Interview:Rex Bradford

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Rex Bradford is another veteran of the game industry we are pleased to have interviewed. His game development career started at Parker Brothers, where he did two Star Wars games for the Atari 2600. He and other Parker Brothers programmers then left for Activision's short-lived Boston office, which closed in 1984. That same year, he co-founded Microsmiths with fellow Parker Brothers/Activision alumnus Charlie Heath. After that company closed, he went on to work for several other game companies.

GDRI: Is the version of Pitfall II mentioned on your website the Apple II version credited to Microsmiths?

RB: I wrote the Apple II version of Pitfall II in 1984. It, along with the Apple II version of H.E.R.O. done by Charlie Heath, was the first Microsmiths project. It was a fun game to "port," which for us meant playing the game and then re-creating it, rather than slavishly trying to port assembler code line-by-line. We had the ultimate test of our "port by recreating" strategy when Activision hired us to port Little Computer People to the Atari ST at the same time they hired another programmer to port it to the Amiga. We were unable to work together because he used the line-by-line approach. As I recall, our version was done a few months before his.

GDRI: Were Counting Parade and Mathematics Unlimited done at Microsmiths? What platforms were they for?

RB: Counting Parade was converted to the Commodore 64 (from Apple II) by me. We also did the C64 version of Sum Ducks. Ray Miller, another Parker alumnus, did that one and then went on to become a bigwig at Alias Research.

I was the primary programmer on the Mathematics Unlimited educational software project, along with some help by Mark Lesser. I wrote an interpreter for a custom language in which the mini-games were then written. It worked pretty well, though the language was still cryptic enough that I did the primary programming in this "user language." (Variables were N0, N1, N2, ... for instance.)

GDRI: The title screen on C64 Sum Ducks says "Created by Stepping Stone Software." Was that the company that did the original version?

RB: I presume the title is for the original version, which was on the Apple II, I believe.

GDRI: Was Mathematics Unlimited for the C64?

RB: Mathematics Unlimited was Apple II.

GDRI: Apparently you were working with 3D golf prior to working on Mean 18. Could you talk about that?

RB: I had wanted to do a golf game forever; I was a pretty good player in high school. I did do some prototyping work on a 3D golf game while at Activision after writing Kabobber [unreleased Atari 2600 game], but there wasn't interest in my continuing the project. After I left Activision and formed Microsmiths, about a year later I started work (from scratch) on the game that became Mean 18. I didn't take any code or exact algorithms with me, though obviously I had the same brain and general approach in the two different venues. I wrote Mean 18 during nights and weekends through 1985 while doing porting projects to pay the rent. Then I took it, 80% completed, to the January 1986 CES and found Accolade willing. Around the same time, I traveled to Activision for a status meeting on one of our ports and saw them playtesting an apparently finished 3D golf game, which scared the bejesus out of me. I finished the game in the first few months of 1986, and four 3D golf games came out that year. Only Mean 18 and Leaderboard, which later became Links, were any good. Part of Mean 18's success was due to the Course Designer; there were lots of user-created courses on bulletin boards (pre-Internet).

GDRI: Do you recall anything about working on King's Quest for the Sega Master System? Were there official development tools for the SMS?

RB: Mark Lesser and I did the King's Quest game for the Sega Master System. There were official development tools, though I don't remember much about them now.

GDRI: Bimini Run for the Sega Genesis has some interesting "3D," considering the time the game came out and what system it is on. How was that pulled off?

RB: Bimini Run did have some interesting ad hoc 3D involving the ocean islands; I don't really remember which of us worked on it or how it worked. I do remember we had several sprite versions of island pieces and glommed them together according to some ad hoc data and algorithms. I remember I did at least some of the work on it because I can recall tearing my hair out trying to get it to work acceptably. I also remember another programmer we knew being shocked when I told him that we wrote most of that game in C, at a time when assembler still ruled.

GDRI: Can you talk briefly about your time at Looking Glass Technologies/Studios?

RB: I joined Looking Glass in 1992 and worked for a few years on the game that became Terra Nova. LG had some very talented programmers — Doug Church, James Fleming, Kevin Wasserman, and others — and it was a great learning experience for me, even being one of the "old men of the industry." Near the end of Terra Nova's lengthy development, I left to write the Real Time Animation Toolkit in C++ book. I later returned to LG to run the British Open Championship Golf project and then returned briefly a third time to do some consulting just before the doors were shuttered. LG had a few fatal flaws in regards to project development but had the most impressively creative and smart people I've run into, including some folks now at Harmonix (Greg Lopiccolo, Dan Schmidt).

GDRI: Did you work for Mark Lesser's MBL Research? Can you tell us about that company and what games it did?

RB: I did do some work for Mark Lesser's company in the late 1990s. (Mark and I had met at Parker Brothers, and of course he joined Microsmiths, where we worked together for years.) We did the Nintendo 64 version of NHL 99, which I think came out great. (It was a great PC game, of course.) Also Supercross [2000] for N64 and PlayStation 1, I think. MBL Research did a few other games that I wasn't involved in. Mark and I hired Eric Malafeew to do the 3D on those games, and he worked out great. (He is now at Harmonix, I believe.) MBL Research was a distributed company; everybody lived in New England, but we all worked out of our respective houses. It worked pretty well considering the difficulties in that kind of situation, in part because most of the people were fairly seasoned.

GDRI: You and Lesser worked on the Windows version of NCAA Football 98 (which is credited to FarSight Studios). Was MBL Research involved with that?

RB: MBL Research had that project and mainly subcontracted it out to a couple of guys whose names I forget. (I guess that must be FarSight Studios.) I was brought in to do the multiplayer portion of the game.

GDRI: Could you tell me about what you're doing currently?

RB: Sure. A hobby of mine grew into a bit more when I began scanning and putting online declassified govt. records related to the assassinations of the 1960s. I did this first with my own website, www.history-matters.com, and now am part of a somewhat expanded effort at www.maryferrell.org. If you think the assassination conspiracies of the 1960s are like UFOs, you might be surprised at the amazing stories of cover-up embedded in the government's own files. The amount of information now available is a window onto the process of government in crisis, which is why it remains relevant, and it's not a pretty picture.

Beyond tending to the websites, I engage in occasional Wii bowling and tennis with my kids, fooling around on the guitar (including the Rock Band plastic one), and reading a lot.

Thanks to Mr. Bradford for his time.

Interview conducted via e-mail by CRV in August 2008.