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Did you program anything similar to your later games, like Kroz?
SM: There was actually a game back in those days called Chase. Which I sort of referenced in my mind when I was making Kroz. 'Cause Kroz was sort of a melding of that Chase game and Rogue. I never played any of the Hack games or anything like that.
Chase was a game that displayed a ten-by-ten grid, and you had electric mines at various places randomly put into this grid. So basically, you had a hundred spaces in there, and about ten of the spaces contained little asterisks, which were the electric mines. Then you had the "agent," who was a letter "A," and then you had your character, which was a letter "U." Every time you moved in a direction, the agent would move in a direction that was exactly towards you. You had to manipulate his moves into one of those electric mines and kill him.
That was a very, very rudimentary game. When I first started making the game Kroz, I was really making an advanced version of that game. Then I started bringing in elements from Rogue and all kinds of unique elements. That's how Kroz got started.
Tell me about your life after you moved from Australia. Your dad got a job in Texas and you moved there?
SM: Yeah, he actually still worked for the same company. When I came back, I finished my senior year of high school here in America. My parents purposely moved back in time for me to graduate in America, that way I could get an American high school diploma.
Did you have any access to a computer in the U.S.?
SM: As soon as I came back, within six months, I was already in desperate need of computer time, so I convinced my father to loan me the money to get a Commodore PET. It was the original one with the built-in cassette drive and the small keyboard.
The chiclet keyboard? That must have been a pain to type on.
SM: Yeah, it was. But I was still happy.
Did you go to college after high school?
SM: It was just a community college -- Eastfield College -- around the Dallas area. I kindof went off and on for about ten years, to be honest with you. I eventually got all my basic classes done at the community college, and I started going to a graduate college called University of Dallas. I never finished because I kept dropping out of classes, and I kept purposely dropping out because I had so much going on with what I was doing work-wise, and just pursuing games, and so on. I was really getting into the arcade scene.
I never did get my degree. I think I'm about nine hours away from my computer science degree, which at this point would be totally worthless. [laughs] All my COBOL training isn't going to be effective now.
How did you meet George Broussard, your future partner at Apogee?
SM: I met him in high school, my senior year. We would meet after school in the computer lab, and there was teletype machine -- we were doing stuff on there. They also had an Apple II computer; we both did games on that. So we spent a lot of time after school geeking out in the computer lab. Also, once we had cars, we'd go to arcades together with other friends and spent a lot of time there.
You were both into arcade games at the time.
SM: Yeah, I worked in an arcade for a couple years, back in the very early '80s when arcades were just huge. I got super good at arcade games -- I was winning some tournaments locally here in Dallas. So George and I decided to write a book on how to beat arcade games. At the time, there weren't any books out like that. But during the six months it took us to write that book, about two dozen books like that came out. So ours didn't sell very well.
Our book didn't do all that well, but I used it to get a job at the Dallas Morning News, which is the big newspaper here in Dallas. I started writing a weekly column called "Computer Fun." It was all about arcades at first, but it moved towards computers, computer games, and console games like Coleco, Atari, and Intellivision at the time. Later, it got into computers like the Atari ST and the Amiga.
I did that for four years, and I was reviewing tons of games. I was on everyone's list at the time -- EA, Broderbund, Infocom -- they would send me any new games that were released.
I was doing all these reviews for my column, and I was still making games on my own, and it was a training ground for me. Because when you review things, you have more of a critical eye -- you're digging into what works and what doesn't.
Now I look back on all of that as great training for the career that finally came later in the '80s, when I realized that, "With all these games I'm reviewing, I could probably do a better job myself." And that's what I started to do in the middle '80s.