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Roger Pedersen is an Executive Producer / Game Designer / Programmer with over 50 released titles! In 1996-97 he was the fulltime Executive Producer for Acclaim Entertainment. His latest release was General Mills Major League Baseball, released 1998.
What made you decide to work in the game industry in the first place?
In the 6th grade, we played Avalon Hill games and Diplomacy for history. I became addicted to war games and started subscribing to "Strategy and Tactics" and Military magazines. I designed several war games: "Global Conquest," "LunarCity," "The PentaLegions" and corresponded to other game designers like Gary Gygax (who developed D&D) and a fellow who had me game test "Conquest", a chess like 2-4 player game player on a board or through the mail. I also started to become an avid chess player (now ranked a Master).
The high school hooked up to a Texas Instrument mini-computer and started a computer class. I was too young to take the classes (had to be in 10th grade) so I hung out in the computer room and taught myself BASIC. A man (David Ahl editor of "Creative Computing" the nation's #1 PC magazine in the 1970s) in Westchester County (one county over) started having computer lectures and fairs once a month which I attended and prepared simulations and easy single player games for that run via a yellow paper terminal (no monitors back then).
The interest in computers led me to teach the high school computer course. The computer teacher was also a math teacher and taught computers through math solving so the principal asked me to teach real-world computing(searching, sorting, simulations, games like tic-tac-toe)
Throughout college I studied AI, Game theory, Database theory and worked for a mini (Nova Computers) company and was given a TI Silent 700 (terminal paper terminal connected to the Novas) in my dorm room. Other students had 1-4K PCs that they assembled from Heathkit.
In 1981 or so, I bought myself an Apple 2 and Pascal and wrote a few simple graphic games in 32K with 8 colors. In 1983, I moved back to NY City area looking for a job. A headhunter called me and asked if I wanted to work at home (part-time) programming games for book publishers who wanted adventure games for the Apple as a selling device ("buy 40 books and get a game that relates to the subject matter.") I did several games for Laidlaw a division of Doubleday where the student could travel throughout the U.S. visiting State capitals, throughout the World visiting famous cities and capitals, visiting Indian reservations and learning their customs.
Then I got a contract with CBS to rewrite the series "Success With Math" which included "Addition," "Subtraction," "Multiplication," "Division," and "Long Division" on a Commodore Vic-20 and 64. CBS bought me a Vic-20 and a Commodore 64 and gave me the Apple disks (no code).
In 1985, I met with a Florida game/toy company, Gametek who wanted to get into the computer business. They had several hot TV show and board game licenses. I formed Pedersen Systems Inc. and designed, produced, co-programmed, did the artwork, sound (music) and database for 2 games (3 SKUs; Apple 2, Commodore 64/128 and IBM PC) a month. "Candyland" took 4 days to design and program a finished version for the 3 computers.
My co-partner Michael Hausman developed a toolbox (code routines and a graphics converter for each machine) allowing us to make games in IBM PC DOS and upon finishing the code in Manx/Aztec C, the Commodore 64 and Apple versions only required a new compile into their assembler code and a running the graphics from the IBM PC through Michael's converter. "Go To the Head of the Class" took us 5 days for 3 versions (I had to type and update the 1000 questions used in the game). From there we put on the store shelves "Press Your Luck" a TV show, "Chutes and Ladders" another Milton Bradley board game, from Parker Brothers' board game to the computer "Sorry". Fisher Price games "Perfect Fit", "I Can Remember" and "Fun Flyer" (never shipped). Also developed and never shipped where board games "Trouble" and "Big Boggle".
In 1988, Michael and myself ported "Swimwear" a swimsuit calendar of a dozen women for Hi-Tech Expressions from the IBM PC to the Apple. The port and redesign of the printer graphics were done in 4 weeks.
In 1989, we designed, programmed, did the sound and artwork for PolarWare (Steve Green) then bought out by Merit Software on the Don Bluth film "All Dogs Go To Heaven." The original film on was provided and we created a storybook with 10 games that related to the film and its characters. The soundtrack was digitized and played back through the PC speaker and the Sound Blaster (this was the first game to use digital sound through these devices). Both Michael and myself programmed this title and the magnificent artwork was done by a upcoming computer graphics artist, Juan Sanchez (his first title). The design, artwork and programming took 10 weeks for the IBM version. The IBM PC code and graphics was easily ported to the Amiga.
After making millions for Gametek, I published several games ("Cyber Cop," "Zombies: Undead or Alive!," Crazy Cola" and "Dome of Champions") that won CES awards but sold poorly (proving that the creative techies should stay away from the business end of accounting, marketing and sales).
In 1992 at the CES show (pre E3 days), I contracted with Dan Sejzer of Villa Crespo Software to Design, program, artwork and sound a Video Poker Game. Within 4 weeks a prototype was finished and Dan showed it the several distributors who wanted it ASAP. I moved to Chicago to become Director of Development of Villa Crespo Software a 3 person company. Within a year, VCS had over 30 titles on the store shelves and over a dozen employees. Developers in Europe and throughout the U.S. were working with us to sell their titles. My job was to work with these developers, create internal projects, head up the QA group, work with marketing and manual writers. Titles that I developed and programmed "Stanford Wong's Video Poker" and "Flicks: Film Review Library" (both CES Innovations award winners), "Dr. Wong Jacks+" (IBM DOS, Windows), "Combination Lock" (IBM DOS), "Casino Girls Video Poker" (IBM DOS), "Real Mother Goose" (IBM DOS).
Titles that I managed "Amarillo Slim's Dealer's Choice", "Rosemary West's House of Fortunes," "Gold Sheet Pro Football Analyst," "Games Magazine: Word Games" and the "Coffee Break Series."
Titles that I managed and produced the "Coffee Break CD," "Amarillo Slim 7 Card Stud" (IBM DOS), "The Flicks!" (IBM DOS), "Hearts" (IBM DOS) and "Casino Craps" (IBM DOS).
Designed the gameplay for Rosemary West's House of Fortunes, Games Magazine: Word Games. Created the concept of The Coffee Break Series (all titles) great software (abridged versions of VCS premium software and upgraded shareware titles) at budget prices ($13).
Designed the packaging for Failsafe (a police officer) and FLICKS (a large in-home TV). In 1994 to 1995, I joined Merit Industries as Manager of Product Development for their videogame/arcade machine MegaTouch. I designed and programmed numerous touch screen games on the IBM PC for the Atari Jaguar (inside the arcade box). Redesigned the previous MegaTouch system and games written in a 16 color mode to a 16-24 bit system with stereo sound. Developed new touch screen games, tested the games with non-technical players for addictiveness, ease of play and understanding.
Learned that in the arcade market if the product isn't fun or addictive, the player has only invested a quarter.
In August 1996 to May 1997, I became Senior Producer for Acclaim Entertainment. Later earning the role of Executive Producer and Game Designer developing the following titles: Ocean of America: Cheesy (PSX), Break Point, Tennis (Saturn), Tunnel B1 (PSX, Saturn, IBM DOS, WIN 95) Project X2 (PSX, Saturn).
Fox Interactive: Die Hard Trilogy (IBM DOS, Saturn).
Taito: Psychic Force (PSX), Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move 3 (PSX).
Acclaim: JLA (Justice League of America) licensing liaison with Warner Brothers and DC Comics.
Bloodshot (PSX, IBM DOS). Designed an original script based on the Acclaim Comic character Bloodshot and his many enemies.
Shadowman (PSX, IBM Win 95, N64). Senior Producer.
Managed over a dozen producers and associate producers each with 4-6 titles (each title had several SKUs: N64, Win95, PSX, Sega, etc.) as well as produced numerous titles as Senior Producer for the Sony Playstation (PSX), the Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and Windows 95. (Each title had a budget of $1-5 million.)
For Bloodshot and JLA: Documented and designed products preparing an executive treatment, a design specification and technical specifications.
For Psychic Force: localized the storyline for the U.S market, directed voice-over talent and edited the VO DATs from a digital editor to Mac audio format. Directed in the motion capture studio for sample data for JLA and Shadowman. Reviewed potential products for Acclaim distribution from outside developers and tested numerous products before turn-over (Turok, Forsaken, Space Jam, WWF and Magic: The Gathering). Selected QA staff to head and work on various projects. Met with licensors: Warner Brothers, DC Comics and Acclaim Comics to discuss game design and licensing matters: character descriptions, storylines, arch-enemies, 3 view artwork, acceptable design issues (death or injury to a super hero). Mentored and gave suggestions to producers and game analysts in their design efforts. Met with various "hot" development teams/ groups (like ID off-shoots) for title/ concept negotiations. Since 1994 my pet project has been as PSI Productions Director, Producer, Designer, and Programmer of "The Six Stones of Serena,." an interactive fantasy adventure, Wrote an interactive adventure/ role-playing game (500 pages with over 300 parts). Using a SONY BetaCam and Hi-8 Cameras, shot script (100 actors) during a 4 week period. Using video editors (Toaster, Grass Valley, AVID) and software edited and placed video on a CD. Used various 3D art packages (Animated World Builder) for virtual world. Designed and programmed an interactive scripting system (language) to create interactive characters and storyline. Author can easily design, play and debug interactive stories.
In 1997, I contracted with Sports Simulation to designer and program in IBM PC Windows '95 "Pro Soccer," a location-based simulation, human player kicks a soccer ball at a virtual goalie. Designed an "all-sports" system linking any sports module to a ball trajectory DLL and a sensor DLL. The Pro Soccer module used actual, kicked soccer ball trajectory data to move a virtual ball towards a virtual goalie (St. John's University soccer team filmed).
As Producer, filmed various soccer players (male, female, teen, college, pro) against an ultramat background and placed the "virtual" players in a 3D soccer world (goal and field) for varying soccer options: direct penalty kick, indirect penalty kick and corner kick.
In 1998, Michael and I again teamed up in contracting with Hypnotix as Game Designer, Producer, Programmer for General Mills "Big G All-Stars vs. Major League Baseball" (IBM PC Windows '95, 3.1). The ad appeared 4-7/98 on 33 millions boxes of General Mills cereal and the CD sold over 1 million copies. The GM trademarked characters the Trix Rabbit, Count Chocula, the Lucky Charms Leprechaun vs. the MLB players (9 players on 30 teams).
What role do you typically play in the development of a game?
Ideally the Game Designer and Producer, then oversee the programming and artwork. Usually the basic game design (usually poor and unusable) is provided and I help with the programming. It's important to understand the original game design so when you discard it the money people and original designers agree with your improvements and ideas. Many people think they can design a great game even though they've never done it. Even designers in one genre think they can create in other areas.. like an adventure game designer trying to make a sports game.
What advice can you offer to people who want to get started with game development, perhaps to turn it into a career?
Study. I learn to do. I studied film making so I could understand an art that has had a successful life. Games will eventually become interactive (where users can chat with their virtual world citizens). Actors (on-screen, voice-over and motion capture) work better with knowledgeable and experienced directors and producers. Lighting, camera angles, cut scenes are proven methods in film that video/ PC/ interactive designers, directors and producers need to understand. In designing "The Six Stones of Serena," I have several binders full of internet and book research of mythology, ancient architecture, geographical topography, sci-fi lore just to justify ideas and gameplay. In baseball, you must understand the statistical data and its relevance. How they relate to the player and to the other data. If the user is shown believable scenarios then the game, the experience is more enjoyable.
What in your opinion makes a good game?
I look at games from the user's Point of View often asking myself "Is this game worth $60?," "What features would help the user," "My goal is X can I get there easier, faster?" The story must be good for adventure games, for sports games realism, for puzzle games addictiveness and the ability to play unlimited variations. As CPUs get faster and memory and storage becomes cheaper and more abundant the stories can be more elaborate. More polys, more actors on the CD, better sound perhaps orchestrated soundtracks.
Why do you enjoy making games?
I enjoy watching someone play my games. I enjoy hearing someone saw they love a game I worked on. I enjoy reading reviews (all of them favorable so far... knock on wood or silicon).
Lastly, with so many titles released each year, do you have any predictions for what designers or programmers will need to do to distinguish themselves from others to get a job in the industry? Or will demand be too low?
Unless I work for a company full-time (and I'm always looking) I contract 1-2 titles per year. When I started a developer could be a "lone wolf." Fortunately, I have been teamed up with talented programmers, artists and co-workers. Now a game needs a dozen people to create a game which is fine as long as one person has the clear vision. "Newbies" should join a game company at any salary or design a game themselves or by using a standard development system to show potential employers that they can really program or design a game. Like film, books and art, computer gaming is an art obtainable through talent as well as education.