RVG is pleased to release our latest interview with Bob Jacob, Bob founded Cinemaware in back in 1985, Cinemaware's first title was the popular Defender of the Crown, a swashbuckling adventure featuring graphics that were considered extraordinary for the era, and became the hallmark of Cinemaware's games. Cinemaware went on to release a string of hits based on a classic category of movies.
A List of some of their games.
Defender of the Crown (1986, Apple IIGS, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, NES, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, DOS, Macintosh)
S.D.I. (1986, Amiga, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, DOS, Macintosh)
The King of Chicago (1987, Apple IIGS, Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, Macintosh)
Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon (1987, Apple IIGS, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS)
The Three Stooges (1987, Apple IIGS, Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS, NES)
Rocket Ranger (1988, Apple IIGS, Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS, NES)
TV Sports: Football (1988, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS)
Lords of the Rising Sun (1988, Amiga, Atari ST, DOS)
It Came from the Desert (1989, Amiga, Atari ST, Mega Drive, Turbo Grafx 16, DOS)
The Kristal (1989, Amiga, Atari ST, DOS)
TV Sports: Baseball (1989, Amiga)
TV Sports: Basketball (1990, Amiga, DOS)
Antheads: It Came from the Desert 2 (1990, Amiga)
Wings (1990, Amiga)
TV Sports: Boxing (1991, Amiga, DOS)
Their games generally debuted on the Amiga, and then ported to others, such as the Apple IIGS, Atari ST, Commodore 64, PC (running under DOS) and the Nintendo Entertainment System. Defender of the Crown is one of the most ported Cinemaware games.
So read on.
Tell us a little about you and how you got into the business?
I moved to Southern California from Chicago in the early 80s, bought a PC clone; joined some local user groups; and became a fanatic arcade gamer. I was in my early 30's and had saved a few bucks from an earlier business venture. I bought some computer games and hated all of them. I was convinced I could do better so I put together a programmer and an artist and funded a couple of Commodore 64 games to prototype. I successfully sold several of these to Activision and Creative Software, becoming (I think) the first independent games producer. At the same time I agented several other projects both gaming and non-gaming related that were successful.
What was the first game you ever got involved in?
Top Fuel Eliminator.
I seem to recall someone from the company (think it might have been the programmer of said game) writing into ACE Magazine in response to their poor scoring review of Lords Of The Rising Sun (Amiga I'd guess). Was this a common practice for your company, if/when you felt a game had been unfairly treated? and how much impact did reviews have on game sales?
Actually, this is totally news to me. Was totally unaware of someone writing in to a magazine complaining about a review. Cinemaware titles were generally well reviewed.
It's been claimed that when S.D.I was in process of being ported to another format, it's release was delayed as the company had asked the programmer to add extra features and such needed extra time, is this claim true? If so which format was it and what extra features did you ask for and why?
The port referred to has to be the C64. It was never completed, not because we asked for features, but because the programmer was not up to the task (he later became quite good).
How badly did piracy effect you on ST/Amiga as it seemed rife when I was an ST owner in UK at the time.
Piracy was definitely a problem but not a killer issue.
Games like Rocket Ranger and It Came From The Desert were very much inspired by sci-fi films and comics of the 1950's etc, but did you go even further back, to silent film era (1920's) in terms of inspiration for your game Wings? As its action sequences are very similar to those featured in the 1927 film of the same name and what about a personal favourite of mine, Aces High?
Wings was inspired by several factors...
1. No one had done a WWi flyer previously.
2. I had a serious adverse reaction to Falcon 4, a simulation that was incredibly complex and intimidating. I felt that there had to be players who wanted to enjoy flying without reading and mastering a huge manual.
3. To separate Wings from being a pure action game we decided to add the role playing elements and the story which brought depth and emotional resonance to the experience.
4. Paying homage to Wings and The Dawn Patrol fit very neatly into the Cinemaware catalog.
Also, did you look at real life accounts from serving WW1 pilots, war reports and that sort of thing?
Yes we did a lot of research on the pilots and the air war. We also included a detailed booklet with Wings summarizing what we had learned.
Setting a game in France during WW1, putting player in role of a airforce pilot, must have been incredibly challenging as the fighter plane technology was crude by today's standards to say the least (really in its infancy) and the average life expectancy of a new pilot was just 3 weeks! Did you ever have second thoughts about setting the game in such an era? (really glad you did though as game is legendary!).
We set out to make an emotional statement and I think we succeeded.
In terms of producing 'Cinema-esq' games on the 8/16 bit micros. Who (if anyone) would you say your competition was? And did the ever make you 'up your game' (for example change a gameplay sequence) or do you feel you had that corner of the market to yourselves? Nearest i can think of is Iron Lord by Ubisoft which was a Defender Of The Crown variant, mimiced your cinema-esq screens, mini-games etc.
We felt that we invented that market and had exclusive creative ownership over it. We developed something which was unique.
Rocket Ranger had to be censored in Germany (all Nazi references removed etc) so plot had Aliens instead of Nazi's, but did you not think players might wonder why Aliens with space travel tech would be using primitive WW2 rocket technology? Basically was it hard doing games for the German market?
The German market for Amiga and ST games was extremely important so we could not abandon it. We did what we could to bring it to market but were never happy with the creative changes that had to be made.
What happened to the MD/Genesis version of It Came From The Desert? I believe it was a very different game in terms of plot and gameplay, being more akin to an overhead shooter. Why the changes to game format and further canning of project?
I don't remember! (getting old)
Did you ever consider bringing any of your titles to MCD/Sega CD? I'd have thought it was the ideal platform CD storage and MCD sprite hardware. Things like Wings etc. would have been great.
The demise of Cinemaware preceded the launch of the Sega CD. In a later venture I formed a dev studio that created Batman Returns and Joe Montana Football for Sega CD.
Were you aware of the impact It Came... had on other game designers? Thinking of Command & Conquer Red Alert's secret mission It Came From Red Alert.
The creative influence that Cinemaware had on the design community is obvious and undeniable.
The PC CD-ROM version of Defender Of The Crown was said to have had the gameplay untouched as a deliberate step, in order to see how the consumer reacted to having high-quality audio, added to existing gameplay, so player was treated to CD quality audio and a full soundtrack which had a narrator speaking in an 'Olde English' accent, which was hoped to make game more atmospheric, but was there ever any plans to do anything with the visual side, now you had extra storage available? Also, how did customers respond to the PC CD version? was far better sound a big enough incentive to purchase?
The PC CD version of DOTC was one of the first games ever released on that format. It was done as an experiment, nothing more.
In most of the games on C64 I saw, you really seemed to be pushing the hardware (Sinbad, Defender Of The Crown and Rocket Ranger looked fantastic) so, what went wrong with The 3 Stooges? On the one hand it was technically great with speech, fantastic looking digitised pictures etc. but in-game we were 'treated' to some very blocky sprites.
The developer of the Amiga conversion, Incredible Technology of Chicago, lacked the skill of the English C64 developers we used on several other titles. They just couldn't pull it off.
Your games were sometimes referred to as 'nice graphics, shame about the gameplay' by the press, do you feel that was a little unfair? And which was the priority - the technical side (audio/visual) or just making a fun to play game?
We used to compare the action scenes in a Cinemaware title to a song in the musical Oklahoma. Prior to Oklahoma songs were merely inserted into a musical between scenes of acting. The genius of Oklahoma was to use the songs to move the story along. The songs and the story were perfectly in sync. The action segments in Cinemaware games weren't designed to be stand alone. The player's success or failure would branch the story creating a unique synergy. Some, but not most, reviewers just didn't get it.
You seemed to very much 'respect' audio as a medium in so many of your games, with great effort being done to ensure the atmosphere created by it was just right, things like the radio music in IT Came From The Desert sounding like it was playing through a radio of that time period. How big a percentage do you feel the medium of audio played in capturing the atmosphere of what you wanted? So many games from that era seemed to give the lions share of resources to the visual side of things.
Thanks for noticing We wanted to get everything right, including the audio and the packaging.
Lastly I would again like to thank Bob for agreeing to this interview and we wish him and Cinemaware all the best in achieving there Kickstarter goal for the Wings remake. More info here http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/850516062/wings-remastered-edition
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