- ['GDRI Wisdom' is a bi-weekly column presenting highlights from select interviews with overlooked game developers of years past, as seen on Game Developer Research Institute (GDRI).]

Much has been made of developer Tose in recent years, mostly because of the amount of games the company has been involved with and the secretive nature in which it operates.

Interviews have been done in the past with Tose staffers, but they have usually been with higher-ups, not with people who work in the proverbial trenches.

Daniel Auld is an American technologist and consultant who worked as a 3DO programmer at Tose in the early 1990s, and GDRI was very lucky to find his résumé online.

He worked on two games - a fighting game based on the Ultraman Powered television series and a graphic adventure based on the works of Japanese horror author Misa Yamamura. We asked him to share anything he could about his time there, and he gladly went into great detail in his own words, before we quizzed him further in a Q&A.

Auld On Tose

"Tose was a cut-out company, meaning they would be contracted by large game publishers to develop complete products, but would not put their name on it when released. The programmers would only get satisfaction by looking at the scrolling credits at the end of the game where they could watch their pseudonym names drift up the screen.

Tose was one of the first development houses to take on the task of writing software for the 3DO Multiplayer. At the time, there were concerns among investors that this device did not have a "killer app" that would catapult it past the established platforms from Nintendo, Sega, and Atari. Trip Hawkins, who came up with the idea for the product, repeatedly pointed to his reputation and said, "Trust me."

I was brought onboard with great excitement after responding to a classified ad the company had placed in the newspaper looking for American programmers. As a general rule, Japanese programmers are not known to be especially creative. If there is documentation, they are experts at applying and perfecting advanced techniques. But when it comes to "just winging it," they are typically paralyzed.

Americans are known to be very creative, and a great deal of incredible titles were coming out of the gaming houses in California and elsewhere at the time. For this reason, they were ecstatic to have me join their team, and the managers were doubly interested in my Japanese ability to help translate what I read/discovered to the rest of the team.

Interestingly, however, they would not give me credit for my work (possibly out of cultural pride). I would explain in detail some new feature that I had managed to figure out by trial and error (i.e., how to get sprites to behave in a 3D plane with appropriate clipping), but they would all stare at me with blank, confused looks, even though I spoke in Japanese.

Then the manager would repeat my words EXACTLY (literally to the syllable), and they would all say, "Oh, NOW I get it!" Very interesting (and frustrating, as you can imagine). I stayed at the company from 1992 to 1994, making around 200,000 yen per month (roughly $1450 with the exchange rate at the time).

About a year after I got there, The 3DO Company was going to present at a large convention in Las Vegas (possibly the CES show?), and we would be able to ask direct questions to their engineers. This was a perfect opportunity for me to travel with my Japanese co-workers and get first-hand answers to our questions (I would act as translator).

The managers indicated to the president that they REALLY wanted me to go with them -- but the president refused since I had only been at the company for a year at that point, and he "couldn't justify the expense for such a new employee." That didn't make sense to me, but [it] demonstrates how strict the adherence to rules [was] at the company, regardless of rational arguments to the contrary.

In the end, it cost the company more in lost time as the managers who went could barely speak a word of English, and the video tapes they brought back of their trip had such terrible sound, I couldn't make out what was being said. Our questions remained unanswered.

There were at least three managers that I remember, one of which reported directly to the president of the company, who was probably in his early 30s at the time (though it is sometimes difficult to tell the age of Asians). This man was incredibly wealthy, which created a stark dichotomy with the rank-and-file workers (of which I was one). While the president was fussing over where to park his 10th boat, some of the programmers were paid so little, they actually had to stop eating near the end of the month when their money ran out.

The managers were in the typical "salaryman" mode of work, where they would show up at 5:00a and stay until 1:00 or 2:00a. In Japan, it is said that "the company is your mother and takes care of you, so you owe it your full devotion." At one point, I asked one of the managers (who was married with two children), "Doesn't your wife mind that you are never home?" He replied simply, "She minds," and left it at that.

The floor I worked on was sparsely staffed -- about 20 people total. Half were working on cartridge games for the established platforms, the rest on 3DO. The cartridge programmers were on one side of the floor and worked with large desktop boxes that served as emulators for the final product and would compile/run machine code directly. The documentation for these systems was very detailed, and the engineers had no problem finding the information they needed (it was all in Japanese).

By contrast, the 3DO team were all on Macintosh desktops and had only skeletal documentation, all in English, that looked like it had been photocopied at Kinko's late at night. Large sections of this 3-ring binder simply said "TBD," and there were areas where the hardware was changing so fast that what was printed was already obsolete -- the documentation was definitely not keeping up with the hardware evolution. In a few cases, the text suggested some ideas on how to use a particular feature and encouraged us to "play around to see what you can accomplish" -- that was an alien concept to the Japanese programmers I worked with.

One interesting point of working at Tose was the attitude toward copyright and piracy. The company had no problem copying anything they could find, though they called it "borrowing the idea." There were elements of competitors' games that they couldn't figure out how to do (very advanced sprite animation, for example), so they would simply buy the game and without even playing it, put the cartridge in their hardware and pull the code apart.

The societal attitude towards gender roles also came through in the company environment: On our floor was a small area where we could prepare coffee or tea. There were cups, hot water, etc. as well as a sink to clean the dishes once you were finished. At one point, I had finished my drink and began washing my cup to put back on the rack. The president of the company tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Don't worry, the women will take care of that.""

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Auld talks more in-depth about 3DO hardware and software in the full interview.]

Q&A: Daniel Auld

GDRI: Did you go by a pseudonym on the games you worked on?

DA: I don't recall what pseudonym I used, but it was probably something like "Elvis" in homage to The King.

GDRI: Do you remember any other games being developed at Tose besides those you worked on?

DA: I remember Tose working on the Dragon Ball Z series while I was there, but I don't recall specifically which one.

GDRI: Were employees assigned games to work on? Considering Tose's supposed output, might an employee work on multiple games at the same time?

DA: Employees were definitely assigned to more than one game at a time. While I was there, I contributed to both of the titles I've mentioned, and I know some of the other programmers had been splitting their time between 3DO and console programming (most of our guys came from that side of the house originally).

GDRI: How long did it take to develop a game? Do you know how long it took between the end of development and release?

DA: As far as the time frame to complete a title and then bring it to market, I didn't have any visibility into that realm. I know for the entire two years I was there, we were heads-down on 3DO, and neither game was quite ready for prime time when I left, but they did come out eventually.

Ccome to think of it, I don't believe I've ever heard anyone else mention Ultraman anywhere except me, so that product may have died on the vine [ED: It didn't.] -- the action on the 3DO console was not as fluid and crisp as what was available on Nintendo/Atari/Sega, so it may not have been able to compete. What made the Multiplayer unique at the time was the ability to play video and some of the specialized hardware).

GDRI: Were there any other non-Japanese staffers working at Tose?

DA: I remember there being one attorney who was white, American, and far more proficient at Japanese than I was. I don't remember his name as I only met him once while in a large board meeting. It is very possible there were others as well, as I did not meet everyone in the building.

GDRI: What brought you to Japan to begin with?

DA: Originally, I went to Japan with an exchange program from Antioch College in Ohio. We went over for six months to perform around the country in a traveling theater troupe. When the program ended, everyone went home except me, who had already found work as a programmer (not with Tose yet). I ended up staying another 3 1/2 years until coming back to the U.S. in 1995.

[Game Developer Research Institute is a website dedicated to finding out more about game development companies and people in the industry.]