As Programmers Heaven is starting a new games related section on the site, what could be more appropriate than asking a few questions to the “father” of the computer gaming industry himself.
Lars Hagelin: Hi Scott, please tell us about your background.
Scott Adams: I have always loved computer games – even when I didn’t know what they were. In grade school I made up a game where I had ships drawn on the water line and in the air above I drew airplanes. I then took turns playing each side and “shooting” the opposing group. Erasing and creating mock damage in the vehicles.
Once when my grade school took a tour of a university in the early 60s I saw my first computer. It was in a room behind a big glass wall and we could watch folks doing things. I was mesmerized.
Then in the late 60s my high school got a grant to put a computer terminal (an electric typewriter, a phone, a phone line and a modem). It connected to the University of Miami and it allowed APL/360 programming. I came in early, left late at night and it became my obsession. And what I did with it was write computer games. My first game of any note that actually worked was tic tac toe. I was able to teach the computer to play and never loose. This I consider my first game.
Then in college I wrote what I believe was the world’s first 16 bit computer game. It’s documented at http://exoticsciences.com/sa.htm. Later I started the world’s first computer game publishing company Adventure International to sell my TRS-80 adventure games. This was in 1978. The company existed till the mid 80s and we published many games (and other software) for the nascent home computer markets.
Lars Hagelin: How was it at all possible to create fun games with the technical limitations of the hardware in the seventies?
Scott Adams: One of the biggest problems was the graphics were so limited and hard to work with. Of all the early computers the Atari ST probably had the best graphical system. The TRS-80 originally had only capital letters and a simplistic block graphics. This was even a challenge to make adventures text games readable! The Apple 2 was the first wide spread machine with any sort of reasonable graphic capability but it was still based on a primitive 8 bit processor.The TI 99/4a was a wonderful 16 bit processor and great graphics and sound chips but had a horribly designed keyboard and case. Its demise and the shake out in the whole industry was one of the reasons for AI’s eventually failure.
Lars Hagelin: As web based games today are not supported by heavy 3D graphics, which similarities can you see?
Scott Adams: More of the game play, of course, then needs to revolve less pixel pushing and more on innovations. If you think about some of the really big games of the past, like tetris, pacman, space invaders, adventure text games, there wasn’t a lot of graphic capabilities needed! Also another interesting market will be the smart phone apps where screen real estate is small and CPU processing power is also light!
Lars Hagelin: As I have understood you are big fan of Everquest, do you remember when you first felt that computer games and Internet will have a great fit and what thoughts you had?
Scott Adams: The first time I heard of Everquest, I thought it was simply a weird joke. Folks dressing up in costumes and running around pretending to be wizards etc. I thought it was more like a renaissance fair on a computer! A friend then got me to try it and I realized that a game with thousands of players was truly now a possibility. I basically missed the MUDs that preceded and was totally focused on single player games up to that point.
Lars Hagelin: Web based games are adding huge numbers of new players every day. Have you reflected over the viral phenomenon that is built in?
Scott Adams: It’s amazing to see the spread today of both good and bad. Someone sees something they like on the internet and let their friends know via Twitter, Facebook and email. If it appeals to them then they end up doing the same thing. Even niche markets are served by this as friends may tend to have similar tastes.
I am currently reading a SF book called ”Flash ” by L. E. Modesitt, jr. from Tom Doherty Associates Books. In it he postulates the end of advertising blocks as we know them today and the real tapping of viral marketing. It’s a fun read so far, recommended!
Lars Hagelin: Would you consider being a part of the creation of a web based game? If so, what would the key cornerstones of the game be?
Scott Adams: Tough call! I am more in to game playing these games then creation. But I never say never! Whoops, just broke that rule, oh well.
Anyways I honestly am not sure what the draw would be. Certainly being able to pick up and play a game from any browser based device would be attractive. Imagine a game with components that let it be played as:
1) Single Player offline game
2) Online with PC based client and high order graphics
3) Online with a PC based standard browser with medium graphic capability
4) Online with a web enabled smart device with limited graphics
5) Offline with smart device with limited graphics
6) Via email/text messaging turn by turn with multiple players mailing into a central server for those with limited phone internet capabilities.
I am not sure what the game is but one mixing all these vehicles would be able to tap a vast market! Of course it would have to be addicting and fun too otherwise the medium won’t matter!
Lars Hagelin: Anything you would like to add?
Scott Adams: One last thing I would like to mention to everyone is I have become very involved in the Chronic Lyme Disease community. Its extremely likely you actually know someone who has Chronic Lyme and doesn’t know it. Please take just a few minutes to peruse the link below.
www.lyme-resource.com. You can lead a person to a fact, but you can’t make them think!
Lars Hagelin: Thanks a lot Scott!