Stories

 

The Rise and Decline of Dayglow Studios

 Naomi Rabinowitz interviews Harry Hashimoto, a former Dayglow Studios employee.

(The following story is fictional)

Naomi Rabinowitz: How did you get involved with the computer game industry?

Harry Hashimoto: During the August of 1993, I answered an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle. It was one of the few jobs in the paper that I was completely qualified for. “Dayglow Studios,” a computer game company, was advertising for an artist who could draw and paint the old fashioned way, by hand. Computer experience was not necessary. They would train. This looked a lot more interesting than data entry. I sent Dayglow Studios my resume and portfolio and got a call from Martha Dayglow, the boss’ wife and the Human Resources Director, about a week later. She asked me to come to their offices in Marin County for an interview.

A week later, I drove my old Toyota Tercel out to beautiful, downtown San Rafael for my interview. In those days, “Dayglow Studios” was in a modest office space in a small office building. There were only about 25 people in the company back then. I was introduced to everybody in the company and then was sent into a tiny conference room and asked to wait for the Art Director, who was running late. About fifteen minutes later David Boone walked in and introduced himself. He gave the aura of a battle weary and skeptical man who had seen a lot of the world. And most of it seemed like it was not worth revisiting.

David was very skeptical that I could handle working on a computer game for more than a year. He stated that a person with a fine arts background like mine would not be happy working on computer games. He asked me, “What would your artist friends who wear black and go to art openings say about you working for a computer game company?” I replied that my artist friends usually didn’t wear black and that they weren’t snobs. Which was sort of a lie, but then I said that a computer game job seemed a lot more interesting than the data entry and one hour photo lab jobs that I’ve had in the past. He seemed satisfied with my answer and we spent the rest of the time talking about national politics.

After a few more minutes with Boone, I was escorted into Don Dayglow’s office. Don Dayglow was dressed in a typical, upper middle class, California casual, outfit of expensive button down, pin striped shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. He looked like the kind of guy who would play the hard working owner of a greasy, auto body shop in a Hollywood movie. Yet he carried himself and talked like the big corporate executive that he once was.

NR: Where was Don Dayglow a CEO?

HH: Don was a CEO at Matty Toys in the Novato branch office, which was where the Computer Game Division was located. The rumor is that Don used to be an insurance salesman in Duluth, Minnesota. During his Duluth years, he met Martha and married her. He completely changed his life after he married Martha. He went back to school and got a degree in Computer Science from U.C. Berkeley. In 1984, he got a job as a programmer at Matty Toys and quickly worked his way up to President within two years.

In 1989 as the President of the Matty Toys Computer Game Division, Don Dayglow assembled the team (which later became the core of Dayglow Studios) to create the highly successful, “Candyland.” David Boone was the Art Director for “Candyland.” The lead programmer was a young man by the name of Mark Bosco. “Candyland” was released before the Christmas of 1990 and was one of the biggest financial successes of 1991. Don Dayglow and David Boone left Matty Toys a few months after “Candyland” was released to form “Dayglow Studios.” NR 

NR: What was the main reason for them leaving?

HH: Basically, they felt that they were being screwed by Matty Toys. They didn’t get the promotions and raises that they probably deserved. To make things worse, I heard that Matty didn’t give them the credit that they deserved on “Candyland.” As usual, the Matty logo was plastered all over the packaging and the credits of the game. Don’s name and the other people who were actually responsible for making the game were credited, but in tiny, tiny print.

Dayglow Studios was officially born on January 15, 1992 in Don and Martha’s home in San Rafael, California. Don used to proudly talk about how Dayglow Studios was born in his garage, which overstated the humbleness of the studio’s beginnings. Actually, Dayglow Studio’s first office was a small storefront in Fairfax, California.

Mark Bosco quickly resigned from Matty to join Don and David in Marin County. Martha became the company’s Office Manager. David hired the artists, Francisco “Chino” Lobo, Billy Kennedy, Bill Boyd, Arturo Siegfried, Ken Newberry and Arina Leninberg for the art staff. Mark Bosco hired the programmers, Alyssa Marx, Mark Mannisch, Mark Hudson, Mark Clay and the now legendary Mark Chu. By the spring of 1993, Dayglow Studios produced their first game, “Trip.” “Trip” was a huge financial success. Due to the huge success of “Trip,” Dayglow Studios moved to an office in downtown San Rafael. NR

NR: What did you think of “Trip?”

HH: “Trip” was hilarious. It’s one of those two-dimensional scrolling games like the first Mario Brothers game. The premise was basically very simple. You had to help the main character, “Hippie Dippy” reach Nirvana. If you wanted to play a female character you could choose a female character named “Sister Sunflower.”

Just like the rest of these scrolling games, your character had to avoid obstacles, and collect good things like supplies, money or ammunition in order to make it to the next level. In many of these games you had to help your character beat up or kill enemy characters in order to advance to the next, more difficult level. In “Trip,” the enemies were evil riot cops, evil corporate executives and characters that looked very similar to the “blue meanies” from the “Yellow Submarine.” You had to jump over the enemy characters, go under them or throw flowers at them. When the flowers hit the bad guys, they turned into happy, flower children. So it was very important to pick flowers along the way. Flowers were like weapons. If you didn’t have any flowers, the evil cops, evil corporate execs and blue meanies often had a much easier time capturing you. If you were captured, the game was over.

NR: “Trip” was marketed as a happy, non-violent game, but many people criticized “Trip” for being no different in orientation than the more violent computer games. In violent games, your enemies can be subdued with punches, kicks, gunfire or bombs. “Trip” conveyed the message that you can quickly subdue your enemies by blasting them with flowers. Many people thought that a truly non-violent game would teach children or adults that resolving conflict involves a lot of dialogue, negotiating and a willingness to see the other side’s point of view.

HH: Yeah, but who’s gonna’ wanna’ play a game where you have to negotiate with your enemy? That’s hard, boring, never ending work. The brilliance of “Trip” was that it was a violent game clothed in tie-dye and flowers. Games that sell, movies that sell, they all sell fantasy. Fantasies like triumphing over your enemies quickly, with little struggle and going to bed with sexy babes.

Picking mushrooms was also very important. In the more advanced levels of the game, you can’t defeat the enemy characters without mushrooms. But you had to know which mushrooms to eat. If you ate a good mushroom, you would get “high” and float over the enemy. The colors on the screen became brighter and happier. The colors of the riot cops, the blue meanies and the evil corporate execs would brighten. Then they would stop and happily wave to you as you floated over them.

If you ate a bad mushroom, the evil cops would turn into evil-looking pigs in police uniforms. The blue meanies would turn into red devils. The corporate executives turned into evil looking military dictators like Generalissimo Francisco Franco or the Shah of Iran. You know, the medals, dark sunglasses, cigarette holder, the crisp uniforms and all that kind of stuff. The whole landscape would turn dark and ominous, but kinda’ neon at the same time. It was a very clever and hilarious way to show that the little hippie character was having a “bad trip” or a “bummer.” You were usually caught very quickly after eating a bad mushroom. I remember that the few times I played “Trip” I would eat bad mushrooms on purpose just to see “the bad trip.” It was the most inspired part of the game. The “highs” and the “bummers” became more and more exaggerated as you reached the more difficult levels of the game. By the end of the game, the “highs” and “bummers” were positively psychotic.

When you finally reached and conquered the final and hardest level, you reached Nirvana. Hindu and Buddhist deities, Christian angels, belly dancers, 60’s personalities like Timothy Leary, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, famous historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, Joan of Arc, Twiggy, Elvis Presley and others welcome you to Nirvana. It was kinda’ like the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” album cover come to life. All the colors in Nirvana are bright and garish. Rabbits and deer are frolicking with lions and tigers in meadows filled with garish, psychedelic flowers. The sky is filled with doves and the oceans are filled with dolphins and whales leaping out of the water. When you consider how primitive the graphics and coding (programming) software was in those years, “Trip” was quite an achievement.

 

Trip

Screenshot from "Trip"

 

NR: What did you think of the controversy caused by the huge amount of psychedelic mushroom consumption in “Trip?”

HH: I really had no objections to the mushrooms in the game. In fact, I loved it. It made the game hilarious. I mean the psychedelic parts of the game were so ludicrous that I have a hard time believing that anyone could take it seriously.

… the people who thought that the game encouraged drug use are cut off from the reality of drugs and society. When I was in high school, drugs were definitely available. Pot, speed, you name it. From what I hear, there are even more drugs available in schools all across America. No computer game is going to be a huge influence in whether or not a kid is going to take drugs or not. The biggest influence is friends and family.

What I think many people did not realize was that “Trip” is a spoof of all the bad psychedelic movies and art of the 60’s. It’s basically a mindless game with a lot more laughs than the average computer game.

NR: There have been conflicting articles written about who was mainly responsible for the success of “Trip.” In your opinion, who was the creative genius behind “Trip?”

HH: Mark Chu was the creative genius behind “Trip.” We used to call him, “The Master” or “Master Chu.” Don had almost no hand in creating the game. David Boone undeservedly received most of the credit.

Master Chu didn’t receive the credit that he deserved because he was such an unusual, and unconventional character. Most of the programmers were… How should I put it? Well, I guess many computer game programmers are nerds. My stereotypical image of a computer game programmer is a quiet, serious, young male wearing shorts, a backwards baseball cap with their college logo on it and a T-shirt that had a picture of their favorite heavy metal band or their favorite computer game on it. I apologize to all the programmers who do not fit this stereotype.

The Master had long hair reaching down to his knees. Sometimes he would tie his hair around his waist. He usually wore an old fashioned, Japanese garment called a yukata over a brightly colored T-shirt. He often meditated during the workday and gave us advice on how to live our lives. He would interpret the I Ching and Tarot cards for us. And he was the probably the finest programmer in the company. Oh, and he never wore shorts or sneakers.

There was a core of older, male artists in the company who were ex-hippies. Even though Master Chu was not an artist, he had more in common and originally hung out with the ex-hippie artists, David Boone, Billy Boyd, and Arturo Siegfried. These four were credited for the hilarity of “Trip.” But few people realize that it was The Master who was mostly responsible for the success of the game. Even though he was technically not an artist, he was the one who really art directed the game. I think David Boone realized that Mark Chu was the real “visionary” and quietly stepped aside and let The Master art direct. And the most impressive thing was that he also became the lead programmer when it became clear that he was a better programmer than Mark Bosco.

NR: Why didn’t Mark Chu get the credit that he deserved?

HH: Unfortunately for The Master, the man was terribly arrogant and hard to work with. When I first joined the company, The Master was a bizarre, but fun guy to work with. He became more bitter and angry as time progressed. But during the early days, he would often go out to lunch with the rest of us and regale us with tales of his life as a street punk in Hong Kong and his hippie days in a Sonoma County commune.

The Master was also the Don Juan of the office. He was rumored to have had many affairs with the young, attractive females of the office. Even though he never talked about having affairs within the company, he proudly talked about his affairs outside of the office. Who knows if his stories were true? But the important thing was that he gave off the aura of a ladies man. He drove some of the male employees of Dayglow Studios mad with jealousy. Arturo Siegfried was someone who was always hitting on women and always failing. I think he may have even hated The Master. There was also a rumor that even Don suspected The Master of fooling around with Martha. I seriously doubt that The Master and Martha had an affair. 

NR: What did you think of Dayglow Studios when you first started working there?

HH: The offices were very cramped. The staff had grown from 14 people to 26. And they were planning on hiring at least 15 more people because the company was busy working on “Trip II Nirvana.” At the time, Dayglow Studios was working on a P.C., MacIntosh and 3DO version of “Trip II.” There was a lot of excitement and optimism there at the time. Some of the newer people there were so excited about being there that they were almost out of control with joy. I was kind of wierded out by the atmosphere there. It felt like I was entering a cult.

NR: What do you mean?

HH: I’d never been in a workplace where so many people, especially the younger employees, were truly elated to be there. In the past, I worked in typical jobs where everyone was there just to pick up a paycheck.

A lot of the younger programmers were real computer game fans. They were obviously thrilled to work on a much publicized sequel like “Trip II Nirvana.” A lot of the artists were thrilled not because they were computer game fans, but because they actually got a job that was connected to making art. The computer game industry saved thousands of young artists from working at low level, clerical jobs or restaurant work. Don rode the energy and excitement of these employees to create a strange, cultish environment.

For instance, every Monday there was a one o’ clock meeting called the Monday Meeting. The purpose of it was to tell Don that you did the work that you said you were going to do.

Every time someone stated that they had met their weekly goal, everyone started clapping. Some people would yell and shout, “Whoooo! All Right!” At first I thought that the goals were extremely hard. But then I learned that the goals were not that hard to accomplish. Everyone was just excited. And once in a while a deadline or milestone was reached. Every time a milestone was reached, Don would acknowledge that fact by saying, “I love the smell of milestones. It smells like victory.” The whole room would laugh uproariously and then Don would say, “Let’s give ourselves a big round of applause for all the hard work that we’ve done!” Then the whole room would erupt in wild applause.

Then Don would give his serious talk. There were usually three themes. The first theme was that everyone had to meet their deadlines or milestones.

The standard game industry contract was based on milestones. One company would hire another company to create a game for them. Both sides would negotiate until a production and payment schedule that both parties could agree to was created. The production schedule was divided into milestones. Over time the contractor, which in this case was Dayglow Studios, met a milestone, the production company or Entertainment Artists (the company that contracted Dayglow Studios to make “Trip”) would pay Dayglow Studios a designated sum of money. This would go on until all the milestones were met and the game was finished. After the game was finished, Entertainment Artists would pay Dayglow Studios the full, agreed upon amount. NR

HH: For obvious reasons, it was never good to be late on your milestones. If you started missing your milestones, you were working on a project longer than you planned without getting paid for it. If the game you were making for another company was late, that pushed back their release date. The worst thing that could happen was that your game wouldn’t be published in time for Christmas. Most of these games are scheduled to be released right before the start of the Christmas shopping season. For obvious reasons, being late for Christmas is very bad.

The second theme was that we should never talk about our games with other people. He always talked about how we could carelessly give away company secrets. He often told us a story about how he was once standing in line at a local supermarket while he was working at Matty Toys. The woman in front of him was talking to her friend about her husband’s job. By coincidence this woman’s husband was an executive at a rival game company. Don was able to gather important information about the rival company thanks to the woman’s conversation.

There was a lot of gossip within the company that Don’s incredibly fast rise to company president within Matty Toys was because of this coup, not because of his programming expertise. That seems a little unfair, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt his status at Matty. NR

HH: Because of his experience at the supermarket, Don was incredibly paranoid about his employees carelessly giving away company secrets. During the Monday Meeting, new employees often asked if we could talk about the company projects with our close friends. Don was visibly agitated and told us that we shouldn’t. He wouldn’t feel threatened if we talked about it with our spouses or significant others, but that was it. He once said, “An information leak could destroy us.”

Don’s third theme was that together we could all become rich and prosperous doing what we love and enjoy. This was his visionary, pep talk. And in the early days it seemed to work with a lot of the younger employees because of the company’s early success. He often told us that the company had made Fortune Magazine’s “The Top 500 Fastest Growing Companies List” the past two years. The pep talk worked because Don truly believed what he was saying. I believe he also knew that he had to have this pep talk to keep the troops loyal to him. He actually stated to us many times that the salaries that he paid us were below industry standards. But if we kept up the good work, together we could become very prosperous in the very near future. According to Don, we were just starting down the road of unparalleled financial and artistic success. Together there was no limit to the artistic and financial success that we could achieve.

Just a few months after I started working there, Don announced that he had bought the sole rights of the game we were currently working on, “Trip II Nirvana.” What that meant was that the company would distribute the game and take a much larger amount of money for every unit of “Trip II Nirvana” that was sold. The negative aspect of owning the rights of any game is that if the game doesn’t sell, then you are stuck with a warehouse full of games and no income. If you make a game for another company, you will get paid for making the game whether or not the game sells.

Don and David were extremely excited about owning the rights to the game. If “Trip II Nirvana” sold as well as “Trip,” the company could make a huge amount of money. Many of the employees were as convinced as Don that “Trip II Nirvana” would be a big hit and we’d all make a lot of money together. The Monday Meetings were so positive and optimistic back in those days. No one seriously thought that the game could lose money.

Actually, if it wasn’t for some of the older people in the company, I probably wouldn’t have lasted at Dayglow very long. I’m naturally not a “rah rah” type of person and to see all these super optimistic people was hurting my digestion. Luckily for me, I was trained by Ken Newberry and “Chino” Lobo, possibly the two most cynical individuals in the company. If it wasn’t for their incessant laughter and jokes about the company, the game industry, our co-workers, and life in general, I probably would have quit within a year. It was very good to know that not everyone was enthralled with the Dayglow message.

I soon learned that many of the old timers were less than thrilled to be at Dayglow. Ken, Billy Kennedy, Arina and others told me that Dayglow Studios used to give out a big annual bonus. But Don stopped giving out these bonuses as soon as I arrived at the company. He said that since the salaries at Dayglow Studios were below the industry’s norm, he was going to raise everyone’s salary. He did raise salaries but the raises weren’t even enough to match the amount of money that he used to give out in his bonuses!

Mark Mannisch soon left for another company after I started. I asked him why he was leaving. He basically said that there was no future in the company for him. The company he was moving to was offering him a huge raise and a higher job title. He died of a heart attack soon after he left.

There were a lot of rumors going around that he was poisoned! But nothing was ever confirmed. He was very overweight. He had a bad back and he was a definite candidate for a heart attack. He was one of those white guys who knows that they are being ripped off by society, and that their standard of living is slipping. But they really don’t understand who’s ripping them off so they lash out at minorities, women and liberals, especially liberals. One of the more entertaining and frightening events during the workday was to watch Ken Newberry bait Mark Mannisch into one of his tirades against liberals. Mannisch would get so upset that he would sometimes get red faced and become short of breath.

He probably just had a heart attack and died. I’m sure he wasn’t poisoned.

Billy Kennedy also left the company because of his raging bitterness over the loss of his big annual bonus. Billy was basically a prank loving, Southern fraternity boy who would go out of control at times when he drank too much Wild Turkey. He was always threatening to move back to New York where he was once a quite successful painter.

One of the most memorable moments in my days at Dayglow occurred during a party for Mark Hudson. Mark announced that he was getting married, so everyone in the company went to a local bar to celebrate. Billy was whooping it up with “Mama” Tracy. “Mama” (Alice Tracy) is an artist and a biker chick from Milwaukee. She’s very quiet and polite until she starts drinking her Long Island Ice Teas. Everyone was having a good time, especially Billy and “Mama.” Suddenly towards midnight, Billy and “Mama” were duking it out to the horror and delight of the spectators. They both passed out from exhaustion after five minutes of fists, bottles and flying chairs. It was great. “Mama” and Billy were so bombed that night that they didn’t even remember what happened.

Anyways, Billy soon moved to New York City to pursue his oil painting career. It was rumored that he was found dead on the side of the road in a small town in South Carolina. The rumor was never confirmed. In fact, he was supposedly seen in a small Native American owned casino in New Mexico performing as an Elvis impersonator. That rumor was never confirmed either.

Arturo Siegfried quit to start his own 3-D graphics and animation studio. Soon after he left, Dayglow Studios was robbed. Almost 15,000 dollars of equipment was stolen.  Artie was always broke. He was always borrowing money from people, but his new studio was stocked with the latest computer equipment and accessories. He also had enough money to pay for two attractive female “employees.”

Arturo did some special effects work on some big name Hollywood movies before going out of business. It was rumored that he escaped from his creditors by fleeing to Italy. It was also rumored that he ended up in Yugoslavia and was killed by Armenian drug dealers.

NR: Did these defections by three of the early members of Dayglow Studios have any effect on the company?

HH: Yes. It made a lot of the newcomers like me realize that there were more than a few unhappy employees at Dayglow. But in general, the atmosphere at Dayglow was still positive. People still had high expectations of the company and the games that we produced.

NR: Did things at Dayglow get steadily worse after Mark Mannisch, Billy Kennedy and Arturo Siegfried left?

HH: No, not really. One thing that happened was that the 3DO version of “Trip II Nirvana” was cancelled. 3DO (the company) was close to bankruptcy and cancelled many of their contracts including their contract with Dayglow Studios. That was a setback, but it was nothing major. But I think the situation at Dayglow really started going downhill after the release of “Trip II Nirvana.”

“Trip II Nirvana” was released during the October of 1994. During the Christmas season of 1994 the computer game industry suffered its lowest sales since the Christmas of 1981. Ironically, the rest of the U.S. retail economy enjoyed its best Christmas sales since the mid-80s. NR 

HH: About a month before Christmas, Don usually held his day long, annual, off-site meeting. It was kind of like Don’s State of the Company address. The day would usually start with some games that I believe were intended to put people in a relaxed frame of mind. Then he would let the employees rant for a few hours about the problems that the company had. Don would then present the financial state of the company and then present his plans for the future. The off-site meeting of 1994 may have been the event that marked the beginning of the slow decline of Dayglow Studios.

After the games and the ranting session, Don’s Chief Financial Officer, Pat Lonigan told us very straightforwardly that the company had lost about 800,000 dollars during the first three financial quarters of the 1994 fiscal year. Because of the poor sales of “Trip II Nirvana,” Pat projected that the company would lose close to a million dollars during 1994. Most of us knew that the financial report was going to be bad, but not this bad.

Don repeatedly emphasized that we had too much talent and vision for the company not to bounce back. He finally ended the meeting by saying, “Let’s give ourselves a big round of applause for all the hard work that we’ve done in the past and all our future success.”

From the sound of the less than enthusiastic applause, you could tell that it was the dawning of a new era for Dayglow Studios.

Despite the financial setback, Don moved the whole company into a large, luxurious office which was probably triple the rent of the previous office. But this office was badly needed since the company now had over 60 employees. The reason Don had rented such a nice office space was that he had signed the rental agreement to move in before he or anyone else knew that the sales of “Trip II Nirvana” would be so poor.

NR: Could you blame the low sales of “Trip II Nirvana?” on the game itself. 

HH: No, not really. I think it was just bad luck that Don bought the rights and distributed “Trip II Nirvana” right before the worst Christmas season in years. Of course, the staff at Dayglow did a great job at creating the game, but I was kind of disappointed because it was basically the same game as “Trip.” Conceptually, there really wasn’t anything new. Of course, the game was faster and the graphics were slicker and more eye-catching. But I was attracted to “Trip” because it was funny and clever. “Trip II Nirvana” was just as funny and clever, but it was nothing new. I’d seen it all before in “Trip.”

I think the reason why the game industry suffered an economic downturn was that most of the games at that time were exactly alike. The computer football games were very similar to each other. The baseball games were even more similar. The racing games were all the same. The obstacle course games like the “Mario Brothers” games and “Trip” were all kind of the same. And there are hundreds of games produced within each of these genres every year! It’s not hard to imagine why there was a big drop off in sales.

Once in a while a new game comes around that is so good and so original that it creates its own genre. “Doom” was one of those games. It was such a good game that it still sold millions of units despite the industry wide sales slump of 1993 and ‘94. It was probably the first really popular game that used 3-D graphics. “Doom” was the first game to have a first person perspective. In other words, when you played “Doom” you felt as if you were traveling down hallways killing monsters. In previous computer games the player would control a character that killed monsters. And you would watch your character kill monsters from a third person perspective.

Instead of trying to create something original or something a little more exciting, the whole industry went 3-D because of the success of “Doom.” By 1996, it seemed like there were hundreds of “Doom” rip-offs. There were also hundreds of 3-D baseball games, 3-D football games, 3-D racing games, 3-D obstacle course games. It seemed like all the computer game genres went 3-D. And once again within each genre, all the games were the same!

Unfortunately for Dayglow Studios, Don also decided to do a 3-D version of “Trip.” To accentuate the lameness of this project, he named the next version “Trip III-D.”

Even though most of the company shared my disgust with “Trip III-D,” many employees were excited by the fact that Don was able to sign two new contracts. Paradigm Pictures signed Dayglow Studios to create a role playing game based on the popular science fiction, TV show, “Deep Space.” Entertainment Artists also contracted Dayglow to do a baseball game for them.

David Boone became the Art Director of “Deep Space.” I really believe that Don thought that Boone, not Mark Chu, was responsible for the creativity of the “Trip” games. Mark Bosco was promoted to Technical Director of “Deep Space.” Mark Chu became the Tech Director of “Dusty Baker Baseball” and Corky Yamamoto became the Art Director. Mark Hudson became the Tech Director of “Trip III-D” and Jim Kesey became the Art Director.

I was assigned to work on “Trip III-D.” I really didn’t mind that I was going to work on another version of “Trip.” My reasoning was that I would soon become just as bored with the other projects. Little did I know what an embarrassment “Trip III-D” would become.

“Trip III-D” was in trouble from the beginning. Our Tech Director, Mark Hudson, came up with the ridiculous idea of taking the art from “Trip II Nirvana” and modifying it for “Trip III-D.” Since “Trip III-D” was supposed to be a 3-D game, Hudson decided that it would be cost effective to make a game that was partially 3-D so that we could finish the game within nine months. It was partially 3-D because the characters would be the old (“Trip II Nirvana”) 2-D animations running around in a new 3-D environment. Don was enthusiastic about Hudson’s plan because if everything went according to schedule, the company would have another game to release for next Christmas for a low, low cost.

We (the art staff of “Trip III-D”) were stuck with taking the old art from “Trip II Nirvana” and modifying it for “Trip III-D.” There was absolutely no creativity in this project. Even the new 3-D environments were modified two-dimensional backgrounds from “Trip II.”

Unfortunately, the programmers could not pull off this hybrid 2D/3D game. Ironically, making the game partially 3-D with old 2-D art created just as many problems or maybe even more problems as making the game from scratch. It became obvious by the late spring of 1995 that the programmers would not be able to finish their end of the game in time for Christmas. So Hudson and Don’s solution to the problem was to scrap all the 3-D camera movements in the game! So what they settled for was a terrible looking 2-D game! “Trip II Nirvana” was a far superior game! What everyone soon realized was that we had just spent eight months bored out of our skulls for a game that wasn’t even nearly as good as our previous effort! And worst of all, the game was not even finished in time for the Christmas season.

NR: Why didn’t Don scrap the game when it became obvious that it was going to be a terrible game?

HH: Well, everyone makes mistakes. This was Don’s first big mistake as the owner of Dayglow Studios. It just happened to be a real big one. By the time everyone realized that the game was going to be a disaster, there had been close to half a million dollars spent on the game. Don decided to finish the game and hope that it sold well enough to cover the company’s costs. Obviously, Don thought that the game was worth saving and decided to spend the extra money to release it.

The sales of “Trip III-D” were even worse than the sales of “Trip II Nirvana.” It was also the first Dayglow product that received bad reviews. The following is a quote from one of the more colorful reviews.  “It’s almost impossible to believe that the same company that produced ‘Trip’ and ‘Trip II Nirvana’ could have produced a product as awful as ‘Trip III-D.’ Since I am a BIG fan of ‘Trip’ and ‘Trip II Nirvana,’ I played ‘Trip III-D’ all the way through just to see if there were any redeeming features.  There aren’t.” NR 

HH: To make things even worse, the “Deep Space” project was also in big trouble. The “Deep Space” team went way over budget and they also missed their deadline by about five months.

A major reason why this project was a disaster was that the original contract was unrealistic. They only had ten months to finish a project that could’ve easily taken a year and a half to finish. And people were starting to realize that David Boone didn’t really do anything. Whenever a decision had to be made about anything, he would kind of disappear. He was often seen smoking on the office balcony while the project fell further and further behind schedule.

NR: How was the company affected by the poor sales of “Trip III-D” and the cost overruns on “Deep Space?”

HH: Mark Hudson was forced to retire. Don took great pride in never firing anyone. He only forced certain employees to “retire.” Tragically, Mark was killed while playing golf during a terrible rain and lightning storm the day after he retired. The rumor was that he started drinking early in the morning and never stopped until he was struck with lightning.

David Boone was practically banished from the day to day management of the company. He wasn’t fired since he was Don’s best friend, but he became the art director of a game that was never intended to be made. I was also assigned to the game to my great shock. David and I were the only ones assigned to this project. It still surprises me to this day that I was assigned to the project for “losers.”

NR: Why were you assigned to a project for “losers?”

HH: I really don’t know. It’s still kind of hard for me to accept that I was considered a bad enough employee to be on the “loser” team.

According to other employees and former employees of Dayglow Studios, Hashimoto was lucky that he wasn’t forced to “retire.” He was notorious for sneaking into the surrounding hills to sleep for one to two hours a day. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was often seen trying to impress the prettiest female employees in the office about the Hollywood screenplay that he was working on. It was also reported that his work was of low quality and often late. One of his former coworkers said disgustedly, “Hashimoto is a slacker and a loser! The only reason that he’s still here is that he makes a fool of himself during the Monday Meeting! He claps and cheers louder than almost anyone else in the company. And he’s also a serious kiss ass!” NR 

NR: Is it true that Don never fired anyone?

HH: Yes. To Don’s credit, when there wasn’t enough work for his employees, he would let us train ourselves on the latest software. I also believe that he hated firing or laying off his employees because there’s no better way to make the office morale go down the toilet than to lay off a bunch of employees.

But if he wanted you out of his company, he would force you to “retire.” He could push you towards voluntary “retirement” by putting you on the “loser” project. Once you were on the “loser” project, you would never get a raise.

But if Don wanted you to “retire” immediately, you would get called into his office and told that if you didn’t voluntary leave the company, you would be fired for incompetence. Don would have a file of “evidence” and statements from his managers stating that you were a poor worker. He also promised to make life miserable for you by not giving you any good recommendations for any future job that you might apply for.

But if you “retired,” he and the managers would give you a glowing recommendation. Don’s wife, Martha would also help you get another job within the computer game industry. He would also keep you on the payroll for a month while you looked for a new job.

By 1996, the Monday Meetings became very paranoid affairs. It was rumored that the people who did not clap enthusiastically during the Monday Meetings were eventually forced to “retire” or were banished to work on the “loser” project with David Boone and me. This rumor was true! The least enthusiastic people in the company were soon on our project or forced to retire.

NR: Why didn’t Don force the least efficient people to “retire” instead of the least enthusiastic people.

HH: I don’t really know, but when it became obvious that Hitler was leading Germany towards total annihilation, his own people started turning against him. There were a few assassination attempts made against him. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, was made the head of weapons and ammunition production because Hitler trusted him. Hitler didn’t care that Speer knew nothing about weapons production. But Hitler trusted Speer. He also knew that Speer wouldn’t try to assassinate him. You can make that same analogy with Don Dayglow.

NR: Don’t you think that’s going a little too far? Isn’t it unfair to compare Don Dayglow to Adolf Hitler?

HH: It might be unfair, but just a little.

By this time, it was standard procedure for Don to say at the end of every Monday Meeting, “Let’s give ourselves (or so and so) a big round of applause for all the hard work that he, she or we have done!” There would be thunderous applause in the office. While Don applauded, he would scan the room slowly looking for people who weren’t clapping enthusiastically enough. We were all scared that we would be forced to “retire” if we did not show enough enthusiasm for Don and Dayglow Studios. By July of 1996, we were giving standing ovations to ourselves. When Don stopped applauding, everyone would stop applauding.

The most sadistic example of this was when Don made all of us applaud for over two minutes, or maybe it was three. When he finally stopped applauding, we all collapsed into our chairs. It’s very hard work to give a standing ovation for that long and act like you mean it. 

NR: Why did you and so many of your co-workers stay at Dayglow. Why didn’t you just quit?

HH: A major reason why people were afraid to leave the company was that there were fewer game jobs in the market due to the low number of computer games sold between 1994 to 1996. Many game companies went out of business during those years due to low sales. The freedom to move easily from job to job disappeared for many of us computer game programmers and artists.

Since times were tough in the game industry, Don slowly started turning the screws on his employees. Many of the employees stopped receiving raises. Don started making and enforcing more and more petty rules. For example, he was really pissed off at me once because he thought that I left the company before 5:00 p.m. He had a rule that everyone had to be in the office by 10:00 a.m. and no one could leave before 5:00 p.m. He said that he saw me in the parking lot with another co-worker around 4:00 p.m. and that he saw us take off.

When David Boone informed me of this, I actually got nervous because I was actually in the office until 5:50 p.m. I thought that maybe Don was looking for an excuse to force me to “retire.” But nothing happened.

But the main reason why many of us didn’t leave was many of my co-workers were terrified of “The Curse of Dayglow.” Many people believed that anyone who left the company was killed or had their lives ruined. Coincidentally, a series of events ranging from tragic deaths to minor nuisances did occur to many of the company’s ex-employees.

But many of the supposed tragedies were only rumors. It was never confirmed whether or not Arturo Siegfried was killed in Yugoslavia. And it was never confirmed whether or not Billy Kennedy was found dead in South Carolina. Only the deaths of Mark Mannisch and Mark Hudson were confirmed. 

Denise “Apples” Loo “retired” from the company and became a lead artist for Disney Interactive. Disney Interactive went out of business within a year, so Denise went to Santa Barbara to work for a small company making interactive computer games for young children. The Santa Barbara company also went out of business. She now works as a volunteer in a Santa Barbara animal shelter.

After five years of claiming that he was going to quit his job at Dayglow immediately, Vijay Darani left the company to return to India. After a few months in India, he started his own game company in Bombay that went bankrupt within one year. It is rumored that he is now an apprentice for Disney Studios in Orlando, Florida.  

Kevin “Special K” Kozlowski left the company to take a job in San Francisco that paid double his Dayglow Studios salary. It is rumored that he was immediately fired and is now a high paid, “call boy” for wealthy female clients. 

The Chief Financial Officer, Pat Lonigan, left the company to work for another multi-media company. Pat left a high paying, high prestige position at Sony Interactive to accept a position at Dayglow Studios. Unfortunately, he joined Dayglow Studios while it was at its financial height. His reputation as a top-notch financial talent was ruined by the fact that Dayglow Studios was almost bankrupt when he left the company. 

After doing some stellar programming for three and a half years, Mark Randall left Dayglow Studios to work for Lucas Arts (the computer game company owned by George Lucas). He was almost immediately fired for stalking the halls of the Lucas Arts compound with an unloaded automatic rifle muttering about how George must die. Some of Mr. Randall’s co-workers at Lucas Arts reported that he was very disappointed with the last Lucas film, “The Phantom Menace.” After his dismissal from Lucas Arts, he reportedly bought twenty acres of land in Modoc County, the county in the northeast corner of California, and fortified it with concrete bunkers, weapons, food and medicine in preparation for the coming Apocalypse. 

These are only a few examples of the former Dayglow Studio employees who have experienced some difficult times after leaving Dayglow Studios. After careful research, I discovered that not everyone suffered serious setbacks when they left Dayglow Studios, only about 86 percent of the employees did. NR. 

HH: If it wasn’t for “Dusty Baker Baseball,” the company probably would have gone bankrupt by 1997. 

“Dusty Baker Baseball” was released in the March of 1997. NR. 

The Master and Corky Yamamoto did a great job getting the game out on time and actually making the game fun to play. I’m not saying that it was a great game, but it was one of the better baseball games on the market. Entertainment Artists was truly pleased with the results and contracted Dayglow Studios to make “Dusty Baker Baseball II.”

Because of the success of “Dusty Baker Baseball,” The Master, and Corky became major players within the company.

Corky Yamamoto probably deserves her own chapter in this saga due to her bizarre behavior, huge mood swings and the sheer entertainment value of her personality. She was hired as an artist about six months before me. Due to her incredible enthusiasm and sheer hard work, she was quickly promoted to Art Director, which infuriated many of the employees, especially the female employees.

Working with Corky was like working with one of your male high school buddies. She was incredibly frank about her physical ailments. Often she’d start the workday by telling us about her latest ailment, “I’ve got another bladder infection.” Sometimes she would cheerfully announce, “It’s that time of the month again!” Once she greeted me by saying, “I have to go to the doctor tomorrow morning and get my urethra stretched.”

Once she was heating up some sausages in the office microwave. She told me and a bunch of other guys, “I love these sausages. You heat ‘em up in the microwave for a minute and they’re just dripping with juice!

Once in a while I would hear her cackle on the phone and say, “I gotta’ go because Francisco is staring at my ass.” I wouldn’t have been surprised if Francisco was staring at her ass. But the weird thing was that Francisco would be nowhere in sight.

She also led many intellectual discussions around the many important issues of the day. She once asked a lot of the guys and the two lesbians in the office, “If you could go to bed with any of the ‘Spice Girls,’ which one would you choose?”

Even though she often talked and acted like an experienced bar maid in a waterfront bar, she loved wearing Winnie the Pooh sweat shirts. No one could criticize her work habits and production, but all the characters and artwork that she produced looked as if it came straight out of a Disney animated film. It was kind of weird to see Disneyish looking baseball players and baseball stadiums. For a while she animated the running cycles or running motions of the baseball players as if they were all members of the seven dwarfs from “Snow White.” When people criticized her baseball player animations for being too “cartoony,” she replied that she was just trying to give them “character.” The Master had to rein her in and force her to animate the baseball players more realistically.

During the making of “Dusty Baker Baseball,” The Master and Corky became inseparable. They ate lunch together, stayed late at work together, hung out after work together, and eventually The Master left his wife and children, and Corky left her boyfriend to be with each other.

Unfortunately, the adulation, praise, cash bonuses and raises that Don showered on The Master and Corky quickly went to their heads. They both quickly realized that they had become the most important two people in Dayglow Studios because they were the team leaders of the only team making money for the company.

Because of her newfound influence and power, Corky became more callous and insulting in her treatment of the employees that worked under her. Corky was constantly berating her team members for not working as many hours as she and The Master. She constantly had meetings with her team members where she told them what she expected of them and how they were not living up to her and the Master’s expectations. She often went to Don and demanded that certain members of her team be fired or traded for some other project’s team member. Don would often agree with them and force employees to “retire” just because Corky didn’t like him or her. When I saw how Corky treated her team members, I was appalled at her behavior and thankful that I was on the “loser” team.

NR: So what did you do everyday as a member of the “loser” team.

HH: A lot of people started hating us because we really didn’t do anything except talk about movies, politics, company gossip and drink a lot of beer and sake during our lunch breaks. I heard that Corky and other people wanted all the members of our team to be fired, but Don protected us for who knows what reason. I started drawing a comic strip while at work and I was lucky enough to get it published once a week in a local weekly alternative paper.

I really expected to be fired any day, but it never happened. David and I would make up incredibly ambitious, weekly objectives during the Monday Meeting. And we always reported that we reached our objective the following Monday Meeting, even though everyone knew that we didn’t do a thing. And to add to the hilarity, Don would often tell the rest of the employees, “Let’s give ‘Simon’ (the official code name for the “loser” project) a big round of applause for all the hard work that they’ve done.” You could practically see the steam coming out of Corky’s ears.

The Master wasn’t as mean or rude as Corky, but the disdain that he felt for everyone in the company was very evident. He would often dismiss other peoples’ suggestions to improve “Dusty Baker Baseball II” as if they were complete ignoramuses. The only people he respected were Corky and those few Dayglow employees who worked even more hours than he did.

Before long The Master finally started expressing his long felt resentment towards Don. He had never really forgiven Don for giving David Boone most of the credit for the success of “Trip.” In the past he used to criticize and make fun of Don in private. But he started criticizing Don during the Monday Meeting. He started by criticizing small, inconsequential things about Don. As time went on, he began directly challenging Don’s policies in private and in public. Then he started demanding more money. A lot more money. Not so gradually, his demands became greater and greater. So did Corky’s. 

“Dusty Baker Baseball II” was released just before major league baseball’s 1998, season opener. The game sold very well, even though a few people criticized the game for being nothing more than a slightly improved update of “Dusty Baker Baseball.” NR. 

HH: So, you want me to tell you about that fateful Monday Meeting? Gladly. “Dusty Baker Baseball II” had sold very well for Entertainment Artists and they were in the middle of negotiating with Dayglow Studios to produce “Dusty III.” After all the teams reported their progress reports, Don told all of us about how pleased Entertainment Artists was with “Dusty II.” He then said, “Let’s give all the team members who worked on ‘Dusty II’ a big round of applause. And I especially want to give special recognition to Mark and Corky.” There was thunderous applause for about a minute. When Don stopped clapping, everyone stopped as usual.

Suddenly The Master stood up from his chair and stared straight at Don. He started in on Don after staring at him for about ten seconds, “I don’t want your fucking applause! I’m an artist! I’m a visionary! I don’t get any respect! I don’t want fucking applause, I want recognition for the huge fuckin’ contributions I made to this company! I want to be paid what I’m worth! I don’t get any fuckin’ respect from anybody!”

Everyone in the room was silent and in shock. One of the female employees was close to tears. After about five seconds of silence, Don said, “All the team leaders and I are going to have a special meeting immediately in the conference room. Everyone else is excused.” Some people started shuffling out of the room, when The Master started again, “I don’t have to talk to you. I already fucking talked to you! I told you what I want! I want more money! If you don’t give me what I want, I quit!” Then he and Corky stormed out of the room and left the building.

The Master and Corky faxed in their resignations the next morning and never showed their faces again. That same day, Entertainment Artists broke off negotiations with Dayglow Studios. They abruptly told Don that they were no longer interested in contracting Dayglow Studios to produce “Dusty Baker III” for them.

It didn’t take us long to realize that The Master and Corky had been secretly negotiating with Entertainment Artists for weeks or maybe even months before The Master’s “blow out.” So no one was surprised when we heard that The Master and Corky started their own game company in Richmond, CA. And guess what? They signed a contract to produce “Dusty Baker Baseball III” for Entertainment Artists.

None of us were really surprised. Entertainment Artists didn’t need Don Dayglow to produce “Dusty Baker Baseball.” They needed The Master.

The person who seemed the least surprised by The Master’s and Corky’s resignation was Don. In retrospect, he probably knew that they were secretly negotiating with Entertainment Artists. And I got the feeling that he was actually happy to see them go. He got rid of his two largest salaries and the only two people in the company who openly showed their disdain and disrespect for him.

NR: How did the company survive without the baseball game contract?

HH: Amazingly, Don signed a contract with his former employer, “Matty Toys,” to create an updated, 3-D version of “Candyland” starring Matty’s “Blondie” doll and another “Doom” rip-off starring their “Sergeant Slaughter” doll about a week after The Master and Corky left. Like I said before, I think Don knew that The Master could go at any time, so Don had been working extra hard at signing new contracts.

We knew that Don must had been really short on funds because he used to say that he would never make a violent, bloody game, like a “Doom” rip-off. There were also rumors that Don had to swallow a lot of pride to go begging to Matty Toys, his former employer, for those two contracts.

I was greatly relieved that the company would not go out of business and was looking forward to resuming my relaxing routine on the “loser” team. But fortunately for me, my best friend from high school, Jake Cook, contacted me with a great job offer. Jake’s company was in San Francisco, which was very convenient for me because I lived and still live in San Francisco. I had an interview with them and was offered a 20 percent raise! It had almost been two years since I got a raise from Dayglow Studios.

When I told everyone that I was leaving the company, a few people were happy for me and a few were jealous that I was able to move to a better job. But most of my fellow employees shuddered and asked if I was worried about “The Curse of Dayglow.” I was shocked that so many people were intimidated by a so-called curse.

Harry Hashimoto’s stay at “Rad Dude Productions” was very short. Due to gross mismanagement, “Rad Dude” went out of business three months after Hashimoto started working there. His comic strip, “Ham and Cheese” was cancelled a few weeks after he left Dayglow Studios. It is rumored that he applied to over 100 computer game companies for a job, but failed to get one due to the fact that no one at Dayglow Studios or Rad Dude Productions would give him a good recommendation. He is now a part-time, data entry clerk for a marketing firm in San Francisco.

NR: Do you regret leaving Dayglow Studios?

HH: No, not at all. I had a good time working there. I met a lot of great, talented, entertaining and bizarre people while I was there and I got paid very well. I saved a ton of money, so I can now enjoy life a little more by working part-time. I am now very good at creating digital art thanks to my almost four years at Dayglow. But it was time to move on. Now I’m able to devote more time to oil painting, which is what I’m really interested in.

I really enjoyed working on computer game projects during my first two years there. But I should have left right after I started getting bored. I stayed at Dayglow because the pay was good, my co-workers were great and I was comfortable there despite the increasingly tyrannical behavior of Don, The Master and Corky. I know that many people hated working at Dayglow but stayed because of their superstitious belief in “The Curse of Dayglow,” but the curse never affected my decision to leave.

I do regret that I spent a large portion of my life creating things that I truly believe are negative. I’ve always felt that computer games are not good for society, especially kids. I’m so thankful that when I was a kid there were no computer games because I know that I would’ve wasted a lot of my childhood playing them. The worst thing about computer games is not that they promote violence, but that they are so addictive and time consuming. Computer games are definitely more addictive than plain old TV watching. I have no scientific evidence for this. But after watching people playing computer games for years, it’s obvious that these games are extremely addictive. Children need to learn critical thinking skills. These games do not encourage anyone to think. I guess that’s why people enjoy them so much.

NR: Do you think computer games or some kind of interactive software will ever become an important art form?

HH: I guess you could call computer games an art form, but it’s a primitive art form that does not match the power and scope of great film, great painting, great music or literature. Someday, there will be a computer game or some kind of interactive software that approaches the emotional depth and intensity of great literature or art or film or whatever. It’ll happen one day, but I haven’t seen it yet. It’ll probably be a while before I do, if ever. 

Mark Chu and Corky Yamamoto’s company, “Mastermind Games,” produced “Dusty Baker Baseball III.” Even though it sold well, “DBB III” received lukewarm reviews from critics for not being as good as “Mark McGwire Baseball,” probably the most popular computer baseball game in the market. 

Mark Chu has vowed that “Dusty Baker Baseball IV” will be the greatest computer baseball game ever. 

Dayglow Studios is currently producing “Blondie’s Candyland 2000” and “Sergeant Slaughter’s War on Drugs.” 

Dayglow Studios is no longer listed on Fortune Magazine’s “500 Fastest Growing Companies List.”  

 

Written by Naomi Rabinowitz, San Francisco, November 1999