Screamer, the story of an all-Italian myth and the birth of Milestone

Screamer, the story of an all-Italian myth and the birth of Milestone


Screamer is one of the most remembered arcade driving games for PC by gamers around the world, despite a generous 27 years since its release on the market. It went so far as to cover a lack in the racing game genre, and in 1995 there were no similar titles that could be played on PC. Screamer was created by Graffiti, a Milan studio that we know today as Milestone. How did they come to make this little gem? Let's go back in time to see what were the reasons and events behind the creation of Graffiti.

Let's rediscover the story of Screamer, an all-Italian myth and the birth of Milestone

1993: the year of the end

The original Graffiti team In 1993, the Italian gaming industry seemed, in some way, to have already come to an end. The former market leader Simulmondo had abandoned the world of newsstands with his mixed fortunes: he would no longer develop video games for the general public for several years. The compatriot Genias, on the other hand, had decided to expand into the software market but, within the year, it would disappear. In Liguria, Trecision was engaged in a desperate attempt to sell its games abroad, while Dynabyte, after various unsuccessful experiences, was looking for a foreign publisher for their The Big Red Adventure.

The message from the global industry was clear: the time for "bedroom coders" was over. It was no longer possible to develop a video game alone or with limited resources. The situation was further confirmed by the arrival of a title like Doom and, shortly thereafter, the affirmation of consoles on old home computers as the market-leading videogame platform. It seemed that no one had the courage to move in the console universe: many of the Italian entrepreneurs considered it an investment that would lead to nothing. Simulmondo herself had repeatedly refused the PlayStation development kit precisely because of the excessive costs. Yet, in 1993, there was someone who strongly believed in the future of the market: Antonio Farina with his Graffiti.

The sons of Idea

An image of Screamer Antonio Farina had come out from his previous role, director of Idea Software in late '92, after failing to convince management of the need for investment. Idea was originally created by distributor Leader to compete with other Italian software houses. Until then, the company had worked with programmers exclusively on a remote and remote basis, never bringing the team together in a single office. The collaborators sent their contributions on floppy disks by courier to IDEA, a semi-amateur production that was then, in some way, transformed into a professional product. The moderate success of games like Bomber Bob and Lupo Alberto, on the other hand, spoke clearly.

Antonio Farina, however, was convinced that it would not have been possible to continue working in this way: it was necessary to invest seriously in the sector to develop a title that could have the right potential, so as to have the hope of surviving. "When I left Idea, I no longer considered the national market, for me the goal was the international one. I was tired of hearing this story that a title was not bad, for being Italian. I wanted to create a product that could compete on a level international "remembers Farina. The creation of Graffiti is thus greatly benefited by the contacts made over the years in Idea Soft. It is therefore no coincidence that among the first names to join the new team, there were Ivan Del Duca and Antonio Miscellaneo.

Antonio Farina The two had already been working as a couple for several years, having achieved a particularly successful title , the Commodore 64 version of World Cup 90. The collaboration then continued with a driving game, Warm Up. The experience had led the two to collaborate, later, with Idea Soft, for Dribbling, another football game. Despite this discreet experience in the two genres, Del Duca remembers how his passion has never been driving games, much less football. "However, we had a lot of experience programming with the MOS 6510 processor architecture used in the C64." That, in fact, will come in handy for the first Graffiti title. | for a 16-bit platform from an Italian team. Despite further plans to develop a Super Off Road-style 2D driving game, the team did not continue with the Nintendo console, as by 94 the market now seemed limited. Farina tells him it's time to focus on the new platform of the future: the PC. All the team members who will work for Graffiti, including Marco Spitoni and Stefano Lecchi, had limited experience with 3D and PC environments. They were kids who grew up with the Commodore, training mainly on the 64 and, of course, on the Amiga. So working with Graffiti was somehow about learning on the ground and that ended up taking some time. The first title they will work on, brought by Stefano Lecchi himself who had started working on a 3D engine, was Iron Assault, inspired by the MechWarrior series.

The 3D demo that will change everything

Iron Assault Despite the full time commitment to Iron Assault, everything changes when Antonio Martini arrives, bringing with him a 3D demo with a spaceship spinning between some buildings. Marco Spitoni remembers "the demo was very generic, then we put it on a track full of curves in Hot Wheels style and it already had another effect". The same programmer remembers learning 3D Studio around that time, "I got there with the manual, studied and learned how to use it". Farina is immediately kidnapped by the demo, seeing its potential in being able to create something that can compete with the best foreign productions. At ECTS in London in 94 he easily managed to sell both Iron Assault and Screamer to Virgin Interactive, but the British publisher clearly sees much more potential in the latter. In fact, in a short time, the team's attention will shift entirely to making an arcade title for PC.

Although many see similarities with Ridge Racer, in reality both Farina and Del Duca reveal that the main inspiration came by SEGA, on all classics such as Daytona Rally and Virtua Racing. On the other hand, in 1995 the PC lacked exquisitely arcade driving games. Del Duca remembers "despite the fact that Iron Assault was almost finished at that point, the entire attention of the team - with the exception of Stefano Lecchi - shifted to Screamer. We worked literally 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the entire duration. Basically, it was a completely crunched project. On the one hand there was pressure from Antonio, but on the other hand there was also a sincere enthusiasm. I think that overall the whole production lasted more or less 8 months. We started in spring and finished in September. ".

Ivan is also joined by Simone Balestra: the two, in addition to programming, have worked in other aspects of production. In particular Ivan contributed to the sound effects, as well as to the design of the tracks and the setup to be launched in DOS, a secondary but important aspect for the time. Ivan also remembers an interesting experience working with the English publisher to record the vocal lines for the game: "Virgin had several very good actors and I directed them to the studio, in a way. A very interesting experience. " The opportunity to work with a musician like Allister Brimble certainly did not go unnoticed for an Amiga enthusiast, continues Ivan, "it was great to work with a musician of so much experience that I had already enjoyed in titles like Alien Breed." Another former Idea Soft, Ignazio Corrao, later character artist for titles such as Lair of Level 5 and Dark Messiah: Might & Magic will work on the graphics of the menu and the various 2D images of the teams.

Working in a context international, however, there were factors to consider that the group had never addressed. Virgin supervised the project, all the lyrics and even came to try the title directly in Milan. Marco Spitoni remembers "at a certain point we had proposed advertising in magazines, where a nice mug of beer appeared and Virgin instead stopped us immediately. They told us that we could not associate a game, much less a driving game, to the consumption of We were a group of young and carefree Italians, we certainly had never considered these things! "

The USA cover of Screamer The game was a practically immediate success, first of all in the local magazines that rewarded it with very high marks, so even abroad it was recognized as one of the best arcade driving games on PC. We must also consider that it is not that there was a lot of competition in the genre, as pointed out by Gamespot himself, even in a positive review. The German magazine Power Play elected it as the best driving game of 1995. Spitoni remembers a curious anecdote: "A few days after the release, we got the intercom in the studio and there was this guy out there, angry black because he said that Screamer didn't it worked with his expensive PC steering wheel. He even brought it with him! In the end, I think we managed to make it work ... ".

Screamer still remains one of the most recognized Made in Italy productions in the world. abroad, perhaps the most recognized of all, at least for that decade. There are, however, some contrary voices, especially in recent years: in particular, Retrogamer Magazine, in rediscovering the title in 2009, underlines how inclement weather has been with the Graffiti game. Poorly original track design and imprecise controls make it fun for only a few minutes.

Life after Screamer

Screamer 2 in action After the release of that smash hit in 1996 Graffiti changes the corporate structure and becomes the current Milestone. Somehow, that first successful experience will end up "condemning" the company to continue working almost exclusively on driving games for the future. Antonio Farina recalls that, immediately after, the team actually wanted to move to another genre. Virgin was offered something completely different: "We had in mind to make a horror adventure in the style of Alone in the Dark, completely 3D and polygonal. But the publisher found it too risky and, in fact, in the end I had to agree too. that the most economically sensible proposal was to start working on a sequel to our biggest hit right away. " remembers Farina.

Screamer 2 will be thought to be much more simulative than the previous one, starting to make the team work on a completely new terrain: that of car physics and more realistic driving controls. From the original inspiration that was Daytona, Antonio Farina mentions how the new goal was to get closer to a Sega Rally-style gameplay, as well as titles with a much more simulative approach. The drift will then lead Milestone to completely abandon the typical arcade gameplay of the original, to concentrate on faithfully recreating the driving simulation.

MotoGP 22, in its own way heir to Screamer Milestone is about to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary , confirming itself as one of the longest-running software houses in our industry. Of course, many of the original Screamer team have now left the company, moving on to other things. Ivan Del Duca is currently Director of Technology of the 505 Games group, Marco Spitoni moved to New Zealand to work with Peter Jackson's Weta Digital, while Antonio Farina left the company in 2004. The original Screamer, regardless of whether it is more or less aged well, tells a story of talent and great success. The courage of an entrepreneur in not letting himself be beaten down by the failed attempts of others, but rather with wanting to aim higher, still achieving remarkable results and launching professionals of absolute value.

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