Mon. Sep 26th, 2022

Directed by Justin Wolfson, edited by Aulistar Mark and Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcription.

How did NBA Jam conquer a rocky launch and become one of the all-time greatest hits of the arcade era? How did the developers get past a serious “digitization flaw”? And where’s the legendary original with Michael Jordan and Ken Griffey, Jr?

On the eve of NBA Jam‘s latest home release – this time as an Arcade1Up (Best Buy, Walmart) cabinet containing the first three arcade versions of the series – we asked the series’ lead programmer and designer, Mark Turmell, to join us from his home at come to us to answer these questions and more. The result is our most “on-fire” War Stories video yet, complete with original development footage provided by Turmell himself.

“Geek on Digitized Images”

As he explains in our interview, Turmell’s game development history began with early consoles and home computers before “switching to the coin business” in 1989 with Williams, a Chicago arcade and pinball maker. (Two years later, the company’s arcade division was renamed “Midway,” as Williams bought Bally/Midway in 1988.) Shortly after his appointment, the company began to focus on a trend that would eventually define many of its hits. : “We loved the digitized graphics concept, the new technology, if you will,” says Turmell.

But that meant coming up with an entirely new way to represent video game characters, and Turmell explains some of the biggest development problems that resulted. In one example, he describes a pivotal video recording session that involved actors playing basketball in front of a blue screen. Uniforms were supposed to arrive in a neutral, gray color, but “the uniforms came in and they were blue,” Turmell says. “We didn’t have time to repaint. We paid for studio time.” The development team had to cut out “every frame” by hand to import them into the game, rather than neatly cutting out a bright color like green.

Another problem came from the early version of the game that confused testers, in terms of four similar looking NBA stars crammed into a single screen. As Turmell explains, a young player posted in a live test location in the “player 3” position of a cabinet, even though he had pressed “player 2” on start. The developers were poised to investigate how players reacted to the in-development version of the game, and they were stunned to learn that even after being told that this player was controlling the wrong character, this player was going back to P3 controls (which didn’t work) actually affect the game) because he thought he played better that way. “He didn’t interact with the game at all and preferred it to, so that was a big red flag for us,” Turmell says. He ends up explaining some solutions, including the game’s “big head” cheat code as a clear indication of which NBA star was being controlled.

Turmell goes into detail about other development experiments, including “rubber bands” from the game’s under-the-hood stats and how the developers obtained images of real NBA players. We tried – again – to convince Turmell to supply us with the legendary Michael Jordan EPROM, which he reaffirms was used in a select few specialty cabinets supplied to celebrities such as MJ himself. While Turmell says this rare EPROM is out in the wild, we haven’t been able to locate it at press time, although Turmell himself claimed he still has a copy of it somewhere. (Our video instead features fan-made ROMs for the Sega Genesis version with MJ in it.)

Mark, please: we know you’re a lifelong fan of Detroit Pistons, but after a mind-blowing documentary series like ESPN’s The last dancewe think it’s time to deliver the real 23 to NBA Jam‘s fans.

By akfire1

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