Your ideas coincided with the arrival of the Amiga, Atari ST -- that whole mid-'80s generation of computers. Did you need those computers to get close to trying to achieve your vision?
BJ: Not necessarily. Rocket Ranger, Defender of the Crown, The Three Stooges -- there's versions of those all running on the original Nintendo and there were versions of most of the games running on the Commodore 64. It was possible to do it on a less complex system.
But you concentrated on the Commodore Amiga in the end?
BJ: Yes. I loved it. It was probably my downfall ultimately, but I was sure we could do the best graphics available in the world at that time.
I was a big believer in trying to push the graphic quality of games, and we could do better graphics on the Amiga than any other system. So I guess my ego became inextricably bound with the Amiga. I really wanted it to succeed.
Tell me about the creation of Cinemaware's first game: Defender of the Crown.
BJ: Master Designer Software was incorporated in December '85 or January '86 -- I can't recall. I was able to secure a distribution agreement with a company in Chicago called Mindscape for the US rights. In my agreement with Mindscape we said that we would have Defender of the Crown ready to distribute by October 15, 1986 and it really had to be ready to go. We thought we would make that date.
A software developer in Salt Lake City called Sculptured Software, which later went on to do some pretty big things, they were the first developer of Defender of the Crown. Well, lo and behold, July 1st 1986 rolls around and those guys are like nowhere. I mean literally nowhere. It was a disaster and I was faced with a situation where I had to ship this game.
So I hired John Cutter, he was the first actual employee of Cinemaware. The first six months of that year my wife and I were the only employees of the company. John's first job was to fire Sculpture Software. I then picked up the phone and got hold of RJ Mical, you know RJ Mical?
The guy who helped create the Amiga?
BJ: Right. He wrote the operating system for the Amiga. I called up RJ in early July and said, "if you can program this game and have it ready to go by October 15th, then I'll give you $26,000." Now this was 1986, $26,000 was a reasonably large amount of money. He said, "I'm your man."
So the Amiga version of Defender of the Crown, which from a gameplay, and from a QA aspect, is probably the weakest version of the game, was actually programmed in three and a half months.
So how did you feel about the end product?
BJ: It was the first game that actually showed the power of Amiga graphics. It was beautiful. Up until that time, the Amiga had featured a lot of games that were basically Commodore 64 games with really unenhanced graphics. I would say literally every person who owned an Amiga bought that game. We had almost 100 percent total.
Was Defender of the Crown Cinemaware's biggest seller?
BJ: It was definitely Defender of the Crown. That was the gift that kept on giving. I don't think it was our best game, but it was a phenomenal success. You can't control those things, you just ride them and you get carried away with it -- and it was fun.
So after that development work became internal rather than contracted out?
BJ: To start the company I put four titles in development on day one: Defender of the Crown, King of Chicago, Sinbad: Throne of the Falcon and S.D.I. They were contracted with outside development. We had no one internal.
But the initial feel for the titles was strong enough that we were able to start bringing in staff to work on games that we could develop internally. The second round of titles came out using internal staff -- Rocket Ranger, The Three Stooges. They were all in the second wave.
From the interviews with you and others at Cinemaware from the time, it seems as if you were trying to apply a Hollywood production methodology to game development -- doing storyboards and so on. That's pretty standard in the industry now, but was a pretty new idea then.
BJ: Let me describe what my role was in the company, first of all. Analytically, I would say that my two biggest strengths are that I'm a pretty creative person and I'm a good sales guy. And probably the world's worst manager, (laughs) which I had to learn through painful experience, unfortunately. I say "creative" only because I did have certain things that I wanted to do with the games I was involved with.
In terms of production methodology, yes, we would have story meetings, we would flowchart the game, we would come up with storyboards. The games we were doing were different to the other games people were doing at the time. They were a lot different. So we really had to figure out where we were going with the game.
We weren't doing platform games, we were doing games that had storytelling and role-playing and action and this, that and the other thing. So if we didn't know where we were going it would be a disaster, so it forced us -- I think -- to a level of oversight that was rare at the time in the industry.
So it was more the type of games you were creating that drove the design model rather than you looking to Hollywood and going, "Oh, that's how they do, we'll do the same"?
BJ: Yes, exactly. We tried to learn from people who were doing things that were somewhat similar.