Mar 15, 2007

a few gnomish questions / Dr Peter Favaro

Dr. Peter Favaro was the man behind the excellent Alter Ego life-sim and also one of the few psychologists deeply interested in the Internet (think Tendrilmedia) and video gaming. What follows is quite obviously an interview with said gaming legend regarding both the past and the future. Have fun reading it and feel the retro gaming nostalgia ...uhm... feeling.

It's been quite some time since Alter Ego hit the shelves and impressed the press. Have you designed any other video games since?

Well, Alter Ego was to be followed by a game called Child's Play -a humorous simulation about raising children, but Activision fell on financial hard times and had to be scrapped. The project manager was someone named Brenda Laurel, whom everyone first referred to as "The Lizard Queen" in the early days of the Internet.

Since then I have had some game ideas. One is finally coming to fruition. It's Internet based and code named K-OS.

K-OS? Will it be an MMO sort of game? Could you describe it briefly?

Only briefly. People purchase computer generated DNA. They feed, train and teach the creature that forms from it. The creatures meet in a virtual world on line, fight, consume each other's attributes until one becomes most superior. You know, the kind of touchy feely activities psychologists are known for.

Any idea when it should be available to psychologist adoring masses?

Well a lot depends on how much time I can slice from my media business which is doing quite well right now. My guess would be Winter 2007.

So, back to the old days, if you don't mind. Alter-Ego. How would you describe it in a couple of sentences?

Alter Ego was a life sim, written in a tongue in cheek style which permitted people to explore the consequences of their decision making. It was built on a foundation of hundreds of interviews I conducted with people about their most memorable life events. Combined with stuff I just made up!

And how did you decide to undertake such an apparently mammoth task? What was your inspiration? Your PhD in psychology perhaps?

Actually, it was the other way around--it was my love of game design and the prospect of making some money. Psychology was a way of breaking out of the pack of other designers.

Hehe... A cunning plan indeed!

Well, its more than that, although I am cunning. Technology is by nature an exploitative enterprise. You have to strike while the iron is hot and you need to innovate in order to achieve that. That is what juices me up about working in this business and that's why I rarely sit in a room with people who tell me about their anxieties.

Alter Ego, despite being critically acclaimed, didn't sell very well. Why do you think this happened?

It sold well enough to buy me a house and a car. However, it did not sell like Mortal Kombat.

Why? Well, the egoist in me thinks it was before its time. It was developed during a period of gaming that did not know what a game activity was. It came after the initial shoot em ups and after some Zelda like stories, but was quite different than both. People have been begging me for years to re-do it.

Actually, should you re-do it, it would still be innovative and unique... Creativity in the mainstream gaming media seems to be at an all-time low... Or not?

Well, a project like that needs some cash behind it. It would have to go through a big developer like Sony. It would also have to be multimedia because that's what turns people on -and well it should be- better for the nakedness and the killings and all. However, large developers wisely stick to their franchises--sports games, carjackings, and war themes. I don't know if it would make it past the funding stage.

Then again, the Sims did it... And it was the only truly successful spiritual child of Alter Ego.

Yes it was, damn it. Can't do the Sims again though; it would be me imitating an imitator of me.

How surreal and psycho-confusing....

Thank you. If someone would toss a few million my way, I am sure I could come up with something.

Which reminds me, have you played Timothy Leary's game? Actually met the man? Helped him with his game?

Only by phone. Tim was an interesting sort of fellow. Lots of ideas about technology but no real clue. On the other hand, I don't like people mucking about with my stuff, so I learned programming from the ground up. I am actually quite a technical person.

But where did you learn game-design and coming up with intuitive and never before seen interfaces?

I think game design is a function of a person's idiosyncratic way of living. To some, life is just one big game. HA!

Wow!

I just realized what that implies about Alter Ego.When I was younger I used to make up games to amuse myself and to torment my little sister.

Did you ever hit her with an Alter Ego manual, then?

No, she was already too old and strong to mess with.

Sisters, tsk... Like reviewers really. Remember any of the reactions and/or reviews back in the day Alter Ego was released?

We all grew up in Brooklyn and had to learn to street fight relatively early in life.

Oh people loved it, the reviews were excellent with the exception of two guys from Compuserve who hated it because it relied on manipulation and was nothing more than a simulation based on psychology. Imagine! I laughed my ass off when I read that review.

Besides laughing at reviews, what else did you enjoy from the Activision era?

Well, also, loved the perks. Activision was big on treating their designers like rock stars. It was hilarious that when we showed at Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas we were always right near the porn stars!

Now, one final question. Which games did you recently enjoy?

I like the online multies. World of Warcraft is a good game -causing quite a stir with parents who say their kids are too involved in it

Well, parents can be funny, but WoW is a huge and all consuming time sink....

Sure, but you can expect more of the same. People are becoming more vegetative, and the more they veg, the more they will be looking for these kinds of activities.

Now, that I've never thought. Quite the vicious circle really...

There's a reason televisions are getting bigger and bigger, and if you listen to Bill Gates everyone of them will have a web browser built in in just a few years.

Actually, quite a few anarchist believe that a color TV equals a black 'n' white life...

I can see that, but what's going to stop the deluge? Nothing.

I see. Now, care to add anything else?

Well, only that there will always be a fascinating interplay between people and the widgets they keep themselves occupied with -and in that there is still a lot to learn, explore and exploit.

Thanks so much for the interview. Oh, and good luck both with K-OS and Tendrilmedia!


Related @ Gnome's Lair: Takeshi no Chousenjou, Commodore 64 Guitar Hero, Re: Watergate Caper, more retro gaming features


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7 comments:

  1. ....and i thought you removed the comment link, so i couldn't get an autograph......

    outstanding interview mr.Gnome...

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  2. Thank you Mr. Elderly... Now, if we could just go a bit easy on the stalking all would be fine...

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  3. ...i'll just sit here... i won't move.... (adjusts cardigan... puts on intelligent face......)

    and if it comes up in conversation, i suppose it would be okay to get an autograph...?

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  4. Well, I guess it's ok...

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  5. (takes out half a dozen autograph albums and leaves them strategically placed on the couch.......

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  6. huh, interesting. i could hear some of his voice in the game, and i'm not surprised he is such a gung-ho, humorous kinda guy. very different from my personality, but luckily he is a good game designer so that didn't prevent me from enjoying the game.

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