Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trade secrets... revealed!

Back in the late 1980s, I worked on contract writing my last Atari 2600 game for Atari itself, a forgettable little effort called Double Dunk. Contract programming with Atari was a far cry from the glory days of the early 1980s, and the pay on contract was paltry enough that I wasn't much interested in working with them again. Even though I turned in the project about a month late, Atari said they would be glad to work with me again, as being a month late was significantly more responsible than most of the contractors they were working with at the time. I was invited in for a meeting to discuss further employment.

Before taking the meeting, I was made to sign a contract that I would not reveal the titles they were working on, which Atari considered to be trade secrets. I signed it, though I couldn't imagine what all the secrecy was about. If they had a big deal title in the pipeline, what could it be but a game based on a movie or comic book or other previously produced work? I knew that Atari was notoriously cheap under Jack Tramiel's leadership, but I figured they had scored some coup and wanted to keep it under wraps until it could be made public.

When I wrote that I couldn't imagine what the secrecy was about, this was very literally true.

The big secret was... Ninja Golf.

They were letting me in on the big secret. They wanted to produce a game called Ninja Golf. Was there a design spec? No, there was not. There was a title.

Ninja Golf!

With a title like that, who needs a design spec? The game writes itself, doesn't it? It certainly sells itself, or so the Atari bigwigs at the time believed.

I passed on Ninja Golf. As we can see from the box art I found online, somebody else did not pass on Ninja Golf. I never played the game. I don't know how it sold. If it was only released on the Atari 7800, it couldn't have done very well, because that entire hardware system tanked.

But if I had only been bold! I would be to this very day known as Matty Boy, programmer and designer of... Ninja Golf!

Oh, bitter regret!


Splotchy said...

This post may result in legal action against you by Atari's lawyers, but I applaud you for dragging the shadowy figure of Ninja Golf into the open for all to see.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be so smug. Ninja Golf is an adored cult classic. I'm guessing, with your fixation on money over quality of craft, we can be thankful you passed on the job.

Matty Boy said...

Oh, I have certainly been put in my place. When people from that high tech Mecca of Greenwood Springs, Mississippi have mocked you, how can you possibly withstand the scorn?

I wrote more than my share of adored cult classics. This only meant they didn't sell very well. From what I've read of the reviews, the game play on the ninja side and the game play on the golf side both suck. The name is better than the game, like the modern movie "cult classics" Zombie Strippers and Snakes on a Plane.

Padre Mickey said...

My siblings and I used to play our own version of Ninja Golf as children on Okinawa. We would vacation next to a vacation resort for military officers in the town of Okuma on the northern end of the island. The rest-center, as it was called, had a nine-hole golf course, which was very close to the property line of the place at which we stayed (it was a radio station which was part of the mission for which my parents worked). My father would pay us a dime a ball for any stray golf balls we might find over on our side of the line. My sister and brother and I saw this for what it was: easy money. So we used to hide, crouching in the habu grass (I think estado√ľnidense call it pampas grass) next to the sixth hole and when a ball would roll onto the green, one of us would dash out of the habu grass, grab the ball and high-tail it back into the bushes. It was so much fun to see some Colonel yelling his head off! However, all things must pass and my father begin to ask why we were able to find so many balls, sometimes six in a day. My brother broke down and confessed, and our Ninja Golf days came to an end.

Matty Boy said...

Though the song had not been written yet when you hooligans were ruining the days of recreation for our brave men in uniform, if I were to do a film version of the Padre Mickey story Ninja Golf, I would have to secure the rights to the Judas Priest song Breaking the Law to do the story justice.

Matt said...

So, since I don't have an Atari 7800 laying around I have to know. Did you dress up like a ninja and hit the ball with a sword. Or were you a old guy in plaid pants that got attacked by ninja's at random while playing golf?

You can't leave my hanging on a cult classic like ninja golf. I might not be able to sleep not knowing what I don't know.



Distributorcap said...

so you invented all those classic games...

Matty Boy said...

Hey, Matt, here's a review of Ninja Golf on You Tube. There's also a pointer to a Flash animation version of the game.

karlacita! said...

I fell out of my chair and almost coughed up a lung from laughing at the thought of YOU with a money fixation. Over craft!

Wahahahahhahahahahahahahah ack!

dguzman said...

So is there any truth to the rumor that you did in fact work on the game "Ninja Sex Slave"?

Matty Boy said...

Thanks for coming to the defense of your poor but pure sibling, Karlacita! When I said Tramiel's Atari didn't pay much, I meant as in "not meeting the rent if a deadline was missed". These games didn't have very good game play because the end of the project usually should drag out some to get things just right, and they had no interest in that, just getting the cartridge out the door.

dg, there were smutty games for the Atari 2600! I worked on none of them, so you can stop spreading those rumors, thank you very much.