Lee was a graphic artist for Gottlieb, and is known by and large
as the creator of Q*Bert. He also contributed to Krull
and other coin-ops.
You are known by and large as the creator of Q*Bert. Is
there another project that you would like the readers to know
about that perhaps you are not usually associated with - something
that didn't make it so big that you are proud of?
JL> A project which was a lot of fun was a redemption game
called "Double Cheese". This was another one of
Howie Rubin's games which we did around 1993 for his small company
H.A.R. Howie had been the video division VP at Gottlieb during
the Q*Bert days. The hardware and software was designed
contractually by the staff of a Chicago video distributor. Howie
conceived the gameplay, basically a roulette game. But, he allowed
me pretty much free rein with the theme and graphics. I tried
initially to convince him to call the game "Slick Wheelie" and
make it a Clinton theme, but he didn't want to tread there.
So, we settled on a laboratory of a deranged scientist tormenting
a bunch of lab rats wearing boxer shorts and dago-tees. It was
a very simple game, but the graphics were very cartoonish, with
enough oomph to allow good animation sequences and wide color
Your first job for Gottlieb was a variation of pinball and a videogame.
Please tell us about the game Caveman.
A standard pinball machine was equipped with a small color monitor
mounted into the upper playfield. "Caveman" commences
and finishes with standard pinball play, however when the ball
was snared by one or two capture holes, the video game started
on the monitor. At this point the player switched to a joystick
to control the Caveman who raced around a maze. I'm a little hazy
on the gameplay, but it was essentially Pac-Man
style. (I don't remember if Pac-Man was released
in the U.S. at the time or note.) The Caveman alternately chased
or was chased by dinosaurs and a mammoth. The player racked up
points and when a life was lost, the video turned off, the pinball
was ejected from the capture hole and the pin game continued.
The available memory for sprites and colors (4) was very limited.
The graphics were created on an Apple II. I think one of programmers
wrote a little utility for sprite creation, but I had no tool
to check out the 2 or 3 step animation, other than flipping paper.
I had to burn the set onto EPROMs and then we could check it out
on the wirerap hardware once the code was in place.
You have created artwork for numerous videogames. How did you
approach the creative process? Did you have a particular system
for creating characters and artwork?
It depended on the development stage of the video game operation
of the company, the source of the game concept/theme, whether
it was original to the programmer/designer or tied in to some
cross-marketing concept. Fortunately most of the projects were
original in concept. These were always more fun. The biggest consideration
was the limited number of available foreground and background
haracters/sprites. Once the hardware system was complete and more
staff brought on board, our guys wrote graphic utility programs
for me. FOGUS (foreground object graphic utility system) , BOGUS
(background object, etc.) and GAS (Gottlieb animation system)
all improved my ease and speed of working.
Since typically a game was designed by its programmer I would
consult with them regarding the theme, make sketches and run it
by them... often creating several choices of characters. I think
we were all pretty accommodating of each other, they were often
glad to get any art since I was the only artist initially, or
they just liked what I came up with. Often Howie and Ron, our
VPs, would throw in a suggestion, a request or a veto, which might
or might not be acted upon. But in general they gave us a wide
latitude and seemed pleased with the art.
How did the works of M.C. Escher influence the creation of Q*Bert?
I love his work. Of course he had used the motif of the cubes
in some of pieces...I don't imagine he originated it...he had
studied the ancient Moorish tiles of Islamic Spain, but collections
of his work certainly brought it to my attention in the early
'70s. His stunning pieces such as "Relativity" absolutely inspired
the notion of Ugg and Wrongway traveling in their unique orientations.
In my original game description I proposed that Q*Bert
be able to switch orientations and only be subject to enemies
of that plane. This was not implemented because it was either
not a good idea or we lacked the memory for the additional sprites
The original name for Q*Bert was 'Snots & Boogers'
- This was obviously changed. Why?
It was probably considered too vulgar for a business in an industry
which had always struggled against the taint of disrepute.
The Q*Bert character was originally to shoot projectiles
from his nose. Do you feel that gameplay could have been improved
with this design element intact?
We'll never know unless some hacker implements it. In retrospect,
considered how many video games evolved into unwholesomely violent
and gruesome presentations, it's part of the innocent charm of
the game that Q*Bert is "unarmed". Plus, it makes
him seem like more a sympathetic plucky noser, surviving by his
wits and dexterity.
The chosen name of Q*Bert evolved from the combination
of 'Q' (short for 'Cube') and the name Hubert. Cube + Hubert =
Cubbert. Shortened for pronunciation to 'Q-Bert.' The obvious
question: What's with 'Hubert', and why was that name chosen?
My recollection is a meeting with Howie and my boss, Richard Tracy,
Gottlieb's art director. Richard and I had lists of names. We
just threw them out in a brain-storming process. I've always credited
Richard with the Hubert/Cube hybrid. Cubert, which sounds right,
however doesn't look as cool as Q*Bert, in which
we were able to include an asterisk, which was reminiscent of
the @!#?@!. Why was it chosen given the alternatives? I don't
know. We needed something. Howie liked it.
You created the expletive '@!#?@!' Did this have a particular
meaning, or simply meant to imply some random cussing?
It implies random cussing.
What type of tools did you use to create your images and artwork
- pen and pencil, computer, or another medium?
Pens, pencils, stat and Polaroid cameras and computers. For M.A.C.H.3
I made a model of the plane for reference. Some later games which
were never completed also involved building models or human models
taking Polaroids and using them as guides. I would trace over
them with tracing paper and from the tracing paper then on to
grid paper over a light table. I might color the grid paper drawings
and then fire up FOGUS to recreate my grid drawing, all with key
commands. No mouses, no digitizing. Pretty primitive by today's
The character of 'Sam' was named in reference to your fellow co-worker
Sam Russo. How were the other character names developed?
Coily is a pun. Ugg and Wrong-way were just picked from lists
of suggestions. Slick and Sam is a variant on the phrase Spick
and Span, Slick because of the shades and Sam because of Sam Russo.