March 20, 2006

The Apogee Legacy #11 - Dave Sharpless

Today our "Apogee Legacy" Interview series continues with a trip way into the past. Today we're going to bring you an interview with Dave Sharpless.

Dave is not a name that is known to most fans of our company, simply because he did one title with us, and it was withdrawn quickly after its initial release. This title was Jumpman Lives! which was put out in early 1991. For various reasons the game was withdrawn from distribution shortly after release, and (to this day) we no longer offer it in any capacity. The game however, has enjoyed a cult following over the years - mostly since the rise in public use of the Internet. To this day there remain fans who still create new levels for the game, which brings me to my next point. Jumpman Lives is a first in PC shareware gaming - it's the first game we're aware of that contained a level editor with the full product. This practice is common now, but back in early 1991 when this game was first released, it was quite a novel concept for a PC title.

Dave continued on with gaming after his brief time with Apogee about 15 years ago, and was glad to contribute to our series.

The Apogee Legacy
Past Pioneers of the Shareware Revolution
Issue #11 - Dave Sharpless
Dave during the Summer of 1990, about 6 months before Jumpman's release.

1) How did you first come in contact with Apogee?

Sometime around January 1991, I was a student attending the University of Toledo for a CSE degree and living in an apartment in a really bad neighborhood just off campus when I received a typed letter from Scott Miller. Scott got my home address from my shareware "Joust" and/or "Mario Brothers" games. In it he wrote about his appreciation for the two games, explained the Apogee business model a bit, and asked me to give him a call at the 800 number. During our phone conversation(s) we both agreed that JMLives would be a good game for Apogee to sell and for me to make.

2) Was there a reason you decided to work with Apogee, say versus going on your own or working with another company?

Yes, to try something new. My last two games were circulated on my own via BBSs, etc and generated very little revenue and I hated preparing the disks, mailing labels, and mailing them out.

3) Looking back, was there anything Apogee could have done better, regarding the marketing and distribution of your game?

Yes, somebody could have read the Jumpman owner's manual and realize he was from Jupiter and not Saturn! (The introductory screen to JMLives shows Jumpman coming from Saturn). Seriously, it would have been nice to avoid the legal issues that eventually surrounded JMLives by spending more time creating a variant of it instead of an exact copy. At the time Jumpman was still property of Epyx and they forced Apogee to discontinue selling it just months after it was released.

4) Do you think your game was made better or worse by working with Apogee?

Better... and definitely faster. Scott often let cash do the talking which is great motivation for a starving college student. Some folks at Apogee also contributed in the way of screen graphics and levels which was a big help at crunch time.

From 1992 - Employment badge of one of the coolest places to work in the world at the time.

5) Apogee had a policy of letting the designer or studio retain full intellectual property rights to their game. Nowadays, it's rare to find a publisher who allows this, especially if the publisher is providing the funding. Do you believe that it's best for the creator to retain IP rights? Why or why not?

If you're the creator, then of course it is! Back in the days of JMLives, Apogee didn't start paying for the game until it was mostly done so the IP rights were going to the right party.

5a) And if applicable, have you benefited from retaining ownership of your own IP?

This isn't really applicable.

5b) Do you think there'll ever be a sequel to your game(s)?


6) Is there any story/incident that stands out as interesting during your time associated with Apogee?

Not particularly, since my time working with them was so short.

Jumpman Lives! Title Screen

7) Apogee was an early pioneer in terms of teaming up with external designers and studios, and continues to do so even to this day (currently working with Human Head Studios on Prey). Why is it that so few other studios do this (mentor and fund outside projects with lesser known teams)?

Good question. It seems like big companies would rather let the studio prove themselves by making a hit and then buy them outright.

8) What the biggest difference in the industry nowadays versus when you worked with Apogee?

The size/complexity of projects and the size of the development teams required to create them.

9) What have you been doing since your time with Apogee?

I finished school and took a job with WMS Gaming (casino & lottery games) in Chicago. It wasn't my dream job but it did land me in the same building with sister companies Midway, Bally Pinball, and Williams Electronics. After a few years of that I joined a startup company down the street in Chicago called GameWorks doing wacky products for the casino environment. Spielberg wanted the name so we became High Impact. High Impact was purchased by Anchor Gaming which relocated me to Las Vegas in 2001. Anchor was then purchased by the market leader International Game Technology and I'm still there today trying to give you the best possible gaming experience while money is slowly being extracted from your wallet.

Jumpman Lives! Level Editor Screenshot

10) If you're no longer making games, have you thought about returning to this industry? If not, why not?

All the time. I'm just waiting for the right opportunity I guess.

11) Looking back, are there any missed opportunities that you wish you'd have jumped on?

No, I'm pleased with the way things turned out. Life is good!

12) Other than your game(s), what's your favorite game released or produced by Apogee (or 3D Realms)?

I don't have a favorite Apogee game because I never played any of them. I don't mean any disrespect because I have seen most of them and it's obvious that they're of very high quality. Maybe I just don't allocate as much time as I should toward playing games!

12a) And what's your favorite 2-4 games released by anyone else?

Another World (Amiga). Magic Carpet (PC). Carmageddon I (PC). Conker's Bad Fur Day (N64).

13) Is there anything else you'd like to add about your time here or to fans of your title(s)?

Thanks for reading the interview. Keep up the good work. Feel free to contact me via email - don't be shy (and remove the "-nospam").

Screenshot from Jumpman Lives!

A recent picture of Dave - from 2005

Thanks again to Dave for helping out with the series - his was one interview we were eager to have here given the uniqueness of his title in the past history of our company. While we don't distribute this game anymore (either in shareware or registered form), we are making available for the first time online the original hint sheet that we sent out for a brief time when we did ship the game. Back then, all of our games came with a "hint sheet" which contained tips & cheats. In 1994, these things were done away with and converted into on disk files, but this one has never been available since the game was discontinued 15 years ago.

Additionally, there is plenty of information about the game on the web. Check out these links below:

Make sure and tune in again next Monday morning, when we bring you the next in our Legacy Interview series.

Posted by Joe Siegler on March 20, 2006 at 1:37 PM | Permalink | Discuss this story on our forums
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