We recently had the extraordinary good fortune to sit down recently for a chat with video game industry veteran Lawrence Siegel to discuss his amazing career and his fascinating battle with Nintendo during his tenure at Atari.
Siegel oversaw the release of the Atari Lynx, a powerful handheld device that had the misfortune of going head-to-head with Nintendo's world-conquering Game Boy. Nintendo's stranglehold over the console market was one of the hardest obstacles he would have to face, so Siegel can be forgiven for wanting to find a way to get one over on the Japanese giant – and one such plan involved a certain Canadian ice hockey player.
I was like, ‘I’m going to f**k Nintendo in the ass.' I’ll bring out a Super Mario hockey game starring Mario Lemieux. Anyway, the attorneys said, ‘You can make a Mario Lemieux Hockey, but you can’t make a Super Mario
"The biggest license I ever sought and I didn’t get was about 1990," he tells Time Extension. "I was so angry at Nintendo for preventing me at Atari from getting licenses that I went after a license. Super Mario was a very hot figure. Nintendo owned Super Mario. In the United States, there was a Canadian hockey player named Mario Lemieux. He was the best guy in the National Hockey League at the time, and they used to call him 'Super Mario'. So I went to his agent, and I said, ‘Look, can I get you? And can I get the license to Super Mario?’ I want to make a Super Mario hockey game."
It's easy to see the genius of this plan; sports games often use a player's nickname in their title (Sega famously released Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing on the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive in 1992, for example), so you can see why Siegel was so confident he could get "Super Mario" on the cover of an Atari game – a real coup.
"I was like, ‘I’m going to f**k Nintendo in the ass,’" continues Siegel. "I’ll bring out a Super Mario hockey game starring Mario Lemieux. I didn’t want Mario Lemieux Hockey, I wanted Super Mario Hockey. Anyway, the attorneys said, ‘You can make a Mario Lemieux Hockey, but you can’t make a Super Mario.’ So once they told me that, I lost interest."
Atari might not have made the game, but in 1991, Sega signed a deal with Lemieux to create Mario Lemieux Hockey for the Genesis / Mega Drive.
You can read the full interview with Siegel here.