I'm perhaps the only person to have formally interviewed Dale DeSharone (formerly Disharoon), creator of several Commodore 64 classics like Below the Root and the man behind the first two Philips CD-i Zelda titles. My motivation was a result of the blanket criticism his two latter games generated - criticism which, at the time, focused only the cinematics and ignored the gameplay. After buying and finding them enjoyable to play, I wanted to understand how they came to be created - regardless of your views on those games, the fact that Nintendo licensed some of its most valuable intellectual property to a third-party developer in 1993 was a story that needed documentation. I asked as much I could in 30 minutes, but when I discovered some years later that he had passed away due to leukemia, I was hit with the sad realization that a degrading magnetic tape contained his last words regarding his creations.
I also spoke with the surviving members of the M.U.L.E development team, whose Lead Designer, Dan Bunten (who became Dani Bunten after gender reassignment) had passed away many years prior to my interview. I learned that Bunten was tremendously respected, even loved, among the developers at EA. Jim Rushing explained: "We all know Dan was a genius. ... He had a passion for gaming and an innate sense of what was fun. He had his demons, obviously, but he was such a cool person on so many levels, that for me it was a magical point in my life." The team shared personal anecdotes which gave me some insight into a long-gone era when four guys could rent a house in Arkansas to create a timeless gaming classic. They were fascinating stories and worth documenting, but after the interviews I realized there would come a time when no one in this group would be around to tell them.
That many of these stories are now lost to us is tragic. Bubble Bobble might appear on Taito compilations, and the publisher will no doubt continue to make sequels, but will people know that designer Fukio Mitsuji is gone? Insert Credit reported on his online games design courses, showing that this was a man who still had skills to teach young developers. Another figure who could have told us so much is Hideyuki Nakajima of defunct videogame publisher Tengen who oversaw the events that lead to the infamous court case with Nintendo regarding patent infringement. His side of the story is now lost forever.
There are, of course, others who need to be remembered, more than can be covered here, and also those whose stories have yet to be told. As time slips through our fingers, the industry's most respected and beloved personalities will inevitably leave us. If we have any interest in games, we should acknowledge this, talk about it, ask questions and archive our history before it's too late. Let's not forget the lives of those who gave us what we have today.
John Szczepaniak is a South African-born journalist, formerly employed by a Time Warner subsidiary, but now freelance.