Today, Chris Crawford is probably best known for his contributions to the dialog of game design, including his founding of the Computer Game Developers Conference, publishing the Journal of Computer Game Design , and writing the book The Art of Computer Game Design . In particular, The Art of Computer Game Design , though written in 1983, remains the best work ever published on the subject, and served as the inspiration for this book. The brilliance of Crawford s games cannot be denied either, including such undisputed classics as Eastern Front (1941), Balance of Power , and Crawford s personal favorite, Trust & Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot . For most of the 90s Crawford devoted himself to his labor of love, the interactive storytelling system called the Erasmatron, a tool that shows great promise for transforming interactive stories from mostly prewritten affairs into truly dynamic experiences. Most recently he has continued to contribute to the dialog of interactive design, having authored two new books, Understanding Interactivity/The Art of Interactive Design and Chris Crawford on Game Design .
What initially attracted you to making a computer play a game?
That actually started back in 1966, when I was a high school sophomore, and a friend of mine named David Zeuch introduced me to the Avalon Hill board wargames . We played those, and I thought they were a lot of fun. I played them into college, though I didn t have a lot of free time during my college years . When I was in graduate school, I ran into a fellow who worked at the computer center, and he was trying to get Blitzkrieg , an Avalon Hill game, running on the computer. I told him he was crazy. I said, That can t be done, forget it. But that conversation planted a seed. I thought about it, and about a year later I decided I was going to attempt it. So I went to work and it turned out to be nowhere near as difficult as I had feared. So I ended up putting together a little program on an IBM 1130 in FORTRAN. It actually ran a computer game, a little tactical armored simulation. The debut of that game came early in 1976 when I showed it off at a little wargame convention that we held. Everybody played it and thought it was a great deal of fun. So then I bought myself a KIM-1 and redid the whole thing around that system. That design was unmatched for many years, because you had genuine hidden movement. I had built little tiny terminals, as I called them, and each player had his own little map and little pieces, and a screen to divide the two players. Two guys played this wargame, each one unaware of the position of the other. It was a lot of fun, and that was 1977 or 78.
What made you at first think it would be impossible ?
The difficulties of organizing the artificial intelligence for it. I thought, That s just going to be impossible. And the hex-grid motion, I figured that was probably computable, and in fact it turns out it s not that difficult. But I figured that doing armored tactical planning on the computer, at the time, seemed ridiculous. Now, you have to remember that was twenty-five years ago, and given the state of AI back then, I was really on rather solid ground thinking it impossible. But as it happens I solved that problem, marginally, within a year.
What made you think it would be worthwhile to put games on the computer?
I was driven by one thing and that was blind play. I was very concerned that, no matter how you looked at it, with board games you could always see what the other guy was up to. And that always really bothered me, because it was horribly unrealistic . It just didn t seem right, and I thought the games would be much more interesting blind. And, in fact, when we did them, they were immensely powerful games, far more interesting than the conventional games. And as soon as I saw that, I knew that this was the way to go. And board-play technology has never been able to match that simple aspect of it. It was so much fun sneaking up behind your opponent and, as they say, sending 20 kilograms up his tailpipe. It was really impressive stuff, very heady times.
So from that early work, how did you come to work at Atari?
Well, actually a bit more transpired first. I got a Commodore Pet and programmed that in BASIC with some assembly language routines to handle the hex-grid stuff. I had shown my tactical armored game at some wargame conventions and everyone had been very impressed. So then I actually made Tanktics into a commercial product and sold it on the Commodore Pet for fifteen bucks. And then I did another game called Legionnaire , also on the Commodore Pet. And based on that I got a job at Atari, doing game design there. Actually, I was one of the few job candidates they had ever had who had any experience designing computer games. It s hard to appreciate just how tiny everything was. The very notion of a computer game was, itself, very esoteric.
What was the atmosphere like at Atari then?
It was heady. Again, it s very difficult for people nowadays to appreciate how different things were just twenty years ago. I remember a conversation with Dennis Koble. We met one morning in the parking lot as we were coming into work, and we were chatting on the way in. And I remember saying, You know, some day game design will be a developed profession. And he said, Yeah, maybe someday we ll be like rock stars! And we both laughed at how absurd that thought was. There were, in the world, a couple dozen game designers, most of them at Atari. And everybody knew each other, at least everyone at Atari, and it was all very cozy. And many of them did not consider themselves to be game designers.
For example, I remember a meeting where the department manager said, All right everybody, we need to print up new business cards for everybody, and we need to select what kind of title you want. And there was something of a debate among the staff whether they wanted to be listed as Game Designer or Programmer. I remember people saying, Gee, you know, if we put our titles down as Game Designer, we may not be able to get another job. And I think we ended up going with Game Programmer. But game design was nowhere near the thing it is today, it was just a very obscure thing. I remember telling people when they d ask me, What do you do? And I d say, I design games for Atari. And they d say, Wow. That s really strange . How do you do that? It was a very exotic answer back then.
Were you able to do whatever you wanted in terms of game design?
It depended on what you were doing. If you were doing a VCS [Atari 2600] game, then you talked your games over with your supervisor, but there was considerable freedom. The feeling was, We need plenty of games anyway, and we really need the creativity here, so just follow your nose, see what works, see if you can come up with anything interesting. And in general the supervisor gave you a lot of latitude, unless you were doing a straight rip-off of somebody else s design. So in that area we had lots of freedom. But once you got your design complete, there would be a design review where all of the other designers would look it over and make their comments. This wasn t a marketing thing, it was a design level review.
Everybody wanted to program the computer [the Atari 800] because it was so much more powerful than the VCS. So at the time I started, in 1979, the policy was that you had to prove yourself by doing a game on the VCS first. And only then could you go to the computer. Well, I mumbled and grumbled; I didn t like that idea at all. But I learned the VCS, and I did a game on it. However, another policy they had was that all games had to be done in 2K of ROM. They were just coming out with the 4K ROMs, but at the time those were rather expensive. And so the feeling was, You can t do a 4K ROM. You ve got to prove yourself, prove that you re a worthy designer if we re going to give you all that space. We ve got to know you can use it well. So I had to do a 2K game.
And I did one called Wizard , which I think was rather clever and worked in 2K. Although I got it done in record time, I finished it just as Atari was starting to get its 4K games out. Everybody started realizing that the 4K games were not just a little better, but immensely superior to the 2K games. So there was a feeling that anything that was marketed is going to be compared against the 4K games, and my design as a 2K game just couldn t compare with a 4K game. So the other designers ended up saying, This is a very nice design, for 2K, but it just doesn t cut it. They wanted it redesigned for 4K. I could have redesigned it for 4K and gotten it published, but my feeling was, OK, look. I ve done my game on the VCS, now I d like to move on to the computer. So let s not screw around here. So I argued that, Look, this was designed as a 2K game, we re not going to simply add features to it. If you want a 4K game, we start over; that s the only way to do it right. And mumble-mumble, I was able to sneak past it and be allowed to go straight to the Atari 800. So that game was never published. And I had no regrets.
So your biggest commercial success while at Atari was Eastern Front (1941). But I understand that you had trouble convincing people that a wargame would be successful. Were you confident a lot of people would like it?
No no, I didn t really care. My feeling was, this is the game I wanted to design, so I did it in my spare time. This was nights and weekends. Meanwhile, I was doing plenty of other stuff at work. In October or November of 1980 I was promoted away from game design. I was basically the first hardware evangelist. I did for the Atari what Guy Kawasaki did for the Macintosh. And, actually, I was successful at that. I did a very good job of attracting people to work on the Atari, because it was so much better than the Apple and all it needed was a good technical salesman . So I traveled the country giving these seminars , handing out goodies , and so forth. And I generated a lot of excitement among the programmer community, and the Atari really took off. There was this explosion of software about a year after I started that task. I take primary credit for that.
So anyway, I started that task in October or November of 1980, and as part of that I was putting out these software demos to show off the various features of the Atari. And I told myself, I m finally going to take the time to teach myself this scrolling feature that everybody knows is in there, but nobody has actually gotten around to using. So I sat down and started messing around with it, and within a couple of weeks I had a very nice demo up and running. I built a big scrolling map and I thought, Boy, this is pretty neat. And by the standards of the day this was revolutionary. It went way way way beyond anything else, just mind-blowing. And I remember taking that to S.S.I. which, at the time, was the top wargame company working on the Apple. And I showed it to the fellow there, and he was very unenthusiastic. He said, Whoop-de-do, this will never make a good wargame. I think it was some kind of prejudice against Atari, that Atari is not a real computer. I was kind of disjointed , and I thought, Jeez, what a narrow-minded attitude. So I decided, I ll do it myself. I did this game in the classic way that many games are done nowadays: I started off with a cute technical feature and said, How can I show off this wonderful graphics trick? So I said, Let s build a game around the scrolling. I went to work and built Eastern Front . I had it working by June of 81, but the gameplay was awful . It took me about two months to finish up the gameplay.
We released it through APX [the Atari Program Exchange] in August of 1981 and it was a huge success. It was generally considered to be the second definitive Atari game, the first being Star Raiders of course.
So you actually made the fancy graphical effects first, and then built the game around that?
That s a phase every designer has to go through. You start off designing around cute techie tricks, and as you mature as a designer you put that behind you.
So you ended up releasing the source code for Eastern Front (1941). What motivated you to do that?
It was an extremely unconventional act. My feeling was, this is a fast-moving field. I m good. I ll have new, wonderful technological discoveries by the time other people start using this. I ll be on to something else. I didn t feel any sense of possessiveness: This is mine, I don t want anybody else to know. My feeling was and continues to be that we all profit more from the general advance of the industry. But I m not an intellectual property anarchist. I do believe people have rights to claim certain things as theirs. I just feel that this should be done with great restraint, and only in situations where there is something very big which took a lot of work. I felt this was just a little techie stunt , no big deal. So I gave it away.
It s funny . There were a number of technologies that I gave away that nobody really used. The scrolling one was a good example: there were a couple of attempts to use it, but they were all half-hearted. Then the other thing, I never could get anybody to learn a wonderful graphics trick that was shown to me by Ed Logg, and I sort of picked it up and ran with it. I did a number of extensions which took it well beyond what he showed me. But it was a wonderful thing for doing dissolves , a variety of transitions, and it was beautiful. Very clever code. You applied this to a bitmap and, wow, you could get fantastic things happening. And I used that a number of times and nobody else ever seemed to bother to use it. But I think lots of people did look at the Eastern Front source code as a way of realizing that games aren t that hard to write.
So did your evangelism work take away from the amount of time you were able to spend developing games?
Well, I was software evangelist for only a year. I was then asked by Alan Kay to join his research team. In fact, I was the first guy he invited. For about three months the Atari Research Division consisted of Alan Kay, myself, Alan s administrative assistant, Wanda Royce, and my employee, Larry Summers. And the only place they could put us back then was in the executive suites, there was a spare room there. And there were Larry and I doing programming in the executive suites. Ray Kassar, the Atari president, was a very stuffy, straightlaced guy. And he really resented our being up there. I mean, it really bothered him. So we got a new building real quick.
I m curious about another game you did during your Atari days, Gossip . Was that game ever released?
Yes, it was released, but it was released just as Atari was going down in flames, so nobody had any opportunity to see it. Gossip was an immensely important game in that I tackled interpersonal relationships. I had realized very early that computer games had an emotional sterility about them, and I spent a long time thinking about that. I finally decided that the crucial factor was the absence of characters , of people. And I remember writing an essay , way back then, entitled People not Things, arguing that computer games were very thing oriented, and that we had to focus our energies on people. So I attempted to design something around people and interpersonal interaction. And Gossip is what I came up with. A very simple design, but way ahead of its time in terms of its goals.
So what was the gameplay like?
It was solely about what I call circumferential relationships affecting radial relationships. Basically the idea was that you had a group of eight people, and your goal was to be popular. This was just before the high school prom, and you wanted to be elected king or queen of the prom, and so you were doing your politics. And the way you did this was by calling people up. It had a really cute interface. There were eight people sitting in two rows of four; they looked like panelists on a game show. You were the one in the upper left corner. And you would use the joystick to select one of the other seven players, and then you pushed the button and the telephone would ring at that person s station. He d pick up the phone. Then you would use the joystick to point at another person. And then, once you d selected that other person, you d push the joystick up or down to show a facial expression ranging from a big smile and nodding your head up and down all the way to a big frown and shaking your head from side to side. These were expressions of how much you liked or disliked this person. So you d point to someone and say, I like them this much, and then your interlocutor would say, Well, I like them this much. Then your interlocutor would tell you things about what other people were saying: This person likes him this much, and that person likes him that much. And the idea was, you would try to read the social clustering and decide which clique are you going to join so as to ingratiate yourself to everyone else. To some extent this involved a certain amount of deception. You d tell everyone, Oh, I like you very much and you d say, Oh, if you hate him, then I hate him too. But you could get caught at it, and that would really hurt; you did have to be quite careful in all of this. It was a very interesting little game.
What was the mind-set like at Atari during the video game crash?
There was a sense of catastrophe. It turns out that it was solely a matter of momentum. That is, all that really happened was that Atari went bust. Atari did a lot of things really wrong, and those are what led to its going bust. It s just that in going bust, it discredited an entire industry, and so many companies that hadn t done anything wrong and were perfectly healthy , they went bust too. It was just a matter of an industry collapsing because its lead company was greatly discredited. It was kind of silly in many ways.
Everyone just convinced themselves that bust was upon us and everyone decided, Oh, we re all going to die, so let s just die. The underlying forces had not changed by much.
So things were able to pick up. Unfortunately, the recovery surprised everybody by its shape. The initial collapse discredited video games, but not really computer games as much. Unfortunately , at the time, most computer games were just copies of video games. Hence, many computer game companies that were deriving all of their sales from video games collapsed . It was really bad for a while there. I couldn t get a job, I couldn t get anything. There were two new things for me: Balance of Power and the Macintosh. I had some serious discussions with the people at Amiga as to whether I wanted to do software evangelism for them. And really this boiled down to a choice between platforms. Which platform am I going to run with ” the Mac or the Amiga? I gave that a lot of thought, because I realized you hitch your star to a platform. I chose the Macintosh, which turned out to be the right decision.
I went to work on Balance of Power . My big hope then was that we could maybe rebuild the industry along more rational lines. And, you know, there was a real chance there. That was the crucial moment of truth for the computer games industry, the period from 85 through 87. And it took the wrong turn . Actually, 1990 was when the fate of the industry was sealed. And if anything sealed it, it was Chris Roberts Wing Commander . But we had a real opening there for a while; it looked like we might pull it off.
How do you think Wing Commander sealed the fate of the industry?
The big question for the industry in 1985 was what, if anything, will sell? Nobody seemed to know for sure, but there were a few strands. The fact that Balance of Power was a huge hit suggested to people that perhaps serious games might have a future, or at least games that weren t video games. And there was a lot of excitement about exploring some of those ideas. The other games that were a big success back then were the whole series of Infocom games, which continued to do well right through the crash.
Because they were clearly different from video games.
Yes. And you put those two together, and it pointed strongly in one direction. So there was a lot of effort in that direction. The industry was still torn because it was so much easier to design the video games, and they did seem to sell to a group of people who weren t affected by the crash. We really teetered on that fence: which way are we going to go ” video games or a broad range of game possibilities? What sealed it was Wing Commander , for two reasons. The main thing that Wing Commander did that doomed the industry was that it bought market share. That is, Wing Commander was a hugely expensive program to write. It s funny; Chris Roberts has denied that it cost much, but that s because of some creative internal accounting. Back in those days, around 1990, a typical budget for a game would be $100,000 to $200,000. There were some done cheaper, but $300,000 was a very expensive game. Wing Commander probably cost about $1,000,000. By the standards of the day that was considered absurd. And in fact, I ve been told by an Origin insider that Wing Commander by itself never paid back its investment, but that the follow-ups and add-ons did. But what they were really doing was spending so much money that it would only work if it became the top hit. It did. The problem then was, they ve raised the bar for the whole industry, we all have to produce $1,000,000 games, and unfortunately they can only work if each one is the number one game. And you can only have one number one game. So that, in turn, forced the industry to become much more conservative. We ve got these huge expenses, we simply can t make money turning out a number twenty game. Anything less than being in the top ten will lose money. So very quickly it became a hit-driven business. That was already starting in the late 80s, but Wing Commander sealed it. So once it became a hit-driven industry, the whole marketing strategy, economics, and everything changed, in my opinion, much for the worse . The other thing was that Wing Commander also seemed to reestablish or reconfirm the role of the action game as the wave of the future. And basically that s where the industry solidified, and the cement has now set.
It was right before the crash that you wrote The Art of Computer Game Design , wasn t it?
Yes, actually I started that as soon as I joined Atari Research. It s funny, one of my goals at Atari Research was, Let s really sharpen up the whole field of game design. So I, in essence, tried to create a computer game developer s conference within Atari. I tried to set up a Friday afternoon seminar. And some politics got in the way. I sent out invitations to all the designers throughout Atari, and some pig-headed guy who was running the software group at coin-op was furious that I didn t route it through him. I didn t follow the hierarchy properly, and he therefore sent out a memo forbidding any of his employees to go. That s one of the reasons why Atari collapsed; there was a lot of pig-headed ego crap going on. So the seminars never really came off. I therefore decided, OK, I ll write these ideas down. I started working on the book. I finished it in 1982, but Ray Kassar, the CEO, was also pig-headed and insisted that he personally approve the manuscript before we sent it out to a publisher. So I sent it to him, and he sat on it for a year.
Do you still look back on the book positively?
I certainly have come a long ways. Had I known that fifteen years later people would still be reading it and deriving some benefit from it, I would have been flabbergasted, and I simply would not have believed it. I still get e- mails referring to it. There s no question it s still providing people with some benefit. And that says some very bad things about the whole games industry and the games community, how little thinking there is going on. It s shameful.
There s really no other book like it at all.
Yes, all the other attempts just turn out to be programming books. It is shameful that no one has gone beyond that book.
Ever since you published that book, you have been very concerned with sharing your thoughts about game design with the community. I m curious why that is.
There are two very separate reasons. First, sharpening my own thinking through writing, which I do a great deal of. And second, communicating ideas to others. There is some overlap. Most of the time I write for myself. I have reams and reams of little design essays on particular designs, where I muse with myself on design issues.
However, I will sometimes write an essay solely for public consumption, put it up on the web or something, and that is done with a very different purpose. But I often write with both purposes.
So did your writings about game design lead to your establishing the Computer Game Developers Conference?
I had started off by founding the Journal of Computer Game Design . That turned out to be quite a success; it rose up to one hundred to one hundred fifty subscribers rather quickly. And by the time it reached that level, I realized that it really would be possible to have a conference, there were enough people out there. So I decided to have a little miniature conference at my home. I just put a little notice in the Journal , saying, I m going to put together a conference, it s going to be at this date. And anybody who wants to come, contact me. We ended up having twenty-six people show up to this conference, one day long, and we all sat in the big room upstairs and talked about game design. It was a very exciting experience! Everybody agreed, this is great, this is wonderful, we ve got to do this again. They all turned to me and said, Chris, do it again. I said OK. I thought about it for a while and then I decided it would be really good if I broadened participation in this by recruiting some other people to help me. I decided the only way they were going to be really involved was if they had a sense of ownership. If I brought them in as assistants to me, it would never really work. So I decided to create a corporation with a board of directors, and I invited five other people to be on the board. And to give them a sense of ownership, even though I owned the whole thing free and clear and had gotten it rolling with my own money, I basically just gave away ownership.
Everybody had an equal share in the conference. We set up the conference, and it was a huge success, and it just grew and grew every year.
Did you foresee it growing to be the mammoth event it is now?
No, and to some extent that reflects a violation of my initial intentions. We had some clear disputes within the board: is this a show, like E3, or is this an academic conference, like AAAI? My feeling was that the core of this is the exchange of ideas among developers. We can have a show, but it s got to be a sideshow. It s always tucked away in a corner. This conference is designed around people sharing ideas, and that s why I came up with the idea of the roundtables. Unfortunately, it is now a show, and the conference is now a secondary activity.
So after Atari you became an independent game developer. Why did you do that instead of opting to return to a big company?
Well, at first it was forced on me. But then, once I got going, I was working on Balance of Power and it was an independent project. It was more inertia than anything else.
Do you prefer being independent?
Yes, I am very much a solitary worker. I am very concerned with my efficiency and how much I get done. When you re working with other people, you spend a lot of time just holding their hand, explaining things to them, helping them out, rather than actually getting anything done. I felt I had a lot of ideas, and if I really wanted to explore them I had to explore them alone.
So what originally started you working on Balance of Power ?
It was a sort of a culmination. My interest in wargames arose because I was part of the Vietnam generation. While a lot of people wanted to resist the war, I wanted to understand war so that I could ultimately do something about it. I felt that protesting in the streets was very ad hoc, a very temporary solution, and not very effective either. I was asking questions like, how do wars get started? All through the early 70s and early 80s, I was very much a student of warfare , learning everything I could about military history. Finally, by 1984, I felt I had figured that out well enough that I could design a game around some of those concepts. I would say that the emotional support for the game was the Bob Dylan song Blowin in the Wind. You know, How many times must the cannonballs fly before they re forever banned? That was the thing that gave me the emotional inspiration to continue with the project even though there were many points where it looked impossible. I was taking a completely different approach to design and exploring new territory and there were many times when it looked hopeless. It took a lot of emotional toil to get over those problems and carry on.
But you thought the concept was compelling enough to be worth it?
Yes. I really wanted to do an un-wargame. We have plenty of wargames.
And in Balance of Power when you get to the point of having a war you have lost.
Yes, that was very much the point of the game. I don t know if you remember, but if there was a war, the screen would go black, and it would say, We do not reward failure. That was very much a surprise to many people.
At any time were you concerned that the game was too different?
I did not expect it to become a hit, but I felt it was important to do. This was exactly the same thing that happened with Eastern Front . I did Eastern Front for myself and then, lo and behold, everybody loved it. Well, that s very nice. I did Balance of Power for myself and, gee, everybody loved it. But I also did other games for myself that were dismal failures, commercially speaking.
How did you go about balancing realism with the gameplay in Balance of Power ?
People talk about realism versus playability as if it s a dilemma. I see it more as a matter of sharpening things. An artist, painting a portrait, will deliberately accentuate certain components of the face that he feels bring out the character of the subject. They don t see that as realism versus playability, they see that as art. In the same way I felt that I needed to sharpen up, editorially and artistically, those elements that I thought clearly showed the issues at stake. So I certainly made the world a much more dangerous place. I took out a lot of the boring complexities, simplified it down, and sharpened it up to a game about pure, direct geopolitical rivalry between the two superpowers. And that s all it was, clearly showing that conflict.
I ve read that Trust & Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot is your favorite of your games. Why is that?
Every game I have done has been original, with the exception of the second Balance of Power , which I did at the urgent request of my publisher. With that one exception everything I have done has been a new design. But with Siboot I went much further out than with any other game, that is, in terms of just how far I took the design beyond the conventions of game design. Siboot was easily the most advanced. I explored ideas with Siboot that people still have not even come close to. We were talking about Gossip as in some ways ahead of other games. Siboot went way, way beyond Gossip . The other thing about Siboot was it wasn t just one good idea. There were at least three major ideas in Siboot , each one of them worthy of a game all by itself.
And then there were lots of other little ideas. Here s an example of a little idea. There s now a user interface concept called tool tips. If you put the cursor over something and leave it there for a few seconds, it pops up some descriptive text. I anticipated that and came up with something vaguely similar, where you could click and hold on a button to see its functionality. That was four years before tool tips were first noted as a user interface item in the PC world. That wasn t a major idea on my part; I considered it to be just a minor little thing, but at the time, nobody had anything like that.
So what were the three major innovations?
First, the language, use of language as the primary interface element. You talk to the other creatures . I see this as completely different than the text parser approach, because I really don t think that s linguistic communication, that s something very different. Second, it used an inverse parser. Actually, the core concept behind the parser was patented by Texas Instruments in 1979. I didn t know that at the time. However, my implementation was different enough that we were never concerned with any patent infringement issues. TI s approach was more menu driven. Mine, in the end, boiled down to being functionally similar to a menu, but technically it s called a palette. So I didn t invent that concept, but I developed its implementation and showed very clearly how to do that kind of thing. That was a major innovation, and I m sad to say that nobody seems to have run with that concept. The third major game innovation was the use of non-transitive combat relationships, which has been used in some games since then. That was basically just an extension of the rock-scissors-paper idea. That basic concept of non-transitive relationships has enormous potential for development; you can build whole games out of extensions of that. And there s no reason why non-transitivity has to be applied to three components. You can have a ring that has twelve components and then the implications of victory or defeat in the non-transitive ring can be interpreted many, many ways. It s a huge area of game design to explore. This would be easy to implement. It s just that nobody is thinking along lines that unconventional.
Do you think the unconventionality of the project hurt Siboot s popularity?
Well, yes and no. Actually, it was only sold on the Mac. There was never a PC version done. I think we sold about four thousand copies on the Mac, which by the standards of the day was disappointing but not horrible. The general rule back then was that you d sell five to ten times as many on the PC as you d sell on the Mac. So we re talking twenty to forty thousand copies if there d been a PC port. But the publisher opted against doing so.
So, as with Gossip , was your goal to put people in the games?
Yes. And I took that concept of people not things much, much further with Siboot than with Gossip . Another innovation was the interstitial stories that pop up. They weren t irrelevant, they actually did tie into the overall game.
So you did Balance of Power II solely at the insistence of the publisher?
Yes. I had done Siboot , and they had published it, and it was obvious that it wasn t going to make money for them. They were obviously disappointed. They d been asking about a sequel. They pressed me hard this time, and I felt I owed them one. So I did the Balance of Power sequel.
So you didn t have great hopes to better the original?
No, and in fact I felt that Balance of Power II was little more than a clean-up of BoP I . It s funny, though. By the standards of the industry, it was a major new version and deserved to be called Second Edition. But by my standards it was just tidying up, adding some bells and whistles, but in terms of gameplay it didn t do much.
So where did the idea for Guns & Butter come from?
At about the same time, the three best game designers in the world, independently, all got the same idea. Each of us said, I m going to do a conquer-the-world game, an Empire game. (Those three were Sid Meier, Dan Bunten, and myself.) It is interesting how each of us took a completely different route. We all know how Sid took his, and it was an immense success. Sid, Dan, and I got together at one point to discuss how the three of us approached our designs. Sid had a very clear notion: he was going to make it fun. He didn t give a damn about anything else, it was going to be fun. He said, I have absolutely no reservation about fiddling with realism or anything, so long as I can make it more fun.
My approach was to make it educational, and Dan s approach was to make it social. Dan came up with this wonderful little game, Global Conquest , where you really interacted with the other people playing. I think that game was an undiscovered jewel. It bombed even worse than Guns & Butter . He had endless trouble with Electronic Arts. I don t see why he stuck with them, because they kept wanting him to put shoot- em-up elements into his games, especially M.U.L.E. I consider M.U.L.E. to be, probably, the greatest game design ever done. That is, in terms of the platform he had to work with, and the design expertise of those times, M.U.L.E. was definitely the greatest ever done. And it is a brilliant game, it is loads of fun, and it has never been ported onto a modern machine. That s a tragedy. And the reason why is that Electronic Arts insisted that the players be able to go shoot each other up. Dan refused , just said flat out, That will not happen. And Global Conquest was the same way. It was not so much about shooting as about teamwork.
My conquer-the-world game, Guns & Butter , was really more about macroeconomics. In fact, during development, it was called Macro-Economic Conquest . I think it s reasonably successful as a game to teach about how history really develops, but that s all. It was certainly one of my poorest games, no question. It really didn t have that much creativity. There were some cute ideas, but where that game had cute ideas, Siboot had thunderclaps of genius. For example, Guns & Butter had this nifty little algorithm for generating continents. I also developed a wonderful algorithm for giving names to states and provinces , and I m very proud of that algorithm; it s very clever. But this is mere cleverness , not creative genius.
Guns & Butter has some interesting ideas about balancing complex systems. But you think it did not work?
No, it didn t work, largely because I completely blew the handling of trade and alliances. That was a disaster. I think if I d given that game another six months it probably would have worked out just fine, but I rushed it.
Balance of the Planet seems to be an extremely educationally oriented game. Was that your intent?
Oh, absolutely. I had no intent whatsoever to make something that was fun. My feeling was, OK, there are all of those shoot- em-ups and so forth, and I m not going to try to compete with those things. I m going to do a game that taps into another area of humanity. So I m going to do pure simulation, and I m going to make that simulation very realistic and very educational as well. We knew Earth Day 1990 was coming up, and we thought, We re going to release this thing in time for Earth Day. And I felt that would be one of my contributions. Again, Vietnam generation, Earth Day, and all that jazz. Balance of Power was about the Vietnam War, and Balance of the Planet was about Earth Day.
WillWright s SimEarth came out just shortly after Balance of the Planet . It s interesting to compare the two. Of course, his is more of a toy and yours is much more goal oriented.
SimEarth was not one of Will s better efforts. He s done brilliant stuff, but I think he didn t have a clear purpose with SimEarth . It was kind of, OK, here s this planet, and here are these geological processes, and here are these life forms, and There was no design focus to it. He seems to have said, Let s take SimCity and do it to the whole Earth. That kind of extrapolatory approach to design never works well. And it didn t work well for him. It was certainly more successful than Balance of the Planet , because it was a lot better looking and had plenty of cute features. But it was not as educational as Balance of the Planet.
SimEarth had a lot of interesting systems in it, but it was difficult to understand what was going on.
It was more that all of the different systems, they sort of didn t add up to anything. He had all of these simplifications, but they weren t purposeful simplifications. They were simplifications to make the internal systems accessible, but they didn t really add up to anything. The model for the way living systems develop didn t seem to make any sense to me, even though it was easy to see its results.
I ve heard Balance of the Planet criticized for not being a lot of fun. Do you see fun as the sine qua non of game design?
That s exactly the problem. Many people do see fun as the sine qua non. That s one way that the game design industry has gone down the wrong path . Basically, computer games and video games are now one, and in fact they re all video games in the sense of cute shoot- em-ups, lots of graphics, splendiferousness, and emphasis on fun in the childish sense. I see no reason why computer games needed to constrain themselves in this fashion. It s rather like somebody saying, I went to go see the movie Das Boot , but it wasn t any fun, so it s a crummy movie. Well, I m sorry, but Das Boot was not meant to be fun. I think we could agree that Saving Private Ryan is not a fun movie, but it is a damn good one. And the same thing goes for Schindler s List . And, sure, there are plenty of fun movies. Star Wars was lots of fun. But Hollywood doesn t constrain itself the way the games industry does. I suppose that was the whole thrust of my efforts all through the 80s and into the early 90s, to help the games industry become a broad-based entertainment industry, rather than a kiddie , fun industry. I failed at that. It is now most definitely not an entertainment industry, and never will be. They ve painted themselves into a corner from which they can never extricate themselves. It s rather like comics. It s a shame to see the medium of comics used brilliantly by people like Spiegelman and McCloud, yet it is relegated to the comic book stores where the kids chewing bubble gum come. Not enough adults take graphic novels seriously. Some progress is evident, but it s a slow, slow process. I m not sure they ll ever pull themselves out of that dump.
So you think the games industry has reached that same point of stagnation?
Yes. Only they re not even trying to get out; they haven t even realized yet that there s a problem.
So I guess that s what led to your leaving the games industry and starting work on the Erasmatron.
Well, there were two factors in that. Yes, I had been steadily drifting away from the games industry. The hallmark of that was the Dragon Speech I gave. That lecture was I ll just tell you how it ended. In the lecture, I d been talking about the dragon as the metaphor for this artistic goal. And, right at the end of the speech, in essence I stopped talking with the audience and had a conversation directly with the dragon. I said, And now that I have finally devoted myself heart and soul to the task of pursuing the dragon, all of a sudden, there he is, I can see him brightly and clearly. I began talking to the dragon, and that was intense . I can t remember it exactly, but I said something like, You re mighty , you re powerful, you re beautiful, but you re oh so ugly. Yes, yes, you frighten me, and then I screamed, You hurt me! I ve felt your claws ripping through my soul! I wasn t lecturing any more, this was much more acting. I let out that line you hurt me with great passion, and it frightened the audience. They weren t used to that level of passion in the technical lectures that they were familiar with. And then I said, I m not good enough to face you, I m not experienced enough, so I m going to do it now. I ve got to go face to face with you, eyeball to eyeball, and I m going to do it now, here. I reached over and I pulled out a sword and I kind of hunkered down and shouted in a battle cry, For truth, for beauty, for art, charge! I went galloping down the center aisle of the lecture hall, and I never came back.
This was at the Computer Game Developers Conference?
Yes. A lot of people thought, Well, Chris gave his swan song, he ll never come back. But in fact I came back the next year, and I had every intention of continuing to lend my expertise: I m going off in this other direction, but you guys need my help, and I will still be there. Unfortunately, a whole ugly incident with the conference board members put an end to that. What was so hurtful was not just the behavior of the board members , but also the attitude of the community, which was, Hey, this is Silicon Valley, you just gotta fight to get yours. If they play hardball, what s the big deal? My reaction was, I just don t want to be a part of this nasty community. It was so bitter an experience that moving to Oregon was an imperative. I had to get out of Silicon Valley. And it s funny, every time I go down there now, I can see the Silicon Valley greed all around me. It really bothers me.
So that drove you into working on the Erasmatron?
I had been evolving in that direction. But what made it a negative move was A, the industry was editorially going in directions I did not like, and B, the industry was going in moral and social directions that I did not like.
So how did the Erasmatron project come about?
I set out to do interactive storytelling. I said, I m going to go back, and I m going to do my King Arthur game now. Because I had done a King Arthur game at Atari that I was proud of, that had a lot of good ideas, but I felt it did not do justice to the legends, so I felt that I owed something to those legends. I started all over to do a completely new approach. That led me up to the storytelling engine. However, everything was handcoded and it was enormously difficult. We had gone the rounds to all the big companies trying to interest them in it and nobody was interested.
Just about that time, I ran into a lady named Edith Bjornson, who was with the Markle Foundation. She suggested that I take the technology in a different direction, as an enabling technology to permit non-technical people to create their own storyworlds. I very much liked the idea. So Markle funded me, and the fundamental strategy of the project was expressed in the slogan Unleash a tidal wave of creativity. Thus, I was building three pieces of software. The Erasmatron, which is the editing software for the engine, the engine, which actually ran everything, and finally the front end, which delivered it to the user. It was a huge project and I had to do it in two years. Unfortunately the problem turned out to be much bigger than I anticipated. What I got working after two years was nice, and indeed technically adequate, but I don t think it was commercially adequate.
How do you mean?
It takes too much effort to create a sufficiently entertaining end result. Laura Mixon worked on Shattertown Sky for nearly eighteen months. But Shattertown just didn t work. It was not entertaining, it was not even finished. There were places where it would just stop. Yet she worked longer and harder on it than she was expected to. There wasn t any failure on her part. The failure on my part was underestimating the magnitude of the task. I thought that a year would be sufficient. Well, first, she didn t get fully operational software for at least six months. And second, the tool she had was so weak that she spent a lot of time doing busywork. The conclusion was that the Erasmatron needed to be souped-up, and there were a few embellishments to the engine that came out of that. But they were actually comparatively minor. Most of the work I have been doing since that, on the Erasmatron 2, has been to make the whole process of creating a story-world easier.
So you haven t concluded that making a story-world is just an inherently hard task? You ve found ways to make it easier?
Well, there s no question in my mind that creating a story-world with Erasmatron 2 is immensely easier than with Erasmatron 1. Erasmatron 2 dramatically cleans up the process of creating a story-world, cutting the time required roughly in half. You see, with Erasmatron 1, we were shooting in the dark. I had no idea of what the process of creation would look like. I don t feel bad that Erasmatron 1 was a bad design; in fact it was much better than the original design document. I d made quite a few improvements, but they weren t enough. I think that, using Erasmatron 2, people can create excellent story- worlds with an adequate commitment of time, which I consider to be at least six months and probably a year, but I haven t proved that. That is what s stopping the whole project: I need proof.
Is that something you re hoping to provide with the Le Morte D Arthur project?
I don t know. I ve had some kind of writer s block with that project and I don t understand why. I think one factor is a sense of demoralization. I ve put nine years into this project, and so far it s been a failure. With the exception of the Markle funding, nobody s interested. There are always a few pots bubbling. Right now there are three separate groups who have expressed interest in this. So it s not as if I ever reach a point where I can say it s dead. There s always something going on, and there s always the hope that it will go somewhere, but these things never go anywhere . I m definitely getting discouraged.
What would an ideal Erasmatron storytelling experience be like?
I ll describe it in two ways ” tactical and strategic. Tactical being what the audience experiences moment to moment, and strategic being the overall experience. Tactically, the audience will see a static image on the screen representing whatever has just happened. It will show the face of the person who just did whatever happened, as well as anybody else who s on the same stage. It will have some text explaining what has happened. The other thing I want to use is something like a comics technique. That is, comics show action between frames very well. So it might require two frames . But I want to use the artistic styles that have developed in the comics. In Scott McCloud s book, Understanding Comics, he has that triangle that represents the amount of abstraction.
With the smiley face in one corner and the photo-realistic face in the other.
Right. My guess is we would want to move on that triangle far away from the photorealism corner. We d want to be somewhere much closer to abstraction and representation. So I think we re talking about a more abstract type of display. And then there will be your menu of choices, expressed as complete sentences. This is what the player is permitted to say or do. Strategically, the big difference is that all story-worlds have a very meandering character to them. Barroom Brawl doesn t, because it s a single scene. Corporate Meeting is a single scene and even it meanders a bit. We have figured out how to cope with that problem. I had thought that plot points would do enough, but Laura and I have now come up with a scheme. I don t want to describe this as a new discovery; rather this is a concept that has been slowly brewing for several years now. We re putting flesh on its bones and I think it will work.
The idea is that there is something like a core plot that is beyond the control of the player. However, the player does control lots of interactions that will not just influence but ultimately determine the final outcome of the plot. For example, consider a murder mystery, such as Shattertown . Basically at some point, time is going to run out, and either the clans are going to go to war or Sky will unmask the murderer or Sky will get caught by the murderer. That ending has been established, and events will force that ending. The thing is, what ending you get depends critically on all the things you have done up to that point. Same way with Le Morte D Arthur . The basic design says, very clearly, that the end game is going to have Mordred revolt. No matter what happens, Mordred is going to revolt at some point. And when he does, all the other actors are going to choose up sides. Some of them will go with Mordred, and some will stay with you. There will be a big battle, and the side with the bigger battalions wins. The decision to go with Mordred or stay with you will be based on all the things you ve done up to that point.
I ve come up with another concept for Le Morte D Arthur that I m tempted to go with, which would incorporate some of the elements of the current Le Morte D Arthur. In this one, you re not playing as Arthur, you re playing as Merlin, and you re a transplant from the future. Your task is to modernize Arthurian society and thereby prevent the Dark Ages from happening. You re trying to build up this society and get it operating on a more efficient basis and teach them a little bit about sanitation and education and so forth. Along the way all the nobles are developing their resentments against you, and they try various plots to discredit or kill you. And, once again, Mordred revolts. The end result feels more purposeful, less meandering.
So the player is led in a direction more than in the current version.
We re not asking you to be creative or come up with new social innovations, we ll simply present you at various points with opportunities to initiate new innovations, to say, All right, do you think it s time to teach these people sanitation, or do you think it s time to teach them how to use the stirrup? And each one takes time. And there s still this steady plot that develops as you help this society pull itself up by its bootstraps. But there s still an awful lot of interaction going on. What we re developing here is a concept of semi-plot or pseudo-plot or a skeletal plot that can proceed in the way that a plot is supposed to. You still have a plot, but it doesn t hijack the whole story and dominate it as it does in a conventional story.
So the player has more involvement than they would reading a book, but not total freedom either.
Yes. The idea is that you want to use dramatic constraints, not artificial constraints. This is a drama. It s got to evolve by certain rules. We re going to apply those rules here. It should not incur resentment on the player s part that he can t pick his nose while talking to Arthur. That s not dramatically reasonable. Some argue that if you don t give the player full freedom to be creative, it just doesn t work. I disagree with that entirely. So long as you give him all dramatically reasonable options, or even most of them, you re doing fine.
So you re quick not to call your Erasmatron system a game of any kind. Why is that?
The differentiation is two-fold. The first reason is marketing. Right now, computer games mean Quake, Command & Conquer , or something like that. The associations with that term are all about shoot- em-ups, resource management, and those associations are very clearly defined in the public s mind. If I call this a game, they re going to apply associations that are misleading. Moreover, the term game, if you look it up in the dictionary, has more column inches than most words. I compared it with words like do and eat and have and I found that it s bigger. Because that word is a semantic imperialist, it just goes everywhere. It can be used for many, many different meanings, all completely different. But then there s sort of a switcheroo that happens. You can apply the word game to a whole bunch of products and activities, but then as soon as people associate it with a computer they say computer game! and all the semantic meaning collapses down to this little bitty point. Maybe I should call it a web game, get the whole thing on the web. Or if I do it on the Mac maybe I can call it an iGame. But I don t dare call it a computer game or a video game.
Why do you think facial expressions are so important for storytelling?
Because facial expression is one of the fundamental forms of human communication. It s funny; other people think graphics where I m thinking communication. What goes on between user and computer is primarily a matter of communication. I am deeply desirous of optimizing that communication. That means designing the computer display to most closely match the receptive powers of the human mind. And the two things that we are very good at are facial recognition and linguistic comprehension . Accordingly, those are the two things that computers should emphasize . Computer games have neither and that appalls me. Facial expression and linguistic comprehension are the two most important areas of development for the time being. Nowadays you can get excellent 3D facial models, although the expressions on them are still crappy. This is largely because the people who design them aren t artists , they re engineers , and they ve come up with these anatomically correct heads. Every cartoonist in the world knows that you never, ever draw a face the way it really is. For this type of thing we ve got to use cartoon faces and not real faces.
When I was playing with the Erasmaganza, sometimes it would present me with three different actions to choose from, and I wouldn t want to do any of them. In that way, it feels a bit like an old adventure game with a branching dialog tree. Do you see that as a problem?
The real issue is not Gee, you only get three things. The real issue here is that you re not permitted to say dramatically reasonable things, and that s a flaw in the design of the story-world. Both of the demo story-worlds have that problem, because they re very tiny story-worlds. If you want to get away from that you must have a much larger story-world. Brawl has about fifty or sixty verbs and Meeting has about a hundred. I used to think that five hundred verbs was the threshold for entertainment value. I now think it s more like a thousand verbs. But Meeting just doesn t give you very many options because it s so tiny.
As to whether the user will ever be satisfied with the finite number of options he s given, I don t see a problem there at all. Certainly you re not permitted nuance in such an arrangement. But you should have all dramatically reasonable options. Besides, if we gave you some system where you could apply nuance so that you could say, I m going to say this with a slightly sarcastic tone of voice, the infrastructures for that would be ghastly. It would make the game very tedious . So I feel that the only way to do this effectively is to confine it to a menu structure. In fact, there are some games that have implemented nuance as their primary modality of interaction. In these games you re interacting with someone and you ve got these sliders: one is for forcefulness, one is for humor, and another is for charm. But that s all you get. You respond to someone with this much forcefulness, this much charm , and that much humor. I ve been tempted for quite some time to build something like that into the Erasmatron. But the problem is, first, coming up with some generality, and second, keeping the interface clean and usable. Right now, with the simple menu you need merely look, see, and press. I think that s important for a mass medium. The sliders for tone are for game aficionados.
The system that Siboot uses to construct sentences with icons and the inverse parser is an interesting one. Why did you opt not to use a system like that for the Erasmatron?
Because the vast number of sentences in Siboot are selfcompleting. In Siboot , you could click on just one icon and often the rest of the sentence would fill itself in because that s the only option available. The way to do that nowadays, by the way, is with pop-up menus. I could do this with the Erasmatron. For example, suppose you had a conventional menu item that said, I ll give you my horse in return for that six-gun. The words horse and six-gun could be in pop-up menus providing other options for the trade. This would require some expansion of the Erasmatron system, but nothing very serious. The only reason I haven t done it yet is my unwillingness to add complexity. I believe that the system has all the complexity it needs and then some. It s always easy to add complexity to the design, but I m thinking in terms of simplification.
Have you had a chance to play The Sims ? It seems that a lot of people succeed in using that game as a sort of tool for interactive storytelling.
The Sims is not an attempt to produce interactive storytelling. I had some e-mail with WillWright about The Sims , and he acknowledges that it isn t an interactive storytelling platform, but he pointed out that many people use it that way. The Sims is exactly what it claims to be ” a simulation, not a drama. No drama simulates the real world. In Shakespeare s play, in the middle of Henry V s speech to the soldiers at Agincourt, he doesn t say, Just a minute, guys, I have to take a pee. However, in The Sims , he does. Once when I was playing The Sims , a little girl couldn t get to sleep because there were spooks coming and frightening her. The spooks are a very nice touch, by the way. They kept her awake all night long, and she wandered all around until she fell asleep, because a sim who stays up too long is overcome with drowsiness. She happened to fall asleep on the floor of her parents bedroom. Morning came, mommy woke up, stretched , got up out of bed, and walked to the bathroom, stepping over the inert body of her daughter ! This is a good simulation of the physical processes of daily living. It is an atrocious simulation of the emotional processes of daily living.
Will built an excellent physical simulator. But it has no people content. It s a direct violation of my people not things argument in that it focuses on the things aspect of life, on all the mechanical details. Going to the bathroom is a major module in that program, whereas emotional processes simply aren t there. I don t want to criticize a brilliant product: Will set out with a clear goal and he achieved it, and that s wonderful. But he didn t set out to do what I m doing and, lo and behold, he didn t achieve it. I refuse to criticize The Sims , because as a design it is magnificent . It has a clear purpose and it achieves that purpose brilliantly. It s just a different product, and it s not interactive storytelling.
So what makes you want to pursue interactive storytelling?
It s a hell of a lot more relevant. Furthermore, I think it s a hell of a lot more interesting than game design. The design problems of computer games nowadays bore me, because they re not very involved problems. They tend to be very small models, quite easy to calculate. I continue to be appalled at the low level of intelligence in a lot of these games. The computer opponent is really stupid, and that s about the only element that still interests me. I might like to do a game with some really good AI, where the computer opponent can really outsmart you, and I don t mean that in the sense of chess, I mean that in something complicated like a wargame. But wargames themselves are obvious. I feel that I have mastered that formand so why should I continue to indulge in it? There are so many other, more important tasks , such as interactive storytelling. This is a challenge! Something I can really sink my teeth into. Unfortunately, it appears I have sunk my teeth into the tail of a tiger.
Do you ever fear that you will always be dissatisfied with the Erasmatron?
I consider this to be my life s work. This is the culmination of everything I ve been leading up to. I have no doubts that if I continue working on this I can continue to improve this technology. I have major doubts as to its commercial feasibility right now. That is, I m quite certain that twenty years from now people will realize that interactive storytelling is a commercially wonderful thing and, golly gee, we ought to do it. I believe we can make products that people will find far more entertaining than computer games, because they ll be about drama instead of resource management. Unfortunately, I don t think people quite see that yet. Certainly the games industry does not and will not. They will feel that The Sims represents the correct step in that direction. They can continue to get more polygons in the faces and have them dance better and so forth. But in terms of dramatic resolution, they haven t even begun.
Maybe it would be good if they go down that path, leaving the real problem area free for me and the other people who are serious about interactive storytelling. There are indications of a hankering for dramatic content. For example, Sony calls the chip in the PlayStation 2 The Emotion Engine. Well that s bull, total bull. It s a graphics processor and has nothing to do with emotional modeling. But it shows that they would sure like to have some honest emotional content. They re just not willing to make the product-level commitment. Then there s the twin factors of the Internet and Hollywood. Between them, there s a strong desire to establish an identity untainted by computer games. So between the Internet and the Hollywood people I think that we really ought to get interactive storytelling. There are lots of indications in that direction. Six years ago, when I went hat in hand to almost all the majors in Hollywood trying to get them interested, and I struck out, that was because they had all just recovered from the experience of getting burned by having their own games divisions. So nowadays they re starting over with web-based things that have a completely different outlook, and they might be interested.
I wonder if you have an answer to the critics who say that telling a story interactively is somehow at odds with the fundamental structure of storytelling. Obviously, you don t find this to be an issue.
Not at all, and in fact I m surprised at the shallowness of that argument. The easy refutation is the example of grandpa sitting down with his little granddaughter to tell her a story: Once upon a time, there was a girl who had a horse. And the little girl says, Was it a white horse? And grandpa does not say, Shut up, kid, you are ruining my carefully constructed plot! He says, Oh yes, it was very white, white as snow. He develops his story and the little girl interacts with him. He embraces her participation and incorporates it into the story, which makes the story that much better. This kind of storytelling has been around since the dawn of human existence. We ve long since proven that, yes, you can have the audience intervene in the story without damaging it.
In your games work, you created both the content and the technology, whereas with the Erasmatron you re focusing on creating just the technology, which will allow other people to create the content. Why did you shift your efforts in that direction?
There are lots of people who could provide artistic content, but I m the only person who can provide the tool. I therefore have a moral obligation to concentrate on the talent that is unique to me. However, there are still some other things I want to do. There s so much going on, I have to very carefully allocate my time, and a lot of good projects are sitting on the back burner .
So as a result you don t get much chance to work on Le Morte D Arthur .
Right, I have to just let it burble around in my subconscious for a while longer. And it may never come out, I don t know.
So what s next for the Erasmatron technology?
Well, the basic technology is, I feel, ready to go commercially right now. We still need to build a front end and so forth, but we are ready to begin the commercialization process immediately. My next primary task is to commercialize this technology. I m not sure how to proceed on that point.
Would you ever be interested in working on a more traditional game again?
At this point I would be interested and willing to consult with people on various game designs. That is, I wouldn t mind going in and looking at a project and identifying fundamental design problems in it, or assisting. But I don t think I would want to accept responsibility for creating a commercial product for the games industry at this time. I m happy to help somebody else do it. But that s such a political and nasty process, and less and less time is spent on the creative aspects and more on the political aspects that don t interest me.
Chris Crawford Gameography
Tanktics , 1978
Legionnaire , 1979
Energy Czar , 1981
SCRAM , 1981
Tanktics (updated for Atari 800) , 1981
Eastern Front (1941), 1981
Legionnaire (updated for Atari 800) , 1982
Gossip , 1983
Excalibur , 1983
Balance of Power , 1985
Patton vs. Rommel , 1986
Trust & Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot , 1987
Balance of Power II: The 1990 Edition , 1988
The Global Dilemma: Guns & Butter , 1990
Balance of the Planet , 1990
Patton Strikes Back , 1991