This weekend the International Video Game Hall of Fame will be inducting its new members into the Class of 2019. One of these inductees is Jeff Peters. Jeff is a well-deserved inductee as you will read below. His gaming history goes back to the early 1980’s until today.
Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Jeff Peters who is displayed on card number 395, from the Superstars of 2012 Collection. He is also featured on cards 929 and 3152. Jeff is a multiple world record holder and various titles from the Golden Age of gaming. Some of those games include Pole Position II, Domino Man, and Time Pilot, just to name a few. Along with his partner, Steve Harris, Jeff created the popular magazine, Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM). After EGM Jeff worked for multiple companies, such as Electronic Arts and SNK. He founded the modern day USNVGT (United States National Video Game Team) with Steve Harris (joint partnership) in the mid-1980s. He has also worked on such notable properties and franchises such as Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Madden, Tetris, Monopoly, Metro 2033 and Tiger Woods. Currently Jeff is one of the co-founders of the Utah Digital Entertainment Network (UDEN), whose mission is to connect, inform and grow the local communities of Utah’s growing digital entertainment industry.
Why not? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by entertainment in all its forms. When this new video game thing came around, it changed the equation from passive entertainment (i.e. film, tv) to interactive entertainment where you control the outcome. It was you vs the machine where the goal was to beat the programming or beat the machine. When you don’t really have a frame of reference for going into battle with an artificial intelligence, this was definitely something new and being the naturally competitive person that I am, the concept of getting better at these games, just like other more traditional sports, or beating the machine, definitely became appealing pretty quick.
What’s your favorite Videogame and why?
Favorite video game of all time is still the original “Robotron.” The first twin-stick shooter and one of the best playing games ever made. Its concept is simple, but the strategy is very deep and always situational. Even though I can play it as long as I want, there are still things to learn on it with each new battle and an intellectual and dexterity challenge with each play. From a game design point of view, it was completely unique in its execution, much like Eugene Javis’ previous games, and was absolutely iconic when it was released and still is today. “Robotron” was the beginning of an entire genre of similar playing games and is still the one all new twin-stick shooters get compared to. When I teach game design, “Robotron” is always one of the games I refer to as ‘perfect design’ and use many examples from its execution on how the player sees the screen, what information is communicated and how the rules and mechanics create that wonderful, adrenaline-based drive to ultimately beat the game. I personally consider it one of the best games ever made.
When did you first know you wanted to be involved in Videogames?
(borrowed from the SyFy Icon Article about me): First, I have to say, by the time I got into High School, I was convinced I was going to be a lawyer; or better said, I was a speech and debate brat that thought arguing was a competitive sport.
Having said that, I think most adolescents are constantly looking for that ‘thing’ that defines them or more simply put, that something they are good at; we all want to be good at something, right? I tried sports, and a myriad of other activities of the day, looking for that thing that clicked with me. The impression left from both pinball and the early arcade games, like “Pong” still kept me fascinated as the industry grew and Arcades began to grow out of the new video game playing boom. By the end of the 70’s we were surrounded on all sides by this growing video game thing, with both negative and positive perceptions. We eventually had an Atari 2600, just like every other family at the time, but these games were mostly weak versions of what you played in the arcades; that was the real deal.
I’ve always had a competitive streak, in pretty much every activity I ventured into, and that competitive drive also flowed over into arcade games as well. Most of the games were single player contests where you had to beat whatever AI was present, so the competition was usually about you beating the machine; I liked that as it was a completely different concept from competing with people directly, and at the time, machines had this mystique of being smarter.
I blame “JJ’s Arcade” for being the first arcade I frequented that rewarded high scores on these games and posted your name in public for all to admire. Above every cabinet was a plaque that had the first and second highest scores in the arcade, and sometimes you’d see the same name on more than one plaque. If one of those players walked in and tried to beat a high score, there would always be a crowd around them, trying to ascertain some new technique, skill or just to see what the game was like after the spots where a normal people failed. Clearly this was also a draw, and the competitive side of me wanted to be on one of those plaques. So that really kicked my competitive streak into high gear. I ended up making it on quite a few plaques in “JJ’s” for games like “Tron,” and “Dig Dug” and was quite proud of those achievements.
This later became amplified when I first discovered Walter Day’s “Twin Galaxies International Scoreboard” being connected to “Starship Video” in Upland, CA. This was one of the most state-of-the-art arcades of the time, and they always had a large high score board for all to see, immediately when you entered. It filled up an entire wall and displayed the #1 score on the world on every game they had, as well as the current standings for each local “Starship Video” game player. This felt like the big time to someone just getting through Jr. High and seeing High School looming fast on the horizon. This also took the concept of owning the high score in a single arcade down a few notches, as being the best in the entire world sounds far cooler. Now who doesn’t want that?
So, the competitive virus that inhabited me, decided there was something more to attain as a result; a new level of game playing had just been presented to me.
What was the first Videogame you saw and where did you see it? What was your reaction to it?
(borrowed from the SyFy Icon Article about me): This could be a really long answer but will try to keep it short. My first discovery of video games was getting to see an Atari “Pong” and “Video Pinball” in a small movie theater in Southern California, right next to a classic pinball machine. I had been exposed to mechanical pinballs and gun game prior to that thanks to my Grandfather and various fishing excursions, with “Captain Fantastic” being one of my favorites, and of course loved the physical nature of the gameplay. This “Pong” thing was odd and different. There were no mechanical parts, aside from two spinny knobs, and all the wonderful mechanical and chime-like sounds from a traditional pin table were all absent. In fact, the game was mostly quiet compared to the folks playing it. This was clearly something new and innovative, and even at a young age, I was completely fascinated to experience it and learn more about this odd coin-operated device, especially when you saw it affected others in such a positive way when they played it. This was the beginning of something completely crazy, and although there was an intriguing impact, it didn’t really hit me on how deep this impact would be, on both society in general and in me more specifically, until around High School.
How do you compare vintage videogames of the 1980s to today’s VideoGames?
Vintage or classic gaming is all about the game mechanics specifically. Being the dawn of interactive entertainment, it was when all of the most basic experiments were made in the field, some with great success in their mechanics (i.e. Centipede, Robotron, Tempest, Space Invaders, etc.) while others trying extremely new and unique things that didn’t really capture the imagination of that generation of players but now are revered as unique and special (i.e. I, Robot, Major Havoc, Assault and even oddities like Boxing Bugs). No matter how you dress up a gaming experience with graphical features and eye-candy, it still comes down to the basic mechanics of the experience that bring you back or keep you playing. To me one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a game developer is that core-mechanics matter always, that’s a core design principle every developer should follow in order to be successful.
What are you currently playing? Why?
Currently playing Overwatch, Clash Royale, and Bloodborne. It’s a combination of spending time with single player, gaming-on-the-go and social gaming experiences. When I have time, I also compete in Pinball tournaments in our area as well as keeping up to speed with the latest advancements in VR gaming (both consumer and LBE).
Do you see a need to educate new developers on the historic games and the foundations they laid?
Absolutely. This is extremely important to me, as we’re now a 47+ year old industry, which makes it a rather mature one, and along with being an art form unique to itself, it is indeed an art form that is worth studying and both embracing the past as well as learning from it. In the graduate class I teach, I talk about the evolution of the business models over that time as well as the focus on innovation in play mechanics. We can learn a massive amount from the original games from the 70’s and 80’s where everything was new and unique, before the advent of photo-realistic graphics. At that time all that mattered was a light theme (where most of the narrative took place in your head) and the mechanics. When I make games today, I still use influence and learnings from those early games as the mechanics in the good games were pure and uncluttered, and that alone constituted “fun.” I see it as a responsibility to collect, collate, celebrate and restore the older generation of gaming so we can understand our history and learn from its evolution, as well as celebrating all of the interactive entertainment that has been created over that time frame. The more developers in general can learn from the past, whether it be game mechanic design, technical evolution or just development processes, the better the entertainment we can continue to make for others. Lastly, when looking at the all-digital age we’ve been moving into for the last 10 years, it’s getting harder and harder to save, collect or restore many of the digital games that have already come and gone, as with an all-digital future, once a game has been shut down, there is no easy way to bring it back for future generations of developers to experience and learn from.
Describe the ideal relationship between VideoGame players (gamers) and developers.
It used to be that the developer didn’t have a connection to the end user or gamer. Developers would make games and then someone else would market and ship them. Now we have a unique relationship where the game developer has the opportunity to have a one-to-one relationship with those the play the game. This can be through live services management, forums, direct social engagement through public alphas and betas, and all sorts of social and private ways to get feedback from the fans of the game. Now with an always-on, live service, you can actually see and hear how players are digesting your game and make changes or additions that are driven specifically from your fans interest. The fans now have a direct pipeline to the developer to help shape the experience they are investing their time and money in. To me this is a positive change in our industry where the game can continue to evolve and improve, with the help of the community it created.
If you have or could have an arcade in your home what’s in it?
As a matter of fact, I do have an actual arcade in my home, the result of collecting and restoring arcade and pinball machines for the past 20+ years as mainly a space-and-time-consuming hobby. It’s been important to salvage and restore our collective history as well as be part of the constantly growing fan-base focused on similar goals and activities. It all started out simple enough for me, with just looking for an old Asteroids to own and possibly restore, and then it got completely out of hand as these things do. Currently my home collection has around 25 pinballs and another 25 arcade games in it. A large part of my basement looks like a time capsule or museum of the peak of the 1980’s gaming scene. As for my personal favorites, that arcade list includes staples like “Robotron,” “Sinistar,” “Joust,” “Bubbles,” “Tempest,” as well as some highly sought-after collectibles like “I, Robot,” “Warlords”, “Rampart” and “Super Sprint”. On the pinball front my all-time favorites in the collection are Bally’s “Kiss,” “Black Knight,” “Medieval Madness,” “Twilight Zone” and “Captain Fantastic.” I even have a few oddities from the past including “Hyperball” and the infamous “Popeye.”
What positive impact do you see VideoGames having on society?
Although it’s still a negative topic for some groups, video games have captured the imagination of multiple generations now. Depending on where you put the starting point, the industry is over 47+ years old now, making it both a solid entertainment industry that’s still growing as well as a legitimate art form to be researched, preserved and enjoyed. It has given us new ways to talk about friendly competition as well as focus on personal achievements where a single player is battling it out head-to-head against a ruthless AI. It has brought us new ways to be social and connect with individuals. It has pushed technology in new ways in both hardware and software that many other industries have now benefitted from. It has created brand new sub-industries like distinctive communication channels, cos play, conventions and new ways to think about what interactive entertainment actually means. It does have its detractors, but so does every other form of entertainment. On the health side, it has been proven to increase puzzle solving, reflexes, and analytical thinking in the individuals that actively play games. It has also created completely new industries like the current eSports movement, the gamification movement in interactive training, feeding the cos play industry, as well as creating content for the rise of the top influencers in the world. And, in looking at all the ways we digest video games at the moment, which reflects how pervasive interactive entertainment is in society, there are over 16 unique ways we consume video games these days, and only one of them is actually playing the game. That’s how integrated they’ve become to our way of life.
Of course, we have to include just being simply entertained in a way that ‘you’ control the action and the outcomes and not just be a passive part of the experience like all other forms of entertainment.
What else would you like to add regarding Videogames?
(borrowed from the SyFy Icon Article about me): I feel fortunate to have been in this business for so long now, and still going! I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s been a long career, and I’m glad I gave up the idea of being a lawyer to focus on fun instead. From competitive gaming, to world records, to magazine publishing, to making video games on just about every platform produced, including arcade games, retail, digital, social, mobile and VR. The journey has been a great ride one of great learning, wonderful accomplishments and making some amazing friends along the way.
I’m glad that eSports is now a relevant and popular activity, and its popularity has grown worldwide. What happening now with live streaming, online spectators big prize money and huge stadium events is sort of the vision we had in starting the USNVGT. The fact that it’s taken 30 years to get here isn’t so much a negative, as it’s clear we’re there now, and that’s what really matters. If I had more time these days, I’d love to get back into being competitive with certain games, but to be at the top levels the time commitment is immense not, and right now I’m still having a great time making the games.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
In no particular order, here’s a few that come to mind:
Being part of the early days of competitive gaming and running the US National Video Game Team
Creating and founding the original company that created “Electronic Gaming Monthly” and other newsletters and magazines
Being part of the some of the top properties and games in the world and always striving to innovate and bring something new to the market. These include products in series such as: Mortal Kombat, Tetris, Monopoly, NBA JAM and many others.
Also, in the competitive gaming scene, I’m proud of the variety of games and playstyles I was able to master. Many of my competitors in the 80’s focused on a single game or playstyle, whereas my skills moved through lots of genres and wasn’t tied to just one game, genre or style.
Making a career in the difficult world of digital entertainment. It’s been 30+ years now and still going strong. I’ve built companies from scratch that went on to acquisition events, been executives at major companies and still looking forward to the products I’m making today in the VR space.
Where do you see the Videogame industry evolving in the next 20 years?
I think the biggest evolution in our industry is the realization that we are using the wrong terms for our entertainment experiences. Film, Video Games and TV shows all originated from the medium they shipped on or in. In today’s society, those terms are becoming obsolete as video, TV and Film are no longer mediums we really digest content on. Looking forward, to our always-on, always-connected lifestyles, we have multiple viewports to experience our entertainment with, and the expectation that I can start an experience on one platform (i.e. your mobile phone) and then continue it later in the living room or home office. Combine that with the fact that the way we make our digital entertainment is now combining with the same tools and skillsets, I think our future needs to rebrand the experiences to one of the following forms of entertainment: Interactive and Narrative. That really encompasses the type of digital entertainment we have and reflects where we are ultimately going with it. Granted each of those forms may have completely different distribution models, with those distribution models reflecting the type of entertainment it focuses on.
Interactive Entertainment is disposable; we no longer own anything. The transition point is that we no longer play video games, we just adopt new long term, interactive hobbies. When we’re done with that hobby, it goes away forever, and we pick a new one and the process starts again. The downside of this model that we’re moving to very quickly is that there is no retro version or restored version of an online-only experience. Once it is shut down, there isn’t a clear way to bring it back again based on all of the backend tech necessary to drive a game these days. I don’t see the opportunity to emulate online games in the same way we emulate games from the past 30 years. Looking forward, once a game is shut down, it will be gone forever, making the concept of collecting, restoring or playing old games of this and future generations almost impossible.
We currently consume video games in at least 16 different ways (and counting). The most interesting part of that analysis is that only one of them is to ‘play’ the game. This trend seems only to be expanding the ways we consume video games, where someone else has done the playing for us. That means that video games and narrative experiences are actually combining on that front, further blurring the line between all forms of digital entertainment.
Todd Friedman is currently a writer for Old School Gamer Magazine and the Walter Day Trading Card Collection. He is the author of 2 books and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit for the last 15 years. Todd is also a board member of the International Video Game Hall of Fame.