Since I'm winding-down my research on Atari for Gamasutra, I thought I would share some of the better places on the web that have interviews with (or firsthand account from) retro-gaming stars from Atari's past. Some of these "interviewees" might not have worked at Atari, but either made games for Atari systems or were in occupations that affected Atari in it's heyday (i.e. journalists, 3rd party devs). If you are interested in Atari history, there is nothing better than reading words directly from the mouths of people who were there.
One thing to note is that while these links work now, some of these interviews have fallen-of the web in the past. A few are are linked here directly from the Internet Archive . As well, if some of these suddenly go off line , you can search for them in Internet Archive to try to retrieve the content from the dead link.
The Interviews/Firsthand Accounts
- Rich Adam, Mike Hally : (Coin-op, Gravitar), March 4, 2004 http://www.cooganphoto.com
- Al Alcorn : (Coin-op, Pong), VG-Network
- Al Alcorn: : (Coin-op, Pong), March 10, 2008 IGN
- Ralph Baer: (arch-rival), April 24, 2006, Gamasutra
- Ralph Baer: (arch-rival), March 23, 2007, Gamasutra
- Ralph Baer: (arch-rival), Good Deal Games
- Donna Baily Coin-op, Centipede) August 27, 2007, Gamasutra
- Donna Baily: (Coin-op, Centipede), August 3, 2007, Gamasutra
- DanilleBerry/Dan Bunten: (8-bit, M.U.L.E.): 1997, Halcyon Days
- DanilleBerry/Dan Bunten: (8-bit, M.U.L.E.): , http://www.worldofmule.net
- Bob Brodie : (Atari ST), August 2, 1991, Z*Net
- Bill Budge : (8-bit, Pinball Construction Set), 1998, http://www.pcpinball.com
- Chuck "Chuckles" Bueche : (8-bit, Ultima II) Armchair Arcade
- Nolan Bushnell : (Founder), Good Deal Games
- Nolan Bushnell : (Founder), San Jose Mercury News
- Nolan Bushnell: (Founder), October 26, 2007 Speigel
- Nolan Bushnell: (Founder), April 2007, Joystiq
- Nolan Bushnell: (Founder), Dec 12, 2007 Vintage Computer And Gaming
- Steve Baker: (VCS,5200, 8-bit, Defender, Stargate ): 2001, Digital Press
- Mayor Donald E. Carroll : (Mayor of Alamogordo,New Mexico), 2005 Atari Digital Madman
- Mark Cerny : (Coin-op, Atari Game, Marble Madness), June 2002, http://www.bodenstandig.de/marble/atariga.htm
- Ian Chadwick (Journalist, Antic magazine): May 9, 2003, Atari Times
- David Crane: (VCS, Activision, Pitfall) Dec 6, 2005, Gamasutra
- David Crane: (VCS, Activision, Pitfall), Good Deal Games
- David Crane : (VCS, Activision, Tennis) Jan, 1984 Hi-Res Magazine
- Chris Crawford: (8-bit, Eastern Front) June 5, 2003, Gamasutra
- Chris Crawford: (8-bit, Excalibur): 1997 Halcyon Days
- Chris Crawford: (8-bit, SCRAM) : 2005, Armchair Arcade
- Chris Crawford: (8-bit Energy Czar), Feb 2, 2005, The Guardian Unlimited
- Joe Decuir: (Coin-op, Stella), 2005, Digital Press
- Joe Decuir : (Coin-op, Stella), 1998, Atari Museum
- Steve Defrisco VCS, Motorodeo, Klax), 2007, Digital Press
- Steve Defrisco: (VCS,, Klax), 1997 Halcyon Days
- Steve Defrisco : (VCS, Magic), Numb Thumb Club
- Jerome Domurat : (VCS, 5200, ST-graphics, E.T. ) 2002, Digital Press
- Landon Dyer : (8-bit, Centipede), 2008, http://www.dadhacker.com
- Peter Engelbright: (VCS, Epyx) Oct. 25, 2002, Atari times
- Hal Finney : (VCS-M-Network), 2006, Digital Press
- David Fox: (8-bit, 5200, Lucasfilm): 1997, Halcyon Days
- Jon Freeman & Anne Westfall : (8-bit, Electronic Arts, Archon); 1997, Halcyon Days
- FTL Team : (Atari ST, Dungeon Master,Oids,Sundog), Jan 1990, CPU NEWSWIRE ONLINE MAGAZINE
- Rob Fulop: (VCS, Night Driver), Nov. 23, 2006 , Gamasutra
- Rob Fulop: (VCS, Missile Command), 1993-2000, Digital Press
- Larry Gelberg (VCS, Parker Bros.), 2600 Connection
- Eric Ginner (Lynx, Ms. Pac-Man, Rampart), Oct 4, 1996, Atari times
- Tony Goacher : (Atari ST), Dec. 17, 2005 Atari Legend
- James Hague: (8-bit, Antic, Dadgum.com) Sep. 8, 1997 Atari Times
- Steve Hales : (VCS,8-bit, Synapse), 1997, Halcyon Days
- John Harris : (8-bit, Sierra, Jawbreaker): 1997, Halcyon Days
- Keithen Hayenga : (5200), 2004, Good Deal Games
- Bill Hogue : (8-bit, 5200, Miner 2049er), Feb 15, 2007, Armchair Empire
- Mathhew Hubbard VCS, Activision), 2001, Digital Press
- Jim Huether : (VCS, 5200. Flag Capture, Realsports Football), 2007, Digital Press
- Keithen Hayenga (Coin-op, 5200) : Good Deal Games
- Larry Kaplan : (VCS, Activision) 2006, Digital Press
- Kitchen Bros. (VCS, US Games, Activision): 1983, Electronic Fun Magazine
- David Lamkins : (VCS, Parker Bros., Frogger), 2004, Digital Press
- Stephen H. Landrum (8-bit, Epyx, Summer Games), http://www.fomalhaut.de
- Lance Lewis: (Jaguar) : Dec. 8, 2005 Atari Times
- Andre LamMothe : (8-bit, Quarks), http://www.gamershell.com
- Ed Logg : (Coin-op, Asteroids, Centipede) VG-Network
- Ed Logg (Coin-op, Tengen, Tetris), Atari HQ
- Ed Logg : (Coin-op, Atari Games), 1997, IGN
- David Lubar (8-bit, VCS,, Ultima IV) , 2003, Digital Press
- David Lubar: (8-bit, VCS, Fantastic Voyage, Ultima IV), 1997, Halcyon Days
- Denis Koble, Bill Grubb (Coin-op, VCS, Imagic), Jan 1983, Video Games Magazine
- Dan Kramer (VCS, Trak-Ball), August 15, 2005, Gamasutra
- Steve Kranish (8-bit, VCS), 2007, Digital Press
- Bill Kunkel: (Journalist:Electronic Games ) Dec. 12, 2005, Gamasutra
- Bill Kunkel : (Journalist, Electronic Games), Good Deal Games
- Bill Kunkel: (Journalist, Electronic Games), Jan. 2006, Gamerdad.com, 8bitrocket.com
- Harry Lafnear: (Atari ST, Time Bandit , Sep. 6, 2003, Atari Legend
- Daniel M. Lawrence (8-bit, Telengard), 6/22/2007 Armchair Arcade
- Barry Leitch Atari Games), 4/19/2001, remix64.com
- Brian McKee : (Coin-op) Atari Games, Area 51 http://www.tomheroes.com/
- Archer MacLean : (8-bit, Dropzone), Halcyon Days
- Daniel Macre : (Atari ST, Vroom), July 22, 2002, Atari Legend
- John Mathieson : (Jaguar, hardware), 2002
- Jed Margolin : (Coin-op), http://www.jmargolin.com/
- Alan Miller : (VCS, Activision), 2003, Digital Press
- Jay Miner : (VCS, 8-bit) September 1992, Mike Nelson
- James Morgan : (Atari CEO, 1983-1984), Antic Magazine, March 1984
- Jeff Minter : (ST, Jaguar, Tempest 2000), 1997, Halcyon Days
- Chuck Needle, R.J. Mical : (Lynx, Epyx): Sept. 1989, EGM
- Doug Neubauer (8-bit, Star Raiders), 1997, Halcyon Days
- Doug Neubauer : (8-bit, Star Raiders), 1986, Atari HQ
- Robert Craig Neve : (Atari ST), April 5, 2003, Atari Legend
- Greg Omi (Lynx, Electrocop), July 8, 2003, Atari Times
- Jeanne Parson, Judy Munsen (Coin-op, Atari Games, Primal Rage) April 13,1997 Stay Free Magazine
- Bob Polaro : (VCS, 8-bit, Realsports Volleyball, Desert Falcon), 1999, Digital Press
- Bob Polaro : (VCS, 8-bit) Atari Age
- Warren Robinett : (VCS, Adventure): March 29, 2007, Gamasutra
- Warren Robinett : (VCS, Adventure), Good Deal Games
- Warren Robinett : (VCS, Adventure), Halcyon Days
- Warren Robinett 1,2,3,4 VCS, Adventure), Toadstool's Game Shrines
- Warren Robinett VCS, Adventure), May, 2003 The Jaded Gamer
- David Rolfe : (VCS, M-Network), 2004, Digital Press
- David Rolfe: (VCS, M-Network), Good Deal Games
- Ed Rotberg : (Coin-op), Halcyon Days
- Owen Rubin : (Coin-op): VG-Network
- Owen Rubin game stories):(Coin-op), orubin.com
- Michel Rubin: (Writer/Journalist Book Droidmaker): Dec 21,2005 Gamasutra
- Lx Rudis : (Lynx, musician), Sep. 9, 2002 Atari Times
- Ed Salvo VCS, Games By Apollo, Lost Luggage) 2006, Digital Press
- Tom Sloperman : (Atari Corp., 7800), 2002, http://www.sloperama.com
- Rob Smith (VCS, Imagic, Dragonfire), 1983, Numb Thumb
- Brad Stewart : (VCS, Breakout, Asteroids), 2001, Digital Press
- Donald A. Thomas Jr. : (Atari Corp. spokesman) Good Deal Games
- Donald A Thomas Jr. : (Atari corp. spokesman), 8/20/96 STReport (page search on 'Last Days')
- Fred Thorlin : (8-bit, APX), Atari Archives
- Jack Tramiel : (Atari Corp. CEO, 1984-1996), Feb., 1985 Antic Magazine
- Jack Tramiel: (Atari Corp CEO, 1984-1996), March 1986, Data Well
- Jack Tramiel: (Atari corp. CEO, 1984-1996) , 1989
- Leonard Tramiel : (Atari Corp. Engineer) : July 31, 2001, Classicgaming.com
- Sam Tramiel : (Atari Corp. President) Sept, 1989 Start Magazine
- Sam Tramiel Atari Corp. President), 1995, Next Generation
- Kurt Vendel : (Atari historian, Atari Flashback consoles), June 5, 2007 The Escapist
- Howard Scott Warshaw: (VCS, E.T.), 1997 Digital Press
- Howard Scott Warshaw: (VCS, Raiders Of The Lost Ark), 1997 Atari Times
- Howard Scott Warshaw: (VCS, Yar's Revenge) Feb 2,2005, Onion AV Club
- Bob Whitehead : (VCS, Activision, Home Run, Skiing), 2005, Digital Press
- Brian Watson : (Atari ST, Psygnosis, Menace), Sep. 28, 2004 Atari Legends
- Jonathan Wheatman : (Atari ST), Feb 1, 2003 Atari Legends
- Steve Woita : (VCS, Quadrun), 2001, Digital Press
- Steve Woita : (VCS, Quadrun), Good Deal Games
- Ihor Wolosenko : (8-bit, Synapse): March, 1983, Antic Magazine
- Steve Wozniak: (Coin-op, Breakout) May 4, 2007, Gamasutra
Some interviews are simply not available on the internet. You can see/hear some great interviews with otherwise unavailable Atari vets like Carla Meninsky, Tod Frye, Rob Zdybel, etc. by purchasing Once Upon Atari DVD here : http://www.onceuponatari.com/
I've been digging through the release notes and other various sources on the new Flash Player 10 Beta (code name Astro), and here are some of my initial thoughts.
1. Using the Adobe Pixel Blender to create custom filters has some great possibilities.
2. 3D effects and transitions sound very very interesting. Especially since they name-drop it as an alternative to some Papervision effects. I wonder how far this will go? This, combined with the new 3D abilities in the Drawing API seem to indicate something BIG! There doesn't seem to be a way to load in models (ala Papervision). It looks like they wanted to be able to show the 3D Postcard Demos native and not have to use a 3rd party set of class libraries. Cool, but not yet a great way to make 3D Games (yet).
3. The new text and layout capabilities, combined with the upgrade in color management, seem to indicate that PDF and Flash Player are getting to closer to being a unified platform. I may be wrong, but it seems that way.
4. FREAKING GPU Compositing and GPU Bltting with Open GL! These alone seem to have the greatest impact on Flash Games for sure. I wonder how it will be implemented and if the developer will need to change any code to take advantage of it. It looks like the compositing will speed up operations that combine layers of clips, FLVs, effects (like the Pixel Blender effects above). The Blitting directly effects the SWF being painted on the screen and it will make Full-screen games easy to accomplish! It looks like these will be handled with the wmode parameter. I already can' t get this to work in some browsers w/o killing the keyboard of other necessary features. I hope this all works fine by then.
5. Programming nerds like me will appreciate the new typed Array (vector). This will greatly speed up array operations that use a single data type.
6. The dynamic video streaming, RTMFP protocol, and Speex Audio Codec are all very encouraging as Flash solidifies itself as the medium of choice for video playback on the web.
7. Users can load and save files??? Does this mean we can write apps for the browser plug-in that give the user upload and save capabilities? KICK ASS!
8. Dynamic Sound Generation? Huh? Is this what we asked for years ago? I want to see this in action? Will it by a synthesizer? What is this? I want to play with it NOW! (I guess I can, if I take the time...and I will).
9. LARGE BITMAP SUPPORT! 4096x4096 game levels on a single BLIT canvas for smooth scrolling and no side line flicker? Combined with the GPU enhancements, this could be very useful.
The latest in Blog entries and articles that might interest Flash game developers.
The Flash 10 Player Beta is out (as if you didn't know already). The hardware support for bitmaps and 3D effects possibilities have been keeping me up at night already...
I looks to me like Squize and nGfx are killing two little Flash Game birdies with one rocking Western Theme stone by creating two games (a pinball flex fest) and a Western themed shooter with similar design. They both look great and I can't wait to boot-em-up!
http://www.scriptedfun.com/ has some more good ideas on how to create Flash Platform (not platform games like Mario, but games on the Flash Platform for very little cost) in this entry: Poor Man's Flash.
That's it for this week. If you have a blog that you would like included in the round-up, please email us. Also, you can stay informed every day by visiting http://www.flashgameblogs.com/.
Electronic Games Magazine truly was revolutionary. It was the first of it's kind: a monthly publication dedicated to video games and the video game phenomena. The Magazine started as a series of 'Arcade Alley' columns in Video Magazine in the 1980 written by Bill Kunkel and Arnie Katz and championed by Bruce Apar, their editor. Katz and Kunkel had been friends since the early 70's, turning their passion for pro wrestling into a radio show, and one of the first Pro Wrestling magazines. When that failed to catch on, they wanted to try to make a living at something fun. The seed of that idea blossomed into 'Arcade Alley', the success of which proved to Reese Publications (the publisher of Video) that a video game magazine might have a chance for success. Kunkel and Katz pitched the idea, and before the end of 1981, they had their first issue published. By 1982, Electronic Games became THE authority on video games, and along with it, writers Arnie Katz, Bill Kunkel, and Katz's girlfriend Joyce Worley, became household names to video game fans everywhere. The basic design of Electronic Games (editorial, news, letters, previews, reviews, strategy) was copied by every major video game publication that followed, and the structure can still be seen today in most video game and computer game magazines.
Recently, Bill Kunkel published his memoirs of the Electronic Games era in his book Confession Of The Game Doctor, available from Rolenta Press (http://www.rolentapress.com). Always a huge fan of Electronic Games magazine (see my story here ).I caught up with Bill Kunkel and asked him a few questions about history, gaming, parents, and what he has been up to recently. The interview closes with an explosively accurate and pointed account of what is wrong with the modern videogame era, from one of the people who helped invent it.
Steve Fulton: Electronic Games left an indelible mark on me as a kid. It gave me something to crave and identify with. Was there anything in childhood that did the same thing?
Kunkel: Two magazines that come to mind would be Forry Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland and Wrestling Revue. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed those Santo and Mil Mascaras Mexican movies that featured monsters AND wrestlers!
Steve Fulton: How did you get started with video games?
Kunkel: I was walking down Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, Queens, minding my own business when I saw my first Pong machine. I had never been a big game fan ' playing cards and board games bored me and the hex grid wargames that my partner Arnie Katz always played looked like a school assignment. But this Pong, it was fantastic, it really spoke to me. It said: "Put quarters in my belly." I did and the rest is history, history contained in my new book, "Confessions of The Game Doctor" from RolentaPress.com, available at a very reasonable price ($21). And if you buy it because of this crass and entirely uncalled-for plug and send it to me, I'll sign it for you.
Steve Fulton: What was the genesis of Electronic Games magazine?
Kunkel: The "Arcade Alley" column in VIDEO magazine in 1978. Because really, then-editor Bruce Apar, is the Godfather of videogame journalism. What allowed us to go to a full magazine was the market's ongoing growth by 1981 and the success of that column. Why nobody else had done it sooner remains one of the great mysteries of my life.
Steve Fulton: What made you think that video games could be the subject of an entire magazine?
Kunkel: Remember, we had already seen the Pong craze last half a dozen years with some 75 companies producing light gun games, driving games and every variant of Pong imaginable. Then the '78 rollout of TWO machines ' the VCS and the Odyssey2 ' which were hardware-software systems, further ensured a continuous flow of games. Not to mention the failed systems that were already floating around, like the Fairchild Channel F, and magnificent (but overpriced) systems such as the Bally Home Arcade which I believe the Nuttings created. Then Mattel jumped on board, Coleco announced, and Pac-Man blew the doors off everything. Meanwhile, computers like the Texas Instruments 99, the Trash-80, the Apple II, and the IBM PC were out there, with the Atari 400/800, the C64 and the PCjr on the way. Our intention was never to produce a strictly videogame magazine, even though that's what we're always called. We saw this as a hobby, a lifestyle even, and covered everything from videogames, computer games, handhelds and tabletop games to real world training simulators, coin-ops and movies like "Tron". We knew there would be enough product and we weren't even counting on the joystick explosion and the other peripherals (my favorite was the "videogame glove" ' not the U-Force, just a glove with the fingers cut out like a bowling glove to help you better grip yer joystick, so to speak).
Steve Fulton: How long did it take from writing a story or review in Electronic Games to the day it was published in the magazine?
Kunkel:: Oh the lead time was awful in those days. Three months easy. By the time you saw the issue, you forgot having written what was in it. That why the Net and stuff like G4 have crowded out the serious magazines. Steve Fulton: Q&A and Game Doctor were always the two sections I read first when your magazine arrived in the mail. Why do you think those 'reader feedback' style sections were so popular in the early days?
Kunkel: Because I think it gave the readers a sense of community. It was the only way they could really interact with us and with one another. And Q&A was, at that point, the nexus for all fan information on the world of gaming.
Steve Fulton: What percentage of letters you received were from angry people who thought video games were created by the devil?
Kunkel: Very few, if any. None I can recall. They were mostly from kids who could barely write ' then you'd get one from a doctor or lawyer who loved the games. Our first demographic survey showed our average reader was, I believe, 21. And 99% male. It's amazing that today the market is almost 50-50 male-female.
Steve Fulton: How many letters did you receive from kids who just wanted to see their name in print? (I know I must have sent a dozen or so)
Kunkel: Ah, who knows what motives drove them to write those letters. But every month we had a stuffed manila envelope for "Reader Replay" (the letter column) and another for "Q&A." Then I came up with the idea to award "Game Doctor Prize Packets" ' buttons, keychains, pins, and such that I collected at trade shows ' for the best question and the queries got really good.
Steve Fulton: Did game companies ever try to offer you 'incentives' for good press? How did you react to it?
Kunkel: They always sent us nice stuff, frankly. I remember one company at a Vegas CES actually gave out gambling chips! The trick was, since everybody gave you stuff, you could be honest even if they gave you a yacht ' not that anyone did, alas. I mean, in those early days, we WERE game journalism. What were they gonna do? Also, I had worked in the music journalism field briefly and I knew those critics got to keep the LPs (remember them?) they reviewed and they also got, like, cardboard Led Zeppelin danglers and all those other gee-gaws. But if a game sucked, no journalist of any quality would praise it just for fear of not getting the publisher's next t-shirt. Of course, not all journalists were people of quality.
Steve Fulton: Electronic Games covered the entire field of game, from arcades, to handhelds, to consoles, and everything in-between. Do you feel that was a strength or weakness of the magazine?
Kunkel: Oh the magazine would have folded even sooner if it had been strictly videogames. And it might have lasted longer (as CGW did) if it had been all-computer, but none of us wanted to be fenced in that way. Computer game ads were keeping us alive at the end. But Arnie and Joyce and I always felt that even if you only played, say, arcade games, you still wanted to see what the inside of a 747 simulator looked like or what qualified as state of the art in computer games.
Steve Fulton: Was there ever a time while publishing Electronic Games that you thought 'yeah, that's it, this is the best it's ever gonna get?'
Kunkel: I never believed gaming was going to go away. I only wish that Reese Publishing had gutted it out over those two lean years until the NES arrived. We would have been like TV Guide at that point.
Steve Fulton: Like-wise, was there ever a time you realized Electronic Games had 'jumped the shark'?
Kunkel: Probably the day the sales woman Ann Martino came into my office ready to cry because we only had 12 pages of ads. This was in '84 and even an optimist had to see it was going to get worse before it got better..
Steve Fulton: What was your favorite classic gaming system?
Kunkel: Loved the VCS but I had a real weakness for that Bally Pro Arcade (later the Astrocade).
Steve Fulton: Your favorite classic game?
Kunkel: I think the best electronic game ever is Tetris, my favorite FPS is Goldeneye (N64) but if you want to go waaaay back, I was an absolute sucker for Ladybug on the Colecovision from Universal.
Steve Fulton: Were you a fan of the Atari 800? If so, did you have a favorite game for that machine?
Kunkel: I loved the 800. Even the 400 was great, but that keyboard really sucked. I loved Star Raiders and spent forever playing a game from Broderbund called Spelunker.
Steve Fulton: Did you think that the Atari 7800 could have been a success if released in 1983?
Kunkel: That's a tough call because the American market really hadn't been conditioned to deal with the idea that you'd have to buy a new system and new software every few years. They were more into the record player paradigm where the 78 RPMs lasted decades and then the turntables that played three speeds lasted decades longer. I think the 5200 killed the 7800 more surely than any other factor. It was an Atari computer without a keyboard and the worst joysticks to ever appear on a console, so it bombed, deservedly. Atari panicked and wanted to rush the 7800 out there but I believe the Schlemiels had already bought Atari by then and had no respect for ANY of its console product. Had Atari introduced the 7800 AS the 5200 and just trashed the whole 5200 project, it would have certainly stood a fighting chance.
Steve Fulton: Was there ever a time when a company announced a product that was so terrible that you could not believe what you were seeing/hearing?
Kunkel: More times than I can count. How about E.T.? Or Synapse with that headband controller (I think Atari had one of those things too) and LeStick, the baseless joystick that supposedly worked via mercury switches? Then there was Atari's unreleased Cosmos system, where you played a tabletop game then a hologram appeared. They made you think the GAMES were going to be Holograms! And the Virtual Boy and, man, I could go on forever, but I'd probably trash somebody's favorite peripheral in the process.
Steve Fulton: Was there any game system/game that became vaporware, that you wish had been released?
Kunkel: Sure. I remember this Condor system that was supposed to include this chair that you sat in, sort of like Kirk/Picard, with game controls built into the handholds and all sorts of neat features that no mother would ever allow in her living room. I mean, the vaporware systems are ALWAYS awesome, right? That's why they generally turn to vapor when light falls upon them.
Steve Fulton: Did you see the crash of '83 coming? Do you think it could have been avoided?
Kunkel: So many factors to consider. The arcades overspent on the Laserdisc games and turned to the kit games, which basically turned the magical arcade into a glorified collection of videogames barely superior to home quality games. And the arcades had been the driving force, the source of most of the big hits up till then. So when they started fading, and suddenly new systems were being introduced and people freaked at the idea that their "old" games ' maybe a couple of weeks old ' were now antiquated, the retailers went into damage control mode, certain that the videogame "fad" was dead. Fortunately, the rest of the world wasn't so sure. Computer games had always been big in Europe, where they sold cheaply and although they didn't mention it much, Activision did a great business selling its VCS videogames in Canada right through the Crash. And when Atari turned down Nintendo's offer to buy the NES ' a huge success in Japan, of course ' they decided to make it themselves. And because they didn't lose faith, the Japanese dominate the hardware end of the videogame business to this day.
Steve Fulton: Why was the switch from consoles to home computers unsuccessful for Electronic Games?
Kunkel: We weren't a computer game magazine. The computer people advertised in those big, telephone book-sized PC magazines or the Apple magazines and later the Atari and C64 magazines. But EG was about the UNIVERSE of games, not computers, and computer software didn't have the marketing budgets the VCS games did. Now CGW survived, but they started back when EG did and they were always devoted exclusively to computers. Also, Sipe sold it to Ziff-Davis in '83, I believe, and that monolith already had advertisers from all their geek computer magazines and adding in one more magazine was not a problem. And, to be truthful, when Jay Rosenfield fired Arnie and Joyce and then I quit (they were fired on Dec. 7, 1984 and I stayed around long enough to collect a Christmas bonus, which I desperately needed), it was really all over. There's an entire chapter on it in my book, but basically Reese had no credibility left. It looked like they were suddenly switching sides and were becoming a magazine about the various boring kinds of computer-based entertainment that was big in the mid-80s. I mean, Americans were into computer games, everything had to be a SIMULATION. This is typically fickle of the US audience, by the way.
Steve Fulton: How did you get involved with 'Videogames & Computer Entertainment' magazine?
Kunkel: By the mid to late 80s we had been writing for the computer magazines and Russell Sipe's CGW and among the many places we were freelancing was at Lee Pappas' ANALOG and ST Log. Lee then sold those magazines to Larry Flynt and I believe Andy Eddy, who was hired as editor, worked out a deal whereby Arnie, Joyce and I would edit the computer game stuff and his staff handled the videogame material, which killed me since I was a plug and play guy myself.
Steve Fulton: How did Electronic Games get restarted in the early 90's?
Kunkel: I met Steve Harris at a CES and he was really friendly and said he'd like to talk. I hooked him up with Arnie and we made the deal. As to the title, apparently Reese's rights had lapsed and Steve had been a big EG fan (look at the early issues of EGM ' it looks like a 12 year old imitating EG). But it was also stupid because, one, they already had a magazine called Electronic Gaming Monthly which just begs for confusion and two, it set us up to compete with a memory of the first magazine to ever cover videogames and I've learned that you can't ever compete with the first time.
Steve Fulton: I always felt like the 90's Electronic Games was written for people who loved the original EG, but wasn't 'flashy' enough for the younger crowd who just wanted cheats from 'Nintendo Power'. Do you think that is a fair assessment?
Kunkel: Don't get me wrong, I think the writing in the 90s EG is significantly better than in the original because we were better writers and had learned so much more about the industry. But we were writing it in Las Vegas and they were laying it out ' if that's what you want to call it ' in some small city in Illinois. I believe a big part of what people remember so fondly about the original EG was more its look ' and of course it treated the reader like an adult, which was no small matter. But let's face it; the 90s EG looked like crap. I guess they put the people who were learning digital layout to work on EGM and their movie magazine on us first so they could learn by their mistakes. Brown lettering against blue backgrounds, stuff like that, and Time Magazine-style portrait covers, which are about as dull as you can get in a game magazine. If it weren't for the writing, it would have been a second-rate magazine. But I did my best game writing there and I wasn't the only one.
Steve Fulton: Why did the 90's version of Electronic Games end?
Kunkel: First ' and I can tell you this as a certainty because I got a piece of the second EG, unlike the first ' it was making money right up to the last issue we edited. But Steve was getting ready to sell and they were getting into movies and we were in Vegas, the red-headed step children. It just sort of faded away, but I don't regret any of it ' just the terrible layouts and they weren't my fault.
Steve Fulton: Were you ever involved on the game creation side of the business?
Kunkel: In the mid-80s, our good friend Brian Fargo was prez of Interplay. Now at that time they really didn't have game designers who weren't programmers, except maybe Roberta Williams, I don't remember. But he gave us the opportunity to write a text adventure that Activision published called "Borrowed Time" (and Virgin later reissued as "Time to Kill"). We then worked as consultants for Virgin, Sega, Bantam, Simon & Schuster Interactive (S&SI), a bunch of companies. Under the name Subway Software we designed games for Epyx (The Omnicron Conspiracy), Konami (Batman Returns), S&SI (Star Trek: First Contact ' this was about a decade before the movie of the same title), MicroLeague (MicroLeague Baseball II, Blood Bowl and the first computer wrestling game and the first to use the WWF license and digitized WWF characters). Then we had a deal with a British company, Tynesoft, producing a game a month for over a year. That was insane. So yeah, I've designed a lot of games. Even taught a course on it at UNLV.
Steve Fulton: When did you realize that Electronic Games was a landmark publication?
Kunkel: It was the first and it was good enough to stick around through the first videogame run. I guess I always knew that once we were established as the first that it was some kind of landmark. But it really hits home when I go to classic gaming shows and grown men come up to me and tell me how much they loved EG ' depending on their age, either the first or the second ' and how important it was to them.
Steve Fulton: Do you own back copies of Electronic Games?
Kunkel: I don't have a complete set, but Arnie and Joyce do. I ran out of space in which to store every magazine and comic book and freelance article I wrote many moons ago. They have a bigger place.
Steve Fulton: Have you ever considered publishing a compendium of Electronic Games issues?
Kunkel: Too many copyright issues, I'm afraid. But I'm working on something else that's a lot more relevant. Besides, I'm still too busy and too poor to spend much time on projects that don't have a likelihood of bringing in money. Not that I'm living in the streets or anything, but I was pulling in six figures during the boom of the dotcom era and we all know where that went. So now I write novels (under another name), take freelance gigs and interesting projects, teach occasionally and do my game-related work for my friends at Running With Scissors. I edit the POSTAL newsletter (www.gopostal.com), draft the press releases and basically serve as all-around editor and writer with POSTAL 2 creator Steve Wik. We just sold the film rights so I still get to have fun and I still see myself on old G4 clips and Gamer.TV and really, that's enough electronic gaming to suit me these days.
Steve Fulton: Do you still play video games?
Kunkel: Sure. There's a Goldeneye multi-player shootout here every week. And if nothing else, the PS2 makes a nice DVD.
Steve Fulton: Do you have favorite game right now?
Kunkel: Honestly, no. I mean, I play the Halo games and I just don't get it. They look like crap to me; there are too damned many buttons on the joystick, what can I say? I feel like the Grumpy Old Gamer half the time. I'm 55 and I no longer relate to the sensibilities of today's young gamers. Though I generally agree with Tommy Tallarico on G4's Judgment Day if I know the game in question. But if somebody produced a decent multi-player version of the movie "Enemy at the Gates" (street warfare and sniper work in Stalingrad, circa 1943-44 with Jude Law, Ron Pearlman and Ed Harris), limit the cut scenes (or at least let me click through them), I'd strongly consider it. Also, as someone who grew up worshipping Merian C. Cooper's "King Kong", both the soon-to-debut game and the movie both excite and worry me. By the time anyone reads this, I guess we'll know.
Steve Fulton: I hear you have a new book that was recently published. How did that come about?
Kunkel: My friend the classic gaming giant Cav actually suggested it. I was writing these memoir pieces for the Digital Press site under the omnibus title "The Kunkel Report" (a column I had started in the 90s EG) and a series of articles for Michael Thomasson's GoodDealGames.com and Cav suggested that I collect them into a book with a bunch of new stuff. My reaction? "What publisher would even consider publishing it?" I mean, I thought yeah, it would make an interesting book, but what publisher would get it? And he suggested Lenny Herman and Rolenta Press and that was magic. I churned out a bunch of new stories and re-wrote and supplemented the stuff I'd already written for Joe and Michael (who wound up doing the book's jacket design), scanned a bunch of photos and other items of visual interest and we wound up with 200 pages of me. At this point, Chris Kohler, may Zeus bless him, did a nice piece on it for his Wired blog, which has been picked up all over the place. Lenny got a piece into PR Web, which also got picked up extensively and the Next Generation site gave us a mention. Also, several magazines ' let's hear it for Chris Bieniek and Zach Meston ' managed to get reviews out in time for holiday shopping. My next target are the mainstream magazines ' Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, pubs like that. Their copies are in the mail as I write this.
Steve Fulton: Do you feel you get the proper respect for, basically, creating the field of video game journalism?
Kunkel: Are you kidding? I mean it's not like I cured AIDS or invented videogames (that's in Ralph Baer's book, also from rolentapress.com ' how am I doing, Lenny?). Seriously, it astonishes me that I get the amount of respect I do, that people remember this stuff. And now, with the book, I'm being headlined as the "founder" or "creator" of videogame journalism. They don't even mention Arnie Katz, much less Joyce Worley (AKA Mrs. Katz), because my partners haven't done so many interviews or written books about themselves. I didn't invent journalism; I was just a guy in the right place at the right time with the right partners and a passion to apply it to electronic gaming. I got lucky and hope I made the most of that opportunity.
Steve Fulton: What's up with Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley these days?
Kunkel: Joyce had a serious physical setback over a year ago and badly broke her ankle. She's just now starting to walk with a cane. But mostly, they're involved in what I'll call science fiction fandom for want of a better name. You'll find lots of their stuff ' though very little about gaming ' at efanzines.com. I would say they're retired, but writers never retire. We just abuse substances to death or stick a shotgun in our mouth when we've run out of words.
Steve Fulton: : If you had kids , what modern videogames would you let them play? Are there any classic games you would not let them play?.
Kunkel: I never had kids, just cats and dogs who mostly are indifferent to games. I can't imagine any classic games I wouldn't let them play if I did, but I have always believed there should be variety in game content. Games are NOT just for kids, just as all books and movies aren't so I'm sure there are contemporary games including the POSTAL2 series that I'd discourage, say, a 10 year old from playing, sure. But the political publicity hounds mostly Democrats, oddly enough make me ill. If parents aren't prepared to oversee what their young kids are playing, well, how is it the job of game publishers?
Steve Fulton: I distinctly remember an article in Electronic Games named 'The First 128K Adventure'. I believe was an article that dreamed about the day the video game canvas would be limited only to the imagination of the game designer. Do you think that day has arrived?
Kunkel: Pretty much. They're not at Pixar level, obviously, and they haven't deployed into HDTV except to a degree with the PSP, which is fantastic but of dubious real world value. I mean, if you play it on the bus or subway, it'll get ripped off. And even the beautiful movies are on a pretty small screen, aspect ratio-wise, plus the format is non-compatible. Sony's real genius has been its maintenance of reverse compatibility in its console systems. But sure, they're close enough. Remember when a game like Pac-Man or Punch-Out was an all-but-insurmountable visual challenge to home systems? Now they do wrestling games which are ridiculously detailed and mo-capped ' but the games themselves aren't significantly more enjoyable than, say, WCW Vs nWo (THQ) on the N64. Unfortunately, it seems as if the level of improvement remains mostly fixed to graphic details rather than improved gameplay, and even the visual upgrades become increasingly smaller. Listen to the moaning going on now over the Revolution's graphics being "not much better" than a Game Cube. My lord, have you seen Resident Evil on the Game Cube? It's astonishing. Hell, the original Goldeneye is STILL brilliant, in terms of both its physics and its audio-visuals. It's like someone decides it's time for a new model, and it's generally before they've completely explored the previous generation. By the time they were shoveling dirt in its funky disk drive, developers like Cinemaware were producing the most amazing-looking games for the C64, but the system was declared "last year's model" so nobody cared. Remember how Donkey Kong Country reinvented the SNES? Game journalists ' and we were probably the ones who started it ' always make the mistake of obsessing on the NEXT generation rather than spending the time to give the current systems appropriate coverage. And magazines like EGM and Diehard Flim-Flam trained gamers to pore over the specs for some system that hadn't even been okayed for Japanese release and was years away from being a real product rather than appreciating what they had. I remember Next Generation magazine, which I really loved by the way, but it once had a game on its cover ' was it Messiah? ' that did not actually release for another two-plus years. Developers need a new idea or two, not better graphics. Screw the four thousandth Tony Hawk game and EA buying out the NFL (and a wag of the Dok-tah's finger at the NFL as well, not to mention Take Two. There's no reason Take Two and every other company that makes sports games couldn't present a united legal front and challenge the fact that in a quarter-century plus of electronic gaming, it has become established tradition that all game publishers willing to pay the fee have the rights to use NFL logos, uniforms and NFLPA names and stats, so what does Take Two do? They threaten to monopolize Major League Baseball!). Of course its all-important that EA can keep producing a new game every year (rather than simply offering gamers the option of buying team and player updates based on the previous season and only produce a new basic game maybe every four or five years), because their greed ' not to mention the drooling avarice of pro sports ' simply will not let them. It's become a sad joke, especially when they've clearly run out of legitimate ideas for game improvements and can only offer nonsense "features" (THIS year's version can feature the players' biorhythms, mood swings, steroid use and possible suspension for flunking a piss test while correlating their simulated love life into how well they perform). I haven't seen a new genre develop in years ' were Real Time Strategy games REALLY the latest new idea? It's been the same struggle since electronic gaming began. They have this great big ceiling to paint and all the colors of the rainbow with which to glorify it. Now they've got to find something worthy of all that paint and position.
(A few years a go I wrote for Andrew Bub's game review web site "Gamerdad.com" (now a blog). Since GamerDad.com has removed it's archive of old content, I've asked Andrew for permission to reprint some of my articles. This one was originally written in January 2006.)
Here are our Flash retro game finds for the week. We have settled down to five games per episode, and that is what we are going with for the time being. I think we have picked some great games for you retro fans this time!
Andrew Martin has created a beautiful scrolling space-battle game. You lead a space-fighter wing into battle against some pretty fierce alien ships. The game includes a large battlefield and a radar scope to locate the vile aliens. This game is reminds me a cross between Bosconian and Time Pilot, but with added benefit of a friendly ships at your disposal.
This game is by the guy who went on to start FlashGameLicense.com, so every Flash game dev out there right now owes him, at the very least, a bit of gratitude for his work. This game is not really as "retro" as the games we normally showcase, (because of its the "post-modern" web-game theme) but the fact that it's a reverse on Asteroids is also why we like it so much. You play the asteroid, and you must destroy the human ships that arrive in your zone. I'm not sure if this was the first take on this idea, but Adam created the best implementation we've seen.
I have gone back to the beginning of Mochiads from about 12 months ago, and this is one of the first and best pixel/retro arcade shooters I have found. The action is a cross between Galaga and Robotron. Waves of aliens arrive on the screen, and you must destroy them all and collect the coins they leave behind. You can move across the entire screen and fire in independently. The visuals and sounds are pure 1982 Atari 800! The graphics even resemble the redefined character sets used by companies like Synapse to make Fort Apache, Shamus and Zeppelin. This one is pure gold. The only problem is that the information about controls is not easy to find.
Yeah, this is just awesome. Terry Paton from http://www.terrypaton.com is true artist when it comes to combining pleasing visuals with effective retro game designs. I'm sure we will be featuring more of his stuff in the future. By the way, this one is *not* remake of Crystal Mines for the NES or Crystal Mines II for the Atari Lynx, but something else entirely.
Another amazing game from Terry Paton. It's becoming a sincere joy to view his games. This a Breakout/Arkanoid style game with a twist. The Paddle angles in the direction you slide the mouse, and this helps you in-turn, reflect the ball in the desired direction. This game has the feel of pinball crossed with a brick game which, to me just might be classic gaming Nirvana.
That's it for this week. As always, if you have a game you would like us to see, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The latest in Blog entries and articles that might interest Flash game developers.
- Import MovieClip, Sprite, and even tilesheets!
- Animate each clip at it's own frame rate.
- Control it just like you would a MovieClip.
- It even creates pre-rotated frames for you! Now you can have super fast animated clips AND support rotation! WOOT.
- You can also support scaling by simply adding the clip to a sprite without losing *much* speed.
It looks very promising and easy to use.
GamingYourway.com's nGfx has and entry on his new game about the Old West, called Law of the West. I love stories on how games are made and behind the scenes information on the thoughts and processes that go into making good games. It looks like a very fun game. I know I break this out too often, but we had an Atari ST game on the American Civil war that this reminds me of.
Emanuele Feronato's blog has a write up on how to earn $50 by adding the Game HomePage API into your games. As always, he explains exactly what you need to do to get the cold hard cash, including that fact that your game must be pretty good or it won't be accepted.
That's it for this week. If you have a blog that you would like included in the round-up, please email us. Also, you can stay informed every day by visiting http://www.flashgameblogs.com/.
Retro Flash Game Highlights: May 9th 2008
Here are 8bitrocket.com we have decided to start posting a weekly set of the best Retro and Retro inspired Flash games the world of viral gaming has to offer. This week we will start with 8 games that caught our interest from 100's that we looked at this week.
First of all the name of this one is brilliant. "Tennis For You" is take on "Tennis For Two" which was the original tag line for Pong. Also, the sounds here are perfect, they elicit the feeling of being in the arcade in the 70's. The game play is Pong with power-ups. A nice little diversion.
Magma is very well-made game in the vein of Bomberman. Smooth animation, nicely drawn sprites, and addictive game play. Blow stuff up, find the stones, avoid the baddies. 20 levels, and the maps are never the same twice!
Cosmic Trail 2 falls into the category of games that we like to call "Pixel Games". These are games that look "retro", but are actually much closer to the type of games that work virally on the web. In this game you fight asteroids by aiming the vapor trail of your ship at them. The game play is very smooth and mildly addictive.
Inspired double retro ASCII-art shooter! Retro looking art and retro playing. Near retro bliss. The lack of sound is kind of a bummer though.
Nice pong variation with cool particle explosions and obstacles. The more points you score, the more particles you earn. Run out of particles and lose. Warps significantly alter the ball's course.
A really cool re-mix of Space Invaders. Smooth playing, extra weapons, a curved surface. I do worry that developers who make games like this might run into I.P. trouble though. It uses graphics and sound directly from the original game. Still, it shows tons of promise.
PongOut is a very interesting take on two classic games, both played at the same time! Try to play both Breakout and Pong simultaneously. Yeah, go ahead and try! We like this one because, while it has a retro feel, the idea that you have to play two games at once is the sort of game play tweak that could only work on the web.
Finally, we finish today with awesome arcade-style shooter with the feel of Williams' Sinistar and possibly Namco's Bosconian. Earn money to bolt-on extra weapons. The "energy" system is much like Sierra On-Line's Threshhold where your guns overheat. Very cool, maybe one of the best shooters I've ever played in Flash. [besides our own Retro Blaster ]
That's it for this week. If you have game you think is good enough for us to highlight, please drop us a line in the comments below or email us at email@example.com.
There are millions of games out there (there is even a site with that name), but original game ideas are few and far between. You don't have to be completely original to make a good game, but being different from the crowd certainly can get you noticed. Instead of cloning the latest fad games on the portal home pages, why not try something a little different?
Sometimes I sit around dreaming up game ideas. Very rarely does this game dreaming happen as a planned activity. My life is just far too busy to have time to just sit and think up game ideas. Sometimes I will be in the middle of a meeting about some arcane I.T. management topic (Kai zen, 1000 foot views, 10000 foot views, 20000 foot views, resource management, business process management - you name it and I.T. will have a meeting, a power point, and a Sharepoint site about it) and my mind will drift off to game-land. When this happens I usually start scribbling down notes about characters, levels, and power ups. As well, I also start creating blocky grid based pixel graphics that I can use as a prototype. More often than not though, I need to find inspiration else where. At those times I usually break out my trusty list of sites to visit for inspiration. I have never shared this list with anyone. I'm not sure why, so here is the first one, straight out of my Fire Fox bookmarks, just in case you find it useful.
Today we will take a look at AtariAge.com.
Atari age is one of the best online resources for the retro Atari information. The best thing there for game developers is the complete listing of every game ever made for all Atari consoles. Not satisfied to just list the games, they have instructions, screen shots, reviews, and even the rom files (for most but not all) to play in emulators. You will find over 3000 games to explore. Some of these are classics that I owned and played as boy, but most are new even to me. Here is an example of some games game that you might not have heard of or played. If re-made correctly, they might even get you to the front page of your favorite portal (Addicting Games, Mind Jolt and Hallpass are my favorites).
So, what types of games can be found there? Here are some games that I have book marked over the years incase I need a game idea.
(Image Courtesy of Atari Age)
Food Fight for the Atari 7800. This single screen action game was one of the best games for the system and also one that is begging to be re-made as a Flash game. I have been planning to make it for some time, but just have not got around to it. If you have not played it, you should. The best way is to download the MESS Emulator by visiting the Atari Age 7800 emulation page. The game rom is provided on the Food Fight page above.
(Image Courtesy of Atari Age)
Zolar Mercenary was my favorite game for the Atari Lynx. It was one of the first top down blasters that I ever completed and it oozed originality for its time. It was little known and little played by the masses, but it contains a huge set of unique power-ups (for its time). One thing it had going for it was sheer playability. I encourage any developer who is thinking about making a tile-based scrolling blaster to check this game out for ideas.
Handy is an emulator that can be used to test this game out. The Rom file is available at the above link.
(Image Courtesy of Atari Age)
Montezuma's Revenge (Atari 5200) is a game that I am actually planning to use an inspiration for my next game. I am not going to make an exact copy, but something in the same genre - a Single screen, tile-base, platform puzzler. This is one of the most difficult (and funny) games you will ever play. It was also released for the C64 and Atari 400/800 computers. You can use a variety of emulators to test this one out also. The rom file is available at the above link.
(Image Courtesy of Atari Age)
Chopper Command was one of the first 2600 games that felt like it should have been an arcade game (I know it was you'll say, it was called Defender by Williams). This type of game has been done quite a few times before, but this implementation is top notch. It is a good example of a non-original concept that is executed very well. Sadly, Chopper Command cannot easily be played via emulation (like all Activision games), but it can be found on numerous retro console and PC compilations as well as many plug and play devices.
(Image Courtesy of Atari Age)
Keystone Kapers is another 2600 Activision game that is not available via emulation. It has been almost forgotten as one of the first goal based, multi-screen, platfromer chase games. For its time it was as fast as Sonic and and fun as Mario. There were many other platfromers that came after, but this was a technical achievement for its time as well as great fun to play. Even though you cannot find this via emulation to play on the 2600, you might be able to find a version in the Atari 800 archives at Atari Mania.
(Image Courtesy of Atari Age)
Dragon Stomper for the 2600 + The rare Supercharger was the absolute first full featured role playing game for the any console. It is another game that is difficult to emulate because all Supercharger game roms are still in commercial release on the hard to find Cyber Punks: Stella Gets a new Brain Cd.
The three phases of this game - 1. Roam the land gaining gold, equipment and experience;2. Spend gold on cool stuff to prepare for battle; 3.Travel cave to do battle with final monster have been done 1000's of times since this release. If you play this game though, you will see how the small scale and simplicity could be made into a great 3 phase Flash game . I did a full retrospective on this game last year.
You don't need to try any of these games via emulation to get an idea of how their themes and ideas might be re-used in new Flash games. Just go and explore the Atari Age pages for each and the rest of the Atari Age Site to get all of the detail you will need on these and 1000's more..
So I have been trying come-up with a weekly column about Atari retro games that will be as interesting for others to read as it will be for me to write. My current attempt at this is this new blog "Atari Advertisement Excavation" in which I dig through some old dusty computer and video games mazines until I find something that sparks a memory, and then spill (what I believe are) interesting details about gaming history and/or my own experiences with them.
I'll start this with this ad for the game Mr. Cool .
Mr. Cool was a Q-Bert style game for the Atari 400/800 released in 1983 by Sierra On-Line(SierraVision). To be honest, even though I really enjoyed Mr. Cool back-in-the-day, I don't recall it being any kind of significant release. However, a few years ago I had the privilege to meet the author, a very significant figure in the history of classic games, Peter Oliphant under some semi-interesting circumstances. Here is the story.
In 2002 I was working at Mattel Toys as the technical integration manager for the "before-its-time" Hot Wheels MMOG named Planet HotWheels. My first task in the job was to try to find a development team could support the project during launch, and take-over development when the game came-in house. As the budget kept getting cut further and further, the "team" I was supposed to hire got smaller and smaller until I was simply looking for someone with on-line game experience who could manage the technical side of the project (all of the game content was being produced by a seasoned game designer named Keith Kirby). When the first batch of resumes crossed my desk I was struck by one from a "Peter Oliphant" that listed some classic game development experience. He had worked for Mattel back in the late 70's and 80's on hand-held electronic games, on the Atari 800, Amiga, and PC games. My interest piqued, I called him and told him about the job we currently had available. After an in-depth conversation, we both, begrudgingly, agreed that the job was not a good fit for his skills-set. However, Peter still wanted to come down and see our operation. He was eager to visit Mattel again and, I believe, dig around to see if there were any other jobs that might be a good fit.
A few days later, Mr. Oliphant showed-up at Mattel, and myself, John Little (our other resident Atari 800 geek), and my brother Jeff met him in our lobby. Peter brought along a prototype of an old electronic game he had work on when he first got to Mattel. It was a mini-version of Dungeons and Dragons, that was (I believe) never released. We took Peter over to the Mattel Online offices, and for the next couple hours, picked his brain on computer game history.
Oliphant, a child actor on the Dick Van Dyke Show, had been working for Mattel Electronics when we heard about Sierra On-line in Northern California. Since he wanted to make computer games, he traveled up to meet Ken Williams. His actual hiring story is included in the book Hackers by Steven Levy , but his name is never disclosed (except in the notes at the end of the book). At Sierra, Oliphant created Mr. Cool and WallWar for the Atari 800. He want on to create several more games for Sierra, then moved to Cinemaware where he programmed Amiga versions of SDI and Rocket Ranger. After that he moved on the PC where he created what, at the time, was the game he considered one of his masterpieces: Lexicross created by Platniumware and released by Interplay for DOS in 1991. Lexicross was a Wheel-Of-Fortune game show in-which the players had to solve puzzles. After Lexicross, Oliphant went on to work on his biggest game, but also (what I believe was) his greatest albatross: Stonekeep. Stonekeep was an Interplay RPG made in the style of Dungeon Master. When the game was started, making a souped-up version of Dungeon Master must have seemed like a good idea. Oliphant spent 4 years working on the game, fought scope-creep, and sparred with management to get a decent game produced. However, by the time it was finished (1995), 3D video cards had taken over the PC market, and a 2D-based scaling game with a 3D perspective could not get the attention necessary to make a splash in the marketplace. As I recall, Oliphant was somewhat blamed (wrongly) for this failure (or he felt like he was blamed), and he had did not work for some time after Stonekeep was released.
At the time of our meeting, Oliphant was hoping to revive Lexicross for the casual market, then in its infancy. He was hoping Mattel could help him with that project. While it sounded like a brilliant idea, at the time that was simply not possible. After talking with Oliphant for several hours, all of us came away with the feeling that we had just met a "great" game designer. The way he talked about programming games, designing games, and his desire to continue what he had been doing for the past 25 years was compelling. He talked about his desire to make games the way a drowning man might think about a breath of air. Games were not Peter Oliphant's job. Games were Peter Oliphant. From the day after our meeting I tried to find a way for him to be part of our project. I even called some of our game vendors to see if they could use him, but all leads led to nothing. I kept in-touch with him via email for a few months, but after a while that just seemed hallow. The man wanted a job, and I simply did not have one for him. The funny thing is , a few years later I actually did have a job he could do, but by then he was busy at work on a couple other projects could not help. It was a sadly missed opportunity. I've always felt that the best way to learn out designing good games is to absorbe information from people, especially the masters, who were there from the beginning. I've caught David Crane, Rob Fulop, Chris Crawford, Bill Kunkel, Ralph Baer, and Nolan Bushnell and made sure to glean as much information on designing games from those guys as possible. However, Peter Oliphant is one that got away.
From time to time I still check-out Oliphant's credits to see if he has built that 21st Century version of Lexicross. I do still think it could be a very successful game. If I could tell Peter Oliphant one thing now, it would be to encourage him to re-make Lexicross as multi-player Flash game on the web that could be played via Facebook and other web portals, using in-game ads as the revenue stream, or to build it for X-Box Live Arcade. Wait, who am I fooling? He's probably already working on it. Well, I hope so anyway.