When and why did you join the ranks of Virgin games?
I joined Virgin Games in May 1990. I chose it because one of my roommates worked there and it was relatively close by meaning I didn't have to move in order to work there. At the time I was working on a game called Future Classics on contract. It was a very underpaid project and from about Jan 90 to May 90 I was living off my credit cards. By May I had to get a pay check or something bad would have happened so I took the job.
How did you get involved in the making of M.C. Kids? What was your specific job title?
It's kind of a complicated story. I was originally hired to do a Game Boy game. I think it was caesars Palace Game Boy. After only 2 weeks of working on Game Boy I had made a clone of Boulderdash. I needed something to test with so that was my test. My boss, Graeme Devine (now at iD Software) saw that I was pretty good and decided to have me do Terminator for NES. At the time, Dan Chang was lead programmer of M.C. Kids and I was lead of Terminator. There was one artist, Darren Bartlett working on both projects. Dan and I decided to write tools first. Dan wrote a 6502 assembler and a linker. I wrote a sprite animation editor. We spent too much time on tools and there was not enough (zero) progress on the games so at some point Terminator NES was cancelled and I was made a programmer on M.C. Kids. At that time we were still working on those tools though.
Graeme left to form Trilobyte and we got a new boss. A few months later, maybe cause of lack of progress on the game, Dan was let go and I was made lead and the new boss put his foot down. No more working on tools! I never finished the sprite animation editor (think Flash). So, I started programming the game. Another guy, Matt From, was added to the team but it didn't work out and he was moved off after a few weeks. I got stuff up pretty quick. The main character was running and jumping in about a week. Scrolling levels were another few days.
A month or two later there was a big argument with my new boss the result of which was the new boss wanted nothing to do with the game, one of the co-founders became responsible for it and he hired Dan Chang back on contract to be an assistant programmer. The total time actually spent programming the game was about 6 crazy months with 9 months or so semi-wasted on tools. I say semi wasted because although I never finished the sprite animator we used Dan's assembler and linker to make the game and we used tUME (http://greggman.com/pages/tume.htm) which Greg Marquez and I had written before I came to Virgin when we were working on Future Classics.
So, my specific job title was Lead Programmer.
How long was the game in development?
Including tools: 15 months, the game only was 6 months although that is just programming. Darren was designing and drawing stuff for the entire 15 months and a 2 other artists contributed a little during production.
Did any problems spring up during the game's development process?
Technically the only big problem was getting
it all to fit. The cartridge
Another big problem was the big argument. The other result was that the company was moving to a larger building just across the parking lot and we, Darren, Dan and myself, were told to stay behind in the old offices until we finished. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was probably good for getting the game done.
One other was that originally we had a scrolling map with a small mick and mac. It looked very very similar to the map in Super Mario World in terms of style. It had the small character, the path about the same width, a cartoon look and it was 2x2 screens big and scrolled. We showed that version at CES in June 91. Nintendo sent us a letter that we were ripping off Mario and so we changed the map to the one that's in the game now, no scrolling, the character is the same size, it's not as detailed.
Was there anything left out of the game because of deadlines, time restraints, or other problems?
We had originally planned on giving the player a power up for finishing each card. The cards would have a picture of the power up on the back so when you got all 6 cards of a certain type you'd complete the picture and get the power up. We ran out of time and memory. We also planned to have more bosses.
Although a fun and original game, why do you think M.C. Kids never received its due support?
I don't know really. That's true of lots of games though. Why do some get support and others don't? Somebody makes that decision based on their gut feeling. Although I'm proud of M.C. Kids and I think it's fun it's arguably not an AAA title. I believe it would have sold 3 or 4 times as many if McDonald's and promoted it like they said they would. On the other hand, it didn't have any big fancy bosses like Mega Man and the graphics were not nearly as pretty as the prettiest games. Say Battletoads for example.
After the release of M.C. Kids, did you work on any other games for Virgin?
Directly, not really. I was there for only 3 more months after I finished M.C. Kids. The new boss and I never really got along. Indirectly I worked on PC Monopoly, Global Gladiators, Cool Spot, Aladdin basically through tUME and supplying support and modifications.
In your Virgin article, you sounded a little bitter at how things were ran by the company's bosses. Do you have any interesting stories to tell of your experience there?
Well I mentioned somewhere before that the president liked to brag that he had never played a video game ever in his entire life. My experience is the companies with presidents that play the games generally put out better games. The reason is they then know if the product sucks or not and most people don't want to put out something that sucks. But, if you don't play then game is not really *your* project and so you have no stake in it so you don't really care if it's good or not you just care if it will make more money than you spent to make it.
Do you still play the Nintendo Entertainment system and is game development still a job for you?
I don't have my NES at the moment. It's in storage 7000 miles away. I play a little through Game Boy Advance. For example the NES games in Animal Crossing and Metroid Prime.
Yes, I still develop video games. I'm currently at SEGA of Japan.
And the question to end all questions... What is your favorite fast food restaurant?
Well, I don't think it's been McDonald's since I was kid. While I was making M.C. Kids though I went to McDonald's quite a bit. I had a large collection of happy meal boxes and toys in my office from my trips to the local McDonald's.
I'm not good a picking a single favorite because I'd get sick of anything if I ate it too much. My favorites are probably Fatburger, Tommy Burger and Alberto's All of those are Southern California chains only though. Unfortunately I have to try to avoid those places as much as possible otherwise I'd get fat but once in a while they are oh so good!
Thanks, Gregg, for taking the time out to answer some questions. Good luck in the future at SEGA! You can visit Gregg's personal website @ http://www.greggman.com to read more of his experiences as a game developer.