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The Burger Speaks: An Interview With An Archmage
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The Burger Speaks: An Interview With An Archmage

December 27, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 7 Next

How did you get started in the games industry? Apparently, it was a National Space Invaders Championship in 1980?

RH: I had a friend named Tom Whicker. He and I would play video games all the time. I didn't have much money, so I had a 2600 and an Apple II, and I was copying the cartridges -- I designed my own "dev kit," shall we say -- because I was just too flat broke. But he had every single cartridge made. So I would grab it and copy it from him. We played Slot Racers and Space Invaders all the time.

Atari announced that there was going to be a Space Invaders tournament at the Topanga Canyon Plaza sometime in July in 1983. He was convinced that I had to be good. I was like, "Yeah, right." So he drives me up, and as it's my turn, I start playing and I'm so bored playing this game.

I was talking with the judge because I had nothing better to do. I was like, "Oh, I just lost a base," and play, play, play, play, and another hour would go by. Base, play, play, play. "What's my score?" And he said, "You've got like 83 thousand six hundred points."

And of course, my reply was "Is that good?" As it turns out, it was more than double the second place player. They announced that I was the winner. I was like, "You're kidding me? I'm going to New York for the finals?"

So, in November I flew by myself to New York City to play in the championships. Just so you know, back then I was a loner. I lived by myself. I flew to NYC, met the other contestants. The kid from Dallas, we kept calling him Tex, and the kid from Chicago was being sponsored by some appliance store. He had this big t-shirt on him and was like the total sponsor hog. Of course, when the game played, the aliens landed on him in ten minutes. So he got kicked out.

So they finally started the game. They had five TVs, five Ataris, and they gave each one of us a shirt with our cities on it. Mine said Los Angeles. It was sudden death. We'd just play the game, and we'd get three bases, maximum difficulty level, and the idea was to see who'd be the last man standing.

After an hour and 45 minutes, only the guy from Chicago was out. Everyone else was still just killing the aliens. They had a whole bunch of press behind us, and they were getting antsy -- because an hour and 45 minutes of Space Invaders does get kind of boring. So then they just said, "Okay, so that concludes the Space Invaders tournament!" I was like, "Does that mean we can stop playing?" I just reached over and yanked out the cartridge, and said "That's it! I'm done with this game!"

I wanted the Atari 800 computer that was the second place prize. The fifth place was a $50 gift certificate, the next one was $100 worth of stuff and a video game collection, but the Atari 800 computer -- oh, gosh -- I really wanted one. Because the grand prize was a standup arcade game, and I didn't want that.

So they then said fifth place goes to Chicago, fourth place goes to Texas, third place went to Hing Ning of San Francisco. I was sitting there going, "I got the computer! I got the computer!" And then when they said the computer goes to Frank Tetro of New York, I went "Crap!" Then they said "The winner of the Space Invaders Tournament is the kid from Los Angeles!"

So they asked me how I felt. "Uhh, uhh." But because I won that tournament, I got to meet up with Arnie Katz and Bill Kunkel of Electronic Games Magazine and started writing some articles for them on how to beat video games. I was a consultant for a book called How to Master the Video games and How to Master the Home Video games.

After about six months, I let Arnie Katz know that I knew how to program the Atari 2600. And he was like, "That's impossible, you're just a kid." Well, I'd made my own dev kit. And then he said that a company in Maryland named Avalon Hill was really looking for anybody who could program the Atari. I said, "Sure!"

So they called me up and within ten minutes said, "You're hired. Here's a plane ticket, come work for us. And you are 18, right?" And I said, "Yep!" In reality, nope. I lied my ass off for a couple years because I started in the video game business when I was 14.

I worked for Avalon Hill and taught them how to program the 2600. I worked on London Blitz and Out of Control. Then I started going from company to company, doing some work for Time Warner on a Play Cable system, then did some consulting, but I wanted to leave New York. My friend Alan Pavlish kept saying there was a company named Boone Corporation who could really use some VIC-20 programmers. So I said, "If he gets me back to California, please!"

So I got a job there and was doing Chuck Norris Super Kicks and Robin Hood contracted by Xonox. We had a running joke in the office that if you were being bad, you'd get stuck with a Xonox game. So I must have been bad because I worked on three of them.

After that, I started working on some original titles, Final Eclipse that never got shipped, and an original version of The Demon's Forge done by Brian Fargo. I was redoing some of the graphics routines for him, but then Boone Corporation folded. We were all fired. That's when employees of Boone, Brian Fargo, Troy Worrell, Jay Patel, and myself with an investor named Chris Wells, got together and thought -- we could do better. Brian got us a contract with World Book Encyclopedia doing some cheesy chain titles, and we created a company named Interplay.

I still remember when we were signing the lease. The guy asked about the name of the company. I didn't know. "It was 83 production place. Interplay Production!" Okay...Of course, the first two years of Interplay, we had all these companies calling us about "Intercourse" and "Foreplay" productions and requesting our catalog of X-rated stuff. But that started my video game career. I was at Interplay for eleven and a half years.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 7 Next

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