RVW

Reichart Von Wolfsheild is a busy man in the throes of many projects at any one time, yet despite this, he generously took time from his home in Maui to talk with me about his experiences and contributions within the video-game industry, but more specifically about his 3DO game, Return Fire.

At times, Reichart talked about very interesting and historic aspects from his career, comments not necessarily associated with Return Fire. I have included these within this article separated into these ‘off-topic’ quote boxes, as like me, you may find them incredibly insightful.

RVW4

Never played Return Fire? Read/Watch our Return Fire 3DO Review.

Previous to our meeting I knew very little about Reichart, other than his credit associated with the game. I assumed he was a game designer and not much more.

On research I discovered I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried.

THE MTV GENERATION

Entrepreneur, scientist, artist, technologist and inventor are just a few of the titles earned over the years.

He opened our conversation through his interest in strategy and wooden puzzle games. Something he always had a penchant for until some 10 years ago. He recalls, he could solve most puzzles, and any puzzle that could be completed within 3 minutes wasn’t worth his time, except for Bill Cutler’s, Sneaky Squares.

RVW2

R.W: “I thought . . . this would be a great gift. So right on the spot I said to the person behind the counter, order me a thousand of these. I figured I would give them out as gifts, and I gave them out as gifts for over 20 years.”

This is the man who built a CPU from scratch in his early teens and still possesses a highly infectious enthusiasm for what he does.


“I was more interested in building the tools, but then this game thing came along and I figured I’d give it a try.” 


His portfolio of work includes some well respected names, not limited to: Disney, Mattel and Dreamworks and an early career as an MTV music art director meant he would be surrounded by artists, such as Andy Warhol, Diana Ross and Deborah Harry.

He also contributed to the development of the technology surrounding music videos through a hardware device he built that auto corrected frame speeds between film and video format

So how did it come to be an art director for MTV would create the video game Return Fire?

RVW9

FIREPOWER

R.W: “I was working on a latency corrections formula for JPL for a government contract I was hoping to get. The goal was to close up the latency for space telerobotics for putting a robot on the moon.

The contract fell through and Von Wolfsheild admits at the time his naivety got the better of him as he made the assumption  the project would go ahead.

R.W: “I was pissed off and talking to a friend of mine in the arcade. I didn’t really go to arcades, it was something he took me too. I’m bitching about this game I’m playing (laughs) in fact which I think is called, Tank. He just turned to me and said ‘If you think you can do better, do better.'”

It would be through his frustration with Tank he would drift toward video-game territory but it was the numbers from his friends at Activision, that would prove to be a stronger call to action.

R.W: “I called them up they basically gave me the numbers, and when I heard the numbers I was in shock. I was like ‘You’re doing better than cocaine dealers’.

When you calculate how many quarters you have to shove into a machine at that speed to be pulling down the thousands of dollars per day, per machine, it’s very impressive. In fact one of the arcades I would go to they would empty the cash every hour.”

The mid-eighties heralded the arrival of the Commodore Amiga home computer. A market Reichart said hadn’t considered initially, but went on to say: “It caught my attention specifically as an artist, because years before I had worked with Warhol, who was a spokesperson for Amiga early on for the first year and Debbie Harry . . . There’s this amazing art machine – I’m an artist, so I thought this is the machine for me.”

Von Wolfsheild took to the Amiga instantly and started programming, writing code and tweaking.

Simultaneously he was working on commercial campaigns for Pepsi and Pizza Hut and made a lot of money, all of which he would pour in to computers.

R.W “It overtook me, I was like okay, there’s this huge third wave. So the first wave was the arcade machines. The second wave was Atari and Nintendo, and the third wave, in my mind, was these home computers. And that was my bigger interest at the time. I was more interested in building the tools, but then this game thing came along and I figured I’d give it a try.”

ARCADE FIRE

With the latency routines from the JPL contract, Reichart began putting together a demo that would enable him to open up two windows on the same Amiga. The Amiga was the first pre-emtive multitasking computer, so each window was a separate program and Reichart could test it as it were two machines linked through a modem.

R.W: “I developed this modem interface, a layer for that and I got it to the point where the two computers could talk just fast enough.”

With this in place Reichart hired a programmer and worked alongside them, whilst overseeing the art, graphics, sound and basic architecture.

R.W: “I found, Will Ware, who was actually working at Pizza Hut, but he was getting his degree in computer architecture. He and I just hit it off for an odd reason and that was actually a big part of it. If I hadn’t found someone I liked, I probably wouldn’t have done it.”

Additional income was obtained by Von Wolfsheild’s upgrade expansion board for the Amiga, which he designed and built, something that came naturally to him and made good money.

R.W: “I wanted to do a better version of Tank. And that’s what became Firepower. So it really was simple. And here’s the funniest thing. One of the people that made Tank was Jay Miner [father of the Amiga]. In fact the first time Jay played Firepower on the Amiga, he goes to me and says ‘Ah, you made Tank – two player’.

I was like, ‘Pretty much’. (laughs)”

ROLL OUT

An idea to gain a better understanding of the Amiga’s technology was seized, Reichart made a phone call and ended up speaking with Dale Luck.

R.W: “I didn’t understand all of the Amiga . . . and we’re all building these video games and I said why don’t we just meet with the people who made this thing and have them tell us how it all works.

We had a lot of fun, they were impressed with what we were doing because they’d never seen multi-player games in real-time modem access, whilst multi-tasking and so forth, and Dave Needle and Kodiak and Dale and a bunch of others. 

It was a great way to teach my whole team. They got hands on and could ask any questions of the guys that actually made the thing.”

Firepower released on the Amiga and some years later toward the end of the eighties, Dave Needle’s 4th generation console, The Handy (released as the Atari Lynx), was to enter the market.

Dave_Needle

 Dave Needle, with Amiga Serial number “1”
photo provided by Reichart Von Wolfsheild with the kind permission of Dave Needle

R.W: “I had been building products for Epyx . . . They were working on this thing [the Atari Lynx] and we got really close to bringing Firepower over to it. The first iteration of the second version.

I ended up not doing games for the Atari Lynx because of the politics that I was aware of that no one else was aware of, which was how bad the situation was between Epyx.

There was other stuff I was working on that was making better money, and more interesting to the team – that we just skipped it. And of course 3DO was the next step.”

Released in 1993, Dave Needle and R.J Mical, created the Panasonic 3DO.

The concept behind the 3DO’s multi-play philosophy intrigued Von Wolfsheild enough to keep track of the system’s development from day one, and eventually be the console that would inherit Firepower’s sequel.

THE NEXT GENERATION

P3DO

photo credit: 3do via photopin (license)

Lateral thinking was leveraged for more power and Silent Software’s approach took an interesting physical angle to overcome early technical challenges.

RVW8

R.W: “I used to own an exceptionally large Dinky collection, picture 400 to 500 mint condition palm sized toys . . . I had an entire armada of British ships. I brought these in and set them up in our office space. I had our team hold a . . . slip cover from a large box and I made everyone hold this up to their face to be a window.

And I said, okay. You get to view this world I’m showing you, you get to move forwards and backwards and you can zoom in, but you can’t turn your head.

So it’s not real 3D, it’s 2.5D, it is real 3D in the sense it’s being rendered with a 3D formula, except, we dropped one of the axis and the reason we did this is because we gained about 20 percent more speed on the 3DO. And knowing we had to split the screen and render two worlds, we wanted to keep the frame rate north of 12 frames per second.

Obviously back then games were between 30 and 60 frames, but I wanted to get this world rendered, I had a lot to render, more than an EA game would do or something else, so that’s how we came up with that.

We did it physically on the ground and spent days thinking what we could do, and ran tests over-and-over again, just seeing how fast we could do matrix math. And we used a lot of tricks. Will was a genius here and made it all possible.”


“I taught an artist who had never done computer art before how to use a computer and how to draw with a mouse, because I loved his style.” 


Silent Software housed a small team and Return Fire was down as a back burner project. Reichart continues to explain the development environment was expensive, but due to strong ties and good relationships they managed to get a good deal.

All the art on Return Fire was created by, not an experienced graphic artist for video games, but a fine artist who learned on the job.

R.W: “I taught an artist who had never done computer art before how to use a computer and how to draw with a mouse, because I loved his style.

330px-Return_Fire_3DO_Game_Packaging

 Return Fire box art created by Van Arno

He’s actually a fine painter, and now, a very celebrated artist in the world. His name is Van Arno and his work already kind of looks cartoonish, but he captures things because of it. So he falls into the Robert Crumb category. He’s avant-garde, almost comic book like but he adds a richness to it and I just loved his work, I loved everything he did. He’d done a lot of record album covers and stuff, and I said to him, hey you wanna do some computer work? And he said, sure, I’ll try it.

 

RF4.png

 Return Fire on the 3DO

He was very laid back, very easy going about it, which is rather ironic given this is a war game. So again it brought a certain ‘feel’ to the game, but we kept it minimalist on purpose.

We wanted to build an arcade game. This was always my goal.”

Reichart expressed how he found equalising of opponents interesting and how in traditional fencing you could have a large male take on a smaller framed female and such rules wouldn’t apply in the outcome of the fight. It would be determined by style.

The concept was something he wanted to install in Return Fire.

R.W: “I love multi-player games over single player games and I view the machine itself as nothing but a chessboard. It’s backdrop. I don’t like the idea of playing against a computer so I never focus very much on one player games, even the AI stuff and even though I love AI. I don’t really enjoy that.

I enjoy pitting myself against other human beings, and being equaled.

I can tell you exactly what I was motivated by because we played a bit of back-and-forth. In the old days there was a game on the C64, one of my favorites called Raid On Bungeling Bay, and I fell in love with it instantly, but I hated the fact it was one player, and I hated the fact I just couldn’t enjoy the environment like a simulated world.

So that’s where Firepower is very much modeled after Will Wright’s, Raid on Bungling Bay.”

GENIE IN A BOTTLE

R.W: One of my favourite deals ever, the most interesting to me was a friend of mine whom I still work with. He was the head of Disney Interactive and he’s the person behind the Aladdin game on the Genesis.

The reason that whole thing happened was because Disney had the license itself and the fact this giant movie was going to come out. And, the person who negotiated this amazing deal, Mark Teren.

He cut a deal with Virgin, Sega and Disney, and he got all three to agree to the same things at the same time. So Sega gave Disney fundamentally free buying power, because it was the last game to push out the Sega and give it a win, and he cut this amazing deal to have Virgin do all the work. And Virgin wanted some huge success as they weren’t doing very well at that point.

So it was this magic moment in time where Disney had to pay nothing to get the best game out there and it was a good game onto itself, it was a fun game to play. Great programmers, Divergent [Virgin’s] team were all pure awesome and they often ended up on games that didn’t do well, but the programmers and the artists were all stellar.

So understand the economics behind games like Nintendo and so on, at that time in history if you were going to make a game you had to decide who you were going to get into bed with.

A Sony Play Station development system is fifty thousand dollars and 3DO ended up being a mac development system, they wanted to do Amiga of course, but Trip Hawkins [Founder of EA and 3DO] said no. If I recall – I’m doing this from memory now, we bought a Mac, we hacked it, and then we did everything on Amiga’s.

We set it up so anyone in the office could transmit to this little slave Mac that we set up and we just stared at that Mac and hated it. We were all hardcore Amiga people and we were also sitting on hundreds of Amiga’s and every version of them, so for us the hardware was free. All we had to do was buy one Mac and turn it into a Vax – it was basically a server. Then it would do the build and spew it out onto our customised 3DO’s, which I still have.

WAR DRUMS

On release, Return Fire’s music was always celebrated in conversation between gamers, and at that time was one of the first games to use classical music. Today widely used as a standard, but in 1995 it was almost non-existent.

It was also the first game to use real 3D Dolby Surround.

Over a period of 3 months, Reichart, went through 300 classical CD’s stored in his truck.

R.W: “What I was looking for was the Rock ’n’ Roll version of these songs, I wanted to hear the upbeat versions, I wanted to hear heavy drums, it was a video-game I wanted it over-the-top. Even blind, even when I didn’t know what CD I was pulling, EMI’s collection from Giovanni was the best I’d heard.”

A schedule was put together with an approximate budget of $15,000 to fly out to Europe and have a selection of classical themes scored for the game, with Reichart conducting the orchestra himself. At that time a dialogue was also opened up between EMI and Silent Software which led to two months of negotiations.

Silent Software were asking for 45 minutes of EMI music, and the price was $100,000.

R.W: “I said I don’t have a one-hundred thousand dollar budget. He finally agreed to full licensing rights for any games I make in the next three years and I can’t tell you the final price, but it was definitely cheaper than me flying to Europe, so I got all the music rights to all the music I wanted, best quality and part of the deal that actually pushed it through was I told them I would advertise them, I would put ‘EMI’ first image full page, again, video games didn’t really do that back then.”

At the same time Von Wolfsheild managed to cut a deal with the  American Military, something that was encouraged from his current work with the DoD. The deal would see a tongue-and-cheek advert appear in the game, another first in advertisement for promoting the army via video game.

R.W: “As a result of that relationship it ended up making us an interesting amount of money on the back end because we ended up in the PX stores, the military on base stores, they bought it for everyone. If I remember correctly we sold something like 20 thousand units in the first couple of months just from military bases. So again, that caused them to buy more 3DO’s. They didn’t have the 3DO at that time, they had the game though.”

It’s clear the game takes on the theme of war and many elements were used in balance with great success to keep the atmosphere from taking on a dark tones. A lot of these were handled with nods to tropes, as well as the unbelievably great work done in the sound design department. Even co-creator of the 3DO, R.J Mical got involved.

R.W: “RJ and I, being old friends, he had this most ridiculous laugh. And I realised he has to be the laugh. I would hear him laugh and I would have his laugh in my head on certain other things . . . It sounds fake even coming out of him, but it’s completely real. It’s pretty hard to explain. I would ask him, you’re not really laughing like that, are you?

But no, this is a genuine belly laugh, but it just sounds like he made it up.

So that became the skull laughing. It was a way to add a little bit of levity to something that was taking on something that was a rather dark mood. My goal was not to make it something that was nazi-istic – to create a fake word.”

Aside from Mical’s cameo, other sound recordings were taken from Silent Software’s Will Ware, such as the ‘squish’ sound that accompanies a soldiers death as he goes under the vehicle as well as the grunt vocals as troops lob grenades.

All these elements came together cohesively to bring a blend of stylised aesthetics and an atmosphere, whist riffing off the absurd. An approach which resonated with gamers and critics alike.


“It’s better to only sell 10,000 copies but put money in your pocket rather than take a chance on marketing and lose everything.” 


The artwork design for the box came from a conflict of opinion between 3DO’s, Nick Earl, and Reichart.

R.W: “Nick Earl said something about the box and the marketing, and I said nah – I’m going to do the exact opposite. I didn’t know what the opposite was at that point, but I was going to do it what ever, and it hit me – we got a camouflaged product, lets actually camouflage it, but of course camouflage will stand out like a sore thumb in a high tech industry. So you have everything that’s like lasers and neon and all that – then this thing that looks like camouflage. If you’re interested even slightly in military related stuff your gonna pick up that box.”

” So the other product that would have a tank on it, with lazers and neon with red, green primary colours and we had this camouflage and when you stared at it for a second you realised you were staring at an angry face, and that’s classic Van Arno in there and so we just had fun with that.”

Trip Hawkins would push Nick Earl to pressure him.

 RW: “Nick was being forced by Trip to give me crap all the time, to sort of ride me. Trip himself, this was his favourite game inside the 3DO office to play with the team. They were on our case all the time to get updates on new features.

So, we’re building this game and they’re asking about marketing and sales and I said I don’t plan to do any of that. It either sells on it’s own through word-of-mouth or it doesn’t, I’m not a marketing guy. I build good products and if they like it, they’ll buy it.

If you do the economics of advertising there’s this cross over point and unless you’re really big it’s not worth doing. It’s better to only sell 10,000 copies but put money in your pocket rather than take a chance on marketing and lose everything. So that was a decision I made.”

With foundations from the Amiga days, Von Wolfsheild contacted some of his friends, editors from Amiga publications, all of which were still making video game magazines. He declined their offers to advertise and asked if they would review his game.

RW: They said, you want us to pay attention to you and you’re not going to advertise with us. I said, ‘Are you telling me I have to advertise for you guys to review it’?

They said, ‘No, we’re not saying that – but you do realise we make our money off from advertising.’ I said, ‘I tell you what, you make your money from EA because you’re never getting any money from me. If I ever get really really big and run a publishing company I’ll spend some money on advertising’”

Reichart sent the game to Electronic Gaming Monthly, the result was a complete stand-still at the office and the whole company came to halt.

R.W: “All the writers and everybody at the office were playing our game instead of working and he said ‘You’ve got a hit here’. And I said, ‘Okay, is there anything I can do to help you’? He said ‘No no, we’re going to do the review’, and I said ‘how do you plan to get the screenshots’?”

The format for getting screenshots didn’t sit well with Reichart. The procedure would usually result in poor colour and fuzzy images. He was put in touch with the EGM printers and the conversation resulted in Silent Software writing their own program to export Return Fire’s maps as images, colour corrected.

EGM released their spread that covered 17 pages, an amazing number at that time, dedicated to Return Fire.

[image in here related to spread]

R.W: “I remember Nick calling me asking ‘How much did you pay them’? And I said ‘No, they did this all on their own. I didn’t pay them a penny.’ He was always trying to get me to buy advertising somewhere to promote everything . I’m like, ‘No, if you want to promote Return Fire knock yourself out, put it in an Ad with 3DO.'”

While his approach paid off, Reichart admits he made mistakes with marketing and sales.

R.W: “I should have been more compatible with marketing people and sales people and so forth, I just didn’t understand them, they were in a completely different universe than me. I don’t understand the idea of pushing people to buy a product, I understand if your product is good, people will buy it and if it’s not, they don’t. But you know, we still did very very well. I know we made a lot more money than Gex did.”


“When we’d talk to movie directors about games I would say we’ll probably make more money.” 


WAR CHEST

Silent Software weren’t seen as big money makers, something Reichart recollects happened a few times.

R.W: “I was sitting with Dave Maynard from EA, he wasn’t being rude . . . and he said, when are you going to make a real game? And I’m like, Dave, lets do something fun here. I said how many people are on your team? How many units you going to sell? What’s your margin – what’s your wholesale price, work the whole thing out and advertising and all that. Then I worked out my numbers and his jaw dropped, because we were doing about 20 times what EA was doing.”

Von Wolfsheild explained their simple approach to projects encouraged profit margins. Beyond that they even tracked one of their products dollar units next to Michael Jackson’s Thriller which were matching in comparison. Despite these different industries it highlighted the potential to be made within the video game market.

R.W: “When we’d talk to movie directors about games I would say we’ll probably make more money. I actually met with Francis Ford Coppola, he played Return Fire at a party, and he laughed when he heard the music, of course – Ride of the Valkyries. And he made a comment, it’s cute.

And I said, Francis, we made more money off this than you did off the movie. And he just looked at me. What are you talking about? I then explained and worked through the numbers.

I know what movies make and I know how the industry works and we make a killing, and we don’t have anyone to share it with.

There was this interesting turn, where the market began to comprehend how much video games really made. And the fact, unlike movies, the whole accounting B.S hadn’t taken hold yet, the numbers were the numbers.”

RVW7

Crystal Dynamics soon arrived on the scene and was a heavy content creator for 3DO, many of which were the best games. A company that came from nowhere was created by Dave Morse and Selina Perkins, and heavily funded

R.W: “Crystal was started by a team that had one of the original Amiga people, Amiga people are everywhere – in fact, having an Amiga person on your team is a statement to me that says, okay your company has intelligence.”

The team came from a cable television background and worked in the 10 – 20 million dollar each range. Their game, Gex did very well on the 3DO and remains one of the best titles on the system.

THE TRIP

trip

photo credit: Trip Hawkins at Computer History Museum via photopin (license)

R.W: “I think Return Fire made the third most money of all 3DO games, I never saw the numbers but Trip told me directly. Me and Trip had a love/hate relationship, again, Trip paid me the highest royalty he’s ever paid anyone in history and he made it very clear to me he was pissed off about it. He felt I was taking advantage of him.”

Due to the popularity of Return Fire and its success, Trip negotiated for distribution rights, ending with a deal both parties were happy and the game shipped out to Asia and Europe.

DEALING WITH NINTENDO

R.W: Our team was the original team brought in to work on the Play Station peripheral – when it was the original Play Station, where it was not a stand-alone machine.

It was an interfacing device for a CD player for the Super Nintendo.

Sony and Nintendo were going to cut a deal together, and we were doing the encryption technology, because I built that for many other companies – encryption and compression is where my specialty is.

I think I still have the manuals to that Play Station.

RGB: So the add-on, was it ready to go?

R.W: I wouldn’t say it was ready to go. There were two things happening at the same time.

Our company, Silent Software, that’s where we made most of our money on the back end, the drivers and stuff. So we worked on the 32X, basically, if there was some weird device out there we were probably doing something with it, because people would come to us and say ‘you know how to do this really fast‘. So a lot of the products we made were not consumer products. We worked on the back-end and got a percentage of it.

So the answer is, when I last saw it, it was down at the Sony building in Los Angeles. They were having hardware problems, which is funny for Sony because these were the guys actually building the CD players.

They couldn’t keep the bit rate high enough, they couldn’t play back simple video – they were actually playing with early CD video playback and we actually had that already working on the CDTV. But that’s because of Carl Sassenrath, he wrote that and it was just awesome.

It was amazing to stick an audio CD in and get real time video out of it. It was very impressive on the CDTV.

Sony did not have that so as I recall the two issues were, they weren’t using what we were doing, and, they said they were having political problems.

They were basically fighting with Nintendo at the time and Sony was making the big decision if they wanted to jump in to the video game business. It was an interesting time in history, and they had some really smart people over at Japan Sony. Impressive engineers. Every day we’d learn about some new little trick they’d come up with – that day! I was like wow! Like, the thing has stereo and now the thing has 3D sound and all sorts of other things, and they were trying to fit as much in and it was clear they were trying to shove more-and-more stuff and their fundamental goal of course, was to build something that eventually allowed them to get all the money.

All said and done at the end of the day all they cared about is that they’re making the money and Nintendo’s not.

The hardware was having a lot of problems and they realised the reason they were having problems was they were trying to match up to Nintendo, as opposed to just building it themselves. Put their own motherboard in and build it from the ground up. So this was very early on and pretty quickly they jumped from that to saying they’re going to build it themselves.


“It really did just start from the fact I looked at Tank and thought I could do a better job with it” 


RW: “My personal favourite game on the 3DO was FIFA soccer, and I don’t even play sports. What I liked about FIFA was that it captured perfectly, what I was trying to capture with Return Fire, which is that amazing moment when you bring your friends over your house, and you’re relaxing and you are learning about each other by playing games together by having this environment. It’s the reason people get together and play D&D and board games and so forth. It’s incredibly… I’ll use the phrase ‘intimately social’ and I don’t feel there are other many things that do that.

So here we are, we basically have FIFA Soccer and Return Fire and I’ll tell you, I didn’t even have a specific interest in war or military games. It really did just start from the fact I looked at Tank and thought I could do a better job with it”

PIRATES

I asked Reichart why people still enjoy Return Fire today, given wildly fluctuating prices on eBay. What it was about the game that people still love?

R.W: “Simplicity. But first of we have to separate 2 basic markets to answer this. The nostalgic market that was there and the nostalgic market that wasn’t there. This is true of any market, not just video games.

There were people who were there and they were happier then and that was probably their motivation, and the new kids that are interested in this stuff there’s a form of jadedness toward the new stuff coming out – it’s so over-talked about, so over hyped and really noisy.

There’s also that angle of re-discovery of that same feeling kids get, well, they used to do this back in the 80’s of course, you would go through record albums, you’d find a song or a record that was released that no one knew about and you would show everybody. So I think there’s a lot of that going on. That’s a big part of this.

The other thing about these retro machines is it’s a collectors thing, there is that collectors mentality.  You know I just saw one of my games go for 250 dollars American, on eBay. A mint copy of Return Fire.”


“I have a whole view on piracy and I’ve never been against it. I was an early hacker.”


I queried Reichart’s attachment to his projects, mainly as he conversed with great detail about the numbers, which are clearly important from a business perspective. I said I expected there to be more of an emotional attachment.

R.W: “No, I very much love Return fire, if you look at the box from Fire Power it’s one of my favorite pieces of artwork, it’s just so ridiculously over the top, if you look closely at the jeep driving at you, it’s a lot of fun, that’s just the beauty of Van Arno, but there’s a lot of humour in all this stuff too.

No, there’s definitely a love of this and nostalgia to it, I get asked constantly to do updates for it.”

Reichart followed up with examples from his dinky toy collection and how all these aspects from his life were brought into the game and meant a great deal to him.

SONY KILLED THE VIDEO STAR

RGB: What do you think contributed to the failure of 3DO, given their huge ambition with the M2 project?

R.W: At the time 3DO was growing and growing, but their biggest problem which no one talks about…  Sony should of had a class action suit against them.

It’s a Japanese company and they don’t have to tell anybody the truth and this used to piss us off because the fact is, the 3DO was sold at a real price. Profit built in, of course, but, the $600 price tag that seemed ridiculous to everybody, that’s reflecting the cost to make one of those.

So how did Sony come out with a machine that was cheaper? Well, they didn’t.

They lied.

They dumped product, they basically started undercutting and doing lost leaders and they were making it up on the back end through software sales, but they were doing the same thing that happened years before that caused the whole terror thing with televisions.

They dumped cheap televisions to America and destroyed industries here.

So Sony got ahead the old fashioned way. They cheated.

That’s a shame and customers should be annoyed by that, but that’s a whole different conversation.

So what I’m saying is, the 3DO was too expensive given what the market was.

This is back then, $600 for a machine that plays games, even today with all the new economics that’s just a ridiculous number. It had the allure, got that part – even we were like, god this machine needs to go down, this thing gets down to $299. Magic number.

Then a lot of people stopped bitching immediately. That’s why 3DO were so focused on doing bundle deals. They wanted to cut deals with people and get the software shoved on there with the hardware.

It’s only now as I listen back to the recording and write this article I see with clarity what I missed initially in our conversation. Return Fire has so much of Reichart’s personality, his idiosyncrasies and humour are all encapsulated. They’re all extensions of values he holds and how he views the world, and the fact the team behind this is so small only negates any dilution of that translation.

This is something we as movie goers see. Values inherent to their creator are without a doubt on the screen, even subconsciously.

R.W: “It’s funny I’m looking on eBay now and I see a PAL version going for PS1 for $75, which i believe is the pirated version. So there’s 3 copies of the pirated version out there.

 

You know what, I have a whole view on piracy and I’ve never been against it. I was an early hacker. People who are not going to buy, are not going to buy and people who are, are and everybody who’s tortured all the software people to try to make it so it’s pirate proof are wasting their time.

Look, buy my game and be aware I don’t care if you don’t buy it and you play it and you have fun, and if you ever make some money or anything, send it our way, I’d appreciate it. It’s just that simple. Pirates could put you put of business, that happened with things like the game from EA, M.U.L.E. Everything I have ever produced has been pirated heavily and I view it as a compliment. I just want to get the word out there – guys, remember, we want to feed our children just like you do. Pay when you think it’s worth it to pay. If we’ve earned that respect, then great.”

Reichart left a lasting impression on me. It opened my eyes to some of the processes behind closed doors in the video-game industry, but what was more insightful was how it really doesn’t differ from any other. If you work hard and love your job, whichever industry that may be,  you can go on to make great accomplishments in that field.

Even through his mistakes Von Wolfsheild’s perseverance and determination took him further, not to loose sight of the goal and not giving up. He also appeared to me as an exceptional opportunist and strategist throughout his developments, all of which could not have come to fruition without hard work.

As our conversation was coming to a close I asked if he felt the ‘heart’ of gaming still existed today among software companies, and where he thought the technology was going.

R.W: “There’s a culture in every game developing company and if the right people are there at the beginning, everything you just said is true, and if they’re not, they’re not and that’s it. Some people just show up to work, while they work in the video game business and some people tell you they love it because it’s games, there really is no difference between that and someone who stamps out metal pieces at a shop.

They know they just want to get paid and they’re happy just to have a job.

I’d say it’s probably about 5% of the companies out there that still have all that ‘heart’. It’s very difficult to have that, other than let’s say, on hand-held, games because again you can have the small teams again, and the world is so different now.”

xboxone

photo credit: Kinect 2.0 via photopin (license)

RGB: “Where do you see the video game industry in 10 years?”

R.W: “Whenever predicting the future, most people focus on one or more simple technologies and try to imagine how those will progress. The mistake some people make is they don’t consider that all the other technologies will change a little, or a lot as well. It’s holistic.

Staying focused on just “games” I still have to look backwards to some of the first games, often played with sticks or dice, or board games perhaps played in Turkey or Egypt thousands of yeas ago. We still play games like all of them today. Entire cities grew around 6 sided cubes you throw to challenge your luck.

But there have been some impressive innovations in games over the years. Role Playing games were probably played in some form for centuries, improv being one form. The prototypical early video games were indeed primitive simulators, even Pong. And we should assume as far back as we can imagine people played out war with little symbolic pieces.

The big tech over the next 10 years will be augmented reality as the platform. And I suspect all the historical traditions will just become much more vivid. Games will be played more while people are just walking around, since now they can suddenly see a HUD that overlays their game over the real world. People are also going to have much more free time to do this, since robots will take, er, I mean help do many mundane things.

Imagine simply making your hand into the shape of a gun, and for you, and anyone wearing the same tech and signed into “your world” will all see you holding what appears to be a real gun. The whole world will look like a bunch of very dedicated insane mimes in giant goggles.

If you happen to see one of these mimes doing something that appears cool, like trying to get out of a glass box (Portal VIII), or pretending to pick up a prostitute while shooting at the local store owners (Grand Theft Auto XX) you should be able to just focus on them, and you will be offered a way to sign up and join them in their insanity.”

RGB: “Your overhead was so low with Return Fire it encouraged good profit margins. Is it a case developing costs are now out of control?”

R.W: “Yes, dev costs are insane. How many millions were thrown away on the last Assassin’s Creed halt?”

RGB: “On a personal note, it would be great to see Return Fire make a comeback with online play, perhaps through a Kickstarter?”

R.W: “Yes! We have considered this. And we might. I would first want to study up on the lineage of games that came after, like Command and Conquer, and Halo. Keep our original simplicity, but kick up the realism, more detail, etc. I picture a lot of mimes looking like they are driving a tank.”

AMIGA30.COM

AA30th

photo credit: The Commodore Amiga Lives! via photopin (license)

Reichart is involved with the Amiga 30th anniversary, a celebration of the Amiga, its groundbreaking accomplishments and rich history at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. For more information please visit their official website here.

Reichart Von Wolfsheild interview by Ash RGB_RetroBlog

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter below.

1 Comment »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s