Interview:Matt Harmon

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Matt Harmon

GDRI talked to programmer Matt Harmon about his early days in the video game business. Among the things discussed are his time at Tahoe Software Productions and unreleased titles.

GDRI: What was Tahoe Software Productions?

MH: A third-party developer in Truckee, Lake Tahoe, founded by a Disney video game producer. Went belly-up when they tried to expand too fast and lost a major publisher (Virgin).

GDRI: Bonsai Entertainment also lists the Game Gear version of Barbie Super Model on its website. [Harmon listed Barbie on his résumé.] Do you know anything about that company's involvement?

MH: Wow, Barbie Super Model was a long time ago. The name Bonsai Entertainment sounds very, very familiar. I personally worked on the Barbie Super Model series at Tahoe Software Productions (publisher was Hi-Tech, I believe). I was Lead Programmer on the PC version (it's a port from the Genesis version) and worked on the Game Gear version as well.

GDRI: We are always interested in information about unreleased games. Is there anything you can tell us about Genesis It Came from the Desert or Game Gear Barbie Super Model?

MH: I have actually worked on and seen many video games that did not ship including Akira for Game Gear, Crash Test Dummies for Game Gear, Dinoblades for Genesis/SNES/Jaguar (a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-like game except with dinosaurs on rollerblades), Harley Davidson on Game Boy, and Deep Space Angels and Fairway Foxes by Heroine Entertainment. There's more, and I actually don't know if all of these in fact did not ship, but I believe they did not.

[about Genesis It Came from the Desert] The original PC version created by Cinemaware became property of or licensed by New World Computing, makers of Might & Magic III (did the Genesis version ever come out? I think it may have in Japan, but I don't think so — worked on that, too), and Electronic Arts contracted us [New World Computing] to make it. I was Lead Programmer and Lead Designer. Right when we were at beta, EA cancelled ALL non-sports titles, and it did not ship. My friends and I played it at home on a burnt ROM for fun.

GDRI: Genesis It Came from the Desert never came out anywhere, but Cinemaware has the ROM on its website. [The ROM was available there at the time of the interview.]

MH: That's awesome it's actually playable and downloadable! Crazy how they got it somehow.

GDRI: One more question about It Came from the Desert: Was it finished when it was canned?

MH: Yes, it was 99.99% complete. Electronic Arts even provided all the sound effects and music before canning it.

GDRI: You mentioned Akira for the Game Gear. Would that have been anything like this Akira game released for the Amiga CD32?

MH: I don't believe so because I remember it well. It was a five-engine game. The motorcycle riding level was vertical, not horizontal. It had a street fighting level and even a 3D maze level ala Wolfenstein. And this is why it never shipped. Too ambitious. Actually, maybe there was a Genesis or SNES version or Game Boy version, too. Anyways, for sure, the Game Gear had a street and vertical motorcycle level. To my knowledge, it never shipped and was never finished, but I believe Clearwater (the old Tahoe) made it. I was at THQ at the time working as Lead Programmer on SNES The Mask (based on the Jim Carrey film). It's very funny to talk to you. I have seen a lot more unfinished big titles than I have described. Of course, I always only list shipped titles on my résumé. But for every one shipped game, at least two didn't. I've seen multi-million dollar productions at Activision thrown in the trash, and always for good reason. Also, running Xbox versions of X-Files and Nintendo GameCube Terminator 3 did not ship.

GDRI: You brought up Clearwater. I talked to an artist who used to work there (Karen Mangum) about that company. Were Clearwater and Tahoe Software somehow related?

MH: Yes, Clearwater was the developers at Tahoe Software Productions. The executive (president) screwed up, and the rest of the team made a new company. They had no choice because they were all locals. They lived in Lake Tahoe, and that was probably one of the best paying gigs. I left (I was not a local) and went up there for the job and a vacation. I went to Rozner Labs to make Super Street Fighter II on PC, then left there to THQ, only to find out that Clearwater had a bunch of contracts with them! So I saw Akira, etc. And I do believe Akira was also on Genesis; I saw the 3D maze level. In fact, my SNES Mask was based on a Genesis Mask that never shipped. [The makers of Genesis Mask] were Black Pearl Software Chicago. I know because I was a member of Black Pearl Software LA, located in THQ. Black Pearl Chicago self-destructed, and only my SKU of the The Mask shipped.

Matt Harmon is currently Development Director at Bonozo LLC. We'd like to thank him for his time.

Interview conducted via e-mail by CRV in August 2007.