Interview with James (Jim) D. Sachs (born 1949), graphician responsible for graphic in hits like the Defender of the Crown and Centurion. He also made the whole DotC sequel almost from scratch. Interview conducted March 2009 for Polish Amiga Portal.
Wywiad z Jamesem (Jimem) D. Sachsem (ur. 1949), grafikiem odpowiedzialnym za oprawę takich hitów, jak Defender of the Crown i Centurion oraz autorem napisanej niemal w całości od nowa kontynuacji DotC. Wywiad przeprowadziłem w marcu 2009. Tłumaczenie na język polski dostępne na Polskim Portalu Amigowym (www.ppa.pl).
Kamil Nieścioruk: Your first contact with computers was Commodore C64, right? I wonder about the reception of your first product - Saucer Attack. Did you distribute it by yourself?
James Sachs: Yes, I sold it from my home (mostly by mail-order), and it sold fairly well. It also attracted the attention of Commodore, and led to my getting accepted as a developer on their new machine, the Amiga.
KN: Right, Amiga. You switched to it very soon and made graphics for shareware game Ports of Call. How did this deal come off? PoC is not a very popular multi-selling game, but still alive and with active users...
JS: There are a couple of errors here...I did the graphics for Ports of Call after Defender of the Crown. It was a commercial product by Aegis Development, not shareware. Two German developers, Rolf-Dieter Klein and Martin Ulrich, had approached Aegis to publish the game. All the code was done, but no real graphics. I had already been doing some graphics for Aegis, and contracted with them to do the artwork for Ports of Call. Even though it was a rush job, the game sold fairly well.
KN: However, your other project sold far better. The Defender of the Crown was a smashing hit and is considered to be one of the most remarkable games in history - first one combining a few genres in one game and the one with your incredible, perfect graphics. Did you feel like creating a hit?
JS: Yes, from the time Kellyn Beeck first approached me, I intended for the look to be revolutionary, with far more detailed graphics than had been attempted before. Kellyn understood this, as did R.J Mical, but Cinemaware only seemed to get it toward the end. Later, when I complained about the small amount of money I received for the project, they said, "But we had no idea you were going to do such a good job!" I had hired several other artists, all of whom were very exited to be working on something so different. One of them was Rob Landeros, a former scrimshaw carver, who was eager to get into computer graphics. After I left Cinemaware, he became the Art Director. Later he teamed with Kellyn to form Trilobyte (7th Guest, 11th Hour).
KN: You've (once again) cooperated with Kellyn Beck during the creation of the Centurion, another succesful product. Later you made some other titles. Which of your games you recall with most affection?
JS: Ha, ha - I'd forgotten about Centurion. I'd have to say that the earliest projects were the most fun. The industry was so new that each day I would discover new tricks and see graphic effects that no one had ever seen before.
KN: What was your role in production of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"?
JS: At first, Disney wanted me to do the whole game, based on the movie. It was far too big a job, so I declined. My friend Reichart Von Wolfshield's company ended up doing the game. I just did the two title screens.
KN: What is the story behind the Defender of the Crown II? How did you get rights to this title? Was it your idea or was it Commodore?
JS: Cinemaware had gone bankrupt, and defaulted on the royalty payments. I had already done the graphics for Commodore's CDTV and CD32 machines, and approached them with the idea of totally re-doing Defender of the Crown. I reworked the storyline, programmed it from scratch, wrote all new music, added some additional graphics, and translated it to 5 languages. Soon after the fist CD-pressing, Commodore went out of business, so I never received any royalties. All I got was 12 CDs.
KN: Computer games was not the only field of your activity. You've worked as a freelancer graphic. What was your best experience in this field?
JS: I enjoyed doing magazine covers and book covers. I was usually allowed to pursue any idea I wanted. Since it was just one screen, there was usually ample time to finish it, unlike doing games.
KN: Mentioned Amiga CDTV was a unique machine, but not exactly hitting the market in right time. The Commodore's marketing policy was said to be strange, at least. You designed CDTV GUI and worked for the Commodore. What is your oppinion about it?
JS: The hardware and software engineers I knew at Commodore were unequalled, the finest minds in the industry. The marketing people, well, that's another story. It did not help that the company was headed by Irving Gould, who had a lot of other business interests, and never really seemed very concerned with the success of Commodore.
KN: Which Amiga graphic software did you use?
JS: Originally, Graphicraft, then Aegis Images (which was just a user-friendlier version of Graphicraft). I spent the most years with Deluxe Paint, then moved to Brilliance toward the end.
KN: What do you do for living now? Is CompuTrainer still developed? Tell us more about this project, please.
JS: Though I have not been involved with CompuTrainer for many years, they are still thriving. In 1995, my friend Mike Crick approached me regarding doing new software for the CompuTrainer, a bicycle training device. He had been contracted to do the software on the 8-bit Nintendo, but the company felt that they had gone about as far as they could with that game-machine, and were looking for something more realistic. I started work on a 3D version on the Panasonic M2, but switched to the PC when that product was cancelled. The CompuTrainer simulation turned out very well, and the machine was used by the U.S. Olympic Bicycling Team and many other notables, including Robin Williams. I was making a reasonable living from the CompuTrainer project, but it was nowhere near enough to do what I eventually wanted to do - make movies. So I quit and took a year off to write the SereneScreen Aquarium.
KN: Right, the Aquarium. To be honest I was surpised to see you are involved in a project of that kind. Is there a market for such a screen saver? OK, it's more than just "flying toasters"... How complex is this underwater simulation?
JS: The Aquarium was an instant hit. Within a few weeks, it had gone "viral", and was downloaded millions of times. Even though a very small percentage of users actually bought a Key Code, I was still earning more each month than I did during all my years on the Amiga. Within a year it was on more screens throughout the world than any image except the Windows startup screen. It's been used in dozens of TV shows and movies. Unlike a game, which has a lifespan of only a few months, the Aquarium has been an "evergreen" product and still sells well 9 years later. I recently came out with Marine Aquarium 3, which greatly expands the concept into a large 3D environment. This sets the stage for all sorts of marine invertebrates to explore.
KN: A propos simulation - you were C-141 Starlifter transport plane pilot. Have you ever thought of designing plane simulation?
JS: No, I'll leave that to the large development teams. I work best alone, and a project like that (creating the whole world in 3D), is far too big for me.
KN: Do you track current Amiga news? Are you aware of what is going on in terms of soft- and hardware? I mean AmigaOne and Pegasos as well as MorphOS and AmigaOS 4.
JS: No, I haven't really followed the Amiga news. But even in those days, it was not really about the hardware. It was about the type of people that were attracted to it - their "can-do" attitude. When I started consulting on PC projects after the Amiga, I was surprised that developers were not eager to try something unless some other developer had already done it. With the Amiga developers, it was almost pointless to try for an effect unless NOBODY had done it before.
KN: Would you like to add something?
JS: I look back fondly on my Amiga days, and retain many of the friends I made during that time.
KN: Thank you for your time and replies.