Interview:Kevin Seghetti

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Kevin Seghetti

Kevin Seghetti worked as a video game programmer for about a decade and has been a wealth of knowledge to us.

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GDRI: I noticed you programmed Stormlord and Pigskin Footbrawl for the Genesis. These two games appear to fall into the time period you were working as a freelance contractor [according to his résumé].

You posted on the SMS Power (Master System site) forums back in 2005 that SMS Rampart was subcontracted to you by RazorSoft. Presumably that's the case with Stormlord and Pigskin.

KS: Stormlord and Pigskin were games that RazorSoft was directly financing porting, so [it] wasn't a subcontract.

GDRI: In that same SMS Power thread, you said you started Developer Resources while working on Rampart. So I am assuming Stormlord and Pigskin were done before that company was established.

KS: Remember, this was 15 years ago, so some of the details are fuzzy. I have a timeline which might help with some of this stuff. The sequence was: Stormlord, Rampart, Pigskin.

I first became involved with Punk/RazorSoft through Jeff Spangenberg sometime in 1990. He wanted to develop a ROM emulator for the Genesis which could be used for developing games. I helped breadboard some test circuits, and then he had Joe Peter design and lay out a circuit board. I also started on a sound driver for the Genesis around that time. The details are fuzzy, but for some reason, Joe didn't finish the board layout, and another friend of mine, Scott Statton, was brought in to finish [it].

Around then, Jeff brokered a deal with RazorSoft to start Punk, and office space was acquired in Mountain View.

Then I started on the Stormlord port (I think it [was] around Sept. 1990; I remember it took 3 months at the end of the year). [It] was ported from the Amiga version by me under a contract, but the work was done at the Punk offices. I am pretty sure the contract was just between me and RazorSoft. RazorSoft was in Oklahoma; Punk was in Mountain View, CA. RazorSoft entirely funded Punk; the only development done at Punk was for RazorSoft (officially).

After Stormlord was finished, I then took the contract to do the SMS version of Rampart (must have been either late December 1990 or January 1991; at the same time, Bruce Hammond took the contract to do the Genesis version). That work was begun at the Punk offices.

During that same time, Scott was debugging the Genesis development boards (called the "red board" because Scott spec'ed a red solder mask for fun). I assisted somewhat in this endeavor.

Then one day, Jeff and I had a disagreement about what I should be working on (I was helping Scott, and he thought I should be working on Rampart), and he kicked me out of Punk. Seems like it was around Valentine's Day, around Feb. 14th, 1991.

So I finished development of Rampart out of my house. Scott wasn't very happy at Punk, either, so the two of us decided to form Developer Resources with the financial assistance of another friend of ours, Erik Anderson.

The purpose of Developer Resources was to develop game development systems for both the Genesis and the SNES. Not just a ROM emulator, but [a] source level debugger, assembler, graphics tools, game libraries, sample games, etc. (most of that code is available on SourceForge under drdevtools, if anyone cares)

Developer Resources negotiated the contract for Pigskin (sometime between March and July 1991), so their name was probably on [it], but I did all of the work (with the graphics conversion subcontracted to my wife, Melanie Scouten, and the music subcontracted to another friend, Lars Norpchen).

In the middle of the Pigskin project, Developer Resources pretty much fell apart (partially because I moved to Denver). I finished Pigskin from home in Denver.

GDRI: In your opinion, what "entity" should be credited as the developer of those Genesis titles? Kevin Seghetti? Punk Development? Developer Resources?

KS: Well, I did all of the programming for all of them, so I should get the developer (as a person) credit. My name was on all 3 contracts, and all 3 contracts were directly with RazorSoft.

Developer (company) credit is harder to sort out, as the story above shows (but I don't think it matters as much as the actual people involved). Since all of the Stormlord work was done at Punk, I guess Punk should get the development company credit for that one. Rampart was mostly done out of my house, but I was promoting Developer Resources by the time it was finished. So either me or Developer Resources is fine (what does it say about DR in the Rampart cartridge? I don't remember). Pigskin was started at Developer Resources, but finished by me, so it is also a toss-up whether it should be credited just to me or to DR.

GDRI: There is one minor discrepancy that may be no fault of your own. You recalled that you worked on Pigskin in 1991. However, it has a copyright date of 1990.

KS: Interesting. We must have failed to update the copyright notice. It was late, the code was really bad, and unlike Stormlord (which I was able to port in about 3 months), it took a very long time (I basically lost money on the contract due to late penalties). And I need to amend that Pigskin contract date. As I wrote that, I was working out the timeline. Once I got all of the pieces in order, the Pigskin contract was sometime between me leaving Punk and moving to Denver (which happened in 1992, not 1991 like I was thinking when I wrote that). So I am confident that I finished Pigskin in 1992 (since I finished it in Denver).

GDRI: As for Rampart, the title screen says "Conversion by Developer Resources."

KS: Interesting. I have no recollection of doing that, but it makes sense that I did (I am just surprised they let me; on-screen credit is usually hard to get).

GDRI: You mentioned that Bruce Hammond got the contract for Genesis Rampart. I was going to ask if this was Punk Development, but I noticed him and the other programmers also worked together on SNES California Games II and are credited as "Silicon Sorcery." Do you happen to know anything about those guys?

KS: Yes. To start at the beginning:

Bruce Hammond grew up on a ranch near Gazelle, CA, and started a software company called StarPoint Software, which sold disk recovery utilities for the Commodore 64. Scott Statton, Erik Anderson, myself, [and] Jeff Spangenberg (founder of Punk and other companies to follow) all worked out at the ranch at some point (1986-1987 time frame).

Later, we all ended up in the Bay Area doing various things. I am not sure of the details, but one of the things Punk did was to hire European programmers on work visas (so they could hold that over their head if they got uppity). I am pretty sure that is how John [Cumming] and Dave [O'Connor] ended up in the country, and I think they met Bruce when he was doing Rampart on the Genesis.

Anyhow, Bruce, John, and Dave moved back to the ranch and started Silicon Sorcery and did a couple of games before that fell apart. John stayed at the ranch and still lives up in that area.

GDRI: So was Hammond working for Punk when he started on Rampart, or was he a freelancer brought in like you?

KS: I think everyone at Punk actually had contracts with RazorSoft, but I am not positive (at the time I was there; Punk went on for a while after that before Jeff went off and started Iguana).

GDRI: I noticed this text string in the SMS Rampart ROM: "Jeff Spangenberg is a weenie." Do you remember anything about that?

KS: I had forgotten about that. I was in the middle of doing Rampart for RazorSoft at Punk Development when Jeff and I had a disagreement. I was helping Scott Statton debug the latest Genesis development system boards which had just come back from fab, and Jeff told me to get back to work on Rampart. I reminded him that I was doing Rampart under contract, I wasn't his employee, and he [didn't] get to tell me what to do. After a few more rounds of comments, which included him standing directly in front of me (he is quite tall) in an attempt at physical intimidation (which ended with me saying, "Go ahead and hit me, I could use the money"), he took the only action he could, which was to tell me I was no longer welcome in the Punk Development offices. So I packed up my stuff and moved it home and finished development of Rampart from there. So that comment is just a good-natured jab at him.

I was going to point you to some choice comments others had about Jeff on fatbabies.com back in July of 2001 (they clearly didn't like him), but the forums appear to be gone, and the Internet Archive missed it. The only post I can find is this one, which is in answer to the question, "Who are the top 5 assholes in the industry?"

GDRI: Do you know anything about this incident ["Video Game Manufacturer Sues City Firm RazorSoft"]?

KS: Some, if it is what I am thinking of (and the timing seems right). This is all just what I recall, so any portion of it could be incorrect.

RazorSoft didn't like how much Sega charged to make cartridges. The minimum order was 30,000 units, and IIRC, they cost $17 each. So publishers had to pony up about a half million dollars, and the risk was all theirs if the product didn't sell. I never saw the contract between Sega and RazorSoft, but apparently it specified a royalty rate for cartridges (I don't know if that $17 per cart included the royalty or not).

So RazorSoft decided to manufacture their own cartridges for Stormlord instead of paying Sega to do it because they could do a smaller run, it was cheaper, and they could turn them around faster. They paid all of the royalties to Sega, just didn't have Sega make them (if you get your hand on a Stormlord cartridge, you will see they are shaped differently than Sega cartridges were).

Sega was annoyed because they obviously make a profit on making the cartridges and also like to maintain tight control over what gets made when.

IIRC, the final outcome was they settled out of court, RazorSoft agreed to buy carts from Sega in the future, and Sega dropped the suit.

GDRI: You worked on the sound driver for Technocop (Sega Genesis). Was the rest of the game developed by Punk Development?

KS: Yes. Jeff Spangenberg did the port from the Amiga game.

GDRI: Developer Resources is given special thanks in Sylvester & Tweety in Cagey Capers. Why is this? I thought DR was gone by that point.

KS: Yeah, I guess I need to revise the statement that DR was gone. When I moved to Denver, we abandoned our office in Mountain View. Scott, Erik, and I went separate ways at that time (as business partners; we remained friends).

I met Will Norris through DR selling a SNES development system to a company called Radiance Software (I [am] pretty sure that was their name) in Thousand Oaks. He liked what we were doing with the development tools, so when his deal with Radiance ended, he moved up to Mountain View and started working with us. Around that time, Will and I took a contract to do the firmware for the SNES version of the Game Genie. So when DR was ending, Will, my wife, and I moved to Denver for a change of scenery (we didn't like it there and came back to California five months later). Anyhow, Will and I kept working on some DR stuff, trying to promote the development systems, etc. It never really went anywhere, but we did license the game libraries I had written to Alexandria, which is why S&T has a thanks in it.

GDRI: Could you tell us about Alexandria?

KS: About the time I moved to Denver with Will Norris and Melanie (Aug. 1992), Scott Statton took a job at Alexandria. While in Denver, I finished Pigskin Footbrawl for RazorSoft and started looking for work. Will and I drove to January CES in 1993, and Scott invited me to apply for work at Alexandria. So we drove from Vegas to Los Osos, where Alexandria was. Scott brought the Genesis libraries I had written for Developer Resources with him to Alexandria and was using them to build a Road Runner game which never shipped due to a designer who could never make up his mind what the game was about (really - like during development, he changed which character you played, Road Runner or [Wile E.] Coyote). They hired both Will and myself. Will was assigned to the Road Runner project, and I immediately started on Sylvester and Tweety for the Sega Genesis mid-January, and we finished it late August. Then the publisher, TecMagik, kept complaining about the littlest details for a couple of months after that. We were confused by this until we found out they didn't actually have the cash to have the carts made. So it sat for about a year, until mid-1994, when Warner contacted them and asked whatever happened to that Sylvester and Tweety license. When TecMagik told them they didn't have the $$ to publish, Warner put the $$ up, and the game came out for Christmas 1994, which sucked since at that point, the technology was a year out of date, and worse, 1993 was the last big selling Christmas for the Genesis.

So after S&T was done, I moved on [to] Dynoblaze, a rollerskating dinosaur game for the 3DO. Spent a few months building up rendering, animation, and playfield scrolling libraries and had some basic gameplay going by the end of the year.

Sometime in the fall, Will left Alexandria and started looking for contract work. When he found out about Ballz by PF.Magic, he asked me if I would be interested in working with him on it if he could get it (offering about double the $$ I was making at Alexandria). The project was to port Ballz from the Genesis to the SNES. We already had some SNES libraries we had developed at Developer Resources, and Will had improved them further doing a Where's Waldo game [The Great Waldo Search]. We saw the Genesis version on Friday and spent the weekend creating a demo on the SNES (which I still have around here somewhere). So on Monday, we drove up to San Francisco and showed them our demo (which showed an object composed of scaled spheres which one could rotate in 3D). They were very impressed and gave us the contract, even though our bid was the highest. So I left Alexandria [in] January 1994 and started on Ballz.

GDRI: Do you happen to know how far along that Road Runner game got?

KS: Development ran for almost a year. I remember they had playable levels as the Road Runner, then they changed it so you played the coyote instead and started over on level design. I think this may have happened more than once.

GDRI: Orca Games turns up on many Alexandria games, working on music and sound. I assume Alexandria had no sound staff?

KS: Correct. They contracted it out. I forgot all about Orca. IIRC, it was just two people.

GDRI: Do you know what happened to Alexandria?

KS: I think it lasted a few more years, then went out of business. I am not sure of the details since I wasn't around. I know several people who worked there went to work for Oddworld Inhabitants.

GDRI: Do you know anything about TecMagik?

KS: Will and I were in talks with them to market our Genesis and SNES development systems before we went to Alexandria, but the details seem to be fading in my memory.

GDRI: I had a look inside the Super NES Ballz ROM, and in it is the following: "Ballz (SNES Version) Copyright 1994 Cave Logic Studios. All Rights Reserved." Could you talk a little about Cave Logic?

KS: Cave Logic was founded by Will and myself in 1994. We were tired of doing games under contract and having all of the code belong to the publisher, so we wanted to be able to negotiate shared ownership of engines, libraries, everything which wasn't game specific.

Our contract for Ballz wasn't actually with Cave Logic, although we had the idea about that time.

After Ballz, Cave Logic worked with PF.Magic on a 3D game originally for the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn called Velocity [ED: Screenshots can be found here.]. For many reasons, that project took several years and was eventually canceled. Cave Logic became Recombinant Limited, and we used the same 3D engine (which we called World Foundry) to start on a project for MGM Interactive called Cyberthug. But a few months into that, MGM Interactive was canceled by MGM, so that game didn't get finished, either. By that time, I had about had it with the game industry, so [I] went and got a programming job doing embedded control systems instead (and never looked back).

I did take the 3D game engine, port it to Linux, and release it on SourceForge. There was some interest in it there for a while, but I have been too busy to maintain it. And at this point, the technology is over 10 years old, so it is pretty much obsolete.

GDRI: Cyberthug was for the PC (Windows?) and PlayStation, correct?

KS: I think it was just PlayStation.

GDRI: An old press release says MGM signed on Saffire Corporation to develop it.

KS: Yes, Saffire was doing the art, and we were doing the programming. IIRC, originally Saffire was to do the programming as well, but decided to have Recombiant do it instead. I don't remember if we were actually a subcontractor of Saffire, or if MGM paid us directly.

GDRI: The old Cyberthug press release I mentioned before mentions PC CD-ROM. Are you sure Recombinant was not involved with that version?

KS: I don't remember. We certainly had World Foundry running under DOS on top of the BRender graphics library, so it could be. I was mostly focused on getting the PlayStation renderer *off* of BRender's failed attempt at a cross platform library since it just didn't work.

GDRI: A question from one of our contributors: Who did the sound on the SNES version of Ballz?

KS: Huh, I don't remember. Didn't we put that in the credits? I do remember the music for the 3DO version was by one of the members of Information Society [Kurt Harland] (and wish I had that music; some of it was quite good). If I ever get any time, I could dig up the source to Ballz and see what the name of the sound engine was.

GDRI: For the sake of clarification, were you/Mr. Norris/Cave Logic solely responsible for developing the 3DO and SNES versions of Ballz, or did you just do the programming?

KS: [The] 3DO version was done in house by PF.Magic. Will and I jumped in near the end to help finish it up.

[The] SNES version was entirely programmed by Will and myself ([Cave] Logic ported from the Genesis version, which was programmed by Keith Kirby).

Cave Logic also employed a couple of artists, Trevor Grimshaw and Chris Donovan. Chris did much of the artwork for the SNES version, and PF.Magic liked it so much they used much of it on the Genesis and 3DO versions as well.

GDRI: Do you know anything about SNES Great Waldo Search (which Mr. Norris has listed under Developer Resources on his resume)?

KS: I sat in the same room with him while he did it, and it used the DR SNES libraries (which he improved while working on that game).

It was for THQ (which was a much smaller player back then). I forgot my wife did some artwork for that.

There isn't much to tell since it wasn't much of a game. Just display some artwork, hide Waldo in it somewhere, and wait for a click. I think most of the issues [were] related to teaching the other artists about tile-based graphics production. The DR toolset would take any image (in IFF format) and convert it to characters and a map, but one could get a substantial size savings if one understood where the character boundaries were and how to use flips and palette tricks.

GDRI: Were the other artists with DR, or were they freelancers?

KS: They were remote. Never met them. I don't even recognize their names. They must have been with THQ or something.

GDRI: In that SMS Power thread, you said, "Several games released under the Spectrum Holobyte name were actually coded in the Nexa office (Tetris PC, Sokoban Apple II, and some police story game I can't remember the name of)." So were those games developed by Nexa?

KS: Nexa and Spectrum Holobyte had merged under the corporate name Sphere, Inc. by the time I was hired, but they still had contracts which said Nexa on them. But I am pretty [sure] that Nexa was officially part of Sphere by that point. Because the Spectrum Holobyte name has some name recognition, they mostly marketed products under that name.

GDRI: Did Nexa continue to operate after the merger with Spectrum Holobyte?

KS: No, it was absorbed. It just took a while to move the Nexa people over to the Spectrum Holobyte/Sphere building (about 6 months, the duration of the Monopoly project). Nexa was on 2nd St. in San Francisco, where Sphere was in Alameda, off of Oakland.

GDRI: The Alf [SMS] credits say it was a division of Sphere.

KS: Yes. After Monopoly [SMS], my office was moved to the Sphere building, and Nexa was no more.

GDRI: [looking at the Alf credits] Do you know if "George Kanalias" is actually "George Karalias?"

KS: I don't recognize that name. I remember Jody doing the artwork. Maybe she delegated some to George? I guess it was just too long ago. If you can find a picture, I could see if I recognize him.

I did a web search and saw images of the ending screens in Alf, which reminds me to mention the font used for all of the text in Alf is Topaz, the Amiga system font (about the best looking 8x8 font). Same goes for the exception screens in my Genesis games (which weren't supposed to ship, but Izzy's Olympic Quest has it; just trigger an NMI or other unexpected interrupt, and you will get [a] register dump screen).

GDRI: The musician Randy Rosenberry doesn't turn up on any other games. Do you remember anything about him/her?

KS: Huh. I don't remember anything about the sound/music in Alf. I think maybe it was outsourced, and I just dropped their driver in.

GDRI: On the subject of sound: Seeing as how you worked on sound drivers and sound programming, what did that entail?

KS: I remember the sound driver for Monopoly, but I am not sure if the same one was used for Alf.

For Monopoly, the music was hand typed in as a series of notes and durations by Scott Statton since he is also a piano player. "Sound effects," if you could even call them that, were hand coded for each effect. The sound chip couldn't really do much, 3 channels of tones plus a single noise generator.

It was because of my work on sound for Monopoly that I became the "sound guy" at Spectrum. They were working on the Tandy 1000 version of Falcon, which had the same sound chip as the SMS, so they had me write the driver for that, then the driver for the Innovation sound card (which was a PC card with a SID from the C64 on it). After that, I did the Amiga music player used in Tetris (and probably Welltris, etc.). It played music files from a Macintosh music program called Studio Session.

GDRI: Do you have any old betas or prototypes?

KS: Not from that era. I have an SNES cartridge with a demo of 3D spheres we put together for our bid on the Ballz contract (and it [was] pretty much why we got the contract).

GDRI: How did you get involved with the game industry to begin with?

KS: Another long story.

I met Scott Statton when I was 16 at the local PBS station, KIXE, which is another story.

He ended up working for Starpoint Software (makers of StarDos, Di-Sector, and ICEpik for the C64) up in Gazelle. They had a Z80-based microcomputer (IBC running the OASIS operating system) they weren't using, so we borrowed it, and I learned to program the Z80.

A couple of years later, I was working at Starpoint. Scott had moved to the Bay Area. When Starpoint went out of business, I had about $1000 in the bank, so I packed up and moved to San Francisco since that is where the computer programming jobs are. Scott was already living down there and had recently lost the job he had, so we got a cheap hotel room together in the Tenderloin and started looking for work. We had managed to keep the IBC, so between job interviews, I kept programming it [and] wrote a sector editor and a debugger. Did a few odd jobs, like inventory for Macy's. Then one day, there was an ad in the Chronicle looking for game developers. That ad was placed by Nexa, who was three months into a six-month project, and it wasn't doing well. Scott and I went in and interviewed. The project was Monopoly on the Master System, which used a Z80, so we were qualified to work on it. They only had the budget for one person, at $18K/year, and we didn't know how to choose which of us should take it, so we told them we would start at lower pay to prove ourselves, and managed to get $10,500/year for each of us.

The existing code they had for Monopoly was really bad (they ended up letting the primary programmer go not long after we started), so we were pretty much starting from scratch. We accomplished the task in about six months, which made it 3 months late, but Sega knew what was going on. Trivia: Monopoly was the first Master System game written by Americans. Sega was trying it out to see how it would go.

After Monopoly finished, then I went on to Alf, then jumped in to fix the disaster which was Amiga Tetris (and sound drivers and 3D tools) and went on from there.

GDRI: Could you elaborate on what made Amiga Tetris a "disaster?"

KS: Spectrum Holobyte subcontracted the Amiga port to some guy in England who took the original 8086 code (yes, the PC version was written entirely in assembly; I think at that time I was the only one there who knew any C) and wrote some sort of auto-converter to 68000 (many of the comments were still in their original Indonesian; I would go to the guy who wrote it for the PC and ask what they meant). So it was slow, buggy, and didn't work very well. They sent him a bug list with something like 50 items on it and a couple of weeks later, he had fixed two or there. There wasn't time to rewrite it, so I just spent a couple of weeks fixing most of the bugs.

GDRI: Indonesian?

KS: Nexa was founded by Gilman Louie and some classmates from college, all of which were from Indonesia. The PC version of Tetris was written by a couple of them.

That was happening while I was working on Monopoly. While I got to know them better later at Spectrum Holobyte, my memory of which ones worked on Tetris is fuzzy. I am pretty sure Eng An Jio was one of them, and the other was probably Billy Sutyono.

They commonly spoke their native language when discussing programming, but would use English words for technical things they learned here like "vector," "compiler," "matrix," etc. I found it amusing to hear a stream of words I didn't understand with "3D matrix" in the middle of it. Sometimes they used enough technical words I could follow what they were talking about.

GDRI: Since you brought it up, you might as well tell briefly how you and Statton met (if you want to get into it, of course).

KS: I was working at KIXE in 1984. Took a week off in the summer. When I came back, Scott was volunteering there. We were both interested in television production and technology in general. So we soon began experimenting with video production, camera effects, etc. Since I had keys to the place, sometimes we would stay there all night experimenting.

That fall, Scott went out of town to attend Chico State, but we stayed in touch.

GDRI: Even though you don't work in video games anymore, do you have any opinions on today's games or the industry in general?

When my son got old enough that he wouldn't just sleep in my lap in the evenings, I stopped playing video games (last thing I played a lot of was Magic The Gathering: Online). But about a year ago, I saw someone playing Portal and thought that was pretty cool, so I asked the family to get it for me for Christmas. It was only available in Orange Box, so after I played through Portal, I tried Half-Life 2, etc. (I think I stopped playing games just before Half-Life 2 came out). I really enjoyed those, so [I] fell off the wagon pretty hard after that and have played GTA: San Andreas (and GTA III and GTA: Vice city after that) and have started playing cooperative multiplayer combat games with my son (Conflict: Denied Ops, Rainbow Six: Vegas).

I love that gaming is driving better hardware development. It is clear immersive VR is going to come from the gaming world.

Part of why I left game development was because it was getting to the point where making a decent game cost so much money that your game had to be a #1 hit to make it all back. And since there can only be one #1 hit at a time, that means most games lose money, which was putting a huge amount of pressure on game development. Lately, I am seeing a lot of simpler games being made and sold (called casual and independent gaming), which gives me hope that the the little guy can once again make a living in creating games without a multi-million dollar budget.

GDRI: Thank you for such a thorough and interesting reply. I do understand that this was all many years ago, but your help is appreciated.

KS: It doesn't seem that long ago until I look back on it. Since I stopped making video games in 1997, and the stuff I work on now has longer cycles, time seems to pass by much more quickly (or maybe that is just an effect of getting older).

Mr. Seghetti currently works for Russound. You can visit his home page here.

Interview conducted via e-mail by CRV.