This feature originally appeared in issue 282 of Game Informer magazine.
In 1991, a company known in the United States predominantly for manufacturing light bulbs entered the cutthroat world of video games with the Philips CD-i. The fledgling console was expected to compete directly with the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo.
The details of how it all came about are vague, but Nintendo partnered with Philips with the intent of making a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo after an initial partnership with Sony with the same goal went sour. Nintendo signed a contract with Philips that gave the Japanese company rights to all of the CD games that would release for the add-on in exchange for Philips obtaining the rights to use some of Nintendo’s characters, specifically those from the Mario and Zelda franchises. The add-on never came to be, but the contract led to Philips releasing one Mario game and three Zelda games on its CD-i console. It was one of the rare occasions where these characters appeared on a non-Nintendo system.
The man behind many of these off-shoot titles is Stephen Radosh. His credits include being executive producer on Hotel Mario, executive in charge of production on both Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, and production executive on the final Zelda CD-i game, Zelda’s Adventure. His strange and varied career in the game industry started with computer chess, moved to Atari’s early days, and carried through to Sega and Philips. We spoke with Radosh about what it was like to be one of the only developers to make Nintendo games without its oversight.
From Atari To Donkey Kong
Radosh got his first programming gig with a company that published textbooks, but was also interested in creating entertainment-based computer products. He worked with developers on a chess game called Sargon, but beelined to Atari when he saw an opening for a manager of design in New York. He worked on a number of Atari games and was present for the release of E.T. and the subsequent collapse. “We got a couple of advanced copies and I put it in,” Radosh says. “Within 20 minutes I was calling the west coast going, ‘Um, I think you sent us a bad rom here. This game keeps crashing.’ They went, ‘No, no we sent you the release copy.’ I wrote a memo like, ‘You can’t release this!’”
Radosh left Atari and landed at Sega after pushing off inferior offers from Coleco. Sega was pushing its Master System at the time, but Radosh mostly worked on arcade cabinets, including one that never released, but was Radosh’s first experience working on a Nintendo franchise. “Somehow Sega had gotten the rights to Donkey Kong,” Radosh says. He developed an arcade game, for Sega, where players controlled Donkey Kong as a parking attendant. “You were dodging cars that were pulling in and out of the lot, and you had to get X number of cars parked in spaces,”Radosh says.
One of the reasons the game never released was because during Radosh’s employment with Sega, the company (owned by Paramount at the time) was sold back to Japan, leaving him to explore new job opportunities. He recognized that, despite never working in film or television, he could call himself Stephen Radosh from Paramount, and used that leverage to develop television game shows, but couldn’t stay away from video games for long.
For more on how the Philips CD-i came to be, head to page two.