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My first video game

Hey kids, it’s storytime!

This is the story of my first professional video game.  The year was 1988.  I had been working at Sierra Online for about a year.  I started in the video game business in the ‘copy room,’ which was the place where we copied the game data from the master disk onto the disks that went to retail stores.

Exciting stuff!  But, not only did I copy the disks, but I put the labels on the as well.  Pull out that old copy of King’s Quest 3, I was one of 4 or 5 people that put the label on that disk.

From the copy room I went to customer service where I ran the BBS (a Galacticomm 16 modem setup no less), answering tech support questions for people.  Truth be told I was actually pretty terrible at it.

While running the BBS, there was a project going on that needed programming help.  I had been programming for awhile taking my first programming class when I was in 3rd grade.  Ken Williams and Rick Cavin, the two guys running the company, saw that I had ambition and gave me chance.  My boss, I think his name was Larry or something, was not pleased because nobody would be running the BBS.

Even so, as soon as Rick and Ken asked me if I wanted to help out I jumped at the chance.  I was 17 at the time and thought I could change the world.

My first project was Silpheed for the Tandy Color Computer 2 AND 3.

More screenshots here: http://nitros9.lcurtisboyle.com/silpheed.html

The lead programmer was Daron Stinnett (super good dude) and my job was to help him out on level design and creating the artwork for the enemies.

If memory serves, my entire life for the next three months was creating and entering hex codes into the Tandy CoCo 3.  I was working 16 hour days and loving it.

The characters were created using graph paper, adding up the hex values and entering them into the code.  I had done this type of work before on my TI-99/4A and my Apple II +/e/c but had never done it professionally.

Level data was much the same way.  You figure out the direction you want the enemies to go and enter the values into the code.  Since the games were on cartridges it was a huge pain to test out full versions.

Daron and I were working side-by-side, me in my teens and he in his 20’s.  A lot of nights we would be until 11 or 12 at night.  During that time, Daron introduced me to a ton of cool music.  I remember listening to Squeeze – Argybargy really loud!

When the game was finally done, Daron went back to Synergistic (who had sent him up to Oakhurst to finish the game) and I went back to my job at the BBS, but only temporarily.  The next gig I got was doing all the Amiga/Atari ST/Macintosh versions of the Sierra games.  But that’s another story…

The crazy thing about this whole story is I never really realized at the time how lucky I was.  First off, putting me on a somewhat important title with no experience was a pretty gutsy move.  I only hope that Ken and Rick had a backup plan if I screwed it up!

But the stranger thing is that I’ve never done anything in my life other than make video games.  It makes me wonder if I had got a job at a gas station, would that be what I did for the rest of my life.

Since that time, the budgets have grown and the problems more complex but at the end of the day it’s still a fun gig.  Plus, what the hell else would I do with my life if I left video games??

Robert.

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