A quick backgrounder:
I came to Williams in May 1982. Sinistar had been in development for some time at that point, but had stalled. Sam Dicker was the lead programmer. He'd worked on Defender, tried to tackle his own project, and bogged down a bit. I was asked to help try to get things moving. Sam and I got along well, and with help from John Newcomer, who was designing Joust at the time and was a real design mentor for me, we re-worked the existing concept.
A new artist named Jack Haeger joined the group and did the quasi-samurai treatment of the Sinistar that galvanized us all and taught us what a talented artist could do with a limited pallette (I believe it was 16 colors available out of a choice of 256, and he had to make the 16 work for all the images in the game). The previous conception had been flat, but Jack's concept looked almost 3-D to us. Richard Witt joined the programming team, and we worked away to prepare for an upcoming trade show. Micheal Metz did many of the sound effects, including my favorite, the weird "extra ship" sound. He created that and a few others by serendipity: he discovered that when he powered his development system up in the morning, the RAM initialized randomly. As the sound effects were generated algorithmically, garbage in the RAM made for weird effects. He spent hours flicking it on and off, playing the sound, and saving it when it was interesting -- until his system blew up because of rough treatment.
Shortly before our first show we added RJ Mical to the team. RJ did most of the explosions and "special visual effects" in the game. About the time Sinistar came out, the arcade industry collapsed, with sales dropping to about 10% of the previous year. Sam was the first of our team to leave, and headed out to become the 7th employee of a new company soon to be called Amiga. He brought Jack and RJ out too, and they respectively did much of the initial art and operating system for the Amiga computer. Later RJ went on to co-invent what became the Atari Lynx hand-held system, and the 3DO system. He left 3DO earlier this month. Sam is currently at Crystal Dynamix, a game company that was founded to create 3DO software. I've lost touch with Rich and Mike, and last I heard Jack was back in Chicago working for Williams.
Sinistar's popularity continues to surprise me. I believe only about 5000 units were sold, making it a small run by those standards, although that was large for the lean years that followed when a hit meant 3000 units. I've since designed home computer games that sold over 250,000 units, but none that have created the loyal ranks of fans as Sinistar did. I've been depressed about how my earliest published game is mostly a thing of memory, so I was elated to find out it's been ported to the PC, and better yet, it's an emulator, so the original code runs intact. There's an easter egg hidden in the attract mode, triggered by an odd combination of button presses that we've all forgotten, but soon I may have the chance to rediscover it...