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INTERVIEW
Sam Palahnuk


Sam created the 1982 Sega coin-op smash hit Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator, worked for Disney, drives an electric motorcycle, and saves wolves!

MT> Your entry into the field can be traced back to your programming days on the Apple II in 1979. Any particular favorites that you published?
SP> I'd have to say my proudest achievements have been Star Trek, Wolf, and Nomad. Star Trek is a favorite only because it was my first hit, and it was such an adventure to make -- it was also the last game I ever programmed (I wrote parts of the code, not the whole thing). Nomad is a favorite because it was a successful experiment. The experiment was -- could I make a game where people would play just to spend time with the characters. That game has the equivalent of a 900 page novel inside, and I still get fan letter (I got one last week) from people who were so entertained by that game that they still play it on occation. Wolf is the ultimate favorite, though. It was the first (and perhaps last) perfect marriage of entertainment and education. The instructions were an interactive database about wolf facts. The game required you to know these things to survive. When you finished playing you knew as much about wolves as many scientists! And, it was completely addictive to play!

MT> While Sega's Senior Designer, what was your part in establishing their first consumer products division?
SP> I was building coin-op games and Sega was experimenting with the fancy new home-game systems, including the Atari 2600, VIC 20 and so on. The way the organization was orginally set up, we coin-op people really didn't speak with the "home game" people. The unenviable task the "home game" guys had was to translate our spectacular (at the time) coin-op games into the microscopic 2K and 4K cartridges of the home systems! And, they were supposed to do it without any help from us coin-op guys! What I did is re-design the games to run on the tiny home-game systems, and I forged relationships with the programmers to make the games as good as possible.

MT> With Sega, you created one of the greatest vector games, Star Trek. Were you a fan of the television show, as well?
SP>
Yes, I'm a Star Trek fan -- at least I'm a fan of "Classic Trek". I think management chose me, in part, because I really knew the show and loved it.

MT> What other projects were you associated with at Sega?
SP> I designed and programmed/managed a total of 6 coin op games, most were released in such small quantities due to management problems that you'd never have heard of them. I will share one treat with you though -- one of my favorite "unreleased" coin-op games that I did just showed up on MAME -- It's called TURBO TAG -- play it, you'll love it!

MT> You have been in the interactive industry for just over two decades, certainly you have experienced many phenomenal events. Please tell us of an amusing moment; or nightmare that, through time, has become comical in retrospect.
SP> I'm sure most old-timers have similar stories -- the worst horror is when you're forced to try to save a wonderful project from company executives who know nothing about games.

I can re-tell one particular tale: It was 1984 and Sega at the time was investing heavily into Laser Disc coin-op games. One particular executive was in a brainstorming meeting and he seemed hooked on a bizzare concept of his creation. He imagined a game where a player token moved about on a raster-graphics screen, picking up dots (very original idea). He wanted the game to cut from the raster-graphics to a laser disc "movie" each time the token approached a dot. The laser disc movie would show him bending down and picking up the dot and putting it in his pocket. Then the game would go back to the raster-graphics until the token made it's way to the next dot. He was roasting himself on a spit of his own creation. His boss (the president) correctly thought that this was a profoundly stupid idea. One of us (designers) even threw out a life-saver, and he refused to take it. He was fired shortly after this event, and came to work after he was fired! Only to be thrown out by studio guards.

MT> Few people can claim that they have driven, less alone own, both an electric automobile and motorcycle? Please inform us of the story behind these purchases.
SP> I was driving home and listening to the radio. The story of the Exxon Valdese was just being broken, and I was listening intently. I love nature and animals and the destruction and poisoning that was occuring was beyond my imaginings. I pulled into a gas station and turned up the radio so I could hear the story as I pumped my gas. As I waited for my tank to fill I planned how I was going to boycott Exxon and write nasty letters to everyone who I could think of. Then, I realized the utter irony of the situation! I was pumping gas at that very moment! Putting money in the hands of people who were destroying the enviroment -- directly this time, less directly every other day of every year. It was then that I decided that no amount of letter writing was going to do the trick -- I had to hit them where they hurt -- their pockets. Only by taking their money away could I weaken them. Within two weeks I had found an electric car maker and I've been driving it for almost seven years now. I'm happy to say I don't buy gasoline anymore.

MT> Your partner at Brother Wolf is Shannon Donnelly, whose work on Dragon's Lair is notable. How did the two of you meet and choose to combine efforts?
SP> I met Shannon at Sega in 1983. I was her supervisor. She and I fell in love and we've been together now for over 15 years now.

MT> With Disney Interactive, you developed many Mickey related software packages. Which do you remember being the most enjoyable to build and create?
SP> The "udutainment" titles were wonderfulk to make. I received a fan letter once from a parent who told me that their child who was autistic had pointed at the box in a software store. Mickey talked to her (it was one of the first products with character speach) and she"came out." It changed her life -- and mine. Ther is nothing better than making games that improve people's lives.


MT> A Disney title you worked on was entitled Wolf. Your company name is Brother Wolf. Why wolves?
SP> As an animal lover I would periodically make donations to animal charities. I'd get letters saying "the elephant will die out without your support", "there are only 4 Animari left, and they'll surely die out without your cash donation". It was making me crazy, and hurting my heart. I decided to specialize -- to find an animal that I could relate to and put all my energy behind. I had always been a great lover of dogs (I have dogs instead of children) so I picked wolves. The more I learned about them the more I loved them! I donate my time and money to wolf charities and enjoy every minute!

MT> How did you get to be such a nice guy?
SP> << Blush >>

MT> Twenty years ago, where did you see yourself today?
SP> Ihave no clue. The only childhood memory I have about my future was when I was 8 or 9 years old. I watched Star Trek and kept seeing the "computer" do amazing things. I went to the public library, got a library card, and checked out the only book they had on computers. I figured I would someday have smart computers helping me just like they helped the crew of the Enterprise. I guess it did come true.

MT> Would you do it all over again?
SP> I consider myself a work-in-progress. I'm amazed I've gotten along knowing as little as I did then. Every year I decide that I'm just now getting a handle on life. Every year I learn more -- more than I would have ever guessed I could.



A BIG Thank you to Mr. Palahnuk for participating in this interview w/ Good Deal Games.
Please visit Sam Palahnuk's Website, Brother Wolf, Inc. to learn more about Sam.

For those wishing a refund in quarters
for all the times you played Sega's coin-op Star Trek,

E-Mail: Sam Palahnuk

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