Chris Oberth Interview

Chris Oberth was another big part of arcade gaming in the 80's, having produced the Stern coinops Anteater, Minefield, Rescue, Armored Car, and Taz-Mania. Being very busy, he only briefly answered my questions, but they are interesting nevertheless. Read on!!!


You started out writing computer games on the Apple. What were some of these games? Did you use any of these games as a basis for the arcade games you worked on, or take any ideas from them?

Yes, I bought my first computer, an Apple II, back in 1976. With the intent to teach myself how to program, using games as a motivation. I'm proud to say I kept programming games and never looked back. My first Apple II games were, Phasor Zap, 3D Docking Mission, etc... (SEE The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers ). Written mostly in BASIC.

How the heck do you program a hand-held anyway? :)

Although I did take a short course on how it is done, I never did have to do it (thank God). Many of the first hand-held games used 4bit processors. Using a plastic prototype (complete with switches and LEDs) of the hand-held with a ribbon cable going to an Apple II, I would program the games logic in Basic.

What led you into arcade game design? When and how did you happen to join Stern Electronics? What was their philosophy of game design?

I was led there by my own interest in computer games and gaming in general. They were very concerned about a games ability to attract players. We had focus groups where players were brought in and tried the new games.

You designed and programmed many of Stern's classics, like Rescue, Taz-Mania, Minefield, and Armored Car. Where did your ideas come from? Did you have free reign over your designs or did Stern pick them apart and make suggestions, like Atari did?

Stern allowed us unprecedented freedom in our game designs. Truly one of my most enjoyable work experiences.

What was the hardware like in your games? Describe the development system you used to create your games.

HP68000 development system. It had something called "softkeys". A row of 8 keys on the monitor immediately below the screen, (the monitor and keyboard were one unit) the keys labels were on the screen, and changed depending on the context/mode. (very cool) And an editor as powerful as any we use today.

Any games that didn't make the final cut?

Not many. Can't say what they are, someday they may make the "final cut".

Where did you get inspiration for your titles? How did it feel to be creating games in the "golden era" of arcade gaming?

From other games at the time, and from the desire to create something challenging and fun. The "golden era" felt very special, pioneering, cool...

Were you at Stern when they went under? When did the writing appear on the wall, so to speak?

I left a couple of months before, didn't see any writing...

What were your next stops, between Stern and Incredible Technologies? Any other arcade work?

No other arcade work, mostly home PC and consoles, at Micro Labs, Action Graphics, Mindscape

When and how did you join Incredible Technologies? Did you miss arcade work? What games have you worked on there, and what role did you play in each?

Yes, at the time (91?) I did miss arcade work. Some of the projects I have worked on: American Gladiators for the 8bit Nintendo, ShuffleShot (coin-op), World Class Bowling (PC)....

What do you like best about designing games today, as opposed to the '80s? What do you dislike? How about the '80s? What did you like best about designing then?

Due to the power of todays computers, I like how easy it is to prototype a game concept or play/action. About the 80's? I liked the lack of competition, virtually nothing had "already been done".

Where do you see the future going, as far as arcade games go? What advise would you give someone who wants to design games for a living?

Future? Internet, internet, internet, the global playground. We have only scratched the surface of the potential of gaming on the internet.


Thanx Chris!!!!!