Sid Meier and J.W. “Wild Bill” Stealey first met at a Las Vegas convention around a Red Baron Atari arcade machine. Stealey, a former Air Force command pilot, sat down to the vector-graphical flight simulator and proceeded to rack up a high score.

He got up confidently and made a comment to the effect of “I’d like to see someone top that.”

Meier took his place and proceeded to annihilate the score.

“How did you do that?” a stunned Stealey asked.

Meier explained that he had analyzed the algorithm while watching him play. He was able to predict what would come next. “I could write a better game than that,” he told Stealey.

“If you can write a better game,” Stealey, a graduate of the Wharton School, replied, “then I can sell it.”

Right then and there, MicroProse was born.

The company operated in the Baltimore area, in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Mark Reis started out in the Quality Assurance department at MicroProse in 1993, eventually moving up to become a senior sound designer. With years of memories as his guide, he took me on a tour of the main building.

A receptionist desk, approximately 14-feet x 10-feet, welcomed those who walked into the main entrance, where a couple of chairs and a couch sat by a trophy case that housed numerous industry awards. Posters and plaques hung on the wall, depicting games from as far back as the early garage days of the company. Behind the desk was a small warehouse where the typical office and electronic supplies were stored. To the left of the main warehouse was where games were shipped out. To the right was the marketing, art, and creative services departments.

Back in the lobby, off to the left, was a wide hallway that led to a conference room with a large mahogany table that comfortably accommodated up to 30 people.

Past the conference room were a set of fancy offices for the company bigwigs, which the workers in QA would refer to as “Mahogany Row.” That was where you could find Stealey, the CFO, and the senior officers of accounting, sales, finance, and marketing/shipping.

Further along was the customer service center, a place of low-walled cubicles with guys on phones patiently explaining that “There is no actual ‘any’ key.”

Taking a right this time in the lobby brought you to HR and the marketing people that Reis joked about–nobody seemed to know what they did. This area stretched on for some 60 feet. A firewall separated the MPS Labs from the other groups.

The firewall hallway spilled out into the kitchen, where employees would stampede whenever Sid Meier brought in freshly-baked cookies that his mom made. The nearby break room, which, when the bifold wall was closed, was known as “The Dark Side,” housed an array of arcade machines, including the one that started it all–Red Baron.

Just beyond the doors into the labs sat the administrative assistant’s desk and Sid Meier’s office, then more programmers’ offices, as you went down the hall. To the left was a very large hallway, where QA was stationed. It was nothing fancy, Reis remembered, just basic tables with fold-up legs and an HP 386/25 that everyone fought over. In the back corner was the QA Manager Al Roireau’s office, and a cordoned-off cubicle where the BBS was originally set up. As you turned right and ran parallel to the hallway past Sid’s office, you moved into the artists’ area.

“The important thing to understand is that development, marketing, management, QA, customer service, and marketing services [were] all compartmentalized and very separate, with QA basically working in a large hallway and the posh offices going to the execs,” Reis pointed out. “Cartridge development was taking place in the ‘building on the hill’ up behind the main building. The Sound Department, Animated Graphic Adventure teams, and Japanese development teams were all located up there, too.”

That is also where programmer Tim Trzepacz worked on the SEGA Genesis adaptation of Pirates! Gold, designing the animation system, known as “SAGA” (SEGA Animation and Graphic Arts), coding the PC side implementation, and programming the towns and the ship’s cabin, as well as taking over sailing and swordfighting when lead programmer Joe Hellesen left the company two-thirds of the way into the project. Pirates! Gold was Trzepacz’s first commercial game project.

“The console games group was in a separate building from the rest of the company, located behind the main building,” Trzepacz told me. “As a result, we were insulated from a lot of the politics at Microprose proper, but also were not taken very seriously or allocated much in the way of resources. Manufacturing cartridges was very expensive, and Microprose had a particularly bad deal. I think it was something like $20 a cartridge, with a minimum order of 50,000, so every run was a million dollars.”

According to Trzepacz, that is why there was only one printed run of Pirates! Gold, and why several completely finished console titles were never released. Some of these cancelled games include a SEGA version of Ancient Art of War in the Skies, SEGA and Super Nintendo versions of Impossible Mission, a platformer called Tinhead, and a port of Airborne Ranger for the Super Nintendo with updated rotoscoped graphics and a G.I. Joe license attached to it.

“We had lots of plans for more SEGA games after Pirates! Gold,” Trzepacz said, “but due to the high cost of cartridges, Microprose ended up dismantling their cartridge games group. Some of the games we were considering were an update of Crush, Crumble and Chomp!, Top Gun with the movie license, and a four-player competitive action RPG I submitted called Blackheart.”

This magazine advertisement for Pirates! Gold shows early screenshots of the game when it was still deep in development. At this point, the far less immersive town screen was nothing more than an options menu. (Image source:

Pirates! Gold for the SEGA Genesis was a heavily rewritten port of the third-generation Amiga version with updated art. “Some of Sid’s original assembly code had been machine-converted from the 6502 assembler because it ran the copy protection and was designed to be difficult to understand, so nobody could tell what it did, but it somehow initialized all of the game variables and if it wasn’t in there the game didn’t work!”

Trzepacz described Meier as “a fairly quiet fellow, and not really that great of a programmer.”

“His code often used some really inadvisable techniques, like using ‘goto’ in C to jump out of the middle of nested loops. He was good as a designer, because he knew that design needed iteration, and he had the luxury to do so. We often lamented having to work with ‘Sid code’ but nobody could deny the greatness of his designs. For the most part, he would write priorities in C, that ran under DOS, in VGA, and others would rewrite them to be polished. Colonization was largely ghostwritten by Brian Reynolds, who was a simply brilliant programmer who wrote great code that was easy to work with, and so was he.”

One of the new additions to the SEGA version was a multiplayer fencing mode. Trzepacz, however, forgot to remove some of the play balancing elements, which results in the person on the side, where the computer normally plays, always being at a disadvantage.

“The animation system I designed, ‘SAGA,’ was specifically written to create animations on the SEGA Genesis hardware using sprites, scroll planes, character animations, color cycling, etc.,” Trzepacz said. “It ran on a DOS PC with a VGA and a Monochrome text monitor. The UI was on the Monochrome monitor, and the color monitor simulated what the SEGA would be showing. The windowing and UI system on the monochrome monitor was created by Brian Reynolds for the MADS system used for Rex Nebular, Dragonsphere, and BloodNet. Originally, the system was designed to be used by the artist to create the animations for the game, but [game artist Mike Bazzell] was busy, so I ended up using my own system to implement all of the animations. Probably we could have saved a lot of time by just writing them in C code instead.”

Game designer and writer Dave Ellis recalled a time when Stealey came into QA while Pirates! Gold for Windows was being tested. “…[Stealey] started ranting about how the graphics on the Windows version were terrible because the ships were too small. He said, ‘Pirates! Gold [on] SEGA looks awesome. Tell them to use the ships from that in the Windows version.'”

“I also thought I should stress that I still think Mike Bazzell is the greatest game artist I ever had the pleasure of working with,” Trzepacz added. “His art on Pirates! Gold was amazing. Later, when I was working with a new team on Magic: The Gathering, we needed some icons for the overworld map. When I was shown the icons, I thought that two of them really stood out as being excellent, way better than the rest, and I said so. It turns out that they had Mike do a couple of icons without my knowledge, and those were his. I felt bad that I had just accidentally dissed the artists on my team, but really, they were that much better!”

Unfortunately, Trzepacz remembered that he did not get along as well with another co-worker, Eric Repasy, who wrote the SEGA side of the animation tool and handled land combat.

“At one point, I went for a walk to clear my head and fell through a hole in a railway bridge, and the designer had to drive me to the hospital for stitches!”

When asked what caused so much friction between him and Repasy, Trzepacz said that it was over the age-old conflict of Mac versus PC. “Well, I think it started with he’s a Mac and I’m a PC and kind of devolved from there. It was kind of stupid in hindsight.”

When Trzepacz heard that I had purchased a SEGA Genesis prototype of Pirates! Gold from Jason Wilson, a former senior editor of Tips & Tricks magazine, in June 2014, he agreed to help in documenting its differences by providing some developmental context. Trzepacz first noticed that the cart label shows the Pirates! logo before it became Pirates! Gold to match the PC version.

Prototype Specs:

IC1 EPROM (“1”)
IC2 EPROM (“0”)
IC3 EPROM (“3”)
IC4 EPROM (“2”)
IC5 PC74HC139P / 803580T / Hnn9215PB Y
Note: The yellow-and-white labels on the EPROM chips are original to the prototype.

Reis did not recall as much, as at that time he was focused more on working on the music-making title C.P.U. Bach for the 3DO during the day and testing the cyberpunk RPG BloodNet late into the night.

As for how Wilson obtained this cartridge and so many other normally confidential curiosities, his former boss at Tips & Tricks, Editor-in-Chief Chris Bieniek, did not wish to speak on the record about that magazine’s handling of pre-release games. But in a 1999 interview with professional video game translator Kevin Gifford, Bieniek did pull back the curtain on how one unreleased Nintendo Entertainment System prototype had made its way out: “A buddy of mine who worked at Jaleco was leaving the company and he said ‘OK, what do you want?’ and I said ‘Get me a copy of War on Wheels!’ So he burned the chips, like, that day, and he popped them onto an EPROM board and sent it to me” (link).

Porn king Larry Flynt, the contentious founder of Hustler magazine, owned and published Tips & Tricks. (Image source:

One of the stranger stories was when Wilson made a deal with an employee at Sunsoft of America, which landed him a box of prototypes, ranging from the Family Computer Disk System to the Genesis, when that studio’s Cypress, California office closed and everything was being trashed (link). He elaborated on this in a 2012 collector fanzine interview, saying that he traded “a bunch of adult-oriented items for a plethora of Sunsoft protos” (link). Loose Aero the Acro-Bat circuit boards intermixing with unknown sex paraphernalia may cast strong mental images, but this is what video game preservation looks like naked: software archaeology through corporate grave robbing.

To get a peek into how his mind operates, when he competed in nationally-ranked fighting game tournaments, it’s been said that Wilson would often resort to “turtling,” emphasizing a heavily defensive strategy, getting his opponents into a frenzy and wearing them out until he could safely attack (“waiting turtle cock sucking mother fucker” was a common refrain from those going up against him, or so claimed his bulletin board signature, which accompanied his braggadocian posts like a badge of honor [link]). A fellow tournament player, who calls himself “Shirts,” explained in an interview how he earned his nickname: “So I know the fire has always been inside. But it took the play style of Jason ‘DreamTR’ Wilson to bring out the rage. As you may know his play style is ‘annoying’… after one of the matches I lost, I took a deep breath, and without even thinking about it, I grabbed the collar of my tank top with both hands and just went for it. I did the Hulk Hogan on my wife beater” (link). (Image source: G4’s Icons/

Before being known online as “DreamTR,” an abbreviation for the progressive metal rock band Dream Theater, Wilson went by the handle “KatieHolmes76.” He has never made public his views on Joey choosing Pacey over Dawson, but back in the day, no one laughed when game collectors saw Tom Cruise’s ex-wife appear on an eBay video game prototype auction–his bids, fierce and unrelenting, almost always assured him victory, unless a demented someone challenged to go toe-to-toe with the ponytailed daredevil. A few of the losers went away loathing the man, with one particularly scorched underbidder going so far as to pull several immature pranks on him, pretending to wave scarcities in his face before snatching them away, to waste his time and make him feel his frustration (link).

Empty your mind. Feel yourself leaving your ephemeral body and entering the twig rug. Let the swirling embroidered branches lead you to the circuit board with in-game changes. Purchasing a prototype from Wilson comes down to a daring pull of an online slot machine, otherwise known as PayPal’s “Send Money” button, for he famously has never played any of the approximately 1,100 cartridge-based prototypes that have come into his hands over the years, aside from testing that the things still work before they left his cavernous Tupperware. Given that a great deal of these have come from publications that reviewed the titles shortly before their releases, from GamePro to Electronic Gaming Monthly and even Playboy, from a selling point of view, it did not behoove Wilson to disclose much information upfront, as then interest (and the number after the dollar sign) may wane. On the flip side, not knowing what he has could also go in the favor of a buyer scoring a steal, as if he could tell that he had a diamond instead of a doughnut, the price would then surely adjust accordingly. Gambling parties could request to see the physical media only, and then their psychical abilities must kick in to eye up the grainy photograph and try to focus telepathically to determine if they should go all in. Regular readers will recognize that my powers of clairvoyance have not yet fully developed. (Image source: Jason Wilson)

Wilson’s persistence and uncanny precognition for future market trends in the classic gaming hobby has made him the stuff of collecting legends, and arguably one of the most envied and hated figures in some circles. In one instance, after a friend conducted a social psychology experiment by uploading poor quality cellphone footage of an unreleased game that Wilson owned on the Internet, online commenters accused him of the dreaded “H” word, hoarding, with a peppering of anti-Semitism for good measure, while a more psychopathic person declared a wild desire to set his Tennessee home on fire.

Pictured is a heated book review of one of Wilson’s published video game strategy guides. In an e-zine article that he wrote in early 2008, before he opened his first arcade later that year, Wilson confessed “since the mid-90s, there have been very few games that I have actually played for fun,” citing work-related pressures and deadlines, as one of his job duties in the past has involved authoring over 60 professional gaming strategy guides (after witnessing the harsh criticism of one of his bodies of work, with a person holding a book burning on YouTube over some misstated fighting game moves, stress must factor in greatly with engaging that hardcore of an audience [link, linklink]). “I really did not want to play through each and every prototype I obtained,” he added, “but I did want to keep them for historical preservation, which is different in my eyes than it was to many others” (link). (Image source:

Get yourself deep enough into the field of video game prototypes, and you’ll feel like you’ve wandered straight in the middle of a minefield–explosive results occur no matter which way you step. If you’ve stopped blowing yourself up, your heart must have fallen out somewhere along the way.

If this did not have such a reliable provenance, I would not have looked twice at the cartridge, as “Beta Copy” doodled on the back with all the penmanship of a stroke victim and a date of April Fools’ Day does not exactly exude authenticity.

The first difference is clearly spelled out on the label: “no save game RAM.”

Opening up the prototype’s ROM image in a hex editor shows the April date.

MicroProse completed the final released version in July 1993.



On the title screen, the prototype does not contain any legal information or a trademark symbol after the “Pirates!” logo, and the bottom of the “Gold” coin has a slightly longer edge.

Trzepacz: “We might have had to condense the art to save memory, or it might have been to fix the branding to match the PC version better.”



The prototype uses different font colors on the Main Menu, most prominently red. The text also appears lower down on the screen.



In addition to more different font colors, the “Start a New Career?” menu shows “Name” as the default family name instead of “Sidney.”

Trzepacz: “Changed as homage to the game’s creator, Sid Meier, of course.”



The “Continue a Saved Game?” menu contains more changed colors, along with a red border and orange and yellow text. There are many examples like this throughout the prototype.



In the “Command a Famous Expedition?” menu, the prototype has altered the font colors once again, as well as the default Family Name.



Once again, the font colors have changed in the “Fight a Duel?” menu.



When dueling in one player mode, the space where the computer opponent’s name should appear remains blank.



Pressing Start during a duel will end the match instead of pausing the game.

Reis: “The ability to skip duels that you mention is probably indicative of a relatively early build. It was a way to get past the combat before it had been balanced and before all the bugs were worked out.  I seem to recall it being a requested test feature from QA.”

Trzepacz: “Testing is boring.”



Losing a duel will show a message that the player fled from battle before showing the “Player 2 Wins” screen.



The Hall of Fame menu has a much more primitive-looking design in the prototype. Some of the other differences include a missing apostrophe in “worlds” and calling the listed pirates “infamous” rather than “famous.”

Trzepacz: “SEGA would come back to us with various art and text changes. Perhaps it was some of that? Or perhaps our designer has grammar issues. I don’t really recall.”

Pressing any button on the Hall of Fame screen will activate a sound test in the prototype.

Trzepacz: “We were probably still integrating sound.”

After starting a new career, the prototype does not display “The Ten Great Pirates Quest” list as the retail version does.


Classifying game bugs at the SEGA of America Test Department circa 1995 (Image source: Green Mill Filmworks)

Trzepacz: “That was definitely because SEGA complained that there was no way to ‘win’ the game. Simulations were not in their vocabulary. Besides rating the game for technical issues, they would also provide a review score from their testers and notes on what they thought the game needed to do better in their market. The Ten Pirate Quests was definitely part of that. Many of the unreleased titles I mentioned were unreleased because scores from SEGA were low.”



The prototype positions the text box in several different places throughout the game.



When a Governor hands the player a Letter of Marque, the text becomes condensed into four lines instead of five.



The prototype often has text moved around like this, such as in this next example after the player’s initial duel.



Some Towns, like Martinique, have different color palette schemes. Merchant shops have “Merchant” signs instead of pictures of barrels. The Shipwright signs also have their names spelled out on longer boards.



The prototype features a noticeably messier Shipwright menu layout.

Trzepacz: “Probably memory reduction.”



Besides the obvious Bank and Tavern signage, the Towns have other, more minor renovations, including less shading and brickwork, moved siding, and no archway to the Governor’s Mansion. (The back of the game’s box shows a screenshot with similar differences.)



When recruiting new crew members in the Tavern, the text box appears higher up on the screen and with a blue, not purple, border.



When the scruffy pirate approaches about selling a map, part of his face seems to float above him, and his text box appears higher on the screen.



The traveler sits to the left, not right, of the screen, and the text box appears lower.



A second “the” appears in the text when the player divides the plunder.



When retiring, the prototype does not announce how many Pirate Quests the player has completed.



When walking back to the ship, the Town’s Gates show some slightly different wear.



The Sighting screen text begins with the words “Sail ho!” in addition to the voice sample, which shouts the same thing, a redundancy that the retail version removes.



The plunder screen, before the player decides what to keep or leave behind, does not have a bag of sugar in the background.



The Wall Map of the Caribbean is hung higher, so that less land is shown at the top, but more appears at the bottom left-hand corner because the map is not as torn there.

The prototype marks the Florida Channel on the Wall Map. This location is absent in the released game. Unlike the other locales, which are alphabetized, the Florida Channel is instead listed last.



The French flag on the Wall Map is magenta, not blue, in the prototype.



Similarly, the Dutch flag has a magenta stripe at its bottom.



The arrows above and below the town’s name are lighter in color in the prototype. When switching over to the sword-shaped cursor, the prototype displays indentations in the wood where the arrows used to be.



The prototype uses a different cursor icon, crosshairs-esque rather than bone-shaped, so that the red dot designating the location can be seen when it is selected.



The eye sockets in the skull and crossbones glow a witchy purple, not sea green.

Bringing up the Wall Map or The Captain’s Cabin menus, and then returning to sailing the Caribbean sea, will cause the music to go mute in the prototype.

Trzepacz: “Bugs…”



After approaching a Town, the prototype writes its description and the player’s date of arrival in blue, and makes the first option “Sail into the Harbor” rather than “Sail into Town.”



On the Personal Status menu, the prototype uses orange, not blue, text on a plum background with the text positioned higher. The Ten Great Pirate Quests list does not appear on the next screen.



The text box warning the player that he or she cannot save the game outside of a city is wider in the prototype, in order to accommodate the article “a” on the first line, and is of a darker cream background color.



Should the player take too long during the ship battle mode, the prototype will show a text screen with three additional words, “After a long chase,” before “the sun sets, ending the battle.”



After backing away to flee from a duel, the prototype does not show the message “You beat a hasty retreat and manage to escape the battle.”



No sound effects play when the player’s ship sinks, and the prototype moves the text box further to the right of the screen.



When all of the player’s ships sink and he or she becomes deserted on an uncharted island, the animated cinematic plays slightly higher on the screen. The word “island” also appears on the second line inside of the text box.



While stuck on the island, months will pass, but the prototype will not show the message “The passing months take their toll on your spirits and vitality. Time passes slowly… One day, a small ship appears. You recognize some of your former crew members! They agree to take you back as an adventurer captain.” Instead, the screen will momentarily turn completely black.



When the Caribbean overworld returns, strange black blocks will appear by the shore. If a ship approaches, the lookout’s text box will be invisible.



The same goes for other text in Towns and on the Wall Map.

Engaging in a sea battle will result in more graphical glitches.



Winning or leaving a duel will make the game go back to normal.

Trzepacz: “Probably we were over memory on the cart. I recall editing the coastlines so that the ship couldn’t get stuck ever. The land combat stuff was Eric’s responsibility.”



When the garrison flees after the player successfully attacks a Town, the prototype stretches out the text box to display the message.



Just as before, a bag of sugar initially does not appear on the Town plunder screen.



If the player does not have enough men after attacking a Town, and they flee in panic, another glitch will occur after he or she is released from the jail: The player’s ship will become permanently stuck on land. I could not find a fix to this problem. Not even marching into a Town and starting a new expedition would work.



The battle sail in the prototype shows the full raised sail sprite.

After fleeing from land combat, a text message will appear in an orange box without showing the animated cinematic of the player’s disappointed crew.

Visiting a pirate-unfriendly Merchant shop in the prototype will cause the graphics to glitch, making it look like the shopkeeper switched the lights off.

Trzepacz: “We had separate at bits for faces and such that could change. My animation system was very flexible! Probably it wasn’t loading correctly and overflowed the graphics buffer into the palette data.”





When an unfriendly town attacks the player sailing in, the prototype will glitch, turning the screen entirely white except for a couple of blacked out areas. Other major glitches can appear inside of the town and persist outside. These will go away after engaging in a duel.



The Ship’s Log appears higher up on the screen in the prototype.



Pirate Treasure Maps in the prototype do not mention nearby Towns that clue the player on where to dig. The X that marks the spot is black, not red, and the treasure chest sprite has black detailing on the front as opposed to white.

Trzepacz: “Probably hadn’t gotten to coding that yet.”



The prototype’s buried treasure chest has a cleaner, less weathered top, and a greenish shine radiates from the hanging pendant’s jewel. The text box appears on the top-left portion of screen with a jarringly purple font color.

The prototype shows the same treasure chest after digging up the lost Inca treasure, although the screen cuts off part of the graphic. The prototype also spells out the amount of gold pieces, “a hundred thousand.”

Trzepacz: “Probably more over flow memory issues. Probably the spelling out was eliminated to save memory.”



While in search of a family member, an enemy ship’s crewmen may provide the player with information. In the prototype, that information will appear in a glitched text box.

Other glitches exist in the prototype regarding the whereabouts of the family member’s captor.



A glitch in the prototype can cause the text not to appear after finding a family member.

Trzepacz: “Probably some sort of buffer overflow.”

Commandeering too many ships will force the player to abandon one. When this happens in the prototype, the game will display a black rectangular box over the ship list.

The maidens in the prototype stumble over their words when the player makes them a marriage proposal: “Would that I could be your bride. My suitor, however is a very jealous man.”

Going ahead with dueling the suitor will cause a glitch that chops the maiden’s hair right off when selecting a weapon.

Trzepacz: “Probably more memory over or just plain bugs. I’m surprised that they would send something in that condition for review. It sounds more like an internal test cart.”

The prototype credits do not roll after retiring. Looking through the ASCII text in a hex editor, the prototype names Paul Murphy for “Project Oversight,” versus “Project Management” in the retail version, and only one person, James Neal, for Quality Assurance.

Leading up to its merger with Spectrum Holobyte at the end of 1993, MicroProse was floundering financially.

According to Reis, Stealey wanted to get into arcade coin-op games, but that industry was quickly disappearing in America. This put pressure on other groups within the company to recoup the losses of the arcade division, particularly the team behind the ambitious–and expensive–computer RPG Darklands. Reis remembered that Version 4 of Darklands almost shipped, “which would have been a disaster.” Instead, what he called an “extremely buggy” Version 5 was released, which then put strain on the Customer Service department and hurt the reputation and sales of other MicroProse software titles.

This all culminated in massive layoffs on what would be known as Black Thursday.

When Reis saw the lead Darklands programmer walking by the QA hallway with a box of his stuff at around 10:30 in the morning, he knew what was happening.

“So everybody is keeping their heads down, but there isn’t a whole lot of work being done. QA Proper, in the hallway, is feeling exposed and vulnerable. There’s a palpable pall in the air. Dark emotions are tangible. I distinctly remember we were all talking in whispers. I also remember the back door into the Dark Side squeaked when you opened it. And every time it did, we would all just about jump out of our skins… And it got to be that we would quietly call out ‘Friend’ as we opened the door. And there we lost [Pirates! Gold SEGA tester] Jim Neal. The Sound Department didn’t take a hit. It was a pretty lean group to cover three products at a time given the technology. There were a lot of people laid off in marketing and programming, and, yes, big salaries were, and always are, a factor. The building on the hill lost the Animated Graphic Adventure team, including a lot of the artists. The Japanese group, making ports for Japanese PCs, was also cut. Even the warehouse group lost two or three people.”

That was the first of 16 layoffs that Reis survived at MicroProse for nine years, up until the start of Hasbro Interactive’s acquisition of the company, and elsewhere. In December 2015, while working for Vicious Cycle Software, which is, itself, a rebirth of sorts of the MicroProse North Carolina studio, Reis experienced his 17th layoff.

“There were no survivors. Once again, bad management decisions [not internal to VCS] result in good, hardworking people losing their jobs.”

Reis still looks back fondly at his time at MicroProse. One of his favorite memories as a soundman involved a dinner that he and his friend Dave had with Gilman Louie, the founder and CEO of Spectrum Holobyte.

“He was telling us about his story about having dinner with the president and noticed my watch. It had a digital compass on it, and Gilman is a big tech geek. He took a tangent and started talking about all the stuff he picked up on his last trip to Japan and thought my watch was really cool. Then he went back to talking about his dinner with the president, and it slowly dawned on me and Dave that he wasn’t talking about the Spectrum Holobyte CEO having dinner with the MicroProse president. He was talking about Bill Clinton. So he’s having dinner at the White House and his pager goes off. He discreetly checks the message and puts the pager back in his pocket. The guy next to him says, ‘What could possibly be more important than a dinner with the President of the United States?’ Gilman smiled and [answers], ‘I just got my clearance to fly an F-16.’ A month later, Gilman is flying an F-16 out of the Virginia Air National Guard. I hooked him up with some very small microphones and a portable DAT and recorded the flight on audio. A few weeks later, [sound designer] Mark Cromer and I went back down, and I wired up an adapter to hook the plane’s audio system directly into the DAT. We wired up ‘Linus’ with the same microphones–one in his ear, one on top of the helmet–and he actually swapped out the connections, adjusted the levels, and got us a full set of the computer VO in flight. Then, going above and beyond, he patched it all back and continued the flight after resetting the levels to the initial settings. These are the sounds that ended up in the Falcon 4.0 game.”

Trzepacz was working on the MS-DOS version of Magic: The Gathering for two years before the project was finally ended, along with the employment of the entire team. He turned his attention to Japanese game development, beginning with licensing and porting Princess Maker 2 from Gainax. He followed that by joining Working Designs, first as a contractor, localizing Iron Storm on the SEGA Saturn in 1995, and then taking a full-time position the next year, becoming the only programmer at the company. He later wound up programming the Ratchet & Clank games at Insomniac Games, a second-party developer for Sony, before becoming a freelancer through his company SoftEgg in 2004, doing contract work on such games as Silent Hill: Origins. As of this writing, his latest project is Rhythm Core Alpha 2 for the Nintendo DSi and 3DS.

“Right now, [Rhythm Core Alpha] is my only source of income, and not a great one, either. I’m actually in there middle of trying to pivot away from game hardware and into building my own original music synthesizers!”

While switching from software to synthesizers might seem more like a leap than a pivot, Trzepacz explained that it was time for him to find a new path in life. After spending years improving Japanese games, and getting no respect from those in Japan for it, and dealing with what he perceived as unfair one-sided rules placed upon Western developers, including Nintendo’s eShop distribution restrictions, he was now ready for a change.

“It seems that the market for what I do is ever changing, and I have to keep moving and changing too or I starve. I eventually came to realize that I couldn’t work the 70+ hour weeks anymore, I wasn’t inspired to write tools so other folks could make games, I didn’t want to write for Internet or Apple products, I had no interest in the photorealistic style of modern gaming, nor in working on games that cheat on your behalf, or that you have to pay to win. I’m not even as enamored of Japan as I used to be; working with them has shown how little respect they have for us. So I’m not really sure there is a place for me in games anymore. Thus, synthesizers. If you can’t move up in the world anymore, move sideways.”

Download Pirates! Gold Prototype