Cannon Fodder is an action-strategy shoot 'em up game, developed by Sensible Software and published by Virgin Interactive for the Amiga in 1993. Virgin ported the game to home computer systems DOS, the Atari ST and the Archimedes, and the consoles Jaguar, Mega Drive, SNES and 3DO. The game is military-themed and based on shooting action but with a strategy game-style control system. The player directs troops through numerous missions, battling enemy infantry, vehicles and installations.
Cannon Fodder has a darkly humorous tone which commentators variously praised and condemned. Its creators intended it to convey an anti-war message, which some reviewers recognised, but the Daily Star and a number of public figures derided the game. In other respects, reviewers highly praised the game, which widely achieved scores of over 90% in Amiga magazines. Amiga Action awarded it an unprecedented score, calling it the best game of the year.
Cannon Fodder is a military-themed action game with strategy and shoot 'em up elements. The player controls a small squad of up to four soldiers. These soldiers are armed with machine guns which kill enemy infantry with a single round. The player's troops are similarly fragile, and while they possess superior fire-power at the game's outset, the enemy infantry becomes more powerful as the game progresses. As well as foot soldiers, the antagonists include vehicles such as Jeeps, tanks and helicopters as well as missile-armed turrets. The player must also destroy buildings which spawn enemy soldiers. For these targets, which are invulnerable to machine gun fire, the player must utilise secondary, explosive weaponry: grenades and rockets. Ammunition for these weapons is limited and the player must find supply crates to replenish his troops. Wasting these weapons can potentially result in the player not having enough to fulfil the mission objectives. The player can opt to shoot crates - destroying enemy troops and buildings in the ensuing explosion - at less risk to his soldiers than retrieving them, but again at a greater risk of depleting ammunition.
The player proceeds through 23 missions divided into several levels each, making 72 levels in all. There are various settings including jungle, snow and desert, some with unique terrain features and vehicles such as igloos and snowmobiles. The player must also contend with rivers (crossing which soldiers are slowed and cannot fire) and quicksand as well as mines and other booby traps. In addition to shooting action, the game features strategy elements and employs a point-and-click control system more common to strategy than action games. As the player's troops are heavily outnumbered and easily killed, he must use caution, as well as careful planning and positioning. To this end, he can split the squad into smaller units to take up separate positions or risk fewer soldiers when moving into dangerous areas.
Cannon Fodder was developed by Sensible Software, a small independent developer then of several years' standing, which had become one of the most prominent Amiga developers. Cannon Fodder - its working title from early in the development - was created after such successes as Wizkid, Mega Lo Mania and especially Sensible Soccer and was developed by six people in a "small, one room office". It was rooted in Mega Lo Mania, the "basic idea" being - according to creator Jon Hare - a strategy game in which the player "could send groups on missions, but that was all really." The group nonetheless wanted to introduce action elements into the strategy ideas of Mega Lo Mania, giving the player "more direct" control, though retaining the mouse control and icons uncommon to shoot 'em ups.
In accordance with habit Sensible's personnel eschewed storyboards when developing the starting point, instead writing descriptions of the concept and core gameplay functions. Sensible made an early decision to employ its signature "overhead" camera. Development of the basic scrolling and movement was another early step. Individual programmers then worked on various parts of the design, with the team play-testing rigorously as it went, often discarding the results of its experiments: "The reason we make good games is that if we put something in that turns out crap, we're not afraid to chuck it out", said graphics designer Stuart Cambridge. Hare elaborated: "[We] constructively criticise what comes out, gradually getting rid of the naff ideas and keeping any good stuff. We change it again and again and again until we get what we want." A point of pride was the realistic behaviour of the homing missile code, while the rural setting of some of the levels was inspired by Emmerdale Farm. Earlier works-in-progress employed larger numbers of icons than would be featured in the final version. The mechanics also had more depth: individual soldiers had particular attributes - such as being necessary to use certain weapons or vehicles - and a greater capacity to act independently, both removed in favour of "instant" action rather than "war game" play Final touches were the additions of the last vehicles and introductory screens.
The designers named each of the game's several hundred otherwise identical protagonists, who were also awarded gravestones (varying according to the soldier's attained in-game rank) displayed on a screen between levels. Of this "personalisation", Hare said: "The graves show that people died, and their names mean they're not just faceless sacrifices". The theme was a departure from Sensible Software's usual non-violent games, and Hare stated "I'm only happy with this one because it makes you think 'Yes, people really die'. We're not glamourising anything, I don't think." He said it was inspired by "all wars ever" and was "meant to be an anti-war thing." He felt it would make gamers "realise just how senseless war is" and for this reason was "the game we've always wanted to write". CU Amiga however perceived "a fairly sick sense of humour" and predicted "The mix of satire and violence is bound to get some people pretty heated about the way such a serious subject is treated".
Production of the game began in early 1991 but was then delayed as programmer Jools Jameson worked on Mega Drive conversions of other games. The proposed Cannon Fodder had been part of a four game deal with Robert Maxwell's software publisher, which was liquidated after the businessman's death. Unusually for an independent developer, Sensible had little difficulty in finding publishers and after work resumed on the game, concluded a deal with Virgin in May 1993. The creators chose Virgin as it "seemed like a good bet" (Hare) as well as because of the straightforwardness of UK head Tim Chaney.Several months before its release, elements of the game were combined with Sensible Soccer, to create Sensible Soccer Meets Bulldog Blighty. This modified Sensible Soccer demo featured a mode of play that the ball with a timed hand grenade. The magazine described it as a "1944 version of Sensible Soccer",though The Daily Telegraph compared it to the Christmas-time football match in 1914.