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I agree with you, and I think that that's why Choplifter is still remembered today -- because how many little Apple II games do they still talk about today?
DG: The other thing to remember is it's such a different world when you're developing a game on your own, which is the way it was done back then. It'd still be a couple years before games were developed in teams, and when you're on your own, nobody's going, "Well, that's not the way it's done." "Well, we don't have any market data to show that kind of game is good." You don't have to deal with that stuff at all.
You did the game your way, and you send it off to somebody, and if they like it... The Brøderbund people were always really open minded. They're intelligent people, so they saw something different, they'd go "Wow!" They'd sit down and play it, and either it was fun or it wasn't fun. It was kind of a no brainer.
The one day that everybody remembers is -- I was in the room for this one -- is when Tetris came through, submitted to Brøderbund. And everyone was just, "What? It just isn't really going to be such an interesting game," and of course it turned into a huge amazing success.
But they had a lot of great success stories, and almost always it was them finding something that had a seed of something great, and then nurturing the people, and really giving them the time to just finish it off. And nobody was happy until it was done. There was no kind of marketing pressure, or, "It's got to be done for Christmas." None of that kind of thing. Just, "When it's done, it's done."
DG: Really, I don't know how they'd do that with the budgets of today's games. I mean, there was no budget. Brøderbund, they'd give you an office, maybe. I didn't even have that. I had my own house, and I was working out of my house. It's not like they had a huge overhead for doing this kind of thing. There overhead was just the time they spent caring about it, and you hanging around at their house, and sleeping at their place, and using their hot tub. And it was fun for everybody.
So did they fund it at all, or was it just purely royalties?
DG: It's purely royalties, and most of the projects were like that. Now Print Shop, those two guys, they worked with Brøderbund in the offices for about a year. So in that sense, I guess they did fund it. I don't think they were paying them anything. I think they just thought it was a great idea, so they provided the space to work on it, and those guys had a royalties deal that was probably just as good as mine, and they did really, really well.
Lode Runner was around the same time, and Doug Smith already had Lode Runner already kind of running on some of the networks at the time, so he already kind of had a working version. He was around the offices, and I remember one night, we stayed up all night and I did the music for his Atari version of Lode Runner -- we were all sort of helping each other out. I don't think that was funded either, in any way, except for just some office space and time.
It was only later that they started putting money forth, and in those situations, the royalties were much less, and it actually there was a lot of tension caused when they finally started to get real about, "If we're hiring people to work, they're not being hired for royalties. They're being hired for pay." So when you offer people royalties and they say, "You're going to get rich," but they're also giving you salary, they never get rich. And sometimes that made people very angry, and that was a very difficult transition for the industry, I think.
Choplifter! (Apple II version)
Yeah, I bet. So you, yourself, said that Choplifter was a very simple game, but are there any hidden behaviors, or little touches in the original that people might not have noticed?
DG: I don't think so. I think it was all pretty out in the open. If there's anything interesting about it, you would never see the same game twice. There was nothing really scripted. Even today, when I go to rent a game, the idea of scripting somebody's motion is just, it's a foreign language to me.
There's a character, it looks around in its environment every second, and decides what to do with that moment. And so there's a certain kind of organic feeling that might have come from just the way that I approached that. Each character was his own little world. He'd look around, he'd go, "Oh, this is what I've got to do now." And so as a result, you just never got the same game twice. You can do that even with a simple game. I think that's about the only element I can think of that people might not have noticed.
That was something that Choplifter did that was actually unique for the time. Arcade games had that kind of thing, or limited versions of it, but with Choplifter, it would actually play itself. I wrote a player as a program. He was kind of moderately good, and he could usually get almost through the first level -- a different game every time, so it made for an interesting splash screen.
Yeah, because you still have the emergent behavior of everyone in the world, even though the player is scripted, right?
DG: He was looking to see what was around, and going for it. It all became very organic.
I don't know any cheat codes or any of that kind of thing; there was some cheat codes, but I can't even remember what they are. Screen upside down -- good stuff.