David D Thiel
the character string,"@!#?@!" means
something to you,
then you know David Thiel's audio work. David gave a voice
and worked on many high-profile arcade coin-op and pinball machines.
You came up with the idea of using the random phonemes of a speech chip to make
Q*bert speak gibberish. How and why did you arrive at the idea and
Out of frustration. Reactor was my first audio task for Gottlieb.
Management insisted that I use the Votrax. For development there wasn't anything
more than a list of Votrax phonemes, a dictionary and assembly code. I spend two
days trying to get the Votrax to say "10000 Bonus Points". I would try
it out on people as they walked through the lab. After hearing it they would say
"What are Bogus Points"? Chris Brewer who was providing tech support
for me made the offhand remark about feeding the Votrax random phonemes. I programmed
a test and I loved the results. Within that week I saw the Q*Bert
character hopping around and I told Warren, "Boy, have I got something for
MT> Many players still swear that they occasionally hear Q*Bert
say naughty things. Can you finally put to rest the rumor that Q*Bert
states nothing specific other than "Hello, I'm turned on" when the coin-op
is powered up and "Bye-bye" at the end of a game?
Hello and Bye-bye are the only deterministic phonemes fed to the Votrax in Q*Bert,other
than the "ahhhhhhhhh" when Q*Bert goes off the pyramid.
There was a Q*Bert in the cafeteria which talked during the attract
mode. One day I am sure that I heard it say "Radio Shack". For the record:
no profanity is programmed into phoneme stream in the Q*Bert sound
MT> You have worked
on several projects such as Guardian and Insector
that never made it to market. How did you feel at the time when they were cancelled
and how do you feel now decades later?
For the majority of my time at Gottlieb I was the only sound programmer. Gottlieb
moved their game programming to PCs early on which was inexpensive enough so that
many teams could be developing games at the same time. At some point given how
long it takes to make good audio with programs I knew that there was no way that
all the projects could get the full treatment. So, I gave more attention to the
projects that I felt had a chance. Guardian (Protector) was my second
project and I worked very hard on it and it was disappointing for it not to get
past the testing phase. Insector got the full treatment and I was
disappointed in the decision not to make it. I saw the handwriting on the wall
with Insector's failure and I started thinking about a life in interactive
audio after Gottlieb.
and Mad Planets have held up well over the years, still generating
a cult like following despite never really reaching mass exposure. Why do you
think these games have withstood the tests of time, and perhaps garnered more
praise over the years? It was the audio, right?
Game audio is like an amplifier: it makes the good stuff better and heightens
the bad stuff. There is terrific interaction programmed into Reactor
and Mad Planets and the audio makes it better. But without good
interaction audio is just so much fluff.
I have to walk on eggs so as not to offend you with the next question
rock music, the drummer is often the forgotten player in the band.
To those of us in the know, his contributions are easily as important as the lead
guitarist or singer dancing around on stage making a fool of himself. In the video
game arena, graphics always seem to lead discussions about a game. How do you
feel about creating audio in such a video intensive environment?
It is always a challenge. Literally it is out of sight, out of mind. Since the
80's both interaction and interactive audio have not moved forward anywhere near
as much as game graphics. They just don't get the same investment in time or money.
The good game audio guy has to be a salesman and promoter as well as a programmer,
musician and audio engineer. He always has to justify his resources: time, disk
space, CPU etc...
Do you want to punch me now?
When you were working on the laserdisc game Mach 3, did you feel
that laserdisc gaming was the future of the industry, as many at the time?
No, it was nifty but it was a classic example of trading off game play for eye
candy. They sped up the footage 2xs to make it more exciting. The problem was
that this reduced the amount of interaction time with the background by 50%. This
tradeoff is classic behavior in this industry. I left Mylstar before Mach
3 was put out on test as the coin-op downturn was looming.
Were you a Three Stooges fan? Nyuk, Nyuk Nyuk!
Yup, as a kid in Chicago region WGN played them every afteroon.
How was working with coin-op videogames and pinball different?
In pinball audio is a primary channel to the player. The pinball player looks
at the bottom 3rd of the playfield to keep the ball in play. If you want to tell
the player that multiball is enabled, changing the background music is more reliable
than lighting an insert. So pinball audio is more essential to the project. For
videogames, music needs to be used more judiciously than pinball. Videogames are
more about making the graphic interactions tangible which is about FX.
Did you have a preference between the two?
I like doing both. They are very different. The pinball project is the right scale
so that I can do it all and that is fun.