ARTICLE CONTINUED …..BACK TO THE HISTORY
As I read that sentence in the e-mail I had been waiting for over 3 years to receive, I couldn’t believe that many of my questions surrounding Action 52 and its creationwere about to finally be answered. Throughout those three years, I had searched out every possible person that was connected to the game. I contacted several Vince Perris and Raul Gomilas, among several others, all to no avail.
I contacted people who supposedly met Perri or Gomila,
several later admitting they were just lying. To be honest,
I didn’t exactly know why I was so interested in finding out more about the game, and the company that created it, Active Enterprises. However, I know the answer to that now, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
My fascination with Action 52 started in 2007, around the time when I first started collecting video games. I was searching YouTube for the videos about the worst games ever made, I saw videos about games like E.T, Atari Pac Man, Superman 64, Big Rigs, among others. Those games looked pretty terrible, but nothing as bad as the next game I’d see…LIGHTS…CAMERA…ACTION 52! I thought it was a joke at first, but after searching on eBay, it turned out I was wrong. I really wanted the own the game, but the $100 price tag changed my mind. No way was I ever going to spend that kind of money on such a horribl egame… that is until about a year later when I spent $125 for my first copy, and then another year later when I sold that copy to help pay for my boxed copy which cost me $200.
Thanks to emulation (don’t tell anybody) I was able to play Action 52 for the first time. It was really bad, but if you know me by now, you know that I am a sucker for things “so bad they’re good”. I found myself addicted to the broken compilation, trying to beat every game as if I was the Action Game-master, himself. It eventually got me to thinking, who made this? One Google search later, and I found the answer, Vince Perri and Raul Gomila, another Google search later, and I found an article written by Andrew Harris about his search to find info about Active Enterprises. It turned out that getting info from Active was much more difficult than I would have expected. Andrew’s search was a failure. The only response he ever received was “WHY DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THIS”, and yes, in capital letters. I spent the rest of that day reading up on Active Enterprises info, mostly from an awesome website called The Cheetahmen Corner, which has since been shut down.
Active Enterprises has an interesting story behind it, one with a lot of mystery that has yet to be uncovered. Of course it all started with Action 52, which at this point I had little-to-no idea how it was created. All I could find was a newspaper article with a quote from Mr. Perri saying that the game was inspired by a pirated multi-cart his son owned that was popular in the neighborhood. Vince figured he could capitalize on the multi-cart popularity, in a way that wasn’t illegal, by making 52 games of his own. Eventually, a prototype of the game surfaced that looked very similar to a 52-in-1 pirate for the NES.
I also found very little info on how most people
bought Action 52. There were some magazine ads that had instructions on how to order the game, as well brochures made by Active for CES 94 (or as I call it, Active’s Last Stand), that required you order a minimum of 500 copies of Action 52 for NES. Other than those two bits of info, all I could find were rumors.
Action 52 eventually found its way to the Sega Genesis in 1993, with the help from Far Sight Technologies (now known as Far Sight Studios). However, the Genesis version does not hold the same amount of charm for me. I guess the best way to explain it is that the NES Action 52 is like the kid in your class that never studied and guessed every answer on the quiz, whereas the Genesis version of Action 52 is like the kid who got a C-. If you read both of the quizzes, which one would you find more entertaining? Active’s other products, Cheetahmen II, Sports 5, and Active’s announced handheld “The Action Gamemaster” all never had a true release. So what became of them?
Well, 1,500 some copies of Cheetahmen II, as many of you all know, were eventually found in the late 90’s and became one of the most valuable NES games over the years. Sports 5, according to Jay Olbernote, was in a nonplayable state before Active called it quits, and as for the “Action Gamemaster”, no evidence has been found that it ever actually went into production.
Getting back to my story now… On August 16th 2011, I was scanning the “latest topics” page of the NintendoAge forums, when I saw a thread about an Action 52 commercial. I clicked the link thinking I’d see a mock commercial, making fun of the game and constantly mentioning “…and for only $200 dollars!”, but once again I was wrong. The commercial was legitimate, and from what I read in the description, it claimed that it was never aired. So I thought, how was this ever found? At first, I left a comment, but I figured, screw it, I’m investigating! I went to his channel, to see two 3-year-old comments about him being involved in the development of Action 52. Then I saw his latest activity, and it was of him commenting on videos about Action 52, and his involvement with it. For a second, I doubted he was really involved, but the commercial told me otherwise. I sent him an e-mail, and got a reply shortly after. He told me some interesting things, such as that he had a notebook filled with his game concepts and drawings of levels that would eventually be released in the game, as well as some that were never released. We exchanged a few more e-mails and he mentioned that he may write up his history with his involvement with Action 52, and I sent another e-mail encouraging that as well as providing some questions. What I got was the e-mail with which I opened this article. Here are some the highlights …
In early 1991 I was finishing my degree in music and video production, working as an audio engineer at a recording studio in Miami, just met the girl that would become my wife and come across the once in a lifetime opportunity to work on a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
My name is Mario. It just so happened that the recording studio I was working at had office space that a man by the name of Vince Perri would use for occasional meetings.
I don’t recall all the details, but one day in early January, 1991, I overheard Vince discussing a business venture. It just happened that Vince’s son had come across a pirate cartridge for the Nintendo system that had copies of 52 games. The cartridge was only sold in the black market, because the games were all copies of actual copyrighted material. It occurred to Vince that, what if we make 52 original games and use the hardware technology to produce a legitimate product. This was the birth of Action52.
I spoke to the owner of the recording studio and later with Vince, and informed them that I had experience in game design and happened to know a programmer as well. Vince took interest and wanted a demonstration. I contacted my friend Albert, who was good with computers and programming and gave him an explanation of the challenge. He agreed that we could give it a shot. We then contacted another mutual friend, Javier, who could work on art and level design, and also had some music composing skills like myself. He gladly agreed to join and help with the project.
At the time, I think I owned an Amiga 500. I have read in some places that the programming was done on an AtariST, but this is false. The Amiga500 was used to create a demo game called Mega-Tris, a Tetris clone, but was never used in the making of the Action52 games. Vince was really impressed by the graphics and sound we used in the making of the Tetris clone and arranged a meeting with some investors. We gave a demonstration with the Amiga and everyone was impressed. They were impressed because in comparison with the NES, the Amiga was way more advanced. Ironically, the Tetris clone would never even get used in the Action52 cartridge.
Once Vince decided that he wanted the three of us working
on Action52, we signed contracts and then we were sent
to Salt Lake City, Utah for some training on Nintendo
development equipment. This equipment was basically
development software running on IBM clones that came
with a flash ROM cartridge we would use to download the games for testing. I do not remember the name of the company in Utah, but I do remember that they were working on the Empire Strikes Back for the NES, so somebody may be able to figure out what company this was.
This is where the adventure really began. I don’t remember
why, but for some reason, Vince wanted all 52 games
completed in 3 months. I had already started writing down
ideas and titles for games. The first ideas are shown below
in a scan of a notebook I still own today with Action52 work.
As you can see, there are some games that never made it to the final product. Rty and the Ink Men should actually be spelled Art-y and the Ink Men. This was a game idea I purposely omitted because I thought it was good enough to be a stand-alone game, so I kept it for myself in the hopes I could make it in the future. Eventually, Mario Paint came out
and basically took the core of my idea. Boss was the game that later became Game Master. The idea was to have the player fight the bosses from all the games in Action52 in one big final battle. You had to defeat 51 bosses to win game 52. Boss was kept and revamped into a normal game when Vince had the idea for The Cheetahmen. They replaced Game Master and were supposed to be the Action52 version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Here are some of the original design sketches:
In the above scans, you can see how I was trying to accomplish this task by sharing as much code as possible. At this point, the computers and devices were setup in an unused area of the recording studio and that is where we began our work on the graphics, music, and level design. We really had no set working schedule. We would show up at all different hours and sometimes work straight through the night.
I can honestly say that of the 52 games, I created the game concepts and titles for at least 40 of them. Some were changed so much that they don’t even resemble my original concept. A good example of this is the game Dedant. My original design was to have one large map that would scroll up, down, left and right. You were supposed to collect food to take to the queen, while avoiding enemy insects. Here is my original concept drawing along with notes:
In addition to game concepts and titles for most of the games, I also was the main composer for the music in the games. There are some games that contain copyrighted music that I did not compose, but these were added after my separation with Active Enterprises as I will explain later in this document.
One of the games that didn’t make the cut was called Duck-Droid. Here was the concept along with notes:
My favorite game, the one I really had the most input on, the one I basically created everything on except for the coding, was Bubblegum Rosy. This game was inspired by my girlfriend at the time Rosemary, now my wife, for her insatiable appetite for gum 24/7. It is my favorite game and also my favorite song in the cartridge. As you can see, I also set it apart from the others by making level 2 be a driving game to really change the pace. I am happy to say that there are many fans I have found on the internet. I have found fan art, remixed songs and even an entirely new version of the game called Bubblegirl Rozy. Mario on his time with Active Enterprises and how it came to an end. The time I was working for Vince and Active Enterprises was one of the greatest times of my life. Unfortunately, about 2 months into the project, I was so distracted with the real Bubblegum Rosy that Vince became upset that I wasn’t spending enough time at the studio. I told him I had created a template to make the graphics ten times easier and that we were on schedule, but in the end he didn’t want to hear it and I parted ways. Albert and Javier continued on the project and I do believe they were involved in the Genesis version as well. One day I will try to reconnect with them and get the second half of this story.
I never expected Action52 and the Cheetahmen to become such a cult classic from the 8 bit era, even if it isn’t famous, but infamous. I am really humbled by the many fans that are now recreating the entire 52 games and all of the remixes of songs I originally composed. I hope that one of the new versions takes off and becomes a hit.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions about Action52 or any of the games, graphics, or music. I just want to finish this article off by thanking Mario for taking the time to answer my questions, typing this document, and for helping create the best worst video game in history. I also want to thank the guys who created the Cheetahmen Corner, and Andrew Harris for helping my interest grow. Finally, I want to thank everyone else who was involved with Active Enterprises, for being involved in my favorite video game history lesson!
If you would like to contact Mario with some of your own questions, his YouTube channel is Zantenith. I guess all I can say now is, after 3 years of searching for someone who was involved with Active, my online quest has come to an end. Now, if you need me, I’ll be trying to figure out how to hell to beat Micro Mike!