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The Man Who Won Tetris
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The Man Who Won Tetris

September 10, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

You also speak Japanese, correct?

HR: I speak Japanese.

What made you interested in Japan and led you to do so much business there?

HR: Well, my father was a Go player. That was a Japanese board game with black and white stones. That kind of made me a Go player, because my father was. He was sixth degree black belt in Go, and I'm a three degree black belt in Go.

So he was really interested in Japan. He moved the family to Japan before I went to Japan. I was going to university in Hawaii, and I finally fell in love with a Japanese girl. I chased her to Japan. It was convenient, because my family was already living there.

But that's where my interest started, and it got locked down by this Japanese girl. She's my wife, and we have four children.

Tetris is obviously one of the most sort of important games ever created, but what's also interesting is that in Japan, you created The Black Onyx, which is lesser known but probably similarly influential in a lot of ways.

HR: It was the first roleplaying game in Japan.

I was a little naive, I didn't read or write Japanese when I got started. I went to Akihabara, and I tried to look at what was going on on what machine. I figured out NEC was going to make it at that point, and they were missing roleplaying games. And I thought, "Wow, they just haven't gotten around to it, so I will."

So I decided to make a roleplaying game. What I didn't know is that they didn't have Dungeons & Dragons in Japan. The precursor to American roleplaying games like The Temple of Apshai, Wizardry, and Ultima was Dungeons & Dragons, and you kind of have to know how to play Dungeons & Dragons before you can play those games.

As I started building it, I started realizing, "Oh my God, I have to teach people how to play roleplaying games from scratch. And I have 64K to do it in."

I had to strip a lot out of the game that I had originally envisioned, to just make it an introductory roleplaying game. But it had miniatures. You could choose your own head, and you choose your own clothes -- all in 64K. All the player graphics fit in 10K, and all the monster graphics fit in 10K. It was a real big squeeze job.

Had you played games like Ultima and Wizardry, or were you coming at it more directly from the D&D influence?

HR: I had played The Temple of Apshai. I played a little bit of Ultima. But I played more Wizardry.

Basically, I took off from Wizardry. Wizardry was wireframe 3D, but it was mostly text. The rest of it was text. You couldn't see your own character, you couldn't see most of what was going on, and so I wanted the game to be more visual so that people could understand that they were in that kind of a world.

If you go back to my college days, we played Dungeons & Dragons in Hawaii off the original three little books. All we had was a copy of the three little books in Hawaii, and we had an organization or a club. It was called ARRGH -- A-R-R-G-H, the Alternative Recreational Realities Group of Hawaii. [laughs]

So, half of us played D&D, and half of us played simulation war games. And I looked at the mix, and I said, "You know what? The D&D guys kind of look more like ordinary people. The sim guys, they kind of looked like dweebs." You know? [laughs]

So, I said, "You know, I'm going to focus on the RPG, because it will be an industry for everybody someday."

Well, that's foresight for you.

HR: There you go.

It's interesting that you mention Wizardry, because I feel Wizardry is also a series that has influential in Japan to a disproportionate degree. Why do you think games like yours and that series have resonated so much in that market? They're not even that similar to the Final Fantasy type that came later.

HR: I am not sure, because if you look at the games that came out right after... Black Onyx was the number one game in 1984, and it continued to be the number two game in 1985, so there was a two-year stretch where we were very influential. We shook the market up. But then the games that came after were mostly top-down, like Ultima.

Right, that's what I mean.

HR: The original Final Fantasy games, there were the Falcom[-developed] games, The Temple of Apshai -- these were all top-down games. They were mostly in that style.

It wasn't until much later that 3D started happening. I tried to simulate that 3D in the original Black Onyx, and it's just because I was being very clever with the text graphics. Otherwise, if I was actually gonna do painting and all that -- real 3D? No way. In 8-bit, there's no memory for all that stuff.

Yeah, and I always associate that 3D style, more with the Western games, like the Wizardrys, and where the Ultima series soon went, and all that.

HR: And looking forward, that is now World of Warcraft. That's the 3D, the totally immersive 3D.

You know, I think the core difference there is that when we play games, we are in the game. But when you're looking at the character in the Japanese game, you're controlling some character that's in the game. I think that's the core difference. It's the different between Diablo and World of Warcraft.

That's true. And those are even from the same company.

HR: Right.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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