Name: Chris Crawford
Title: Artist / Designer

[Again, originally written in 1997 - since then, Crawford has published a new book on "Understanding Interactivity", a portion of which is available online, and is continuing to work on the very forward-thinking Erasmatron on his excellent website. I hope desperately the Erasmatron won't be overlooked, but is in some danger of being so. Ladies and gentlemen, he's still way ahead.]

Yep, we've managed to get an interview with one of the most interesting characters involved in interactive entertainment. He started the Computer Games Developer Conference, he worked at Atari during much of their glory years, he designed the _seminal_ strategy game "Balance Of Power", and he's written some of the only decent books on computer game design.

For the last few years he's been working on Erasmatron, a work that seeks to get non-technical creative types the ability to make their own interactive worlds. Ladies and gentlemen, he is Chris Crawford, and if his opinions don't make you have a long hard think about the state of the games industry, then nothing will.

h0l:How do you like your role as one of the elder statesmen of computer game design? :)

CC:It really doesn't mean anything. That's a status thing, something you do to impress people, but in the larger scheme of things, all the status in the world doesn't accomplish anything worthwhile. The work I do is what matters; whether people kowtow to me is meaningless.

h0l: It's clear that your work on Erasmatron is getting closer towards real virtual worlds with (if anything) the emulation of emotion being key.. But there's still a place for visceral, violent shoot-em-ups and 2D, completely conceptual puzzle games, right?

CC: Sure there's a place for those things, and there always will be. Indeed, right now, that place is a lot more lucrative then interactive storytelling. Of course, when I started working on computer games, they weren't very lucrative either.

h0l: So should games be getting more real or less real?

CC: De gustibus non est disputandem.

h0l: Do you worry that Erasmatron won't get the attention it deserves because of the attitude the rest of the industry gives off, that game construction is for tech-heads only?

CC: Of course the Erasmatron is going to have an uphill battle getting people's attention. Indeed, right now its worst problem is getting people to understand what it is. People look at it, scratch their heads, and say, oh, it's an adventure game generator, right? When I say no, they say, well, is it a role-playing game? I say no, and they try a few other possibilities before they get frustrated and ask, what kind of game is it, then? To which I reply, it's not a game, it's interactive storytelling. But they don't know what that is, so they just shrug their shoulders and walk off. There's nothing wrong with this; when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he thought that it would be used to pipe live opera into people's homes. The concept of a "telephone conversation" just didn't click for him, because it was so utterly novel. Most people insist on viewing everything through the lens of past experience, so when you do something completely new, they just don't get it.

h0l: Why did you want to write books about computer game design? It seems as if almost nobody else has.

CC: Your question made me realize something fundamental about the difference between myself and most other computer games people. I'm a communicator; I thrive on getting through to people one way or the other. I enjoy public speaking, I enjoy writing, and I enjoy using the computer to express ideas. Computer games people, though, are coming from a completely different angle. Their passion is for the technology; they want to make it jump through hoops in fascinating new ways. So they create games that show off great new hoop-jumping tricks, but they don't have anything to say in their games. My work doesn't jump through any hoops -- it's about what I have to say.

h0l: Name your five favourite games of all time.

CC: I assume you mean to play, not to respect the design. They are: "M.U.L.E", "Dandy", "Doom", "Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe", and "Warlords."

h0l: Erasmus appears to be a big influence on yourself, judging by the profile of him on your webpage Do you aim for the same mix between the comic and the profound' when making games? Or do you just like him because he wore cool hats?

CC: I'm still trying to understand my fascination with Erasmus. He was a loner -- that strikes a chord with me. He rejected all forms of power for simple truth -- I like that, too. He was really hard to understand at times -- that makes for a good challenge. And he was further ahead of his times than any man in all of human history. I think I have a lot to learn from this guy. I'm writing a new book -- on my website -- about him, mostly as a personal means of figuring it out (By the way, that's why I wrote The Art of Computer Game Design -- to figure out game design by trying to write it down). You can follow this new book as I put the pieces together on the website.

h0l: Is the games industry forging ahead into new worlds or just wandering around inside a little cage, chasing its tail?

CC: Definitely the latter. Nobody changes until they're in pain. Do you see any pain in this industry?

h0l: What makes you smile?

CC: Gee, what a great opportunity to refer back to the previous answer... naahh... too sick...

Real answer: a new realization, a better integration of previously disconnected parts of my intellectual universe. There's no finer, warmer, fuzzier feeling than that moment of insight when an intellectual butterfly in my mental Beijing triggers a cognitive thunderstorm in my mental Oregon.

h0l: Can you shed any light on the problems of constantly slipping release dates on games? Is it because games are unique in their composition, of just because game developers are inefficient?

CC: It's not because of inefficiency, it's due to the difficulty of bringing discipline to such an intensely personal task as code-writing. The way to meet schedules is to depersonalize the design and coding process. Games are getting there -- but you can see the result in the lack of personality in games.

h0l: What games magazines do you read?

CC: None. George Patton once said that the point in war is not to die for your country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his country. I don't want to read about what everybody else is doing, I want to do work of such quality that they'll all have to read about what I'm doing.

h0l: Why are you no longer so greatly (at all?) involved with CGDC? Does this upset you?

CC: They kicked me out. It certainly upset me at the time -- these people were my close friends, and they kicked me out of my own creation, confiscated my stock, and sold it to Miller-Freeman for $3 million. I really must pick my friends more carefully.

h0l: Do you think the Japanese are better at games than the Americans or Europeans?

CC: I don't think so. They have several advantages: their programmers aren't the prima-donnas that American programmers can be, and their culture has greater respect for games than ours. However, the Americans have their own advantages, particularly in personal creativity and business formation, and the Europeans have their advantages, too.

h0l: Are there any games you're looking forward to this year?

CC: No.

h0l: In five years you expect to be doing.. what?

CC: Working on version 3 of the Erasmatron storytelling technology. The field of interactive storytelling is intrinsically far larger than computer games, yet right now there is only a handful of people working in the field. In five years we should have a much larger presence, and I expect to play a role in it. Hey! Maybe I can publish a journal on interactive storytelling, then found a conference, then get some friends together to help me with it...

h0l: Finally, give all those aspiring game designers out there some hints about how to get ahead of the pack?

CC: Concentrate on people and ideas, not technology. If all you want to do is make your computer perform cute tricks, then you'd better resign yourself to a future as a programmer-drudge. Concentrate on the big ideas and what makes people tick, then use the computer as a means to an end rather than the end in itself. Read!!! Read lotsa things, everything. If all you read is technical manuals and science fiction, you're doomed. Read psychology, economics, biology, genetics, history, law, physics, philosophy. You don't realize the POWER of all the ideas out there! But don't read Erasmus -- too dense.

h0l: Thanks!

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