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.