steven horowitz

steven horowitz

My name is Steven Horowitz. I'm 63 years old and I work in Berkeley, California, and I live in Oakland, California.

Well, what's interesting is if someone were to ask me if I had ever been in the game industry I would have paused because I don't think of myself as having worked in the game industry. The closest I got was the CD-ROM edutainment sector, which can involve games. But when people think of gaming, they think of more highly interactive experiences. And what we were putting together were more of the CD-ROM adventure-type games -- I want to say themes and everything from what we used to call coffee-table media and edutainment and infotainment.

What year was this?

I got involved with games actually back when I started a special effects company. That evolved to a point where we were shooting some footage for some of the earliest CD-ROM technologies that were simulator-oriented. So, you would have your typical model spacecraft fly across the screen and you would have to shoot it down while it was moving and the player would detect whether you had shot it or not and then immediately skip to footage that would either show an explosion or keep going. [Laughs.]

Yeah.

That was on some of the first Pioneer video disc drives that allowed you to have fast skipping or parallel tracking. So, I got into that side of it, and the other side of the entertainment industry were ride films, which aren't really games.

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Like in an amusement park?

Exactly.

Yeah.

So, that was the earliest experience I had with being in an industry that was peripheral to games. Myself, I got my first Atari videogame console and was playing Defender at home. Never really thought to go into that side of the game industry.

Yeah.

After the special effects, or while I was doing the special effects in those two areas, I was also consulting with venture capital companies to help them with technology due diligence in the area called "multimedia." Do you remember that?

I remember that. Now we just call it media.

Right. But for them, multimedia was a software component which was CD-ROM content and then there was a hardware component, which was PC graphics boards for 2D and 3D rendering systems. So I was involved in that and one of my clients was Canaan Ventures, and another was US Venture Partners. And Canaan Ventures had also taken an interest in a Brøderbund executive named Ed Bernstein and he was looking to start a company that would compete with Brøderbund in the infotainment/entertainment area.

What yearish are we talking about?

We're talking about '92. My contact at Canaan put me in touch with his colleague who said, "Let's bring these two guys together because maybe they'd be good. Here's the guy with the business sense in the CD-ROM industry and here's the technical and creative guy. Let's put them together."

And so we got together and formed a team with a marketing exec and a CFO, we put together a business plan, and we shopped it around. We actually didn't do much shopping because I brought in USVP and Ed brought in Canaan and we were a VC-funded startup named Palladium Interactive. And that would've been early '93.

Yeah.

And that's how it all started. We started in a little executive office in Sausalito. We went to bigger offices in Sausalito and then marched up Marin County. First we were in Larkspur and then Terra Linda. I'm skipping ahead, but I ended up at Brøderbund in Novato, but that was our march through Marin with Palladium.

So, Ed's VC, named Al Salzman put in around $10 million and my USVP VC put in around $10 million, and then later on we got another round from Berkeley Capital, which is actually UK-based, but they had a California presence, and they put in around $5 million. So, we eventually raised $25 million.

And what was our business plan? Our business plan was to put out CD-ROMs in a couple of areas. One area was going to be branded, that was not our own, but outside branded edutainment. And the closest thing I think we got to a game was putting out a Wishbone game. Remember Wishbone? The dog?

I do.

Putting out a Wishbone game, which was like an adventure -- you know, there are different genres of games and CD-ROMs and one of them was you have a storyline, you have these places you could explore, you had to grab things and put things together and move on. Not that that was the first adventure game. It probably way pre-dates you, but that was called Adventure and it was played on a character monitor and you would ask questions and it would say, "Now you're in a maze of twisty little paths." You had basic commands you would type in: "Go left, go right, go ahead, go behind, pick this up, what do you see?" That kind of stuff.

But that was the first adventure game I ever played, which was on a VAX. Remember VAX? [Laughs.] Using an ADM-3A terminal. So, these were adventure games and they were all over. I mean, they were coming from different companies, both branded and sometimes not branded. Myst was one of the most famous of that era.

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And sometimes the adventure games had an educational piece. In other words, you had to solve a puzzle. It could've been a grammar puzzle. It could've been a logic puzzle. It could've been a math puzzle, like that whole line from The Learning Company called Reader Rabbit.

That was much more exercises with a little story, as opposed to -- ours was a lot of story with a little exercises. And the whole notion of mazes and puzzles, right, that got you to the next level or got you into the next room or into the next environment, all came out of that first adventure game. And it would be great if you want to dig and find out what that first one was and who -- I have no idea who made it. Can you imagine virality in the '80s? But it was viral, and you'd hear about it and say, "Where can I find this?" And you'd load it up and you'd play it. [Laughs.]

I think back then there was more of a, "Oh, I don't know what was." And then you just forgot about it and thought about something else. Or people would sort of disappear and you would hope to see them again at some point.

[Laughs.]

There wouldn't be an impulse to exchange email addresses or even portable phones you could take outside of your house.

No. All I know is that I really started with paper tape and BASIC on a GE Mark III Time Sharing Machine that was located in some giant room somewhere miles away. It was 300 baud, you stick the thing in an audio coupler attached to a teletype machine. I went from there to punch cards, which were great because they were random access, right?

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What I wanted to say was at some point if you're in the right place, you happen to be able to get a DARPA email address. So me and my buddies who were also in research got DARPA email addresses. So we were communicating using TI thermal printers saying, "What's new? What's up? Hey, did you hear about this adventure game?" "No! Where? What?" And that's how we did it. That's like the '80s. Early '80s. Pre-PC.

Do you pay attention to social media, that sorta stuff these days?

I have to admit, I am on Facebook only because my kids allowed me to friend them and so I could keep track of them. [Laughs.]

I'm sure you've seen on Facebook, people bickering or yelling at each other. Do you remember from that early DARPANet, were people more courteous and polite? Remember "netiquette?”

Yeah. It was like The WELL. You know, if people had something to say and wanted to say it forcefully, you do it in all caps.

[Laughs.] Shout at them.

Yeah. That's exactly right.

Was that a common occurrence?

No.

It was uncommon.

Right. Well, it depended on were you talking to friends or did you drop yourself into some chat room? I will say this, if you want to talk about netiquette: The level of comments that you see today. [Laughs.]

That was what I was getting at.

I don't think you saw that. You know, and there were moderators. If somebody got out of hand or insulted someone or --

A sheriff.

Yeah. You would be kicked off. So, if you wanted to stay there you would have some sort of restraint.

Decorum.

Decorum, right. There was very little trolling in those days, where a troll would come in and make mischief.

What was trolling even back then?

We didn't even call it that.

"Someone being a jerk?" [Laughs.]

Yeah. Exactly. I'm using the term "troll" because I didn't hear the term "troll" apply to that until I started using Turntable and Plug.dj and now Dubtrack. Do you know what what each of those are? They're music chat rooms.

Yeah.

And some guy will come in and play something that played something that was not part of the room genre that's in that room and there's always some mod there that can kick 'em out or ban him. They call those guys "trolls.”

I know I looked you up and hit you up completely out of the blue. Because you're not in the game industry proper anymore --

No. We started Palladium. Palladium lasted almost five years. It was bought by The Learning Company, who had already bought Brøderbund and Mindscape and Humongous and others. We were one of their last acquisitions that they bundled together. You know, all these publishers and developers. And they sold the company to Mattel, to make Mattel Interactive. And they had inflated the price so high that within a year, when the CD-ROM market tanked -- I think it was a billion-dollar acquisition and Jill Barad, who was CEO at the time lost her job over that decision.

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So, I was a Learning Company employee for about three months and then a Mattel employee for I want to say nine months? Where I was then assigned to the Brøderbund division. And then I left Brøderbund -- yeah. Mattel decided that anything that wasn't kid-oriented that they picked up in this large net would either get shut down or spun out. And for some reason, Palladium decided to put out a genealogy product called Ultimate Family Tree to compete with Brøderbund’s Family Tree Maker before we were acquired. And they took the two groups, munged them together, and spun them out in 1999 to make a dot-com because that's where the money was. So, we became genealogy.com.

That explains a lot of what I saw when I was looking you up and why I thought it might not even be you.

Right. And then I was out of the game business. When I left the Brøderbund building, that was anything I had to do with gaming.

We haven't mentioned it yet, but this was my point of entry, which was Pyst.

[Laughs.]

What was your involvement with that?

So, Palladium decided to start a line called the Parroty line, where a smoking parrot was the logo. Now where did that come from? That came from a connection that Ed Bernstein had with Peter Bergman, who was one of the founders of Firesign Theatre, and he had this idea for a parody of Myst. But no budget, no real 3D rendering guys. The notion was to make it a series of postcards from the island, with a little bit of video footage, a lot of drawn cards, and then Firesign Theatre-type humor.

I thought it was not a very successful product because, No. 1, the humor wasn't laugh out loud and what was bad was that the expectation was that it was gonna be a parody with the -- remember, there was no real-time rendering then, so they just moved through a series of static environments. As you walked forward, you wouldn't see the transition. You would just come to the next environment. All these things were done in Macromedia Director, which eventually was acquired by Adobe. You would install Director Player on -- Director ended up turning into Shockwave which ended up turning into Flash, so you have to go way back. Director was the preferred authoring platform because you could spit out both a Mac version and a PC version.

So you'd have the -- it was called the Projector. The Director Projector would either be the runtime on your Mac or your PC. And they would both access the same media files, which would be a combination of graphics, audio, and video, and what was called "the stage." The stage was where things happened and where you linked together all the interactions. So, that's what the authoring system was.

Myst was written in that. Pyst was like that too. Everybody used it back then.

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Can you talk a little about just the general writing process of Pyst and the other parodies you made?

I wasn't involved in the writing process of that particular one. That sort of got handed to us by Peter. One of the other draws was that his friend was John Goodman, so he promised us John Goodman.

They were friends from their radio days, right? I read that that's how they met.

Oh, I don't remember the connection.

Well, I read it recently. [Laughs.]

Oh, okay. So, he brought John Goodman in and we did a day of shooting for that. Peter and I sat next to each other and did the direction and did the shots. I did -- just 'cause I knew how to and we were, like I said, low budget, I did all the backgrounds for the green screens in I forget what graphic program I was using back then. I think it was very early Photoshop.

So, we put this thing together, we knew it wasn't a full-fledged game. We tried to not advertise it as a full-fledged game, but more like postcards from Myst. We sold it for 10 bucks a CD, retail. As opposed to -- the real Myst was $40, or something like that, and at that point we had a sales VP named Howard Beech and he had this great idea. He really knew what retail was about. He said, "You know, when you send something to a stock person in retail, they just sorta follow the directions on the box” There's a lot of fight for shelf space and sales people hired by product companies would come into a store and rearrange shelves to make sure their product was at eye level."

So the back of each box of Pyst CD-ROMs had in big letters, "Put by cash register." [Laughs.]

For, like, an impulse buy?

Yeah. So, they did that and that's how we got our sales. They put it by the cash register and people would see it on their way out of -- back then it would be, what? A CompUSA or a Best Buy -- I don't know if GameStop or one of the game stores back then.

Electronics Boutique? Software Etc.?

Yeah! God, I can't even remember those. But we were in those stores and people would buy it on impulse. It got bad reviews because the expectations was that it was going to be a real adventure game.

Where were those expectations coming from?

People just not reading anything and saying, "Oh, $10! A bargain. It's gonna be a parody of my favorite game." Because Myst was huge back then.

Yeah.

I played Myst on a Mac when I was actually doing the special effects work on a ride film. We had to have a Mac. Some guy brought it in and said, "You gotta see this! You gotta see this! This is, like, the next big thing in multimedia entertainment."

Historically I think it's an interesting case because I don't think there's really been another straight parody of another game since then. You can think of maybe something like a Mad Magazine or Airplane parallels in videogames where they're either pastiches or a spoof.

Yeah.

But never a full-on parody of a single game.

But you see, this wasn't a full-on parody.

Even me saying that is wrong. But you understand what I mean.

Yeah.

"Here is a product that is poking fun at another product specifically." You still haven't really seen that in games since.

No. Yeah. No one's come up with a --

Do you think -- is there a market for such a thing? Was there not a market for such a thing?

Well, we pivoted after Pyst. We did four parody titles and the fifth one was on the drawing boards when it got axed. I think we had two more on the drawing boards. I hate to say it: I was the one who dropped the axe.

You dropped the axe? [Laughs.] I came to meet with the man who is personally responsible for why there is no more. [Laughs.]

No, it was a recommendation. We had an executive committee. But I came in and I said, "Look, we're working on this fifth one and we're putting more and more money into these things and making them more sophisticated because the expectations are high and I just don't think that we can make back the money at $10 a pop."

So, we went into other things after that.

I mean, do you have a sense from --

It was a lot of fun. It was the most fun I'd had in any job, being creative director and actually directing these, working with the writers, and locations, and setting up shots. It was fun.

How much do you pay attention to videogames today and what's going on with them?

Today? I have a son who's got a really big Mac setup that he plays his games on. So, I hear what he's playing and it's, like, Halo or what's the one with the cars?

Grand Theft Auto.

Yeah, Grand Theft Auto. Stuff like that. So, he's into it. It sounds pretentious to say I outgrew them.

Well, a lot of people say that.

I just -- there are other things to do in life. But like I said, when I was in my twenties, I spent a lot of time on that Atari machine.

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Does it seem like games today have more of a sense of humor? Less of a sense of humor? When compared to when you were working in the industry.

Humor. Well, I hear Grand Theft Auto can sometimes be funny. But sometimes maybe it's just over the top stuff. Violence or something that makes people laugh.

Yeah.

I've never seen a humor game. You know, a game that's supposed to be funny. There was a set of games -- I can see the character but I don't know the name. Fast Eddie, or something. A game where the character was this comic character. But that was very far and few between.

So, after Pyst, we pivoted to do more of a multimedia MAD Magazine version of things. So, the next thing we did after Pyst was Star Warped. So we took the movie Star Wars -- that was much more popular and got much better because we set the expectation: "It's like a MAD Magazine of Star Wars." You remember, when you used to read Mad Magazine -- when I was a kid, I laughed my ass off. They parodied Star Trek. So I was thinking, "Let's parody Star Wars."

And then the next one after that we did was X-Fools, which was X-Files. It was part of the Parroty line. And of course now X-Files comes back 20 years later. I had to watch it. But we did X-Fools, and then, you talk about, "Have you ever seen a parody of a game?" We parodied a software product.

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There were a couple. I remember there was an Austin Powers OS parody for Game Boy.

Yeah. No, we didn't do that.

I know you didn't do that.

That I didn't see.

But that is a thing. It sounds incredibly niche, but there were actually a few like that.

Was it a comedy title or was it just a wallpaper window dressing kind of thing?

Kind of both a little bit.

So we did -- our final one, which had great video and everything, was called Microshaft Winblows. That was us. And that was the last one.

Then we were coming back to videogames. Actually, the fifth one on the drawing boards was called Doof, which was going to be a parody of Doom.

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How far did that get?

Oh, it got to point of --

I don't think I've ever read about that.

No. We never put that out. I still have the mock-up. Doof was going to be -- instead of a fighter with a gun, he was gonna be a pocket-protector nerd. That was one thing in development, and another was a parody of Riven, the sequel to Myst, called Driven, but we actually had a script for another. I worked with a bunch of writers in LA, and we had a script that was gonna be a parody of Disneyland. I forget what we were calling it: “Bizneyland” or "Dismaland" or something like that.

Do you know Banksy, the UK graffiti artist and activist?

No.

He just had a thing called "Dismaland."

Interesting.

You should Google that.

I should.

But we had a script. I think I still have a script somewhere in the garage. First of all, it was getting to the point where it was getting almost vulgar and out of hand. I mean, it was like MAD Magazine on the edge.

It was more like Cracked Magazine.

Yeah. Exactly. So we have a Cracked version of Disneyland, and what stopped us with that and made us look at _Doof_was the fact that our lawyers said, "Look. You know, you have fair use and we know thatDisney is gonna come after you." We got a letter, but we determined that we didn't have to cease and desist. We never got a letter from the guys at Myst.

I was gonna ask if you had any interactions with them at all.

No. Never with the guys at Myst.

Did you seek permission or anything?

No. No permission.

That's what "Weird" Al always did, was ask permission.

Yeah. Well, then you're fine. But, so, we got a letter from LucasFilm. Nothing happened. We never heard anything from X-Files. And then Disneyland, he said, "They're just gonna tear into you because they are so protective of their brand and Mickey Mouse." The writers were devastated when that came down, so then we looked at Doof and then I just killed it.

Was the determination that there's not really a market?

No. There wasn't. To do better and better jobs, we couldn't make our money back at $10. And we thought it was for impulse buys only so we couldn’t raise the price.

You couldn't dedicate full --

Yeah. $20. Nobody's gonna pay 20 bucks for, like, a MAD Magazine issue that was multimedia.

So you don't really see it as this was one possible path for videogames to go down.

Yeah. They were budget titles, impulse buys at the cash register. That was the marketing ethos of this parody line.

The big thing in games now is -- it's at the point now, the medium, where people are trying to kick the tires of or demonstrate that it's a medium for creative expression, same as books, movies, or TV. What are your thoughts about that being a trend?

Well, I don't know. I always thought there's a hardcore gamer demographic and most of the games being put out, whether they're sports, whether they're first-person shooters, whether they're simulations -- they go to this core of people who I say are the self-described "gamers." You've got the massively multiplayer online games, Warcraft and all that. It's just a set of people who do that. So, to break out of that and to bring in a larger demographic, there was the try to make games educational. That was pretty early on. But I don't think that's appealing to kids anymore. They don't wanna do that.

You know, back then it was novel and it was also driven by the parents. Play Reader Rabbit or play Putt-Putt Goes Wherever. These are for five to 12 year olds. Kids go, "Oh, I get to be on the computer and do this." Today, those kids wanna be on social media, they're on Facebook, Tumblr, wherever else they go.

Yeah.

And I don't really know. I see a lot of kids now being pacified, if you will, with an iPad. And I don't know what they're doing on that iPad. I don't know if there are educational games today that are just the descendants of these games that I mentioned on CD-ROM or whether they're doing something else on there or if they're watching cartoons. Once you added streaming video, that was it.

YouTube.

Yeah. Exactly.

What do you make of that, though, that people are expressing themselves through games, or trying to. What do you think is the sort of thing you can only express in a game that isn’t possible in other mediums?

[Pause.] Well, there's almost -- I was gonna say the closest thing to some of the games that I see are some of the Marvel comic movies. You don't have any interaction. And I've been through -- I've seen the efforts to make interactive theaters. Remember Sony tried that in LA? They do some alternate clips -- they'd be short movies, 'cause they had to have a lot of footage, and they had fork points and they take the majority of audience voting. So that was sort of interactive movies. That really didn't go over very far. There was something else I was thinking of that was another false kind of melding of entertainment with games. I think with games, there's a certain adrenaline level that you reach with games that could be addictive that I don't think you could get with more passive kinds of entertainment.

You know, it's a spectrum. Couch potatoes and the crack and meth heads. [Laughs.] Right? And here are the cocaine folks, there are the four cups of coffee, and right next to those coffee people are the people who are stimulating themselves with games. Because I remember, even with those stupid blocky EGA graphics, you know, it would get my pulse up. I mean, Defender? Just not getting creamed in Defender, you'd get faster and faster and you'd be going further and further. So, there was a sense of accomplishment, there was a sense of adrenaline, there was a sense of getting to the next level. All those are pretty much in a game that I don't think you get by reading a book or watching a movie. I mean, maybe the closest thing would be bungee jumping or scaling El Capitan. [Laughs.]

These are all things where it's happening to you, because you're setting actions into motion because you're doing them.

Right. But think about it: You can get that rush with very little danger to your body. So, the only other place you're gonna get rushes like that usually involve physical danger. Like I just mentioned, bungee jumping, skiing, or whatever. So, there you are. You're not gonna hurt yourself, and you are -- the other addictive thing about it is the aggression levels in certain games. So, you're getting to be aggressive without hurting someone else. You're hurting cartoon characters. And I don't really believe that violent games make violent kids. So I think that's why that's appealing, but, again, you have to have a certain personality profile to want that versus curling up with a good book versus binging House of Cards. You know, we all have a certain fixed amount of time for entertainment and each personality type gravitates towards a compatible type of entertainment.

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You had said that you didn't think it was fair to say people outgrow games. That it was pretentious. But why do you think that happens, where people put them down, whether it's 20 or 30 years or forever?

I'm not sure.

Because that is a thing, right?

Yeah.

That does happen.

It does. I say that if you look at any person and look at their hobbies -- well, not even their avocations. Just the way that they entertain themselves in their twenties versus the way they're entertaining themselves in their forties or sixties, it changes. And it's funny. I see some fathers come back in when they have a kid. And they'll sit there and do the thing with their kid.

So, in some parents it arcs back and they never stop. Other people move on. It turns out that there are other things to do.

More broadly, to touch back on comedy in games: What is challenging about that? Like, what makes it hard to do comedy well in games?

It's the same issues that anybody doing parody is going through. I mean, when you think of the great parody movies like Airplane or something from Mel Brooks like Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, it's really getting the zeitgeist of the piece you're taking and then turning it on its head, making fun of it. And there are different ways to do it: there's broad, there's subtle. Airplane was broad. And there's a parody series on TV now that I've watched a few of. I don't know if you know it, a parody of cop shows and it's got Quincy Jones' daughter in it. [Angie Tribeca] is so broad. I mean, there are jokes, puns flying every five seconds and maybe every fourth or fifth hits. So that's one way to do it.

We were doing that visually with our MAD Magazine thing. You know, just absurdity. What is parody? There's absurdity, there's making fun of -- getting that funny is no different than these. Interactive magazines or non-interactive magazines.

There's a schism even there where satire looks down on parody.

Right.

The challenge with parody often is there's a couple of different ways you can go about it, but needing your audience to be aware of the thing that you're making fun of -- I've always been of the mind that, and this is what makes it so hard, the best parody should be able to stand alone and be funny on its own without just being referential. Were there discussions at all like that?

No. Never.

I mean, I was curious how analytical you got on the humor with Pyst and your other titles.

We tried to get the broadest population familiar with that piece. Let's say that the original conceit is: Let's do a parody of a computer game.

Sure.

So, at that point in time, you looked around and what was all the rage? What were the magazines writing about? What did my friends -- it was Myst. We chose that because we knew that someone who never saw Myst would not get any of the references or the jokes. When we went to Star Wars, we looked at: What is the largest movie franchise going on now? And back then it was the prequel, the episodes 1, 2, and 3.

Yeah. The second trilogy. [Laughs.]

Yeah. The second trilogy. Right. We said, "That's huge. There's all these people that know it from it before and now. Let's do that." It was really between Star Wars or Star Trek. We were flipping the coin. [Laughs.] But we never would have said, "Let's take something really niche and it'll be so funny that at the cash register people will see it and want to buy it."

What was the cash register impulse purchase? Star Wars or Proust. What do you want to make fun of?

[Laughs.]

So we were always going for the broadest population of familiarity. Not that we didn't think that what we were doing wouldn't make people who weren't familiar with it chuckle. I mean, a lot of what we did had to do with parody art, comic art that would make fun of. We had a lot of voice talent that did -- I can't tell you how many tapes I listened to and how many voice actors I interviewed to get just the right voices that sounded like [Jerry] Seinfeld. There was the Seinfeld version of Star Wars, and to do all those we were now mixing. So you take something else that was popular to mash-up: "Oh, everybody knows Seinfeld. Everybody knows Star Wars."

Seinfeld Star Wars.

Yeah. And what's her name [Elaine] was Leia. That was our approach.

How about with your Doom parody? I mean, did you play through these games all the way?

Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. We did.

I was wondering how analytical or what the thought process was.

We all had to play the game. Right. We all had to play Myst. We all had to get to the end of Myst because -- we had to, you know, King Atrus, we had to have King Mattress, which was John Goodman. We had to know that ending in order to shoot it.

Well, also, this was pre-internet, where you wouldn't be able to just look up a video. You would've had to have played it.

We did. We did play it. But Doom wasn't really Doom back then. It was really just a bunch of 3D halls and monsters poking up. So, that parody wasn't gonna be a content parody so much as a game-paradigm parody. The idea of doing a shooter game with a nerd instead of a space soldier.

That's not niche in videogames. That is a very common thing now, that you are that big, muscular character. Shooting guns in outer space.

Right right.

Why do you think that went from being niche to being commonplace?

What are you calling niche? I mean, the soldier person with the guns in the first-person shooter -- I remember Doom kind of exploded. There you are on your PC and you're in a 3D environment and everybody's playing that and Wolfenstein. Because those were the first. So we chose those as a genre. And it wasn't niche. I mean, everybody had it on PC.

What do you remember about media reception for the software titles or game-like things that you put out?

You either love 'em or hate 'em.

Nothing in between?

Not much. The hate 'ems were the people who were --

Was it split between game magazines --

Yeah.

-- and more mainstream?

Yeah.

So, you're saying one was more negative than the other?

The hardcore gamers did not like us making fun of stuff. I mean, for Pyst, the Myst people thought it was an abomination, right?

Did you get letters?

No. We never got letters. We just read reviews. You know, in the game magazines.

Did they request copies from you and reach out officially?

They bought 'em. It was only 10 bucks.

Yeah.

So, there was a split.

They were offended you were making fun of it?

Yeah.

What did they say?

You know, "That Myst was a magical, blah blah blah experience and this thing was a bunch of postcards and there's no gameplay." We got hit mostly on there's no gameplay in the traditional sense of an adventure game. It wasn't an adventure game. People thought -- if they had that expectation, they gave it two out of five stars, right? If the expectation was, "Oh, this kind of like a postcards MAD Magazine thing," then they were better about it.

So, I wouldn't really -- I take it back. I wouldn't really say there were Myst lovers and Myst not-so lovers. It was more like people who expected a Myst game and people who didn't.

Yeah.

We were much more successful with Star Warped because we weren't parodying a game.

Yeah.

That was more like an interactive MAD Magazine, and so we got better reviews for that and X-Fools.

You said that there wasn't a lot of money as far as the budget for these games. But other than the financial incentives, were there other reasons you chose to do these parodies?

Yeah, because it was fun.

Just because it was fun.

It was fun. We just knew we'd have a blast. I mean, look, when I was in my youth, in my Woodstock days, Firesign Theatre was just the best humor at the time. It was total stoner humor. But when I heard that Peter Bergman was interested I said, "Yeah, let's do this.”

Yeah, I read that he was "perturbed" by Myst. That was the exact word used.

You mean, that made him want to parody it?

I think so. That was the context for the impetus. But what do you remember those conversations about his being -- pardon the pun -- mystified by Myst? And thank you for not laughing at that.

[Laughs.] He was pystified. [Laughs.] I only thought that Peter brought that because Firesign Theatre always had their finger on the pulse of popular entertainment. If you listen to some of the -- you know, Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, which is a sublime album, he would be making fun of everything from TV and movies to politics, a lot of politics, to culture.

So, he saw this and for him, not really being a gamer or technologist, it sort of cracked through his consciousness as, "Wow. This is a new form of entertainment and it's exploding." Maybe he thought it had no right to be or it was just too bizarre to be thinking that there was millions of dollars being paid by people to buy this stuff, that he felt the need to parody it.

I mean, the irony is -- and I didn't mention this before -- but down at the convention and sometimes rippling across the internet, there is so much seriousness around videogames. It's capital "v" and also capital "a" Artists.

Not too different than pretension you find in any other medium, right?

Exactly.

You see it in music, you see it in film.

I have the feeling because people will say, "Oh, we want videogames to mature" and this, that, and the other. I have this feeling like, actually, they are mature now because there are snobs. There are elitists. There are these -- what was the word you used before?

Auteurs.

Auteurs. So, you know, I don't know if you feel like you have words of wisdom about this but --

No. What's interesting is that from when I started working in games to now, there were different attempts to break games out into different kinds of paradigms and different kinds of content. And in the end, what succeeded? The first-person shooter and the third-person adventure.

That's still true today.

Still true today. And interactive stories were supposed to take off and they really didn't.

You mean like LucasArts and Sierra and the '80s adventure games?

Yeah, yeah. But not really adventure. Well, they were stories that you had a chance to change. And just the -- I mean, the bandwidth needed and the amount of production needed to make that really work weren't there. In fact, I think it's cost prohibitive, and that's why that genre never made it.

There were more -- like I said, there were games around education, games around information, but the ones that persisted -- there were games around music. I mean, trying either to broaden the genre or pull in other genres didn't succeed because games have this thing -- I guess you can also say there's the simulation games like The Sims and then there's the -- what do all the kids like to play right now? It's not even a -- you put things together.

Minecraft?

Yeah. Minecraft. So you can almost call that a game.

It's like a toy and a game.

Right. So you got those and then you got this. You have Candy Crush and Angry Birds, all starting with things like Tetris. You wanna know -- what's the biggest game that Americans play? Computer game? Solitaire. Right? Old-school. It's too bad Yahoo! just shut it down. I was at Yahoo! for a number of years, as the VP of Media Innovation.

That's right.

That's where I ended up after my CD-ROM days and the genealogy.com days. So we had a huge games center that was devoted to turn-based games or Solitaire-type games. It's the opposite -- the term we used was "casual games." That means that these other games are not casual, they're serious. So, there's "serious games" and "casual games."

Only for serious people.

[Laughs.] Right. But this is the pyramid, right? And these are the guys with the reflexes or the puzzle brains. These casual games -- it was card games and online versions of all the board games that they had licensed -- you can't take that away from this whole area of computer games. Just like you've got documentaries, comedy, action, drama in film. You can't say film is any one of those.

So computer games has a broad demographic. We here have blinders on sort of talking about what you see at the Game Developers Conference. You're not seeing the latest, high-def Solitaire game or 3D Chess.

But it's the same with E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Yeah. I was just thinking of E3.

But you go there and there's another set of narrow blinders about what games are and what games can be.

It's skewed. It's skewed to people with money and electronics, right, that can support those.

Yeah. But it's also skewed content-wise, which is what you're saying --

With explosions and shooting.

That was where the industry was when you left it and it's still there. Did you think that would have changed in however many years it's been?

No.

No? Really?

I just think of how kids and I did go to arcades and you'd be in front of a $5,000 box playing the latest graphics stuff. Then you'd go home to your PC and there was Wolfenstein 3D and it'd be so not as fun but still fun, right? And each of those arcade experiences in a couple years would migrate down. So there's been this great evolution and still going on. I mean, we aren't yet to synthespians yet. We're gettin' closer, though. You look at Final Fantasy is it? The one that’s really well-rendered with beautiful motion capture?

Things that you used to see in cut scenes now you're seeing in real time. I remember going to EA when I was at Yahoo! and seeing how they were working with their physics engine so that when a shell or a character would impact a wall, it used to be you just played the same animation, right? So if a guy hit the wall hard or soft, as long it was over a certain threshold, and whether you hit it from this angle or that angle, the wall would fall down the same way. And they were showing how now they can compute the angle of impact and the speed and the mass and simulate the bricks flying this way or that way. They were getting into really good inverse kinematics where now your body joints could in real-time be connected through whatever point you were grabbing onto or stepping from.

So they showed, like, an old-style character jumping up to a wall and it just stuck. And then there are guys that if they jumped too hard they'd crash into the wall if they did. All that is making it more and more real.

I think the evolution of games, the reason why games haven't played out is because we haven't hit the most realistic we can get. And then when we do, what are you gonna say? That the holodeck will be passe when people just get bored with holodecks? There's gonna be infinite content. In fact, much higher quality and much more content available when the technology gets to that point. I mean, the minute you don't have to pay an actor $10 million to do a movie and you can just -- like Superman or Batman doesn't have to be a famous actor. George Clooney wouldn't have to be in there. They'll just synthesize the character. Think of what that's gonna do. Those costs will go down and you can put all that money into --

That might upset actors.

Yeah. [Laughs.] Well, who knows. The phonograph upset orchestras, and then for a while you had featherbedding where radio stations would hire an orchestra to just sit there because the union made them do that and the music was coming off records.

What are they gonna do? Hire actors to sit while everything's done on a computer screen? But just think of all this. That's how we're evolving. And I think computer games -- actually, until several years ago, computer games were the cutting edge which would drive technology and 3D simulation. Like I'm saying, the physics of stuff, fabric, hair, and now, of course, you have Pixar and Dreamworks and those others using that same physics to render frames of film. But it's funny, what used to take hours per frame to render 10 years ago now is being generated in real time.

Yeah, that was something I wanted to ask about. Because we have now overcome a lot of the technical hurdles, like, with Pyst is an unusual example. Not to harp on it, but it's an unusual example of it had a Hollywood name in John Goodman, it had another name from outside the industry with a following in Peter taking an interest in doing something game-like --

And it was lo-fi. It was low-tech. It was postcards for God's sake.

For people in the games industry or people who are reading this making games on their own, if they want to try to do comedy in games or things that connect to the culture in other ways, but what is it you felt like you didn't get a chance to do that someone could try to do today? Or how could they be more successful doing what you tried to do?

Look, MAD Magazine has existed for how long and kids still buy it? So, there's still a demographic out there that likes to see things that are serious that they have encountered made fun of. So -- and the tools have gotten cheaper. The hardest thing is to get good writers. Every sitcom knows that it lives or dies by the writing. Acting? Anybody can act this stuff. It's the writing.

So, the hardest thing for us was putting together that band of writers and I'd say they were "B." They weren't "A" writers. They were "B" writers. So, what's very hard is getting content that's funny. I mean, look at The Onion.

I -- I told you that, right?

Yeah. You did.

It survives because it's got good writers and every time I go there it makes me chuckle, right? I mean, I just laugh because some of their graphics are so funny. Their USA Today-type graphics. One of my favorites: "What part of 'I don't know don't you understand?'" And then they had a graph: “I,’ so many people voted for this; “don't,” so many -- and so on. [Laughs.]

And so you get good writing and I believe you could put together -- and it wouldn't have to be a game. It's not even a game, right? You can put something online using Flash or HTML5, put it on a Funny or Die kind of site, and do some parodies of -- now pick it. We're talking about games. So what games could you do that to? You have to get the game of the moment.

So, what if someone did a World of Warcraft parody that was online? They could not support a massively multiplayer parody, right? So what're they gonna have to do? You know what machinima is, right?

Yeah.

Yeah. They're gonna have to do, like, funny machinima clips.

Which, I mean, people do do stuff like that.

Right. Well, people use game engines to make actual -- not even machinima. I mean, they're stories. Machinima really started as just recording what the player's doing. Then people said, "Let's take the Earthquake engine and I'll make a story out of the characters and stuff." I thought that was really clever what we did, and I lost track of that after I got out of that part of the business.

Yeah.

With Yahoo! I wanted to have a machinima site that Yahoo! would curate. But, that's what it'd have to be like. You would have to parody a game by taking clips -- certainly animators can make something look like that without having the complete game engine in front of them. They could take a game engine and just dress it up and just have some funny scenarios.

Maybe I dreamt this or maybe it's true, but wasn't there a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern parody of Star Wars where it was from the eyes of two stormtroopers who didn't know --

I'm sure that exists. Yeah.

Where they're looking at Darth and it's just like looking at Hamlet. So, take a game where there's characters and stuff -- especially games that were made into movies because somewhere, some bright guy thought that a movie could be made.

There's gonna be a Warcraft movie this summer.

What was the one Angelina Jolie was in?

Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider movie? Yeah. Take Tomb Raider as a game, take some of the levels or clips, put them in funny situations with funny dialog. It could be the outtakes, it could be at the craft services table, make it like the characters actually have a life. I'm just vamping now, but there's parody stuff to be done. The question is can you make money at it? It would mean that you'd have to have a low budget and high adoption right.

Or, I mean, I guess what you're saying is find a way to make the production more writerly friendly or focused or to attract writers? That's another way.

Just like acting, there's different levels of writing. TV sitcoms are one thing, doing a [Judd] Apatow movie is a higher level. They look at this as below TV, I'm telling you, like what we did.

What we did was judge some of these writers on their their Simpsons spec script that they sent in. Never got done, but it was really funny. Who knows what the barrier to entry is to get your Simpsons script produced, but we said, "This is really funny. Can you write like this?" And you know, they were young and not established and that's how you pick it up. So, you could do something like that.

I'm wondering, you know, if someone pitched Funny or Die on a Warcraft parody, especially after the movie comes out or at least trailers are out for the movie, could it be a game? I don't know. And what would the game be like? I mean, how would you even play that game? Like I said -- again, I'm just thinking of linear material that you're pulling off the game. How do you make that interactive? Well, we had a lot of point and click interactivity. You know, it was almost like a hyperlinked magazine. If you think of all the things we did, it was just hyperlinks through sets where payoffs would either be a comic strip, an audio clip, or a video clip.

Every so often, something you had to say or do unlocked something. I mean, that was it. That is such a low-level game. You're really talking about interactive magazines. Our technology was no different than the People Magazine app for iPad. "Oh, here's a link. What's behind that?" Then it takes you off to extra content or whatever. I mean, it was nothing fancy, right? We weren't, like, pushing technology like Myst was. They had CPU and memory constraints and they were doing the best they could with that.

Now, remember, everyone kept saying, "Oh, just wait 'til the future. Instead of having it go crossfade, crossfade, you'll be moving through these things!" Well, it didn't take long, did it?

They're not much funnier, though.

[Laughs.] No.

[Laughs.]

But the question is, and we had it, was: How much funnier -- if the goal of parody is to make you laugh, how much more would you laugh if it were more game-like? You're making fun of the content, not the gameplay per se. Not the engine, per se. So, just like MAD Magazine. How much funnier would it be if those comics were animated? Would you be laughing more? It would sure cost a lot more.

Yeah. Yeah.

So you have a curve, right? The curve is production bucks versus laugh payoff, and it does this: it's diminishing returns. You say, today, could somebody do a parody game? It would still be the same curve. The same curve.

What you're thinking is: How would this guy think if someone made a World of Warcraft, full-on MMORPG that played the same except things would happen in it that would just make you laugh out loud? I'm sure you could. The amount of dollars to do that versus a couple of linear clips that you get to walk through in some way?

Same curve.

Right. So, really, there's not that much more parody payoff that you will get for creating what must be zillions of dollars of servers for people to come on. Now, that doesn't mean that you couldn't make a game that's funny from the beginning. It wouldn't be a parody. But it would be more like a -- you remember the movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? You could do something like that or a Blazing Saddles kind of environment where the writing was really funny. You know when you step up to people in -- not Final Fantasy, but Link is the character?

Legend of Zelda?

Thank you. The Legend of Zelda. All those people were pretty serious. You'd walk up to them, you'd get information. You know, nobody's slipping on banana peels or falling into quicksand and laughing.

You could do a comedy adventure title like a Legend of Zelda, because I think that's a very popular adventure-based, very dialog-based kind of game. But it wouldn't be a parody.

Now, would a Legend of Zelda parody sell, that actually had the same kind of game engine? It could. Would it sell to people who hadn't played Zelda?

Probably not.

Probably not.

Versus whole cloth new comedy with that engine, you'd get a bigger thing.

It can have the tropes and the means for fighting all these things, which I think is even better parody than just having Link be some doofus, but you could do that. So, I guess I'm being negative on the money it would take to make a parody game.

You think that's part of why we don't see it so much anymore.

Exactly. Exactly. But then the question is why don't we see comedy games?

That's sort of the other question I was thinking of in approaching you.

That's the other question. I think it's a demographic issue. What do people want to do with their time when they're playing an adventure game?

But isn't laughing part of having fun or blowing off steam or get some sort of respite, you know, all the reasons that we play?

It's a different endeavor. I think that playing is excitement, adrenaline, using your brain to solve things. Think of all the things you solve in Zelda. So that's a compartmentalized type of entertainment and enjoyment. That's different from yuks.

[Laughs.]

And mixing the two might not be what people want to do with their time. Now, we're talking something sociological. I'm sure a professor at a good university could design a test mixing adrenaline and mind puzzles and essentially sight-seeing in an environment with laughs and pratfalls and Onion-type stuff.

I take it that was not part of your process for Pyst.

No, it wasn't.

[Laughs.]

But that answers the question as to why you don't see that now.

I realize I would probably be remiss if I didn't ask a John Goodman question, but do you remember anything about his feedback or thoughts or reactions to the whole production?

All I know was he was willing to go anywhere Peter told him to go in terms of making fun of himself, making fun of anything. He just seemed to be a really nice guy willing to say, "Hey, this is new. It could be looking like I'm slumming it, but I'm having fun, it's a new technology, I'll do it."

There was some stuff written up like that. I guess it came on the heels of King Ralph and people were writing, "Oh, his career is over!"

Oh yeah. I also remember, every time he showed up at set he came with this one guy. The guy was sort of like this Southern California older tanned guy who I don't know if he was a companion, assistant, bodyguard, but he showed up everywhere and when John needed something he would get John something. When they needed a stand-in to mark focus or lighting, this guy would do it.

John had "a guy?"

Yeah. Like, an assistant that just followed him everywhere and did what he said and I thought, "Well, when you get to be that famous, this is what you get to do. You get to have a pet person." [Laughs.]

Did John --

He never wanted to want change a line. As an actor, he didn't want to get involved with the content. He left that all to Peter and other people and he was great. Good actors, they read the page, put the page down, and act it out. If he was called on to burp or to make a fool of himself, he would do that. And he sat there for as many takes as Peter wanted. Peter directed John. I directed the lesser guys. The San Francisco actors that we used to get. But Peter did John. I just remembered him being a nice guy.

I got to work with Patrick Stewart on Nine Worlds. A lot of recording sessions in LA. Super-nice. Everybody thinks these guys are prima donnas or assholes. I'm sure there are some.

They're just people.

They're just people. This is their job. One of the side effects of their jobs -- you know, the coal miner, the side effect is black lung. The celebrity, the side effect is celebrity. [Laughs.]

Yes.

It's fame. It's a disease. And they do it. A lot do it with a smile, but there are divas. I think they're in the minority.

Do you consider what you did an experiment in hindsight, what you did, with where things are now?

Well, no one had done it before.

And I don't feel like anyone's really truly done it since.

We had some success. I mean, we definitely made our money back on the four titles. Okay? So, I don't know if it was a combination of creative juices not flowing anymore or the budgets were getting bigger, CD-ROMs were going downhill. Oh. You know, now that I'm thinking about it, our whole business was going down. If you remember, like I said, the write-off that Mattel Interactive had for this aggregation of what used to be very hot, very strong CD-ROM companies meant that CD-ROM weren't it. So, we had that pall cast over everything we were doing. And then when we were looking at where we wanted to put our money, that's where we went from edutainment and infotainment over to productivity because there still seemed to be a market.

But at that point, the CD-ROM just became a delivery mechanism for installing a program. [Laughs.] As opposed to playing the CD-ROM. So, I think that was the big writing on the wall. We got hit with the Disneyland thing and then with something like Doof -- you know, we were gonna do it with a 3D engine.

This is the wall you were talking about?

Yeah. So, we stopped. But then everything stopped. Our titles around -- we had a Patrick Stewart Nine Worlds title, we had Wishbone, Bears at Work. We had a bunch of things and we just stopped selling. So, we were lucky to get it. We raised like $23 million and sold the company for like $25 million. [Laughs.] By that time, it didn't leave much for the founders. But it was a fun four years.

Did you feel like you were part of the game industry? I asked you when we started, and you said you would hesitate when answering that question. But at that time, did you feel like you were part of it?

Well, I went to E3s. What were my conferences during that period? Actually, it's hard for me to separate that from my consulting period, but I remember going to -- I had to go to every NAB, every CES. That was before Palladium. I had gone to SIGGRAPH before, during and after, because I was very interested in what was possible with 3D rendering. And I went to E3 for a while. I don't think we ever had a booth at E3. That, to me, you know, being at E3 or being at the Game Developers Conference, that was being in the game industry.

And we were sort of peripheral. I think all of the CD-ROM makers were kind of peripheral to the game industry. Although, you would say, hey, all those adventure games like Wishbone and -- oh, we had another one we killed, which, yeah, we got halfway through the title and thought it wasn't gonna sell because it didn't have a branding hook. That's when we decided we needed to brand them with third-party brands.

Those were games.

I mean, what even was the '90s game industry like at that time compared to other non-game industry conferences?

What I remember about the game industry in the '90s was that arcades were big and that's where you got the best looking graphics.

What about culturally with the companies and the people in the industry? What do you remember about that time and those people?

Well, there were the CD-ROM game companies. So, people like Software Toolworks and as a consultant I worked for them before I joined. I did the animation engine for Star Wars Chess when I was a coder in those days.

So, I was part of the game industry because Star Was Chess -- all the pieces had animations, and to fit that on what that time was a multi-floppy disk set, I had to really really know how to compress and render that stuff. So, Software Toolworks and Brøderbund -- there were all the CD-ROM game-makers and they really didn't talk to do or do much with the real-time 3D guys. So, the whole first-person shooters were very different than the third-person adventurers, versus the CD-ROM guys. So, I'm trying to think of a show where all of us would be together. I guess E3 might have been the closest thing?

I remember talking to people who were doing the first-person thing -- oh, and the sports games, too. So, EA. They were considered the hot place to work. They were considered cutting edge. So, I remember that. And then there were all those boutique -- these there were the guys that were making games for Ataris and Nintendos, right, the platform people. Oh, I forgot about platform games. The 2D games like Donkey Kong and all that. Mario, all that. Which -- the Wii has platform games for God's sake. So, there are all those studios, and the notion was those were cool places to work and people who wanted to start in the business would do QA. They'd QA the games, and if they were smarter, they could start coding them. There were all kinds of -- I can't remember, but, like, Blizzard and there were hundreds of names and they either merged or they got bought by the makers like Atari and Nintendo or by studios. Yeah, and it was fun. We tend to think of them as being even nerdier than --

Than software?

Yeah, than software in general. They were almost sociopathic type folks.

In games?

Yeah.

How do you mean?

The testers. Like, they had no social life. All they did was want to test them and when they came home, they played games. I guess -- well, they were no nerdier than Dungeons & Dragons, then, I guess. But when I used to think about it, there were way fewer multiplayer games back then than there were just you doing the adventure yourself or you shot things yourself. So it really was isolating. You didn't have the social aspect you have now.

I know you said you weren’t too involved with the writing on Pyst, but were involved with putting together another writer’s room. What was that room like? How do you think a writer’s room put together by a software company differs from one from a production company for a TV show, both by how it’s curated and how drafts work, but also by who winds up in it?

Well, we had writers and technical people. Once we educated the writers on the parameters for parody games, they went off by themselves and wrote a first draft. Not too different from having a sitcom playbook and there just being writers in the room for that first draft. We had no equivalent of a table read though. The technical and creative game folks would read the script, have notes, and we would discuss them in a session with the writers, who would go back and revise the draft until we had the equivalent of a shooting script. The writers would make changes during the voiceovers or shoots if something didn’t work.

Well, since we're contrasting software and videogames, I wanted to talk very quickly about Yahoo! and ask about your time there. When was that?

When it was good. When Terry Semel was the president and Lloyd Braun was head of the media division.

How does innovation seem to be approached in the game industry versus innovation you did outside of the game industry, that sort of work?

Well, in the game industry, it seems that things get incremental in that someone designs something or some piece of hardware gets fast enough and cheap enough so there's a leap, and then it's incremental. I guess you could say that the leaps are between major platform releases, like PlayStation 1, 2, 3, 4. Or Xbox or Nintendo. So, a new engine would come out and people would figure out how to do better lighting, better physics. I don't know if there's been that much incremental in game content design.

I would agree.

It's different worlds and different enemies. It's, like, almost the same. It's hard for me, as an innovation guy, it's hard for me to understand how to innovate in content when you've got the constraints of what's done. I think being multiplayer was great, ‘cause then you actually got to meet people.

Do you still think there's more that could be done, innovation-wise in games?

Well that's where VR comes in, right?

Maybe. I mean, it's coming at time where visuals can't really get that much better.

Right.

But it's been tried before.

The holodeck is the goal, then we're talking baby steps towards the holodeck.

I guess there is overlap here. You described innovation in games. How does innovation in software, Yahoo!-type companies work?

Oh. Well, I had a team. I planted them in Berkeley. It was called Yahoo! Research Berkeley. And we would look at the latest coming out of social media information and try to design, I think for us the innovation was in the UX: How would a person interact with some large database, either real-time or not, behind them? And it could be social or it could just be information. How could they interact with that to have a really pleasing experience or the rapidity at which they could get information or how it would help them retain information?

And we would launch them in a public sandbox and see what they said. One of the things I loved was we had -- and we took advantage of technology. So, right when VRML, if you know what is, and Flash 3D came out, we created a big globe of the earth and it was this real-time animation you could put on your desktop and as a news story would break the globe would spin to that area and a bar would start coming out showing how many times that story was hit. And then when another came out, it would do that automatically or you could move the globe to where you wanted to see what was breaking there.

So, like here today, you'd be sitting there and all of a sudden the news would come on about the Paris -- Charlie Hebdo -- and Paris would be right there and you'd click on it and you'd see the story. You could follow that and spin the globe. So, that was like our little news widget. That was one thing we did.

Do you think there are approaches to innovation games could learn from software and industries like that?

Well, the kind of innovation that I'm describing -- there's a few parts to games. Let's look at a shooter game, right? There's the actual action part where you are pursuing or being pursued and you're shooting things. Then there's the part which is discovery: the environment and stuff you need in the environment.

And then there's information, where you take yourself out of the first person and you're looking at a map or you're looking at your inventory. So, there's a lot of work being done to make character movement, weapon functionality, scene complexity, scene realism. That's the incremental innovation that comes with better ray-tracing, luminosity, MIP mapping, all that other stuff that makes things look more and more real, skin texture, fabric, fur, you know, all those things that came along.

But perhaps there's a better way given that the game is only supposed to simulate reality. I mean, maybe there are better ways to either gestalt your environment or find resources in your environment, and then a better way to be looking at -- maybe more of a Minority Report kind of way to be looking at historical data and what you've accomplished. So, I think there's gonna be UI -- there'll be this incremental march towards realism and then there's gotta be some UI breakthrough.

What do you think videogames have accomplished?

They've given a lot of people a lot of pleasure. So, if you had a big meter of satisfaction or happiness in the earth over time, the introduction of videogames really gave people another outlet for entertainment. It's a complete new genre. It's like the phonograph. Movies. Your TV box. It really was a step in using technology to entertain people. So, people eat, sleep, work, and have fun. So it really added to the fun part of people's lives.

Now, healthwise? Maybe that's a wash. Maybe the endorphins are outweighed by adrenaline and the cortisol in your system or the fact that you'd lose sleep getting to the last level or something. You know, people would get into a game and play it until they turn into skeletons or something.

I can't tell you whether it was a net social good or not. I remember when I was a kid and television: was it a net social good? But I can tell you it's made a lot of people happy. That's important, given that your life stress and unhappiness needs to be balanced by euphoria and happiness. It helped the balance, right? Just as automatic weapons probably made it the other way.

You know, you can look at introducing things in a society and what it does to this net happiness. So, it's done that for a certain demographic in different ways. That's a broad answers to a broad question.

Do you think videogames have done more of a net good than automatic weapons? [Laughs.]

Well, sure. Like I said, it's a way to get a thrill without harming yourself acutely physically. You might harm yourself over the long run, right, but it might lead to an unhealthier lifestyle both emotionally and -- but I think net, it's fun. You could say skateboarding is a social good.

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