The best video-game designer in the world

Over at Salon, there’s a terrific interview with Eugene Jarvis. Jarvis is, I think, one of the best video-game designers ever, if not the best — largely because of his creation of Robotron 2084 (pictured above), which had such a perfect balance of simple goals and difficult challenges that it is an object lesson in how to create good play. Interestingly, in this interview he complains about how game designers these days spend less time architecting play and more time just doing set design:

Sometimes I come to work and I feel like I’m an interior decorator, you know? It’s like: “Man, that green looks like shit!” “Don’t you know this year it’s purple, man! Green is out!” You’re worried about all these shadows and reflections and eye candy and you’re right, sometimes it’s more about that than the game. “Madden 2004” is a hell of a lot like “Madden 1004.” I think partly it’s a limitation of the human being. You make things too complicated and too wild and people just can’t deal with it. As much as there’s all this marketing bullshit about how real everything is and how great the A.I. [artificial intelligence] is and all this stuff, you know, the guys really aren’t a hell of a lot smarter than the guys that were running around on “Defender,” and for good reason. Because you don’t want a guy that’s so smart that he kills you. You want somebody stupid that you can destroy.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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