The CGW Computer Game Conference
Feature by Dan Bunten
Computer Gaming World Volume 4 Number 5 (October 1984)
At the recent ORIGINS 84 (National gaming convention) Computer Gaming World sponsored a conference on computer games. Our Dispatches columnist, Dan Bunten, chaired the conference. The "star studded" panel included: Dan Bunten, Softscape (7 Cities, M.U.L.E., et.al); Mike Cullum, Avalon Hill Microcomputer Games Product Director; Sid Meier, Microprose (Nato Commander Hellcat Ace, et.al); Chris Crawford, Freelance Programmer working on Macintosh software just now (Eastern Front, Legionnaire, Excalibur, et.al); Roe Adams, Former editor at Softalk and holder of numerous adventure game "first-to-solve" titles; Robert Woodhead, Sir-Tech (Wizardry, et.al); and Lord British/Richard Garriott, Origin Systems (Ultima Series).
QUESTION: What computers are you targeting for? How do you rank the priority of computers that you are developing games for?
CULLUM: The feedback we are getting from our dealers and customers has caused us to put a priority on the Commodore. Then Apple and Atari. Avalon Hill tends to be conservative so we are taking a wait-andsee stance towards the Macintosh.
MEIER: The Commodore is the computer of choice right now. Apple has been picking up somewhat, and Atari has been so-so recently.
CRAWFORD: Macintosh is number one because it is the most powerful machine out there. And it will have a decent enough marketplace. The Commodore is number two for the short term. For the long term Commodore is a big question mark. Number three is Apple II. After that it all sort of dissolves into a pile of IBMs and Ataris.
BUNTEN: I don't think any of us are answering this question on the basis of what are our "druthers" (with the possible exception of Chris). We are answering according to what makes good business sense. If you are going to stay in this industry you have to respond to the market. Very few people feel strongly about the Commodore being a big plus (Ed.- as a programming machine? ... ) except for the fact that it sold well and therefore there is a very good market for C-64 games. So we write first for Commodore, second for Atari, then Apple and Macintosh come later.
ADAMS: I still think Apple is going to do very well; especially now that they have released the lIe. People are really into small machines and the IIc is small, and has powerful gaming features. The real kicker in this whole discussion is the IBM. The IBM market is so vast out there. The trouble is that you cannot sell anything for the IBM if call it a "game", it's got to be called a "simulation". Flight Simulator came out 30 and sold a couple hundred thousand copies because everyone got to fly the corporate plane. So, if someone came out with a corporate wargame.... (laughter drowned out his discussion which mentioned something about Ford Motor Co. attacking GMC.) Anyone that could crack the IBM market will walk away with a'nice plum. But to do it you almost have to redefine what you mean by gaming.
WOODHEAD: I don't write games to make money (Ed.: much laughter from the audience as well as the rest of the panel). I write games because I want to write them. Ifthey make money that's fine. In fact, that's great!. ... My major development effort right now is on the Macintosh. It's a nifty machine with a lot of power. You can do so much with it.
GARRIOTT: I must agree with Robert on both my motives for writing games and also the long term effects of the Macintosh. The Mac is so much more powerful than any of the other machines currently available. If it doesn't do well, something will have really gone wrong. However, for the current situation, I disagree with everyone else's strategy for the Commodore. If you start writing on the C-64 or the Atari with their fancy graphics, features which the Apple does not have, the translation up to the Apple is far more difficult, perhaps even impossible. All of our authors are writing on the the Apple. The translation to the Atari is very easy, as long as we are working in machine language. The conversion from the Atari to the C-64 is even easier (after some graphics changes). It works well and everyone is happy.
BUNTEN: But IS everyone happy? You Atari and Commodore people in the audience, are you happy with the Apple rewrites?
GARRIOTT: The only problem with that is that if the game is written on the C-64 or Atari with sprites, the Apple version will never get done. From a publisher's point of view that's not money wise. Publishers have to be sure that whatever game they do can reasonably be translated to other computers without having to do a total rewrite of the game.
QUESTION: Where do the panelists think computer strategy games are going in the future?
CULLUM: More graphics, more memory. I would love to see a half-megabyte game, I think it would be fantastic. As for Avalon Hill, we will continue to make more historical simulations ("wargames" is a term that is acceptable to this audience, but for many it isn't, so we call our games, "historical simulations"). The marketplace will continue to demand more graphics or arcade style action. If you've got a flight simulator or a Battle of Britain game, the players are going to want to "go up there and shoot it out".
MEIER: I think there is a lot of room for improvement in the current generation of strategy games. Basically, I believe we are at the first level of what can be achieved. One area that I think will see a lot of work in the days ahead is the quality of the computer opponent. Another area that we have not touched on is the interactive game via modem and/or network. Strategy games have a lot of potential in this area.
CRAWFORD: The major problem facing the design community right now is the unnecessary polarization between the visceral and the and the cerebral; between the fast paced shoot-'em-up game and the strategy game. Everyone is trying to define games in terms of a scale between these two"extremes". The solution which is coming slowly, is another dimension to gaming, namely the interpersonal element. I do not mean interpersonal in the sense of playing with another person, but rather the social element inside the game. Games right now concentrate on "things". My slogan is "People, not Things!" Ultimately, most of us do not really care about "things". The most important "things" in life are our relationships with other people. Our games should reflect this. If you imagine a novel or a movie with no people in it then will see why I think games are so sterile right now. We need to put characters, REAL characters, not just something with a certain number of hit points associated with it.
ADAMS: One of the reasons so many hard core D&D players don't like computer adventure and role-playing games is that they are so conventional. There is no real Dungeon Master in the game; no feeling of human unpredictability. I think Infocom is striving to solve this problem, but they have a long way to go. The next generation of computer adventure games will need to put a feeling of spontaneity into the game.
WOODHEAD: I see two major developments occuring over the next few years. On the hardware end: someone is going to start delivering software on digital audio disks. The three hardware limitations in computer game design are the speed of the computer, the amount ofRAM, and the amount ofdisk space you have available. The disk space can be a major limitation, especially when you are trying to model something well. On the software end: with improved hardware we will begin to see games based on "expert systems". An expert system is a complex computer program that a very large database that allows it to make judgements. These expert systems are already in use in many areas of business and science. If your database is large enough, an expert system should be able to realistically mimic roles ofhuman beings in adventure games. You could have Inspector Clouseau wandering through a game, controlled by a very defective expert system. Or you could have a Sherlock Holmes wandering through an adventure, appearing, disappearing, asking questions, etc. Look for these kinds of games in about three years.
GARRIOTT: The current trend is for better graphics and animation as well as deeper plots (in adventure games). Ultima IV, which I am currently working on, has completely animated graphics, a full six-voice synthesizer, and an improved "discussion algorithm" which makes interaction more realistic. Graphics, sound and depth is where we all have to focus currently.
BUNTEN: Most of the panelists fall into the adventure/role-playing camp or the wargame/strategy game camp. My recent efforts don't really fall into either. M.U.L.E. is more of a family game. It feels more like Monopoly than anything one would include in the strategy or adventure game catagory. While the market for wargames and adventure games is large, there is an enormous market for people who don't have computers yet, who don't care about board games at all, who have never played anything heavier than Trivial Pursuit. Games, to them, are already too intimidating. Games have got to become friendly, simple, easy and yet, deep! A good game makes it trivial for these people to figure out what they THINK they want to do, but the difficulty must be in figuring what they really NEED to do to solve the puzzle. If we can get people to sit down at a game and through their own intuition, figure out how things are and what things will occur, THEN we can make the next break into what games really can be.
QUESTION: What are each of you working on now?
WOODHEAD: Macintosh Wizardry, plus we may have a TRS-80 version coming out. We have two Apple Wizardry scenarios in the works. One is a sequel to Legacy of Llygamyn (as yet un-named). The other one is The Return of Wyrdna, and Roe Adams is doing the design.
CRAWFORD: I'm working on a game for the Macintosh entitled ARMS RACE based on the philosophy that "H-bombs don't kill people, Geopolitics kills people."
MEIER: We are continuing to write games for the wargame market on the C-64, Atari and Apple.
CULLUM: We are going to be doing a lot of conversions of our classic boards games to the computer. We are converting some of the Victory Game Co. board games. We are also working on Status Pro Football.
BUNTEN: Softscape is working on the Apple version of Seven Cities of Gold. The IBM version is going to be out in the fall. The Macintosh version will be out before Christmas.
Next year ORIGINS will be in Baltimore. Look for more information in a future issue.
RetroReview Note: Sid's mispelled name has been corrected throughout the above feature. In the original article it was was incorrectly spelled "Meir."
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