EU­GENE JARVIS

EDGE - - VOXEL PERFECT - Co-founder, Raw Thrills

Eu­gene Jarvis, along with Larry DeMar, is the co-creator of ar­cade clas­sics De­fender and

Robotron: 2084. He also de­signed Smash TV – a spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to Robotron – with Mark Turmell, and is re­spon­si­ble for the Cruis’n rac­ing se­ries, which he has re­cently up­dated with a new cabi­net – Cruis’n Blast – cre­ated by Raw Thrills, the ar­cade-game com­pany he co-founded in 2001. You’ve turned down a num­ber of de­vel­op­ers who’ve ap­proached you to work with them on projects – why was Nex Machina dif­fer­ent? I think there are some won­der­ful game me­chan­ics in some of the clas­sics, and to re­visit those ti­tles now and then can be fun. But it’s re­ally tough, be­cause you have a game that works so well in 2D, and there’s al­ways this huge risk when you try to bring that into 3D. It’s like 3D chess – as won­der­ful as it is in 2D, when you bring in an­other di­men­sion, your brain ex­plodes. But

Robotron is the game that I did which I think prob­a­bly has the most stay­ing power. There’s a sim­plic­ity to the game but also in­cred­i­ble depth. We re­vis­ited it in Smash TV years ago, and it’s been over 30 years since the orig­i­nal, so I thought maybe it was time. I just thought, ‘ Why not? Let’s give it a shot,’ you know? Plus I was re­ally ex­cited about Re­so­gun. It’s a re­ally fun game, and I loved the par­ti­cle ef­fects – which was some­thing I got re­ally ex­cited about years ago on De­fender. But in

Re­so­gun it was, like, to the tenth power! Nex Machina cer­tainly di­als up that as­pect. Yeah. Lis­ten, I re­mem­ber when I first saw

Minecraft, I thought, ‘How can peo­ple get ex­cited about this old, crappy tech­nol­ogy?’ We’ve been try­ing to get rid of these big pix­els and vox­els for the past 40 years. My en­tire ca­reer was ded­i­cated to get­ting rid of this shit and hav­ing smooth, organic shapes, and now all of a sud­den it’s cool again. My 15-year-old kid is like, ‘This is the coolest shit,’ and I’m like, ‘Dude. That was cool in 1982.’ But the coolest thing about what House­mar­que has done with their voxel tech­nol­ogy is that it can morph back and forth be­tween a smooth, shaded mesh and a voxel, in­ter­po­lat­ing be­tween two dif­fer­ent ob­jects. You get the best of both worlds. Not ev­ery­thing is Minecraft block stuff – you also have these very or­nate and smooth-shaded, in­cred­i­ble en­e­mies. Then when you blow them up they go into this voxel state and scat­ter. There’s got to be thou­sands of vox­els on­screen fly­ing ev­ery­where. Are you sur­prised at the con­tin­ued ap­petite for games built on the ideas that you and your peers laid out three decades ago? I mean, it’s ob­vi­ously a good ego stroke, you know. But back in that day we were kind of the for­ma­tion of the in­dus­try. We were deal­ing with the most ba­sic stuff and cre­at­ing some ba­sic gen­res – now there are hun­dreds of them. If I hadn’t been there, some­body else would’ve done it. What­ever is go­ing to hap­pen is go­ing to hap­pen, be­cause there are just way too many smart peo­ple out in the world. I think we can get a lit­tle high on our own egos by think­ing that we’re in­dis­pens­able, which is not true at all.

Over the years we’ve had some great

Robotron- type games. The whole dual-stick thing was pretty ob­vi­ous, but it was amaz­ing how many years it took to be­come the stan­dard. I re­mem­ber mak­ing Robotron in 1982 and be­ing like, ‘Who would make a game with­out [dual sticks]?’ And then for the next ten or 15 years we had ba­si­cally the Nin­tendo NES con­troller. And I was like, ‘Wow, don’t you guys know you can put two joy­sticks to­gether?’ I guess they were right, though, be­cause Mario was a much big­ger game [laughs]. How does it feel to be work­ing on a con­sole game again af­ter spend­ing such a long time fo­cused squarely on the ar­cade scene? In some ways it’s ex­tremely hum­bling. The ar­cade world is a fun one, but it’s a small world these days – a niche mar­ket. We have a tremen­dous amount of fun, and we can cre­ate these re­ally cool, huge games and play around with things like putting 4,000 LEDs – or 100,000, what­ever! – on a cabi­net. And we can cre­ate these huge ex­pe­ri­ences where you walk into an ar­cade and go, ‘Oh my god, look at that thing!’ That’s re­ally cool, but then you get into the world of PlayS­ta­tion and it’s a very hard­core au­di­ence. These are play­ers that live and breathe games. They’re play­ing games 22/7, with two hours of sleep and just this crazy pas­sion. They’re fa­nat­ics.

It re­minds me of back in the day when the ar­cade was king and we had peo­ple that just lived in there. That was their whole life – the ar­cades would be open all night, un­til 6am, and peo­ple would just play through the night. I don’t know when they slept. You can see that same hard­core au­di­ence on PS4 – crazy peo­ple hav­ing just so much fun and get­ting so into the games. And you’re talk­ing very long ex­pe­ri­ences – hours and days, maybe months or years, as op­posed to a few min­utes in an ar­cade. But that hasn’t stopped you plan­ning to cre­ate a cabi­net ver­sion of Nex Machina? I think we can get some made. Ana­logue sticks aren’t com­mon to­day, but I think we can take some of the flight-stick tech­nol­ogy and adapt it. I al­ways love phys­i­cal cab­i­nets – be­ing able to grab hold of the cabi­net and shake it, like go­ing up to your best fren­emy and grab­bing them by the neck. It’s this real phys­i­cal anger and emo­tion – you can just dig in more. It’s kind of like you against the ma­chine. I love that feel­ing of grab­bing a big joy­stick. And one in each hand is just so bal­anced.

I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it, but some day I would love to have ten play­ers at once, on a 30-foot screen – which is prob­a­bly not too far off – and have this mega ex­pe­ri­ence, live in meatspace. Ten peo­ple in the same room very phys­i­cally play­ing with joy­sticks as op­posed to WASD keys. When I look at es­ports, I have a hard time get­ting su­per-ex­cited about watch­ing some­one play­ing around with their key­board. We’re just lack­ing phys­i­cal­ity there; we’re just be­com­ing brains. But we’re peo­ple – we should be out there phys­i­cally go­ing af­ter stuff.

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