Perry, the founder of Shiny Entertainment,
is most notably known for designing Earthworm Jim,
as well as programming numerous other great pieces of software.
You obviously started programming at a very
young age. Please describe your early programming adventures -
locale, equipment, content and other details that our readers
might find of interest.
My first experience with a computer was with a school Research
Machines 380Z in England. People had made very simple games for
it that you had to play as the letter 'V' and imagine you were
a spaceship. It's amazing how much fun that was! We are so spoilt
these days. Much more fun than studying, I started making and
publishing games (through magazines and books) for the Sinclair
ZX81 (Timex Sinclair 1000 in USA), the games were 1K and I was
paid $50 a game. My first check was for about $600 and so I was
simply amazed that you could get paid for having fun. My first
book sold 12,000 copies! From that day in high school, I have
never done any other job and find myself at 34 years old having
been doing the same job for 20 years and still loving it!
While your family was not originally supportive
of your career choice, now that you have become a successful entity,
have they reconsidered? Does your mother play Earthworm Jim?
None of my family
play games except my older sister who is still in love with Frogger.
They used to have ZERO respect for video games and used to shout
to me "come and eat your dinner, stop playing with your computer."
Needless to say, once the checks came rolling in, the attitude
changed. That said, I think the fact that they still don't play
games shows me how we still have a long way to evolve before we
really do embrace all walks of life.
If the videogame industry was not so entrenched
in California, would you consider trading your Laguna Beach location
for your native Ireland?
No, I find that waking up in a sunny place makes me smile. I used
to leave my house in the winter and had to pour water all over
it trying to unfreeze it. Only then could I wrench the frozen
door open, meanwhile coughing foggy freezing air. In California
I get up on the weekends, look at the ocean and decide if I want
to swim or have a tan. I can visit Ireland at any time, so I feel
I have managed to get the best of both worlds.
You have been involved in creating over
four dozen different videogames. Have you played the role as programmer
for all these projects, or have you worn other hats from time
DP> I did the programmer thing for a long long time and as
the team grew, so did my responsibility to manage the company.
This decreasing focus then, started to clearly show me that it
was better to let other people take away that task so I could
manage more. After a few years of management (which you get no
thanks for by the way), I slowly started to get back heavily into
design and am now working hard on the design for the Matrix video
game. I am now working harder than I have since Earthworm Jim
and it feels great.
If the Guinness Book of World Records documented
such entries, you would certainly be considered for the most active
individual in the game industry. At one point, you had over ten
titles on the market simultaneously. Can you name them?
DP> I can't remember which eleven it was, but I remember standing
in a WH Smith store counting them, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
was #1. It was the first time I had gotten a Christmas #1 game
and it sold 425,000 copies on Sinclair Spectrum alone! I was tired,
but what a great year.
When programming The Terminator 11 years
ago, you had the Sega Genesis hardware performing beyond Sega's
recommendations and allowances. Please explain 'Thru-Put' and
what it meant?
DP> In the old days, video games used the Z80 microprocessor,
it's funny to see it's still getting used today! In the Z80 there
were things that you could do that were classed as 'undocumented'
or 'illegal' as they were not formally recognized as working properly
by Zilog (the chip maker.) Needless to say, with experimentation,
some of these 'undocumented' features greatly helped game performance,
so we tried releasing our 'modified' games to see what happened.
We NEVER had a problem and the gamer got a better experience.
So then when I first started working with the Sega Genesis hardware,
I had the badly translated Japanese manuals; I found translation
problems all over the place. It turned out quicker to experiment
than to trust the manual and soon I found a way to double the
amount of graphics I could push through the machine completely
by accident. I checked with Sega and it was not supposed to work.
Tricks like that can greatly help developers compete.
Most games are designed with hundreds of
pages of draft that document most every detail of the game to
be produced. Why was Earthworm Jim produced without a script?
DP> I believed that making a game should be based on what is working,
I used to call it Dynamic Design. You start making what you think
could be cool, then build and expand on the bits that did indeed
work well. Nowadays with bigger teams, it's too messy to use that
system and so we are getting a lot more formal with documents
While Earthworm Jim's violence was disguised
in a cartoony animated fashion, your Wild 9 game featured the
act of torture prominently. What are your feelings towards videogame
DP> If a company was to make very very violent video games, they
just don't sell. This happens for many reasons, but mostly because
of distribution issues. That generally solves the problem before
it starts. Games cost millions of dollars to make now, and nobody
is going to fund a really really violent game if it will only
appear in 5% of stores. If you make semi-violent games (with blood),
which get approved by Sony and Sega and Nintendo, then you are
at TV/Movie violence level. This I personally do not see as a
problem as billions of people seem to be able to read books and
watch movies without feeling the need to kill their friends. Even
that access is getting controlled better now than ever before.
As for realism, that is a design decision... Yes we could make
cartoon games all day long, yes we could make bullets bounce off
you, yes we could make you able to fall 300 feet but not break
a leg, but realism dictates that is 'dumb'. (Like it would in
movies, books, theater and television.) I do however agree with
Warnings, Ratings & ID Checks... I do not want my children to
be able to buy Mature games, but I do want it on the shelf so
I can buy it. I personally dislike the current cryptic ratings
symbols and would prefer just a "FOR AGE 18 OR OLDER" logo. Frankly,
I think the public would be lying if they said they did not understand
that. The solution is not to hide from issues like this, it's
to simply set up sensible controlled access and make the system
simple to understand.
Why did you choose to be a panel member
for Computer Game Developers' Conference.
DP> Firstly because I respect the concept of the show, being that
all developers take the time to meet and are happy to discuss
game development issues at a very sophisticated level. Secondly
because I am always eager to learn more and there are a lot of
VERY bright/focused people there. Thirdly because a lot of the
people there are my heroes, and it's extremely cool to meet them
in a bar after the show!
What do we have to look forward to from
Shiny in the future?
DP> We are all about the Matrix, and we plan to show you just
how deep the Rabbit Hole goes.