In the history of Italian videogame development, point’n’click adventure games could be considered, perhaps, the quintessential genre. The love for solving riddles and laughing at fourth wall breaking jokes might indeed be stronger than that for soccer and wine and this is where Dynabyte Software comes in. While Sierra Entertainment adventures struggled to find a market in Italy, mainly because their titles were rarely translated and fairly difficult to approach for a public that did not really know English that well, Lucasarts adventures enjoyed greater success because of a savvier marketing (well, except for Loom).
Their games sold so many copies that Lucasarts, alone, seem responsible for having shaped the PC and Amiga videogame market for the entire 90s and, probably, even beyond. There is probably something pathological about Italy’s undying love for adventure games. It is not a coincidence, then, that the few software houses that thrived in the 90s focused their efforts mainly on PC and home computers; as far as I’ve researched, there seems to have been no games, made in Italy, for Sega or Nintendo consoles until much later.
Among the point and click adventures released in the 90s, Nippon Safes Inc. and, especially, the Big Red Adventure, while not the best adventures out there, are regarded as a couple of solid titles, well worth the player’s time; they are currently even supported by ScummVM. I tracked down some of the people involved with the development to hear their stories and what happened with both adventures. Here is the history of Dynabyte Software and it all begins in Genova.
E-motion software: that first step is indeed a doozy
While not easy to pinpoint where the story of Dynabyte software exactly began, one of the threads starts with an… E-motion.
E-motion Software was the company where graphic designer Massimo Magnasciutti and programmer Paolo Costabel first met, in 1991. Massimo recalls they weren’t really a software house: both were working for a software company and managed to get a small team working together, designing a videogame that catered to their interest in cyberpunk and Blade Runner. Thus, the idea for Crimetown Depths begins to slowly take shape, originally planned for Amiga, with later conversions for Atari ST and PC.
The plot goes that an unnamed intergalactic mercenary is called upon by the Galactic Tyrant to solve the ongoing wars between criminal gangs on the dictator’s home planet. The gameplay would alternate between adventure/exploration (a bit like Barbarian, said Massimo in an interview back then) and shoot ’em up sequences. Paolo Costabel says they managed to close a pretty favorable two games agreement with Mirrorsoft, a UK publisher, with E-motion Software transforming into an actual company thanks to new funds and investors. There they were, a young Italian team suddenly working next to development veterans like The Bitmap Brothers; that sounded almost too good to be true.
And, alas, it was.
The team had little to no previous experience in development, and that – Paolo Costabel concludes – turned out to be a major issue in completing such an ambitious title. They just kept adding more and more stuff, “what started as a small shoot’em up […] basically became an encyclopedia of features” recalls Alessandro Tento in an interview with the magazine Commodore Gazette. He also recalls fighting with Magnasciutti for how the gameplay was supposed to be designed. Tento might be a familiar name to some, he later went on to work in Activision as Senior Art director on the Call of Duty and Spyro series, among other things.
According to Massimo, Mirrorsoft assigned them a project manager who didn’t seem to know what he was doing. As soon as the UK publisher found out that Crimetown Depths would have to be published on three floppies, hence fairly expensive to produce, they dropped E-motion Software and the game was canned. Even though it never saw the light of day, Crimetown still resonates with several Amiga fans for how promising it was shaping up to be. Magnasciutti tells me that Crimetown Depths was “90% finished”, at least graphically, but they never really managed to get the feeling of the gameplay right. The demo, or actually the trailer, seems to be the only thing that was completed.
The birth of Dynabyte
The second narrative thread can be found in the dreams of young Christian Cantamessa. Because of his passion for movies, pen-and-paper RPGs, and games, he was dreaming of being able to create a point’n’click adventure starring an average, unlucky thief in the style of Larry Laffer and anime Lupin. Having no experience in development, his dream begin to take shape the day he meets Massimo Magnasciutti. The graphic designer takes a look at Christian’s idea and, after involving also Paolo Costabel, the three work to finish a sort of demo for the adventure, at the time called Steve on the Crime Wave (“Sailing” would be added later). “The demo was so unstable that we had to record it on VHS, it actually recycled the sprite from Crimetown Depths,” remembers Christian.
In September of 1991, Christian, along with his father’s friend Lovrano Canepa and C+VG journalist Simone Crosignani, board a plane to London’s ECTS in order to try to find a publisher. The former journalist mentions that while Magnasciutti’s work was promising, there did not seem to be a sensible project yet: “these were different times for sure, but without a real design for a videogame, attracting a publisher would have been really difficult.” During that fair, the three start using the name Dynabyte Software for the first time. In the article from CU Amiga (below), the journalist mentions other games from Dynabyte, which Christian explains: “we basically showed them some of Magnasciutti’s images made in Deluxe Paint and made up some games on the spot. We just pretended to be actually developing more than one title”.
After having no luck at London, Cantamessa decides to find funds among his father’s friends. With new investor Bruno Boz, along with Canepa and Cantamessa senior, the three create the Ludomedia company. Costabel, Cantamessa and Magnasciutti start seriously working on the project, Christian remembers: “we moved on from the idea of Steve Sailing on the Crime Wave towards an adventure that, while featuring a similar plot, allowed the player to switch between three characters. Unfortunately, with me having no experience in game design and being still in high school, I was soon told that I couldn’t work on the game anymore, my father left the company and I ended up leaving as well.”
Soon after his departure, Marco Caprelli joined in his place: he recalls first meeting the guys in a computer shop in Genova and, after going to their office, got hired almost immediately. The prototype gets furtherly worked on, with Nippon Safes Inc. being first developed for Amiga, with a subsequent PC version, by a three people dev team: Magnasciutti as a graphical designer, Costabel handling the programming and Caprelli as a musician. Caprelli still has nightmares about the PC speaker used for the DOS version, which he recalls as “one of the worst experiences of my life!”. On the PC version worked several people, among them Fabrizio Lagorio (of Trecision) that remembers having completed 50% of the code, then giving up because he wasn’t being paid anymore.
Paolo Costabel tells me that, together with the classic point and click gameplay, he drew inspiration from his love for Japan – which becomes evident after reading the manual – hence the idea of an adventure based in “Tyoko”, featuring various national stereotypes. With the story designed to run across three different characters and parallel narrative arcs, it is not easy to say how much of the original project by Cantamessa (who doesn’t appear in the credits) was left in. Massimo recalls some inspiration came from playing Sierra’s Leisure Suit Larry III. Still, the project turned out to be quite difficult to finish, with, apparently, a good chunk of the adventure ending up on the cutting floor because the development was running into overtime.
Massimo feels that the “real” version of Nippon Safes Inc. is the Amiga one: he didn’t like the PC conversion because of the several graphical cuts that made the game run smoother, he also has no real affection for the added soundtrack that plays continuously during gameplay. Caprelli says he wasn’t crazy about the box art, to him it would have been better to let Magnasciutti handle it, in order to better represent the style of the adventure.
Along with development problems, Nippon Safes Inc. was also plagued by publishing drama, recalls producer and CEO Bruno Boz. “We had a deal with a publisher, with a release date set on the 1st of April 1992. We paid for printing the boxes, manuals and floppies ourselves, then the publisher folded up and disappeared. We had no other choice but to distribute the games ourselves: we had invested a huge amount of money and we were all paranoid about the game’s reception.”
While it is a relatively simple and short point’n’click that shows off the Dynabyte guys’ talents, Nippon Safes was clearly also the result of a small budget and hurried development cycle. Still, as the company’s first game, after several failed attempts, it features a relatively bug-free experience, even though the conversations between characters are limited, along with a relatively accessible interface. Luckily for the producer, it was well received by the national press – who apparently was very surprised that an Italian software house’s first title could actually be decent – and enjoyed pretty good success in its home country, which at the time, meant selling little more than a thousand copies. The market was still being plagued by piracy.
Weirdly enough, especially for 1992, Nippon Safes especially resonated with the international magazines. Costabel tells me that, seeing all that warm reception, they soon ended up regretting doing basically no marketing: the game was translated but, also because of the problems with the publisher, never officially released outside of Italy. It is still unclear how the game was actually distributed in Europe, since – as far as everyone remembers – no international publishing deal was ever signed by Dynabyte. In France, the game was apparently distributed by Ubi Soft, but none of my contacts recall ever having a publishing deal with them, or any other publisher for that matter. Perhaps it might have something to do with their previous publishing attempts, but, again, none of my interviewees seem to be able to confirm anything at this point in time.
Massimo also chimes in, saying that the programmers never saw a dime from all the copies sold.
In 1993, Dynabyte had projects to publish a title developed by a team from Palermo (Sicily), that had basically no connection with everything they had released up to that point. As Massimo recalls, “they came to us with an already finished product and asked if we could help them distribute it”. Striker Occulta Lapis is very rarely talked about, even in its home country, as it wasn’t really a videogame.
Developed to catch on the growing demand for multimedia products, it worked as a sort of interactive comic book novel on CD-Rom: the player would just click to advance the story. In 1993 not many people in Italy actually owned a CD drive, it was a rarity even to see a stereo featuring a CD player; to no one surprise, it enjoyed limited success. Massimo himself is not entirely sure if Dynabyte actually distributed the title in stores, Caprelli also barely remembers it and says that it was probably never sold. Bruno Boz recalls copies were printed but it was never distributed.
After Nippon Safes Inc. and the changes in organisation, Dynabyte tried to further enlarge its portfolio by working on two drastically different experiences. The first was a one-on-one fighting title, Tube Warriors, exclusively developed for AGA Amigas. It was, again, based in Japan, with all fights taking place in the underground (as the title might suggest): the player must defeat all the leaders of the other rival gangs so as to take over their territory.
Similar to Fatal Fury, the players can alternate between fighting in foreground and background. Costabel tells me it wasn’t a great idea, since the fighting genre wasn’t something they had experience with and, graphically, it didn’t really use effectively the power of AGAs. Bruno Boz told me it never seemed to work and was never published, with only a few test copies produced. Since the article went online, several readers have been in touch saying that Tube Warriors was indeed released in their country, but which company published it and what exactly happened is still a bit unclear. I will update if something more definitive should come up.
The other title, actually released, from 1994 is Late Night Sexy Tv Show, developed by Massimo Magnasciutti and Maurizio Ghirelli, even though Massimo talks about it like it’s his creature. As readers of this blog might know, I have a penchant for weird and obscure titles, so believe me when I say I would, frankly, be hard-pressed to find a weirder title to come, not only out of Dynabyte, but probably the whole of Italy in the 90s.
LNSTS is, at its core, a quiz show, presented by the sexy host Vera Cyntex, but also featuring some dating simulation gameplay elements. It was touted to magazines as being developed on a Silicon Graphics machine, which Dynabyte Software had actually acquired by that point but, for various technical problems, it was never used for the development of said sexy quiz show, nor any other game at all, as far as I was able to find out. Caprelli recalls it was more of a toy for the office, with Giorgio Sommariva also chiming in “it was used mainly to have fun, as far as I know, we never used it for the development of any of the games, even though that machine costed a fortune!”.
Massimo himself confirmed:
Late Night was programmed and designed with a cracked copy of 3D Studio Max on a 486. I didn’t even have the manual for the program so I had to learn through trial and error!
Not only that but on a preview on Italian magazine The Games Machine, Lovrano Canepa actually talks about LNSTS having an algorithm (reACTOR) that would manage the character’s emotions and reactions in real time.
Magnasciutti tells me the idea to develop Late Night Sexy Tv Show came out of a meeting that quickly came to the conclusion that the only surefire way to sell a game in Italy would be to center it around sex. Thus, Massimo started working full-time on it, with the objective of “parodying those stupid TV game shows” like Wheel of Fortune. The player (or up to four players together) creates a contestant through a simple character creator, then goes on the show to answer typical quiz show-like questions. Guessing correctly grants money, that can be used to further advances one’s career, modifying one’s body (with options like reducing one’s penis size or a surgical defloration) or getting to know the partner, one of the other contestants.
Massimo, apparently, really loved the idea behind Leisure Suit Larry, since winning entails becoming the perfect match for the chosen partner, hence having a turn together in the VR “Orgasmatic” machine. There is also mentions of “cosmosensual fluid”, but frankly, it started to lose me a bit there. In writing the script the designer decided not to hold back any punches and throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. This is further reinforced by reading the 30 pages manual, entirely written by Massimo, made up to look like a scandal mag, which probably took more time to write than the game itself.
With only five pages dedicated to how the game works, the rest of the mag shares Late Night’s extremely nineties kind of humor: personal ads like “looking for fun? dress up in a chicken suit and go to the central station at 4 AM”, news about canned tuna that makes one change sex, fake interviews to scientists and weirdos and, naturally, offensive jokes on everything under the sun.
Talking about sales, Massimo recalls that, back then, the important thing was trying to stay on top of the market: “even if your game was terrible, it was important to get it out there. Quantity over quality.” Late Night didn’t sell – expectedly – very well, even though most people interviewed for this piece seem to have, not surprisingly perhaps, a pretty vivid memory of it.
Even though LNSTS ended up quickly in the bargain bin, it received surprisingly enthusiastic reviews at the time, with The Games Machine giving it an 89 out of 100 [better than Nippon Safes Inc!] saying:
While at first it seemed not to make sense […] I would highly recommend it, not only it is very fun, but it also lasts a very long time, becoming more and more intriguing and exciting!
Late Night Sexy TV Show‘s gameplay errs definitely on the weird side of the spectrum, along with Magnasciutti’s writing being a bit all over the place, like the gameplay being interrupted by cutscenes of a couple arguing while watching television. It also tries to do social commentary, but the less said about that, the better.
Definitely one of the more out-there experiences I’ve had in recent years, especially for an actual commercial release. Someday, I will dive into it again, if just to see more weird conversations between the characters. Massimo also gave me the go-ahead to upload the game on archive.org, so if any of my readers feel like trying it too, here’s the link. Unfortunately, Italian only.
Going back to their first title, and only actual success, along with trying to branch out without anyone really noticing, Caprelli recalls the guys were unhappy with the way the company was organized and also wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes that led to Dynabyte almost folding up while working on Nippon Safes. Thus, they go ahead and merge Dynabyte into a new company, Ludomedia, while still retaining the Dynabyte brand.
The newborn company would feature several partners (including Caprelli) with Paolo Costabel as the legal representative and Bruno Boz as CEO. Marco, while digging up materials for the article, recalled that the Ludomedia logo was actually designed by his girlfriend at the time; one real obscure piece of development trivia.
Dynabyte goes international
Magnasciutti leaves Dynabyte not soon after the release of Late Night Sexy TV Show, finding work – later – in the world of mobile gaming. He only gets a glimpse of what will be the software house’s biggest success.
The Big Red Adventure, developed as a direct sequel to Nippon Safes, sees the three protagonists returning for a longer, more complex adventure. Giorgio Sommariva recalls joining the team in 1994 and immediately working on TBRA’s graphics. He also mentions four weeks of desperate crunch to finish the adventure in time, with the last part of the game ending up a bit rushed. Dynabyte Software, most of all, wanted to make sure to avoid repeating the same publishing mistakes that led to the poor sales of Nippon Safes.
The team went to London’s ECTS to show the game, with Virgin being among the various publishing companies interested, recalls Caprelli, but in the end, it was Core Design that won them over. Costabel himself flew to Derby (England) to show a demo of the game to the company to finalize the publishing deal. He said the team worked restlessly 72 hours to iron out all the bugs, but it was worth it since the deal was finally closed: Core Design came to Genova, with Adrian Smith as a producer, to sign the contract.
Caprelli recalls talking with Smith, complaining about the absence of female protagonists in video games, with the producer revealing they were indeed working on Tomb Raider.
Originally titled Operation Matrioska, Caprelli recalls it was Core that decided to change it to The Big Red Adventure to make it sound more “European”. The adventure was distributed all over the continent; even though it was a sequel of a game that was still available only in Italy, he recalls that, apparently, the publisher wasn’t worried about the original needing any kind of re-release.
Sommariva worked on the dialogues and descriptions: “when I was done with the graphics, I either did some testing or writing. Costabel had written a script (called Parallaction – ed’s note) that uploaded in-game text that we compiled with the plain DOS editor. Sometimes we added very random stuff, like references to the Sampdoria soccer team or even mentions to former girlfriends!”. Bruno Boz’ son, Alberto, was also working in Dynabyte at the time, he recalls: “Core Design had a full team of testers and would send us faxes full with bugs to fix, while we only really had one programmer. They were professionals, we were still a bunch of young adults, not really taking it seriously. Except my father, everyone was under 30 years old and not very committed to working towards finishing a project.”
TBRA is a slightly better game than its predecessor, showing a more mature side of Dynabyte along with less bugs and problems, even though the adventure still had pretty limited animations and, again, pretty short conversations between the characters. The Games Machine gave it an 87 out of 100, singling out the team for being “almost on par with Lucasarts and Sierra for the quality of their adventures”.
Unfortunately, even though the publishing deal with Core Design allowed TBRA to sell okay and, at least, made back money, Caprelli says the English publisher clearly had no intention of working again with Dynabyte. Bruno Boz recalls that communication with Core Design, after the release, was fractured at best and, even though the contract implied sales commissions, Dynabyte Software never saw a dime after the first payment. “We thought about calling up our lawyers since the sales numbers didn’t seem to add up, but an international lawsuit would have ended up costing more than it was worth.”
Apparently, Core Design wasn’t interested in their next project because it looked too “childish”. By 1995, the PlayStation era was already in full swing and everything, overnight, became “edgy”. The Big Red Adventure did not perhaps, make Dynabyte Software into a household name, but, on the other hand, it is still fondly remembered by many and remains one of Italy’s most famous adventure games.
Tequila goes Boom-boom: The end of Dynabyte Software
Dynabyte began working on their next project even before getting TBRA out the door. It was going to be another point’n’click adventure, sharing the same engine as its predecessor but with a simplified interface, along with Disney-like quality cartoon graphics. While Tequila & Boom-Boom, released in 1995, may have looked like a cartoon, Costabel says he wanted to put in as much Sergio Leone and spaghetti western in the plot and characters.
Caprelli tells me their objective was basically to make a cartoon version of a Bud Spencer and Terence Hill movie, hence the look of the two main protagonists. Giorgio Sommariva recalls working for a little on the adventure, just shortly before leaving Dynabyte Software, even though he wasn’t even credited in the finished product. Most of the graphics were drawn by artist Alessandro Belli and character designer Alessandro Barbucci, and then scanned in, similarly to what Lucasarts was doing with the Curse of Monkey Island.
Costabel still refers to it as one of the best titles Dynabyte Software released but, weirdly enough, it is probably their least known adventure, even in Italy. The blame falls, again, on the publisher: Caprelli remembers that Dynabyte had closed a publishing agreement with Sacis. It was a company that, at the time, seemed to be on the rise, since it was also distributing Ubi Soft titles like Rayman. Unfortunately, they proved to be the wrong choice: they were funded by RAI, Italian’s national television company, and, apparently, had no real grasp of the videogame market. Caprelli goes on to say, he is still pretty sure that Dynabyte Software was more market savvy than Sacis itself!
Bruno Boz recalls Sacis went all out for Tequila (no surprises there, they were using public funding!), even going as far as to rent a beautiful place in Ravello – near Genova – to reveal the title to the press. But, for all that money Sacis spent on the presentation, with the release date drawing closer, apparently, they disappeared into thin air. “I still don’t know exactly what happened, maybe Silvio Berlusconi coming to power had something to do with it?” wonders Boz.. “For almost four months I didn’t hear anything from them. We were desperately low on funds to continue development.”
Tequila & Boom Boom miraculously managed to be released in Italy, but never did sell well, ending up as being the last commercially released title by Dynabyte Software. Sacis was initially going to distribute two more titles the software house was developing along with Tequila, but that, as we’ll see shortly, never came to pass.
Right alongside development on Tequila & Boom Boom, Sommariva mentions the team was also working on Blood & Lace. This was a radically different project from the usual Dynabyte cartoonish adventures. Ever since working on The Big Red Adventure, Marco Caprelli had been itching to write and develop a game featuring a female protagonist, for Blood & Lace he decided on countess Barbara Cagliostro. Bruno Boz laughs and comments “she was basically the video game equivalent of his girlfriend at the time!”.
Still, it was originally planned to be yet another 2D point’n’click adventure, with quick time events, featuring hand-drawn graphics, using an improved version of the engine behind Tequila & Boom-Boom. But indeed, Blood & Lace featured a gothic horror story, which took place between Paris and Italy. The reference to the 1971 Philip S. Gilbert movie in its title is, perhaps, not a coincidence.
This is how the title looked back when the core Dynabyte Software team was still working on it (the credits for the video feature both Caprelli and Costabel):
Alongside Blood & Lace, the other project agreed for distribution by Sacis was “Roma“, a 2D adventure game that, as Boz recalls, didn’t go past a few drawn backgrounds.
In 1996, Dynabyte Software also starts working on the Amiga conversion of The Big Red Adventure, by fans’ demand, even though the home computer was on its last leg at the time. Apparently, A1200 and CD32 conversions were actually part of the initial publishing agreement with Core Design, but that quickly fell through because the market was shrinking rapidly. The Amiga version was, instead, published by a German mail-order company, Power Computing.
Unfortunately, with the company in dire straits, controversies between Bruno Boz and the rest of the team led to a split, with Costabel and Caprelli on one side, and Boz on the other. Bruno recalls the schism happened just after problems with Sacis were starting to be a heavy burden on the company’s finances: the main team wanted to continue working with the publisher while Boz and the others decided it wasn’t worth it.
Blood & Lace: as Dynabyte drives a bargain with Giunti
After the release for Tequila & Boom-Boom, Caprelli recalls that, in the end, with Costabel having received an offer to work on the Final Fantasy movie with Squaresoft, plus Riccardo Scarsi and Alessandro Belli both leaving, he found himself as the only one left in the team.
He wasn’t going to stand around pretending the company still existed – he recalls – thus Ludomedia ceases operations in 1997; even if the Dynabyte Software logo was absorbed by Bruno Boz’s multimedia company Virtual Edge, there was no actual team behind it. The Virtual Edge company scraped by a few years, releasing smaller titles for gaming magazines and edutainment software then it folded later in 2000.
Even with the team dissolved, Caprelli did not really give up on the idea for Blood & Lace. He continues working on the game with another team, turning the original 2D adventure into a sort of 2.5D project with 2D drawn characters that would move around in 3D environments. Later, he was recruited by the publishing company Giunti Editore to command a team to work on multimedia products and games. Naturally, Blood & Lace was the first idea he pitched. They gave the go-ahead and Caprelli starts working again on countess Cagliostro’s adventure, only to complete it several years later, in 2001.
Whie the Giunti Multimedia Entertainment team is developing it, Dario Pelella (a former Trecision developer) suggests to switch the project again into a fully 3D adventure, with an engine developed by Pelella himself. Caprelli tells me the inspiration was, apparently, Tomb Raider even though it plays closer to the average Resident Evil clone from the early 00s. In the end, development on the game ended up taking two full years, with the Giunti Multimedia Entertainment Team tasked with rebuilding everything from scratch, keeping only the story from the 1996 version.
When asked if he was satisfied with how Blood & Lace turned out, after five years in the pipeline, he answers with mixed feelings.
The team was constantly distracted by having to juggle too many things for their employer, never having the time to be completely devoted to the project. Also, Caprelli concludes that they really needed more hands-on management: Giunti seemed fine in just letting the young team do their thing, usually leaving them alone to work on various projects, never bothering to check up on what they were actually doing.
By the time Blood & Lace was finished and, finally, hit the stores, Caprelli had already left the team which would disband soon after, because of various miscommunication problems between Giunti and the programmers themselves. To no one’s surprise, the game, also because it came from a publisher that was more accustomed to selling books than videogames, went mostly unnoticed.
Dynabyte post mortem: The Killing Tool
While talking about Dynabyte Software, Marco Caprelli recalls a title that shared the Tube Warriors multiplane gameplay feature. It was a cyberpunk platformer that Caprelli and Costabel had started working on around 1994. “We contacted talented local graffiti artist Talexi to handle the art”, mentions Caprelli. Alessandro “Talexi” Taini confirms he worked on the art along with his friend and artist Bjorn Giordano and together with Dynabyte, they managed to complete a portfolio to send to Sony UK. “We agreed to meet again after the summer in order to check if they were interested”, recalls Giordano.
But, surprisingly, as September rolls on, Taini and Giordano show up at the Dynabyte Software offices only to find them closed, for good apparently, with no one around to greet them. “We hadn’t realized it back then, but the company was already on its last leg and they just closed up shop, it was 1996.”
The two decided not to give up on a project they worked so hard on, though, deciding to board on a plane to London in order to ask Sony UK directly what happened to their portfolio. Giordano recalls showing up unannounced at Sony’s offices in London and, after a few minutes of waiting, actually being welcomed by Martin Alltime, at the time producer for Sony EU. “I can still remember his face the moment we tell him we were the guys The Killing Tool. He said he had been looking for us for weeks, but no one was answering their phone calls and faxes“. Apparently, Sony was more than willing to finance a demo, they were interested in the project. Dynabyte Software had lost even that very last chance.
Giordano and Taini recall spending weeks in London, shopping around several development teams, including Psygnosis. “Despite their interest in our project and art direction, no one seemed to be available to develop a 3D engine, they all had their hands full. Back then, it wasn’t really possible to recycle a previous graphical engine, since there were too few around! I even got the phone number for the president of Sony in Italy, but he told me he had no idea how he could help us.”
In the end, the two just gave up. Giordano went back home, but Taini liked what he saw in the industry and decided to stick around. Since then he has worked as Art director for several Ninja Theory’s games from Heavenly Sword to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. He tells me The Killing Tool is the main reason why he actually ended up being involved in video games.
Dynabyte Software feels like another typical story of Italian videogame development in the 90s: little money, few capitals, management problems and even more distribution and publishing drama. Still, the team did end up making some very smart decisions, especially in securing a distribution deal with Core Design and managing to successfully publish an important title like The Big Red Adventure. Perhaps, if Core had stuck with Dynabyte Software, this story would have a very different outcome, with the studio becoming a success story like Milestone.
When I asked Paolo Costabel if he’s happy with how things turned out, he tells me “I think, for the most part, the games turned out pretty well. I’m especially proud of the adventures I had a hand in creating, along with the rest of the guys. I found out years later that they are even featured on a couple of books about point and click adventures. They are still played and enjoyed by many people around the world and that is a great feeling”.
Marco Caprelli also chimes in, saying the team did the best they could to cope with a small market and their talents managed to shine even through all the problems. Massimo Magnasciutti is more direct, as he’s wont to do: “they wanted us to be the Italian Ubisoft, while they didn’t even want to pay for a pizza if we happened to work overtime during the night!”. Bruno Boz still recalls that time with affection and still keeps all the art from Tequila & Boom-boom hanging on the walls of his studio.
Even if one is not a fan of their products, it is still remarkable how Dynabyte survived through all the publishing woes and, in the meantime, helped shape professionals that still have essential roles in today’s videogame world, along with kickstarting the career of important artists like Talexi. Dynabyte Software may be dead and buried, a name that might sound familiar only to videogame historians and adventure fanatics, but its legacy lives strongly on.
Where are they now?
Marco Caprelli, after leaving Giunti Multimedia, became Brand Manager for Ubisoft and has worked, among others, on the Italian marketing for the Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell series.
Paolo Costabel, after having worked on the Hollow Man and Final Fantasy: Spirits Within movies as technical director, is now employed at Sony Santa Monica, currently working on the God of War series.
Christian Cantamessa, after a brief stint with Trecision, moved on to Ubi Soft and then to Rockstar where he was the main designer for Manhunt and Red Dead Redemption.
Massimo Magnasciutti is still working as a graphic designer and dabbles in conspiracy theories (nobody’s perfect!); among his various projects, he was adamant that I would mention his Soldier of fortune 2 maps, so here are Prisoner In Portmeirion and Zena on My Mind.
Giorgio Sommariva left Dynabyte Software and, after working for a brief while with Italian software house WaywardXS, has left the videogame world and currently works in IT.
Alessandro “Talexi” Taini, after his period with Ninja Theory, is now working on a Star Trek series for Nickelodeon.
Bruno Boz is happily retired and still thinks about his time in Dynabyte Software every now and then.
Sources & References
Interviews conducted via skype, telephone and e-mail by myself in 2020 and 2021 with Massimo Magnasciutti, Marco Caprelli, Alberto Boz, Bruno Boz, Paolo Costabel, Giorgio Sommariva, Christian Cantamessa, Bjorn Giordano, Alessandro Taini, Dario Pelella and Simone Crosignani.
Magazines: The Games Machine n. 73, K n. 28, C+VG n.9, 15, CU Amiga n. 25
Picture from Game.EXE provided by Ilya Chentsov
Many thanks to all the people I interviewed, especially to Bjorn Giordano and Alessandro Taini for the materials provided for The Killing Tool.
Special thanks to Bruno Boz for kindly providing an original copy of Nippon Safes Inc.