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.
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!