Trading Card Spotlight - David Crane

Our next Trading Card Spotlight features David Crane who is displayed on card number 337, from the Superstars of 2012 Collection.  He has been named number 12 of the top 100 game creators of all time.  David has created some of the most memorable Atari 2600 games in the library.  As the Co-Founder of Activision, some of his creations are Pitfall, Dragster, Freeway and Grand Prix.  David has received numerous awards for his work of the past 35 years.  Some of his awards include the AIAS Pioneer award, Video Game Designer of the year twice and a Parent’s Choice Award for “positive human values” in a video game.  You can see more of David’s biography at www.dcrane.com.

What is your favorite game you have worked on in your career?

I can never single out one of nearly 100 games that I created.  Every game has something unique and interesting that I, as a game creator, found special.  In many cases, the game player might not even know about the cool technological thing I did to make the game they enjoyed, but as long as they enjoyed the game that doesn’t matter.  That said, Grand Prix was one of the most technically challenging 2600 games ever made, and it often comes up as a favorite of mine for the internal technology.

Do you remember when you created your first video game or arcade and what do you remember about the experience?

I was very much into electronic gaming even before video games.  I created an unbeatable Tic-Tac-Toe playing machine for a college project about the time Pong was being created.  My first project as a professional game designer was “Outlaw” for the 2600 while working at Atari.  It wasn’t bad for a first effort, particularly including a “shootable” playfield, but as I think back on the coding of that game I could have done better.

Do you believe some Video Games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?

A standup comic will tell you that if an audience is not responding, going very crude and profane can start to get a reaction – even if it is just nervous titters.  Crudity and profanity can be a crutch for a comic.  Likewise, intense violence can be a crutch in video games.

I consider it to be a poor design that relies on excessive violence in an attempt to make a game popular.

But no, I don’t believe that violent video games lead to violence in the real world.  Considering what people are exposed to in all forms of media, that is a very simplistic view.

What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games?  How do you compare them to older, classic games?

Over the past decade or so there has been a movement toward “casual” games that might be played by average people, or even families rather than hard-core gamers.  Ironically, the games I made in the 70s and 80s satisfied both the hard-core gamer and the casual, family who played together.  The game console was in the living room and kids played with their parents.

Console games in the 90s evolved into more niche games, too complex for casual game play.  If you didn’t have 100 hours to learn a game, you couldn’t play it for enjoyment.  We are now back to a point where there are lots of games for everyone to play and enjoy.

Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a Video game Trading card? 

I always planned to make gadgets that would be sold on late night TV into millions of homes.  Becoming successful at that would likely mean becoming a household name (remember Ron Popeil?)  Video games gave me that venue to create something that millions of people might want to play.  But no, I never imagined that the concept of baseball cards would ever translate into video games.

When did you first meet Walter day and where was it at?

I believe I first met Walter at the first Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.  We were both receiving awards for our contribution to the game business – me for making them, and him for tracking high scores.

If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?

How about a “fixture” of the game industry.  Walter really went all-in to become the high score authority, and always appeared in that referee uniform.  There was never a doubt when Walter was in the house.

What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?

These days you have to change the term from “portable gaming device” to “portable computing device”.  The iPhone that goes with me everywhere I go is as powerful a gaming device as most game consoles.  I can’t say that I like what Apple did to the game software business, making the world believe that a game is worth 99 cents or less, but the hardware platform is impressive.

Do you prefer Arcade or Console gaming and why?

I can’t say I get out to arcades much anymore.  My favorite way to play is from my recliner, relaxing after a day huddled over my computer keyboard.

What games today do you play and what are your favorite genres of games?

I play Words with Friends every day, and I use live poker as a way to keep mentally challenged.  As for a genre, I prefer simple fun games.  A game like Call of Duty is an impressive simulation, but I can’t say it is much fun to engage in a life or death firefight – even an imaginary one.

What does it take to be a Video Game creator, and what advice would you give a person today who would like to get into the industry?

The best advice borrows from Nike, and that is to “just do it.”  There are many helpful technologies that make creating games easier than ever before, so sit down at a computer with one of those systems and see what you can create.

If you are a programmer, find a friend who is an artist (or vice versa).  By trying it out you will see first if you have the aptitude, and second if you enjoy the journey.  It is not all fun and games.

Once you create something, self-publish – even if only family and friends download your game.  At some point you may want to look for a job in the game business, and if you go into a company as a published creator, that company will know that you can see a project through to completion – one of the most valuable skills they are looking for.

DavidCrane1983

 Are video games today aimed mainly at children, adolescents or adults?

All of the above, of course.

Which company today, in your opinion, makes the best games and why?

I’ll answer the flipside of that. I don’t much care for free-to-play games that pick players’ pockets with in-game purchases.  Companies that create such games spend more time thinking about how to extract another dollar from a player rather than concentrating on fun game play.

I am all for charging a consumer a fair price for their entertainment, otherwise you can’t support professional game teams.  But the emphasis should always be on delivering entertainment.

Do you like it when Hollywood makes a movie from the video game?

I am credited with making perhaps the first successful video game from a movie with Ghostbusters on the Commodore 64.  I think this is a fine idea if the goal is to create an enjoyable video game experience that takes place in a movie’s universe.  Where some go wrong is in simply slapping a movie title on an otherwise bad or derivative game concept.  That is bad for everyone.

And certainly, if we can make game from a movie, Hollywood should be able to make a movie from a game.  The same caveats apply – If the movie is both entertaining and true to the universe created by the game’s designer, it can be a good thing.

Who is your favorite video game character of all time and what makes that character special?

Pitfall Harry? (Just kidding.)  There have been what, a million games made in the last 40 years?  And don’t most of them have at least one character in them, if not dozens?  So I would be hard pressed to decide on a single favorite.  I will just say that fun game play is the goal, and game characters mostly provide visual appeal.  So, any game character that enhances a game’s enjoyment without detracting from the game play is a good character in my book.

Are you still involved with gaming today, and what role do you play?

My day job is to analyze and provide expert opinions on patents – usually involved in the video game space, so I have to keep current on technology.

I also occasionally work as a technical advisor for small game companies that need my help.  So, while I probably won’t get involved in a 100 million dollar, 300-person console game project, I stay active in the field of video games.

Where do you see Video gaming in the next 20 years?

There are a lot of technologies out there, including VR (and the more important AR).  But gaming is about having fun for a few minutes as a diversion.  I don’t expect new technologies to dramatically impact the concept of a fun interaction.  So even 20 years from now, a good game designer will find something fun for people to do on their computing devices.

www.dcrane.com