The people in the hall got a chance to mail us questions for our special guest, David Fox. We could only choose a few of them due to limited time. Still, he has been a great sport in answering as many of them as he could and turning it into a great interview which is a joy to read for anyone with a slight interest in games and game development. Enjoy!
1 ) What do you think about the development in the gameindustry, in the
sense that adventure games are less prioritized to first person
shooters/shoot 'em ups. And that adventure games are being cancelled.
(Sam n' Max 2, Full Throttle 2)?
I'd love to see adventure games continue to be created, and for the art of
adventure games to continue to grow and mature. I think what we see
happening is being driven purely by commercial considerations. Game
companies must be looking at the high cost of creating an adventure game
vs. how much return they'll have -- purely a business decision. Best way
to counteract this is by sending email to the companies telling them what
you want... and by buying the adventure games that are still being made.
Or, maybe gather together a new company to make original adventure games!
Bottom line, until another adventure game makes a lot of money (say, like
Myst), you may not see many being made. But that will never happen if none
are being made!
2) Have you in any way influenced the fact that it usually is almost
impossible to die in most Lucas Arts adventure games?
Probably not much. I'd give most of the credit for this to fellow Lucas
designer Ron Gilbert. He spent a lot of time playing Sierra adventure
games and really disliked the way they used death as a way to impede the
player and prolong the game... worse, you could die from doing simple
things that in real life would never kill you. For example, while playing
one of their games I remember picking up a piece of a broken mirror,
cutting myself and dying. I was really angry with the game, that it
wasn't playing fair -- it felt like the designer had either taken the lazy
way out by coming up with lots of silly ways to die so you'd have to waste
time going back to an earlier saved game and trying again, or was just
plain sadistic, treating the game player as the victim of a practical joke
(ha ha, I'll kill them if they tie their shoes the wrong way!) All this
rather than spending more time coming up with creative, challenging, yet
So, before Ron designed Maniac Mansion, he came up with a list of 10 rules
that we should never (or almost never) break while designing our adventure
games. One was that you shouldn't be able to die. Or, at least you
shouldn't be able to die unless you were truly in a dangerous situation,
like crossing a chasm while balancing on a rope -- since in real life
you'd be very careful, and you know you could die, then in the game it
would be appropriate. Or, if the situation isn't obviously dangerous, it
should be clearly telegraphed to the player. For example, if a monster is
going to jump out, play scary "warning" music. So, we avoided using
as a way to make the game last longer.
3) Of all games you've worked on, what is your favorite? Easy question... Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Of the all
graphic adventures I worked on, it was the only one where I had complete
control of the plot, story, jokes, and everything that went in it. So it
was the most rewarding experience, and I think it most reflects my
creative energy, personality, sense of humor, and even personal
philosophy. In Labyrinth and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we had
to follow the plot of the movies they were based on. And on Maniac
Mansion, I was really implementing Ron Gilbert's design (though I did have
the freedom to come up with my interpretation of his scenes during my
scripting of them, but it was his game and he always had final say on what
would go into the game).
4) Of the games you've worked on, which one has had the bigger success?
That's an interesting question. I guess it depends on how you define
success. If in terms of units sold, then probably Indy. If in terms of
lasting popularity, then probably Zak. I still get fan mail from Zak, but
never from Indy. Many of the people I met during The Gathering told me
how much they love Zak, and it's really gratifying to know that people are
still playing it -- something we never anticipated when we created our
5) Is there an easter egg in any of the games you've worked on, that
can mention, that is particulary fun or interesting?
During my talks at The Gathering I mentioned several that are in Rescue --
typing 'author' at the main menu screen. And the developer team's names
hidden in the name of the Jaggi home star system, Tepdi Vad Neroleil
Rahcre (reverse the letters, shift 2 letters to the left, regroup). And
the symbols on the Jaggi's shirt (look at them sideways, our initials).
Also, all the photos of people on the cover and in the manual are of the
In Zak, the women's names are those of the team's significant others...
Annie Larris is my wife's maiden name.
Look at the posters in all our games...
Look at all the objects in Indy's school storage room.
In Maniac Mansion, there's a completely useless chain saw, with no gas. In
Zak, there's a completely useless can of gasoline, with no chain saw.
Chuck the Plant from Maniac appears in several games.
6) What was most challenging during your work on computer games?
Several things come to mind... on Rescue, dealing with the early unplanned
release of Rescue and Ballblazer on the pirate bulletin boards, over a
year before they were commercially released. On Indy, dealing with a very
short development cycle (7-8 months). On Labyrinth and Indy, figuring out
how to base a game on a film without copying too much from the film, or
giving those who saw the film an unfair advantage. When I first started
working at Lucasfilm, dealing with the outrageously high expectations of
our games -- that we had to match the success of the films of the company.
7) Is your book about computer animation still relevant today?
There's a good historical section in the beginning, and for anyone still
playing with the Atari 800s, they could easily follow the tutorials in the
second part of the book to learn about its graphics capabilities. There's
some good intro info... but so much has happened since then that a lot
will seem very outdated. You can read the entire book online. It was
scanned in (with the authors' permission) and can be read at
http://www.atariarchives.org/cap/ -- this includes all the color pictures,
as well as the demos from the book, which can be downloaded for the Atari
-- and work fine under any Atari 800 emulator, as long as you include the
8) What do you do now, and why did you quit working with computer games?
Before I started creating computer games, I was a counselor, working with
people on relationships and things. I thought maybe there was a way to
reach a much larger audience than working with a dozen or so people a
week. Was it possible to create a game that helped people grow in their
relationships, become better people. I still think it's possible, but I
wanted to find a more direct way than hiding it inside of a game. Some of
the Web work I've been doing is more direct -- check out
www.TheInSite.org, and the work my wife is doing at www.HeyTerra.com
I've also become involved in politics over the past year, volunteering for
the Howard Dean campaign, and more recently, for the Democrats in my
county, doing web, video, and radio work. I also do all that as a
I might go back to game design/development under the right circumstances.
It would have to be a very special project, something that could actually
make a difference in people's lives -- what was the last game you played
that affected you deeply in an emotional or spiritual way? That actually
changed your life, that made you think deeply about who you are and what
you're doing here on the planet? If the answer is "never", then why?
you've had that kind of experience, then I'd love to hear about the game
that you were playing! I am still very interested in using entertainment
to change people's lives for the better, to empower them, help them be the
best they can be... all that "New Age" stuff. If anyone knows of any
company doing this, let me know!
9) What do you think about the new star wars movies, compared to the
I loved the old trilogy, but was really disappointed with the new films.
They look fabulous, but didn't move me at all. I didn't even watch them a
10) What do you think of The Gathering?
The Gathering is amazing. Before 2 weeks ago I had no idea it existed, and
the sense of community was awesome. It's great to see so many gamers
playing together in the same physical (as well as virtual) space rather
than being isolated in their own homes.
11) Have you ever been to Norway before?
My family and I took a Baltic cruise in 1995, and Oslo was our last stop.
We spent a day there, going to many of the museums, sampling the food. But
I really didn't get to interact with the people, and so missed the best
part of the country! That's something I'm really happy I got to
experience over the past few days. Everyone has been so warm and
friendly. And the reindeer we ate last night was also great!
12)What did you know of Norway before you came here?
Other than my previous trip, not too much... The most impressive museum
we visited in 1995 was the War Resistance museum. I learned a lot about
the Norwegians by how they dealt with the Nazis. Very moving. I often eat
Norwegian salmon. :-)
13) Hi David.
As the quality of computer graphics in games have accelerated the recent
years, gameplay have been set back. What did you guys do, that the new
young guys should pick up. In other words, how can games be fun to play
First rule, develop for your audience not yourselves. I think one of the
problems is that too many designers create a game that only they would
want to play... or maybe heavy gamers like themselves. What about the
majority of computer users that normally don't play games, but do go to
movies, read books, play board games, or participate in other forms of
recreation and entertainment? Are there games that might appeal to them? I
think that's part of what made Myst a breakthrough game -- it brought in a
huge non-game playing audience (though I think very few of them actually
finished the game -- I heard maybe 30%, but I'll bet it's much less than
that). The game developing community is just too insular.
Next, while graphics can be important to the story, they absolutely
shouldn't be a substitute for good story or gameplay. You can see the same
thing in films. Many have great special effects or production values, but
no story or real emotional impact. Once you walk out of the theatre, you
forget them. I call those "cotton candy" movies -- tastes great while
you're eating it, but it's not nourishing, and once you finish, you're
still hungry. Graphics should serve the story and the game, not be the
Create a supportive, collaborative, environment in which to develop the
game. In the case of our graphic adventures, we had a wonderful ethic of
having all the designers involved at different times during the process.
There would be brainstorming sessions where any idea could be put up on
the white board. And after the design document was written up, there
would always be a peer review process, where the other designers would
give constructive feedback. In the case of Zak, for example, Ron Gilbert
felt there was something missing in the original design. We had a great
brainstorming session, and that's where Zak got his name and became a
reporter for a sleazy tabloid newspaper, putting a much more whacky spin
on the entire game. All my design elements stayed in the game, but were
now seen in a new, much funnier, light.
Lots of testing with real people. Don't just test it on professional play
testers. Watch them play, listen to their feedback, don't jump in and show
them how something is supposed to work. This can be painful, watching
someone struggle with your game while it could be so easy for you to give
them a little help. We often had "pizza orgies" -- actually, game
parties of about 20 people, where we served pizza and soft drinks while
others in the company played different sections of our games while the
designers and team looked on. It's amazing how something that is so
obvious to you isn't at all obvious to the player.
(I'll see if I can find Ron's 10 rules, probably still relevant today)
14) Do you know anything about the norwegian computerfirm NCI (Norsk
No, nothing at all.
15) What kinda system did you use for programming?
On Rescue, we used a Vax 750 minicomputer named Kessel (all the
minicomputers at Lucasfilm were named after planets from Star Wars --
Dagobah, Bespin, Tatooine, etc.). We wrote a 6502 cross assembler in Lisp
under UNIX, wrote the the code using a Lisp-like syntax, and downloaded to
the Atari over a serial port. Later, we each had Sun Microcomputers where
the tools were again under UNIX (including the first implementation of the
SCUMM system for our graphic adventures), and downloaded to Commodore 64s.
Then, after we began focusing on PCs, all our tools were ported to the PCs