Interview:Jim Reichert

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Jim Reichert

Jim Reichert talks about his work at Sega Midwest Studio.

GDRI: Tell us about developing Genesis World Heroes. Was a lot of time and effort put into doing it? Why was an American division of Sega tasked with converting a Japanese fighting game?

JR: Well, as I was only the developer of the game, I can't really answer the question as to why an American development house was asked to do the port. As for myself, I'd never really heard of the game, and I was simply happy to enter into the game industry at the time -- I wasn't about to ask probing political questions.

It was funny; the original "wunderkind" who was supposed to do the port, a British guy named "Steve," turned out to be all talk. But before he "left," he managed to bilk Sega Midwest out of a fair amount of money (he got a car as part of his deal). Ultimately, I came in to restart the port from the ground up and had very little time to do it. Thankfully, another guy at Sega, whose name was John <something>, helped out with certain parts.

It was actually quite a feat to get all of the eight characters, plus the end boss, in the game -- with all of the animations. Back then, cartridge ROM was expensive!

Yeah, World Heroes (even the original) wasn't anything to write home about. I had to squeeze 82M into a 16M cartridge. The source code was in assembly with absolutely no documentation. There were no testers. There was no one to help me port the artwork.

Anyone who owns this little turd can fire it up again, just to type "JJJ" as the 1st place high score initials -- and have an Easter egg to throw tomatoes at (my portrait). Take that, SOA corporate!

[ED: You do not have to have the 1st place high score for the "JJJ" trick to work.]

GDRI: So did you have the source code from the original game to work with?

JR: I already answered that. "The source code was in assembly with absolutely no documentation." What that basically means is that I had a file that looked like several hundred pages of:

0F77:0000  B8790F          MOV AX,0F79
0F77:0003  8ED8            MOV DS,AX
0F77:0005  B409            MOV AH,09

Essentially, it was likely that I was working with a post-compiler assembly dump. I'd worked in assembly before, but on a different chipset. I guess you could say I had only the assembly to work from, not the source and no access to the original authors. Basically, the game was written from the ground up by me, a novice at 23.

GDRI: We talked to Jim Rohn last year, and he said, "There were a lot of confidential, in-house developments that I don't think I can speak about." Are you willing to talk about them?

JR: I'm not sure what Jim Rohn was referring to about the in-house developments, but I think he was talking about office politics, incompetence, and SOA's capital "disappearing." At one point, we had an art director who knew absolutely nothing about art. I think there was some nepotism going on at high levels. He forbade artists to learn 3D Studio until he'd learned it first. (He wanted to make himself indispensable.) So me being the rabble rouser that I am, I learned 3D Studio on my own and taught it to the artists behind his back. The artists rapidly eclipsed him in skill, and he was basically driven out based on his incompetence.

Overall, the "trench forces" at Sega Midwest were incredibly gifted, but all their talents were wasted on incompetent leadership. Still, amid all the BS, we turned out two fairly decent games at a time when the market was evolving very quickly. We probably could have made a go of things if Sega hadn't blown its console strategy.

GDRI: There was a segment on an episode of a show called Rox featuring you at your job at Sega Midwest. Some footage from a 32X game called Aftershock was shown. Was an actual game being worked on? It looks more like a "proof of concept" to me.

JR: Aftershock got beyond the proof of concept stage, and we were developing the game when I left. I remember that Aftershock got rave reviews as a product pitch at SOA, but by that time, Sega Midwest had pissed away so much money (with little ROI [return on investment]) that nobody trusted them with SOA cash -- and Sega itself was totally floundering (32X?!?). It was too bad because that game actually had some legs, and the whole studio was excited about it -- and I was the lead designer. I still have all the videos and game assets associated with it -- I even have a cartridge with the prototype on it. We had a professional cartooner design all the characters for the game, and the images were completely awesome.

GDRI: Could you tell us what AfterShock was about? What kind of game was it?

JR: Essentially, it was Jungle Strike set in a post-apocalyptic world where you could fly, drive, and cycle around.

Okay, I'm looking at the AfterShock pitch folder, and here's the "High Concept" -- a game industry term used to describe a short paragraph that can be related in a minute or less.

"A combination of aerial assault, ground combat, and cinematics bring a compelling storyline to life in the post-apocalyptic world of AfterShock. Lead your team of skilled mercenaries through the ruins of L.A. in a desperate search for the source of the mutant infestation. It's a race against time as you infiltrate enemy strongholds, collecting weapons and power-ups in preparation for the final conflict with an evil tyrant."

Of course that's just the pitch. There's over 30 pages after that, of flowcharts, illustrations, and story. The folks at SOA were pretty enthused because we had an amazing artist on staff who was a brilliant comic illustrator, and we were going to leverage the 32X's video playback capabilities to do some amazing cinematics.

Looking back over the documents, it's still a game that looks like fun. But as with anything from the 90s, perhaps it's best left in the past!

[ED: In the course of answering the previous question, Mr. Reichert said the following.]

JR: Oh, I just remembered that another team at Sega Midwest was working on a 3/4 view shooter called "Black Angel" or "Dark Angel" about some beefy black dude. I don't remember who the lead was on that.

GDRI: Do you remember what system that 3/4 view shooter was being developed for?

JR: 32X.

GDRI: World Heroes says "Sega Midwest Development Division," and NHL All-Star Hockey '95 says "Sega Midwest Studio." Was there a name change at some point, or were both names interchangeable?

JR: Yeah, the names are basically interchangeable at this point -- it's the same group of people in the same location working on the same products.

Thanks to Mr. Reichert for his time. Since Genesis World Heroes, he has worked on arguably better games at Microsoft Game Studios such as MechWarrior 4, MechCommander, Crimson Skies, and Links 2001 (as well as tons of prototypes for other games). These days, he is an inventor and rapid prototyper. His work is featured in Disneyland's Innoventions Dream Home and the Microsoft Home of the Future.

Interview conducted via e-mail by CRV in August 2008.