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30 September 2004

Dave Sharpless was engaged by Apogee to write a Jumpman game for the PC while he was still a computer science student. Dave completed the game after 10 months of development.

The process of creating the game in chronicled in the first part of this interview.

Jumpman Lounge: Was the shareware version of Jumpman Lives released at the same time as the full version?

Dave Sharpless: Shareware & Release versions were done at the same time, compiled minutes apart. Internally there are some conditional compiler defines to set it for release or shareware mode.

Was the full version ever boxed and sold in stores?

I do not believe the full version was ever sold in stores, at least not to my knowledge. At the time, I don't think Apogee sent out games in fancy boxes. Apogee never sent me a finished package so I have no idea of the contents.

How many copies did it sell?

I never asked them how many copies were sold, I will guess somewhere between 500 and 1000.

If you don't mind me asking, how much money did you make from JML?

For the one or two people in the world that aren't aware, John Carmack went on to found the legendary 3D gaming pioneers id Software, makers of Doom and Quake.

Apogee paid a proportion of sales. After taxes, JML hauled in around $1000 = Books for one quarter + a few months of groceries. After doing this game it was obvious to me that I needed to get a real job to make a living so from here I worked hard to finish getting my degree. Others working for Apogee at the time, like John Carmack, had much more talent than myself and continued to persue this type work. Great for him but I have no regrets.

What were the circumstances around the release and subsequent withdrawal of the game? I understand that the game was withdrawn due to copyright problems - what happened?

As far as the withdrawal goes, you know as much as I do.

I received a letter from Apogee saying that Epyx wanted it pulled, and so be it. Around the same time, I was also in legal trouble with Williams Electronics for Joust VGA, so having Epyx come down on JML was just icing the cake. I (and certainly Apogee) should have investigated a deal with Epyx/Randy Glover to get permission to distribute JML early on. Lesson learned. Being a struggling college student at the time, the little bit of cash I received from JML made the whole thing a positive experience.

Did you have anything to do with Apogee (or any further contact with them) after JML was withdrawn?

The letter from Apogee stating that the game was pulled was the last I heard from them.

Was JML your last project as a game programmer?

Soon after Apogee began selling JML, June 10th 1991 to be precise, I received a letter from an attorney representing Williams Electronics. It notified me that my shareware "Joust VGA" title was in violation of numerous trademarks (Video, Audio, Game Play, etc) protecting their arcade Joust game. The letter instructed me to destroy everything related to the game, contact everyone I sent the game to and have them destroy their copies, and depending on the effectiveness of these efforts they would then determine the damages and the cash amount to sue for.

Dave's version of Joust is still very easy to find on the internet, and can be downloaded from sites like Retro Remakes.

I hired an attorney, gave them my response that I had destroyed all copies, discontinued distribution, and notified BBS systems that I sent the game to have it removed. I also explained that I was just a college student earning a CSE degree and only wrote games like Joust VGA as a hobby.

A week later an engineering manager called my home to tell me to not worry so much about the pending law suit, but rather I should travel to Chicago to interview for a position as a video game programmer. Since I still had a year left to go to get my degree and had not been on that many interviews, it was easy for them to pass me by.

After getting my degree I got job with them in a new division called "WMS Gaming" that was to design and manufacture electronic casino gaming products. During my stay I had the pleasure of meeting many of the gaming industry greats: John Newcomer (Joust), Ed Boon (Mortal Kombat), George Petro (Terminator2) to name a few.

Did you ever have a chance to talk to John Newcomer about Joust VGA?

When Mr. Newcomer first introduced himself to my engineering group, it seemed like he went out of his way to mention to me that he designed Joust. From that it was clear that he knew who I was but perhaps I didn't properly acknowledge who he was. I don't think he was too impressed with my version but I'm not surprised by that.

On the other hand, Ed Boon would always praise my work which made me feel sort of uncomfortable since my achievements were so insignificant compared what he had done. Ed confessed that he was the one that downloaded Joust VGA from a BBS and passed it around the office :).

I suppose I'm lucky that Nintendo didn't hunt down and sue me for Mario VGA.

Have you stayed with Williams/WMS or have you since moved on?

I left WMS in 1995.

Casino gaming has been a good industry to be in over the last decade when you consider what happened to coin-op video games, pinball and telcom. Currently, I work for the worldwide leader of casino gaming products. Over the years I've worked on numerous successful titles & platforms that I'm probably not allowed to mention.

How were you first introduced to Jumpman?

I went to my first C=64 user's group meeting at a small computer store. Since it was also my first time at a real computer store (as opposed to the local K-Mart), it was a real thrill to see all the equipment and **GAMES**.

Miner 2049er is another classic platformer with a lot of Jumpman-like qualities. If you're interested, check out the excellent Miner 2049er Information Page, also hosted by ClassicGaming.com.

One very special game was up and running on the Atari 800. Yup, you guessed it: Miner 2049er. What fun!

During the next week or two I saved and scrapped enough dough to buy it but when I opened the newest gazette to find the mail order page (the computer store was -really- far away), I discovered a tiny ad for Jumpman in the last few pages. Just from reading the description it was obvious that Jumpman was far superior to Miner 2049er so I ordered it instead.

After receiving, it did not disappoint in any way. I put it through its standard break-in period of about 16 hours of continuous play.

There were so many great games for the C=64, but Jumpman was the first great game I owned. I think that is the reason for my tribute version.

How long did you play Jumpman for, before you stowed it away for good?

I played Jumpman for about week straight until I could finish the entire "Grand Loop". It's never really stowed away for good because there's nothing like the original. It's still one my top choices when I fire up a C=64 emulator.

Did you ever buy or play Jumpman Jr?

Of course I played Jumpman Jr. I don't remember finishing it.

Have you had a look around the internet at the coverage Jumpman Lives has received?

Not before you contacted me. I've had a few people over the years contact me to plead for a release version since it's no longer available through Apogee.

It looks like a number of people have taken a liking to the level editor which allows users to create their own generic levels. Jumpman UC on the other hand lets users add complex behaviors into their levels. This is awesome, kudos to Chris Leathley.

Huge thanks go to Dave for taking the time to tell his extraordinary story. Got any comments or queries (for me or Dave)? - email me at matty@classicgaming.com.

Hosted by ClassicGaming.com. Last Updated 30 September 2004. Email matty@classicgaming.com with any questions or comments.