From RoadsideThoughts ...|
A Bit of Vectrex History
From Passport Magazine, 1984
Interview with Programmer John Hall
By Sean Fitzgerald
Out of the Torrance, California home of 32-year old computer programmer John Hall have come some of the most exciting and challenging Vectrex games. John has been responsible for the development of Mine Storm, the fast-paced space game built into Vectrex; Fortress of Narzod, the new fantasy adventure game; and Dark Tower, the incredible new video adaptation of the popular Milton Bradley board game. Following is an interview with John conducted recently  by Sean Fitzgerald, GCE's Marketing Services Manager:
Those of us not familiar with computers and computer programming may not quite understand what it is you do. Can you explain how you program video games?
"Sure. I start with an idea for a game that's already been developed by a game designer. Usually these ideas are diagrammed on story boards which are a series of illustrations that look something like a very intricate cartoon strip. My job is to actually create the game using a computer and match the design on the story boards. Sometimes it's not always possible to exactly duplicate wbat the designer has created, so I have to use my imagination to determine what compromises will be made to achieve the best possible game. Once I've developed the game's graphics, I'll program the details like sound effects, scoring and special visual effects.
"I don't mean to make this sound like an easy process. It takes a long time and a lot of hard work on the computer to program a game. But I enjoy my work and feel it's very worthwhile."
How-long does It take to program a game--taking it from the story board stage to the final product?
"I'll use Mine Storm as an example, That game took over four months to complete. The first third of that project went very smoothly. But like most of the games I've worked on, it's the final two-thirds that take all the time. All the detail work can make you crazy! During the game programming process I have to include input from the game designers, the marketing department and the many people who actually play-test the games--all of whom have changes they want made to the game."
How can a person train to become a video game programmer?
"As far as I know, there is no particular training regimen for video game programmers. Everyone I know who is in the field has come to it from very odd angles. I have a strong computer background--others come from engineering, graphic design, electronics.
"To excel at video game programming, you will need a strong working knowledge of computers and a good understanding of how they work. You'll also have to be relatively creative and have a great deal of patience. I find that it's not the big things that take time--it's all the little details."
What advice do you have for people who want to become Involved in video game programming?
"Everyone I know who is successful in video games is a person who has very general interests and skills. I'd recommend that a person entering the field have a very good and general knowledge of computers combined with an understanding of people. Programming a game is not a very difficult thing to do--creating one that is challenging and will keep people entertained is tough."
Of all the games you've developed, which one is your personal favorite?
"Without a doubt it's Dark Tower Volume I. It's the first in an ongoing series of games based on the Milton Bradley original and it is hot! Actually, it's more of an adventure than a game--and it will change in character each time you play. You control a squadron of warriors who must seek out magical keys which will later be used to enter the Tower. They will encounter all kinds of hazards, monsters and powerful magicians along the way. Dark Tower Volume I will go on sale in the Fall and I think it's going to be a very popular game."
What are you working on right now?
"All I can tell you is that I'm working on a game involving air combat and a lot of action and you'll be hearing more about it soon. That reminds me, there is one more thing you'll need if you want to be a successful game programmer--you've got to be able to keep secrets!"
OK, I don't remember being interviewed for this article. I do remember that somebody from GCE marketing called me one day and we talked for a while - maybe 10 minutes or so.
Much of the above really doesn't sound like me and apparently some creative liberties were taken.
At the time, I was enamored with the idea of being a generalist (and still am). Becoming good in a narrow field is relatively easy. While being good with a single skill is to be respected and admired, I don't think that it should be the end-all. Over the course of my career, the people who I was most impressed with have been multi-talented. I have benefited by trying to follow their example.
During that phone call, I remember emphasizing that just being good at computers wouldn't be enough to be a good game designer/programmer. All the people I encountered at Western Technologies and GCE had a diverse range of skills. I think of them as a good examples of being a 'generalist' and it was the bringing together of those skills that created the Vectrex. It was an impressive group of people.