UPDATE: After some startling revelations over the past few days, David Garrett may be a fraud. We are still at this time determining if these accusations are true or not and will update you when we find out.
David Garret, who claims he is an ex-employee of SNK, has come out of the shadows to reveal some never before heard details about his tenure at the company. In part one he talks about his history with the company, the process of creating games, the problems at SNK, and the skinny on some rare games. The story looks legit, but we’ll let you be the judge of that. So get some popcorn and enjoy!
BTW: Thanks to the Neo Geo Forums for this story.
Let’s Start at the Beginning:
“Let me start off by introducing myself; my name is David Garrett, I’m 47 years old, I currently reside in Ontario Canada and I used to work for SNK. The purpose of this reveal is to set the record straight and answer the questions that most people have been asking. This reveal was meant to be much longer than it will be today, but based on extenuating circumstances I’ve had to hasten matters. Some information have been omitted either for security reasons or they will be disclosed in the near future.
I originally wanted to show everyone all that I have in my possession, to not only show you the entire picture but also help you reach your own unbiased option. A lot of rumours circulating about me are untrue. I ask that each and every one of you read what is in this reveal and come to your own conclusion based on my facts, not the false rumours being spread.
For the record, I do have tax documents in hand and I can confirm my employment with SNK. I have gladly invited Shawn (the owner of neo-geo.com) as well as many others to my home to view this information.
I have been a victim of identity theft in the past, and it has taken me years to clear my name and get rid of that nightmare. As much as I do not wish this on any one, there is NO WAY I will ever compromise my personal information for anything or anyone. For this reason I will not be placing sensitive information online.
Regarding my place of employment: I ask that you understand that we’re dealing with a place of work over 20 years ago. Since then, Random questions like “what are the colors of the furniture and carpet” simply won’t cut it. I have worked with many different companies and met a lot of great people over the years. I remember many things – but not everything.
A Little About Me:
“I grew up in Calgary Alberta Canada. I started as a computer programmer with Cobol, Assembler, Pascal, C and C++. I also don’t mind admitting I did some very nice patterns in Apple Logo back in the very old days. I spent a long time doing computer programming and had a great future ahead of me. At one point I found myself slowly starting to lose the appeal of it and over time I no longer wanted to continue with it.
After my choice to change professions I never looked back and still do engineering to this very day.
I can say that after a long time in the software programming field all I remember today is. I also have a very sound understanding of code when I look at it but to sit down and code again is long lost to me.
In the 1980’s we were just going into what I like to consider the tech boom. For most of us having a phone in your car was about as cool as you could be when it came to the tech end of things. As I was finishing school there were not a lot of places a new engineer could go and find work. Back then a lot of us from almost all fields would move north to the rigs where new people were always welcomed in the energy business. This has not changed much today as there is still a great demand in Alberta with the discovery of the oil sands up north.
For those of us not wanting to move up north we had a choice to make. We could move to the two largest cities which were Vancouver or Toronto.
My friends and I made the choice to move to Toronto, Ontario. I ended up taking a co-op position for Ontario Hydro. A friend who was out of school a full year before the rest of us moved to Los Angeles instead. He was able to find work in the movie industry as a technical assistant. He informed us that the industry needed more workers so the group of us moved down to the US. Once there I found the work to be very difficult and not along the lines I was trained for. I ended up going with an employment agency to find a new job. After several interviews with different companies I was hired to work for SNK in the research and development department.
A Little About My Early Role at SNK:
At that time not many video games were doing well. SNK made a choice to produce coin op games for the arcade and that paid off much higher than anyone expected. Surplus cash flow was off the chart and SNK being a young company in the field ran with it and hired a lot of us to work on new hardware. Most of us were very new and just out of school. We all had great ideas and we had the freedom to really experiment. After a short time we were divided up based on what fields we were best in. I ended up going with the development team for new microchips and spent most of my time working on the foundation of the SNK banded chips you find in the NEO GEO. Back in the day it would cost $250,000 to millions to make one surface mount custom chip of average size. It always amazes me to think that one $5 CPLD (programmable logic device) today can completely replace any one of those chips and only requires one person to make, but I digress.
I worked on more than one chip during my time at SNK, the most popular one being the NEO ZMC2.”
The NEO GEO:
“The very first prototype of the system that resembles the hardware you think of as a NEO GEO – looked a lot like the Metal Slug 5 PCB. It was a first generation MVS board with the game in sockets on the board. It didn’t have a cart slot.
The very first NEO GEO board to match what you know of today – didn’t start the first time it was powered up. It took a few days to work out the problem.
Once the NEO GEO was completed and production began, a lot of us who were hired to do development no longer had an active role. We were expecting to move onto a new system (since development of new hardware takes several years). However, most of us were moved to technical support for the new NEO GEO platform. It wasn’t long before many were let go and those who did stay slowly trickled away for one reason or another. I ended my employment with SNK after being offered a position with NEC to do the same research and development of new hardware.
A Little About My Later Role at SNK:
The NEO GEO was a big success in every way. Projections were well above what had been set for the system and the company was very happy with how it turned out. Again this was the time to begin work on a newer and more powerful system set to be released in another 5 years or so, but SNK wasn’t interested in going that route. With very little work to do, many of us found ourselves tasked with researching why some chips on the system board were failing.
Note: almost all the chips failed due to a power spike on the 5v line. I had never found a single chip that had a design flaw due to some ones internal design that impacted the system or function. The NEO CTO and ZMC2 both have internal issues (however, they were not enough to cause a problem and could be worked around.)
Problems at SNK:
“One problem SNK had was being a young company – with a lot of money. Many choices made were made on the fly.
One great example was when a MVS board came in as nonworking. It was placed on a shelf with a sticky saying it was not working. It was set to be looked into a day or so later. After it was placed there, someone from sales needed the same board to send out to another customer, went in and took the sticky off the board and sent it out as new and working.
Well we got the same board back as nonworking for the exact same problem. At the time with the system being that new having two exact same boards having the same problem is a major concern. When we went looking for the first board it wasn’t anywhere to be found. When the first board came in a tech had taken a few minutes to look over the board and did notice one of the chips pins were bent as if another object had hit the chip. This exact problem in the same spot was seen on the second board. It was clear that sales had sent out a clearly marked defective board to a customer. A classic example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
SNK’s problems and poor choices have been well documented over the years and sadly I honestly believe that if they had made better business choices they would be around today, dominating the market.”
To answer the question of how such rare games came into my possession you must first understand the process a developer had to follow to bring a new title from concept to market. We will use ABC Company for this example.
This is my account of how a NEO GEO game is made from concept to production. These are facts based on what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told during the time I worked for SNK. Many times some of these steps were skipped… which would account for wrong stripe colours, logos not being centre and so forth.
So, ABC Company has the idea to expand its video game market to include the newly released NEO GEO by SNK Corporation.
ABC makes contact with SNK and makes a request for a full developer kit as well as a general license to produce for the system. Once this fee is paid and the kit is delivered ABC can now begin making a new game.
When the new game has reached a point where it can be shown to the media ABC will once again contact SNK and request an NGH number for their new title. Once they have paid for it, they can complete the title. It is also at this time (once the NGH number is given) that SNK will include your game in future publications as coming soon (if you wish).
Once your game has reached a point where it’s complete but requires further testing, it will enter the demo stage of development where several carts are made in both AES and MVS formats. Some of these will make it into the hands of reviewers (who take images for the media) while other carts will make it into arcades to gather a number of statistics.
ABC will now use this feedback to make any required changes to the graphics, sound and program codes.
At this stage when the game is about to enter mass production – the code for the game is sent to be made into mask roms. While the roms are being made, the artwork, story lines, screen shots and sometimes videos are sent to SNK to begin making the MVS art kits. It is also at this time that a fee is paid. This fee includes the cost to do both the MVS and AES artwork, samples and a per cart fee for the total number of MVS carts you want to make.”
Creating the Art for Neo Geo Games
“You need to understand that, at that time; even the best computers had small monitors and ran very slowly when dealing with higher resolution pre-press applications. SNK used QuarkXpress on the Macintosh line of computers to do most of the art packs. QuarkXpress did have the option to view all images in full resolution however it would slow your system down to a standstill. This was common for the day and it was but one of the many problems desktop publishers had to deal with. Seeing your entire piece on screen with 15” monitors being the norm was a challenge on its own.
This is where a colour proof enters the picture. The colour proof has been around for a very long time, way before the computer was mainstream. Simply put, you should see what it is you’re paying for before you spend a lot of money on a print run. They had several types of colour proofs the most common being the Kodak Colour Key which was 4 pieces of clear film each one representing the four offset ink colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). The result was a very accurate proof. It was generally not used for 100% colour accuracy but it was close enough.”
Fatal Fury Insert Galleryshow
“You can see in the last image above that the black layer is a little off so you can see a gap around the meg count box. Over the years the film has moved a little but the quality is still equal to if not better than the original print.
With this colour key process one can see the entire piece in the highest quality possible. If you need to make changes to colour or to simply add in something you missed this is a great way to save money rather than finding out after it has gone to press.
This process was done for the MVS side of production first, once approved it went to press then the MVS kits rolled out into the market. Once the MVS kits are finished SNK would start on the AES version of the art for both US and Japan. I’ve found that US Dog Tag inserts are listed as “Type 2” with US/Euro with a NEO GEO logo is listed as “Type 1”.
A major change to the piece of art will move the revision number up by 1.0, while a minor change such as a missing trademark or a change of colour in a word would only move the revision up by 0.1. The highest revision insert I have is 12.3 which shows they tried it many different ways before they settled on the final one you see today. The insert with the highest revision number is King of Fighters 94. Due to the limited speed of the computers of that day and the size of the monitors these proofs were the best option available.
The next step to the production of a game by ABC is a meeting with SNK to demonstrate what the AES version is going to look like. For third party games full production samples were made such as Power Spikes II.
For most first party games normally this step was skipped and the approved colour overlay was enough before going to press. Please note that the fee to make any samples was paid in advance by ABC before anything was done.
ABC has about 3 months between the MVS release and a home release. Generally any game with a home option menu had art produced but for one reason or another wasn’t approved for mass AES production.
Now that you know the basic steps of how a game goes from idea to the arcade I can move on to how I got some of these titles.”
Games Going Into Production:
“Once you have paid all your fees and your game is done now comes a per cart fee. I can’t speak for all game companies but many of them who made game carts had a per cart fee. The custom chips on the boards left developers little choice in the matter because trying to reverse engineer them and making their own carts would cost too much and would end up in a law suit. It was in every ones best interest to just pay the fee and move on.
At this stage it is in SNK’s best interest to push for as many carts to be produced as possible. The more games are sold the more is made so, the sky is the limit. Any game that sold very well was used as an example when pushing cart production numbers. Samurai Shodown 1 was one game that was used many times. With the MVS sales data in hand it was now time to have a meeting to decide if you’re going to make a home cart run and if so how many. You may not like the intention but money is on the line and those going into that meeting It was all about the numbers. Games with poor MVS sales were hyped by saying the home version will sell much better due to more time to play, better surroundings, etc. But lets face it, if a game isn’t any good… no one is going to buy it – end of story. Again, the goal here is to sell.“
Power Spikes II:
“Video Systems was a new company and Power Spikes II didn’t do very well in the arcade. They made a very short run of MVS kits so to move forward with a home release would mean a new mask rom production run which could cost millions of dollars. As stated above in the example of how a game is made; the fee to make a test run was always prepaid. If you say yes to making more games, great. If you say no to making a new run, nothing lost. Is it a waste of money to do a small run of samples – yes but SNK didn’t pay for it and if they agree to make more you stand to make a lot of money.
Video Systems had a hard choice to make. I don’t think they had the money to produce more Power Spikes II carts because they lost a lot on the MVS run. They also had Sonic Wings 2 in development at the same time as Power
Spikes so they were stretched very thin. People from all over SNK would attend these meetings because it was easier to sell the idea when you have many people pushing how great the idea is. I will go on the record as saying, “If Video Systems had said yes to any amount of home carts in any language those carts would be on ebay today for $15 and Video Systems would have been out of business before making Sonic Wings 3/Aero Fighters 3. I think they made the right choice.
Once the meeting is over, normally, the company will take the samples and use them as promotional material, for events, media feedback or contests. When the samples are left behind they are normally put on a shelf and later tossed out.
I had the opportunity to take the samples and that is how I have them today. I had no idea they would be worth as much as they are today. I am sure they did make a Japanese version of this game however I wasn’t made aware of it. I also know that there may be more copies (then the ones I have) around.”
Aero Fighters 3:
“At the time Sonic Wings 3 was being made for production, I had already ended my time with SNK. I did keep in contact with many of my friends and colleagues. I also requested to be called when any new games come out for purchase. I got the call saying Aero Fighters 3 was available and I bought several copies (as I did with many of the games I bought). I didn’t think anything of the title at the time because if I got the call, the game had to be selling in retail locations. I never questioned it or did I double check to make sure, it wasn’t anything different from any other release. I got the call in late December 1995 and took delivery in January 1996.
I remember playing one of the games for a short time before putting it back in the box. It was kept at my house for a while before moving it to storage. When ng.com came around with its master list is when I first noticed the title wasn’t there. I have been told it was once on the list but I don’t recall ever seeing it there and I will be honest, I never really looked closely. During a move I did come across AF3 again and this time I did do some research on how much the game would be worth and I came to the conclusion it was $800US. At the time this was a very high cost of a home cart but I wasn’t in need of the money and I didn’t want to part with anything in my Collection… so I let it be.
Regarding the allegations about “the source” allegedly buying all his games for $10 under some sort of employee discount program… that is not only false but laughable! Seriously!?! I never thought Shawn would stoop this low and actually lie about something so asinine, but I guess I was wrong.
Let me set this straight, I NEVER purchase my games for $10 with an employee discount. Here is exactly what I mentioned to Shawn during our conversation:
I did pass on Metal Slug when it was offered it as I was slowing down on collecting in general. I don’t have a lot of games from 1996 to present. It has been stated before that I only have $30,000 AES carts. I have several large boxes of 96 AES carts per box of low end common carts. Many of these I paid top dollar for and have lost a lot over the years.
My example of the box of Samurai Shodown 2’s was to show how I got a large box of carts. For Samuari Shodown 2, I was called one day by a business contact looking to move a large number of SS2 AES. He asked for $100 each which I had to say no to because the game has only decreased in value since its release. I had no need for them at all and I knew if I took them I would be sitting on them forever. I value the lowest neo game to be worth $20 on the open market. I offered $10 per cart and the call came to an end. I lost nothing and life moved on. I did get a return call from the same person who agreed to the price of $10 each. This is where the story ended. Here is a picture of the box of SS2’s.”
Come back tomorrow for part 2 when we look at David’s return to the Neo scene and the truth behind the infamous Aero Fighter 3 cart and other rare games.
Brian is the Managing Director here at Substance TV. He is the host of Substance TV, Game Grief, and co-host of Substance TV LIVE. A graphic designer by trade, his other love of 15 years is the bass guitar. Though he shares his love with his family as well. Luckily he has a wife who supports his video game game addiction, and his two amazing children. You can find him on Google + or via his Twitter @fortressfruit.