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Statement by Dale DeSharone
Thanks to the writing finesse of John Szczepaniak, CD-i became the centre of attention in RetroGamer magazine with a double helping in issues 27 and 32. The former explored Nintendos lost heritage with the Zelda series of CD-i game developed by Spinnaker/Animation Magic and the latter a retroinspection of the Philips CD-i. Many exerts in both articles came from the mouth of Dale DeSharone, the subject of an article himself which featured in issue 31. John was kind enough to loan us these words in there original form.





It was just obviously not a game system and Philips was actually very clear in telling us that they didn’t believe the market for this device was games. There was a subtle hostility toward games that I noticed from the upper echelon of execs at AIM (American Interactive Media... Philips’ CDI software publishing arm). They were somewhat supportive of games for very young children as evidenced by the 4 out of 7 Spinnaker games being made for this market (Paint School I & II and Story Machine I & II). Philips thought that people would buy the machine for home educational purposes. Bernie Luskin was one of the top execs at AIM and his background was in College Level education systems. The other top exec at AIM, Gordon Stulberg was from the film business (not the game business). This all changed after the launch of the CDI platform because the only titles that actually sold were the game titles. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the original CDI launch titles but titles like the Treasures of the Smithsonian had multi-million dollar budgets while games like Laser Lords were closer to $700,000.

Spinnaker was an efficient outfit pumping out a range of software including the Paint School and Story Machine series, with early attempts at gaming in the form of Alice in Wonderland and Laser Lords.

Paint School 1 Paint School 2 Alice in Wonderland Laser Lords

There were other severe limitations to the hardware that concerned game development. The infrared controller was analog instead of digital and the infrared made it extremely slow and unresponsive. It had no MIDI music capability or sound effect generation processor. One might think (as Philips did) that those things wouldn’t be needed when you can play full CD audio or multiple levels of ADPCM (Adaptive Pulse Code Modulation) compressed audio. But, those forms of audio data had to either stream off the CD or be stored in memory and even the lowest level of ADPCM took up a lot more space than MIDI data or sound chip code. Of course, the cdrom was also a problem. The drive was single speed (1x) with really abysmal seek times. If you were streaming music off the cd you couldn’t go out and seek graphic data from the CD at the same time (unless you interleaved the graphics with the audio which was possible but that limited interactivity). There was also the issue of the small Non Volatile Ram Card as the only mass storage. So, you had a system which may have been better suited to large RPG or Strategy Games but couldn’t easily save complex game states.

Treasures of the Smithsonian Treasures of the Smithsonian

Multi-million dollar budgets allocated to mediocore projects such as 'Treasures of the Smithsonian' proved Philips had a major problem judging what CD-i owners actually wanted. With games outselling edutainment and reference titles by the lorry load its a mistake that cost Philips dearly.

We experimented with Clay Animation while at Spinnaker working on the launch titles. When we started the titles in 1987 the first affordable digital video capture cards were becoming available. We did all of the clay animation for Laser Lords and Alice In Wonderland using a video camera fed into a Targa graphics board. We wrote custom software so our clay animators could easily capture still frames and preview previously captured animation. The animation was displayed in a small window in RL7 (Run Length Encoded 7bit CLUT) mode which meant colors were limited to 128. Even though CDI was supposed to have MPEG I support it didn’t arrive in the emulation systems until very, very late in the development process. We couldn’t count on it being present so we didn’t use it in designing the games.

After the launch of Spinnaker’s seven CDI titles I left the company. Spinnaker did not have plans to continue CDI development. As an independent publisher I assume they realized they couldn’t make money developing for CDI without the development funding and R&D backing that Philips (AIM) was giving in the early years. I chose to start a new development company and was able to get development funding from AIM. Most of the CDI team from Spinnaker left to join this new group. This is where the Link and Zelda story begins. Somehow, Philips got a deal with Nintendo to license 5 characters. As I understood the arrangement it wasn’t a license of five games but 5 characters. A number of developers pitched AIM with ideas. I think AIM chose to go with the biggest names that Nintendo had at the time. We pitched separate ideas for a game starring Link and a separate one with Zelda. The development budgets were not high. As I recall they were perhaps around $600,000 each. We made a pitch that we could maximize the quality of the games by combining the funding to develop only one game engine that would be used by both games. This was in 1991-92 and even at this time a U.S. technical employee cost about $100,000 per year to support (salary, taxes, office space, equipment, insurance, administration costs). This was also a time when a 1GB hard drive cost $3000. We had a team of three programmers (other than myself), one audio engineer/composer, four artists and a producer. We had a single freelance writer who wrote the scripts and helped design both games.

Link: The Faces of Evil Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon


Love them or hate them, the Zelda games on CD-i still provide a great talking point for many Retro Geeks. Be it curious players or the ultimate collector of Zelda wares, the games demand a high resale price. Explore the games themselves and you'd play a very similar experience. As Dale mentioned, both used the same engine driving down costs and allowing greater flexibility within the budgeted $1,200,000.

AIM was of course expecting some type of full-motion animation in the games and I was trying to figure out how we were going to do that on the budgets. A mutual friend put me in touch with Igor Razboff. Igor was also interested in starting a new technical company at this time (1991). He had a PH.D. in Higher Mathematics and Computer Science from the university in St. Petersburg, Russia. He had been in the U.S. for twelve years and had worked at Bell Labs and Computer Vision. The Perestroika was beginning and the Berlin Wall was coming down. Igor wanted to return to St. Petersburg for the first time in twelve years and build a company there that would provide some type of service to U.S. companies.

With thanks to Dale DeSharone for producing this statement and John Szczepaniak for the loan!

Supporting research and material produced by Devin

Besides the 4 childrens titles released by Spinnaker (Paint School I & II and Story Machine I & II) the roster of 7 included gaming software with the likes of Alice in Wonderland, Laser Lords and Sargon Chess. Just to confuse issues Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand Of Gamelon were produced by Animation Magic, a company formed from the Spinnaker team. Animation Magic went on to produce one of the finest CD-i games ever produced when they released Mutant Rampage.

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