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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Eugene Jarvis

This past weekend I met one of my all time arcade heros, Eugene Jarvis. Eugene, and his partner at the time Larry Demar, were the primary developers of William's Robotron and Defender/Stargate.

I grew up playing Stargate at a local arcade in the early 1980s with my best friend. And let me tell you, we wasted a TON of quarters on this game. Stargate was THE most complex game at the time (and probably still today!), with its 6 buttons, 2-way joystick, and extremely manic style of play. I think the average play time of this game was roughly 2-3 minutes per quarter (for a beginner). I distinctly remember staying away from Robotron, as that game was even harder, and eat about 1 quarter every 1-2 minutes! I cursed these games more times then I care to remember, and vowed revenge every time we ran out of quarters. Well now I have the last laugh, as I bought both of these cabinets around 5-6 years ago, and play them whenever I think they need a good spanking. Well, actually, these games still kick my ass, but at least I'm not wasting any more quarters. :-)

Eugene gave a talk at this years California Extreme (the West coast's largest arcade and pinball show) and I was determined not to miss it. Now before the talk, this very talented guy (Jean Baudin) was warming up the audience playing a very strange guitar which had 11 strings! It had both bass strings and regular guitar strings on a single wide neck, and he played it with two hands like a piano. What made this even cooler, is that he was playing classic video game music tracks, like Nintendo's Mario Bros!
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Checkout the inlays in the fretboards. In the first pic, you can see a Pac-Man inlayed in a guitar on a stand to the right, and the second pic is a closeup of the guitar he was playing, which had a nice Joust inlay. Very cool!

Eugene then gave an hour long talk on how he came up with the idea for Robotron, went into detail on the programming/AI involed, and answered questions from the audience. He also pointed out several bugs in his code which were NOT fixed since they added some interesting gameplay mechanics (made it HARDER!). He is a very animated speaker, and a true pleasure to listen to. If you ever get the chance, pickup the PC CD-Rom "Williams Arcade Classics" as it containts video footage interviews with Eugene, Larry, and a few other Williams developers that echo the same excitement these guys still feel today when talking about their creations.

After the talk, I ran into Eugene on the CA Extreme show floor, and watched him play a few rounds of Robotron. I then talked to him for a bit about the manic nature of his games, and that in Japan today, some companies are still releasing 2D manic shooter games (like Cave). Knowing vertical shooters are still a niche market, I doubt he would ever think about producing one himself with his current company Raw Thrills...but if anyone in America could pull off something like this, he could.
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(if you couldn't figure it out, thats me on the left, and Eugene on the right)

3 comments:

  1. You're lucky to have met him, and to have a Robotron at home! I think Eugene was at CAX the year before but I missed him.

    Having fun reading through your archives Dave, you've put in some serious time with these beauties!

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    1. Thanks Jessie! I'll have to go back and restore all the broken (imageshack hosted) pictures from these posts. :)

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  2. I was doing some Demon Front research and saw your post on Shmups. I'd like to hear your experiences with it the next time I see you at a meet. I didn't even know about the secret keys until tonight.

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