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Obituary: Game designer, producer and educator Christopher Erhardt
Obituary: Game designer, producer and educator Christopher Erhardt
December 6, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

December 6, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

Seattle area video game designer, producer and educator Dr. Christopher Erhardt passed away earlier this week. He was in his 50s.

Erhardt worked in game development for some 19 years, shipping over 22 titles in roles ranging from lead designer to executive producer. His graduate studies in psychology from Harvard gave depth to his titles, which included SSI's Pool of Radiance and Westwood's Battletech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception.

Erhardt transitioned to education in 1998, becoming DigiPen's Professor of Game Design and Production, where he developed a level design program with Valve and worked with Microsoft Game Studios to integrate its XNA platform into the classroom.

Erhardt also taught game design and production in Beirut, was the head of US operations for The Academy of Interactive Entertainment, and was one of the founding members of IGDA's Seattle chapter.

He is survived by wife Madeline and children Emilio, Estelle and Emma.

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David Phan
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Rest in Peace Christopher Erhardt.

Much <3 to you for your work on The Crescent Hawk's Inception and all of your other titles and contributions to the industry.

Daneel Filimonov
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Many condolences to Christopher. Seattle is a great area (and was lucky to have him), and most of all Mr. Erhardt is a legend. May he rest in peace.

Joseph Vasquez II
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Erhardt was my freshman game prof back in undergrad at DigiPen. I later TA'd under him. His lectures were first-rate entertainment. He often put us on the spot by suddenly shoving the microphone in a student's face and demanding they demonstrate the assignment they just claimed to have completed. He critiqued our games, pointing out obvious flaws with smiling sarcasm, and refusing to acknowledge cool features if we failed to communicate them well. He stayed after class long hours providing help to those who really needed it. He also handed out deodorant sticks to those who really needed it. Many freshmen hated him, only to come back and thank him at senior year or after graduation. And it was hard to be mad when he was so hilarious.

He openly taught that he was a "weasel" and a "suit" in his production roles (a stereotypical dishonest producer type), and he taught us how to work with people like that. He gave candid info on the dealings between publishers and developers, and taught us how games get produced and how companies work. His real-world, company-focused contributions to the curriculum supplemented a degree that was otherwise biased toward programming and math (that was a good thing). Our other classes taught us how to implement impressive features in games. Erhardt focused on how to get those games shipped.

Some random memorable quotes off the top of my head:

-You're smart and you'll do great in your CS/MAT classes and you'll be able to code up amazing games and feel like a pimp. And you'll cry like a little girl when they get canceled and don't ship. So shut up and pay attention because there's a lot more to this job that you need to understand.

-Don't try conning me or your other game profs because it won't work. We've made successful careers in conning our bosses and publishers, and we'll show you how to do it properly later on.

-If you complete 70% of my assignment, you'll get a 70% grade. At a studio if you complete 70% of your publisher's milestone, you'll be lucky to get 70% of a paycheck. And either way, you won't get grade or paycheck until the end of the quarter.

-You want to work at Blizzard but you'll be stuck at some no-name studio making Mary Kate & Ashley games. Don't whine. You work your butt off and you make that the most efficient code base using the best algorithms, etc. You finish that project and then you can go show Blizzard that you made the best damn running Mary Kate game ever, and that it shipped on time.

-Don't come in here thinking you'll impress me with using middleware. You're not here to bum around and use a great engine, you're here to learn how to make the next great engine. And then you'll be ready to use middleware properly. We aren't training you to be an Ashlee Simpson.

-If you want to bring something great to your team, then leave your ego at the door.

And my personal favorite quote from day 1, which is the first thing I ever heard him say:

-So all of you somehow convinced your worried parents to let you go to video game school. Bravo!

My favorite title of his was Mission: Impossible (N64). Early on he worked on Chiller (NES), one of the most controversial games, which Nintendo refused to license (no seal). His name is actually printed on the box. There's a copy at DigiPen which he signed and dedicated with the words, "Here's to a successful career." It was no doubt written with sarcasm given the atrocious game, but I think he really meant what he wrote.

He is very fondly remembered by myself and hundreds of former DigiPen students. As many others have said, he was such a jerk to me, and it was exactly what I needed. His wit, sarcasm, charisma and bs-ing ability were top-notch. His desire to see us become high-quality game development professionals was 100% genuine.

Rafael Vallin
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Hey Joseph -

It sounds like you knew him very well. I had the pleasure of having him as one of my clients and can verify he was as abrasive and sarcastic as you make him out to be. He was also one of the best clients I've ever had and I truly enjoyed my interaction with him. Honest, no BS and straight to the point, passionate about teaching and this industry. The Game Education community has lost a great teacher and good man.

I was honored to have known him.

Gene Ognibene
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Erhardt, you will be missed. Your lectures were an educational rant that we all loved. Your tactics were guerilla, which we all later appreciated. Your heart was warm and guarded, which was part of your genius. Much respect to you for making an education a Digipen what is was.

Colin Ferguson
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I met Chris over a decade ago through the Seattle IGDA chapter. At one time a little after, I was visiting Digipen one afternoon on unrelated business and I passed by Christopher in the hall. As we walked by each other, Chris smiled and said "Welcome home."

That was talent he had, no matter where I went, Chris had the ability to make you feel like that was where you belong. It was for that reason why I am going back to school at AIE, I owe it to his legacy to see that through.

I was at his funeral later that week. My condolences go out to Madeline, Emilio, Estella, and Emma. They are wonderful and talented people in their own right, and Chris would be proud of them.