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                        Faran Thomason Interview
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CR: First of all thanks for doing this interview, I know you re busy guy.
FT: No problem.
CR: So, I saw that originally you started at Atari as tester after you
were done studying at Michigan State. How did you end up there?
FT: Basically I just responded to an ad in the paper, it said  game
testers wanted , I applied for the job and got the job. I started out
testing LYNX games like Malibu Beach Volleyball, Jimmy Connors Tennis,
Lemmings, things like that.
CR: Was that a Michigan paper or
FT: No, I was already living out on the west coast shooting video year
books for high schools, the paper was the San Francisco or San Jose
Chronicle or something.

CR: Ah, OK. Starting out as a tester, how was that?
FT: Very exciting initially but then, you know, the hundred and fiftieth
time you have the play the game over it does get a little tiring. But it's
better than real work :)
CR: :) Were you given a cartridge to play at home?
FT: Oh no, this was on the premises and you had to show up every day and
work your 8+ hours and make sure all the games, you know, played well,
didn't have any bugs and were good products. It was interesting.
CR: So did you play them on the LYNX directly?
FT: Oh yeah, basically if it was multi-player we didn t play on the LYNX
directly but if we were just playing in general we actually had a special
adapter that we could plug into the LYNX and get output to a TV-screen. So
you played on a TV.
CR: Nice! Have you heard about some third parties trying to make this kind
of hardware.
FT: Yeah, I m actually surprised nobody has figured it out yet. I know
they have this for Game Boys and Game Gears, you know.
CR: So, for multi-players, what was the setup there?
FT: We d just all gather around in a central area and plug our LYNXes
together and play. Now that I think about it, we did even play
multi-player games on the big screen by running cables over our cubicles
and played that way.
CR: So after testing LYNX games you moved up to
FT: Right! I basically hit Atari right when they were moving into
finishing up the Jaguar and after a few months of testing LYNX stuff they
started giving me Jaguar games to test such as Cybermorph and Trevor
McFur, those types of things. Oh and Dino Dudes and Raiden and all that
stuff.
CR: And you did more than just testing?
FT: Yeah, one of the nice things was that due to the lack of resources it
forced everybody to do a little more than their job description. So for
things like Cybermorph we actually laid out some of the levels for ATD to
implement. Basically at the last phases of those projects they bring the
developer in and kind of lock him in a closet to finish up the
programming. And they needed somebody to handle the remaining level design
tasks so that included enemy placement, layout, things like that.
CR: ATD stands for
FT: Attention To Detail, they were the developer.
CR: So, you tested these games, helped to refine them and at some point
you became involved with the new games, the next generation of Jaguar
titles?
CR: Yeah, I just sort of worked my way up to being a producer there and
started managing and developing my own projects.
FT: How s that like? Sounds like a great job!
CR: Yes, I guess there is a lot involved, basically while you are not
necessarily doing any of the development and the design you have to
coordinate and manage all those tasks and make sure that they happen on
time, on schedule and ultimately you have to make sure that the game is a
lot of fun to play. And sometimes it s quite tricky depending on the
resources that you are given or the developer that you have to work with.
So you need the people skills and the management skills and the scheduling
skills.

CR: How were your resources? You said they were always short ?
FT: Yeah, I think unfortunately Atari kind of low-balled the developers
and developers would underbid so it was like a deadly combination. The
developers would say  I can do it cheaply and Atari would say  Great! but
you know when that happens they usually put a lot of under-skilled people
on the team and that just makes the projects drag on longer then it would
if they d actually put people on it that needed to be on the team in the
first place. And then you get into situations like what happened with
Cybermorph were we actually designed levels and things like that when
those should have been designed months before we even saw the game.
CR: A lot of these games that you produced unfortunately never saw the
light of day, why?
FT: Yeah, that s unfortunate.
CR: Some of these sound really good, like Mortal Kombat.
FT: Yeah, basically if you look at this list of games there is actually
two deals, we did two major deals. One was with Accolade and with Accolade
we got titles like Bubsy, Charles Barkley Basketball, Brett Hull Hockey
and things like that. And then we did another deal with Acclaim where we
were able to get the rights to Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Batman Forever and
a few others and they were pretty big deals. It s unfortunate that, you
know, the system didn t get rolling enough to really see those projects
come to reality. And, you know, the Mortal Kombat, they actually had
started a little bit of development but it never really got all that far.
CR: Any screens or videos?
FT: It s possible but unfortunately none that I have. I mean it s possible
that was some kind of demo for that and it was going to be the Ultimate
Mortal Kombat, basically were you got the arcade feeling. And we had a big
Ultimate Mortal Kombat machine at Atari that we were able to play and that
was a lot of fun. There were some advantages in doing those types of
projects :) Same thing with NBA Jam, we actually got a NBA Jam machine in
the office and we were able to play a lot of that and think NBA Jam came
out reasonably well.

CR: How or what was Batman Forever?
FT: Batman Forever really never got it was probably the least developed of
any of those titles that I mentioned.
CR: Charles Barkley Basketball looked pretty far along though?
FT: Yeah, and that was a very difficult title to produce just due to the
developer and in some ways it was a very painful process but I think what
almost got done was, you know, kind of interesting and it would have been
nice to actually see that released. I m not exactly sure what the final
status of that project was but when I left it was almost complete. But
apparently it was never released, never really got over that hump.

CR: How about Brett Hull Hockey. I saw some prototypes of that game on
Ebay not too long ago.
FT: Yeah, it s kind of surprising, I mean, I guess from my standpoint it s
not really surprising because I had to deal with the developer on those
projects and it was an extremely difficult developer to deal with. I ve
seen screenshots and video and, you know, it looked like the game might
have come out pretty good. It s unfortunate for the Jaguar fans out there
that those games never made it.

                       Brett Hull Hockey prototype.

CR: How about Wes Craven Presents Mindripper?
FT: :) Basically it was kind of a B-movie produced by Wes Craven and we
were trying to start a deal with this movie company where we would kind of
develop products based on their movies. They were ultimately a B-movie
company but they had a lot of really good contacts so, you know, over time
the relationship might have actually grown reasonably well and, I mean,
for me personally it was good contacts that led me to other work outside
of Atari. Mindripper basically would have been a neat first-person horror
shooter type game. The movie came out on HBO and video a few years ago,
fairly  schlacky fair but would have made a neat game. What was cool is
that they actually shot it in Bulgaria and I went down to the set and met
Lance Hendrikson and hung out with the cast and crew for a few days. All
my memories of it are actually pretty cool because we were able to go out
on the set and take pictures of all the assets they had out there and they
gave us open access to everything, to all the actors, so we had Lance
Hendrikson on the blue screen and he was very helpful in getting in
digitizing his likeness to be in the game. And one of the guys that was in
Saving Private Ryan who is now almost becoming a big star was in
Mindripper too, so it s funny to see some of these people that you ve
never heard of and that are now becoming big stars or almost big stars. Or
like Lance Hendrikson, he is just kind of a legend in that type of genre
of film. But no, it was actually a lot of fun and they were shooting in a
lot of, you know, kind of weird places, like abandoned nuclear reactor
type places in Bulgaria, so it was kind of creepy. :) Kind of cool,
running through these underground catacombs and getting all these shots,
the nice things about those places is that, you know, the countries are so
poor that they ll allow these movie companies to come in and work with
their film infrastructure and give them access to any parts of the city
that they want to shot in. So it was actually kind of neat, it would have
been to see how the final product would have come out, ultimately there is
a lot of cool little things that we wanted to do, put into the game, like
multi-player play and things like that. So, first person shooter in the
vein of your DOOM, we wanted to do things that hadn't been done, like walk
on ceilings and stuff like that if you would have played the monster
because the monster had his set of abilities and, you know, the human
heroes had their own set of abilities. And you had to rescue people and
things like that, we were trying to add more depth to the first person
shooter genre.
CR: Kind of like Alien Vs. Predator?
FT: Yeah, a lot of it was probably influenced by Alien Vs. Predator and we
wanted to try to take it one step further.
CR: Sounds way cool! Would have been a fun game!
FT: Yeah, I can t really vouch for the movie too much :) it was kind of
Wes Craven in some respects just giving some favors back to people that
had helped him over his career, by kind of lending his name and
credibility to the film but the game, I think, would have actually been a
lot of fun! It was right at the point before first person shooters became
kind of over-saturated and it would have had some new features, you know.
What we were actually trying to do that was at the time were they were
trying to go multi-platform, there would have actually been a PC and
Jaguar-CD version. And it had full motion video from the film, at that
time it would have had all the kind of cool things that people were
looking for.
CR: I assume the PC version never got anywhere? What was the final status?
FT: No, the PC version got probably even less farther than the Jaguar
version. It definitely got started and seemed to move forward and as I
remember a few years ago there was even some litigation on trying to tie
up the legal lose ends, just making sure that when Atari was no more
people got their cuts or at least worked stuff out. Yes, it definitely got
started and it was actually planned of it being the first of a multi-game
series with that movie company.
CR: Do you remember the name of that company?
FT: Yeah, Kushner-Locke, Donald Kushner the producer of TRON. It was all
kind of a independent film company. The game would have been pretty
innovative for its time.

       Black Ice\White Noise Preliminary Box Art,  1994 Atari Corp.

CR: How about Black ICE\White Noise?
FT: Well, that was meant to be kind of the big Atari internally-produced
big, big-effort game that was going to put Atari back on the map. It
basically started from Sam Tramiel, the president of Atari mandating that
we create our own Sonic, Mario, iconic character and basically what
happened was we went through many iterations of these kind of really lame
mascot-characters, from ducks to alligators to armadillos to it was all
very ridiculous. I don t think anybody was ever terribly enthused by all
these pre-mascot-things so we wanted to do something a little bit edgier.
So we came up with the concept Black ICE\White Noise which was, you know,
a very innovative concept at the time, in many aspects it was like The
Matrix before that ever came out. It more or less embodied that
Cyberpunk-hacker archetype that Keanu Reeves played in the movie, we had
another guy whose name was Chris Hudak, a video game journalist, he writes
for like Next Generation and Wired. So basically we had created this whole
world which involved hacking and infiltration and going into cyberspace,
very much like The Matrix. It s probably scary how similar the two
actually are, it was all based on William Gibson s Cyberpunk. We had done
a lot of film production on that in terms of shooting people on blue
screen and treadmills and basically it was a game that incorporated
driving, fighting, exploration and all kinds of things like that into one
big package. It was a third person game, one of the things we didn t want
to make was a first person shooter because we want the character to come
out and the best way to do that was third person. So basically it was
going to be a third person game before third person games were big like
Tomb Raider and still embodied a lot of those types of elements in the
game. So you would be able to walk down the city street and if you wanted
to hijack a car you could get in that car and start driving through the
city and maybe the cops would chase you. Or if you needed to hack into
some place you could hack into something and you would be in cyberspace.
So it was obviously probably way too ambitious for the limited resources
that we had but it was very good to give it a try, it had a lot of
cutting-edge techniques in terms of integrating 3D and video and digitized
graphics into a game. And in theory it would have come out pretty well. It
was a very big project for Atari at the time.
CR: I assume it was CD-based? And what happened to it?
FT: Yeah, CD-based. I think basically towards the end, I don t really have
a time line there, but there was a certain point in time when things were
just kind of spiraling downhill, you know, a lot of cost cutting, layoffs
and this desperate attempt to really get into the PC market which never
really took off or happened, you know, the bulk of the projects, all
really cool stuff that I was working on, most of those fell by the
wayside, it was pretty unfortunate. Some of the easier projects like Bubsy
and NBA Jam, those things actually came out OK but the more ambitious
projects were just dropped.
CR: Bummer! The screenshots I ve seen of Black ICE\White Noise looked very
good.
FT: Yeah, you know, hindsight is 20:20 but when you look at some of the
stuff it was a lot of the concepts that we had thought of are now the
concepts of today. So, yeah, in many ways we were really ahead of our
times but, you know, didn t really do us any good. But it was fun! A lot
of fun to fly down, do the video shoots, and just kind of learning that
whole process of integrating digital video into computer games, it was
very educational, so, you know, from a learning experience standpoint and
from a fun standpoint I really have very few regrets if any. There were a
lot of difficulties, you know, but the knowledge and the experience was
great.
CR: Where was Black ICE\White Noise shot?
FT: Basically we went down to Los Angeles and just rented a studio and
just kind of cranked out all of the preset motion patterns that we needed.
Like walking forward, walking backward, left, right, up, down, climb,
duck, shoot, punch, kick and just plowed through it on treadmills and blue
screens.
CR: So similar to the Mindripper project?
FT: Well, we would shoot against a blue screen and then we would cut out
those patterns and make our sprites based on those actions. So basically
it was like Mortal Kombat, kind of the same thing except we went for more
of a 3D feel, so clearly we had to shoot all of the rotations, so that it
appeared that you existed in this 3D world. Chris Hudak was kind of the
star of the whole thing and we actually hired Michiko Nishiwaki (female
martial arts artist from Hong Kong, recently played in 'Man On The Moon').
Ironically a lot of these things are interconnected, the people that put
us in contact with the Mindripper people were also some of the people that
shot the video for Black ICE\White Noise and they had a contact with
actually what we did was in many ways a very open casting call because a
lot of these things were not only was there basic motions and combat and
running and walking but a lot of it was actual video so the character
could come up to somebody and you could have a conversation and you could
play that conversation and respond positive, negative or neutral. And
based on that you d get different responses and the person would actually
respond so we needed actors and some of them we never got anybody huge but
we got kind of a cult martial artist from Hong Kong that had been in a few
big martial arts movies out in Hong Kong and she was basically just trying
to break into the US market, thought it would be fun, you know. It was a
neat process to have the auditions and get a, you know, not really big
name but semi-big name at least to a few hard-core martial art film fans,
you know. Like I said before, the experience was great and I got really
good broad insight into producing a huge expensive product that involved a
lot of different elements.

                    Black Ice\White Noise screen shot.

CR: Besides the LYNX and the Jaguar did you get involved in any other
systems while at Atari?
FT: Hmmm you know, I saw the Falcon, maybe tinkered with it for a little
bit but nothing significant. Never really go into the computer stuff Their
early Jaguar development systems were Atari TTs which made it really very
difficult for people to take the platform seriously and get a lot of third
party support because there is these machines that sold about 6 units
worldwide so nobody had them and that made development pretty tough from
that standpoint and then when they did get it people weren t really
familiar with the TOS operating system that people were kind of forced to
use to develop products with. So, I think that was another kind of
stumbling block for Atari, not going to PCs right off the bat by using
their own proprietary computer hardware which, you know, nobody else in
the world used but them and maybe 6 guys in Europe :)
CR: Did you work with the development systems at all?
FT: Basically just to load games, load artwork and things like that not
from an overly technical standpoint, just from a management standpoint,
making sure all the assets of the game were working and functioning and
things like that.

CR: So at some point you must have realized that things were starting to
go downhill
FT: Yeah, to be perfectly honest, I think from the beginning everybody I
mean there was a lot of flaws in the Jaguar and Atari was not really know
for their marketing so I don t think anybody had any real illusions on how
long it would last. But, you know, I think everybody got along so it was a
very fun and exciting place to hang out and try to do cool stuff and it
was good while it lasted. So basically what happened as Atari started to
go downhill when I first arrived at Atari they were laying people off and
just all the time I would be there they would cut cost and every so often
just kick people out the door and it created this weird revolving-door
environment and one day my number came up and I was gone. Then I went
working for Optical Entertainment, these were people that were somewhat
loosely related to the Mindripper people because the president of Optical
Entertainment had actually worked at Disney with TRON. Basically it was
part of a bigger company called Hyperion Entertainment and they are know
for stuff like Brave Little Toaster and Life With Louie and a lot of the
Saturday morning cartoons and HBO independent animated products and they
wanted to break into video games. So I kind of hooked up with them and we
tried to create this game Dead Ahead, but one of the unfortunate thing
about that was they used kind of a movie model for producing the game and
we were getting financing from Japan and we were using an external
developer Software Creations and so the trick was to coordinate all of
these things together and it didn t work very well. It was actually for
the N64 and, you know, it was a cool game and I think ultimately the money
from Japan which was from Tomei, they make a lot of kids toys and video
games and they had a changeover in management. It was an interesting deal,
basically I was responsible for the design of the game not necessarily the
overall production of the game. It was tough for everything to get held
together and eventually it just ran out of steam which is unfortunate, but
again, it was a another great learning experience and the demo that we
were able to put together looked pretty nice and, you know, it would have
been a great game.

                     Faran in front of his collection.

CR: Then you went to Nintendo?
FT: Actually I was at SEGA Soft before I went to Nintendo! :) Basically,
after Atari wound down a lot of these people ended up at other video game
companies, a few at Sony and a few at SEGA Soft, so eventually I joined
some of the ones that ended up there and we started another really
cutting-edge game that never really got off the ground unfortunately :)
That was a massively multi-player online title called Skies. It was
basically a world that revolved around floating islands and creatures that
had wings like angels, demons and it was a fantasy RPG but not in your
traditional fantasy role like your Ultimas, it was actually a very
innovative take on it. Basically you started the game off as a newborn,
that s kind of how your character would exist initially, which wasn t like
a baby but that s what we called it. Like a young adventurer but as the
game progressed, as you gained more experience and spent more time online
your power would increase, you would age and get more money. So you would
go from like a newborn to a teenager to a an adult to an elder and you
could actually visually see who had actually played the game and who was
more powerful and older. And what was kind of funny, three or four years
ago we came up with these ideas and it was actually being seen as crazy
but if you look at how Everquest and Ultima Online have spawned this
e-commerce model it s actually kind of sad that we didn t do it because
when you first started the game, to equip your character, you had to buy
these things called LEDOs. These were Limited Edition Digital Objects, so
maybe you started your game as angel you d have your basic bow and when
you d fire your bow that was your basic attack. But if you wanted
something stronger like say a fire ball or lightning bolt or faster flight
you d purchase these booster packs of digital objects. So if you d buy a
lightning bolt and faster flight you could use those, in effect every
different character could be equipped with different things thus being
even more unique. It s kind of interesting, now I work at Nintendo and I
realize the underlying concepts of Pokemon are basically the same concepts
that we had. What we wanted to do was to foster a community were people
would trade, so basically if I had my angel and I was playing for six
months so I had an adult angel that was equipped with lightning bolt, fire
ball and faster flight and invisibility I could trade that for let s say a
demon and be a bad guy now, the same kind of concepts. Everything would be
limited so basically, say we sold like a million copies or something, but
maybe there d be only 500,000 lightning bolts so that would increase the
value of a lightning bolt. So if I wanted to trade for a lightning bolt I
d had to add something to the pot to make it a more compelling trade.
These LEDOs seemed like a ridiculous concept a few years ago, you bought
them in the store for real money, but today people pay thousands of
Dollars for the Ultima Online stuff and it s actually kind of funny how
right we were. There were booster packs like Magic The Gathering and say
you d buy the game off the shelf for $39.95 and we toss on half a dozen of
these LEDOs. If you didn t get anything you d want for like two Dollars
you could get a booster pack and there would be five or six of these LEDOs
in there and you could buy as many as you want until you get the right
combination of whatever you want. And then you could go online and
participate in this world and basically everything evolved around magic,
everything was based on magic and we did a lot of unique things, like to
get around Player Killing we made safe zones, it was like if you stayed on
the top of the world there wasn t enough magic to actually fight, so there
was nothing you could do except for just hanging out and talk and converse
trade. But the further you went down in the world in those floating
islands, the more magic power you got, the more you could actually fight
and journey with other people, things like that. So, it s kind of sad that
that one didn t take off as well because there was a lot of unique
concepts and innovative things that everybody else seems to be doing
today. The person that formed this group for Skies, he had another game
called Ten Six which also used these LEDOs and it s just coming to
fruition. So in some ways that LEDOs thing is actually going to happen but
what we wanted to do was to foster a lot of community so that everybody
would buy Skies and Ten Six and you could actually trade your Skies LEDOs
for Ten Six LEDOs. You couldn t use them in the other game but it would
all be kind of currency in the community in the Heat Network which was
what these were being made for. That was SEGA Soft s online network,
heat.net and we were supplying content for that.
CR: What system were these for?
FT: PC, it was for the Heat Network and PC and it s still around today and
Ten Six is just coming out and there was another one called Vigilance but
that didn t really take advantage of this other stuff. Ten Six is like the
huge online strategy game that s on 24/7 and they want a million people to
participate. Skies was a really cool game we had a comic book artist,
Michael Turner who currently does Fathom but did Witchblade at the time,
he did all of our character designs, Paradigm who developed Pilot Wings
for the N64 and a few other N64 games were doing all of the development
and programming. I mean it was a very cool concept but SEGA Soft didn t
really support it enough and now nobody of our group is actually there
anymore. Heat.net continues on but everybody kind of got dissipated around
the industry. But again, it was another great experience and another
innovative game that unfortunately never came out. Actually if you go to
Skies.net you can read a little bit about it.

CR: Cool! And from there you went to Nintendo? What do you do there now?
FT: Yeah, ironically I released almost more titles at Nintendo in the year
I  ve been there then any other place they are actually good titles,
basically I m at Nintendo now and for the moment I m doing a lot of Game
Boy development. The last title I released was a great conversion of
R-Type called R-Type DX which combined R-Type 1 and R-Type 2 for the Color
Game Boy. In kind of unique fashion, once you d finish R-Type 1 it would
click right over to R-Type 2, we called that DX mode but you could play
both games separately. The bad thing about R-Type is that it is just a
ridiculously difficult game, it s just criminally difficult, you know, the
hard-core fans like it and I think if you re a big shooter fan you ll love
it but it is very difficult. The conversion came out excellent, I would
say it s arcade-perfect since it is on the Game Boy, you know, but it
definitely pushes the Game Boy s potential to the max, it came out really
nice. Then the next game that I did was one called Bionic Commando
CR: The arcade classic?
FT: Yeah, it s based on the arcade game and that just came out really
well. It s an excellent game, in terms of game play probably surpasses the
original and the NES version in many respects. It was in color and came
out in January 2000 and is really nice, it s got digitized speech, you
know, a lot of color, great animation, very fluid. And then I ve got
another version coming up called Crystalis which is based on another old
game, an RPG, it s kind of another Zelda clone, came out in the late
80ies, achieved a lot of cult notoriety just due to its long involved game
play and due to its kind of quirky flaws, bad translation, it was
originally a Japanese game, and the fact that some of the assets you
needed were invisible and you couldn t find them and you d spend days
walking around. People put up with lots of the kind of quirky flaws and
inconsistencies but in this new version we ve added some additional levels
and fixed all that. We tightened up the story so it s a lot more coherent
and we put all the invisible objects into the game, with graphics so you
can actually see where you re supposed to go on those and it did come out
really well. The next one I ve got coming up is called Warlocked and it s
a brand new type of game for the Game Boy Color, it s a real time strategy
game and it plays really well, it s set in a medieval fantasy world and
you can choose to either play the humans or the beasts and basically just
try, you know, to conquer each other. It s resource management, you ve got
to build up a little town and mine the gold and mine the fuel and build
your armies up. One of the neat things that we ve added to the game is
that we ve got these wizards and in true Pokemon-like fashion not
everybody will get every wizard in the game thus forcing the player to
trade. So if I have like the fire-wizard and you have the bomb-wizard and
I want your wizard I can trade it for mine  just hook up. Another unique
thing that we have added to the game is when you play through the basic
levels, say you ve got ten archers and three knights and two wizards left,
you start stockpiling all these excess troops and assets. And then you can
trade with your friend these stats-bases army cards, say you ve played for
a week and you trade with your friend and your screen you ll have this
little animated statistics battle and you can set the amount of troops and
I can set the amount of troops that you want to fight against and will
just do this little stats-based thing and it s just a neat little
mini-game to get people an incentive to play through the game multiple
times and try to be more efficient and see how many troops they can
survive each level with. And then they can just send them to their friends
and see who is the better general I guess :) It s a neat little game which
should hopeful be out sometime this summer.

                    Faran with more of his collection.

CR: What do you think about video games today, compared to the ones in the
past?
FT: Basically, I think the video games right now on average, you know, are
better for the most part. I know, probably the primary audience reading
this is the retro-gamer but, you know, I play a lot of the retro-games too
but I don t know if they necessarily have the longevity and the game play,
like you take something like Bionic Commando, which you can fondly
remember of being this really awesome game and you pop that baby in today
and it s just really difficult to play. The controls are very awkward, the
animation is very limited and it s very difficult. And I ve only learned
this through redoing it and when we did our new version you could pull of
these complicated drop-swings and do all kinds of fancy tricks that would
have been extremely difficult to do in the original version and you go
back and just look at the limited frames of animation and the kind of
sticky controls where as the games of today have great fluid life-like
animation and great controls. I mean, the racing games today, you can
like, turn on a dime, it s just the technology has really allowed the game
designers and developers to really come out with some really awesome
stuff. Sure there is some crappy games but there were always crappy games
and I think that the games today are really leaps and bounds better.
Clearly a lot of that comes from the influence of the games of yesterday
but I think if you go back to some of the old games, the average person
they probably won t be as cool as they necessarily remember them.
Sometimes, you know, the memory of something is a lot better than the
reality. And they are also spending a lot more time on quality control.
Like Nintendo has many ways of gauging the quality, like we have out
famous Mario Club which really has to evaluate every game that comes
through, from third party games to our own games, you know, and make they
all make the grade. Because at the end of the day, what happens, Acclaim
can release a crappy game but the purchasers are not going to call
Acclaim, they are going to call us, they are going to hold us responsible
in many cases, so we have to make sure everything meets our standards of
quality.

CR: Do you still have contact with your old buddies from Atari?
FT: I basically see them at, you know, the trade shows, last one was the
Game Developers Conference, I saw all the old Atari people like Don Thomas
and James Grunky and a lot of the guys that I worked with, it was cool. A
lot of them are actually at Nuon, which is kind of the next generation
Jaguar, I really don t know how that will fare. I guess they got a good
system, getting it packaged and bundled into DVD players and that s kind
of an interesting philosophy, but, you know, we ll see how that works. I
mean, I think unfortunately their technology is just kind of a little bit
better than the original Jaguar and it s not really going to be
competitive with, you know, the next generation Nintendo system or
Dreamcast, Sony or X-Box. As kind of a novelty and getting this game-thing
into your DVD player, they might sell a few units of software here and
there but it s not going to be the critical mass, I mean, like Nintendo.
Everything has to sell in the millions, otherwise it s kind of viewed as a
disappointment, you know, I don  t think that Nuon is going to get the
critical mass of buyers of their software, but who knows?

CR: A word about the next generation systems?
FT: Nothing about the Dolphin that I can tell you other then the things in
the press :)
CR: How about the Playstation 2? I wasn t that impressed with it.
FT: Actually they showed it at the Game Developers Conference and we just
got one in and the PS2 so far today is very underwhelming. Ridge Racer,
Street Fighter, Tekken are all slightly nicer versions of their
Playstation counterparts and as an American, does it justify the thousand
or so bucks that it s going to cost you to import that thing right now?
The only interesting thing is, you know, it play the different region-code
DVD movies and that even only by, you know, accident :) For the people
that are interested in renting or buying European or Japanese DVDs, so you
re talking a very small segment and I think one thing that the PS2 has on
its side is this massive hype machine and the reality of the system as it
stands today is not going to filter down to the average Playstation fan
unless the American software kicks ass they re going to be sorely
disappointed with it when they pop in their discs and it s going to be
slightly prettier versions of the old games. And Dead or Alive for the
Dreamcast came out this week and it s comparable visually to Tekken on the
PS2, so you know, I think Sony boxed themselves into a corner with the
limited amount of RAM as well as a multi-processor gaming unit. At the
Game Developers Conference they had the founders of Naughty Dog, the
developers of Crash Bandicoot come out and talk about how programming the
VPU for the PS2 was a challenge and people should think of it like a
puzzle. But if I want to do a puzzle, you know, I get the New York Times
crossword or something and not I mean, I think that s kind of what killed
Saturn and Jaguar was this very difficult way programming the chips and
you have these multiple processors and it s not straight-forward and sure
there is a few people out there who are going to be able to maximize this
and think it s cool but video games have become such a business and an
industry that you need kind of a reliable way of scheduling and delivering
product to the consumer and if you make the system too complicated, no
matter how powerful it s going to be, it s going to screw you up in the
end because people aren t going to be able to make their deadlines or they
are just going to use such a minimal part of the machine s power that, you
know, the games are going to come out as being very average and mediocre
and probably fall into one of the things that At the Game Developers
Conference they had Shenmue for the Dreamcast and I mean it s great!
Playstation2, when they gave their keynote they ran some videos of some
upcoming games and, I admit they were early prototypes, but it didn t look
that great and they had people walk through unpopulated worlds. And then
in Shenmue you re walking through this populated city, there is people
that are bumping into you, there is people that you can talk to and you
can go to any store and they created a really good world. The models look
as good as anything I ve seen on the Playstation2 so far and Shenmue is,
you know, a couple year old technology when it s all said and done. I
think Playstation2 almost has a little bit of catch-up to do, even with
the Dreamcast and SEGA has a great opportunity now that people will
exposing some of the PS2 s weaknesses, so if they come out with a really
good marketing campaign they ll actually have a change to drive a good
wedge for the next six months until the new Nintendo platform comes out :)
The new Nintendo stuff is going to be very, very cool!
CR: What do you think about Microsoft s X-Box?
FT: I think the big challenge for Microsoft will be content, I mean, at
Nintendo we ve got great content, we ve got Pokemon, Mario and Zelda and
those are the experiences that people are really going to want to get
into, you know, at the end of the day it s all coming down to the consumer
and what they want to see and they want great content. SEGA s got a lot of
that too with their arcade division and Sonic and that s something that
Sony has been desperately trying to get and they ve come out with a few
franchises but not the first-party franchises that Nintendo has. That will
be pretty difficult for Microsoft to do, to come up with their characters
and franchises, it will be very interesting, but who can predict, you
know, we at Nintendo have a lot of good content in our corner.

CR: A final word about the future of dedicated video game consoles?
FT: Back in the days people were predicting the death of the console and
that the PC would rule the video game world but you know what, it s a very
different gaming experience between playing a game on a PC and playing a
game on a console. And I think people, you know, are pretty much used to
different devices doing different things, at least at the moment and I don
t think people want to play their video games on their microware or
something ridiculous like that. It s always going to be content and the
games that people want to play and they have to be made by creative people
that create exciting experiences and that s what it really comes down to.
I heard that a lot of people in Japan buy their PS2s to play DVDs because
DVD players are expensive there and I don t know if that model is going to
fly here. You know, how many people play their music CDs on their regular
Playstations here? Once the DVD players get down to 150 Dollars you won t
be playing your DVDs on your PS2. Overall this multi-purpose thing, you
know, as I said, it s all content. People will find various ways of
delivering that content but at the end of the day it s really the content.

CR: Thanks Faran for doing this! Some really cool stuff in there! Any
chance you may be showing up at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas?
FT: I d like to but a lot of is if I m busy, if I can get somebody else to
pay for it :) you know.
CR: Well, I hope to see you next time at the NWCGE meeting?
FT: Yeah, how come you guys only do those once a year?
CR: Well, maybe we should do them more often then :)
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