Col­lected Works: Eu­gene Jarvis

The evil ge­nius of the ar­cade era re­flects on the string of clas­sic games he helped cre­ate


The evil ge­nius of ar­cade games re­flects on the string of clas­sics he has helped to cre­ate


De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Wil­liams For­mat Pin­ball Re­lease 1980


De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1981


De­vel­oper Vid Kidz Pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1981


De­vel­oper Vid Kidz Pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1982


De­vel­oper Vid Kidz Pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1983


De­vel­oper/ pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1988


De­vel­oper/ pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1990


De­vel­oper Mid­way Games Pub­lisher Mid­way Games, Nin­tendo For­mat Ar­cade, N64 Re­lease 1994


De­vel­oper Raw Thrills Pub­lisher Raw Thrills, Taito For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 2004


De­vel­oper Raw Thrills Pub­lisher Raw Thrills, Nin­tendo For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 2016


De­vel­oper/ pub­lisher House­mar­que For­mat PS4 Re­lease 2017

Eu­gene Jarvis is one of the ear­li­est pi­o­neers of the mod­ern videogame in­dus­try. He co-cre­ated a string of clas­sic ar­cade games –

in­clud­ing De­fender, Robotron

2048, Smash TV and Cruis’n USA – that are still dis­cussed to­day, in­tro­duced the con­cept of twin­stick con­trols nearly two decades be­fore they be­came widely ac­cepted, and now heads lead­ing ar­cade devel­op­ment stu­dio Raw Thrills. His ear­li­est ideas con­tinue to charm gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion as new spins on De­fender and Robotron are cre­ated by stu­dios that were in­flu­enced by his early work. How­ever, be­fore all of that, Jarvis be­gan his il­lus­tri­ous game ca­reer cre­at­ing the light and sound ef­fects for pin­ball ma­chines.

FIRE­POWER Manufacturer Wil­liams For­mat Pin­ball Re­lease 1980

Pin­ball was a big in­flu­ence on me. It in­stilled that whole man-ver­sus-ma­chine game­play thing in me. I was a child of the ana­logue age. I grew up back in the ’50s and ’60s; fun was blow­ing things up with gun­pow­der, light­ing model air­planes on fire and see­ing the burn­ing plas­tic drip on your foot as you screamed in ter­ror. But I was fas­ci­nated by pin­ball ma­chines. The coolest thing about them was that you didn’t have a lot of coins in your pocket, so it be­came about how you could get a free game. How could you beat the ma­chine – in any way pos­si­ble, fair or foul? The one I loved mak­ing most was Fire­power be­cause it was very easy to play a multi­ball game; if you wanted you could just play all five balls at once. A lot of the sounds that I de­vel­oped for that game went on to be used in De­fender and Robotron. In the pin­ball era pro­gram­mers would have to work with a me­chan­i­cal de­signer and a game de­signer. You’d try to come up with some ideas, but at the end of the day you were just en­hanc­ing a game – you were the spe­cial ef­fects guy. Videogames cre­ated a chance for the pro­gram­mer to take over; he could do any­thing. But the curse of videogames is that not only is any­thing pos­si­ble, but noth­ing is taken for granted. Every game starts as a blank screen, which is pretty hum­bling.

DE­FENDER De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1981

I’d just come off Fire­power, which I worked on with Steve Ritchie, and I kind of felt that it was the ul­ti­mate pin­ball game, a leg­endary ma­chine. But I was su­per ex­cited about Space In­vaders, As­ter­oids, Space

Wars… there were all these amaz­ing games com­ing out, and I was like, ‘My god, OK, now it’s not just a ball bouncing off a hockey puck. This is some re­ally cool stuff, I’ve got to get in­volved.’ I was work­ing at Wil­liams at the time, and we hadn’t done a videogame be­fore, which was kind of a prob­lem! What kind of hard­ware should we use? How do you make pix­els? It was ground up. Back then if you wanted to make some­thing cool you ba­si­cally had to de­sign your own hard­ware sys­tem. I re­mem­ber we were like, ‘Should we make it colour or black and white?’ I came up with the name, De­fender. I had some moral


hang-ups about blow­ing things up. At the end of the day you want to blow up a lot of shit, but you need some moral premise to jus­tify you blow­ing up a lot of shit! So the idea was that you were de­fend­ing some­thing. Bad guys are com­ing so, as you’re de­fend­ing life and lib­erty, you’re jus­ti­fied to take ex­treme mea­sures. We got that straight, so we had the moral high ground there. The graph­ics were prim­i­tive in that era, and we didn’t have a very good pixel rate on our hard­ware. But one of the cool things we did was make the en­tire mem­ory, which came to be known as a bit­map, or a mem­ory map, ar­chi­tec­ture. There was no spe­cial-pur­pose graph­ics hard­ware; the mi­cro­pro­ces­sor would just draw these ob­jects in a big elec­tronic easel. We didn’t have any of the lim­i­ta­tions of mo­tion ob­jects, or how many colours we could have in our back­grounds, that other ma­chines of that era had.

STAR­GATE De­vel­oper Vid Kidz Pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1981

Star­gate was De­fender 2. Larry DeMar and I founded Vid Kidz to make it, but that was a crock, re­ally. We’d been do­ing this shit at Wil­liams, and we just walked out the door and were do­ing the same shit, re­ally. We were even us­ing their equip­ment! There was a cer­tain free­dom from bu­reau­cracy and stuff, but we only had one com­puter. So I worked dur­ing the day­time, and Larry worked at night. It was kinda neat – he would work all night and I’d come in in the morn­ing, like, ‘What have you got done?’ We were al­most ex­ten­sions of each other’s brains. We were ex­tremely fo­cused; when you’re in your own busi­ness it’s amaz­ing how much is pos­si­ble. It’s weird how, when you’re work­ing for some big cor­po­ra­tion you’re like, ‘These work­ing con­di­tions are im­pos­si­ble. This com­puter I have is six months old, run­ning Win­dows 94, I should be run­ning Win­dows 107! I can’t do any work on this shit! And my chair’s un­com­fort­able, and the heat­ing’s too hot!’ Then you’re in your own thing and it’s like, ‘You mean I have to buy this 40 mil­lion gi­ga­byte ma­chine? Oh, this 20 mil­lion gi­ga­byte ma­chine is fine.’ You’re work­ing in a closet in the mid­dle of the night with no heat and it’s fine. In a larger cor­po­ra­tion your at­ti­tude is why things can’t hap­pen. Then when you’re do­ing your own thing, sud­denly ev­ery­thing’s pos­si­ble. Your job is to figure out ways to get shit done, rather than fig­ur­ing out the rea­son things are im­pos­si­ble.

ROBOTRON: 2084 De­vel­oper Vid Kidz Pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1982

The cool thing about Robotron is that it’s the only game I ever worked on that was fun within three or four days of start­ing devel­op­ment. Most games feel like they take for­ever to get all the char­ac­ters, and AI, and all this shit. You have this bril­liant de­sign, but it takes for­ever to im­ple­ment those cool ideas. Larry DeMar and I had an idea for this game called Con­quest. Imag­ine tak­ing As­ter­oids or Space­wars and turn­ing it into this huge uni­verse that you’re out fight­ing in, and maybe min­ing as­ter­oids and build­ing space­ships. But I was think­ing about other ideas, too, and I was re­ally in­spired by this ro­bot game called Berz­erk that came out about the same time

De­fender did. I was su­per-frus­trated about the con­trols; you only had one joy­stick and you had to move to­wards the thing that was try­ing to shoot you in or­der to kill it. It was tense and an amaz­ing white-knuckle ex­pe­ri­ence, but at the end of the day you felt re­ally frus­trated by the sin­gle joy­stick. It was also around the time that I’d had a car ac­ci­dent and my right hand was bro­ken, so I had lim­ited mo­bil­ity and was think­ing about how to deal with that. And at some point, through think­ing about these two things, the idea of hav­ing one joy­stick to move and one to fire hit me. The free­dom you had with that was just amaz­ing and you could blow the shit out of ev­ery­thing. In­ter­est­ingly, later I learned that the best play­ers of Robotron tend to be left-handed – I think be­cause they tend to be more am­bidex­trous be­cause the world is built for right-handed peo­ple. Dur­ing that era you could tell if peo­ple were left or right handed be­cause you could look at the

cig­a­rette burns on ei­ther side of the con­trol panel. I no­ticed that the right side of the panel on De­fender ma­chines was just to­tally charred, but with Robotron it was equally charred on both sides. Which is kind of amaz­ing, be­cause lefthanded peo­ple are a small per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion.

The down­side is that you cre­ate a re­ally good con­trol setup that gives play­ers an aw­ful lot of power and free­dom, but that then means you have this arms race where the ma­chine has to step up its game. All of sud­den you em­power the player, so then you must em­power the ma­chine to make it a fair match. So the idea be­came about how you cre­ate these ul­ti­mate en­e­mies. In Space In­vaders the shit was al­ways com­ing down on you, and you were stuck on a one-di­men­sional line. So it was like, let’s make that two di­men­sions where you can move around on the screen, and now in­stead of shit com­ing down on you, let’s have shit com­ing at you from all sides si­mul­ta­ne­ously [laughs]. When I was first pro­gram­ming the game I made four or five en­e­mies, and then boom, boom, boom, we kill those guys. ‘Ah, okay, how about ten guys?’ Boom, boom, boom, boom. And then I’m like, ‘How about a hun­dred guys?’ [laughs]. And it was like, ‘Fuck, I can’t deal with this shit!’ It’s amaz­ing how you just all of sud­den fo­cus when you’re forced to. It’s like be­ing in a start-up com­pany with your own freak­ing money, and the shit is ev­ery­where, on all sides: go! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

BLASTER De­vel­oper Vid Kidz Pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1983

3D was the next big thing, so we wanted to get on the band­wagon. We had to figure out how we were go­ing to do it, and it was chal­leng­ing be­cause the hard­ware of that era, in ret­ro­spect, wasn’t re­ally ca­pa­ble of much 3D [laughs]. We’d de­vel­oped this cus­tom graph­ics chip for Robotron, one of the first graph­ics co-pro­ces­sors, and we got some prim­i­tive stuff go­ing on with that even though it wasn’t re­ally de­signed for it. For tech­ni­cal rea­sons we de­cided it would have to be a space game, be­cause a black back­ground was free in terms of pro­cess­ing over­heads! We played around with stars and as­ter­oids and shit, and it ended up be­ing that you’re just go­ing down this tun­nel, and in the dis­tance it’s just lit­tle points, and it’s hard to re­late to a cou­ple of specks out there in the dis­tance. 3D had all this prom­ise, but we re­alised that you lose a lot too. You’re not a god’s eye look­ing down on the world any­more. You’re in the world and you have this lim­ited in­for­ma­tion which, un­for­tu­nately, traps you in rather triv­ial game­play. Blaster fell into that trap and be­came just tar­get prac­tice in a tun­nel. I guess ul­ti­mately it was some­what dis­ap­point­ing, and 3D turned out not to be the be all and end all – who would have thought that, 35 years later, peo­ple would be play­ing Candy Crush 24/7?

NARC De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1988

I’ve per­son­ally known a num­ber of peo­ple who have ei­ther died from, or got­ten into deep trou­ble with, drugs. And so in some ways, even though it’s tongue in cheek,

Narc was in­spired by the idea of want­ing to say, ‘This shit re­ally is dan­ger­ous’. The idea was that you were re­warded if you busted the deal­ers rather than killed them. It was this risk/re­ward thing be­cause you had to go right up to them to do it. I was su­per ex­cited about do­ing digi­tised peo­ple. It was a new tech­nol­ogy, but part of it was a lack of re­sources. At that time the Ja­panese were do­ing some amaz­ing char­ac­ter games like Su­per Mario Bros with in­cred­i­ble an­i­ma­tions and beau­ti­ful hand-drawn art­work. But the whole videogame di­vi­sion at Wil­liams had evap­o­rated in the videogame crash, and we were try­ing to re-es­tab­lish things and had a small team of three or four peo­ple. We were try­ing to figure out how to make a videogame when we didn’t have an art de­part­ment of 30 peo­ple to cre­ate all these amaz­ing an­i­ma­tions. Rather than get­ting an an­i­ma­tor to spend a month try­ing to make a char­ac­ter kick a ball, all of sud­den it was just, get a guy in a suit and say, ‘OK, dude, kick a ball!’ You could


riff off 50 an­i­ma­tions in a day, and have all these cool cos­tumes. We had dogs in the game, too. I re­mem­ber we had all these pit­bulls in the stu­dio and at one point one of them got loose. I was stand­ing be­hind the camera and this pit­bull starts walk­ing to­wards me. And I’m like, ‘Holy shit…’ Luck­ily noth­ing hap­pened. I re­mem­ber one of the board of di­rec­tors of Wil­liams came down and was pretty shocked by the whole game and the level of vi­o­lence. He said the whole thing was a sur­re­al­is­tic night­mare, which we adopted. It was like, ‘Yes! I guess we suc­ceeded!’

SMASH TV De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Wil­liams Elec­tron­ics For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 1990

Af­ter we came out with Robotron, I thought the dual-joy­stick thing was go­ing to be stan­dard through­out the uni­verse, but it wasn’t un­til nearly 20 years later with the PlaySta­tion that it be­came a stan­dard con­trol setup. So we thought, ‘If no­body else is go­ing to make a du­aljoy­stick game, then we’ll just make an­other one!’ I was work­ing with this kid called Mark Turmell who went on to do

NBA Jam and a lot of cool stuff. He works at Zynga these days. He was a Robotron freak, but I was a lit­tle scep­ti­cal about do­ing a twin-stick shooter. Over the years play­ers have be­come more and more ca­sual, at least in the ar­cade space. You can’t re­ally de­stroy them like you used to. But I went with it. Robo­cop and Run­ning

Man had come out, and we were all in­spired by those. So the idea of a fu­tur­is­tic gameshow where you’re killing peo­ple for toast­ers came about. We had some bril­liant char­ac­ter de­signs from John To­bias, who ended up be­ing the artist be­hind Mor­tal Kom­bat. So we had kind of an all-star team. To get the ba­sic char­ac­ters we ac­tu­ally got onto a step lad­der and filmed peo­ple from that same an­gle that the camera in the game was at. John took that frame­work and cre­ated beau­ti­ful char­ac­ters, and he ac­tu­ally got so good at it that af­ter that first char­ac­ter he cre­ated char­ac­ters pixel by pixel and con­structed all the dif­fer­ent views from his mind. It’s still one of my favourite games to this day.

CRUIS’N USA De­vel­oper Mid­way Games Pub­lisher Mid­way Games, Nin­tendo For­mat Ar­cade, N64 Re­lease 1994

Cruis’n USA was a re­ally fun project. I loved play­ing Out­run and Pole Po­si­tion and all that stuff, so I’d al­ways wanted to try mak­ing a driv­ing game. A big is­sue was hard­ware; get­ting a graph­ics sys­tem that could throw out enough pix­els and do all the 3D crap and ev­ery­thing. The idea was to utilise 3D tex­ture map­ping, which I don’t think any­one had ac­tu­ally done in games at that point. We re­alised we could put in real scenery and real build­ings and have the Eif­fel Tower, and moun­tains and the Golden Gate bridge, and have a re­al­world driv­ing game, where you can ac­tu­ally drive to real places, kind of like ad­ven­ture tourism. The hard­ware guy we had was Mark Lof­fredo, who did the hard­ware for Narc and a lot of our stuff, and he was gung-ho when it came to 3D tex­ture map­ping. We worked a few years and ac­tu­ally came up with a pretty damn good 3D tex­ture-map­ping sys­tem. I think

our sys­tem was bet­ter than the Sony PlaySta­tion, and we de­signed it with, like, three hard­ware guys, three soft­ware guys and a cou­ple of artists. It was around half-a-dozen guys and we ba­si­cally de­signed the Sony PlaySta­tion, and did a re­ally cool driv­ing game to boot [laughs]. I thought it was a pretty good project.

THE FAST AND THE FU­RI­OUS De­vel­oper Raw Thrills Pub­lisher Raw Thrills, Taito For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 2004

This was ac­tu­ally a very painful project in the early go­ing. Sadly Mid­way got out of the ar­cade busi­ness as it was a tough com­pet­i­tive time. This was the early 2000s and Xbox and PlaySta­tion were get­ting a few it­er­a­tions into their builds, and all of a sud­den we weren’t re­ally any bet­ter than home con­soles, or PCs. Maybe even worse than PCs at the time. So we were out on the street, and I was done with the in­dus­try at that point. But these guys from Mid­way got in touch and said, ‘Let’s do videogames.’ And, some­how, I got sucked into start­ing this new videogame com­pany called Raw Thrills. I re­mem­ber wak­ing up one morn­ing a cou­ple of months af­ter that and go­ing, ‘What the fuck am I do­ing? What in­san­ity is this, try­ing to get back into the dy­ing ar­cade busi­ness?’ All we re­ally knew how to do was driv­ing games at that point, so we started work on what was go­ing to be this open-world, GTA kind of thing. You could drive any­where you wanted and the car would de­form when you hit things. We messed around for a year or two and by that point we were run­ning out of money. We didn’t know what we were go­ing to make out of this bull­shit, so we turned it into a reg­u­lar old rac­ing game.

The whole street-rac­ing thing was hap­pen­ing, kind of the The Fast And The

Fu­ri­ous thing, and so the idea was to have this rac­ing game in which you cus­tomised your car. We reached a point where we were like, ‘OK, let’s get this thing out – we’ve gotta make pay­roll at some point.’ I re­mem­ber we were go­ing to call it Hot

Cars [laughs]. For some rea­son I thought that was a good name, but I for­get why. We went around and got some beau­ti­ful im­agery, and tech­nol­ogy had made some progress – it’d been a few years since

Cruis’n and we were us­ing PCs and graph­ics cards and we could have all kinds of shaders go­ing on. It was beau­ti­ful­look­ing stuff, and then we de­scribed the game and peo­ple would say, ‘Oh, you mean like The Fast And The Fu­ri­ous?’ And it was like, ‘Oh yeah…’ I think we tried to en­quire about get­ting a li­cence, and it wasn’t avail­able, so we kept work­ing on the game and then out of the blue this friend of mine calls me up and goes, ‘Hey, I can get you the li­cence for Fast And Fu­ri­ous, do you want it?’ And it was like, ‘Uh, yes?’ So that was it, that game be­came what ev­ery­one thought it was! We had al­most reached the end of our credit line, so when we got the thing out it re­ally helped the com­pany sur­vive and it put Raw Thrills on the map.

CRUIS’N BLAST De­vel­oper Raw Thrills, Nin­tendo Pub­lisher Raw Thrills For­mat Ar­cade Re­lease 2016

We did The Fast And Fu­ri­ous I don’t know how many times, and you get a cer­tain fa­tigue and you want to try some­thing new. Plus I was hav­ing nos­tal­gic feel­ings about the whole Cruis’n thing, so we de­cided to bring it back. We talked to peo­ple and some were like, ‘Ahh, that’s dead man, that thing’s 20 years old, no­body gives a shit about that, you gotta bring some­thing new to the table.’ And other peo­ple go, ‘Oh, that’s bril­liant!’ Ideas are form­ing, you get all these dif­fer­ent opin­ions and there’s all this doubt, you know what I mean? Is it ever go­ing to be any­thing? Is it a bad idea? Some­how you have to bull­shit your­self into think­ing there’s some­thing there, and not only that but you have to bull­shit a team into be­liev­ing that this is ac­tu­ally worth their life’s work, too. It’s kind of this leap of faith where you just have to be­lieve it’s go­ing to be amaz­ing. There were a lot of fans of Cruis’n over the years. I think there are 75,000 Cruis’n ar­cade games out there, and if you think each game was played, I dunno, maybe, 100,000 times a year, it’s like mil­lions and mil­lions of plays. Prob­a­bly bil­lions. So it be­came about how we could do some­thing that was fit­ting for this great se­ries and not be an in­sult to it. How do we take this ad­ven­ture driv­ing to the next level? So the idea was to just have ev­ery­thing: amaz­ing graph­ics, a Lam­borgh­ini li­cence, in­cred­i­bly dy­namic en­vi­ron­ments where there’s just all kinds of shit go­ing on and you can drive into al­most any­thing – a lot of fruit stands, ob­vi­ously, and tunnels, and huge air, and lots of flam­ing garbage cans to launch, and some su­per-crazy ex­otic lo­ca­tions. I think we suc­ceeded on some level with Cruis’n

Blast: it has a cer­tain nos­tal­gia el­e­ment, but we bring it into this new tech­nol­ogy, ap­ply the lat­est graph­ics and all the ef­fects, and try to get that same, cool driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

NEX MACHINA De­vel­oper/pub­lisher House­mar­que For­mat PS4 Re­lease 2017

I think every 20 years it’s time for a

Robotron game, you know? Every gen­er­a­tion wants to give the twin-stick shooter a whirl, and it’s cool. It’s like poker – it’s never go­ing to get old. House­mar­que has a bunch of cool ideas, and these kids are su­per ex­cited, so I was like, ‘What the hell, I’ll see if I can throw my two cents in.’ I’ve got a bunch of ideas, and stuff about where the Robotron story might have gone. When it’s time to hang up your stir­rups, it’s like that Ja­panese sword thing – you just do the right thing and let the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions take over. But I’m not ready for that just yet.

Pho­tog­ra­phy An­dre Avanes­sian

“An amaz­ing thing hap­pens when you lose your­self in a game,” Jarvis muses. “You start dream­ing that reaity. When you come home at night, you’re still flying around in your space­ship. De­fender was about tap­ping into that deep sense of pur­pose”

De­signed by Steve Ritchie, Fire­power was the first solid­state table to fea­ture elec­tronic multi­ball

“Star­gate was an op­por­tu­nity to re­visit De­fender and fix things we should have fixed,” Jarvis says. “I loved it, but De­fender cap­tures a more pure essence of the game”

Robotron’s in­no­va­tive twin-stick de­sign proved prob­lem­atic for a lot of play­ers who strug­gled to mas­ter the dual con­trols

Narc’s vi­o­lence caused a small amount of con­tro­versy, but the lack of a home ver­sion meant that it mostly avoided the ire of par­ents

Blaster uses sprite scal­ing to give the im­pres­sion of three di­men­sions. Only three sit-down cab­i­nets were pro­duced

“There the was no 3D de­sign soft­ware, so our artists had to ac­tu­ally type in the co­or­di­nates of the poly­gons in Cruis’n USA,” Jarvis re­veals. “A fair amount of the game was de­signed by typ­ing, you know, -107, 76, 29. It was so fuck­ing painful”

SmashTV’s myth­i­cal plea­sure domes, sup­pos­edly reached by hoover­ing up keys dur­ing play, never ac­tu­ally ex­isted

TheFastAndTheFu­ri­ous used a tweaked ver­sion of the Cruis’n en­gine that could achieve a solid 60fps

NexMachina reimag­ines Robotron’s franc­tic twin-stick game­play. Cruis’n Blast (above) is an un­apolo­get­i­cally over-the-top ar­cade rac­ing game set across the world

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