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Steve DeFrisco

Steve is a true veteran concerning video games.
Having programmed for Atari, Sega and Sony platforms,
his contributions span several console generations,
and he continues to give to the gaming community.

MT> Intellivision, Atari and Sega fans may be surprised to hear that your first gaming console was an original Odyssey.
Ever think about going back?
SD> Well, my parents bought the original Odyssey when I was about 13, before Pong hit the streets.
So I didn't have any complaints - the first consumer video game console ever, a year after it came out (yeah, I'm that old :P ).

MT> Tell us about the Atari 800 'Save the Schmoo'?
SD> I started working on it when I was going to school at U.C. Santa Cruz, after transferring from San Jose State University. While I was at SJSU, I was working at a computer store that sold the Atari line exclusively, and I got a deal on a new Atari 800 (console with 8K or RAM, the Basic programming cartridge, a 40 column printer and an 8" floppy drive - $640). Later I bought the 6502 Assembler/Editor cartridge and a 300 baud modem. Before I transferred to Santa Cruz, I had played around with the Basic cartridge, and I had read an article somewhere that showed how to embed a 6502 routine into a Basic program. You had to write the assembly code, compile it and save it to disk, then run a program to convert it to a string which you would then load and embed in your Basic program. Not too easy to debug once it was in there, but hey - it executed way faster than the same code in Basic, so it was worth the work. I wrote a few graphics routines to transfer data into the graphics stripes and started working on a game.

The concept was this:
The Schmoo creature was taken from an old comic strip... that's today's trivia question...

Anyway, in my game, the Schmoo is a little blob of a creature
- It runs back and forth at the bottom of the screen, it's movements are somewhat random.

You have a floating dump truck of sorts. At both the left and right edges of the screen there are hoppers with Schmoo-food in them (I guess I made the Schmoos too dumb to find their own food). Your job was to move to the edge of the screen and fill up your truck and dump food onto the Schmoo. After a while, the color of the Schmoo would change from a fairly bright yellow-green to a dull brown, then black (death). Each time you dumped a load of food onto the Schmoo, it regained health.

From the top of the screen, meteors are falling. If a meteor hit the Schmoo, it would lose health as well.
Your truck was equipped with a gun to shoot the meteors, of course!

I believe I game points for length of time the Schmoo survives, and the number of meteors you hit.

MT> It certainly pays to have contacts. If your older brother had not married Activision programmer Brian Dougherty's sister, you might have ended up as a sanitation specialist or prison guard! Ever feel that you missed your true calling?
SD> Hmmm... a sanitation engineer? Not likely. Before I started college I seriously was thinking of pursuing a career as a Forest Ranger.
I even got my parents to drive up to Eureka California to check out the college up there. But I decided that I wouldn't do well all alone in a fire watch tower. I'm too much of a people person for that job. However, I have pursued acting as a sideline career. I've performed in a number of Community College plays, some student films, A national commercial (Wheel of Fortune - 1988), A San Francisco area commercial (Toyota Camry - 1990?) and some other regional commercials, as well as a ton of industrial films (training films for Safeway, IBM, Tandem, Sun Microsystems and others). I am a member of both SAG and AFTRA, and have voiced characters in videogames over the years (most voices was in Leather Goddesses of Phobos part II).

because it was my very first attempt to coding with C. :-)
MT> You obviously have great fondness for your first professional release, Imagic's 'Tropical Trouble', for the Intellivision.
When did this accomplishment first feel real?
SD> Two things made it real:

1) The bonus check (approx. $3000). It's the largest bonus check I have ever received to date (you don't work on a hit, you don't get much...). I used it to take my family to a really nice steakhouse in Los Gatos, CA and put money down on my first new car ('83 Dodge Rampage pickup).

2) I received a letter from a boy who lived near East Northport, Long Island, NY about how he loved the game.
We lived there when I was young.

MT> Atari was known as a laid back "party company" where employees openly used drugs and participated in hot tub orgies among other sinful activities. In comparison, how was Imagic?
SD>Imagic was also fairly laid back - cut-off jeans and t-shirts, sandals if you wanted. Lots of parties outside of the office - all I saw was alcohol, but I had heard that some people were into other "recreational pharmaceuticals". As to the hot tubs, I wish I knew where those parties were... I was never invited! The atmosphere was one of great creativity and hard work - everyone, without exception, was thrilled to be working in the industry and was putting their best efforts forward. Many gained weight on too many late nights and good food. After all, we were making really good money, and after scrimping at college, who could blame us?

MT> So, Nolan Bushnell actually provided the basic ideas and designs for the 2600 titles 'Moto Rodeo' and 'Secret Quest',
but you did the programming, correct?
SD> When I was working for Nolan at Axlon, he signed a deal with Atari to provide 6 titles for the Atari 2600, as they were releasing a cost-reduced version and wanted to market them with Nolan's name. So, the idea for Secret Quest was "I want you to write me a game like Zelda." It obviously couldn't be Zelda, so from there I designed it, programmed it, and my brother did the most of the art. Then all the employees brainstormed, from which got a Monster Truck idea (which became MotoRodeo), and a bunch of other ideas.
our main goal! :-)
MT> Will anyone ever discover how to retrieve the easter egg of your initials onscreen for 'Secret Quest' and 'Moto Rodeo'?
I know that Digital Press is offering cold hard cash for whomever figures it out first. Is it true that you're holding out on revealing the secret until the bounty is above a certain dollar amount?
SD>Huh, I didn't know there was a bounty...
I look forward to someone figuring it out, because I can't for the life of me remember how :P

MT> 'Baseball Heroes' on the Lynx was fantastic. You really did a fantastic job. It is the only baseball game other than 'Super Action Baseball' on the Colecovision that ever truly played greatly. In your opinion, have there been any better playing versions of America's favorite pastime?
SD> For a while, family life was far too busy (and expensive) for me to spend time and money on video games,
so I missed out on probably 10 years worth. I'm currently trying to catch up...

MT> Atari had a great legacy of releasing its popular arcade games on the Atari 2600. While working the port of 'KLAX',
did you know that you were programming the final coin-op port to the VCS at the time?
SD> Yes, I did. I was told by John Skurtch and Julie Wade (my contacts at Atari) that I had the last US contract for an Atari 2600 title. Odd statistic to be, but I'm proud to have gotten to work on the 2600 professionally.

MT> How did it feel doing so much work on Atari platforms and doing contract work for Atari, but never actually being an Atari employee?
SD> Well, it was fine. I had wanted to do work on the 2600 since I had joined Imagic. At that time, the experienced guys at Imagic (Bob Smith, Rob Fulop, Mike Green, and Brad Stewart) basically thought it would be too hard for us "baby programmers" (which is what the marketing gals called us). I knew I could handle it as it was just a slight departure from the Atari 800 programming. But they were pretty adamant about it, so us newbies (noobs to you young folk) were given easier platforms to cut our teeth on.

MT> How did you become part of the 'Night Trap' opening sequence when it was filmed years earlier for the ill-fated Hasbro N.E.M.O. project?
SD> During the port of the N.E.M.O. projects to the SEGA CD, the producer of the game, Kevin Welsh was having trouble digitizing the opening sequence (I don't recall exactly why), and wanted to re-do it. The president of the company, Tom Zito, was adamantly against any of the staff acting in the games, but Kevin needed this done quickly. So we shot it in high contrast, me in black with a stocking over my head and socks on my hands, in front of a white wall in the office. By the miracle of video editing software, a new title sequence was born. Tom was pretty ticked off about it, but realized it saved us a few thousand dollars (and I wasn't recognizable), so he let it pass.

MT> What was it like working with Ron Stein, the boxing coordinator for the famous Rocky movies, on Digital Picture's 'Prize Fighter'?
SD> Ron is a great guy. We went down to his gym in LA to meet with him and the fighters that were going to be in the game. Ron is very professional, and really worked hard to understand the game and how we were going to inter-cut the video sequences. I believe it was his idea to have the segments begin and end in a clinch with your opponent - it masked the edits really well. The whole experience of working on that game was very gratifying. I hope someday to see those guys again, though I'm pretty far from LA these days.

MT> How do you feel about Good Deal Games finally publishing the long lost Sega CD title 'Citizen X' that you worked so hard on so many years ago?
SD> I think it's great. I didn't even own a copy of it for myself, being a good employee and not taking things that are company property.
So, now that Good Deal Games has published it, I have a copy! Yipee!

MT> I'm not sure if you're a "trekkie" but while working on 'Maximum Surge' for the 3DO and Sega Saturn, did you get to meet Walter Koenig of Star Trek and Babylon 5 fame?
SD> Sadly, I didn't get to go on-set for that project. It would have been a treat. It was certainly fun to see him as the bad guy in the footage. Maximum Surge was never shipped, but some company bought the unused footage of that game and a few others from Digital Pictures and used it as a "virtual videogame" portion of a straight-to-DVD movie called "Game Over". The movie isn't that great, but it's the only place you'll see that footage.

MT> What exactly did you do for PlanetWeb and Sega?
SD> Planetweb was formed by 7 guys that left Digital Pictures just as a whole mess of people were laid off. I joined them three months later. Their initial product was a web browser that ran on the SEGA Saturn. At the time, the internet was just getting going, and the graphical browser interface was fairly simple. I ported the code to a videophone, and then we ended up porting it to at least 20 different hardware platforms, including DVD players. The company eventually changed to providing menu software and JPEG / MP3 playback from CDs on DVD players. They have shipped lots of Phillips platforms as well as some LG, Sharp, and others. I provided major support for the browser across different hardware platforms and operating systems.

MT> What super secret stuff did you do for Sony Computer Entertainment of America? Come on. spill the beans!
Sony is "old hat" now anyway.
SD> I worked in the US Technology group, which eventually was merged into the US R&D group at Foster City, CA. The group I was in designed the basic menu system that is now used on the PSP and PS3. I believe that the Japan division either started with our code base or re-wrote it from scratch, but the basic concepts and prototypes came from our group. I was also involved in a cross-platform, new version of that menu system for the PS2, PS3, PSP, WIN32 and Linux. I actually don't know if that code was used in a final product or not. The group also did the port of the Folding@Home application.

MT> Bringing us up to more modern times, what projects have you been involved with on the Dreamcast, PS2, PSP and PS3 platforms?
SD> At Planetweb, our browser shipped with the Saturn and the Dreamcast (and the PS2, but that was only for a specific limited purpose). The menu system I mentioned above for PS2, PSP and PS3 when I was at SONY.

MT> So, what have you accomplished as Senior Programmer at Volition?
SD> I've been here at Volition for almost two years. I am took the programmer for the audio playback system for Red Faction: Guerrilla. You should check it out. The destruction system is truly amazing & really adds a great deal of fun to the game. Oh, and the audio rocks :)

Obviously, we are BIG fans of Steve's work,
and are honored to be associated with one of his projects.
Steve, while your probably wanting to retire soon,
We're hoping to get another 25 years out of you!

Have a question for Steve that we didn't address?
Just send 'em an e-mail. He's that nice of a guy :-)


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