Sometime in 1988 a man walks into a coffee shop, Diedrich's Coffee, somewhere in America.
The man became a regular at the coffee shop, comming in at 6 am, right when the place opened
and ordered cappuccino and a mexicano, shot of espresso with spices, and he would sit there
and read Carlos Castenada books, not much of a talker.
At one point he started talking to one of the girls working at the coffee shop though,
learned that she was an artist and offered her $100 if she would do some work for him.
The guy was Dan Lawton, founder of Color Dreams, and the guy who reverse engineered the
NES for Color Dreams. The girl working at the coffee shop was Nina Bedner, now Nina Stanley.
The $100 was payment for her to come up with a Color Dreams logo and after that little job,
Dan Lawton asked her if she would try making video games. Nina Stanley was an undergraduate
in art at Cal State Fullerton, was in a terrible marriage, and had a son about 3 1/2 years
old she had to take care of.
She accepted the challenge and came to the Color Dreams office where she was equipped with
a drawing tool. It was a NES unit with a cable and the pixels had to be laid down and adjusted
by manipulating the control pad. Mostly had to cycle through the palettes each time you
wanted to change a colour. It was really miserable! I lasted a few weeks and told him I just
really didn't like this and that I'd rather be a coffee wench! Nina Stanley explains
in an old interview.
About 6 months later Dan Lawton asked Nina again if she would try again, he was opening
an office near where she was living and they had just finished developing a proper drawing
tool, called NinDraw. By this time I was divorced and trying to
support a small child, and the idea of making twice as much and not having to do retail
anymore was very appealing! So I tried again, and it was actually kinda fun. There were
crazy all nighters and stuff, but I could bring my son with me (he would play for a while
and then sleep under my desk) and I could still go to school.
And she became the famous Color Dreams artist with her last name never written in any game,
and was actually the only in-house artist in 3 years at one time. By the way, did you know
that her father was Owsley Stanley (Bear), quite famous in the LSD / Grateful Dead circles?
Today she is a lead artist at 3DO and worked on at least three titles, Battletanx,
Battletanx Global Assault and Army Men: Sarge's Heroes.
In May 1990 another person started a Color Dreams, his name was Vance Kozik and at that
time the Color Dreams staff was no more than 10 people, it quickly grew and had around 60
emplayees at one time. He was working at a TV station in San Antonio, Texas, when an old
friend of his said that Vance could get a job at this video game company the friend was
So he became programmers/artists superviser and was to make sure the games got out in time
and the quality was good. I did not know how and did not want to manage people... I figured
I would get my foot in the door and then work my way into game design / programming, he tells
in an old NES WORLD interview.
As it turned out, my first assignment was to evaluate Pesterminator and offer suggestions on
how to improve it. The game was and is still just awful, levels were boring, game play was
awfull, joystick/here response was choppy, etc. When I wrote up a long list and told my
opinions to the programmers and artists, they wouldn't even turn to look at me, it was a
really bad experience.
Vance got tired of bossing people around, he wasn't that kind of guy anyway. He decided to
try programming instead and met up with Nina Stanley, who was to do graphics for the game
Vance should make, and Menace Beach was born. The skater dude featured in the game was actually
modeled after Nina's own son, who was 4 at the time.
Vance Kozik became one of the main programmers at Color Dreams, sort of, working on a lot of
titles such as Pesterminator, did a couple of levels, coding Menace Beach and worked on all
the Wisdom Tree titles Bible Adventures, Kings of Kings, Spiritual Warfare, Exodus, Joshua
and Bible Buffet, as well as a few unreleased ones such as Jericho and the last Color Dreams
label game, Hellraiser. He also made the all of the music for Super 3-D Noah's Ark,
the only unlicensed SNES game released.
Where's this Kozik guy today you might ask, well most of Color Dreams turned into StarDot,
a company that makes digital web cameras, the other percentage went with Wisdom Tree which was
formed as an indepentant company owning the rights for the name as well as selling the
games, Color Dreams still owns the game rights though. Vance has gone camera crazy, surely
not camera shy, he has created his own "big brother" world by installing 12 or so cameras
all over the StarDot office as well as installing 6 at his own house.
Since I just mentioned the strong-rumored Hellraiser game, why not continue down that road
a bit and mention some of the rumored and confirmed about the game, I've tried to get in
touch with the ex. Color Dreams workers again, but it seems that most enjoy all the rumors
and refuse to even make the smallest comment about the game.
But here's what I've been able to piece together sofar. The cartridge , better known as the
Super Cartridge, did exist as a prototype piece of hardware, but no software was never written
for use with it, not even Hellraiser. The game featured "normal" 8bit graphics and a few
levels were designed, Nina Stanley worked a little bit on the graphics for the game.
Another semi-famous person working for the unlicensed game company was Phil Mikkelson, who
later moved on to work at American Video Entertainment, also worked on the Hellraiser game,
and was the one who designed the titlescreen, and probably the box art aswell.
If we take a look at the Super Cartridge again, rumours says that it could show graphics like
a 16bit system game on the NES, it had a special version MMC chip, short for Memory Manager
Controller, that contained an extra 8bit processor, called Z80. The crazier rumors suggested
that the cartridge used the bottom connector on the NES system to connect to an unused
duplicate 8-bit processor on the NES motherboard.
The rumours aren't that far from the truth though. The cart was engineered during 1990, Color
Dreams bought the Hellraiser rights the same year. The cartridge had a Z80 processor in it
running at 2 MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second), which gave the cartridge 3 times the
computational power of the NES console alone. It also had 64k of RAM (Random Access Memory)
on-board. This means that the game could store 64 thousand characters of information
independent of the NES console.
Another former Color Dreams worker, Jon Valesh, has the following to say about Hellraiser
and the Super Cartridge: Well, the Hellraiser game and the mysteries surrounding it seem to
have a lot of politics or market positioning in them. I was around when the Hellraiser
project was first started, and it seemed a lot different than everybody seems to think it
First, The "Super-cartridge". This was a Z80 based computer designed by Dr. Ron Risley, M.D.,
who was at the time in med. school in San Diego, California. He and Dan Lawton had worked at
the same company for a brief period a few years earlier, and since Ron is a very intelligent
person who had been involved in the computer industry quite heavily. (Mostly in the Mac.
world, he wrote the some famous share-ware, the front end for the Genie Online service for
the Mac, had a regular column in Macworld, etc.), he was asked to build a coprocessor for the
NES. It did not tap a "second processor" (which to the best of my knowledge didn't exist),
but instead used the fact that the NES used the cartridge ROM as a real-time source for
graphical data and code. It didn't load the program into RAM and run it there, like a PC
game or a Playstation does.
The idea was that the parts of the cartridge which were normally ROM accessed by the Nintendo
for displaying graphics, etc. was RAM in the Super-Cartridge, and since the cartridge was in
fact a whole computer, a game could have bitmap and complex graphics by using the coprocessor
to change the contents of the "ROM" as it was being read by the Nintendo's graphics chip.
(If each time you display a character, it is slightly different, you can have very dynamic
sprites and background objects.) By modifying the code space as the game ran, you could
create a far more dynamic game, and since the z80 could figure out what part of the game was
being played, it could run it's own code to further enhance both the graphics and gameplay.
In effect, you would be able to program enemies which were controlled by the Z80, which had
bit-mapped spites, and could have a lot more smarts than would be practical for the CPU in
Jon Valesh also explains that he did see a working Hellraiser level in action, he also helped
test some of the code, but never saw a version of Hellraiser intended to run on the
He continues... There was a fatal flaw with the Hellraiser game for
Color Dreams. It was the wrong sort of game for that company... And the machine. that meant
that it was doomed from the start. Just think about it, "Color Dreams", makes a game about
a bloody nightmare? Doesn't work. The company was being managed by people never who had never
played a video game and never would, and were not strongly attached to the western culture
which would produce a movie like Hellraiser. To expect them to produce a game which was Gory
enough, sick enough, and mean enough to fit the movie is to expect too much. To expect
anybody to produce it on a Nintendo is even worse.
The rumored $80 price for Hellraiser just isn't true either as the main reason for that price
tag would've been the Super Cartridge. Hellraiser would probably have been very violent,
in the Color Dreams type of way, which would make me lauch today, but a little kid back then
would probably have started crying and parrents wouldn't touch a game pak with Mr. "I will
probably cause nightmares" Pinhead himself. It was really simple why Hellraiser never got
anywhere, there was not a lot of potential buyers, most players were kids back then unlike
today where there's a lot of players aged 20-30, demanding violent videogames. Oh and not
forgetting that this was by the time Color Dreams got a call from above to make
From what I've heard, another company picked up the Hellraiser rights when Color Dreams
rights expired and it's said that they announced a PC and a SNES version of Hellraiser to
be released sometime in 1994 or 1995, however I don't recall any SNES hellraiser game being
announced, and sure havem't seen any PC games either, chances of seeing a Hellraiser game
today is slim, maybe Pinhead gave up, finally.
Jon Valesh also worked on a couple of other games, of which 1 was released, before leaving
the company. The game released was Operation Secret Storm, which actually was called
"Who's Sane Now" at first. You're this G.I. guy who has to rescue the world and kill
Saddam, "the dicktater" (Inside joke at Color Dreams I guess, cause I don't get it).
A story was once spread by Jon Valesh himself that the Color Dreams executives were affraid
of being bombed by Saddam by releasing a game such as Operation Secret Storm, however no one
else has confirmed that story. Besides OSS he worked on Pesterminator, while Ken Beckett who
originally started making the game was busy making a new NinDraw program for the PC. Jon
Valesh was also the guy behind an unreleased, but said to be packaged and ready to ship,
game called Happy Camper, something of a shoot-em-up. One can only home that these turn up
Jon Valesh was also the first one to spread the rumor about a NES clone being made, supposedly
in co-operation with StarDot (Color Dreams) and that the system would include all Color Dreams
titles, no Wisdom Tree titles. I thought it was a joke to begin with, but when the system
started to turn up on different online stores, well then it was a reality. The system also
reached US shores under the name "Game Arcade System" and is distributed by Pelican
Accessories in California. I haven't been able to find anyone who could confirm if Color
Dreams actually did help making the NES clone, but I guess they must have sold their games
to the company producing the system atleast.
Today Jon is working at StarDot along with most of the other old Color Dreams employees, I
guess they always have room for their old buddies there, since it's something like 9 years
since he left Color Dreams, and didn't start working at StarDot until somewhere around 2000.
Color Dreams created their own low-price label, games they felt didn't belong on the Color
Dreams label. When the idea of a low-price label was invented, Dan Lawton wanted to find
someone who, as Jon Valesh puts it, would "really get out there and push the games" to come
in. And Dan turned to another of his old co-worker, who had been working as a customer
service manager, his name was Al Bunch. He later got married and moved to Colorado where he
runs a small cafe. The Bunch Games' were mostly bought from Sachen in Taiwan, but a few were
also developed in the US, such as the awful Moon Ranger game, developed by Odyssey Software.
Color Dreams wasn't just a little so-called "garage company", they had 60 employees and
2 offices in different locations when the company was at its highest. It was founded by
Dan Lawton and Eddy Lin along with some strong asian investors. The real company, Color Dreams,
split with Wisdom Tree somewhere around 1994, and went in different directions, well
Wisdom Tree continued selling and developing christian games, Color Dreams is now known
as StarDot, a company making weird chunky shaped digital web cameras, I guess you could
say that some got tired of reading the holy bible every night before going to bed.
To me it sounded like they had a lot of fun when making those games, which most people claim
are incredibly, yeah sure they had their share of crap, but they must've sold a great deal
of games to pay 60 employees, and games such as Captain Comic, Menace Beach, Crystal Mines,
Spiritual Warfare sure are games of and ok, maybe even high standard, if you compare to
other games around that time. Not forgetting what Color Dreams did to the history of the
Nintendo Entertainment System, sure would've been boring without them.