We sorely miss SEGA great Michael Latham. We rightfully gave him a tribute earlier this year and dedicate our comeback to him. He was our greatest supporter and someone we’re proud to have called a friend. Shortly before his passing, he answered a few of Adrian’s questions about the Activator, a gizmo not many of us had (or wanted). He’d want us to share his answers with you so please enjoy a last few anecdotes from our friend Michael.
Can you recall the first time you heard about the Activator?
So the sands of time have washed away the exact memory of the first time I heard about it. What I can tell you is this is remarkably like my time at Yahoo! where they gave Mark Cuban a billion dollars for nothing and then handed it over to me. The Activator was the same thing. I’m guessing France Tantiado was involved, she was always getting me pulled into things like ‘Blast Processing’. I do know the inventors of Activator were two guys from Israel. One of the two of them in my memory I think had a pony tail and was “supposedly” a martial artist and was the one that would “bust a move” in the thing to demonstrate it.
It was a great concept and possibly ahead of its time. What was your exact role on this ambitious peripheral?
Oh no it was not ahead of its time, it was a bad idea from any time frame! I had testers have nervous breakdowns trying to test games for this thing. When it wasn’t registering moves, doing false moves, or breaking apart from kicking the thing. It was a cursed item from the day it appeared.
Was the Activator compatible with every Mega Drive game or did each new title gave to be programmed for it?
Yes, it could work “in theory” for any game as it emulated the six button controller. Good luck trying to use it for any game in that mode. I think we may have nearly killed a tester trying to play Sonic on the thing.
It was obviously created to work with fighting and action games, how would you describe the experience of this peripheral with Eternal Champions (EC)?
Painful. EC when it first started didn’t get much love of marketing, and even when I got the cart moved in size after showing the first playable to management it got a very meager marketing budget. So I would take on anything that helped bring more marketing dollars and sadly that was the Activator. As noted, I bet France is somehow involved into sweet talking me into this deal. I remember the Sega of LA guys being so excited to see this device and then like 10 minutes later it was pulled apart in a pile of cords.
When did you first realise the Activator wasn’t very user friendly and were doubts ever raised before it was launched?
Every single day I had to assign testers to the cruel fate of testing the EC builds. But the deal was done, the info we had this new controller had been leaked to the press, so nothing I could say or do was going to keep that thing from shipping. It’s a miracle some kid in the Midwest didn’t kick and fall from this thing and end up owning Sega via a lawsuit.
Do you feel the technology was available at the time to make the Activator a really important peripheral and so you feel it should have been released?
I think my above answers speak for themselves, but to be clear. NO!!!!!!!!! They should have shown anyone that device who was working in product development and we would have killed that thing and hopefully Nintendo would have picked it up and Sega would now be shipping world class software and hardware after Nintendo ended up killing people with it and going out of business due to lawsuits (if only, ha ha! – Ed).
What games do you personally feel worked best with the peripheral, and was it initially a really exciting project to be involved in?
Sadly EC was the most customized product for it.
Do you feel Sega helped influence future motion control based controllers and peripherals with the Activator?
Well pretty much motion controllers have proven to be a gimmick. They are lucky if they have a couple of really good games that use them, but over time they end up being unplugged and stored in the attic.
Can you recall whether the Activator had a lot of test marketing before it was launched and when did Sega realise the ambitious idea was a failure?
I think when people were actively mocking our people who did a live stage show every half hour at CES/E3, that was a clue it wasn’t going to end well.
Did you ever work on, or see any other interesting console peripherals or add-ons in development which never got released while working at Sega?
Sega VR. The company made a good call on that one. It was so far from prime time. Most people would need a barf bag to use it because of the lag.
In your view, which innovative console peripheral or controller innovation was the most impressive and groundbreaking?
6-button controller, as it makes fighting games playable. I would say the worse peripheral award still goes to that robot thing Nintendo made that did a whole lot of nothing. So, I would give the Activator points for not being that thing.
Do you own an Activator yourself and roughly how many Eternal Champions fights have you played whilst using it?
I’m 100% sure it’s packed away in boxes I have from my old office at Sega. I had to play way too many fights while testing and if I found the thing, I would figure out who my worse enemy in the world was and send it to them.
The Activator is often dubbed as one of the craziest and ludicrous gaming concepts ever released. Do you feel this is negatively is warranted and how do you reflect back on the add-on?
I think this question answers itself.
Thank you Michael for these words of wisdom and everything you’ve done for us over the years. Readers/listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed Michael’s tales as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing them with you.
Everyone at Arcade Attack