YAAM Interview

Bill Williams

random babbling with a long-time Amiga developer and musician-kind-of-guy

Bill Williams is a dinosaur of the computer game business, but still found time to speak with our intrepid reporter. After listening to the bizarre, special-effects-laden answering machine recording Bill broke in and was ready to talk. So for two hours we set out to do a different kind of computer-industry interview: an interesting one. Sure, I like to read about the latest compression routine what’s-his-name has developed, but can he read?

Bill Williams was born May 29, 1960, in Pontiac, Michigan. After graduating Parkston High, he attended Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, for two years as a psychology major. He loved music, but music majors had to do all sorts of silly stuff, so as a psych major he could just do what he liked, including not taking any psych courses. That must explain the accolades from the department praising his performance. He left school to enter programming and music in the days of the Atari 8-bit line.

He now lives in the boonies in a self-constructed geodoesic dome with his wife of five years, pounding out games for the Amiga. His first, one of the first ten games for the Amiga, Mind Walker, still remains a classic. Cinemaware, which made a big splash in the Amiga market and drew many eyes to it, published his Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon, still considered by some to be the best intereactive movie that company has published. His latest work, Pioneer Plague, published by Antic, introduces another innovation, HAM-mode game graphics. On top of this, all of Bill’s games are filled with brilliant, original music. So what does he have to say about himself and the industry? A lot.

YAAM: Your games for the Amiga have many layers. Is that the kind of game you like, something that’s more than it appears?

Bill Williams: Yeah, I guess part of the problem comes in coming up with a game that really deserves all the resources, because if you try to put together a game which uses all the resources but doesn’t have a lot of layers you end up with this kind of ongoloid thing that people can’t understand when they first hit it, y’know, it’s like they boot it up and it comes with a 350 page manual with a lot of cross-references, “oh you don’t know how to do this, well, um, go to page 220 and we’ll tell you how to do that” And, one of the thing’s I’ve discovered is that you have to give the player a real good reason to want to work that hard and so I’m trying now to more often give him something that he can do as soon as he boots the thing up and decide okay, I like the game. Y’know, ‘cause there’s always that feverish time when you unwrap the shrink wrap and you boot the thing in and you want to do something, you don’t want to have to work yet, and so you have to convince him that he wants to work.

The first games that I did were very hard to explain to people and they just kind of bought it on faith.

YAAM: One thing that’s a little different about Pioneer Plague is that people would boot it up, it’s a great game, they start playing, and they say, there’s got to be more than this, yeah, you have to go home and program the drones, we can’t show you this here, it would take to long.

BW: [Laughter] Yeah, I know, I think I’m getting better at it. The first games that I did were very hard to explain to people and they just kind of bought it on faith. I’m trying to give them a reason now to buy the game.

YAAM: Okay, let’s talk a little about your background. When did you first get involved with computers?

BW: Let’s see, that would be around 1978, I was a semi-professional musician and I had a computerized synthesizer called Hamlet. Hamlet had in him a little cousin to the same processor that’s in the Atari. I taught myself how to program Hamlet, and that was in machine code, it wasn’t even assembly code, so it had a little hex pad, and you’d punch in F8, and then you’d say go to the next one, and you’d punch in A9. You know, I can still remember that A9 means I think load accumulator. And then, of course, if you’re doing 300 bytes of that, it’s inevitable that you’ll get one of those numbers wrong, and in that case Hamlet would lock up. It was just a wonderful experience, and that’s how I thought you had to program things. When I first saw the first assembler, my jaw dropped down to the floor. You mean, you don’t have to do it that way? It was like an incredible experience. So that’s how I taught myself to program and then, the selection of the Atari was a natural then because it was the most advanced sound computer of the time, with, wow, programmable four voices, and it had the same processor, so you couldn’t keep me off of it.

YAAM: So you really didn’t do anything in school related to computers?

BW: No, what happened was that as a matter of fact I didn’t try a college course in computing until I had gotten to my third game, and it started sinking in that I was making a living this way and gee, maybe I ought to find out how the professionals do it, and I took a couple of courses and discovered they were so woefully behind [laughter] in what’s out there that actually if you want to learn what the current techniques there are out there, get in the industry and start swimming. As soon as somebody starts paying you a lots of money to do a project, it’s amazing how studious you can get

YAAM: [Laughter] One thing in looking far back, I don’t know how many of our readers will remember Softline magazine, but we read through all of them and your articles on doing music, is that something you got into before doing games or after?

BW: Well, it was about the same time, that was the main reason I bought the Atari was so that I could do that sort of stuff, so the games were sort of an excuse to force my music on people. You can’t just get them to sit down and listen to music on a computer otherwise.

YAAM: Was Softline a good place to work in?

BW: Oh yeah, it was fun, it was great, it was my first experience in writing and getting paid for it, and the editors were fine. It took about one coulmn to get in sync with each other and I guess the only thing that I had a problem with was the tremendous lack of feedback, where you would write all of this stuff and you really had no idea wheher or not there were any readers out there that were even interested in the topic at all [laughter]. It’s kind of like giving these month long lectures to a brick wall and wondering if anyone’s on the other side. That was the only downside to the experience, but I’m really glad they gave me the chance

YAAM: I’m afraid I don’t remember many of your 8-bit titles, but I have heard of Alley Cat, what was that and some of the other games you did, most of them for Synapse?

BW: The first game I did was Salmon Run, I did that for Atari Program Exchange. Do you remember that?

YAAM: Yeah we still have a Mars Lander sitting on the shelf [laughter]!

BW: Alright, there you go. What happened was that I did the game for myself and I happened to see an advertisement for APEX that said they were interested in games, and I said, what you don’t have to belong to a union and so I sent it in, expecting it to get rejected and they sur-prised me, they bought it and so I felt like I was in seventh heaven. And then Ihor Wolosenko from Synapse called me up and kept bugging me, “you realize that the deal that APEX was giving you isn’t all that great?” and I’m kind of a loyal kind of person y’konw, you get attached to one group of people, and you get stuck there, sort of like inertia. Eventually he got me interested in doing a game for them, so the next one I did was Necromancer.

YAAM: Yeah, I remember that, I think they just re-released that in an XL game cartridge.

BW: Yes they did, isn’t that amazing? That thing has the longest legs of any game I’ve ever done. Then after that I did Alley Cat, and that was the darkest period of my life right then [laughter]. We started out Alley Cat when the computer game boom was still going, and I finished it up, my timing was absolutely perfect, I waited until the worst part of the game depression set it, it was unbelievable. When I look back at it, it’s actually one of my favorite, but financially it was the worst experience in the world for me. Basically, I did the Atari version, and Synapse was in the process of going not quite bankrupt, but real close, and Ihor called me up and said, I hate to tell you this, but I’m not sure we can even publish it They finally did get some copies out the door, but not a lot. So, this is great, I decide, I always liked to program on top of the line machine, and so I decide, because I’ve taken such a financial beating on Alley Cat, that the thing I’ll do is I’ll go for one of the mass market machines, swallow my pride, dig in, do something that I know is going to be absolutely no fun at all just so that I can make some money for a change. I thought it would be nice for my wife. So I decided that I would convert Alley Cat to the IBM, and we got a deal to do it for the IBM PCjr, and I spent another six months converting that, and it taught me a lesson, here I was doing this conversion just for money, I thought I was going to get a big market and everything, and I spent six months on it and the grand total I got out of that was $600.

I did Alley Cat, and that was the darkest period of my life right then.


BW: Yes. All I has was the advance which was pitifully low. Because IBM, by the time I finished the game, the PCjr had had a tremendous shakeup and everyone left that division, so they came up with a new strategy. Y’know that mail order catalog they’ve got, quite a bit like Atari Program Exchange, what they did was to decide that “we need to raise the reputation of this catalog so we’ll stick three commercial products into this catalog” [laughter]. I had never heard of this catalog so I go down to this IBM store and I asked this salesman that knows that I do games, and he looks at me with this expression a lot like he just heard that my mother had died, and says “I’m sorry.” IBM Alley Cat was like this terrible experience, which is a shame because I like this game a lot, but all those emotional connections you make because you’re being poor and destitute, and you start asking yourself, waking up in the middle of the night, sweating, maybe I ought to get a real job, and it just never really jelled. However, I do know some people saw it because my wife, Martha, she’s a nurse, just started working in the hospital, and she met somebody who had personal computers, and asked them what games they had, and they had a Radio Shack, and she said that their kid’s favorite was the IBM version of Alley Cat, which was like, four years later.

YAAM: So you were never around during the kiddie-boom bust, where all the kids were making a million dollars off of one game for the Atari VCS?

BW: Yeah, it was a brilliant act of timing, I got into it just as it was about over, and basically I got in there in time. Necromancer got a good shot of the boom, and then I had to wait out the bust cycle. Synapse was very, very kind. They knew their authors were getting ready to step out on the ledge and jump, and so they tried very hard when the company was breaking up, to make sure we all had connections with other companies, and that’s how I got the contract to do Mind Walker. Ihor knew I would enjoy it, and it was a good escape hatch.

YAAM: Were there any other computers, I didn’t know about the jr, besides the Atari 8-bit, before the Amiga. Did you look at the 64, the Atari ST, Apple ][?

BW: No, none of those. I was entirely an Atari person before the Amiga came along and it was kind of an odd experience, because when I got the project it was Amiga corporation, and I was thinking of it that way. I didn’t really think of myself of a traitor, honest. Then, it was bought by Commodore and all the rest of that. And for the next one and a half years I would meet Atari people that knew all my Atari games and I was doing a COMMODORE PRODUCT, and it was kind of like converting to a different religion. It was a very difficult experience, sometimes they would act like they wanted to go out and bum you at the stake.

YAAM: So what drew you to the Amiga other than Synapse saying here you can do Mind Walker?

BW: Well, once again, at first I didn’t have the fainest idea that it had all these graphics capabilities. Ihor called me up and told me about this great machine he had seen in a closed room demo. He was going on about how many lines it could draw in a second, and my eyes were sort of glazed over. “And it’s got four-voice stereo sound with digitized waveforms.” What? Really? Get me that contract? That was what I was looking for, an Atari with more advanced sound waveforms. And then the black box came, and I poured through the manuals and I saw all the capability that they dropped into this thing that I didn’t realize would be there, and I really started to get a little scared, because up until then, a real common game designer’s out is you’re showing the game to somebody and they say, “Wouldn’t it be neat if you could do that?” and you could always say “oh, the hardware won’t support that.” It was a great excuse, and the Amiga was the first machine that I started to realize that we couldn’t say that anymore, all the excuses were gone, and the only limitation was pretty much going to be our imagination, and that was a pretty scary thought, because our imaginations are pretty darn unlimited.

YAAM: You’ve worked for a variety of companies, Synapse, Commodore for Mind Walker, Cinemaware on Sinbad, and Pioneer Plague for Antic. You talked about loyalty with Synapse, are you finding it easier to work with these other companies, or just moving around?

BW: Well, it’s funny how you drift in and out, it’s kind of like Brownian Movement, there’s not a lot of game programmers, really, and we’re kind of like an little closed incestuous society, and we keep trading each other off to various companies back and forth, and it’s never been a calculated thing, it’s just that when I’m finishing up a project someone calls me and I start talking to them and if it’s interesting then I end up doing it. So I guess the naive kind of loyalty is gone by the wayside, but if I have a real good experience the first time then I’m much more likely to find a new project interesting. Of course, the connection with Antic is through Jerry Wolosenko, Ihor’s brother. The chance to work with the Wolosenko family again was like old home’s week, a family reunion.

YAAM: What happened to Synapse, they were big back then, why did they break up when others…

BW: You have to keep in mind that I was working in Michigan and they were in California, so I only heard dim echos of what was going on, but what was eventually explained to me was that they were depending on their cash flow on this contract they had with Atari, and Atari was bought by Mr. Tramiel and there were some legal skirmishes over that. Synapse took them to court, and they got their money, but that was like years after. Because they didn’t have any money it is my understanding that they couldn’t even afford to duplicate disks anymore, so they were shut down. They sold all their interests to Broderbund.

YAAM: Commodore just liscened Mind Walker from Synapse?

BW: Right, Mind Walker was one of the last official things Synapse did.

YAAM: Let’s move on to a happier subject, and talk about the actual games. We can start with Mind Walker, which is probably the last program still on the market that works with 256K [laughter]?

BW: And you know what, I’m glad you bring that up, because while it was going on I really had to struggle to fit it into 256 and I kept on saying to the people at Commodore that the 256K machine was not going to exist eight months from now [laughter]. It was already apparent to me that the operating system was just chewing up tons of memory.

All the excuses were gone, and the only limitation was pretty much going to be our imagination…

YAAM: And you used Intuition, instead of booting it out like everyone does now.

BW: Right, and I knew that was what was going to happen, and I kept on begging them to let me go to the 512, but I had to stay with the 256. In the long run it was probably good, it was good discipline.

YAAM: Everyone else was doing ports, and it was highly original for any ma-chine, what do you think inspired you to do a game with so many layers and to have such a bizarre premise of a man gone mad?

BW: Well, first of all the game design process was about as free as you can get, they were great, both Synapse and Commodore-Amiga never actually asked me to sit down and say “this is exactly what’s going to happen.” That’s what I like, because when I design games, you always have this great idea, and when you start to program it you look at it and say, “oh, gee, this really sucks,” and unfortunately, some companies will force you to continue because that’s the game design, you gotta keep doing it. I prefer to work with companies that let you say it sucks and allow you do do something different. They were great about that The game concept just kind of grew organically, which most of mine do. I started with an original idea that was totally different, I didn’t like it, and I kept on changing things and changing things, and probably the wierdness of the concept is a reflection of my state of mind at the time. Remember, Synapse was in the middle of self-destructing, and I had just gotten married a little while before and I was staying in this little apartment and the people below were addicted to some god-awful music on their stereo, and I’m watching my income dry-up and my future dry-up and everything, and I kind of lost my mind for a while. I really went a little flaky there for a while. When the game started to shape up, the concept kind of grew out of what I was feeling at the time, that I was fracturing myself. Now it’s kind of wierd, I play the game and look back at it and think how I could have been that flaky?

YAAM: It certainly had the most professional manual anyone’s ever done for that sort of game.

BW: Oh, wasn’t it great? I did the orginal draft for the text and it was totally incomprehensible. Roxy Wolosenko, Ihor and Jerry’s sister, was working at Synapse and she went through the manual and retained the flavor but made in comprehensible to somebody who’d never seen the game. I did the typical kind of thing where you write it for someone who’s already been playing the game for a year [laughter]. And then they sent it off to Commodore and I was so pleased when I saw the final product because I didn’t know they were going to do all those illustrations and all the rest of that It is honestly the best manual anyone’s ever done for any of my games.

YAAM: I must admit that the toughest part was the Sigmund Freud scene [laughter].

BW: Yeah [laughter], that was sort of a last minute thing. I just felt that just a little more had to be there, and that got thrown in there in the last month of development before beta test. Actually, suddenly the blitting routines came to me, and I thought, you know you could probably do this, and then I had to come up with of a justification for why you’d want to do this. That happens a lot.

YAAM: You were broken up into four personalities, were you trying to make some kind of statement about the average computer player, yourself, or was it just functional for the four elements?

BW: It was mostly functional for the four different elements.

YAAM: You had the computer geek…

BW: There was a little bit of that, the personalities were selected that way. We all know what computer people are like [laughter], we’re slightly anti-social kind of people, and all the rest of that. So that was natural to draw from.

YAAM: What kind of tools were you using if you had a black box? What did you use for the art work, did you use C or start from assembler?

BW: I wrote my own graphics tool in C. We were cross-compiling from an IBM PC, and so I came up with this graphics editor that would do what I wanted it to do. When the system settled down, I lost that editor because it was on the IBM PC and was designed to work inside this black box, so I don’t even have the source for it anymore except on IBM disks. All the develeopment tools were like that. At the last minute, the really last minute, they sent me a beta-test version of Graphic Craft, and that’s what I used to draw the faces that appear at the end of each wave, and I’m real glad they did because that would be pretty damn hard to do with my graphics editor.

YAAM: How about the music, which seems all synthesized as opposed to the digital samples in Pioneer Plague?

BW: It was basically the first driver. That’s something really unusual about me, when programmers see my code, and they see the format for my music they get really, really horrified, and say “you write music THAT way?” Because I don’t use standard music tools. I’ll design a driver, and it uses a certain data format, and believe it or not, I actually type in the notes from the keyboard. It look s like “{E2,4”, “{E3,4”. And that means what note and how lomg. And then I compile it and listen to it, and then I say “oh, that’s the wrong note,” so I change it and compile it again. And people think I’m out of my mind [laughter]. One of the things that I find interesting about doing each game is deciding what this music driver, what capabilities it’s going to have and the format it’s going to use. The tools that you use for doing the music affect the music greatly, beacause whatever capabilities you build into it, those are the capabilities you tend to use. It’s a fascinating experience to me that I wouldn’t want to give up, just using the same driver from one game to the other. So Mind Walker was the first pass at writing a music driver.

The way I look at the first four releases of Cinemaware is that it is basically this idea was given to four different programmers and we were supposed to decide what that meant. So we came up with four different answers.

YAAM: How do you think Mind Walker stacks up against games nowadays? Does it have something new owners should look for?

BW: Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, I’ve been really pleased at the response I’ve gotten. I’ve gone to computer fairs and stuff like that and people still come up to me and say it’s their favorite game after all the other games. When you think about it it, that seems a little depressing, but I really do get that reaction that it’s still their favorite game to play. I can’t be very objective so Ican’t compare it to games other people have done, that’s like trying to compare your kid to the neighbors kid to see who’s more beautiful. You just can’t do it. But by going by the reaction by people who’ve met me, and they’re very honest, if they’ve bought something they didn’t like, they let you know it, you can usually trust the reaction quite a bit.

YAAM: We’ll move on to my favorite game, the one game that really kept my college friends occupied, it took them a month to beat.

BW: Good, good, I’m glad to hear they had to work for it.

YAAM: We videotaped the ending, we loved the ending, it was great, and I think it’s still the only Cinemaware game that has a real ending that makes it worthwhile to go back and win again. Sinbad is radically different, it’s probably still the only Cinemaware title that has real well-done action games in it.

BW: Thank you.

YAAM: [Laughter] What do you have to say about Sinbad, and working with Cinemaware? Did they approach you to do a game, or did you have an idea once you saw someone was publishing that sort of game. It was the fourth announced game.

BW: What happened was that after I finished Mind Walker I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next and Bob Jacob came to me and he laid out his basic idea for thinking of games as an interactive movie. The way I look at the first four releases of Cinemaware is that it is basically this idea was given to four different programmers and we were all supposed to decide what that meant. So we came up with four different answers. I think actually, as far as accuracy of translating that idea ro reality, I think Doug Sharp did a better idea with King of Chicago. I think he more accurately came up with an idea of an interactive movie. But that’s basically what it was. Bob had this idea, and he wanted it to feel that way and left it up to me to determine how it was going to be an interactive movie. And so that it how the dialogue sequences were brought in. I rented a whole bunch of Sinbad videotapes and jotted down all of the cliches I wanted to use. The selection of the topic was real easy. Bob had certain movie topics he wanted and when he mentioned Sinbad I lept on the topic. And the arcade games were just because, I try, I honestly try, to be a strategic game designer, and yet in the end I know that I’m just a stupid arcade designer like the rest of us. And what will happen is that when I’m working on a game it’s enevitable that the emphasis will come back to being an arcade game because of what I am.

YAAM: You look at the design, and Sinbad uses a lot of things even now people don’t use, pixelization for enlargement special effects, the magnifying lens, the actual arcade sequences, you seem to be the only Cinemaware programmer who can use hardware scrolling. Do you think some of the other designers Cinemaware uses were hired for art and not programming, because there seem to be a lot of programming feats you put in that they aren’t even using today.

BW: Yeah, I think the question is very perceptive. I think it grows out of the process. Because I’m a dinosaur, I do the graphics, the game design, the programming, the music, and what happens then is that it is easy for the artist in me to talk the programmer in me to do something special and vice-a-versa. A soon as you have other people doing it, then suddenly the game designer comes up with this terrific idea, “what’ll happen is this thing will open up and you’ll see this and there’ll be stars and colors and everything” and he’s all excited about this and all this while the programmer is thinking, “uh…copper lists…limitations,” and he’s actually, he can’t help it, he can try not to, but he’s looking for a reason not to do that great idea. And that happens all the way down the line. The more people involved that are the project, the more work you can get in. I do find myself hustling to get the work done in the same time frame that everybody else is doing it because here it is just me. But the advantage that I do have is that I don’t have to convince anybody but myself to do the work.

YAAM: I guess the only complaint I’ve heard about Sinbad is that some of the graphics were skimped on, such as the reveresed playfields in the backgrounds. Was that a time limitation, or…?

BW: No, it was more of a resource limitation. They’re right, if you look at Sinbad compared to almost any other Amiga game on the market, it’s just not as pretty. I have to tell you this, I was at a fair, and this guy came up to me, and I never know what to say when they say things such as this, he said to me at first that “I gotta tell you out of all the original Cinemaware games, I thought Sinbad was the best game,” and I satrted to say thank you, and he said, “but you know the graphics really sucked.” It’s like your face doesn’t know what to do at that point, what expression to put on that won’t make things blow up any farther. It’s alway’s a trade-off, y’know, my big consideration was that I wanted the game to be the biggest damn game that’s ever been done. That was the thing I was going for, so for that end whenever I started to do the graphics design, I would ask, “what is the minimum I can get away with?” What will occupy the smallest amount of memory so the game can be bigger? In retrospect, I definately went over board. Some of the graphics are unnecessarily crude, but that is the reason the game is so much bigger, and that there’s so much more to the game, is because those choices were made. And I understand from the consumer’s point of view, he doesn’t care how much K it took up, he doesn’t care about compression routinesand everything, all he knows is that he plays one game and it looks prettier than another game, and then he plays one game and it’s a bigger game, and it’s a deeper games, and he enjoys it more, so it’s a natural question for the consumer, “why can’t I have both?”

From the consumer’s point of view, he doesn’t care how much K it took up… all he knows is he plays one game and it looks prettier… and he plays one game and it’s a bigger game… so it’s a natural question for the consumer, “why can’t I have both?”

YAAM: My friends beat Sinbad without even touching the tactical display, is that something you thought about, for people who didn’t want to worry about the war game and still play it, or the people who wanted to play the wargame and deal with the action sequences less?

BW: It was basically a concession to my wife who hates boardgames. It’s really good to live with a person with a different taste in games, because it always restores a sense of balance, and you keep in mind that there are lots of different gameplayers out there, and so I try very hard to design a game that will not force you to play a game only the way I like to play a game. I want to design a game with suppose five different elements, it’s likely that every person that boots it up will find one element that he can’t stand, “I HATE doing this,” that kind of thing, and there’s something else that he thinks is really cool, and the guy next door thinks that’s really dumb. So my main objective is to design a game that has a whole bunch of elements that are loosely enough connected that you can decide what it is that you enjoy to do and do that. There’s a funny decision making process that goes on as a game designer because you work really hard to put something in and you want people to suffer through it whether or not they like it because you worked on it You can see that a lot in games. Some times you can play a game and you’ll say, “this really is not a lot of fun, but it was a lot of work, so I can see why the game designer made me do it.” I try to back away from that and say, you bought the game, you spent the money, do whatever it is that you think it fun. From that viewpoint I try to design a game that will have something that everybody will find something to do and think they got their money’s worth.

YAAM: What was the inspiration for the music, which wasn’t repetitive or annoying like other games with continuous soundtracks like Faery Tale Adventure?

BW: I rented a bunch of the movies, and listened to the music there, and decided to use the same basic scales and the same basic flavor with the limited instrumentation that I was using. And then just as a serendipitous kind of thing, the woman that lives next to us is a belly dancer and if I had my windows opened I could here the music that she was bellydancing to while she was practicing. It was great, it was perfect She didn’t know for a real long time, but I finally had to go over and [laughter] tell her, y’know, I really enjoyed listening to your music while doing this game.

YAAM: Last question about Sinbad. Have you looked at any of the translations to other computers?

BW: No, I haven’t, not yet. I probably will pretty soon. One of my brother-in-laws who has a Commodore 64, he’s a school teacher, saw the 64 conversion and he bought it That’s as close as I’ve come to the conversions. To be frank, I’ve been a little afraid of seeing the conversions.

YAAM: That is what I was leading to. They have totally changed the game, no special effects, map, they even took out some of the arcade sequences. But you can look back at this, one of the earliest games for the Amiga, and look at the translations a year later, and seeing that they came no where close.

BW: I think the converters always try their hardest, but it’s the resources, the Amiga is capable of so much more, and that’s why I’ve been afraid to look at the conversions.

YAAM: They decided to go for some more detailed facial close-ups and take out the rest of the graphics. There are no backgrounds. If you notice Cinemaware’s ads they don’t have Amiga screenshots, they show close-ups of the Genie’s faces, a lot of time on that instead of the game-play, the reverse of your game.

BW: Bob Jacob has a certain look in mind…

YAAM: Sinbad didn’t make it?

BW: We had a certain amount of disagreement about how the graphics were shaping up, so I kind of suspected that when I finished my project and they got their hot little hands on it that probably his style would come out more than mine.

YAAM: You were talking about how you didn’t use big samples in sound, but in Pioneer Plague you use some very elaborate samples. Is it a real quantum leap over your past designs?

BW: What I was doing was that I was extending the capabilities of the music driver, I was trying to come up with a driver that would give me as many tonal colors as possible without sucking up too much space. I think that was a good experience because I came up with a driver that I’m very happy with. I decided that Pioneer Plague was a very conscious decision to say, okay, I’m going to stop being miserly about certain resources, I’m going to go ahead and get really, really wanton about a couple of things just to show that it can be done and to raise the level of emotional impact The trade-off I was talking about with Sinbad, it was a conscious decision to go the other way with it and see if I could still produce a good game.

YAAM: Pioneer Plague was, of course, the first HAM game, although some others were talked about before it was released, although none of them have appeared. Was that something you decided when you were designing the game, or was it just something nice to add to a shoot-‘em up?

BW: Yes, it was a decision that I was going to use HAM. What that grew out of was that after I finished Sinbad I was sort of burned out, because I had been doing one game after another, without any rest in between. After Sinbad I had lost sense of why I was in the industry, it wasn’t fun any more. So I took a year off and wrote a book instead.

YAAM: Oh? What was the book?

BW: It’s a fantasy. I found an agent, and it’s being shown to publishers. I don’t know if it’ll be published or not, but regardless of whether or not it’s published, it was definately very good. I’m glad I took the time off to write it. I relaxed again.

Pioneer Plague was a very conscious decision to say, okay, I’m going to stop being miserly about certain resources…

YAAM: Maybe you’ll have to make the Cinemaware adaption?

BW: A couple of their people have suggested… let’s put it this way: Mind Walker seems like a pretty far out game, this book is farther out than Mind Walker. It is what I call surreal fantasy, it’s basically taken from the dream state. It is really, really strange. It would be very hard to build a game around it. After I finished the book, I was warned about how long it took to get published, so I knew it was time to get back to the real world. It’s not that I set down and said, I’m going to do the first HAM-mode game, because I din’t know whether or not I’d be the first one out there, and it wasn’t that I said I’m going to do a HAM-mode game because it would be a great-leap forward in technology, what it really was that if I did a HAM-mode game I won’t be able to use any of the old Sinbad stuff, and I’ll have to do a different game [laughter].

YAAM: What kind of problems did you run into using HAM with the limited documentation, and the limited tools, and people saying, sure we can do page-flipping, but animation?

BW: I had been playing with HAM on and off ever since Mind Walker, some of the title screens in Mind Walker were in HAM mode.

YAAM: They are?

BW: You know the light tubes? They are in HAM mode, and making it seem like light is passing through them is disgustingly easy because all it took was moving a few dots on the left side of the tube and letting the rest of it happen naturally. HAM’s great for that. So I was familiar with how HAM operated, and I pretty much felt like other people that HAM’s nice but you really can’t do any animation with it, maybe page-flipping that’s about it Then one day it occurred to me that really it’s not all that hard. What it requires is less a super-sophisticated technical trick and more planning. Did you see the 3-D effect used in the Super Bowl this year? It’s a really cool effect. It’s very limited, because to create the 3-D sensation you have to have movement in one specific direction to another specific direction so that it’s a fantastic effect, but the poor producer that’s filming this thing has to plan each shot with exceeding great care to get it that everybody’s moving in the right direction. For instance, that Coke commercial they came out with first, everything’s panning a certain way because he had to do it that way. The reason I bring that up is because HAM is pretty much the same way. The technique for producing HAM and not getting all the little glitches to the right are pretty easy to grasp pretty quick, the thing that’s hard is all the planning, I can do this, I can’t do this, I can overlay these colors over these colors. It’s deciding on the priorities for all the graphic objects, it’s deciding how the graphics are going to get drawn. An-other reason why you haven’t seen a lot of it is that it requires a lot of cooperation from the artist, and once again because it’s the same person, it’s easy to talk me into it Because there are a lot of funny little things in the graphics in Pioneer Plague where you can, for instance, specify the colors in a lot of different orders. If you’ve got a certain amount of read, green and blue, that you want to add up to a certain color, you can do it red, green, then blue, or green, red then blue, or blue first. I would plan out which orders I would bring it up in based on which objects would overlay, getting an artist to draw the object with colors in certain orders, which is a ridiculous requirement, which is like asking someone to stand on their head and watercolor paint it. Why should I bother? But that is what is necessary to get it to work well.

YAAM: I guess the only problem I had with the game, I picked up the programming of the drones okay, but I guess I didn’t know why the sub-euclidian plane was even in the game? I don’t think the manual was as organized as some of the others.

BW: I had, actually, a much greater explanation of what was going on there, and everybody that read it kind of said, “huh?” So we decided , oh the hell with it , we’ll just tell you how to play it , and let you figure out what it means. To be honest, the reason why that part of the game is in there is that I had a little extra memory that I could use up [laughter]. Believe me, very little extra memory, we got down to the point where I was being very careful juggling bytes in the copyright message, because the wrong copyright message would crash the game on a machine with 512K and two disk drives. That’s the real reason the game is in there, because you have those resources just hanging around, and people don’t buy games to have those resources just hang around.

YAAM: Would you say Pioneer Plague is your purest arcade game yet?

BW: Definately. Here’s another thing that went into the making of it. Sinbad was this big, humungoid game, it was a real soul-sucker, it took a year to do, it was this huge game. After I finished doing it, I was thinking, now what am I going to do, how am I going to top it? It’s like, if games have to get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, then we’re all in trouble. So I was thinking, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. So what I decided to do was to design a game that was one that I could pick up and Iplay for a while and didn’t have to spend three hours to get somewhere, and see how well I could do it It was the kind of game I had been avoiding designing for my entire career [laughter]. I just wanted to see how well I could do it.

YAAM: Are you working on a game now?

BW: Yes I am.

YAAM: Any hints?

BW: Well, let’s see, I’ll say this: if you’re looking for a game that has the kind of depth Sinbad had in it, you’ll be very happy with this. If, however, you’re looking for a game with graphics as good as Pioneer Plague, you’ll also be very happy. The pendulum has swung again. Here I finished Sinbad and I’m burned out on super big and super deep, super everything, so I decide we’ll get really pretty and all the rest of that. Now my goal is to integrate those two. We’re going to get something really, really big, but retain the prettiness.

YAAM: Are you going to move to the new standard, two disk, 1 meg games?

BW: I think this will be a two disk game, it hasn’t become one yet. To be frank, you almost have to be a two disk game nowadays just to compete. A two disk game, you just have these tremendous resources, and people look at a one disk game and say, gee, where’s all the other stuff? So I think it will be a two disk game, but I’m going to try to fit it into 512. I think people, especially those in our industry, lose sight of people, they’ve got a job, and kids, and the car’s just broke down, and they really just scraped the money together to get the bloody machine in the first place. And it’s really unfair for us to constantly abandon those people, and say, “aw, gee, you really should move up in the world.” Because sometimes they can’t move up in the world, they’ve got more important things in their life.

I think you do have to draw a distinction between a game and a graphics demo.

YAAM: I guess the argument there is that, at least surveys have shown, that no only do Amiga owners spend up to three times as much on software as IBM owners, and maybe 80% own 1 meg or more machines, and so FTL and Readysoft have said, why not?

BW: Oh, I agree, from a marketing standpoint and a business standpoint, it makes sense to do that as soon as the market share grows big enough to neglect that small group of users. You’ve made a good business decision. But I tend to operate on different levels from that. I’m a lousy business person. I worry about minorities. I know there are people out there, I know a couple of them, that don’t fit into the demographics of the typical Amiga user, and I think it would be kind of nice if this industry would remember those people a little more often than they do.

YAAM: Okay, you’ve broken the HAM barrier, but here we want to talk about something we continually push in our magazine. When most companies design a game, they think port. They design a game, get great reviews of the Amiga version, and then release the IBM version. They don’t take into account what the Amiga is truly capable of. There are only four games that use overscan, one with half-brite, one with HAM. Why doesn’t everyone start using overscan in every game? Why shouldn’t we make Amiga games Amiga games first, other games second?

BW: There’s two parts to that question. The first part, why people design games that will be easy to port from the Amiga, is, obviouslly, it’s a very, very good business decision to make. The Amiga market is pretty darn small. A company that just totally commits itself to doing the Amiga version and then create hell for the programmer that has to convert it to the others, they’re probably, in a money sense, making the wrong decision there. As a matter of fact, a lot of people tell me that that’s one of my problems, I make it much to hard to convert things. And they’re probably right, I could probably have a nicer car if I didn’t try to stretch the Amiga so much. My own personal feeling is that’s I’m not just doing games to make a lot of money, I’m doing games because I enjoy it. I’ve got the Amiga here, it’s got a lot of capabilities to it, and I enjoy exercising those capabilities, and if I can do that, and make enough money to make a living at it, then I’m happy at that. But anyway, the reason why the industry as a whole tends not do that, is that it’s good business sense. As far as things like overscan, I’ve been, as a matter of fact, wrestling with that I think you do have to draw a distinction between a game and a graphics demo. And that’s going to get harder, you can go to these fairs and you can see these incredible graphics demos, they’re just amazing, they look like TV pictures, they’re so cool. You’ve seen, probably, the digitized scene of the snow walkers from Star Wars? Isn’t that great looking? The first thing, I know, that leaps into the consumers’ mind is, “Why can’t I play a game like that? I want a game that looks like that?” And it’s a perfectly reasonable question from thir point of view. But, ultimately, you do have to provide a game, and as soon as you decide to do that, you can’t have all the resources going into just one thing. So you’re always doing that trade-off. So I thought HAM was worthwhile, because it doesn’t really cost all that much extra memory, you’re talking about one extra bit-plane. So for each page that you’ve got, you’re going to lose another 8K, and in this day and age that’s a pretty reasonable thing to give up. It’s more programming time and artists’ time you’re losing there. And the impact is a lot higher. So it’s a good trade. Some of the other things, like overscan, I haven’t been sold on yet. It’s great for people who are working on video applications and all the rest of that. But if you ask yourself what is it that will make the game more fun of a game than without, other people will come to other conclusions, but as for me, I don’t really think it’s worth the trade-off. We do a lot of things in this industry because they’re technically possible [laughter], and we don’t do enough thinking about whether it’s desirable. So I always try to do the trade-offs from the stand-point, how do I get the most fun out of it, rather than just do something because it’s possible.

YAAM: I guess the real overscan question is, and this comes from a different department than you program in, arcade games, if you look at games like Menace, SideWinder, or even Wayne Gretzky’s Hockey, there’s just some mystiques that there’s no boarder, it doesn’t look like a computer game anymore.

BW: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. It’s primarily just a taste thing. There are some programmers that are really affected by that, it means a lot to them, probably tend to lean towards doing overscan. With me, when I rent a videotape that’s got the little box in in to retain the proportions of the movie, it doesn’t bother me [laughter]. It really bothers a lot of people. It’s just primarily a taste thing. You can’t help, no matter what you do, you cannot help but design a game for yourself, and you’ve gotta hope to God, that’s there’s enough people out there that are like you that’ll like the game.

YAAM: Sinbad was one of the earliest games that had blood. Now we have Sword of Sodan with flying heads, and Project: Firestart on the 64 with limbs and zoom-up close-ups [laughter] on this. Is that something that you think is a trend? Is it something good? Is Tipper Gore gonna come running out…[laughter]

BW: I don’t know about Tipper, you probably can’t predict that…[laughter] I feel, actually, a moral responsibility about doing entertainment because we’re in the entertainment business and there’s probably a lot of things we do that are pretty darn harmless, and so I try not to take it real seriously, and the blood in Sinbad was put in simply because I thought it was a hoot [laughter]. And I think a lot of this does happen because a lot of computer people are very perverse, they have a perverse sense of humor. You see something and you think, that’s hilarious, that’s absolutely hilarious. It’s good to retain a sense of perspective, I’m probably not growing any mass murderers by doing this, and at the same time, we all end up doing all these little tiny things that don’t seem to mean all that much by themselves, and yet, because we’re all doing this, and it has a Cold War escalation kind of effect. “The blood was kind of cute, but now you have to go one grosser,” what happens in, because the indusry has no sort of ethical base at the bottom of it, we just keep drifting farther and farther into producing entertainment which is probably a little less than healthy. So I confess, yes I’m guilty, I have done some stuff that’s gross just because I thought it was funny, I’ve got a very perverse sense of humor. I’ve got a very black sense of humor. But at the same time I do worry about it, I do somethimes wonder whether I’m contributing to part of a larger problem. You know, I hate to think just because I don’t think it’s a problem, what if I’m wrong [laughter]? What if it is a problem? So what happens is, you make a decision, and the decision is this: go as far as you can tastewise as you think is safe, and then hope to God you were right. So I know this, I’m never going to produce a game where the goal of the game is to brutalize somebody.

So I confess, yes I’m guilty, I have done some stuff that’s gross just because I thought it was funny.

YAAM: So you’re not a fan of the current trend, Bad Dudes, Double Dragon, human-pummeling genre?

BW: I think we should try real hard not to encourage people to think about other people that way, it’s probably not a good idea. I don’t know if it’ll have a psychological effect. I think it’s worth keeping in mind and staying away from just in case it does have an effect. The impact of the sex games, for instance, that’s been a real controversial thing. The first time I saw them, I laughed my head off, just absolutely funny. Yet at the same time, a lot of serious, thoughtful people, have suggested it just contributes to viewing women as sex objects and all the rest of that. And I have to admit they’re probably right. So we all end up doing whatever we think are out of our own personal boarders, and my personal boarders stop short at designing a game that’s goal is to personalize or use somebody else. You’ll notice that I was very careful with Pioneer Plague, it’s a shoot-‘em up, and I know it, but the theme, had to be for me personally, shooting up wayward robots. I couldn’t put people in them. I know it’s a small change, most people don’t even realize it. But I had to do it for me.

YAAM: What about your peers? Are there a lot left from the 8-bit days?

BW: A lot of them are still around, it’s pretty funny, we run into each other now and again. I just awhile back did the music for a game being done by Steve Coleman, who did the Commodore 64 conversion of Necromancer. People tend to hang around the business quite a bit, and the reson is, y’know, we bitch a lot. You talk to your typical game designers, he’s gonna tell you how unfair the tax laws are in this country, okay? He’s going to tell you about self-employment tax, and royalties, and blah blah blah blah blah. Then he’s going to tell you how unreasonable the game companies, the publishers, are, and he’s going to go on and on and on about that. Then he’ll tell you about how unfair the consumer is. And he’ll just keep on going on and on and on. So don’t believe a word of it, because they all stay in the business, it’s a lot better than flipping hamburgers at McDonalds. The only people I know that have really dropped out, dropped out simply for good personal protective reasons, like they were losing their mind, and they had to get away from the industry for a while and see what it’s like to be human again. And that’s probably good. And a few people have managed to screw the pooch on a particular project and get a reputation which forced them to drop out ot the industry,

YAAM: Do you play any games on your computer? Any people to be commended?

BW: I can’t name one, and it’s not a reflection on the games out there, it’s because I’m doing these gamesby myself, and I have to work between 12 and 16 hours a day, just working on the game. When you do that [laughter], it leaves precious little time for things like saying “hi” to your wife and petting the cat and eating dinner. So I’d have to be out of my head to want to spend any more time sitting in front of the computer than I do.

YAAM: In terms of your music background, what did you study and what do you listen to today? Is your background a driving force behind your work today, or is that something totally different?

BW: It is, people listen to my music and they know it’s me. I got started playing rock and roll and drifted into doing what we used to call progressive rock. It was the late-‘70s type of YES, Genesis, type of stuff, before Genesis went pop. And then I got into a little jazz and fusion, and then I listen to a lot of different things, but the style of the music I write ends up sounding the same. As a matter of fact, if I hear this one more time I’m gonna scream. It seems like everytime I do some new music for a game a relative’ll come over and listen to 10 seconds of it and say, “y’know, it sounds an awful lot like late-‘70s television music, like Mod Squad, or something.” I gotta tell you, that’s a little depressing, I really don’t think it sounds like that. But enough people have told me that, that I’ve kind of resigned myself to it.

YAAM: Most people nowadays do programming in groups, and you’re one of the few that programs by yourself. Do you think you want to get into assembler, or are you doing that now?

BW: I’m still using C, and obviously because I’m doing it all myself and because I’m running real hard to keep pace, I’d have to be out of my head to go to a language which makes it tougher to program. The only assembler I use is for handling software interrupts, or the device driver, or vertical blind kind of stuff. I realize some people would like to see the performance of assembler of, for instance, Sinbad, and I can’t say I blame them. But if that was the case, I’m sorry, Sinbad would not have gotten written. So it becomes a question whether you enjoy Sinbad better than nothing, than the assembler version of Sin bad. It’s not just programming time either, I used to program in assembler a lot, it’s how much time you can spend thinking about higher level concepts about how the game works and less time telling it what registers to use.

People listen to my music and they know it’s me.

YAAM: Do you have any advice to Amiga programmers interested in doing games? Is there some place to start to look? Should they use tools out there, or do it all themselves?

BW: These days you can’t do it all yourself. It used to be that you could get started that way. I think the best way to get started actually is pick something that you think would be really, really cool to do, and try doing it for a magazine. There are a lot of magazines that publish programs. It’s a really good exeperience because you’ll take the project seriously, because hopefully you’ll get a little bit of money for it, you’ll see how well you’ll respond to working hard on something, sending it in, and have somebody else say, “could you change this?” That’s very hard to deal with for some people. Some people just say, “no, it’s mine! I’m sorry, take it or leave it!” And if you’re that sort of person than, I’m sorry, you’re in the wrong industry. That’s a real good way to get started and see if you’re the right kind of person. Do you have a lot of self-discipline? When you watch Jeopardy, and they introduce the contestants, I swear a third of the contestants say they’re writers. I always wonder about that. If you’re really a writer, how come you’re so good at Jeopardy? I think probably in the future a lot of people will say they’re game designers. I think you have to have a certain kind of personality to sit in your nice, comfortable home, with a lot of interesting things you could do, and instead, sit in a little comer cramped up in front of the CRT and work on a game. And it is work. Many times you’ll get up and say, “I don’t really want to do this today.” So some people have the self-discipline and some don’t. The trick is to find out about yourself before you committ to a big project and then find out, God forbid, that you’re not that kind of person. Because if you take money for a big project, a big advance, and you don’t deliver, then you’ve screwed the pooch, and your reputation is gone for good. And that’s a very bad way for you to get started. So, doing something like a magazine program is a good way to find out a little bit about yourself. You don’t have to be the greatest programmer in the world, it’s your work ethic, and how well you understand what makes things fun. And another big component of a game designer is the ability to look at something you’ve done, something you’ve slaved over for a long, long time, and say, “this sucks,” and throw it out If you don’t have that kind of honesty you probably won’t do a very good job.

YAAM: What C compiler do you use?

BW: I’m using Lattice C version 5.0. Pioneer Plague was done with 4.2. I’d have to say that they’ve done a marvelous job with the Lattice products. All of the stuff that was bad about the original Lattice, and there was a lot of stuff, all the stuff that made their benchmarks look a lot worse than everybody else, all that’s been fixed. It’s been fixed in a nice professional manner. It’s a very professional product. And it gives you, I think, all the options other companies will offer you, and you can pick and choose what options, which trade-offs you want. It’s very professional.

YAAM: Have you looked into using anybody else’s tools, if not for music, for the art?

BW: I’m very picky about that, and primarily because of IFF. IFF is a great boon to the consumer, but for me it’s an incredible pain in the ass. And the reason is that every time I want to design a little tool which will take some graphics thing and do some magic little thing to it that will enable me to stick it on the disk in smaller space, or whatever. Whenever I want to do that, if it’s an IFF product that I’m using to generate the original stuff, now I have to pull out all the IFF stuff from the public domain and integrate it into my stuff, and I hate integrating other people’s code, because I’m not sure what it is, what the side effects will be. They have a different philosophy about how they do things, and its’ always very dangerous. So IFF for me has been mostly that I’ll look at a real nice tool and say, “yeah, I could probably use that,” and then I think that now I’m gonna have to write a conversion routine which will enable me to use that tool for me to use in my game. And no I’m not so interested any more. I write most of my own tools. The only tools I don’t write are the ones I look at and say, “yeah, I’d have to write a long time to duplicate what that thing can offer me.” So I do, for instance, using Deluxe Paint II.

YAAM: If someone would sit down and write a new standard that’s not IFF but takes advantage of what we’ve learned about the Amiga, would that be helpful?

BW: Yeah, that’s definately something that needs to be done. It’s hard, I don’t want to criticize the people that did IFF, God knows I’d probably do a worse job of it, but when you decide to create a standard, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’ll make compromises that will drive nuts later on. It’s just part of it. The net effect of IFF to me has been that rather than a simple data dump that’s put out by a program, I’ve got this ungodly data dump that I’ve got to incorporate other people’s code to read it. But that’s only for me. I understand that our market probably wouldn’t be as big as it is today if it wasn’t that IFF is so great for the consumer. And I’d never think of turning out a productivity product that didn’t have IFF included in it, because then I’d be ripping them off.

YAAM: Commodore’s fortumes have been on the rise, both sales and stock market. What else can they do to expand the market?

BW: I think that a lot of the pieces are already in place. One of the things I find most encouraging about the Amiga market, is that if you use software written for the Amiga for very long at all, and then go to software written for other machines, that it seems a tad less professional. Doesn’t it seem to you.

YAAM: In some areas, but in terms of desktop publishing we’re still far behind the Mac, but in terms of artists’ tools…

BW: So I think we’ve got a good base to build on. There’s a good environment that expects professional tools. I think the only place the Amiga can go from here is to appeal to people who aren’t nuts about technological achievement What that means is less emphasis on hardware and more emphasis on ease-of-use. Saying to somebody, you’ve got a problem to solve, and we’ll solve that problem and not give you 50 other problems in return. That’s something every company says, of course.

YAAM: The home computer boom still hasn’t panned out, against business computers.

BW: I doubt if it’ll ever become that mass market kind of thing, because people’s lives really aren’t all that complicated. I think what will happen is we’ll see increasing computerization in our homes, but it’ll all be subtle stuff, dedicated stuff, that we won’t think of as computerization. It’s just, we’ve got this really nice homw with appliances that talk to one another, and my stereo knows to tum itself down when the phone rings, and if you stop and think about it you’ll realize there’s probably a computer in there. But you won’t think of it as “my personal computer.” The thing we think of as a personal computer, if it continues to exist at all in the future, will continue to be a hobby kind of thing for people that really get a kick out of it. Or, a specific tool for something like lay-out or a lot of word processing. But for your average person… [laughter] Sometimes in this industry we tend to forget that life is a lot more interesting than computers [laughter].

Sometimes in this industry we tend to forget that life is a lot more interesting than computers.

YAAM: What’s the latest movie you’ve seen?

BW: The latest movie I saw was Rain Man. If you haven’t seen it, it was real good. And the one I saw before that was They Live! When it comes out on video tape, you’ve got to rent it. It’s great. It’s just kind of like a science fiction sort of story, it feels like a Twilight Zone episode. But when you leave the theater you will be looking a people with different eyes. You can’t shake the feeling. It’s a really cool movie.

YAAM: That’s a John Carpenter film. When you look back, EA broke into the scene featuring “artists.” Your games still say “by Bill Williams,” but people don’t buy “Bill Williams’ games” and people don’t look for that.

BW: I think most people who buy games don’t have the faintest idea who designed them and really don’t care. The more committee-driven projects that you get will be much harder to identify who’s putting their personality stamp on it, so that you could say “this game is similar to another game they did.” You know, Electronic Arts had this idea of software artists being the next version of the rock star. And I never really thought it was going to be that way. I found it hard to believe. Being a rock star is not about albums, it’s about performances. Or at least music videos. And no one is going to want to watch us performing our craft, because it will take up their entire friggin’ day [laughter]. So we are never going to be rock stars, we’re too nerdy [laughter].

YAAM: What about new technology, people complaining that the Amiga is falling behind?

BW: It’s true, the PS/2’s graphics modes are really, really beautiful, and the Apple //GS has really, really nice sound. The thing about the Amiga is the package. The fact that you’ve got the incredible graphics, along with this incredible blitter, along with this incredible multi-tasking operating system that is well-designed. Okay, so everybody’s got complaints about the way AmigaDOS operates, and I’ve got my own complaints, but the underlying base of the way the multi-tasking system works was put together by people who understand how big computers are put together. The thing about the Amiga is that trying to sell it based on its individual parts, we’re doing the Amiga an disservice. Because you’ll very quickly be able to point at a single part in the Amiga and say, “oh, you can find a better part in this computer, or that computer.” The question is, do you find all the parts in one computer? And the Amiga is really the only one that does that I took a serious look, the game that I’m doing right now, I took a serious look at doing it on the IBM, once again, I’ll do this from time to time, people whispering “MARKET SHARE! MARKET SHARE!” in my ear. I’ll start thinking, “maybe I could.” So I’ll talk myself into it for about four or five days. So I went out and started researching it and seeing what I’d have to do, but after that initial excitement of “MARKET SHARE! MARKET SHARE!” wears off, I’m saying, “I waaaannnt my bliiitter.”

YAAM: What do you want now that will push you off the Amiga? What do you want from the next generation?

BW: I can’t help but feel that the next generation, and we can already see it approaching, is the kind of incredible mass storage that will enable you to do all those really wild, far out things people thought computers were going to do for them [laughter]. You know, but it’s going to take a while. It’s not enough to have, say, the Encyclopedia Britanica on CD-ROM. Those pieces have to be around long enough so that people come up with an operating system that makes access to that Encyclopedia Britanica so easy, so natural, that all the software ends up using it without much effort. Imagine this: you’re in this paint program, and this paint program, the guy who wrote the program has no idea how to do a thesaurus or whatever, but nevertheless the thing is so integrated and there’s so much mass-storage out there, that if, while doing this pro-gram, you go to save out something called “Blue Sky,” and it says, “there’s always something with that name, you sure you want to overlay it?” And you say “oh, no, this is another Blue Sky,” and the computer in addition to that said, “you could name it this,” and it would give you something that meany something like “Blue Sky,” but it’s a different file name. Imagine how freaked out you’d get if you didn’t know it was supposed to do that. Wouldn’t that be great? That’s the kind of thing I’d eventually like to see, the total integration that even programs that aren’t supposed to be smart about a certain thing have the resources, foundation built under them, so they become smart about a lot of different things. The whole computer becomes more like a co-worker as opposed to this frustrating tool you’ve got to fight with.

YAAM: Do we need to loosen up computer users? Where’s the fun?

BW: Oh sure, when you think of it, even with the game industry, if you were imagining it, wouldn’t you think it’d be full of people who had all sorts of fun?

YAAM: I’d think they’d sit around and try out everybody else’s games, and say, “I can do better than that!”

BW: Yeah, right! It’s all so pointless. We need a better sense of perspective, and humor is part of a better sense of persepctive. What we all need to get oriented on is that ultimately, these are fun toys, but it’s not like the end of the world. And humor can help re-enforce that. I was interviewed by a very nice Japanese man for a book on game designers, quite a long interview with him, and he asked me some questions about how I felt when I got a good review or a good fan letter about a game I’ve done. It is something where it’s very easy to say, “I’m doing something very important,” and you can go into K-Mart and see something you’ve done, and that gives you a little juice. And that’s good, it’s good to get a little juiced because of that. But at the same time, what you are doing is so incredibly trivial, and it’s not just games either, we have to keep in mind that a lot of the stuff we get really excited about technologically are just interesting toys. Ultimately, they’re pretty trivial, and it’s a little decadent that a person like me can make a living doing what I do. We have to be the most decsdent society in America. So for us to take this all seriously all the time, that’s stupid. No matter what we try to pretend to be, the personal computer industry is all just a bunch of people trying to sell a Pinto [laughter]. They’re just trying to make a buck and tum out a product that people are happy with and make a decent living at it It’s not all that important. Do you ever read the letters column in Byte? Sometimes it’s pretty sad. We can get all hot and bothered about something that is just so stupid. Like the Atari people, whenever you bring up the Amiga, start talking about how the blitter steals DMA cycles, slowing down the processor, never mind that the blitter is doing what the processor would have been doing anyway. And you’ll get into this real huge argument that goes on about about whether or not it’s good for a blitter should steal DMA cycles, and meanwhile there’s people starving in Africa! We’re getting real uptight about whether blitters should steal DMA cycles.

You’ll get into this real huge argument that goes on about whether or not it’s good for a blitter to steal DMA cycles, and meanwhile there’s people starving in Africa!

YAAM: Commodore doesn’t seem to want to sell Amigas as game machines.

BW: You know, it’s funny that “game machine” is like the worst thing you can call a personal computer, isn’t it? It’s like the computer world’s equivilent of the word“nigger,” it’s incredible. It happened with the Atari, the Atari was the first to have that epithet hurled at it. GAME MACIIlNE! And I think what’s happened is that the industry has concluded is that by calling a computer a game machine then it’ll die, because that’s what happend to the Atari 800.

YAAM: Cinemaware is now using a so-called “Fast DOS”, but I’d rather be playing out of RAD: or demoing it at the store off hard drive. What are your feeling about disk-based copy protection?

BW: Pioneer Plague is our first venture in taking off disk protection, and I’ve been pushing for that for a long time, but the game designer has very little say about that. That’s probably a good thing, I mean, how much money am I putting up. for this? Sure, I can get ripped, but the publisher really gets ripped off in a big way. I was pleased that I was able to find a publisher that could see my point of view with Pioneer Plague. And I’m planning to go with another soft copy protection method with the new game that will enable you to put it on hard disk or RAM disk. As a matter of fact, this time I’m going to try to find the time to design some batch files so that you can do that automatically and not have to figure it out.

YAAM: What Amiga do you develop on, still a 1000?

BW: Yeah, Amiga 1000 with 2 1/2 meg and two floppy disks and no hard drive. WHAT, NO HARD DISK?!? Y’know what it is… if somebody gave me a hard drive… but ultimately I think memory is more useful, you compile things out of RAM, and it’s always going to be faster than hard drive. I’ve seen people who have found out that hard drives are not so permenant.

YAAM: Any parting shots?

BW: Here’s a plea that I’ve often wanted to put into my games, but the publisher never lets me do this. So let me give this to you. I’d like to put a little thing that says on the back, “Okay, so you broke the copy protection and you’re really proud of yourself and you don’t have to pay any money for this game. I’ll feel better about it if you take the money you would have spent on this game and go out and take your wife out to dinner.”

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