The unluckiest game developer in history is him…

Game News The unluckiest game developer in history is him…

The Commodore 64 hack, the SCA virus, the Disney reversal… mired in immeasurable bad luck, Jim Sachs had only his will and his art to get out of it.

He is a pioneer of pixel art. Some of his creations are world famous without us knowing his name. Jim Sachs is the man who fashioned point by point the mythical sets of certain Amiga games. He is also the one who suffered a slew of catastrophic misadventures.

From the Air Force to the Amiga

Self-Portrait of Jim Sachs

Jim Sachs (pronounced “Sax”) was born in 1949 in the State of California. He spent his childhood in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles. And after studying architecture, he joined the Air Force as a pilot for a period of six years. “I was 28 when I left. The Air Force wanted to make me an instructor pilot, but that would have meant moving to Texas, so I left.” (AmigaLove). Back home in the early 1980s, when personal computers dominated the gaming landscape, he became interested in the language of the Commodore 64. there really isn’t. Let’s just understand that he lets himself be guided by his ambitions and by his art. As an autodidact, he began writing his first games. “I had no training in programming and, although I had to do a lot, it was the artistic side of computers that always captivated me.”, he says from his personal blog. His first production is called Saucer Attack, a rail shooter which takes place in the capitol and other historic buildings of the United States.. Jim ships a few copies from home. It even gets good reviews from C-64 magazines. But it is far too difficult to make a fortune: Saucer Attack becomes one of the most pirated productions of its time; “Everybody had it, but nobody bought it“, breathes Sachs. The 1980s indeed saw the first unstoppable copy systems. Games were already exchanged like packets of candy. The endemic situation discouraged him from finishing a second project, Time Crystal, of which only a buggy demo remains. The story was that of a time machine that took the player through the ages. From the steering wheel of his C-141 Starlifter to the small pixels of his creations, Jim Sachs has always loved taking flight. But the illegally engraved copies of his productions intended to prevent him from doing so.

Jim Sachs still continues to learn. And over the experiences that he stores later on the Amiga in particular, he lands a job as artistic director for Cinemaware’s first game, Defender of the Crown. Maybe he’ll have better luck this time. In this precursor to turn-based strategy, the Saxons and Normans compete for control of England. With the mouse, the artist develops superb chivalrous paintings. For the time, the realism is prodigious and bears witness to extreme meticulousness. It is at this moment that one truly discovers in Sachs a gift for art.

I put dots on the screen. At first, one by one. Green dots for grass, blue dots for sky, gray dots for castle blocks. Hours and hours. I was happy if I managed to make a square centimeter of the screen in a day. The first screen (the Saxon castle in the distance) took about two weeks. After Deluxe Paint was released, I was able to create a screen in 3-4 days. (AmigaLove)

The game is a success. Its sales will exceed one million units in 2001. Above all, we sing the praises of its artist: the media Info estimates that its “graphics have set new standards for computer gaming“. Jim Sachs is now on an excellent streak and is forging a golden reputation. Defender of the Crown is elevated to the rank of a small graphic revolution. So Commodore ordered a new version just for the Amiga CDTV, the small computer for which Sachs designed the internal graphics and user interfaces; a sort of director’s cut. The artist in full flight works two years on the program. He develops additional graphics and writes a new musical score. It even translates the game into five languages. Challenging. But shortly after the first copy was pressed, Commodore went bankrupt. The box has multiplied internal conflicts, departures and bad decisions; it finds itself unable to renegotiate the maturities of its loans. “So I never received any payment. All I got was twelve CDs of the game”. This new chapter was off to a good start. At least the Sachs paw is now written in history.

the last pirate

It’s now 1986 and Jim Sachs, undeterred, has a much bigger plan. This time, it’s on behalf of the publisher Aegis Interactive. With the tacit agreement of Disney, he is working on an adaptation of Twenty thousand leagues under sea. The sublime Nautilus created by artist Harper Goff for Richard Fleischer’s film motivated him to take on the project. This is the submarine and research laboratory commissioned by Captain Nemo to criss-cross the oceans. Sachs is finally embarking on a new journey, and so it will be underwater. Like most games, this one loads from a small floppy disk. The work is going smoothly and the first images are striking. But nearby, a pernicious evil emerges in the computer systems. It is said that 40% of Amiga owners have been victims. The SCA virus, as it is called, writes a line of text that appears on every 15th copy after a soft reboot : “Something wonderful has happened Your AMIGA is alive! !! and, even better…”. The phrase is a reference to the film Short circuit (1986), one of whose lines of dialogue reads: “Something wonderful has happened… Number 5 is alive“. And to continue: “Some of your disks are infected with a VIRUS! !! Another masterpiece from the Mega Mighty SCA! !!The mischief is signed by the Swiss Cracking Association, a Swiss group committed to removing software protections. The message is propagated in the breaches left by a few thousand diskettes. Fortunately, a simple command could usually erase it, so as to restore the filesystem. But not always. And now you know how lucky Jachs is. The artist used suitable starter blocks with his own code. A way to drastically reduce the start-up time of your game, but also to leave the field open to any malicious addition. And lo and behold, the SCA virus is now quite quietly nibbling at its system. He probably found a way in when the title multiplied the demonstrations, fitting into a slew of foreign Amigas. But there is still hope. Another copy has fortunately been entrusted to the publisher Aegis. Jachs hastens to contact the box.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jim Sachs

The unluckiest game developer in history is him...The unluckiest game developer in history is him...The unluckiest game developer in history is him...

As soon as the virus appeared on my system, I called Bill Volk at Aegis and told him not to put his copy on the computer. He replied: It’s funny you say that, because we just tested it. – derstandard

Too late. The work is lost. Piracy once again bruised the ambitions of Jim Sachs who, for months, had shaped his own Nautilus. “I was very discouraged to see that there was such malevolence in the computer community”. The SCA group then developed the antidote, the software that eliminates its virus. But not in time.

Like a Hollywood protagonist, Sachs still gets up one last time. In 1988, he resumed work and managed to finalize a superb demonstration video. But Disney, initially interested, ends up dropping him a second time. The giant simply no longer believes in it and refuses to finance the project.

It was the money. Disney couldn’t see that by spending $4 million on a video game they could earn as much as if they had spent $80 million on a movie. There’s a whole story that goes with that, involving Steven Spielberg and Steve Burke (now CEO of NBC/Universal). – Comments collected on his YouTube channel

Sachs also assumes that the rejection is not unrelated to his refusal to adapt the licensed Roger Rabbit, from which the film was about to be released. The request was supported by Spielberg in person, but the artist only had one month to honor it. The “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” game will eventually be made by Silent Software. Jim Sachs will never be entitled to his collaboration with Disney. “The real heartbreak was 20,000 leagues. I never completely got over the fact that Disney turned down this movie (AmigaLove).

The unluckiest game developer in history is him...

Amiga Lagoon by Jim Sachs

So certainly, the video game career of Jim Sachs ends on yet another failure, again in spite of himself. But however sweet the following phrase sounds, his art never dies. And you all have probably already admired it; The “aquarium” screen saver that adorned your computers for a handful of years, it’s him. “I had seen the pathetic fish screensaver that Microsoft used on Windows, and decided to take the genre off them”. In 1995, he also developed 3D cycling training software used by Robin Williams and even the American Olympic cycling team. He also created the graphics for the WordZap game for his friend Mike Crick. Today, Sachs seems sated and still occasionally discusses his fine accomplishments. On Linkedin, he writes:Please don’t bother “supporting” me for anything. I am not looking for a job :)“. Many of Jim Sachs’ finest achievements are accessible at this address.

Source : Game History, AmigaLove, obligation, derstandard

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