David Crane Hotline Interview from issue 8

Picture of David Crane


Following on from last month's Exclusive review of Pet Person we now present an interview with Pet Person creator, DAVID CRANE. Quite unusual really, because David prefers to stay away from the limelight and the computer press in general. JULIAN RIGNALL, never one to turn down an opportunity to use the phone, rigged up a tape recorder and dialled the USA. It was 5.30 in the afternoon, and Julian was thinking of home. David, on the other hand, had not long arrived at work. It was 9.30am over in the States...

Science and technology have always fascinated Mr Crane: 'My first encounter with science goes way back,' he explained. When I was a child I played with chemistry sets, microscopes and that sort of thing and really got interested in the sciences. I then began to become interested in electronics too and began picking apart televisions and wiring their controls across the room so I wouldn't have to get out of bed to change the channel.'

An interest in computing came naturally - 'After all, with an interest in science and mathematics and having learned electronics, computers seemed the natural progression', said David. And his first computer was one he built himself!

Soon it became clear that a living could be made from computing, and David's first commercial move was to start developing programs for the Atari 2600 VCS including Dragsters and the much acclaimed Pitfall I and Pitfall II. Did he sit down and plan out a game right from scratch? 'No, not at all. My ideas don't stay long on paper. I try to get onto a computer as soon as possible — Pitfall was started with my drawings of a little man. I wanted him to run across the screen so I immediately went over to a computer and carried on from there.'

In those days it took a couple of months to develop a game, but David can spend up to a year on a project now. 'I modify the program many times a day, testing it out to see if it's right, and after a year I usually have the finished product.'

Ghostbusters, of course, is a absolutely massive success and one of the biggest selling computer games ever. Did the fact that he had to work around a film limit the game at all?

'The design of Ghostbusters was no different from any other entertainment product. I set out to design an original computer game within certain limits. I always set out to design a game within certain limits — usually my limits are these: what is the machine capable of, how much memory does it have, and what type of controller— stick, keyboard or whatever— is to be used. Each one of those things is a constraint, or limit that I have to design within. When doing Ghostbusters I simply included into my constraints that it had to feel like the motion picture and it should probably contain aspects of the motion picture. So starting with that I got a piece of paper and a pencil and started to design a game just as original as any other game but containing those elements. So it's not a different process, it was just designing with a set of different constraints'.

Are other game-of-the-film projects in the pipeline? 'We never know from day to day. When Ghostbusters came about I'd only seen the movie a couple of days before, and film people had been approaching Activision asking whether we'd be able to do a game based on the film. Three days after seeing the film I was walking in the door and I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a game based on Ghostbusters. I said 'let me sleep on it' and eventually thought it would be a good idea. When another film comes along that would make a game as good as Ghostbusters, then we'll certainly be considering the idea.'

On to his latest project, the Pet People Discovery Kit. How did it come about? 'Here we have a project that began with many different people, all of whom believed that these little people might really exist in your computer. Activision were the only firm who really had the gumption to put together a project to find these little guys, and find them we did!

'Once they'd been discovered, what we had to do was to create a consumer product — something that would work on the Commodore 64 so that you could take one home and have your own little computer Pet Person to entertain or entertain you.'

The burning question which I was just dying to ask was about the mysterious 'death' of Adam, ZZAP!'s very own Pet Person. What happened to him and will it ever happen again? David explained: 'We found some of the little Pet People were of a very nervous disposition. Sometimes, on hearing that they are to be publicised, they get very scared. A couple of the little guys who came over to Britain were of that disposition, and as soon as they found out that they would be seen by tens of thousands of people they ran inside the computer to hide. Adam was one of these.'

He went onto explain. 'Adam was in there all along, he just got scared and hid. Tell the guy who thought he'd killed him that Adam is in fact alive and well. We've found him, and soothed him, and now he feels much better about being publicised — so I'll send him back and he'll be much happier.'

With that joyous news I asked about further additions to the Pet People Kit: houses, a facility for extra people and the like. 'The research is still continuing and at the time of this interview I'm still very busy' David said, 'In fact I almost didn't take your call! What we've discovered is that computer persons tend to be solitary people, and once a Pet Person has taken residence in a computer others tend not to come round. If we can discover a way to make them more gregarious then maybe other Pet People will be able to come round. We are considering the market for other houses. At the moment your Adam has one the best ones, but we are certainly considering making other houses which could well bring out different Pet People.'

Might Pet People be found in the new Amiga or the Atari 520ST? David confidently said 'I'm sure there are. We feel that they probably live in every computer in the world. We've found them in other computers, including those that you're asking about, although it does take a while for us to build a house and to get it out to the market. The Commodore was the machine that we worked on first and you've seen the house on that. Following our researches on the Apple IIe, We should have an Apple house available very soon.'

Expanding upon the Amiga subject David said 'we design software generally for any computer that we like, and we like the new machines which have a lot of power like the 68000 microprocessor based computers. They may result in much more detailed graphics and much more diverse software due to the computer's power. We can only wait and see. One thing you can be assured of, is that at Activision we look at every machine which comes out long before many other people have even heard about it. We know exactly what it's capable of and what machines we'll be interested in the future.'

There's no doubt, however, that Activision will be continuing to support the C64. 'We don't intend to stop creating software for the 64, or any other systems we are currently working for. Two existing titles have already been converted for the Amiga, and we plan to do original work for the Amiga as well. The 64 is still one of the strongest computers in the market right now, an there is a strong following for it' Charlotte Taylor, public relations person explained.

With that I thanked them tor their time and rang off with plenty to think about. Most importantly — Adam's coming home. YIPPPEEEEE!

This feature was typed in/OCRed by Iain