By John Szczepaniak, 04 May 2012
Charles "Chuck" Ernst, on Metal Gear for DOS
This is the story of Charles “Chuck” Ernst, who worked on the IBM/DOS computer port of Metal Gear. We also spoke about the unreleased console ports of Akira being worked on at Black Pearl Software. Done via email around 7th November 2011.
CE: Sorry it took me a bit to get back to you... I was wrapping up an iOS game this week. Yes, as you found out, I am the programmer on Metal Gear for DOS... I will try to answer your questions, it was quite a while ago so I need to dust off some cobwebs.
I worked for a company called Banana Development. We ported a bunch of arcade titles for companies like Taito and Konami back in the late 1980s. The PC was really starting to take hold and graphics cards were getting better and less expensive, so these companies were really ahead of the curve. I co-programmed the game Top Gunner for Konami with another programmer and good friend Brian Sheff.
After that game we were offered the gig porting the Famicom (NES) game Metal Gear. The NES was new in the US and we had no idea how the machine was going to do but this was a good opportunity to port a game that wasn’t an arcade title. The initial version of the game came on a floppy disk-like device and was in Japanese. Typically when we port a game we try to rip as much of graphics off the ROMS as possible but in this case that couldn’t happen. I started with the mapping and text systems even though I couldn’t read what was being said, becuase I knew eventually they would send translations or an English version of the game.
We also couldn’t get a ‘developer version’ of the game so we had no cheat codes to play to the end. Needless to say I ended up very good at the game and video taped all of the game play! I ended up creating all the graphics myself because there weren’t many artists at the time that knew how to pixel push. The PC had so many graphics and audio cards supporting them all turned out to be quite an undertaking. We had to support MGA, CGA, EGA, VGA and Tandy video formats, which were all different and in the case of Tandy required a whole different machine.
John Siegesmund, the president of the company, wrote the audio systems. There were plans to create an Amiga version but it was shelved after most of the publishers dropped the Amiga due to the out of control pirating. This was a shame because at the time no other computer from IBM or Apple came close to the capabilities of the Amiga for the price point. Overall it took about seven months to produce [the IBM port].
Our company was [supposed] to port the Amiga version and I think we did the mockups [on the back of the IBM box] to help influence Konami into making the game. Another brilliant programmer Dave Kurensky was the Amiga guru in our studio and just wrapped up AJAX on the Amiga and would have been the one to port it. If someone else was working on it we would have been contacted to share the art, at least to save Konami money.
I am 99% sure there isn’t an Amiga version floating around.
Konami America was a great company to work for. Their input was basically: ‘Make it look and play as much like the original as possible.’ They definitely had some vision when it came to Metal Gear. The game just keeps getting better while staying true to its fan base and the original.
As for Akira, I was just grilled by another writer about the Akira game a month or two ago. The game was being produced in our Chicago studio (Black Pearl Software) but never really made it past tech demo. The game never really had a designer, just a programmer and a couple of artists. When you take on a title like Akira you just can’t shoot from the hip – you need a plan and there really never was one. Let me take that back, there was a plan but it was just to rip off Road Rash and a generic side-scroller. I don’t know what happened after they moved the office to California.
Unless THQ had someone pick up from where we left off it never made it to an EPROM build. It couldn’t because it was three different games that didn’t work together. There wasn’t a front end linking the different game play mechanics into a ‘game’. Like I said it was more like someone’s basement tech demo than a game. Very sad really; Akira was a brilliant license. On the other hand I guess it’s good it didn’t come out and fail, [thereby] damaging the license.