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INTERVIEW
Dave Perry

Dave Perry, the founder of Shiny Entertainment,
is most notably known for designing Earthworm Jim,
as well as programming numerous other great pieces of software.

MT> You obviously started programming at a very young age. Please describe your early programming adventures - locale, equipment, content and other details that our readers might find of interest.
DP> My first experience with a computer was with a school Research Machines 380Z in England. People had made very simple games for it that you had to play as the letter 'V' and imagine you were a spaceship. It's amazing how much fun that was! We are so spoilt these days. Much more fun than studying, I started making and publishing games (through magazines and books) for the Sinclair ZX81 (Timex Sinclair 1000 in USA), the games were 1K and I was paid $50 a game. My first check was for about $600 and so I was simply amazed that you could get paid for having fun. My first book sold 12,000 copies! From that day in high school, I have never done any other job and find myself at 34 years old having been doing the same job for 20 years and still loving it!

MT> While your family was not originally supportive of your career choice, now that you have become a successful entity, have they reconsidered? Does your mother play Earthworm Jim?
DP> None of my family play games except my older sister who is still in love with Frogger. They used to have ZERO respect for video games and used to shout to me "come and eat your dinner, stop playing with your computer." Needless to say, once the checks came rolling in, the attitude changed. That said, I think the fact that they still don't play games shows me how we still have a long way to evolve before we really do embrace all walks of life.

MT> If the videogame industry was not so entrenched in California, would you consider trading your Laguna Beach location for your native Ireland?
DP>
No, I find that waking up in a sunny place makes me smile. I used to leave my house in the winter and had to pour water all over it trying to unfreeze it. Only then could I wrench the frozen door open, meanwhile coughing foggy freezing air. In California I get up on the weekends, look at the ocean and decide if I want to swim or have a tan. I can visit Ireland at any time, so I feel I have managed to get the best of both worlds.

MT> You have been involved in creating over four dozen different videogames. Have you played the role as programmer for all these projects, or have you worn other hats from time to time?
DP> I did the programmer thing for a long long time and as the team grew, so did my responsibility to manage the company. This decreasing focus then, started to clearly show me that it was better to let other people take away that task so I could manage more. After a few years of management (which you get no thanks for by the way), I slowly started to get back heavily into design and am now working hard on the design for the Matrix video game. I am now working harder than I have since Earthworm Jim and it feels great.

MT> If the Guinness Book of World Records documented such entries, you would certainly be considered for the most active individual in the game industry. At one point, you had over ten titles on the market simultaneously. Can you name them?
DP> I can't remember which eleven it was, but I remember standing in a WH Smith store counting them, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was #1. It was the first time I had gotten a Christmas #1 game and it sold 425,000 copies on Sinclair Spectrum alone! I was tired, but what a great year.

MT> When programming The Terminator 11 years ago, you had the Sega Genesis hardware performing beyond Sega's recommendations and allowances. Please explain 'Thru-Put' and what it meant?
DP> In the old days, video games used the Z80 microprocessor, it's funny to see it's still getting used today! In the Z80 there were things that you could do that were classed as 'undocumented' or 'illegal' as they were not formally recognized as working properly by Zilog (the chip maker.) Needless to say, with experimentation, some of these 'undocumented' features greatly helped game performance, so we tried releasing our 'modified' games to see what happened. We NEVER had a problem and the gamer got a better experience. So then when I first started working with the Sega Genesis hardware, I had the badly translated Japanese manuals; I found translation problems all over the place. It turned out quicker to experiment than to trust the manual and soon I found a way to double the amount of graphics I could push through the machine completely by accident. I checked with Sega and it was not supposed to work. Tricks like that can greatly help developers compete.

MT> Most games are designed with hundreds of pages of draft that document most every detail of the game to be produced. Why was Earthworm Jim produced without a script?
DP> I believed that making a game should be based on what is working, I used to call it Dynamic Design. You start making what you think could be cool, then build and expand on the bits that did indeed work well. Nowadays with bigger teams, it's too messy to use that system and so we are getting a lot more formal with documents and production.

MT> While Earthworm Jim's violence was disguised in a cartoony animated fashion, your Wild 9 game featured the act of torture prominently. What are your feelings towards videogame violence?
DP> If a company was to make very very violent video games, they just don't sell. This happens for many reasons, but mostly because of distribution issues. That generally solves the problem before it starts. Games cost millions of dollars to make now, and nobody is going to fund a really really violent game if it will only appear in 5% of stores. If you make semi-violent games (with blood), which get approved by Sony and Sega and Nintendo, then you are at TV/Movie violence level. This I personally do not see as a problem as billions of people seem to be able to read books and watch movies without feeling the need to kill their friends. Even that access is getting controlled better now than ever before. As for realism, that is a design decision... Yes we could make cartoon games all day long, yes we could make bullets bounce off you, yes we could make you able to fall 300 feet but not break a leg, but realism dictates that is 'dumb'. (Like it would in movies, books, theater and television.) I do however agree with Warnings, Ratings & ID Checks... I do not want my children to be able to buy Mature games, but I do want it on the shelf so I can buy it. I personally dislike the current cryptic ratings symbols and would prefer just a "FOR AGE 18 OR OLDER" logo. Frankly, I think the public would be lying if they said they did not understand that. The solution is not to hide from issues like this, it's to simply set up sensible controlled access and make the system simple to understand.

MT> Why did you choose to be a panel member for Computer Game Developers' Conference.
DP> Firstly because I respect the concept of the show, being that all developers take the time to meet and are happy to discuss game development issues at a very sophisticated level. Secondly because I am always eager to learn more and there are a lot of VERY bright/focused people there. Thirdly because a lot of the people there are my heroes, and it's extremely cool to meet them in a bar after the show!

MT> What do we have to look forward to from Shiny in the future?
DP> We are all about the Matrix, and we plan to show you just how deep the Rabbit Hole goes.



It is very seldom that a great and original game character comes along with such flare
as Earthworm Jim. We salute Dave for his contributions to our beloved gaming mascots,
and look forward to his future offerings!

Have questions? E-mail Dave
Visit Shiny's Website

 

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