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Interview with Gary Drucker (Philips Sidewalk Studio)

>> Friday, October 4, 2013

Gary is the creative director of Sidewalk Studio, responsible for superb titles like Surf City and Wacky World of Miniature Golf. He is also a pioneer, having created the standard to put movies on cd-i, thus paving the way for DVD. He shares his memories of Philips cd-i with Alan on Philips CDi Zone; now also on Interactive Dreams.

Gary is pictured here on holiday with his wife Rebecca Newman, who was the manager of Sidewalk Studios. Both an MBA and a fine artist, she added greatly to the smooth running of the large team there. Gary reminisces about his time working on philips cd-i ''During the course of our eight years at Philips Media, over time those of us at Sidewalk Studio improved our software, our production techniques, and our understanding as to what we were doing creatively. Due to my narrative background as a Hollywood screenwriter and movie aficionado, and the characteristics of CD-i as a television peripheral device with the benefit of a standard format as opposed to the continually changing technology of computers, this led to a certain approach in our group. This was to explore potential interactive genres for children.''

"Surf City" was of a labor of love where we were trying to expand what the category for children could mean. "Surf City" was designed for kids who were a bit older and who might enjoy the mixture of Beach Boys music, the geography of a beach town circa 1966, animated music videos, amusing games that referenced the 1960's, and a narrative that was woven in and among all of these to tell a typical story of teenage love. With regards to the Beach Boys soundtrack, we were trying to get the rights to their music for a while when, finally, someone named Ted Cohen, who had background in the music business and who was married to a Philips Media executive, Laura Cohen, became essential to working out the deal and the rights issues. Of course, as was the case at the time, rights holders had no idea as to what we were doing, so we had to endlessly describe the project as best we could and we were able to make deals that no traditional entertainment format could possibly have made. If "Surf City" had been a movie, the rights would have had to be perpetual and they would have cost a great deal more.

So many of the holes in Wacky Golf were crazy--and funny. The game was made with a number of devoted people who had a bit of sadistic fun in them and kept adjusting the holes to make them more and more difficult. I speak specifically of Dug Ward who had a lot of creative input on the holes and Todd Williams who kept turning the screws tighter as we developed the title. Also, "Wacky Golf" had the same art director, Alex Stevens, as many of our other titles, so he contributed greatly to the look of this comic and playful miniature golf course. And Brian Truitt was the editor on these sequences (as he was on all of our Sidewalk Studio titles) who helped perfect the timing. In fact, Brian was the longest lasting person on our team, besides Rebecca and me. As with all the titles, Rebecca and I were also involved in the planning and execution of "Wacky Golf." But I think on this one there were more hands involved in the design than usual, in particular Dug Ward, and it turned out well for their involvement.

A lot has been talked about regarding the difficulty of producing games on the cd-i platform. For you, what were the major obstacles?
Wow! Are you kidding?! The obstacles were innumerable. Unfortunately, every producer or production group was left to solve these on his or her own. We were fortunate in that our early titles, such as "Cartoon Jukebox" and "Sandy's Circus Adventure," which we made under Frank Huttinger, who had hired us and was our old friend, were very well liked. For those titles, for example, we had to figure out everything. While off-the-shelf software was utilized, we used it almost as soon as it was released and we had to combine anything like that with tools we ourselves created that would work together. We also had to develop software that would run video and audio in synchronization, something that was not native to the CD-i machine. So as to keep everything in order, Rebecca, whose MBA was in Marketing and Information Systems, worked with the software engineers assigned to us to develop an eight-digit file management system, wherein each digit represented a different file state. This allowed us to always know which file was a later file and should be used in the disc build. Seems obvious, right? But other groups were not so lucky to have Rebecca working with them. They didn't remember which files were which and everything was a disorganized mess. And so, while we began working on these two titles well after others started their own, "Cartoon Jukebox," as I recall, was the first CD-i title ever finished. They even had a little party for it. Furthermore, we eventually finished six of the first 32 titles available for the initial release of the CD-i platform. This was because we had conquered so many technical problems and also because we were smart enough to be unusually well organized.

Did you have any games in the pipeline for cd-i, which were unreleased? Is there a game that you would have liked to produce for the system? We had planned a title called "Junior Detective" that was a teenage adventure game set in a science fantasy future. We wrote the story concept, created the production designs, but it never moved forward, unfortunately, due to various issues. Too bad. Fortunately, at Sidewalk we didn't have too many titles like that and this was a big difference from my life in Hollywood where I would write scripts that would never see the light of day or where they did get produced were so changed by subsequent writers or the director that I never knew whether I had done something wrong or whether it was done wrong by others. The great thing about Sidewalk Studio for me was that I had rather complete creative control. So while there were many contributors to our titles without whom they would not have been as good, if something was wrong with one of them, it was most likely my fault and if something was right then it was because I thought it was worthy enough to release to the public. Our last two titles were CD-ROMs: "Babysitter's Club Friendship Kit" (based on a well-known girl teen series of books) and a wonderful original title "Story About Me." Unfortunately, neither was released by Philips because it closed down first. "Babysitter's" was sold off to another distribution company whereas "Story About Me" just never got released although we finished it. It would be instructional to see the difference between these two titles and our last two CD-i titles because they are clearly different, designed to utilize the more tool-like nature of the computer as opposed to the entertainment nature of the television.

What do you think is the main reason that the cd-i did not take off? I think it was a mixture of issues. At the basic level, no one in marketing had figured out where in the store the player would be sold. Was it an audio device, a television device, a game device? Also, it seemed to us that it wasn't sold well for what it was. It was sold as a hodgepodge. Then, there were the external issues, the fact that computer games which involved more recombination of elements than audiovisual display were worked on by so many different developers. Of course, the irony is that nowadays those games developed for Windows 95 or whatever can't be played while, if one has a CD-i player, all the discs are still playable.

Do you think that cd-i was ahead of it's time? Actually, it was out of sync of its time and I think this was because the marketing folk and hardware engineers at Philips Electronics never thought hard enough about what they were creating. Therefore, the CD-i machine was in a marketplace competing with the computer world, on the one hand, and the proprietary television peripheral systems (Nintendo, PSX, etc.) on the other hand. This is because of the nature of creating a fixed standard is something the Consumer Electronics industry always does, and the benefit of this is that all CD's play on all CD players and all CD-i discs play on all CD-i players. But CD-i was competing against both the computer industry and proprietary standards that allowed for for continuous hardware and software development. And the way things were and are is that games players prefer their machines to continually expand the edges of technology rather than have something that can be played on any player anywhere always. I think, also, there were some execs at Philips who didn't quite understand what the overall market was like.

Do you look back fondly on your time working on philips cd-i titles? Absolutely. For those of us who worked at Sidewalk, it was a highly enjoyable experience. The people were so great, both individually and in mixture. Combining game designers, software engineers, production managers, animators, writers led to a stimulating environment. Many of them said it was the best place they ever worked and Rebecca and I would absolutely agree. Of course, Sidewalk wasn't the only successful group, but we were one of the few which were most successful.


Games 0-F

3rd Degree - PF Magic
7th Guest, The - Philips Freeland Studios
Accelerator - SPC/Vision
Adventure of the Space Ship Beagle, The - Denshi Media Services
Affaire Morlov, L' - Titus
Alfapet - Adatek
Alice in Wonderland - Spinnaker
Alien Gate - SPC Vision
Alien Odyssee - Argonaut
Aliens Interactive CD-i - Dark Vision Interactive
Ange et le Demon, L' - Smart Move
Apprentice, The - SPC Vision
Apprentice 2, The - Marvin's Revenge - SPC Vision
Arcade Classics - Philips ADS / Namco
Asterix - Caesar’s Challenge - Infogrames
Atlantis - The Last Resort - PRL Redhill (Philips ADS)
Axis and Allies - CapDisc
Backgammon - CapDisc
Battle Chess - Accent Media (for Interplay)
Battleship - CapDisc
Big Bang Show - Infogrames
BMP Puzzle - Circle (for ZYX)
Brain Dead 13 - Readysoft
Burn:Cycle - Trip Media
Caesar's World of Boxing - Philips POV
Caesar's World of Gambling - CD-I Systems
Cartoon Academy - Bits Corporation
CD-i mit der Maus - SPC Vision
CD Shoot - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Change Angels Kick-off - HMO
Chaos Control - Infogrames
Christmas Country - Creative Media
Christmas Country - The Lost Levels - Creative Media
Christmas Crisis - DIMA
Clue - 3T Productions
Clue 2 - The mysteries continue - 3T Productions
Connect Four - CapDisc
Creature Shock - Argonaut (for Virgin)
Crime Patrol - CapDisc
Crow, The - Philips POV
Cyber Soldier Sharaku - Japan Interactive media
Dame was Loaded, The - Beam Software
Dark Castle - Philips POV
Dead End - Cryo
Defender of the Crown - Philips POV
Deja Vu - Icom Simulations
Deja Vu 2: Lost in Las Vegas - Icom Simulations
Demolition Man - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Demon Driver - Haiku Studios
Discworld - Teeny Weeny Games
Dimo's Quest - SPC Vision
Domino - Wigant Interactive Media
Down in the Dumps - Haiku Studios
Dragon's Lair - Superclub / INTL CDI
Dragon's Lair 2- Time Warp - Superclub / INTL CDI
Drug wars - Crime Patrol II - CapDisc
Dungeons & Dragons - PF Magic
Earth Command - Visionary Media
Effacer - CapDisc
Escape from Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Evidence - Microids
Falco & Donjon & The Sword of Inoxybur - BMi / Zephyr Studio
Family Games I - DIMA
Family Games II - Junk Food Jive - DIMA
Felix the Cat - Philips Sidewalk Studio
Flashback - Delphine/Tiertex (for US Gold)
Flinstones Wacky Inventions - Philips Funhouse
Fort Boyard: The Challenge - Microids
Frog Feast - Rastersoft

CD-i Games Index G-M

Go - CapDisc
Golden Oldies - SPC Vision
Golden Oldies II - SPC Vision
Golgo 13 - Japan Interactive Media
Great day at the races, A - CD-I Racing, Dove Films, Total Vision
Guignols de l'Info, Les - Canal+ Multimedia / INTL CDI
Heart of Darkness - Amazing Studio (for Virgin)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The - Philips Kaleidoscope
Holland Casino CD-i - HMO
Hotel Mario - Philips Fantasy Factory
Inca - Coktel Vision
Inca 2 - Coktel Vision
International Tennis Open - Infogrames
Jack Sprite vs. The Crimson Ghost - PF Magic
Jeopardy - Accent Media
Jigsaw - Novalogic
Joe Guard - DIMA
John Dark: Psychic Eye - CapDisc
Joker's Wild!, The - Accent Media
Joker's Wild Jr., The - Accent Media
Kether - Infogrames
Kingdom - The far reaches - CapDisc
Kingdom 2 - Shadoan - CapDisc
Labyrinth of Crete - Philips Funhouse
Laser Lords - Spinnaker
Last Bounty Hunter, The - CapDisc
Legend of the Fort - Microids
Lemmings - DMA Design / Psygnosis
Lettergreep - Wigant Interactive Media
Lingo - SPC Vision
Link - The faces of evil - Animation Magic
Lion King, The - Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Litil Divil - Gremlin Graphics
Litil Divil 2: Limbo Years - Gremlin Graphics
Lords of the rising sun - Philips POV
Lost Eden - Cryo (for Virgin)
Lost Ride, The - Formula (Lost Boys)
Lucky Luke - The video game - SPC Vision
Mad Dog McCree - CapDisc
Mad Dog McCree II: The lost gold - CapDisc
Magic Eraser - Circle (for ZYX)
Mah-Jong - Japan Interactive Media
Making the Grade - 3T Productions
Man Before Man - Cryo
Marco Polo - Infogrames
Mario Takes America - CIGAM
Master Labyrinth - AVM AG/HQ
Mega Maze - CapDisc
Memory Works, The - Compact Disc Incorporated
Merlin's Apprentice - Philips Funhouse
Microcosm - Philips Freeland Studios
Micro Machines - Codemasters
Monty Python's Invasion from the Planet Skyron - Daedalus CD-i Productions
Mutant Rampage - Body Slam - Animation Magic
Myst - Sunsoft (for Cyan)
Mystic Midway - Rest in pieces - Philips POV
Mystic Midway 2 - Phantom Express - Philips POV

Compact Disc Interactive

Compact Disc Interactive

Games N-Z

Name that tune - Philips Fantasy Factory
New Day - Bits Corporation
NFL Hall of Fame Football - Philips POV
Othello - HMO
Pac Panic - Philips ADS / Namco
Palm Springs Open - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Pool - SPC Vision
Pinball - CapDisc
Plunderball - ISG Productions
Power Hitter - ABC Sports / Fathom Pictures
Power Match - Two's Company
Pursue - BEPL
Pyramid Adventures - Compact Disc Incorporated
RAMRaid - PRL Redhill
Return To Cybercity - Fathom Pictures
Riddle of the Maze, The - Fathom Pictures
Riqa - Bits Corporation
Rise of the Robots - Mirage Technologies
Sargon Chess - Spinnaker
Scotland Yard Interactive - AVM AG/HQ
Secret Mission - Microids
Secret Name of Ra, The
Shaolin's Road - Infogrames
Skate Dude - Viridis
Smurfen, De - De Telesmurf - Infogrames
Solar Crusade - Infogrames
Solitaire - BEPL
Space Ace - Superclub / INTL CDI
Space Ranger - Studio Interactive
Special Operations Squadron - SPC Vision
Sport Freaks - SPC Vision
Star Trek - Philips POV
Star Wars: Rebel Assault - LucasArts
Steel Machine - SPC Vision
Striker Pro - Rage
Strip Poker Live - Greenpig Production
Strip Poker Pro - Interactive Pictures
Super Fighter - The Super Fighter Team / C&E
Super Mario's Wacky Worlds - NovaLogic
Surf City - Philips Sidewalk Studios
Tangram - Eaglevision Interactive Productions
Taco's Toyroom Troopers - Creative Media
Tankdoodle - Creative Media
Tetris - Philips POV
Tetsuo Gaiden - Creative Media
Text Tiles
Thieves' World - Electronic Arts
Tic-tac-toe - BEPL
Tox Runner - ISG Productions
Treasures of Oz - Philips Kaleidoscope
Ultra CD-i Soccer - Krisalis
Uncover featuring Tatjana - SPC Vision
Uninvited - Icom Simulations
Video Speedway - ISG Productions
Vinnie the Pinguin - Pandemonium Labs
Voyeur - Philips POV
Voyeur 2 - Philips POV
Whack-a-Bubble - Creative Media
What's it worth - Marshall Cavendish Multimedia / Spice
Who shot Johnny Rock? - CapDisc
Wordplay - BEPL
World Cup Golf - US Gold
Zaak Sam, De - Toneelschool NL
Zelda - The wand of Gamelon - Animation Magic
Zelda's Adventure - Viridis
Zenith - Radarsoft
Zombie Dinos From The Planet Zeltoid - Philips POV

  © Interactive Dreams Version 5 by The Black Moon Project 2013

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