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Q*Bert Interview

With the release of Faster, Harder, More Challenging Q*Bert (abbreviated to FHMC Q*Bert for the interview), an unreleased sequel to one of my favorite games, I decided to do some tracking to find the programmer. After a little work, I was able to track down Warren Davis and get a little background into this game. I would like to thank Warren for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview.  So here is interview, for all of you to enjoy.

Question #1-How many of the people from the original Q*Bert team were involved in FHMC Q*Bert?

-The original Q*bert team consisted of myself as Game Designer and Programmer, Jeff Lee as Graphics Designer, and Dave Thiel as Sound Designer. No new sounds were added at all for FHMC Q*bert, and I believe Dave was onto other things by then, but Jeff designed an entirely new character, Q*bertha, and made a number of other art additions as well. So I guess the answer is myself and Jeff.

Question #2-Was the concept for FHMC Q*Bert yours (the Q*Bert team) or was it Gottliebs?

Warren- I don't know that the word "concept" even applies here. Gottlieb wanted some sort of sequel, but it was so soon after the original came out, that I thought of it more as an upgrade. I thought the original was made too easy (to pander to some focus group testing), and I thought if we came out with a faster, harder more challenging version a few months after people had time to master the original, we'd extend the life of the game. The changes we made were fairly minor from a programming point of view. As it turned out, we tested FHMC QB too early, and people weren't ready for it - they were still learning and enjoying the original - so Gottlieb shelved it.

Question #3-Did FHMC Q*Bert use the original code of Q*Bert and then enhanced or was it completely rewritten?

Warren-FHMC Q*bert was an extension of the original Q*bert code.

Question #4-Did you get ideas for any of the enhancements in the game from arcade gamers, either verbally or from observation, or were they all thought of by the team?

Warren-A combination. Some of the tweaking we did was directly related to watching the better players in the arcade. Some the of other things we did, like Q*bertha or the moving discs or the bonus round were things we either thought of ourselves or heard from other people.

Question #5-Was the name FHMC Q*Bert going to be the actual name or was it just a production name? If it was just a production name, was there any names being considered before it was cancelled?

Warren-The name was always FHMC Q*bert. I didn't want to do anything boring like Q*bert 2 or Super Q*bert, and the whole reason this came into being was because the people who were GOOD at Q*bert wanted something that was faster, harder and more challenging. That phrase was used so often in describing what we wanted to accomplish that I used it as the name. As a bit of background, the VP of Marketing, Howie Rubin, wanted the original Q*bert to actually be called *@!#*?! so you can see our management was open to the unconventional.

Question #6-When it was play tested, were there actual machines made for it or was the chip just put into an existing Q*Bert cabinet? If there were actual cabinets made, how many and are they still in working order?

Warren-I'm pretty sure we just put it into existing cabinets.

Question #7-Speaking for gamers everywhere, we are quite thankful you decided to release this lost game, but what made you decide to distribute it with MAME?

Warren-I've always had the ROMs for FHMC Q*bert running in my own Q*bert cabinet at home - it's always been my "Q*bert" of choice. When I first heard of MAME, I considered releasing the ROMs but was always too busy to really look into it. A few years ago, I hooked up with Steven Ryner who maintains a classic coin-op web site, and he seemed pretty excited that there was a "lost" Q*bert. After I left my job with Williams/Bally/Midwaywas, I started noticing a growing interest in classic arcade games and thought more that releasing FHMC QB would be interesting to people. Then Steve Ryner published an interview with me where I mentioned the existence of FHMC QB, and I started getting a lot of e-mail from people asking me to release the ROMs. The final
straw was that I just happened to be working with someone involved with the MAME project, Fred Soosookian, who asked me about it, and so I just turned over the ROM images to him and he saw that it got integrated. I'm sure it would've happened eventually if Fred hadn't come along, but that made it supremely easy for me.

Question #8-It is probably just wishful thinking, but are there any other unreleased versions of other games you programmed?

Warren-I was just watching some video I shot at the Gottlieb offices back in 1983 (I think) and a bunch of us were clowning around and playing prototypes of some games. There is some footage of a game I was working on which was abandoned. Even though management thought it had potential, I got bored with it and moved on to something else. I don't have any source code for it, but I'm tempted to try an recreate it just for fun (if I ever have any time!)

Question #9-If you approached (if you haven't already) to do a new game with Q*bert and given total freedom, what kind of game would you like to do? Anything special you would want to have in the game?

Warren-I think I'll keep my ideas for a modern Q*bert to myself for now, just in case it ever happens.

Here's a little bio... I got my start in the arcade game industry in 1981 at Gottlieb where I designed and programmed Q*bert and Us vs. Them (a laser disc game). I left the industry when Gottlieb closed its doors, and was hired by Williams a couple of years later. I worked on Joust 2 and Lotto Fun (a redemption game), and then helped develop a new system which would become Narc. I developed one of the first (if not the first) video digitizing systems used in coin-op games. I left Williams to become a consultant, and developed a game called Exterminator for Premier Technologies. I returned to Williams in 1991 where I worked on Terminator 2 and evolution X, and also upgraded their video digitizing system, paving the way for actors to
be used in such games as Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and virtually all of Williams/Bally/Midway video arcade games of the early to mid 90's. I currently work for Disney Interactive.

Warren can be reached via email at: warren_davis@studio.disney.com

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