Magazine #9 2/00
As usual a few days late :) Here it is an interview with a former Atari Jaguar tester and software producer I met at the NWCGE meeting earlier this year. It's very long but contains lots of information so please enjoy the
Faran Thomason Interview
CR: First of all thanks for doing this interview, I know youíre busy guy.
FT: No problem.
CR: So, I saw that originally you started at Atari as tester after you were done studying at Michigan State. How did you end up there?
FT: Basically I just responded to an ad in the paper, it said Ďgame testers wantedí, I applied for the job and got the job. I started out testing LYNX games like Malibu Beach Volleyball, Jimmy Connors Tennis, Lemmings, things like that.
CR: Was that a Michigan paper orÖ
FT: No, I was already living out on the west coast shooting video year books for high schools, the paper was the San Francisco or San Jose Chronicle or something.
CR: Ah, OK. Starting out as a tester, how was that?
FT: Very exciting initially but then, you know, the hundred and fiftieth time you have the play the game over it does get a little tiring. But itís better than real work :)
CR: :) Were you given a cartridge to play at home?
FT: Oh no, this was on the premises and you had to show up every day and work your 8+ hours and make sure all the games, you know, played well, didn't have any bugs and were good products. It was interesting.
CR: So did you play them on the LYNX directly?
FT: Oh yeah, basically if it was multi-player we didnít play on the LYNX directly but if we were just playing in general we actually had a special adapter that we could plug into the LYNX and get output to a TV-screen. So you played on a TV.
CR: Nice! Have you heard about some third parties trying to make this kind of hardware.
FT: Yeah, Iím actually surprised nobody has figured it out yet. I know they have this for Game Boys and Game Gears, you know.
CR: So, for multi-players, what was the setup there?
FT: Weíd just all gather around in a central area and plug our LYNXes together and play. Now that I think about it, we did even play multi-player games on the big screen by running cables over our cubicles and played that way.
CR: So after testing LYNX games you moved up toÖ
FT: Right! I basically hit Atari right when they were moving into finishing up the Jaguar and after a few months of testing LYNX stuff they started giving me Jaguar games to test such as Cybermorph and Trevor McFur, those types of things. Oh and Dino Dudes and Raiden and all that stuff.
CR: And you did more than just testing?
FT: Yeah, one of the nice things was that due to the lack of resourcesÖ it forced everybody to do a little more than their job description. So for things like Cybermorph we actually laid out some of the levels for ATD to implement. Basically at the last phases of those projects they bring the developer in and kind of look him in a closet to finish up the programming. And they needed somebody to handle the remaining level design tasks so that included enemy placement, layout, things like that.
CR: ATD stands forÖ
FT: Attention To Detail, they were the developer.
CR: So, you tested these games, helped to refine them and at some point you became involved with the new games, the next generation of Jaguar titles?
CR: Yeah, I just sort of worked my way up to being a producer there and started managing and developing my own projects.
FT: Howís that like? Sounds like a great job!
CR: Yes, I guess there is a lot involved, basically while you are not necessarily doing any of the development and the design you have to coordinate and manage all those tasks and make sure that they happen on time, on schedule and ultimately you have to make sure that the game is a lot of fun to play. And sometimes itís quite tricky depending on the resources that you are given or the developer that you have to work with. So you need the people skills and the management skills and the scheduling skills.
CR: How were your resources? You said they were always shortÖ?
FT: Yeah, I think unfortunately Atari kind of low-balled the developers and developers would underbid so it was like a deadly combination. The developers would say ĎI can do it cheaplyí and Atari would say ĎGreat!í but you know when that happens they usually put a lot of under-skilled people on the team and that just makes the projects drag on longer then it would if theyíd actually put people on it that needed to be on the team in the first place. And then you get into situations like what happened with Cybermorph were we actually designed levels and things like that when those should have been designed months before we even saw the game.
CR: A lot of these games that you produced unfortunately never saw the light of day, why?
FT: Yeah, thatís unfortunate.
CR: Some of these sound really good, like Mortal Kombat.
FT: Yeah, basically if you look at this list of games there is actually two deals, we did two major deals. One was with Accolade and with Accolade we got titles like Bubsy, Charles Barkley Basketball, Brett Hull Hockey and things like that. And then we did another deal with Acclaim where we were able to get the rights to Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Batman Forever and a few othersÖ and they were pretty big deals. Itís unfortunate that, you know, the system didnít get rolling enough to really see those projects come to reality. And, you know, the Mortal Kombat, they actually had started a little bit of development but it never really got all that far.
CR: Any screens or videos?
FT: Itís possible but unfortunately none that I have. I mean itís possible that was some kind of demo for that and it was going to be the Ultimate Mortal Kombat, basically were you got the arcade feeling. And we had a big Ultimate Mortal Kombat machine at Atari that we were able to play and that was a lot of fun. There were some advantages in doing those types of projects :) Same thing with NBA Jam, we actually got a NBA Jam machine in the office and we were able to play a lot of that and think NBA Jam came out reasonably well.
CR: How or what was Batman Forever?
FT: Batman Forever really never gotÖ it was probably the least developed of any of those titles that I mentioned.
CR: Charles Barkley Basketball looked pretty far along though?
FT: Yeah, and that was a very difficult title to produce just due to the developer and in some ways it was a very painful process but I think what almost got done was, you know, kind of interesting and it would have been nice to actually see that released. Iím not exactly sure what the final status of that project was but when I left it was almost complete. But apparently it was never released, never really got over that hump.
CR: How about Brett Hull Hockey. I saw some prototypes of that game on Ebay
not too long ago.
FT: Yeah, itís kind of surprising, I mean, I guess from my standpoint itís not really surprising because I had to deal with the developer on those projects and it was an extremely difficult developer to deal with. Iíve seen screenshots and video and, you know, it looked like the game might have come out pretty good. Itís unfortunate for the Jaguar fans out there that those games never made it.
Brett Hull Hockey prototype.
CR: How about Wes Craven Presents Mindripper?
FT: :) Basically it was kind of a B-movie produced by Wes Craven and we were trying to start a deal with this movie company where we would kind of develop products based on their movies. They were ultimately a B-movie company but they had a lot of really good contacts so, you know, over time the relationship might have actually grown reasonably well and, I mean, for me personally it was good contacts that led me to other work outside of Atari. Mindripper basically would have been a neat first-person horror shooter type game. The movie came out on HBO and video a few years ago, fairly Ďschlackyí fair but would have made a neat game. What was cool is that they actually shot it in Bulgaria and I went down to the set and met Lance Hendrikson and hung out with the cast and crew for a few days. All my memories of it are actually pretty cool because we were able to go out on the set and take pictures of all the assets they had out there and they gave us open access to everything, to all the actors, so we had Lance Hendrikson on the blue screen and he was very helpful in gettingÖ in digitizing his likeness to be in the game. And one of the guys that was in Saving Private Ryan who is now almost becoming a big star was in Mindripper too, so itís funny to see some of these people that youíve never heard of and that are now becoming big stars or almost big stars. Or like Lance Hendrikson, he is just kind of a legend in that type of genre of film. But no, it was actually a lot of fun and they were shooting in a lot of, you know, kind of weird places, like abandoned nuclear reactor type places in Bulgaria, so it was kind of creepy. :) Kind of cool, running through these underground catacombs and getting all these shots, the nice things about those places is that, you know, the countries are so poor that theyíll allow these movie companies to come in and work with their film infrastructure and give them access to any parts of the city that they want to shot in. So it was actually kind of neat, it would have been to see how the final product would have come out, ultimately there is a lot of cool little things that we wanted to do, put into the game, like multi-player play and things like that. So, first person shooter in the vein of your DOOM, we wanted to do things that hadn't been done, like walk on ceilings and stuff like that if you would have played the monster because the monster had his set of abilities and, you know, the human heroes had their own set of abilities. And you had to rescue people and things like that, we were trying to add more depth to the first person shooter genre.
CR: Kind of like Alien Vs. Predator?
FT: Yeah, a lot of it was probably influenced by Alien Vs. Predator and we wanted to try to take it one step further.
CR: Sounds way cool! Would have been a fun game!
FT: Yeah, I canít really vouch for the movie too much :) it was kind of Wes Craven in some respects just giving some favors back to people that had helped him over his career, by kind of lending his name and credibility to the film but the game, I think, would have actually been a lot of fun! It was right at the point before first person shooters became kind of over-saturated and it would have had some new features, you know. What we were actually trying to doÖ that was at the time were they were trying to go multi-platform, there would have actually been a PC and Jaguar-CD version. And it had full motion video from the film, at that time it would have had all the kind of cool things that people were looking for.
CR: I assume the PC version never got anywhere? What was the final status?
FT: No, the PC version got probably even less farther than the Jaguar version. It definitely got started and seemed to move forward and as I remember a few years ago there was even some litigation on trying to tie up the legal lose ends, just making sure that when Atari was no more people got their cuts or at least worked stuff out. Yes, it definitely got started and it was actually planned of it being the first of a multi-game series with that movie company.
CR: Do you remember the name of that company?
FT: Yeah, Kushner-Locke, Donald Kushner the producer of TRON. It was all kind of a independent film company. The game would have been pretty innovative for its time.
Black Ice\White Noise Preliminary Box Art, © 1994 Atari Corp.
CR: How about Black ICE\White Noise?
FT: Well, that was meant to be kind of the big Atari internally-produced big, big-effort game that was going to put Atari back on the map. It basically started from Sam Tramiel, the president of Atari mandating that we create our own Sonic, Mario, iconic character and basically what happened was we went through many iterations of these kind of really lame mascot-characters, from ducks to alligators to armadillos toÖ it was all very ridiculous. I donít think anybody was ever terribly enthused by all these pre-mascot-things so we wanted to do something a little bit edgier. So we came up with the concept Black ICE\White Noise which was, you know, a very innovative concept at the time, in many aspects it was like The Matrix before that ever came out. It more or less embodied that Cyberpunk-hacker archetype that Keanu Reeves played in the movie, we had another guy whose name was Chris Hudak, a video game journalist, he writes for like Next Generation and Wired. So basically we had created this whole world which involved hacking and infiltration and going into cyberspace, very much like The Matrix. Itís probably scary how similar the two actually are, it was all based on William Gibsonís Cyberpunk. We had done a lot of film production on that in terms of shooting people on blue screen and treadmills and basically it was a game that incorporated driving, fighting, exploration and all kinds of things like that into one big package. It was a third person game, one of the things we didnít want to make was a first person shooter because we want the character to come out and the best way to do that was third person. So basically it was going to be a third person game before third person games were big like Tomb Raider and still embodied a lot of those types of elements in the game. So you would be able to walk down the city street and if you wanted to hijack a car you could get in that car and start driving through the city and maybe the cops would chase you. Or if you needed to hack into some place you could hack into something and you would be in cyberspace. So it wasÖ obviouslyÖ probablyÖ way too ambitious for the limited resources that we had but it was very good to give it a try, it had a lot of cutting-edge techniques in terms of integrating 3D and video and digitized graphics into a game. And in theory it would have come out pretty well. It was a very big project for Atari at the time.
CR: I assume it was CD-based? And what happened to it?
FT: Yeah, CD-based. I think basically towards the end, I donít really have a time line there, but there was a certain point in time when things were just kind of spiraling downhill, you know, a lot of cost cutting, layoffs and this desperate attempt to really get into the PC market which never really took off or happened, you know, the bulk of the projects, all really cool stuff that I was working on, most of those fell by the wayside, it was pretty unfortunate. Some of the easier projects like Bubsy and NBA Jam, those things actually came out OK but the more ambitious projects were just dropped.
CR: Bummer! The screenshots Iíve seen of Black ICE\White Noise looked very good.
FT: Yeah, you know, hindsight is 20:20 but when you look at some of the stuff it wasÖ a lot of the concepts that we had thought of are now the concepts of today. So, yeah, in many ways we were really ahead of our times but, you know, didnít really do us any good. But it was fun! A lot of fun to fly down, do the video shoots, and just kind of learning that whole process of integrating digital video into computer games, it was very educational, so, you know, from a learning experience standpoint and from a fun standpoint I really have very few regrets if any. There were a lot of difficulties, you know, but the knowledge and the experience was great.
CR: Where was Black ICE\White Noise shot?
FT: Basically we went down to Los Angeles and just rented a studio and just kind of cranked out all of the preset motion patterns that we needed. Like walking forward, walking backward, left, right, up, down, climb, duck, shoot, punch, kick and just plowed through it on treadmills and blue screens.
CR: So similar to the Mindripper project?
FT: Well, we would shoot against a blue screen and then we would cut out those patterns and make our sprites based on those actions. So basically it was like Mortal Kombat, kind of the same thing except we went for more of a 3D feel, so clearly we had to shoot all of the rotations, so that it appeared that you existed in this 3D world. Chris Hudak was kind of the star of the whole thing and we actually hired Michiko Nishiwaki (female martial arts artist from Hong Kong, recently played in 'Man On The Moon'). Ironically a lot of these things are interconnected, the people that put us in contact with the Mindripper people were also some of the people that shot the video for Black ICE\White Noise and they had a contact withÖ actually what we did was in many ways a very open casting call because a lot of these things wereÖ not only was there basic motions and combat and running and walking but a lot of it was actual video so the character could come up to somebody and you could have a conversation and you could play that conversation and respond positive, negative or neutral. And based on that youíd get different responses and the person would actually respond so we needed actors and some of themÖ we never got anybody huge but we got kind of a cult martial artist from Hong Kong that had been in a few big martial arts movies out in Hong Kong and she was basically just trying to break into the US market, thought it would be fun, you know. It was a neat process to have the auditions and get a, you know, not really big name but semi-big name at least to a few hard-core martial art film fans, you know. Like I said before, the experience was great and I got really good broad insight into producing a huge expensive product that involved a lot of different elements.
Black Ice\White Noise screen shot.
CR: Besides the LYNX and the Jaguar did you get involved in any other
systems while at Atari?
FT: HmmmÖ you know, I saw the Falcon, maybe tinkered with it for a little bit but nothing significant. Never really go into the computer stuffÖ Their early Jaguar development systems were Atari TTs which made it really very difficult for people to take the platform seriously and get a lot of third party support because there is these machines that sold about 6 units worldwide so nobody had them and that made development pretty tough from that standpoint and then when they did get it people werenít really familiar with the TOS operating system that people were kind of forced to use to develop products with. So, I think that was another kind of stumbling block for Atari, not going to PCs right off the bat by using their own proprietary computer hardware which, you know, nobody else in the world used but them and maybe 6 guys in Europe :)
CR: Did you work with the development systems at all?
FT: Basically just to load games, load artwork and things like that not from an overly technical standpoint, just from a management standpoint, making sure all the assets of the game were working and functioning and things like that.
CR: So at some point you must have realized that things were starting to go
FT: Yeah, to be perfectly honest, I think from the beginning everybodyÖ I mean there was a lot of flaws in the Jaguar and Atari was not really know for their marketing so I donít think anybody had any real illusions on how long it would last. But, you know, I think everybody got along so it was a very fun and exciting place to hang out and try to do cool stuff and it was good while it lasted. So basically what happened as Atari started to go downhillÖ when I first arrived at Atari they were laying people off and just all the time I would be there they would cut cost and every so often just kick people out the door and it created this weird revolving-door environment and one day my number came up and I was gone. Then I went working for Optical Entertainment, these were people that were somewhat loosely related to the Mindripper people because the president of Optical Entertainment had actually worked at Disney with TRON. Basically it was part of a bigger company called Hyperion Entertainment and they are know for stuff like Brave Little Toaster and Life With Louie and a lot of the Saturday morning cartoons and HBO independent animated products and they wanted to break into video games. So I kind of hooked up with them and we tried to create this game Dead Ahead, but one of the unfortunate thing about that was they used kind of a movie model for producing the game and we were getting financing from Japan and we were using an external developer Software Creations and so the trick was to coordinate all of these things together and it didnít work very well. It was actually for the N64 and, you know, it was a cool game and I think ultimately the money from Japan which was from Tomei, they make a lot of kids toys and video games and they had a changeover in management. It was an interesting deal, basically I was responsible for the design of the game not necessarily the overall production of the game. It was tough for everything to get held together and eventually it just ran out of steam which is unfortunate, but again, it was a another great learning experience and the demo that we were able to put together looked pretty nice and, you know, it would have been a great game.
Faran in front of his collection.
CR: Then you went to Nintendo?
FT: Actually I was at SEGA Soft before I went to Nintendo! :) Basically, after Atari wound down a lot of these people ended up at other video game companies, a few at Sony and a few at SEGA Soft, so eventually I joined some of the ones that ended up there and we started another really cutting-edge game that never really got off the ground unfortunately :) That was a massively multi-player online title called Skies. It was basically a world that revolved around floating islands and creatures that had wings like angels, demons and it was a fantasy RPG but not in your traditional fantasy role like your Ultimas, it was actually a very innovative take on it. Basically you started the game off as a newborn, thatís kind of how your character would exist initially, which wasnít like a baby but thatís what we called it. Like a young adventurer but as the game progressed, as you gained more experience and spent more time online your power would increase, you would age and get more money. So you would go from like a newborn to a teenager to a an adult to an elder and you could actually visually see who had actually played the game and who was more powerful and older. And what was kind of funny, three or four years ago we came up with these ideas and it was actually being seen as crazy but if you look at how Everquest and Ultima Online have spawned this e-commerce model itís actually kind of sad that we didnít do it because when you first started the game, to equip your character, you had to buy these things called LEDOs. These were Limited Edition Digital Objects, so maybe you started your game as angel youíd have your basic bow and when youíd fire your bow that was your basic attack. But if you wanted something stronger like say a fire ball or lightning bolt or faster flight youíd purchase these booster packs of digital objects. So if youíd buy a lightning bolt and faster flight you could use those, in effect every different character could be equipped with different things thus being even more unique. Itís kind of interesting, now I work at Nintendo and I realize the underlying concepts of Pokemon are basically the same concepts that we had. What we wanted to do was to foster a community were people would trade, so basically if I had my angel and I was playing for six months so I had an adult angel that was equipped with lightning bolt, fire ball and faster flight and invisibility I could trade that for letís say a demon and be a bad guy now, the same kind of concepts. Everything would be limited so basically, say we sold like a million copies or something, but maybe thereíd be only 500,000 lightning bolts so that would increase the value of a lightning bolt. So if I wanted to trade for a lightning bolt Iíd had to add something to the pot to make it a more compelling trade. These LEDOs seemed like a ridiculous concept a few years ago, you bought them in the store for real money, but today people pay thousands of Dollars for the Ultima Online stuff and itís actually kind of funny how right we were. There were booster packs like Magic The Gathering and say youíd buy the game off the shelf for $39.95 and we toss on half a dozen of these LEDOs. If you didnít get anything youíd want for like two Dollars you could get a booster pack and there would be five or six of these LEDOs in there and you could buy as many as you want until you get the right combination of whatever you want. And then you could go online and participate in this world andÖ basically everything evolved around magic, everything was based on magic andÖ we did a lot of unique things, like to get around Player Killing we made safe zones, it was like if you stayed on the top of the world there wasnít enough magic to actually fight, so there was nothing you could do except for just hanging out and talk and converse trade. But the further you went down in the world in those floating islands, the more magic power you got, the more you could actually fight and journey with other people, things like that. So, itís kind of sad that that one didnít take off as well because there was a lot of unique concepts and innovative things that everybody else seems to be doing today. The person that formed this group for Skies, he had another game called Ten Six which also used these LEDOs and itís just coming to fruition. So in some ways that LEDOs thing is actually going to happen but what we wanted to do was to foster a lot of community so that everybody would buy Skies and Ten Six and you could actually trade your Skies LEDOs for Ten Six LEDOs. You couldnít use them in the other game but it would all be kind of currency in the community in the Heat Network which was what these were being made for. That was SEGA Softís online network, heat.net and we were supplying content for that.
CR: What system were these for?
FT: PC, it was for the Heat Network and PC and itís still around today and Ten Six is just coming out and there was another one called Vigilance but that didnít really take advantage of this other stuff. Ten Six is like the huge online strategy game thatís on 24/7 and they want a million people to participate. Skies was a really cool game we had a comic book artist, Michael Turner who currently does Fathom but did Witchblade at the time, he did all of our character designs, Paradigm who developed Pilot Wings for the N64 and a few other N64 games were doing all of the development and programming. I mean it was a very cool concept but SEGA Soft didnít really support it enough and nowÖ nobody of our group is actually there anymore. Heat.net continues on but everybody kind of got dissipated around the industry. But again, it was another great experience and another innovative game that unfortunately never came out. Actually if you go to Skies.net you can read a little bit about it.
CR: Cool! And from there you went to Nintendo? What do you do there now?
FT: Yeah, ironically I released almost more titles at Nintendo in the year I íve been there then any other placeÖ they are actually good titles, basically Iím at Nintendo now and for the moment Iím doing a lot of Game Boy development. The last title I released was a great conversion of R-Type called R-Type DX which combined R-Type 1 and R-Type 2 for the Color Game Boy. In kind of unique fashion, once youíd finish R-Type 1 it would click right over to R-Type 2, we called that DX mode but you could play both games separately. The bad thing about R-Type is that it is just a ridiculously difficult game, itís just criminally difficult, you know, the hard-core fans like it and I think if youíre a big shooter fan youíll love it but it is very difficult. The conversion came out excellent, I would say itís arcade-perfect since it is on the Game Boy, you know, but it definitely pushes the Game Boyís potential to the max, it came out really nice. Then the next game that I did was one called Bionic CommandoÖ
CR: The arcade classic?
FT: Yeah, itís based on the arcade game and that just came out really well. Itís an excellent game, in terms of game play probably surpasses the original and the NES version in many respects. It was in color and came out in January 2000 and is really nice, itís got digitized speech, you know, a lot of color, great animation, very fluid. And then Iíve got another version coming up called Crystalis which is based on another old game, an RPG, itís kind of another Zelda clone, came out in the late 80ies, achieved a lot of cult notoriety just due to its long involved game play and due to its kind of quirky flaws, bad translation, it was originally a Japanese game, and the fact that some of the assets you needed were invisible and you couldnít find them and youíd spend days walking around. People put up with lots of the kind of quirky flaws and inconsistencies but in this new version weíve added some additional levels and fixed all that. We tightened up the story so itís a lot more coherent and we put all the invisible objects into the game, with graphics so you can actually see where youíre supposed to go on those and it did come out really well. The next one Iíve got coming up is called Warlocked and itís a brand new type of game for the Game Boy Color, itís a real time strategy game and it plays really well, itís set in a medieval fantasy world and you can choose to either play the humans or the beasts and basically just try, you know, to conquer each other. Itís resource management, youíve got to build up a little town and mine the gold and mine the fuel and build your armies up. One of the neat things that weíve added to the game is that weíve got these wizards and in true Pokemon-like fashion not everybody will get every wizard in the game thus forcing the player to trade. So if I have like the fire-wizard and you have the bomb-wizard and I want your wizard I can trade it for mine Ė just hook up. Another unique thing that we have added to the game is when you play through the basic levels, say youíve got ten archers and three knights and two wizards left, you start stockpiling all these excess troops and assets. And then you can trade with your friend these stats-bases army cards, say youíve played for a week and you trade with your friend and your screen youíll have this little animated statistics battle and you can set the amount of troops and I can set the amount of troops that you want to fight against and will just do this little stats-based thing and itís just a neat little mini-game to get people an incentive to play through the game multiple times and try to be more efficient and see how many troops they can survive each level with. And then they can just send them to their friends and see who is the better general I guess :) Itís a neat little game which should hopeful be out sometime this summer.
Faran with more of his collection.
CR: What do you think about video games today, compared to the ones in the
FT: Basically, I think the video games right now on average, you know, are better for the most part. I know, probably the primary audience reading this is the retro-gamer but, you know, I play a lot of the retro-games too but I donít know if they necessarily have the longevity and the game play, like you take something like Bionic Commando, which you can fondly remember of being this really awesome game and you pop that baby in today and itís just really difficult to play. The controls are very awkward, the animation is very limited and itís very difficult. And Iíve only learned this through redoing it and when we did our new version you could pull of these complicated drop-swings and do all kinds of fancy tricks that would have been extremely difficult to do in the original version and you go back and just look at the limited frames of animation and the kind of sticky controls where as the games of today have great fluid life-like animation and great controls. I mean, the racing games today, you can like, turn on a dime, itís just the technology has really allowed the game designers and developers to really come out with some really awesome stuff. Sure there is some crappy games but there were always crappy games and I think that the games today are really leaps and bounds better. Clearly a lot of that comes from the influence of the games of yesterday but I think if you go back to some of the old games, the average person Ė they probably wonít be as cool as they necessarily remember them. Sometimes, you know, the memory of something is a lot better than the reality. And they are also spending a lot more time on quality control. Like Nintendo has many ways of gauging the quality, like we have out famous Mario Club which really has to evaluate every game that comes through, from third party games to our own games, you know, and make they all make the grade. Because at the end of the day, what happens, Acclaim can release a crappy game but the purchasers are not going to call Acclaim, they are going to call us, they are going to hold us responsible in many cases, so we have to make sure everything meets our standards of quality.
CR: Do you still have contact with your old buddies from Atari?
FT: I basically see them at, you know, the trade shows, last one was the Game Developers Conference, I saw all the old Atari people like Don Thomas and James Grunky and a lot of the guys that I worked with, it was cool. A lot of them are actually at Nuon, which is kind of the next generation Jaguar, I really donít know how that will fare. I guess they got a good system, getting it packaged and bundled into DVD players and thatís kind of an interesting philosophy, but, you know, weíll see how that works. I mean, I think unfortunately their technology is just kind of a little bit better than the original Jaguar and itís not really going to be competitive with, you know, the next generation Nintendo system or Dreamcast, Sony or X-Box. As kind of a novelty and getting this game-thing into your DVD player, they might sell a few units of software here and there but itís not going to be the critical mass, I mean, like Nintendo. Everything has to sell in the millions, otherwise itís kind of viewed as a disappointment, you know, I don ít think that Nuon is going to get the critical mass of buyers of their software, but who knows?
CR: A word about the next generation systems?
FT: Nothing about the Dolphin that I can tell you other then the things in the press :)
CR: How about the Playstation 2? I wasnít that impressed with it.
FT: Actually they showed it at the Game Developers Conference and we just got one in and the PS2 so far today is very underwhelming. Ridge Racer, Street Fighter, Tekken are all slightly nicer versions of their Playstation counterparts and as an American, does it justify the thousand or so bucks that itís going to cost you to import that thing right now? The only interesting thing is, you know, it play the different region-code DVD movies and that even only by, you know, accident :) For the people that are interested in renting or buying European or Japanese DVDs, so youíre talking a very small segment and I think one thing that the PS2 has on its side is this massive hype machine and the reality of the system as it stands today is not going to filter down to the average Playstation fan unless the American software kicks ass theyíre going to be sorely disappointed with it when they pop in their discs and itís going to be slightly prettier versions of the old games. And Dead or Alive for the Dreamcast came out this week and itís comparable visually to Tekken on the PS2, so you know, I think Sony boxed themselves into a corner with the limited amount of RAM as well as a multi-processor gaming unit. At the Game Developers Conference they had the founders of Naughty Dog, the developers of Crash Bandicoot come out and talk about how programming the VPU for the PS2 was a challenge and people should think of it like a puzzle. But if I want to do a puzzle, you know, I get the New York Times crossword or something and notÖ I mean, I think thatís kind of what killed Saturn and Jaguar was this very difficult way programming the chips and you have these multiple processors and itís not straight-forward and sure there is a few people out there who are going to be able to maximize this and think itís cool but video games have become such a business and an industry that you need kind of a reliable way of scheduling and delivering product to the consumer and if you make the system too complicated, no matter how powerful itís going to be, itís going to screw you up in the end because people arenít going to be able to make their deadlines or they are just going to use such a minimal part of the machineís powerÖ that, you know, the games are going to come out as being very average and mediocre and probably fall into one of the things thatÖ At the Game Developers Conference they had Shenmue for the Dreamcast and I mean itís great! Playstation2, when they gave their keynote they ran some videos of some upcoming games and, I admit they were early prototypes, but it didnít look that great and they had people walk through unpopulated worlds. And then in Shenmue youíre walking through this populated city, there is people that are bumping into you, there is people that you can talk to and you can go to any store and they created a really good world. The models look as good as anything Iíve seen on the Playstation2 so far and Shenmue is, you know, a couple year old technology when itís all said and done. I think Playstation2 almost has a little bit of catch-up to do, even with the Dreamcast and SEGA has a great opportunity now that people will exposing some of the PS2ís weaknesses, so if they come out with a really good marketing campaign theyíll actually have a change to drive a good wedge for the next six months until the new Nintendo platform comes out :) The new Nintendo stuff is going to be very, very cool!
CR: What do you think about Microsoftís X-Box?
FT: I think the big challenge for Microsoft will be content, I mean, at Nintendo weíve got great content, weíve got Pokemon, Mario and Zelda and those are the experiences that people are really going to want to get into, you know, at the end of the day itís all coming down to the consumer and what they want to see and they want great content. SEGAís got a lot of that too with their arcade division and Sonic and thatís something that Sony has been desperately trying to get and theyíve come out with a few franchises but not the first-party franchises that Nintendo has. That will be pretty difficult for Microsoft to do, to come up with their characters and franchises, it will be very interesting, but who can predict, you know, we at Nintendo have a lot of good content in our corner.
CR: A final word about the future of dedicated video game consoles?
FT: Back in the days people were predicting the death of the console and that the PC would rule the video game world but you know what, itís a very different gaming experience between playing a game on a PC and playing a game on a console. And I think people, you know, are pretty much used to different devices doing different things, at least at the moment and I donít think people want to play their video games on their microware or something ridiculous like that. Itís always going to be content and the games that people want to play and they have to be made by creative people that create exciting experiences and thatís what it really comes down to. I heard that a lot of people in Japan buy their PS2s to play DVDs because DVD players are expensive there and I donít know if that model is going to fly here. You know, how many people play their music CDs on their regular Playstations here? Once the DVD players get down to 150 Dollars you wonít be playing your DVDs on your PS2. Overall this multi-purpose thing, you know, as I said, itís all content. People will find various ways of delivering that content but at the end of the day itís really the content.
CR: Thanks Faran for doing this! Some really cool stuff in there! Any chance
you may be showing up at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas?
FT: Iíd like to but a lot of is if Iím busy, if I can get somebody else to pay for it :) you know.
CR: Well, I hope to see you next time at the NWCGE meeting?
FT: Yeah, how come you guys only do those once a year?
CR: Well, maybe we should do them more often then :)
Bits 'n Pieces
The Jaguar CD project is currently on hold, the CD itself is done but I'm waiting for one video. The CD will be released before the CGE, either with or without the video.
Looking for 'the big one'? Make sure you head over to the Classic Gaming Expo web site! It's going to be totally awesome - things are looking really cool and last year was a blast!
CyberRoach Magazine #10 (due out after the CGE) will contain an extensive report from the Classic Gaming Expo (third year in a row!) with tons of photos and lots more! Be sure to check what's been called 'the best coverage of CGE'! I'm also working on some more classic programmer/designer interviews...
If you have any classic video game books or any Odyssey2-related items (software, hardware, books, magazines, promo material) or even Odyssey3 items: please send me your lists - thanks!
Pictures and texts © 2000 by CyberRoachô Publishing except where indicated otherwise. No content may be duplicated without the written consent of the author!