Pcenginefx: First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview. It is a real honor to be talking to the company that has been supporting the Turbo legacy all these years.
TZD: Legacy? And all this time I thought it was because I was the last one out the door at TTi? I mean they DID tell me to turn off the lights.
Pcenginefx: So tell me, I assume you are the head manager of TZD? What exactly do you do?
TZD: TZD is a corporation, started by 2 ex-TTi employees. But this year I bought out my partner, so that makes me chief cook, bottle washer and bathroom maintenance engineer.
Pcenginefx: Can you tell me how many people are employed at TZD?
TZD: There are four full timers here, been with me for eons. One of them was actually a gamer from TTi. When we first started in May 1994, I had eight employees, all ex-TTi gamers. Since I had the excruciating task of laying off about 20 gamers, at least I could spare that many from the bread lines here in L.A. I'm happy to report I am still in touch with a few of them and some of them are still in the game biz and happy for it. One started a skateboard company and he's rich, another (who needed a map on his dashboard to find his way to work each day) started a T-shirt business and he's doing very well.
Pcenginefx: I don't know how involved you were in the history of the NEC/Hudson Soft/TTi relationship, but from what you do know, can you enlighten us as to what happened behind-the-scenes and how each company felt during the downfall of the Turbo?
TZD: I was director of Sales for TTi so I was involved in many of the details. There were NEC people running the hardware and financial end and Hudson Soft folks running the software and management of TTi. The president was a Hudson guy, but honestly the decisions were being made in Japan. THAT was the problem. Some of these decision-makers knew very little about the American consumers and even less about American video game marketing. I've told the story a hundred times, but in 1992 TTi was offered an EXCLUSIVE on Mortal Kombat. But this one particular software guru in Japan said "I think Americans are tired of fighting games." Need I say more?
Towards the end, management canceled the American release of Street Fighter 2 because the royalties were higher that the expected sales, then we canceled some of the best of the PCE titles like Ys IV, Ranma 1/2 and Love Songs, Spriggan, Neo Nectaris etc. etc. Then our good buddies at Working Designs thought the Sega CD was IT and ditched TTi so we never got CF 2 or Vasteel 2 or the promised conversions of the SNK titles we had longed for in the U.S.
Advertising was the final blow. See, in Japan, you can buy advertising time in three TV markets and you've covered 90% of the country. In the US if you've bought three markets, you've barely scratched the surface. The decision-makers were appalled at the real cost of the type of advertising expenditures necessary to introduce the Turbo Duo to the U.S. Sega and Nintendo outspent us 10 to 1 in TV ads in 1992. What we had left was guerrilla marketing and that may be why to this day there is an intense following for this platform. We knew it was a great product, the retailers wanted anyone else to succeed to help keep Nintendo in check, the few fans that we did have offered us nothing but encouragement and support, but in the end, we got beat by what I call the blacktop peer pressure. Back in the early 90s if a kid went to school knocking Nintendo or Sega, or worse, touting the Turbo, he'd probably go home that day with a black eye. To be cool you had to have the same video game system that everyone else had, and that sure wasn't the Turbo Duo.
Pcenginefx: I can relate to that. All though my school years I supported the Turbo (very publicly I might add) and I remember having countless arguments about what system was better with my friends. I've always tried to support the Turbo in any way that I can, be it though word of mouth or though Pcenginefx.com.
Pcenginefx: Let's theorize for a moment and say that Mortal Kombat did make it out on the Turbo, and that it sold like hot-cakes. What do you think would have happened after that? Having an exclusive on such a game surely would have made NEC/Hudson stand up and take notice.
TZD: One big title could have made a big difference, but it is impossible to assume it would have given both NEC and Hudson the cajones to spend the gazillion dollars needed to make any further inroads on market share being contested between Sega and Nintendo. Don't forget that soon after the 16 bit war erupted, our friend Trip Hawkins was talking about a revolutionary machine called 3DO. Believe me, that had the folks back in Japan very concerned.
Pcenginefx: Back in 1994 when the PC-FX was released, I'm sure many people asked if TZD was going to carry the FX unit and games. Did TZD ever had the option to carry the unit or was the option just not there?
TZD: By then we were losing our connections in Japan, many of the wholesalers we were buying from didn't even carry it, and my partner at the time said skip it. He was afraid the titles were too "Japanese" and wouldn't go over with Americans. Also, NEC had intended the platform to be a computer peripheral much like Microsoft is positioning their X-Box platform. We knew that we couldn't localize any of the other software they intended, so we just chose not to get into that. But maybe the real reason is that this future-ex partner no longer worked within TZD after May of 1995 and he was the only one that spoke Japanese.
Pcenginefx: I'm happy to say that there is a growing fan base for the FX, not only in Japan but in North America and in Europe. Looking back though, it was unfortunate that we couldn't get a North American distributor for the FX, but you are right that it would have had a very limited distribution if brought to the US because of the nature of the games.
Pcenginefx: I'm not certain how much interaction TZD has with NEC, but has working with NEC been an enjoyable experience?
TZD: Some of my favorite people in the video game business were the NEC people. One guy was around since the original 1988 TG-16 launch, and he was responsible for every stick of merchandise sent to the U.S. from Japan. The CFO of TTi was also a NEC person, but he was so shy, we hardly ever spoke. Others said I scared him (I'm 6' 4", he was a lot shorter.) Most of the other management types were from Hudson Soft.
Pcenginefx: In light of your recent announcement of reduced inventory and warranty work ending, some people have expressed their concerns as too how much longer TZD can remain in business. Can you give us more detail on this issue?
TZD: We hope to be around forever, I'll probably be buried in a crypt lined with copies of Power Golf.
Pcenginefx: I'm sure every Turbo fan will be happy to see TZD thrive in the years to come. So do you play videogames often? If so, what games or systems do you play?
TZD: Of course I'm prejudiced, I'd put up a Bomberman match with four friends against darn near anything out there, and we'd have more fun too! My son works for THQ and they gave him a PS2, but I donated a couple of Duo's and guess what they play on their break? I think the PS2 has some awesome capabilities, but for pure fun it's hard to beat some of Hudson's shooters or RPGs. Eye candy bores me since I have the attention span of a gnat.
Pcenginefx: Seems like more and more often, we all go back to our Turbo systems to get a good dose of gameplay in now and again. I play my TurboExpress often when I'm on a trip or on my lunch break.
Pcenginefx: Out of the current or upcoming video game systems coming out, which one catches your eye?
TZD: I'll be in the Microsoft booth at E3 so I'll answer that question another day.
Pcenginefx: Do you have any thoughts on Sega's decision to be a software-only company?
TZD: Marketing hardware is about the least profitable and the development of the hardware the most expensive proposition out there, so it may be one of their best moves yet.
Pcenginefx: Which character is your favorite - Bonk or Zonk?
TZD: Bonk is a classic, I keep a 5' version of him with me in the warehouse every day. He's my hero.
Pcenginefx.com would like to give a big thanks to Steve at TZD for this interview and wish him and his company the best in the years to come.