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  • Austin GDC 2007: When Did You Last Level Up?

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  • Brought to you by The Art Institute Online
    Austin Game Developer Transcripts
    "When Did You Last Level Up?"
    September 7, 2007
    Speakers: Dave Perry, interviewed by Jamil Moledina

    Host: Good afternoon, everyone. It is my honor to introduce Jamil Moledina, executive director of the Game Developers Conference in this open interview with game industry luminary Dave Perry.

    Jamil Moledina: Thank you, everyone. Welcome. Since we are setting this up in the spirit of an armchair conversation, I guess there aren't armchairs here, but I would like to invite you all to move up a little bit, especially folks in the back so we can just have a more intimate conversation. Trust me, we don't bite. We're okay. Thank you.

    I have known Dave for some time. I have had the honor of working with him. He is on the GDC advisory board, and he has got a very interesting history. He has got a very iconic kind of bond with the development community, and he started out teaching himself how to be a developer. He programmed his own games. He has been in the business now for 25 years. He has had multiple number one hit games, including Terminator, Earthworm Jim, Aladdin, a couple of Matrix games with the Wachowskis, and he is now doing some very interesting MMO projects with Acclaim. So we are very pleased and honored to have him with us here today. Please join me in welcoming Dave to the stage.

    Dave Perry: Thank you. Good to see you.

    JM: Good to see you.

    DP: So last night Jamil and I had dinner and we were talking about what we were going to talk about today and I agreed not to hit all the parties last night and to sit and start collecting up some images to bring along. So while we're talking, if I can find them quickly, I wanted to show you some images that I dug up. They are pretty fun.

    JM: Absolutely, absolutely. And of course there will be a couple of curves that go over the plate, too, so be prepared.

    DP: Ask anything you like. No problem.

    JM: One of the biggest questions I think a lot of us have, we've seen you around the game industry for quite a while, probably a big question on everyone's mind is, are you really the tallest developer in the industry?

    DP: Yes, yes indeed, I am. I am the tallest. I did actually have a picture here of myself with Phil Harrison. There we go, that proves it. Phil used to be the tallest until he shaved his head.


    DP: So there is Phil. No. Basically in the business, everyone, when I was in college and stuff, they expected me to be playing basketball, but I was just dreadful at it. I would always get picked first for the teams and I was just like, "This is clearly not the right thing for me to be doing." So the game industry seemed like a lot more fun.

    JM: Well, we were talking about your growing up in Northern Ireland in the early 70s and 80s. What was the gameplay experience like then for you?

    DP: Well, back in Ireland, they were actually lagging behind a little bit even where it was in England. They weren't quite there yet. So it was very, very basic kind of stuff.

    I have a note here of a typical kind of video game. This would be written in BASIC and I would be sitting here typing this listing in if I wanted to play this game. There were no games on the shelves that I could buy at that time, and you can see that this listing in the top right corner is line number 1,980. That's a lot of typing to play this game.

    The problem was that back in those days, when you finished typing something like this in, which had to be correct or it didn't play properly, then you would save it onto cassette tape. But we were pretty poor and so we couldn't afford the cassette tape, so it meant that what we would actually do is type the whole thing in and then play it, and if you ever wanted to play that game again, you would have to type the whole thing in again.

    The good news was that when you're typing all that stuff in, when you're going through there and you see the words, "Lives equal three," you can just go, oh, what if I do "Lives equal 100," and you actually end up hacking into the code. It was a really good way to get to learn how games are made. And then we kind of moved onto assembly language, "this looks more like this." And then we went into how do we publish our games, and this is how we published them. This was a magazine which was photocopied pieces of paper with a staple through it, mailed to people and so you would send your listing to them, they would print it and send it around other enthusiasts, so that is how we got our games out. Then they got professional, so we started to do these little books and the books would be sold in news agents. You can see here: five games for one pound 25, so that is a couple of bucks for five games, and that's just how we went about it. It was very different from over in America where you were buying cartridge games for Atari and things like that.

    JM: But also you mentioned these were sold at news agents, so it sounds like there was a completely different distribution system as well.

    DP: Yeah, it started that way and then if you went to buy games generally at trade shows and things like that, you would buy them in plastic bags. You'd put a little cassette tape in a plastic bag. And then it kind of evolved from there into full retail. It was a very, very slow start to be quite honest, those five games, five cassette tapes to choose from.

    JM: So if your game is ultimately on cassette tape, and you showed us an image of a cassette device, what were you actually programming on? What were you using?

    DP: The kind of machines that we used back then -- I grabbed a picture of the Sinclair ZX-81 as a good example. Let me see if I've got that there. This was really the machine that most of the really old school game developers from the United Kingdom started on, and the people who made it, the guy, Clive Sinclair, built this machine, and his thought was that people would use it for business. So you can see at the bottom: this is some guy working with his kid on their homework and you can see the printer is printing out some kind of statistical analysis. And little did he know he was like the father of the game business in the United Kingdom because what he also did was he included the basic programming manual. And so that is what we did, is we learned how to program the thing and so the games looked somewhat like this. This was the official Battlestar Galactica game, and you can see the graphics aren't so amazing.

    I think the big difference back in those days was you had to have a bit of an imagination to really enjoy the games. If you wanted to believe you were playing "Death Rider," you would have to have a pretty good imagination. But people would play these things for hours.

    And then there was some weird stuff too. This would have been by the Will Wright of that time: "I'm going to do a breeding game." It's just completely, "What? You're going to do what?" And you go and basically choose the next lucky rabbit, and you're like, "What on earth is that?"

    But what was interesting is the industry took a big jump whenever we went -- it originally was very, very limited to what you could actually do. And then they came out with a 16K RAM pack, and when people plugged that into the machine it gave them a lot more memory. And to put that into context, this eBay logo is 16K, so by plugging this in, I could now store that eBay logo in the computer. But what's interesting about it is that that 16K let people get very creative.

    This is a flight simulator that -- I personally spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking I could fly airplanes by the end of it. And that's what it looked like. And you can see down here in the bottom, it's a 16K game, and that is really how things really got moving in the United Kingdom. When the memory went up, the quality went up.


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