Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dale DeSharone - an unspoken legend

After HG101 contributor Audun Sorlie wrote a memorial for composer Ryu Umemoto, I felt compelled to dig out the notes from my interviews with Dale DeSharone, who passed away February 2008 from leukemia, and share them with the world. For me there's a feeling, like a sense of duty having interviewed someone no longer with us, especially since as far as I know I'm the only one to have interviewed Dale. He was involved in early Atari software, some acclaimed C64 classics, including Below the Root, an adaptation of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky Trilogy of books. He was connected with the team that developed Red Book Audio, was a pioneer of the CD medium for games, and was instrumental in making sure the Philips CDi had software. His career later included the PlayStation and GameCube, right up to the current generation. Perhaps though, his most known works, are the two side-scrolling Zelda games for CDi, which I will forever argue are well designed games which are fun to play.

Above all though, Dale was a sincere, decent human being, well loved by all those who knew and worked with him. I am always reminded of the memorial comments from James Bach, who explained how Dale had given him a start with his career, taught him to drive and helped him through a family tragedy.

My own experience of Dale was that he went above and beyond when helping with my articles, providing numerous high res scans and always happy to answer my many questions, and I will always remember that.
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The following are a series of emails received during 2005 and 2006, plus a transcription of a telephone interview, all in preparation for two articles in Retro Gamer magazine. I later re-used some of the answers for the Zelda article on HG101. The extremely high res images from the Zelda games, were previously shown on our blog.

I regret not asking Dale more about his C64 work, especially Below the Root. I've not edited this down, but am presenting it whole, in chronological order. There's a lot of valuable and detailed information, on all aspects of gaming history.

I have also since then donated my interview tapes to The Strong museum in New York, and provided a digital copy of the spoken interview to his family.



Emails and interview transcript


From:    Dale DeSharone
Sent:    04 November 2005 14:20:42

Hi John,

I would be happy to try to answer any questions you have.  An email interview would be fine.  I'm sure it will take some time for me to remember the details from fifteen years ago.  I'm also interested in hearing the 'urban myths'.

Dale DeSharone
Boston Animation

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From:    Dale DeSharone
Sent:    06 November 2005 19:38:25

Hi John,

You're sharp.  Sounds like you really did your research.

I'll take time (a week perhaps) to answer some of the questions. Let me explain the Disharoon/DeSharone name change now though. I got married (2nd) fifteen years ago and my wife didn't like the name Disharoon. She had lived in Israel for many years and wanted a different softer 'sound'.  Something she felt was more poetic. The Disharoons were French Hugoenots who settled in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 1600s I believe.  I had never been to Baltimore but I called 'information' and found more Disharoons there than I ever knew existed (having grown up in California).  The third person I called had just completed a geneology and told me that the closest spelling to the original name when the Disharoons first arrived in the colonies was DeSharone.  I liked it.  It had a softer sound to it and I knew that people would stop asking me if I was Dutch. It's easy to change your name here in the States when you get married so I just took the older version of the name.  The only problem with it (which I hadn't considered) has been that old, old friends have had a hard time finding me over the years.

Okay, more later. I think I'll pull out my old CDI player and let my 10 year
old son play Link and Zelda this week.  That should tell me whether the games were any good or not.   :-)

Dale


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From:    Dale DeSharone
Sent:    15 December 2005 17:07:02

Hi John,

Sorry I've been remiss in getting back to you.  I have a lot going on here. We dug up an old CDI player and got it going with the games.

I going to be doing some travelling so I hope to have a response to you in early January.  I know you said there as not a big 'rush' for this so I hope that's okay with you.

Dale

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From:    Dale DeSharone
Sent:    19 April 2006 22:29:39

Hi John,

You have been so patient.  I've attached all that I've written so far.... I'd really like to continue on this... I've just reached the point of talking about Link & Zelda.... I'm going to have some free time this weekend so I'll try to add some more....

Yours,

Dale

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2006-04-19

In 1987 I moved from Northern California to Boston, Massachusetts to help build a CDI team for Spinnaker Software.  Spinnaker had a deal with Philips to produce seven launch titles.  I was brought on to help understand the capabilities of the platform and act as design lead.  My immediate supervisor, Steve Yellick, was a guy out of MIT who knew a lot about laser technology and image compression and had been a part of the original Red Book specification team.  He didn’t know much about building games however.  About a year into the project he put his head in an oven (literally) and I became the manager of the development group.  We built Laser Lords, Alice In Wonderland, Sargon Chess, Paint School I, Paint School II, Story Machine I and Story Machine II.  I designed, programmed, wrote editing tools and engines, and hired and managed artists, programmers and audio engineers. 
    I had originally planned to be at Spinnaker only one year as Philips was planning to release the machine in 1988.  That one year turned into four, due to constant delays with the hardware emulation systems and the operating system.  I think the launch was closer to 1991.  Unfortunately for Philips, as each year passed, cd technology made more inroads into being a standard part of the PC and Mac computers.  And, while the PC was getting more memory and faster processors, Philips chose to stay with the original 1987 specification using the 68000 chip.  This was the original 68000 found in the first Macintosh computers.  It was dreadfully slow and severely limited what was possible with the system.  As I recall, the system had an RGB 555 mode (5 bits for each color) but this took both video planes and required pushing two bytes of data per pixel.  It also had DYUV mode which had decent color but was based on holding the ‘deltas’ (changes) from one pixel to the next so you couldn’t manipulate individual pixels.  Also, there was a limit to the delta changes so it didn’t do well with high contrast images.  Then there were two 7 bit CLUT (color look-up) planes (128 colors each) and also hardware decoded Run Length encoded color look-up planes).  So, you could overlay these CLUT planes over each other or one of them over a DYUV image.  There was no hardware sprite technology so all movement of characters required the pushing of pixel data by that 68000 chip.  There was some hardware scrolling capability but the video memory was very small.  If you look at the scrolling in Laser Lords, Alice In Wonderland, Mutant Rampage, Link or Zelda you’ll see that you can only scroll about 2 or 2.5 screens horizontally.  This was dictated by the video memory available.
    It was just obviously not a game system and Philips was actually very clear in telling us that they didn’t believe the market for this device was games.  There was a subtle hostility toward games that I noticed from the upper echelon of execs at AIM (American Interactive Media...  Philips’ CDI software publishing arm).  They were somewhat supportive of games for very young children as evidenced by the 4 out of 7 Spinnaker games being made for this market (Paint School I & II and Story Machine I & II).  Philips thought that people would buy the machine for home educational purposes.  Bernie Luskin was one of the top execs at AIM and his background was in College Level education systems.  The other top exec at AIM, Gordon Stulberg (spelling?) was from the film business (not the game business).  This all changed after the launch of the CDI platform because the only titles that actually sold were the game titles.  I’m not sure how familiar you are with the original CDI launch titles but titles like the tour of the Smithsonian had over a million dollar budgets while games like Laser Lords were closer to $700,000. 
    There were other severe limitation to the hardware as concerned game development.  The infrared controller was analog instead of digital and the infrared made it extremely slow and unresponsive.  It had no MIDI music capability or sound effect generation processor.  One might think (as Philips did) that those things wouldn’t be needed when you can play full CD audio or multiple levels of ADPCM (Adaptive Pulse Code Modulation) compressed audio.  But, those forms of audio data had to either stream off the cd or be stored in memory and even the lowest level of ADPCM took up a lot more space than MIDI data or sound chip code.  Of course, the cdrom was also a problem.  The drive was single speed (1x) with really abysmal seek times.  If you were streaming music off the cd you couldn’t go out and seek graphic data from the cd at the same time (unless you interleaved the graphics with the audio which was possible but that limited interactivity).  There was also the issue of the small Non Volatile Ram Card as the only mass storage.  So, you had a system which may have been better suited to large RPG or Strategy Games but couldn’t easily save complex game states.
    We experimented with Clay Animation while at Spinnaker working on the launch titles.  When we started the titles in 1987 the first affordable digital video capture cards were becoming available.  We did all of the clay animation for Laser Lords and Alice In Wonderland using a video camera fed into a Targa graphics board.  We wrote custom software so our clay animators could easily capture still frames and preview previously captured animation.  The animation was displayed in a small window in RL7 (Run Length Encoded 7bit CLUT) mode which meant colors were limited to 128.  Even though CDI was supposed to have MPEG I support it didn’t arrive in the emulation systems until very, very late in the development process.  We couldn’t count on it being present so we didn’t use it in designing the games.
    After the launch of Spinnaker’s seven CDI titles I left the company.  Spinnaker did not have plans to continue CDI development.  As an independent publisher I assume they realized they couldn’t make money developing for CDI without the development funding and R&D backing that Philips (AIM) was giving in the early years.  I chose to start a new development company and was able to get development funding from AIM.  Most of the CDI team from Spinnaker left to join this new group.  This is where the Link and Zelda story begins.  Somehow, Philips got a deal with Nintendo to license 5 characters.  As I understood the arrangement it wasn’t a license of five games but 5 characters.  A number of developers pitched AIM with ideas.  I think AIM chose to go with the biggest names that Nintendo had at the time.  We pitched separate ideas for a game starring Link and a separate one with Zelda.  The development budgets were not high.  As I recall they were perhaps around $600,000 each.  We made a pitch that we could maximize the quality of the games by combining the funding to develop only one game engine that would be used by both games.  This was in 1991-1992 and even at this time a U.S. technical employee cost about $100,000 per year to support (salary, taxes, office space, equipment, insurance, administration costs).  This was also a time when a 1GB hard drive cost $3000.  We had a team of three programmers (other than myself), one audio engineer/composer, four artists and a producer.  We had a single freelance writer who wrote the scripts and helped design both games.
    AIM was of course expecting some type of full-motion animation in the games and I was trying to figure out how we were going to do that on the budgets.  A mutual friend put me in touch with Igor Razboff.  Igor was also interested in starting a new technical company at this time (1991).  He had a PH.D. in Higher Mathematics and Computer Science from the university in St. Petersburg, Russia.  He had been in the U.S. for twelve years and had worked at Bell Labs and Computer Vision.  The Peristroika (spelling) was beginning and the Berlin Wall was coming down.  Igor wanted to return to St. Petersburg for the first time in twelve years and build a company there that would provide some type of service to U.S. companies.

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25th April 2006

Telephone interview with Dale DeSharone, of Animation Magic. Interview deals with the Zelda licensed games on Philips CDi, and also his other works on various platforms. A few years later Dale sadly passed away from leukaemia, making this the last interview he ever did.


John Szczepaniak (J)
Dale DeSharone (D)


J: Hello, I read the account you emailed me, and it was very interesting. I’d like to pick up regarding the Zelda titles for Philips’ CDi.

D: Ok

J: You say that you pitched the ideas, obviously Philips asked for pitches regarding Nintendo licenses?

D: Sorry John, could you say that again? Are you on speaker phone or something?

J: Yes, sorry, I am on speakerphone. How did you come to be aware that Philips wanted games based on Nintendo licenses?

D: Uh-huh. Um, well, we were working very closely with Philips and AIM (American Interactive Media), and I think Spinnaker had been pitching new ideas, and after launch, Spinnaker was less interested in continuing development for CDi. So I already had a fair amount of knowledge in terms of what game AIM (American Interactive Media) was looking for. And we all knew about the Nintendo possibilities. At that time they didn’t exactly know which characters they wanted. Most of the people at AIM weren’t ‘game people’.

J: Did Philips, or AIM, or anyone else have specific influence regarding the games? Did Nintendo contact you when you began development?

D: In terms of design?

J: Yes.

D: Um, no… We came up with the design for Philips and then… Did you ever look at the other Zelda game, that the different developer produced?

J: The third one? Yes.

D: They went with a very different type of design look. No, Nintendo’s only input was we ran the design document and character sketches past them for their approval. They were mostly interested in the look of the Link and Zelda characters. I think the Link and Zelda characters were in somewhat of a formation stage back then. Because really, the characters didn’t appear as characters in the Nintendo game. They were, you know, on the box covers.

J: Yes, and there had only been two titles for the NES system when you began development.

D: Right! And they didn’t have the resolution we were going to be using.

J: So, quite a lot of creative freedom then?

D: Yeah, there was quite a bit of creative freedom. And Philips, they didn’t have a lot of input into the design either. I think one of your questions was why we didn’t go with the top down, and I think Philips would never have approved that. Because they would have thought that looked old, and wasn’t making use of the CDi capabilities.

J: Oh really? Because as you know there had been two prior Zelda titles, one which was top down and one which was side on. And I was trying to work out why you went with one over the other.

D: Yeah, I mean if Philips had seen a top down design, they would have said that it didn’t… They would have looked at it just visually, as opposed to gameplay. And that was what they were most concerned with. Does the CDi game look visually different from other game or computer systems, and are we making less use of the graphics? The possibility that the top down might have been more fun for gameplay, wouldn’t have affected them. So we definitely pushed for the side view. 

J:  What kind of source material did you use during development?

D:  Really we only had…. of course the two Nintendo games that had come previously from Nintendo, and um…. You know and then boxart from Nintendo in terms of the design of the characters, you know box and booklet artwork. Otherwise there wasn’t anything that came from Nintendo.

J:  So really it was basically taking the characters and building a wholly original game around them? I noticed personally some slight similarities between the CDI Zelda games and Below the Root. 

D:  Right… Yes… Interesting. Yeah, well, side view games are side view games. Or they were at the time.

J: For example, other companies made sequels to their own titles, and later bought a license to overlay on the top of it. There was nothing like that here.

D: No, we developed a whole new engine, for CDi. In terms of the top down… I think on Below the Root, which was for PC and other platforms, what was it, Commodore?

J: Commodore 64, yes.

D: Right, Commodore. We didn’t have any scrolling on that, you went from one screen to the next. Walk off one and walk on to the next. Or drop off one and drop into the next. We didn’t have that quick loading capability with CDi, so… Plus I don’t think we would ever have gone for just dropping off a screen, and having another screen pop up. But if we had, it would have had quite a load time, to get that screen off the CD and, you know, onto the ‘screen’. So we went with the scrolling, but as you saw, the scrolling capabilities could only scroll what was held in memory, and that was about maybe 2 and a half horizontal screens.

J: Hmm, the CDi was severely limited, technically.

D: Yes.

J: Also, you mentioned Igor Razzboff?

D: Yes.

J: This interests me a great deal. It would appear to be a form of outsourcing to Eastern European animation studios, to create cinematic intros and endings, correct?

D: Yes, except we started our own company.

J: You owned the department in Easter Europe?

D: Yes, actually it was in St. Petersburg Russia. So, yeah, Igor and I got together and we talked about what type of business we could start in St. Petersburg. And I had seen numerous animated films coming out of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. So I thought, ‘well, we could probably do animation over there’. So he went over, found about 6 people who had some experience with 2D animation, and of course they didn’t have the expertise that US animators have. Since US animators have been paid fair amounts of money, for decades, to learn animation. And they were more scattered over there, in smaller studios. But we had about half a dozen people, and we brought them over here to the US for 6 months, and put them up in an apartment, there are a couple of apartments near where I live, here in Massachusetts. And, gave them computers, and scanners. Most of them at that time worked on paper, on animation paper, and then scanned it into the computer, and cleaned up the line and colours on the computer, and then we transferred it to CDi.  We may have also written a CDi, actually written a CDi tool that would let them view it and clean it up on the CDi player itself. The animators had varying levels of skill, in terms of animation.

J: Did you have a specific hand in the design and layout of the Zelda games?

D: Yes, sure. What do you mean the design of the game?

J: Level structure, item usage, pacing, progress, things such as that.

D: Yes, I worked with the writer on that.

J: Could you elaborate on the atmosphere at the time, what it was like formulating the game and developing it.

D: Wow, well, as I recall, it was a pretty rough time. We had just left Spinnaker, we had a new group of people, so we were creating an office in Cambridge. At the same time we had this group of animators in a couple of apartments. As I recall I would be going back and forth from the office in Cambridge, working with programmers, working to build the engine, back to the animators, going through the script and teaching them the process of how they were going to get the animation done. Also, hiring the US based artists who were working on the game artwork itself.

J: Backgrounds have a wonderful pastel quality to them. They were created in America?

D: Yes. The backgrounds and all the real-time character animation, and in-game animation, was done in the office in Cambridge. Of course, we auditioned local union actors, after actors, and chose the voices for the game. There’s about 10 minutes of 2D animation in each game, so there was a fair amount of audio to edit. We also created the music in our studio.

J: The music was of an exceptionally high quality. Do you remember who composed it?

D:  Yeah, our composer was Tony Trippi, [He spells it out], who had worked with me at Spinnaker and then came on board, and worked with me at the new company. So he created all the music for both games. We were working on the games simultaneously, so we were working on the script, on the design and the artwork, and the animation to both games at the same time.

J: And it was a simultaneous release date.

D: Yes, it was. We had, maybe just a little over a year to produce them. So it was pretty tight.

J: So just over twelve months for development.

D: Yeah, yeah. So the engine and the tools for creating these two games… ah…

J: Was the development team big fans of the prior two Zelda games?

D: People really liked the games. But, I think we had more of a lyrical storytelling desire or inclination. I think we were probably more focused on story, and that may have also had something to do with the CDi platform itself.

J: You pitched ideas directly to Philips. It wasn’t as if members of Nintendo were in the boardroom checking things?

D: Directly to Philips!


J: My main reason for wanting to write this article, is that I previously witnessed a lot of unfair criticism of the games, mainly from people who have never even seen or played them. So I tracked them down and found them to be very enjoyable. The quality was particularly high and the criticism was from people who had never played them. My whole motivation was to write a feature that set the record straight. Were you aware of this criticism?


D: Yeah, we had been aware of criticism following the release of the games. I can understand that people were disappointed, I think probably in terms of… I guess they made comments about animation, but also in terms of gameplay and design. Given the amount of time we had, and what we were creating at the time in terms of company infrastructure, I thought we did a good job. You know, we weren’t Nintendo. And Nintendo makes fantastic games, which are exceptionally well tuned in terms of gameplay. And they have amazing game designers. So, I would imagine that anything was going to fall short of that, in terms of the amount of time and energy that Nintendo puts into gameplay. Given the amount of time we had, and the fact that we were developing two at once, on a platform that was pretty limited, although the Nintendo machine [NES] at that time was also pretty limited and they did a great job with it… At the same time Philips was expecting, and I think we were all expecting, more graphics, more production values in terms of music, visuals, animation… So there was a lot of push there. You put effort into that, and it doesn’t go elsewhere. I felt that, given the circumstances, we did a good job. It could have been better, of course it wasn’t Nintendo.

J: I am a fan of the two games, and so I will do my best to put across a balanced view and encourage people to try the games. I was wondering if you have a few minutes more to discuss various things not related to the Zelda games?

****
2nd Half of the interview:


J: You were originally a primary school teacher, is that correct?

D: Yes.

J: That sounds like a fascinating story. Could you explain how it came about?

D: Sure. Well, lets see, my major in college was film and video production. So I always had an interest in production of entertainment products. But I was particularly interested in kids, and wanted to have some experience working with kids. So when I got out of college I got into teaching, and taught for three years. This was like at the end of the 70s: 79, 80, 81. Right at that time, home computers were coming on the scene. So that was when the Apple II made its appearance, and the Atari 400 and 800.

J: I recently covered M.U.L.E for the Atari 800.

D: Oh, that was a great game. Fantastic game, I loved that.

So, the principle of the school wanted to get computers, and I didn’t know anything about them, and I wanted the school to get wood working equipment… But she was the principal, or headmaster, so she got her way. She took me into a programming workshop, that Radioshack was giving, on programming the TRS-80. And when I saw the possibilities of computers, in terms of presenting visual information, although it was quite crude at that time, especially on a TRS-80. But afterwards I was very excited about it. We ended up getting Atari computers for the school, a couple of them, and I got one myself, and taught myself to program.

J: So you sort of fell into the games industry by accident?

D: I just sort of fell into it by accident. I really… Once I saw what it could do, I really enjoyed it. I started writing things for my kids in my class; educational games. At that time Atari had a user written software program, Atari Programming Exchange. Where they had quarterly submissions and publications, and prizes. And submitted a couple of my educational games, and they won the first and second prizes of the quarter they were submitted. So I won about 5 or 6 thousand dollars worth of computer equipment from Atari. Which helped in terms of getting me going.

J: Tell me about the Below the Root. How did you move on from winning this competition, to making BtR?

D: Well, let’s see… After the third year of teaching I had stopped teaching. I had actually wanted to continue, but I was half-time, and they wanted a full-time teacher. So, I thought that I could probably at least make as much money making games, as I was teaching. Which was more than true! Let’s see, I hooked up with Spinnaker at that point, and wrote some early educational games for them. Alphabet Zoo, Hey Diddle Diddle, and another called Adventure Creator.

J: Yes, I know about that one.

D: Yup. I guess that’s the point where Below the Root started. So I was in Northern California, and the author of the book Zilpha Keatley Snyder lived about an hour drive from where I was living and working. So I went to visit her, I showed her what computer games looked like, she became very interested in the possibility of collaborating on a game. We were worked very closely then on the design of the game, based on the book.

J: So you’d say it was faithful to the source material?

D: Yes. She wrote a lot of the dialogue herself, she played with the map, the mapping of the world – we worked on together. She was instrumental all the way along the process of building the game. It was a lot of fun working with her.

J: Speaking of books, I did a Google search of your name, and it brought it up several books regarding Atari and Commodore. Did you author these books?

D: Yes. I did. I worked with Herb Cole, and I guess I did, what? A couple of Atari and Commodore books, on games and educational games. Or was that Turner Paul maybe?

J: I found about 4 books on an old website.

D: Right.

J: Oh, sorry… Can you tell us about moving on from Below the Root to form Dale Disharoon Inc.

D: Yes. Well, Below the Root I think was created while we had Dale Disharoon Inc.

J: Oh, right.

D: You know, I just, used my name for the company after I left teaching. And that continued until about ’87 when I moved out to Boston to work for Spinnaker, for the CDi work.

J: And after Spinnaker you formed Animation Magic?

D: We formed Animation Magic, right. That was both US, and the studio in St. Petersburg. And the studio in St. Petersburg grew to about 150 people. And we had not only animators, but engineers there, and the 2D game artists, and starting to get into 3D animation.

J: Was it difficult to keep the two studios connected?

D: Um… No, it worked out a pretty smooth process. Igor of course spoke Russian, and would talk to them on the phone everyday. He and I would both travel over there, so one of us was over there, once every two months. And then we ended up with a couple of engineers who came to the US office to work, with [inaudible…] We ended up selling the studio to Capital Multimedia. I think maybe 95? 94-95? So at that point then we were working for Capital. Capital is then one of the main CDi producers for Philips. But then once CDi wasn’t doing so well, they were looking for other development groups that were doing work, like “What’s CDi?”, but it was CG based. [vacuum cleaner goes off LOUDLY]

Can you hear me ok?


J: Yes, I can hear you, thanks.

D: So at that point we were working for Capital Multimedia, they were down in Maryland. And they were transitioning because most of their experience had been CDi. By that time we were starting to make some [inaudible], and going back to the games for kids. So we developed… I don’t know if you saw the set of games that Davidson published, called Magic Tales?

J: I’ve heard of them, but not tested them personally.

D: They were a lot like the Living Books, except they were based on international folk tales. So there were six of those that we created, and all of the art, animation, and engineering were done over in the St. Petersburg studio. In the US we recorded the voices, and wrote the scripts and managed the project. We did a couple of games that Broderbund published, that were similar to the Humongous games. You know, the adventures?

J: Uh-huh.

D: We did a game called “Gregory and the Hot Air Balloon”, and “Derby the Dragon”, that Broderbund put out. So those were heavy into art and animation, designed for younger kids.

J: Edutainment titles?

D: Yes, edutainment titles.

J: And then you went on to form Boston Animation, where you are currently?

D: Yeah, but I mean, also with that studio, we were working on Warcraft Adventure. Well, not Warcraft Adventure, but an adventure game based on the world of Warcraft. Not on the Online World, but Warcraft. Which was almost finished, and then never published. So almost all of that was done over in St. Petersburg, and we worked pretty closely with the Warcraft, Blizzard guys on that. They visited the St. Petersburg studio, and they visited the studio in…We eventually closed the Capital Multimedia office, and moved those people up to Conquart (sp?) here is Massachusetts. This was all in 86… No, not 86, 96! 96, 97.

J: Is there anything you are working on currently that you want to mention?

D: Yes. Actually what the studio is now is… The old studio in St. Petersburg was sold to the Blizzard guys, and Davidson and all of that conglomerate. And I decided to start a new company by myself, without a partner, in ’97. So that’s when I went to Kiev and started Boston Animation. So the current studio is over in Kiev. Yeah, no, we’re not, right now, we’re mostly not developing new games. We’re creating artwork for other games.

J: For other companies?

D: For other companies, that’s right. We’ve done quit a bit of artwork for Sony Online, for their Everquest 1 and 2, and Star Wars games. And… We’re doing a lot of work which I can’t really talk about.

J: What kind of changes have you seen over the years, in the games industry?

D: Well, of course the games are just getting HUGE. And I think that’s part of why our transition is concentrating mostly on artwork right now, in terms of our offshore studio. To put an entire Triple-A game together and creating it, requires so much money, and such a huge team these days.

J: You don’t foresee yourself perhaps going back and creating mobile games, which are less costly to develop?

D: We’ve thought about that. We’ve also thought about the downloadable market, which seems to be growing. So we’ve considered it. I guess in terms of actual game design, I fell that personally I’m taking somewhat of a break. And in the meantime I’m just focusing on the artwork.

J: I can understand that. Anyway, I’m sorry to have taken up so much of your time already.

D: No, John, it’s fine. It’s like we’ve been going back and forth with this for three or four months now.

J: Yeah I’ve been really persistent with my questions.

D: Well, I’m really glad you like the games.

J: Is there anyone else you’d like to mention.

D: Uhm….. No, not really. I really have seen a lot of different companies, and every game has its story. Not just the story of the game, but a story of what the situation was in terms of how it was built, where it went, and what the different facets are. You know, in terms of timing, and money, and constraints from the hardware, and constraints from the publisher. So, you know, I have a lot of compassion and empathy for all of the companies that get great games actually made and out the door.

J : Well, I guess we can wrap up… Actually, what was your opinion of the 3rd Zelda game on CDi.

D: You know, I never played it all the way through. I saw part of it, and then sort of lost interest. It didn’t really draw me in. How about you? Did you finally get it?

J: I did track it down. It felt like a game that was only 50% finished before they launched it.

D: Yeah. It could well have been. It could well have been only 50% finished.

J: If you recall anything else, feel free to contact me.

D: Ok, great! If you want to send me anything you’ve come up with, and I can also fill I any gaps, I’d be happy to do that.

J: Thanks, it’s been a pleasure.

D: Ok, thank you John.

J: Bye

D: Bye

[ENDS]


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From:    Dale DeSharone
Sent:    12 June 2006 21:49:48

Hi John,

I read the article and I think it's really good. Very balanced. There are a
few things that I wish you would modify (just a request)...

a.  You say 'several years later' when describing the development of the
Viridis. I think it came out soon after our games and the development periods overlapped.

 To answer some of your questions....

1.  The U.S. company was Dale Disharoon, Inc. and the joint company we started in St. Petersburg, Russia was Animation Magic.  We eventually rolled it all into Animation Magic (including the U.S. opearations).  I would prefer that you just called it Animation Magic.  That would also present less confusion about Disharoon/DeSharone.

2.  My proudest achievement with those titles was in making the best use of the CDI hardware that I could.  I learned alot about CDI in the four years we spent working with it at Spinnaker Software.  I tried to use a combination of techniques that would create the best gameplay and entertainment experience possible given the many 'hardware limits' of the system.

3.  We wanted to put dynamic audio (music) in the game that would change based on what was happening during gameplay but the nature of the audio streaming from the CD made that difficult if not impossible.

4.  Please use...    Dale DeSharone, President, Boston Animation, Inc.

Thanks John for your hard work on this.  I have a few graphics which I'll try to scan tomorrow (Tuesday).

Dale

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From:    Dale DeSharone
Sent:    23 June 2006 07:26:52
   
Attachments:     4 attachments | Download all as zip (1043.9 KB)
    Gamelan Map Lo Res.jpg (238.9 KB) , Gamelan Detail Lo Res.jpg (289.0 KB) , Koridai Map Lo Res.jpg (258.6 KB) , Koridai Detail Lo Res.jpg (257.4 KB)

Hi John,

Sorry this took so long.  I dug through lots of old piles and only came up with these images (which I scanned).  I've attached lo res versions. But, I posted hi res versions on our ftp. 

They are in the Link & Zelda folder.

There's also a portfolio folder on there of more recent work that you
can peruse if you care to.

Thanks for putting so much effort into the article John.

Dale

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Sent: 27 September 2006 17:59
Subject: Re: Many thanks

Hi John,

Yes, I'd say Darkened Skye was the last game where we did all of the design, script, voice recording, engineering and art.  We did it overlapping production with M&M's Lost Formulas (which is one of the games I'm most proud of).

We did a Tonka Firefighter and Scrabble Online game for Atari since then. But, there wasn't much personal investment in those games for me.

About Darkened Skye (and M&M's) it was another strange 'Publisher Choice'.Simon & Schuster wanted to get the M&M's license from Mars because they believed M&M's would make a great game (because the characters are recognized all over the world).  But, at the same time they negotiated to get the Skittles license from Mars (in case they couldn't get M&M's.) Well, Mars gave them BOTH licenses.

With Skittles, Mars wanted to make the brand more popular with people in their 20s.  Their research showed that the Skittles market declined with people older than 20. They thought a cool computer game based on Skittles would make the brand more popular.  Personally, I thought Skittles should be a little kid title.  But, Mars, and then Simon & Schuster insisted on making it an adult game.  But, it also could not be too violent (because of the brand).  So, we created a design based on the very cool Skittles television commercials (Merlin, Asian guy, Woman on White horse at Stonehenge, Gargoyles).  We worked on the game for 2 years.  There were over 50 people in Kiev working on it.  There are over 2 hours of in-game animation.  By the time it was finished, Simon & Schuster didn't want people to think of it as a Skittles game.  They almost pulled Skittles from the game.  But, we had woven Skittles into the game-play and some text.
So, they left it but you won't see Skittles on the box cover.

You do see them in the intro animation and game play however.  Most people thought it was an advertisement (Mars paying Simon & Schuster to put their brand in  computer game) But, it was really Simon & Schuster paying Mars a royalty on sales to use the brand.

Anyway, I love Darkened Skye.  It's very difficult in the first levels. That's probably a design mistake.  It's a very funny game.  300 page script. Many varied locations with beautiful art.  If you play it... try to get the Gamecube version.  The PC version has a problem with newer faster processors (in game animations are skipped) which ruins the game.

Also, I hope you've seen M&M's Lost Formulas. I love that game.

Dale

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From: Dale DeSharone
Sent: 27 September 2006 17:07
Subject: Re: Quick clarification

Hi John,

1.  After leaving teaching I created Dale Disharoon, Inc. We created games
for Spinnaker and the Learning Company and a few books for Prentice Hall.
Most of our games were created for Atari 400/800, Commodore 64, Apple II and IBM PC.  We also did Atari ports of a few Strategic Simulations games (Shiloh & Normandy).

2.  Moved to Boston in 1987 to work with Spinnaker.  Thought it would only be one year but it turned into 4 years before launch.

3.  After leaving Spinnaker I used the Dale Disharoon, Inc. corporate structure for the dozen people that I had in Cambridge, MA.  We named the St. Petersburg studio and U.S. structure that owned the Russian studio; Animation Magic.  At first Russia was only animators but then we saw we could do programming and game art there too.  So we transitioned from Dale Disharoon, Inc. to Animation Magic in the course of the Link and Zelda production.

4.  The Animation Magic company (US & Russia) was sold to Capitol Multimedia.  At that point I became Capitol's Executive Producer for the Davidson and Broderbund titles.  You know that Capitol Multimedia produced a number  CDI titles and was mostly funded at first through Philips.

Yours,

Dale


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From: Dale DeSharone 

Sent: 09 November 2006 23:58

Hi John,

I just received the two magazines.  Thank you very much for sending them
both and also thank you very much for putting together such great articles.  I'm very, very impressed by how thorough you were.  And I also appreciate the many kind words you had for me, the teams, and the games.

Wow.  You really did a great job.

Thanks again for all of your effort to put those articles together!

Dale

4 comments:

  1. Wow, you weren't kidding when you called him an unspoken legend, I never heard of him until now.

    It's interesting that he got to work on the CD-I though, I always wish we'd have seen more stuff for "failed" consoles, just so we could see how far they could be pushed

    ReplyDelete
  2. John,

    This is great work. As Dale says in your interview, "every game has its story." So often we just declare something good or bad and pass it by without taking into consideration the circumstances surrounding its development, its own unique story. Delving into this history is a very worthy endeavor.

    R.I.P. Dale DeSharone

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  3. Thank you for sharing M. DeSharone's legacy with us. It's rare to see a legend like him still remember with so much technical details the various projects he's done over the years.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yay, I was mentioned! I'm Dale's son and seeing all of this being put up is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete