A few people at IMGDC asked me about my background, and a few others I have met recently at some other events wanted to know what I have worked on. My answer is usually “nothing you have ever heard of”, but I *have* been around for a long time, just under the radar. But really…what have I worked on? What the hell was I doing in the early 90s? What is so amusing?
I was running a comic book store in the really early 90’s when I met someone launching a virtual reality arcade game company. After chatting a few times, I was hired as the first full-time employee at the company (there were already several developers working as contractors that later became employees as well). My job title was “Senior Multimedia Engineer”. That basically meant that I was involved in everything that anything to do with multimedia. Designer, Artist, Animator, Modeler, Sound Engineer, etc. etc. In addition to my normal duties, I helped build the actual arcade machines (we did it all in house) and ran them at trade shows.
My first game was a virtual reality (VR) conversion of Wolfenstein 3D. Lots of fun that was. On my first day of work, I was handed Deluxe Paint (no manual), 3D studio (I think it was R1 or R2), and Animator Pro (no manual). I was then told “to figure it out”. What fun!
It wasn’t long before I was hiring and training other artists, and after we had a couple of people, it was my job to come up with a new game using the Wolfenstein 3D/VR engine. So, I created Cybertag. It was multiplayer (we could network the arcade machines), and you picked one of several characters before jumping into a never ending battle royale with other players. There were lots of powerups and stuff, but it was all rather simple. I did all of the graphics and animation for the game. Someone else handled the GUI, some of the level design, and of course all of the programming.
After we finished Cybertag, we started another title, Xenomorph, but by this time I wanted to get into sound effects and engineering, so I started the audio department, grabbed a lot of gear, and started making original sound effects. I’m still proud of the cool ass effect I got after using a high-end digital microphone to record the sound of film ejecting from a Polaroid camera (it totally picked up the sound of all of the gears inside), which I proceeded to warp the hell out of in several effects processors and a sampler/synthesizer. By the time I was done, it was scary, cool, and sounded nothing like a camera. Hah.
Here are two shots from a really old brochure:
There was a screenshot of Cybertag on the back, but I can’t find the brochure in my archives to scan for you. I grabbed these photos above off the net.
So anyway, the owners of that company eventually got into a bit of a tiff which destroyed the company, and I moved on with one of the artists (close friend of mine) to Raleigh where I started a MMORPG company in 1995. Yeah, 1995. We were going to make the first *real-time* 3D MMORPG. Back then, everything was still VGA, and most game engines were still using 2D sprites to fake 3D.
I was pretty young at the time, and although I managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, build a team of about 20 people, and a few other accomplishments I am proud of, the company eventually imploded. One of my partners was a real bad egg that had a warped sense of reality. Long story that. I mean, really long and requiring vast amounts of alcohol to get me in the mood to recount it.
Moving on…is exactly what I did after the horrible aftermath there. I worked for a few other game companies and eventually started focusing on consulting or working with other MMORPGs in some capacity or other.
In January 1998 I was in a bit of a silly mood and I submitted a really dorky picture of myself wearing a beret and making a face to gamasutra.com’s feature “Geek of the Week”. I had completely forgotten about this, but I was looking for old photos of the VR Arcade units when I found the listing in gamasutra’s archives (yeah, they picked me as the Geek of the Week that particular week).
The most interesting thing, to me anyway, are my responses to the questions. If you have been reading my posts here, you can see that I still feel the same way about things as I did nearly 10 years ago. Except now, I am really steaming about the state of the industry, and I think that money hungry publishers have handicapped the industry terribly. As I reflect back on the conference from this past weekend (Independent MMORPG Game Developers Conference for those of you just catching up), I am beginning to think that the real next-generation stuff (originality, innovation, ideas, stories) is definitely going to come from the Indie sector. Sure, Indies might not have billions of dollars or the most bleeding edge graphics tech, but so what? It ultimately boils down to how much fun the game is, and not how flashy, right?
Here is the Geek of the Week link for your amusement. Please don’t make too much fun of the photo, it was a joke, and one I will regret ever having published haha. Hey, at least I’m not naked. Now, that would be funny. Then again, so is this picture of me smoking my pipe (over on the right).
I’ve been doing a lot of things since 99, maybe I’ll talk about them some other time. Meanwhile, I have some other things that are much more interesting that I will mention soon enough.
Robert “Nicodemus” Rice