Unseen Interviews

Unseen Interview: Domenico Barba (Naps Team)

While working on our book about lost video games, we were able to interview many developers who worked on cancelled projects, but we had to cut some of these interviews from the book because of the 480 pages limit. As promised, we are going to publish all the missing articles directly in our website, and the following interview is one of these!  During his career Domenico Barba has worked at the Italian gaming studio NAPS Team on such lost games as Green Beret / Rush’n Attack (GBC), Dark Night and many lost chapters in the Gekido series.

Unseen64: To start this interview, we would like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers: we’d love to know more about your career in the gaming industry and what you are working on today.

naps-team-videogames-logoDomenico: Is it possible to tell 20 years of history in less than 20 lines? :) The passion for the world of video games has brought Naps Team together. We did not know each other before, I was looking for a graphic designer for a fighting game (a horrible thing made on Amiga) and different people suggested me someone called Fabio Capone who had fun doing animations and characters with Deluxe Paint. :) Well we were able to meet, under a newsstand, exchanging two diskettes, without cops in hot pursuit. :) Today we are still here and we have the same passion of that time, even after almost 45 games made and many more to make. At the moment we are finishing working on Iron Wings, a huge project for an arcade flight game set in the second World War.

Unseen64:What are some of your favorite video games? Have you been playing anything lately?

Domenico: In the last year, unfortunately no, I’m fully focused on the development of Iron Wings, but I always keep my eyes on many new games and I’m very impressed, both by AAA masterpieces and clever indie productions.

Unseen64: Did you know Unseen64 before this interview? What do you think of our “mission” to create an online archive to remember those video games we’ll never play?

Domenico: To tell the truth yes, but without being able to follow your updates, the mission is praiseworthy and it is great that there can be a memory of unexpressed creativity, with really beautiful games that sometimes fail to see the light of day for the most different reasons. I’d love to sabotage your mission and release Gekido: The Dark Angel one day :)

Unseen64: Which difficulties did an Italian game development studio find in a market lead by English, American and Japanese studios? Are there more opportunities today thanks to digital distribution on PC and Smartphone?

Domenico: There are huge difficulties, but they are mainly related to the Italian territory and absurd management difficulties, instead digital distribution is undeniably a great opportunity.

Unseen64: Gekido is one of your most popular series, of which the first episode was released in 2000 for Playstation: do you remember how development started, how long did it take to complete, and if the final game is what you originally had in mind or if you had to cut something?

Domenico: Gekido had a somewhat troubled genesis, it was born from the skeleton of a 2D fighting game for PC, then turned into a 2.5D one and finally became fully 3D. A lot was cut, but also a lot was added, such as the “arena mode”, and different gameplay modes were conceived in the wake of enthusiasm that the game was receiving in the internal circuit of testers, publishers, etc.

Unseen64: How did you manage to involve important names like Fatboy Slim for the music and Marvel comic artist Joe Mad for the character design in the development of the first Gekido?

Domenico: Everything was thanks to Travis Ryan of Gremlin and Daniel Matray of Infogrames (Atari), they were able to find the best artistic talents that could have been greatly related to Gekido.

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Unseen64: Besides the cancelled Gekido: The Dark Angel for PSP (of which there will be a dedicated article in this book) two other episodes of Gekido were in development but never released: Gekido for GameBoy Color and Gekido for N-Gage. What happened to these games and how much was done before the cancellation?

Domenico: More or less the same unfortunate “misalignment of planets” that happened with Dark Angel, it is not uncommon to come across sudden changes in the market or in adverse and catastrophic predictions of analysts that suggest to not continue working on a game, and you are the best witnesses and guardians of these unrealized projects, right? :)

Unseen64: Over the years there have been many different rumors about a new episode of Gekido in development, is there any chance to see this series again in the future?

Domenico: Absolutely yes! :)

Unseen64: Shadow Fighter is another of your most beloved games, Italian and foreign magazines published great reviews for it, CU Amiga gave it 93%, Amiga Computing 91% and so on: how did you feel at the time to receive all these positive comments on one of your first games and did the reviews help to bring a good number of sales?

Domenico: Shadow Fighter was a huge success in sales, luckily for our publisher Gremlin. It was a success beyond every expectations, we were just enthusiasts who certainly did not have a professional approach to the gaming industry at the time.

Unseen64: Another interesting lost game once in development at Naps Team was Dark Night for GBA. Graphically it was truly spectacular considering the console: do you remember how the gameplay was meant to be and why you had to stop working on the project?

Domenico: When Dark Night was canned it was still in beta, and it’s gameplay was similar to Zelda. :) The reasons why it was cancelled is the same unfortunate “misalignment of planets” that i told before, we propose to change our spaceship the next year. :)

Unseen64: Have you worked on other games that have never been published, of which you can speak?

Domenico: Not that I remember, although after several years and difficulties, we always managed to revive ideas that we thought were good, those for which we can still enjoy ourselves as players, and we will continue to do so.

Unseen64: Have you ever worked on some games for Atari Jaguar / Lynx / Panther or the legendary Konix Multisystem?

Domenico: No.

Unseen64: As most of the Unseen64 Staff is also italian, we just LOVE to eat good food. :) What is your favorite food ever? Any secret recipe that you would like to share with us?

Domenico: Unusual question, but tasty. :) Well, being a Sicilian I do not really know where to start, for sure I’m more a good food lover than a good cook, in a ratio of 100 to 1. I would say I love everything that contains eggplant in the recipe, from “pasta alla norma”, eggplant “parmigiana” … i’ll stop here, following on Dark Knight, where there was a huge purple boss named “Milinchan”. :)

Unseen64: Well, that was the last question, thanks again for your time Domenico!  

Unseen Interview: Massimiliano Di Monda (Raylight Studios)

While working on our book about lost video games, we were able to interview many developers who worked on cancelled projects, but we had to cut some of these interviews from the book because of the 480 pages limit. As promised, we are going to publish all the missing articles directly in our website, and the following interview is one of these! During his career Massimiliano Di Monda has worked at Pixelstorm and Raylight Studios on such lost games as Monster Truck Madness (Microsoft), Dukes of Hazzard (Ubisoft) and Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid tech demos for GBA.

raylight-studios-interview

Unseen64: To start this interview, we would like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers: we’d love to know more about your career in the gaming industry and what you are working on today.

Massimiliano: I started working in the world of video games through a friend who worked at Namco in London, we exchanged technical advice on some video games, at some point he told me that there was a team in Naples that was working on a new project and asked me if I wanted to participate. From there, I began this adventure.

So I started to work on video games in 1996 from zero in the QA department, and after years of experience I got into designing and producing video games. In these 19 years, I worked at Raylight Studios on about 30 products for a variety of platforms, ranging from Sony PlayStation and Nintendo GameBoy Color, PC, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and mobile platforms. In 2002 / 2003, I worked at Wing Commander Prophecy for the Nintendo GameBoy Advance, the game was named runner up (2nd place) at E3 2002 in Los Angeles in the best technological excellence category (first place was Monkey Ball). Most recently I worked on games such as the much-acclaimed Sniper Elite for Nintendo Wii, published by Reef Entertainment; My Little Baby (1st prize winner Samsung Bada contest in 2010, Nokia / Microsoft App Campus selected project in 2012) for various platforms including Android and iOS; I also worked on a number of ports and bundles titles for Nintendo 3DS. At the moment we are working on PS4 games, Xbox One, mobile, VR and some original IP which I still can not name.

 

Unseen Interview: Sean Kord (Paradigm Entertainment)

While working on our book about lost video games, we were able to interview many developers who worked on cancelled projects, but we had to cut some of these interviews from the book because of the 480 pages limit. As promised, we are going to publish all the missing articles directly in our website, and the following interview is one of these! During his career Sean Willsey Kord has worked at Paradigm Entertainment on such games as Duck Dodgers, Mission Impossible: Operation Surma, Terminator Redemption, Stuntman Ignition and on the cancelled Snoopy VS the Red Baron (GameCube).

Unseen64: To start this interview, we would like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers: we’d love to know more about your career in the gaming industry and what you are working on today.

Sean: Definitely and thanks for keeping game developers hard work in the history books of electronic entertainment :) I’m Sean (Willsey) Kord and I worked at Paradigm Entertainment from 1998-2005 as primarily a character and cinematic animator. While there I modeled and animated for Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century on N64. After Duck Dodgers I animated and modeled characters on an unreleased title for GameCube that I will elaborate on later. Next I created in game cinematics for Mission Impossible Operation Surma. After MI, I was lead in game cinematic artist for Terminator Redemption and finally I created some preliminary work for Stuntman Ignition before leaving Paradigm to relocate with my wife in Denver Colorado area. Due to this move I went into an entirely new career path in forensic animation but having a game development background had its advantages when I utilized the Unity 3D engine for real time feedback on a critical case. Currently, I just relocated back to the Texas area with my 6 year old son and wife and excited to start a new career path in my old stomping grounds!

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Unseen64: Can you name some of your favourite videogames? Have you been playing anything lately?

Sean: Favorite video games? Wow hard one to narrow down as I have been an avid gamer since the 80s arcade boom till now. For retro arcade, I have much love for Galaga, Spy Hunter, Frontline, Sinistar and Star Wars. For somewhat more recent titles it is Conkers Bad Fur Day on N64( loved the humor and Rare did such an amazing job) and even more recent would be Assassins Creed. As of now I have been obsessed with one game on PC… Mechwarrior Online and mainly cause I have been a fan of the Battletech universe since it was introduced in the 80s.

Unseen64:  You worked for about 7 years at Paradigm Entertainment, while we know a lot about their released games during those years (1998 -2005), unfortunately some of their projects were canned: did you worked on any of these or maybe seen them in motion? Do you remember anything from them? (Pilotwings 64 II, Harrier 2001, Skies, Magik Karts)

Sean: As far as unreleased titles you listed, I had not even recalled Harrier 2001 until you listed this title. I was not a developer on this title but can say that from what I saw it had amazing graphics for an N64 title ( like you display in your images ) and very polished sim controls due to the fact that one of the lead programmers had been an original founder for Paradigm Simulations. As far as Skies, this was another title I was not directly involved in but saw plenty of preliminary gameplay. I remember there being issues with the scale of the environments and characters. Namely the structures had to be so large so the characters could fly and battle and this resulted in characters feeling like small fairies rather than human scale. Still it had such great potential and promise and unfortunately the publisher decided it could not continue development. One title not on your list that I worked on personally was a GameCube game based on Snoopy (Peanuts character ) and his fight with the Red Baron. The basic premise was you would be Snoopy flying his Doghouse in 3rd person and battle multiple enemies in the WWI aerial setting leading to the  final confrontation with the Red Baron. It would also have power ups involving Woodstock in turrets and multiple Woodstocks to enhance your firepower. The game utilized a cartoon shader and we had concepts for enemy planes that would have crazy elements like 10 wings layered on top… think Dick Dasterdly and his Flying Machines cartoons ;)  I have fond memories of this unreleased title due to the people  involved and the passion we all had for the content of the Peanuts universe. It was a very small team as many were back then ( might have been 2000-2001?) and we were prototyping the content and gameplay. Many of these developers on this project have worked on very high profile games since then. My tasks involved modeling Charlie Brown, Woodstock, and Snoopy as well as animations. We were all sad when this project was cancelled early on since we had such amazing chemistry but all enjoyed every minute of our time creating content for this project. I noticed years later a similar game was released on PC called Snoopy and the Red Baron and appeared to have many of the same elements we had planned in our game. I would like to think our early work somehow influenced this future game but you never know ;)

You can see some of the very early gameplay ( I mean very early prototype ) here:

Unseen64: Talking about all the games that you worked on and that were released in your career (Duck Dogers, Mission Impossible, Terminator 3, etc.), was there anything major that had to be cut or changed from the final versions? Is there anything that you wish it would have not changed, even if you were satisfied with the final product?

Sean: Hmmm… Really I don’t remember much other than the usual iterations you do to get the best game play possible. I guess Duck Dodgers had the most change since at first it had many levels in alpha stage that just didn’t make the cut. Very early in development we even had a gag similar to the Wiley Coyote pause in air, pull sign out saying “Help” and falling to the ground with a big poof except Daffy Duck was in the gag instead of Wiley Coyote. Mission Impossible had a difficult time in the early stages for what was the gameplay actually going to be? All action or stealth. In the end we followed the route taken by another well known game that you probably know all too well and made it primarily a stealth game with quick takedowns for action. I do however love the drone camera controls sequence since it has the best polished controls due to the fact that our programmer was experienced in simulation development.

Unseen64:  Is there anything in particular that you learned or that you like to remember from your time at Paradigm Entertainment?

Sean: While game development can be rough at times with long hours and late nights, I wouldn’t take any of it back for the world. Paradigm Entertainment gave me so many great times and friends. I miss them all and its so nice to see all of them succeeding in other game studios or even large VFX studios for movies. It’s interesting to see some of the indie games returning to smaller teams and for me that was where Paradigm shined in its peak. There were times when we had 5 or more projects going on and each project had a dedicated office area separate from the rest. It allowed for great camaraderie and special moments that you don’t feel in 100 man teams. Our teams back then started out at 8 or so and then in full swing hit 20 at the highest point of development. I think we did some amazing work back then and it’s still warms my heart to read reviews or love for our games years and years later.

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Unseen64:  As most of the Unseen64 Staff is italian, we just LOVE to eat good food :) What is your favorite food ever? Any secret recipe that you would like to share with us?

Sean: Hah! I’m probably the worse person to ask this question as I am not a good cook and tend to eat more unhealthy than healthy but my favorite food is Tex Mex meals (Texas and Mexican food combined). I love tacos and enchiladas and fresh flour tortillas with cheese queso dip ;). Of course I love Italian food just as much and can’t resist spaghetti or pizza any day of the week :)

Unseen64:  Well, that was the last question, thanks again for your time!  

Interview with Yukiharu Sambe, R&D manager of the unreleased Taito WOWOW

A long time ago, Unseen64 was just a shell of itself. It was hosted on the notoriously bad Xoom.it hosting service, and looked pretty much like a 90’s website horribly made with Microsoft Frontpage. However, as old as Unseen64 looked back then (it was 2004!), it wasn’t the first site dedicated to unreleased games maintained by Italians. That particular accolade belongs to The Strange (and Rare) Videogame Pics Page, created by Fabrizio Pedrazzini, an Italian games journalist, known for his work at magazines such as the glorious ‘Super Console’. TS(&R)VPP, as the name says, wasn’t solely about beta games. There were pictures of pirated software, obscure and limited edition consoles, demos, and more. Hidden among those pages was the Taito/JSB/ASCII WOWOW console.

Consoles Plus 010 - Juin 1992 - Page 010

Page 10, Console+ Issue 10 (June 1992) (click to enlarge)

For years, the only available information on the Taito WOWOW was limited to this report from the 1992 Tokyo Toys Show, via French videogame magazine, ‘Console+‘:

Another alliance between publishers and manufacturers has been established in Japan. It’s about JSB (that controls the satellite channel Wowow), ASCII and Taito.

A prototype has been developed. It’s small and equipped with a CD-Rom player. The basic idea is innovative: it’s about distributing games via satellite, like the streaming of TV programs, and to charge only the time really spent to play.

The other interesting thing about the console is that the games that will be released to the public will be the same of the arcade versions, with the video and audio quality of the originals.

The first games available will be Darius, Bubble Bobble and Parasol Stars…

A released date has not been disclosed yet.

Taito's booth at the Tokyo Toy Show 1992

Taito’s booth at Tokyo Toy Show 1992 (picture courtesy of Hardcore Gaming 101 blog)

The interview with Yukiharu Sambe

We have been able to get in touch with the Research & Development manager of TAITO Corporation Mr. Yukiharu Sambe, Professional engineer at the time the Wowow was created, and he was kind enough to share some new informationpreviously unknown, about this unreleased console. Enjoy! 

Unseen Interview: Brian McNeely (Lobotomy Software)

lobotomy software interview

Do you know Lobotomy Software? If you played Exhumed / PowerSlave on Saturn or Playstation, you probably remember that it was a real masterpiece, a Metroid-alike adventure in first person view, before Metroid Prime even existed.  Lobotomy were founded in 1993 and they released some other games like the successful Sega Saturn ports of Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, that shown to the world what the 32Bit Sega Console was able to do with 3D graphic when great developers were able to work on great games.

They were also planning 2 new original games, Aquaria (Nintendo 64 + Playstation) and Exhumed 2 (Playstation), but unfortunately these were cancelled before being completed and gamers will never be able to enjoy them. In 1998 Lobotomy’s talented developers were acquired by Crave Entertainment and the team was renamed to Lobotomy Studios, to work on a Caesar’s Palace game for the Nintendo 64, but after a year of development the game was postponed and eventually cancelled. As we can read on Wikipedia, at that point Lobotomy Studios was closed and employees were let go or given the option to be relocated to another position at Crave Entertainment.

Thanks to our friend Ross Sillifant we are able to publish this interview with Brian McNeeely, one of the main Lobotomy Software developers that worked on all their games, to ask him about his memories on their released projects and their cancelled titles. And if you still don’t know why it’s such a shame that we lost Exhumed 2 and Aquaria, please take your time and watch the video below (created by Tatsu  from Lobotomy Software Blog), to understand why Lobotomy Software was one of the most talented development team in the mid ’90, affected by an unlucky fate.

Interview with Brian McNeely by Ross Sillifant

Before we get started, i’m going to try and ‘avoid’ as many technical-based questions as possible, or least phrase them in a more general manner, as i think these type of questions would be better suited to coders like Ezra Dreisbach, with your goodself i’m looking more for the insights into the company itself, hopefully being able to get a few rumours from the press cleared up etc etc.

Q1) Starting with the standard, cliched opener, Brian, please introduce yourself to our readers, in terms of your background, if you could be so kind.

Brian: Thanks for this opportunity Ross.  My name is Brian McNeely (my name was actually Brian Anderson up to around 1996 when I changed my last name to McNeely, which is my birth name).  I’ve been working in the gaming industry since January 1989, when I was hired at Nintendo of America as a Game Play Counselor.  It’s hard to believe that was over 26 years ago!  I look back at those days as a golden era both in the gaming world and in my career, and I feel very lucky that I was at Nintendo’s epicenter during that period.  The NES, SNES, and Gameboy hardware and software were all the rage, and I had the privilege of playing those games full-time and helping gamers all over the world with game tips and “counseling.”  It really was a ton of fun.  I love what I do now and what I’ve done since then, but that was one of the best times of my life for sure. 

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