Interview Ian McCranor Time Extension 1
Image: Atari

Kasumi Ninja is an ill-fated Atari Jaguar title released in late 1994. Like many fighting games of the time, it tried to grab a slice of the street-brawling pie that was so lucrative in the mid-nineties, thanks to the success of Street Fighter and Fatal Fury. Its use of motion-captured characters and extreme violence certainly put it firmly in the Mortal Kombat clone camp, and it was duly ripped to shreds by the gaming press, with UK publication C&VG awarding it 51& and branding it "a highly unenjoyable game". It wasn’t all bad news, though, as a unique story has emerged concerning Scottish heritage, martial arts skills and new-found fame at video game conventions.

Our story starts with Ian McCranor, who began practising martial arts at the age of twelve following a visit to Coventry Boys Club. He started with Aikido and boxing and explains to Time Extension that it was "just some fun" at first but became serious when he joined a karate club. You may ask what this has to do with Kasumi Ninja, but a chance meeting led to McCranor getting involved in the game industry when he least expected it. He was hired by developer Hand Made Software as part of the motion capture team, and had no clue what to expect as he travelled up to Manchester in 1994.

"I was sitting in a small, cold room in the middle of winter," McCranor tells us. "A man named Brian walked in and explained he was doing my makeup. He then reached into a cupboard and pulled out a black waistcoat, a tartan kilt and a white sporran. 'There you go, see how these fit you,' he laughed. 'You know what you’re supposed to wear under a kilt, right? Nothing!' He then wandered off giggling, leaving me slightly bewildered as to what I’d let myself in for." (Editor's note: we've tried finding who this mysterious 'Brian' might have been, but there's nobody with that name listed in Kasmu's Ninja's credits. He could potentially have been an employee of either Equinox Film Production or Vector Television Studios, both of which are credited with 'Support Services' on the game.)

McCranor was tasked with playing the role of Kasumi Ninja's Scottish brawler, Angus MacGregor. "The developer wanted someone with a martial arts background who could also look like a scruffy street fighter," McCranor explains. "Brian glued a big red beard on my face, and when the transformation was complete, I looked in the mirror and thought my mother would be proud. She was born in Scotland and would often take us to visit relatives in Edinburgh. I distinctly remember my grandad saying, 'One day we will get the wee bairn his own kilt,' so whilst it felt mildly strange to be wearing what was essentially a skirt, I also felt a little nostalgic and warm inside."

McCranor watched the other actors play their parts, but he noticed none of them had any real martial arts training. "Brian then informed me that it was his understanding that I was the only actual skilled talent that they had hired," McCranor says. "With high expectations, the shoot director came over and asked me what I had in store for them. 'No pressure, but we can’t wait to see what you’re going to do for us!' he said. 'So, you don't have any scripted fight choreography planned for my character?' I replied, 'Well no, we just see Angus as a burly, butch, brawler. You have martial arts experience and you’re a nightclub bouncer so I’m sure we can come up with something between us, right?'"

McCranor was in the deep end but looked to his training to bring Angus to life. "I told them that maybe he lifts his kilt and shoots a fireball from his crotch. They thought it was brilliant and asked about a death move. 'Ok, how about I throw a punch combination, I spin around, kick the head clean off their shoulders into the air, then as the head comes back down, I head butt it, look at the camera and shout ‘Och Aye’?'"

The suggestion found favour. "My inventive imagination never lets me down, and Angus’ death move was a big hit in the studio; the crew loved it, and I have to say we had some great fun filming those scenes," McCranor recalls fondly. "The game was released about a year later and got terrible reviews mainly because the game was, in fact, terrible! My character, however, was widely reported as the star of the show and started to gain something of a cult following, mainly due to a few crazy moves that you would never have expected to see in a video game at that time."

Angus certainly is a memorable video game character and it led to McCranor getting a few more motion capture opportunities. These included roles in the PS1 games Batman & Robin and Fantastic Four, both by Probe Entertainment. McCranor reflects on what it’s like playing characters while balancing a serious career. "I was at the time both a competitive international karate competitor and working as a nightclub bouncer. It was being asked to perform in a video game that pretty much changed my world. It hadn’t occurred to me that my skills could be utilised outside of martial arts. While driving home from the Kasumi Ninja shoot, I realised I'd just been hired to do something unique, and this opened my mind to many other possibilities."

Since those days, he has gone back to his martial arts and written a book titled Fighting With Myself. McCranor included a chapter about Angus, and it has led to some new opportunities. "After my book was published, many people contacted me asking me about the chapter Angus MacGregor," he explains. "In the chapter, I mention that it's possible to view Angus in action on YouTube, and many people did just this. This prompted people to ask if I was involved in conventions, given that Angus seemed so popular, so I started reaching out to convention organizers and gamers to see if anyone would be interested. I’ve been inundated with comments saying yes, absolutely."

We asked McCranor to sum up what it means to be playing Angus once again. "I’m overwhelmed with the messages I'm getting from gamers. Angus holds some very fond memories for many. I have lost count of the number of people who call Angus a legend and who would be interested in meeting me. I am truly humbled and excited to bring Angus to life at conventions around the world."