PC gamers have been enjoying the fruits of his labors for over twenty years, and Jeff Tunnell is just getting started. Considered a legend in the adventure gaming genre, he was been involved in over seventy titles over the course of his career, including some true classics like Heart of China, Tribes, and The Incredible Machine. His company, Dynamix was founded in 1984 and grew from small game developer to eventually become part of the great Sierra family. Tunnell currently operates Garage Games, an independent game label that provides developers with the tools and knowledge to make their visions a reality. He also heads Monster Studios, which publishes family games for the PC, web, and Xbox.
As one of the brightest creative sparks at Dynamix, Tunnell pushed the graphic adventure genre to new heights and brought gamers engrossing experiences that allowed them to get closer to their characters. This allowed a level of interaction not seen before. Sega CD owners were lucky enough to get two of his wonderful works, Rise of the Dragon and The Adventures of Willy Beamish.
We were lucky enough to sit down for a spot with Mr. Tunnell.
Sega-16: The Adventures of Willy Beamish was obviously aimed at an older audience, and this fit right in with Sega’s marketing strategy. Did they approach you about developing for the Sega CD or did Dynamix take the first step?
Jeff Tunnell: Dynamix was anxious to get into the console market, but all of our products were to big for cartridges. We jumped on the chance to work on the Sega CD. Of course, we still had to get clearance from Sega before we could get dev kits, etc. I remember them being extremely arrogant and difficult to work with. Had we known what the outcome of the Sega CD system would be, we would not have started the work, but at the time Sega was still on top of the world.
Sega-16: The Sega CD version of Willy Beamish features some enhancements over the computer original. What was it like, porting such a popular game to the new format? Were any other consoles considered at the time?
Jeff Tunnell: After working on the much more powerful PC platform, working on the Sega system was a nightmare. This was a difficult project. No other consoles could be considered at the time. We did some experimental work a little later on the 3DO system, but that system failed in the marketplace as well.
Sega-16: There were supposedly plans for a sequel. What happened?
Jeff Tunnell: I left Dynamix to work on small project at Jeff Tunnell Productions where we created games like The Incredible Machine, 3D Ultra Pinball, and Trophy Bass. I was not involved in the sequel other than creating the original storyline and puzzles. From what I remember, there were production problems which eventually lead to the cancellation of the project.
Sega-16: Rise of the Dragon was noted for its freedom of movement and action. It wasn’t as linear as past adventure games and allowed the gamer to continue playing even if they “screwed up.” Was there ever any consideration to expand upon this when the game made the jump to the larger CD format?
Jeff Tunnell: The funny thing is, I never considered RoD my best work. After Willy Beamish, I moved on to other game types at JTP. I felt frustrated with the adventure game as a method of making fun games and telling great stories. Years later, I truly miss adventure games, and realize that the Dynamix adventure games were pretty good.
Sega-16: Rise of the Dragon received some much-welcomed voice acting when it was ported, but was controversial enough to earn an MA-17 rating, even though it was toned down a bit for the Sega CD (most notably the famous French Kiss scene). How did you feel about having the game’s content edited?
Jeff Tunnell: Like I said, I was not too involved in the Sega CD versions. I was so involved in the new games that it did not bother me too much. My statement was made on the PC. I do think that having more adult storylines worked.
Sega-16: Were the scenes edited out because of the controversy surrounding video game violence in titles like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap at the time?
Jeff Tunnell: Yeah. The sale department said that the mature rating would kill sales.
Sega-16: Were there ever plans to port any of Dynamix’s other hits to the Sega CD (I’d have killed for Heart of China!)? Were any original titles in development?
Jeff Tunnell: The Sega CD ports were just dipping our toes into the console waters. We had Sid and Al’s Incredible Toons in development, but poor sales of the Sega CD caused us to cancel the game.
Sega-16: Do you think there’s room for graphic adventure titles in today’s gaming marketplace?
Jeff Tunnell: Oh, absolutely. I long to play adventure games. Developers allowed them to get too big. Development costs outstripped audience demand. But, I just know there is an area they could work with the right amount of scoping. I hope somebody does it.