Gregg Tavares interview

By Scott Stilphen


Q: What's your educational background?

Gregg Tavares: High School, some college at Brigham Young University in Utah and otherwise self taught.  I didn't finish school.  I ran away with my first girlfriend being out of money to stay in school.  My parents didn't have the money to support me and maybe I could have taken a part time job near campus but that thought didn't occur to me.  I was in love and felt my choices were go back home and be without my girlfriend or run away together.  We went first to Philadelphia and a couple of weeks later ended up in Baltimore with super cheap rent from the mother of a friend from BYU. 

Gregg's dorm room from 1984 (click picture for full-size view)

Q: What (or who) inspired you to go into game design?

Gregg Tavares: I think pretty much all teenage boys since home video games existed have at one time or another designed games in their heads at least.  I think a better question would be why more people are not into game design seeing as so many people enjoy games. I can only guess they are talked out of it or figure it has no future.  Computer programming is like the ultimate Lego set. You build a virtual machine, type RUN and watch it go.  That's pretty fun all by itself and games make it even more fun because they are fun to play and are full of art and music and animation.

I first started programming in 8th grade in junior high school.  My friend Greg Marquez showed me one of his first programs in BASIC and even though it was only about 40 lines long and just a list of questions I was hooked.

I wasn't directly inspired by looking at code but I was inspired by a few famous programmers like Bill Budge (Pinball Construction Set) and Dan/Dani Bunten (M.U.L.E., Seven Cities of Gold), Nasir Gebilli (did some amazing work on Apple II), Cathryn Mataga (Shamus), and I'm sure quite few others.  Back then most games were made by 1 person so they had their names on the games.  I wanted to make my own and be successful like I imagined they were.

Q: Was The Nighthawk Group the first company you worked for?

Gregg Tavares: The Nighthawk Group was never a company.  It was 5 friends in high school who told everyone they were going to make a company together when they got out of high school.  The 5 friends were Gregg Tavares (currently at Sony Computer Entertainment Japan), Greg Marquez (currently at Atari in Santa Monica, California), John Alvarado (currently at Inxile in Newport Beach, California), Ron Nakada (I think he is at Point of View in Irvine, California), and Andy Brown (Andy was never really into programming; he was just a close friend of the other 4).  We got matching blue polo shirts with a logo Greg had designed and a typeface Ron had designed.

Q: Do you recall any details regarding all the TNG games, such as who worked on what?

Gregg Tavares: We did a few things together but mostly I did a couple of games (Frogs and Flies and Pit Viper), John did a couple of games (Goodie Gobbler), John and I collaborated on a couple (Emerald Sceptre - an Atari 2600 Adventure-type of game).  John and I also worked on Centipede and Mario Bros for Commodore 64 together.  When college came around I went off to BYU, Ron went to USCD, and the other 3 went to UCLA, so that was kind of the end of it.

I'm not sure which titles I would consider under TNG and also which were real titles.  Projects I remember people did:

A Font Editor
Centipede – a port of the Atari 800 version for the Commodore 64, and my first commercial game.
Emerald Scepter - similar to Atari’s 2600 Adventure and closer to Galahad and the Holy Grail for Atari 8
Fleapunzle - a graphic version of “type in the angle and speed to shoot the arrow into the castle window” (a common beginning programming assignment).
Frogs and Flies – a freeware title. I pretty much forgot we wrote that!  I'm not sure if Greg Marquez participated or not. I'm pretty sure John Alvarado did.
Goodie Gobble - a text-based Berzerk style game, with treasure, for the VIC-20.
Pit Viper – 4-player team-based Snake Bite (on the Apple II) and Atari’s 2600 Surround.  We tried to sell it through APX (the Atari Program Exchange) but they rejected it, even though we were addicted to it for a at least a month.
Rescue a Beagle - a hacked version of Epyx’s Rescue at Rigel where we changed all the text and graphics.
A hacked version of Star Raiders with changed text and graphics.
Rockfall - a clone of Boulderdash that
John Alvarado made in Actionscript on the Atari 800 just for fun (circa 1983).
Wa-tor - an ecological simulation.  I think John wrote that in college in a language called Action which was kind of like a light C (no structures?) that ran editor and complier all in an 8k cartridge and would spit out working binary files.

Q: What was the development process like?

Gregg Tavares: Well, mostly John and I hung out in my bedroom at my parents for the ones we worked on together.  Greg did a few things on his own at his parents place as well.  At my place, as we only had 1 Atari 800 computer it would be either me on the computer and John reading a book relaxing on my bed or visa versa.  We used the Atari Macro Assembler, and even when we did Commodore 64 work we developed a way to transfer code over the joystick ports from the Atari to the C64 because we didn't have any good dev tools for the C64.

Back then there are almost no graphic tools as well so most of the time we would have to draw our graphics on graph paper and then convert them to numbers by hand and type those numbers into the computer.  I think I still have some of that graph paper with images draw out and the calculated numbers written beside each line.

Q: How did working for M.U.S.E. come about?

Gregg Tavares: That same friend’s mom who helped me find a place to stay in Baltimore ended up knowing that M.U.S.E. was looking for game programmers which, along with my contract experience from Atarisoft, got me my first real 9-5 job in games.  At M.U.S.E I was assigned to work on Leaps and Bounds.  It was the only title being made at the time as far as I know.  There were only 15 people at M.U.S.E. at the time and only 6 in product development of which only 3 were actually working on product.  Silas Warner and I were making Leaps and Bounds, and Eric Ace was porting Beyond Wolfenstein to the IBM PCjr.

Q: iD Software’s update to Castle Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein 3-D, jump-started the whole FPS genre of games (Doom, Duke Nuke’em, Quake, etc.).  How did you and the other MUSE people feel about that?

Gregg Tavares: I don't know how others felt.  I felt it was rather strange in that I didn't see any reason to use the name.  Id was a small company, Wolfenstein 3-D was great as it was, and so I don't really think they needed to use the name to be successful.  I can only guess they were huge fans of the game.

The two games are not very similar even at a basic level.  Obviously Wolfenstein 3-D is psuedo-3D and Castle Wolfenstein is not except at a very basic level; C.W. is a stealth game and Wolf 3-D is a shooter.  C.W. arguably has more in common with Metal Gear Solid than Wolf 3-D except for the cosmetics of a Nazi theme.  In C.W. you had to tip-toe through the levels and try not to be spotted.  If you were spotted the guards would run for the alarm.  If they got to the alarm more guards would pour in so you had to prevent them from getting to the alarm.  I don't remember how you recovered after the alarm had gone off.

Q: Do you recall what the contributing factor(s) was for MUSE's demise?

Gregg Tavares: I really don't know.  I heard the rumor that there were some drug use issues and that possibly money and or time that should have gone other places got wasted but I can't verify that.

It was a shock to me.  I started around December ‘84 and was laid off along with 8 or so other people in July ‘85 a week after I finished Leaps and Bounds.  I was only 19-yrs-old and I had no idea I would get laid off.  I remember I came in to the office one day talking about buying the newest, hottest floppy drive for my home Atari 130XE and a few days later when I was let go my direct supervisor said he was unsure how to warn me not to spend the money without letting on that there were going to be layoffs in a few days.  I remember crying but I don't remember why.  Probably because I had no idea how I was going to pay rent, etc., but I don't remember feeling angry.  I guess because it was clear the company was just out of money, otherwise they wouldn't have been laying off half the staff.  It was only 4 or 6 months after that that it completely closed I think.

Actually a few months later, after I started at Microprose, I attended the Muse auction when they cleared out the offices.

Q: What was the timeline of companies you worked for after MUSE?

Gregg Tavares: After MUSE I moved on to work at Microprose where I worked on Gunship for the Commodore 64, IBM PC, Atari ST and Amiga, as well as animation tools for Pirates and Red Storm Rising, compression for Conflict in Vietnam and a few gauges for F-19 Stealth Fighter.

I was getting anxious to start our company that we had hoped to start in high-school.  So in early 88 I came back to SoCal with the intent of starting a company with John and Greg who were still at UCLA.  John and I worked on a port of Street Sports Basketball from the Commodore 64 to the Amiga for Epyx.  John and his girlfriend Diana (now wife) did most of the art and John also wrote a 6502 to 68000 translator in a language called ICON that he learned at UCLA.

In September I was offered a ton of money (at least it seemed like a ton at the time) to work at a company called Cinemaware.  The sad thing was that the day I started some friends of mine that also worked there took me out to lunch and told me they were all quitting very soon because they didn't like the place.  I was supposed to work on TV Sports Football for the IBM, a port of the Amiga version, but the Amiga version was not finished and so I was told to help out on Lords of the Rising Sun for the Amiga which was also behind.  I worked on a lot of the glue and I programmed the battle sequence.  That was no fun because since the product was already far behind at the time I started on it the lead programmer requested that I work with him from 4pm to 10am.  I did get to see it snow one night in SoCal but it was all gone before daylight.

Soon after I started, my friends that said they were going to leave did in fact leave and started a company called Atomic Entertainment and then renamed Aftershock.  They got three contracts from Activision and they asked me if I would be interested in getting a fourth contract with their help.  It sounded like a great idea so I quit Cinemaware and started on a game for Activision.  Aftershock's games were really technically advanced for their time.  They had 256 colors, full screen 60 Hz scrolling levels on a 368pc back when most games were EGA.  They were arguably several years before their time.  Unfortunately, that was just a few months before Activision declared bankruptcy and cancelled something like 40 projects.

Around then John and Greg had recently finished up at UCLA and were ready to start game programming so they got a contract to do a game and I ended up helping out.  The game was Future Classics, a collection of five small but fun games.

Actually I think only 1 of them, Diskman, was fun, but we felt like we were on the way to starting our own company.  One of the things that came out of developing Future Classics was tUME.  Unfortunately the contract was vastly under-funded and by the end of it I had maxxed out my credit cards paying rent and things like that.  So, I applied and got a job at Virgin Mastertronic.  I was assigned to work on Caesar's Palace for the Gameboy as my first project.  Just to learn the system, I ported the Atari 800 Nighthawk Group game, Rockfall, to the Game Boy in a couple of weeks.  The manager saw that as proof I could get more and so I was assigned to program Caesar's Palace on the Game Boy, but I was quickly asked to do some minor work on Spot and was then made Lead Programmer on M.C. Kids for the NES.

M.C. Kids prototype (left) and release (right) versions

After M.C Kids, John ended up getting a job at Virgin too and I was pretty excited to be able to work with him again but then there was a run in with the infamous bad management at Virgin and so I was freelancing again.  My next project was Terminator vs. Robocop for the NES for Interplay which as far as I know was never released.  The artwork and design were horrible.  Near the end of that project I was asked to write MyPaint for the Sega CD.

It started on March 15th and the publisher wanted it finished by June 1st but they didn't deliver the sound and graphics until October 20th, so needless to say the project was late and then even later because by that time I had been recruited by my friend Lyle Hall to work at a new company called Crystal Dynamics that was started solely to create titles for the new 32-bit systems which at that time only consisted of the 3DO.  I was Lead Programmer on Gex but Crystal was under some major time crunches to get Crash 'N Burn and Total Eclipse shipped so I helped a little with those before putting my full time into Gex.

Near the end of Gex, John called from Virgin and told me that he and the 3DO Demolition Man team were considering leaving Virgin because Virgin, in their infinite wisdom, was going to split them up and put them on separate teams.

John Alvarado and I and a few other friends formed two companies, Seven, and Big Grub; Seven was doing M2 work but it never shipped. Big Grub did mostly smaller titles and I left within the first year.  During that time we hired Ron Nakada.  I suppose that is as close as "The Nighthawk Group" got to starting a company.  Greg Marquez started a company with other friends called Blam! before going to Atari.

John wanted to know if I would consider joining them.  The answer was YES!  This time things looked good because we had 3 programmers and 3 artists and a producer so we'd have a complete team.  We decided to call the company Seven and setup shop in Irvine.  We ended up getting a contract with Universal Interactive Studios to do Disruptor for the M2.  Unfortunately, the M2 was not ready to develop for and after 7 months of frustration with unfinished development hardware, the project was cancelled.

As almost anybody will tell you, a company with 7 partners is a bad idea because it's very hard to get everybody to agree and with that, and some other conflicts, Seven decided the break up.  Four of us stuck around and formed our own company, Big Grub.  We had up to 16 people working at our there at its height.  We were making a 2D/3D adventure.  The best explanation I can think of is taking Diablo but make it play like Zelda from the Super Nintendo.  Unfortunately, it didn't work out for various reasons. 

So, around Sept '97, after I decided that Big Grub was not going to work for me, I thought about what I wanted to do next.  Two companies that were in the area were a little interesting - Shiny Entertainment because my friend Tom Tanaka worked there and Naughty Dog because they were making the hit series Crash Bandicoot.  At the time though I was studying Japanese so I thought about it and decided, “What the heck.”  I was 33 and no responsibilities (i.e., no girlfriend and no family) so I thought I should go to Japan to study Japanese for real.  Of course I would need a job.  I talked to my friend Mark Cerny who had worked in Japan at Sega for 3 years.  He said he was traveling to Japan in December to promote Crash 2 and that I should go with him and he'd introduce me to Sega.

So, I studied my ass off even more for the next 2 months: two 2-hour classes at OCC, three 2-hour classes at Berlitz and 2-hour sessions of practice a week with Japanese speaking friends plus homework until I went met up with Mark in Japan in mid December '97.  I got accepted to AM1, makers of House of the Dead, The Harley Davidson Game, and I think home to all the Sega Print Club machines.  I was supposed to start Feb 1st, 1998

I sold most of my possessions, my car, I got rid of my apartment but as Feb 1st came by my work visa didn't arrive.  I was without a car and without a place to live.  I ended up living at the Big Grub offices for 4 months.  During that time I found out that Wild 9 was in desperate need of some help to meet some deadlines and was hired under contract to help meet those deadlines.  My visa came in mid March but Shiny begged me to stay until E3 which was near the end of May.  I agreed and left for Japan May 27th, 1997.

Arriving in Japan I started a Sega of Japan on June 1st and was put on the Zombie Revenge team for the Naomi Arcade System.  I was also asked to write tools/plug-ins for 3D Studio Max, Lightwave, and Alias/Poweranimator to convert from those programs to the Sega development libraries.

Unfortunately, even though I had studied Japanese for almost 2 years my language skills really weren't that good.  Fortunately, Sega put me on the team with an English-speaking team member, Ando Takeshi.  If it wasn't for him I would never have survived.  Still, I asked him to try not to use any English if possible and for the first few months, most of my communication with the team was through pictures.  They'd draw what they wanted and I'd make it. 

Being a programmer is not a great way to learn a foreign language because it's generally a solitary endeavor.  Once something was explained, I could go off and not really need to talk to anybody for a couple of days.  On top of which, if I did need to talk to somebody, it was generally highly technical so generally I didn't communicate much.

This is a common thing I'm told, but many people moving to a foreign country after about 6 months get really depressed about being in a foreign country.  I was no exception.  Not able to communicate well, I didn't really feel like I had any real friends and I also didn't feel I was really contributing to the team as much as I would have liked.

Well, around that time a friend of mine, Evan Wells, tempted me by telling me about an opportunity to work at Naughty Dog on a PS2 project.  PS2 had all the hype and it was pretty tempting.  My original plan was to stay in Japan for 3 years.  That's what I had told myself and Sega.  But, the deal at Naughty Dog was arguably something I couldn't turn down.  It took me about 2.5 months to decide but I finally decided to work at Naughty Dog.

The sad thing is, about 3 weeks after that, (1) my project at Sega finished, (2) that meant lots more free time for friends, and (3) my language skills got better.  Basically I started having a great time but I had already made all the plans to leave, so I came back to the U.S. on March 8th, 1999.

At Naughty Dog I was asked to work on Crash Team Racing.  This is probably the funniest game I've worked on - this or M.C. Kids.  The thing that makes CTR so fun is multiplayer mode.  The whole office was pretty much always playing the game.  That's fairly unusual.  Most games, even if they are fun, you get tired of playing every day but not CTR.  Of course the game is a kart game so it's got lots in common with other kart games but there are several touches we were very proud of.  To name a few, the tires look pretty cool.  Check ‘em out.  The textures on the track almost never res-out (i.e. turn blocky).  This is something I'm not sure most people notice and a lot of work went into it but I think people did notice it looks good.  The turbo system is very cool and combined with the shortcuts it can be really fun.  I think the favorite shortcut in the game is on the snow level; if you are doing well and you get your turbos in the right places you can jump the river, but if you are off even slightly you fall in the river and it's a pretty big penalty.  If feels REALLY GOOD when you make it!  CTR was very well received.  Check out some of the reviews.

There are lots of nice touches.  For example if you race Time Trial and you get a certain time it unlocks a pre-recorded "ghost" of one of the characters racing so you can try to beat his time.  If you beat him then another, even harder "ghost" character appears.  This ghost is an actual recording of the best race of one of the two designers of the game.  They are pretty darn good so if you can beat them you're really good.

After that I started working on a PS2 game at Naughty Dog but around June I decided that I just couldn't take the stress anymore.  Naughty Dog is a very high-stress environment.  At least 2 others before me left for the same reason although they left calmly.  I left by blowing up. 

Q: With all the various titles you worked on, what was the easiest/hardest part of designing each one?

Gregg Tavares: That's a hard question; I worked on 20+ projects over 22+ years so it's kind of hard to think of what's the easiest and hardest.

The hardest part in general is getting people to agree on what to make.  Of course that's much harder now with large teams and large budgets.  It was no problem when it was just me and John.

The next hardest part is probably just dealing with all the details.  Back in the early 80s there were no details, but now you decide you want an FPS character to shoot a gun there are probably 50+ details that have to be decided.  “Can you see his gun?  What does it look like?  Does it animate when you shoot?  What is that animation?  Do you have to reload it?  Does that reload have an animation?  Does it need ammo?  How is that ammo shown in the level?  How is it shown on the HUD?  How is it shown on the weapon itself?  What does shooting look like?  Is there a shot effect?  Is there an effect for the bullet hitting its target?  Does the target have a special reaction to this kind of projectile. etc. etc. etc.?”

I'll have to think if there is an easy part.  Nothing is coming to mind. Maybe the easy part is knowing if it's fun.  It's not easy to make it fun but it is easy to play it and know that it's not fun yet.

Q: What are you experiences/impressions of programming for each platform?

Gregg Tavares: I've programmed pretty much all platforms in one form or another.  The newest platforms (XBOX 360 and PS3) are by far the easiest.  People talk about it's hard to deal with all their processors, and that might be true, but you don't have to deal with all that to make a hit game, and with all their powerful GPUs it's seriously trivial to get something on the screen - FAR more trivial than it was back in the 8-bit days with no tools, no Photoshop, no digital camera, no wave files, no flash, no DirectX, or OpenGl.

Platforms like NES, Gameboy, SNES and Genesis were extreme pains-in-the-ass being that all graphic manipulation had to happen during the time the system was not drawing the screen.  Those systems send a signal to the TV 60 times a second and they take 80-90% of the 1/60th of a second to send that signal.  During that time you can't touch graphic memory.  The advantage to those systems was with their limited memory they took much less time to make games for and much less resources.

Q: Do you remember what early or tentative titles your other games had (if any)?

Gregg Tavares: Gex was originally called Gecko X. Locoroco was called Petton at first.  Other than that I think most of the games I worked on started with the name they shipped with.

Q: There were a few projects that you worked on that ultimately never got released (or possibly finished).  Do you recall the reason(s) why?

Gregg Tavares: Well, the C-64 version of Mario Bros that John and I did was never released.  I'm not sure why; maybe it wasn't good enough.  I believe a year later Ocean released a different version.  With Activision, I had a contract to do a monster trucks-type of game for the IBM PC.  The PC at the time was not up to the graphics the artist drew for that game - nearly full-screen sprites that needed to run at 30+ Hz (I think it ran at 3-4Hz).  Activision went nearly bankrupt, and in the re-organization the title was cancelled.  Robocop vs. Terminator just sucked, and I think being an NES title with SNES and Genesis already out, they decided not to ship it after all.  No one wanted to make that game - not the artists and not me – except maybe only the designer, as it was his first title. For me it was just a contract.  Big Grub's unreleased game was called Maximum Gauge.  It was basically SNES Zelda-type of adventure with Diablo or better graphics.  The main characters were Space Marines.  There was also Disruptor for the M2; the PS1 version came out by Insomniac.

Q: Do you recall any other titles that other programmers were working on that were never released, or finished?

Gregg Tavares: Atomic had 3 or 4 titles that were never released.  One was a 2d scrolling shooter - basically a 2-D man walking around a 2-D space station, shooting. I don't remember the name.  Nothing else comes to mind.

Q: Are there Easter eggs in any of your titles?  Do you recall any fellow co-workers that did?

Gregg Tavares: The biggest Easter egg - maybe only Easter egg - I put in a game is detailed here:

I think if you get perfect (all the Ms) on the 3 puzzle levels in M.C. Kids, Ronald will come out and give you infinite lives.

Q: With any of the games you've worked on, were there any features you would have liked to added, or any known bugs or glitches that gave you trouble (or never got resolved)?

Gregg Tavares: Crash Team Racing used to have a spring power-up that let the cars jump.  It was very fun but rightly removed because of technical difficulties that would have taken months to fix.  There are 2 known bugs in CTR.  One is, some of the sounds for the secret penguin character are still test sounds.  Another is the game will crash if certain combinations of characters make it to the top 3 spots on a race as all 3 characters don't fit it memory.  Both of those were found after it shipped.  I also remember Frogs and Flies being a bit buggy.

Feature-wise nothing comes to mind.  During production there might have been some features we wanted, but during the crunch and pain of alpha and beta we pretty much lose interest in adding stuff.

Q: If you had a chance to redo any of your games, what would you change?

Gregg Tavares: That's a hard question.  If I was to redo Maximum Gauge I'd redesign it around the dialog since because it's an adventure game.  That's really where those games get their base.  Originally I designed it around the levels and thought I'd fill in dialog later.  But more than design I would manage it differently and hopefully in a way that it would have shipped.

Q: You've worked for several well-known companies throughout your career, most of which are no longer in business.  In your experience, was there a common mistake (or mistakes) most companies made that contributed to their demise?  Or is it the industry itself?

Gregg Tavares: That's a good question.  I'm not a business guy; I'm a game designer / programmer so I can't see into the minds and every decision.  I know from running my own company that as the owner you feel like the father of all your employees.  It's up to you to make sure they can keep feeding themselves, their families, paying the rent, etc.  That means if times get tough you'll likely do anything you can, and take any contract you can get just to keep the money coming in.  So, what I'm saying is I don't know why companies make some of the decisions they do but they have lots of pressure that may not be obvious from the outside.

I'd like to believe though that if you stick to quality all the way though you'll be successful.  I think Nintendo has shown that.  One problem is most publishers have this overhead for a marketing and sales department.  They need LOTS of titles to stay busy.  There's almost no way for any company to make enough quality titles so they start taking and shipping anything just to stay afloat and I have to believe that eventually that leads back to them in negative ways.  Whether it's bad relations with retailers for wasting their shelf space on non-selling titles or whether it's just losing money on crap.  I guess I'd like to believe they should just not ship crap, cancel the projects if they have to, and find people that can make quality consistently and put them in charge.  I know that all of that is much easier said than done but Nintendo seems to do it so it's clearly not impossible.

Q: Aside from the obvious technical differences in game design from early 80s to today, is it still the same process (fundamentally) of approaching it?

Gregg Tavares: Not really.  In the early 80s there were zero tools so just getting something up on the screen was far more work than it is today.  There were also very few languages available for the home systems at the time.  Today the majority of games are written in C or C++.  Back in the early 80s they generally were written in BASIC or assembly language or a combination of the 2.  Assembly and BASIC had their fun parts but overall they were extremely tedious compared to modern languages.

On top of that, back then there were no "libraries".  Today if you want to get at digital photo on the screen it can be as few as 3 or 4 lines of code:

Tex* pTex = LoadTexture("sometexture.tga");

Of course back in the 80s people might have written their own libraries but today they already exist: DirectX, .NET, hundreds of free wrappers, Flash, etc.  All the stuff we used to struggle with for weeks or months is now something you just assume exists.

Same with sounds - up until probably Windows 95 or so most games had to include some form of non-digital sound.  That meant lots of sound programming.  Now-a-days most of that is gone.  You can easily play a digital sample (a wave file) in 3 lines of code or an MP3 or a song.  Some games use more sophisticated stuff but most games will do just fine with those abilities.

Memory was... well, not a problem but just different.  Those early 80s systems had generally 48~64k of memory.  Generally as a programmer you would manage it all yourself.  I don't remember running out of memory too much but of course we designed much simpler games.  Today with megabytes of memory it's just completely different how we treat it and manage it.

Tools have completely changed as well.  We had no paint programs, no digital photos, no scanners, no Photoshop or Gimp or Paint Shop Pro, no Sound Forge, After Effects, 3D Studio Max,  Maya, etc.

For some very basic games, once you get all the basics in place some small core part of the process might be similar but in general, no.  Even the way you'd approach making a simple game like Pac Man, Pong, or Tetris has changed.

Q: What were some of your experiences working for each company?  Any stories or anecdotes from those days that you recall?

Gregg Tavares: Too many companies!  Off the top of my head, Silas Warner was quite a character.  You can read about some experiences with him here:

I remember the day I started at Cinemaware I was invited to lunch by 4 co-workers who told me they were all quitting soon.

The Gex team's biggest anecdote is detailed above.

Microprose felt the most family-like of all the companies, at least at the beginning.  I remember company picnics.  I remember using the office on weekends with co-workers to watch rented movies on the company large projection TV.  I remember pride when the boss bought an old plane and we all went out to see him fly it in.  I also remember my first CES experiences with them.  At one of them, a fan had taken an old WW2 flight training simulator machine and put Gunship inside.  He contacted Microprose and we ended up using it at CES.

At Crystal Dynamics when I first started, I had 80+ stuffed animals on the shelves in my cube and an 11-foot inflatable starfish hanging over it.  After I started we hired Strauss Zelnick (former head of 20th Century Fox) to head up our company.  A few months later we moved to a new building and after a couple of weeks I hung up the starfish again.  Well, some secretary came by and told me it had to come down due to fire issues.  I was fine with that but it turned out other people knew that was not the true story.  The true story was that Strauss didn't want it up because he thought it looked unprofessional.  Anyway, within minutes that story spread around the company through e-mail and all work stopped with everyone complaining that I should be able to put up the starfish.  Funny that I was stuck in the middle, as it was not my intention to cause such an outcry, but Strauss relented and the starfish went back up.

Q: Do you still own any of your games for these systems (including those you worked on that were never released), either as a keepsake, or to show friends or family

Gregg Tavares: I think I pretty much have a copy of every game I've worked on.  Some teams also made team things like T-shirts or jackets and I have most of those as well though I never wear them.

Q: Which of your titles are your favorite, and what types of games in general

Gregg Tavares: My favorite is probably my current title, Locoroco.  That's not just me trying to market it but it's actually true.  It's the most creative and inspired game I've had the opportunity to work on.  CTR was probably the more fun game I made mostly because it was well done and 4-player so we'd play at work all the time had always had a blast.  Locoroco would be a close second.  It doesn't have the multi-player element as much but the Locoroco are alive and watching them is entertaining and some of the levels are just amazing as well - lots of stuff you've really never seen in a game before.  After that it would be Gunship, probably because I was proud of it.  It got rave reviews, sold well, and was fun to make.

Personally my favorite games off the top of my head are Zelda: Link to the Past, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Metroid, Metroid Prime, Doom, Half Life 1, GTA:SA, GTA:3, ICO, Boulder Dash, Joust, and several music games: Space Channel 5 1 and 2, Parappa and Um Jamma Lammy, and especially Gitaroo Man.

Q: Have you stayed in touch with any of your old fellow co-workers, going back as far as TNG?  Are you still in touch with any former co-workers?

Gregg Tavares: Yes, I exchange mail with John Alvarado and Greg Marquez regularly.  I don't get to see them often but they are pretty much like family.  I wish I was in touch with Mark Cerny more but he seems to be too busy for me.  I still talk to Evan Wells and Danny Chan from Gex and CTR days.  Danny and I are hoping to work together again.

Q: What are your thoughts on how the industry has evolved?

Gregg Tavares: I don't know that I can really add anything that hasn't already been said buy others.  Big budgets mean less risk I guess.  I do happen to have a slightly different belief in that I believe the next-gen (360/PS3) are going to be the easiest platforms ever (to develop for).  They are powerful enough that we should stop concentrating on tech and concentrate on tools for making them easier to build games for.  If we did that, we could lower prices and increase creativity and open up the industry to more people.

Otherwise, I don't like how it's evolved into sequels and licenses but I still see lots of innovative titles coming out so I'm not as worried as some.  Online distribution will fix lots problems as well.

Check out Gregg’s website at


Frogs and Flies Atari 400/800 The Nighthawk Group released
Pit Viper Atari 400/800 The Nighthawk Group released
Emerald Scepter Atari 400/800 The Nighthawk Group released
Leaps and Bounds! Atari 400/800 M.U.S.E. released
Centipede C-64 Designsoftware released
Mario Bros. C-64 Designsoftware unreleased
Gunship C-64, Atari ST, Amiga, PC Microprose released
Pirates PC Microprose released
Conflict in Vietnam Atari 400/800, C-64 Microprose released
F-19 Stealth Fighter C-64 Microprose released
Hunt For Red October C-64 Microprose released
Street Sports Basketball Amiga Epyx released
TV Sports Football PC Cinemaware unreleased
Lords of the Rising Sun Amiga Cinemaware released
Monster Trucks PC Atomic Software/Aftershock unreleased
Future Classics Amiga Live Studios/Echidna released
tUME tools Echinda released
Rockfall GameBoy Virgin Mastertronic unreleased
M.C. Kids NES Virgin Mastertronic released
Spot PC Virgin Mastertronic released
Terminator NES Virgin Mastertronic not completed
Robocop vs. Terminator NES Interplay unreleased
My Paint Sega CD Saddleback Graphics released
Crash 'N Burn 3DO Crystal Dynamics released
Total Eclipse 3DO Crystal Dynamics released
Gex 3DO Crystal Dynamics released
Disruptor 3DO M2 Seven not completed
Maximum Gauge PS1, PC Big Grub released
Wild 9   Shiny Entertainment released
Zombie Revenge arcade Sega (AMI Group) released
3D Studio Max tools Sega (AMI Group)  
Lightwave tools Sega (AMI Group)  
Alias/Poweranimator tools Sega (AMI Group)  
Crash Team Racing PS Naughty Dog released
Jax and Daxter PS2 Naughty Dog released
3D data pipeline (tools)   Wow Entertainment  
Locoroco PSP Sony Japan released

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