended up being quietly cancelled.
Indeed, the team starts working on a sequel, which was going to be released on a short notice in order to bank on the first game’s popularity. Still, Screamer 2 will end up quite differently from its predecessor, closer to a simulation, leaving the arcade gameplay almost completely behind. The team started working on completely new facets of the racing experience: racing car physics and more realistic driving controls. Stefano Lecchi was the one in charge of physics engine and the AI as well, with Antonio Martini and Simone Balestra working to update the graphical engine. From the original Daytona experience, Farina mentions that their new objective was to develop something that would feel as close as possible to Sega Rally: a gameplay that, while keeping things overall fun for most players, is definitely more simulation than arcade.
Spitoni mentions how the team, while still being pretty much a bunch of friends working together, was slowly becoming more professional over time. Still, long hours and crunch mode were the name of the game, as he also remembers happening with the final Screamer title developed by Milestone. “We all agreed to turn down our holidays and just stay in the office all summer to finish the graphics for Screamer Rally. In the end, Farina did not even give us a productivity bonus, he only brought us cheap souvenirs from his summer holiday!” laughs Marco. While not as a blockbuster as the first, the still great success of Screamer 2 would make it clear to Milestone that the decision to persevere in developing racing games was indeed correct.
A final sequel developed by Milestone, Screamer Rally, would follow in 1997, which Stefano Lecchi mentions as being a sort of spin-off of the main series. “We just added a few new tracks and cars, but the driving model and graphical engine was the same” comments Ivan Del Duca. The overall course of the Screamer series meant that simulation titles would end up being the new course also for the company. Milestone abandoned the idea of developing arcade racers to, instead, focus on developing realistic driving simulations. They are still going strong with series like MotoGP (briefly developed by Capcom, now again being handled by Milestone) and FIA WRC Rally.
How Leader changed the market
IDEA is an interesting case, even after all the Italian software houses I have researched. Despite being one of the most profilic studios, from what I’ve gathered, most IDEA games are rarely remembered, even by the Italian public. When their first titles, Bomber Bob and Lupo Alberto, made a splah, apparently Leader seemed to push IDEA towards developing all different kinds of projects, as long as the budget was small. In 1991 and 1992, IDEA released eight (!) different games, all of them relatively obscure, with little to no news about them online. While they were not bad games per se, they seemed to be quickly and cheaply made copies of more well known games (like Swords and Galleons which seems to be a budget release of Sid Meier’s Pirates!). It was definitely a case of quantity over quality, as the company seemed to prefer low budget projects, with teams of 3-4 people at the most, in order to cover as much as the market as possible.
Meanwhile, Milestone is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary, making it the most longevous Italian studio, really the only one to survive beyond the 90s and 00s (along with NAPS, but they are just two people). Most of the members of the original Screamer team have since left: Ivan Del Duca is now Director of Technology of the 505 Games group, Marco Spitoni moved to New Zealand to work on special effects for Weta Digital, while Antonio Farina left the company in 2004 to pursue other gaming related business. Screamer, despite what one might think about its level design and gameplay today, still tells a story of great talent and success. An entrepreneur who was not scared by a market that did not seem to care much about Italian games. Antonio wanted to bring to the public a product with a high quality standard which, honestly, few Italian studios had attempted before. For all intents and purposes, despite a couple of gaps in the road, Graffiti succeeded in their objective. Antonio, Ivan, Marco, Stefano and the others developed one of the best games to come out of Italy in the 90s or, perhaps, ever. That is one achievement worthy of being remembered and celebrated every day, for sure.
Sources & References
Interviews with Antonio Farina, Ivan Del Duca, Marco Spitoni, Stefano Lecchi, Ignazio Corraio, Gabriele Petino and Luca Stradiotto conducted via phone and Skype in 2022.
Magazines: Zzap!, K, Amiga Power, CU Amiga, Amiga Joker, The Games Machine.
Many thanks to all my interviewees for their time, also to Ralph Barbagallo for the information. Extra special thanks to Ivan Del Duca for the Alien demo.