The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences will honor game industry trailblazer Eugene Jarvis as its sixth Pioneer Award recipient. Jarvis is best known for his work in the arcade era, with such seminal games as Defender, Stargate, and Robotron: 2084. His work in the coin-op industry made an indelible mark on gaming with many of his designs, triggers and pacing elements featured in video and mobile games today. His classic games are known for extreme action and challenge with highly specialized controls. Jarvis combined this intense twitch-based action with tactical and strategic challenges, creating a deeply addictive and primal game experience.
The AIAS Pioneer Award is reserved for individuals whose career-spanning work has helped shape and define the interactive entertainment industry through the creation of a technological approach or the introduction of a new genre. The 2014 Pioneer Award will be presented by NBA Jam and Bubble Safari creator Mark Turmell, Jarvis’s associate while at Midway Games and currently Senior Creative Director at Zynga, during the 17th D.I.C.E. Awards on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, at The Joint in the Hard Rock Resort and Casino Las Vegas.
“Eugene is simply the quintessential American game designer,” said Turmell. “I joined Midway so I could work with Eugene, and I apply his teachings to my own games every single day. I learned more from my time with him than during my other 30 years of game making combined. His games have taught a generation of game developers how to innovate and succeed; the design elements and his approach to tuning are timeless.”
“As we celebrate a new golden age of gaming at this year’s D.I.C.E. Summit, it is only fitting that we acknowledge a key player from the golden age of coin-op who was so instrumental in establishing the interactive industry we enjoy today,” said Martin Rae, president, AIAS. “Eugene Jarvis truly pioneered much of how we play now – from introducing dual joystick controls which are so familiar today to unleashing game play elements that challenged players in completely different ways.”
Jarvis studied Computer Science at UC Berkeley, and in 1977 joined Atari to pursue his dream job – programming microprocessor sound, light effects, and gameplay on Atari’s first pinball games. Encouraged by Nolan Bushnell, Jarvis teamed up with legendary pinball designer Steve Ritchie on Ritchie’s first two games, Airborne Avenger and Superman. In 1979, Jarvis joined Ritchie at Williams in Chicago to continue the quest to make the ultimate pinball game.
After becoming hopelessly addicted to Space Invaders, Jarvis led the team to make Williams’ first video game, the action packed side-scroller, Defender. Defender pioneered scrolling playfields, color bit-map graphics, microprocessor sound synthesis, and particle effects. Defender became the top grossing video game of 1981, beating out runner up Pac-Man, and helped kick off the golden age of arcade games. Jarvis formed Vid Kidz with Larry DeMar in February 1981. After four months of around-the-clock, tag-team programming, they produced Vid Kidz’s first game Stargate, an enhanced sequel to Defender.
Jarvis’s next hit with Vid Kidz was the intense action game Robotron: 2084. Drawing inspiration from Berzerk and George Orwell’s futuristic nightmare thriller “1984,” Robotron pioneered the twin joystick control scheme, one stick controlling firing and the other controlling player motion. This intuitive control scheme, now standard on many game consoles, greatly enhanced player control. Because the controls made players so powerful, Robotron compensated by unleashing hordes of enemies and projectiles, numbering in the hundreds, to create action so intense that master-level players could destroy up to 10 enemies per second. In addition to the omni-directional firing and motion, Robotron went beyond twitch-based gameplay to feature rudimentary AI enemies and strategic gameplay for a more cerebral experience than other games of its era. A continuing cult favorite, Robotron: 2084 was praised by critics for its intense action and control scheme.
In the late ’80s Jarvis debuted color digitized backgrounds and live action actors, bringing gritty, street-life realism to the 1988 action hit, NARC. Jarvis then joined Mark Turmell to create Smash TV, the “Running Man”-inspired Robotron sequel, where crazed game show contestants kill for toasters. In the 1990s, Jarvis developed the arcade driving trilogy Cruis’n USA, Cruis’n World, and Cruis’n Exotica for Midway Games, pioneering 3-D texture map graphics in the photorealistic adventure-driving genre.
Jarvis cofounded a new arcade studio, Raw Thrills Inc., returning to the arcade game world with Target: Terror, and The Fast and the Furious in 2004. Raw Thrills merged with Big Buck Hunter creator Play Mechanix in 2006. Recent releases include Big Buck HD, X-Games SnoCross, Aliens Armageddon, and Batman. In 2008, Jarvis was named DePaul University’s first Game Designer in Residence, mentoring aspiring young game developers. Jarvis commented, “I see the future of the industry working with young designers, and believe me it will be total insanity.”
The Pioneer Award’s first honoree was David Crane, co-founder of Activision and creator of games such as Pitfall and A Boy and his Blob in 2010; followed in 2011 was Bill Budge, creator of Raster Blaster and Pinball Construction Set; the third recipient in 2012 was Ed Logg, famed programmer of the arcade era with Asteroids, Centipede, and Gauntlet in 2012; the most recent recipients in 2013 were Dave Lebling and Marc Blank, co-founders of Infocom and creators of the famed Zork series.
The 13th Annual D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit and 17th D.I.C.E. Awards will take place at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas, Feb. 4-6, 2014. For more information please visit www.dicesummit.org.