OLD-SCHOOL CINEMAWARE (BOB JACOB)
Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Was your childhood happy or dysfunctional? ^ Grew up in University City, Missouri (part of St. Louis). Had a Dickensian childhood. Losing myself in books was the only thing that allowed me to retain my sanity.
What were your professional exploits before Cinemaware? ^ Got involved in the software industry in 1983 after moving to Southern California from Chicago. Hung out my shingle as one of the first software agents representing developers. Licensed a number of Apple II and Commodore 64 titles and technology to publishers like Epyx, Accolade, Activision. Saw the Amiga about a year before it was released and thought that “this was gonna be it.” In 1985 I put together a limited partnership of Australian investors and purchased three graphics packages that a company called Island Graphics had been developing for Commodore to ship on the Amiga. They had had a falling out and I jumped on the opportunity. It was a very successful venture.
When and why did you form Cinemaware? ^ Cinemaware was founded in January 1986. It was the culmination of where my career and creative energies had been directing me for the previous three years. The first game I ever bought was “Deadline,” an Infocom adventure. I hated it. The concept of figuring out maddeningly illogical puzzles as a form of entertainment escaped me. At the same time I became hooked on “Donkey Kong” and arcade games in general. When I saw the Amiga I realized that for the first time games with really immersive graphics that would pull the player into the experience could realistically be attempted. But I felt frustrated with the computer games that I was familiar with and, so, designed a new structure for the kind of games that I wanted to play. Here were the rules: ^ 1)no typing ^ 2)simple interface ^ 3)great, “movie-like” graphics including establishing shots ^ 4)a hybrid of action/adventure and role-playing where the arcade sequences were not designed to stand alone but to move the plot forward ^ 5)strong identification with American pop culture…specifically movies.
When Cinemaware moved into the console-game realm, why did the company produce games for the NEC TurboGrafx-16 instead of the Sega Genesis? ^ NEC of Japan, the company behind the TG-16, bought a minority interest in Cinemaware. Obviously part of the deal was that we would agree to support their platform.
Toward the end of its first incarnation, Cinemaware launched a “Spotlight” division, and brought several European computer games to the U.S. market. What were the challenges involved in bringing those games across the Atlantic? ^ Spotlight was the creation of Sam Poole, VP of Sales & Marketing and, later, President of Maxis. Cinemaware was very successful in Europe and the company had a high profile. We leveraged our “prestige factor” with European publishers to persuade them to allow us to distribute some of their titles in the U.S. Probably the most successful title Spotlight title was “Speedball,” created by the Bitmap Brothers.
One former employee of Cinemaware claims the reason you started Cinemaware is because you saw it as a back-door into filmmaking. How do you respond to that? ^ Who doesn’t want to be in movies?
Why did Cinemaware ultimately close its doors? ^ We got too far ahead of ourselves and suffered the fate of many unfortunate pioneers. The Amiga never took off the way that I hoped. The TurboGrafx-16 failed. We had several internal problems that prevented the company from shifting its focus to the PC market until it was too late.
Cinemaware was working on several games at the time of its demise, including “Rollerbabes” and “Enemy Within.” How far along were these games? Do you regret the fact that they never shipped? ^ No and yes. Pat Cook, the producer of “Rollerbabes” (and now the head of Microsoft’s Sports Games), was never happy with the gameplay. “Enemy Within” was a great game design that would have redefined gaming as we know it. The game was so far advanced in concept that its basic creative core still has not been achieved.
Are you proud of the fact that so many veterans of Cinemaware are still in the industry, and still producing so many incredible games? ^ The legacy of Cinemaware is its people and I am proud of having recruited and assembled one of the most talented groups in the history of gaming. That feeling of satisfaction still nourishes and sustains me today, twelve years later.
What do you think of the new incarnation of Cinemaware? Have you been consulted by the company’s new owners? ^ I had some early discussions with some of their key people and am flattered that their my creative vision so inspired them when they were “kids” that they wanted to resurrect Cinemaware as a viable company.
How do you feel about the current state of the videogame and computer-game industry? ^ I’m struck by a dichotomy in our business. The hardware has never been more able to achieve incredible creative breakthroughs, but the software seems to be stuck in neutral. Sequelitis and an unwillingness to take creative risks describes the attitude of most game publishers today. There’s a one-from-column-A and two-from-column-B “cookie cutter” approach to the market that I think has bred a certain sense of apathy among consumers.
Tell me about your current role with Interactive Studio Management. ^ Interactive Studio Management, founded six years ago, consists of four partners who, combined, have over seventy years of product development experience in the game business. Clyde Grossman, former VP of PD at Sony, Stew Kosoy former VP of PD at GT Interactive,and Rick Raymo, formerly of GameSpy and GamePro magazine round out the group. We act as mentors and agents for the roster of fifteen game developers that we exclusively represent.
Get the interview with Lars Fuhrken-Batista in part three of THE REBIRTH OF CINEMAWARE>>>
Posted on July 30, 2002 in Features by Zach Meston
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