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I went to the Game Developers Conference recently...


I was talking with some fellow vid-game perennials about how things have changed. The industry has matured and so have many of its practitioners. Fortunately there is a constant supply of new people coming in who haven’t had a chance to mature too much yet. Then we thought about how for these new people there aren’t so many bad examples to lead them into debauchery as there were when we first started. It seemed somehow sad that the level of maturity has advanced to the point where there are no good bad-influencers like in the old days. However, we decided after a couple of drinks that actually there weren’t really many manic mentors back then either, it was simply that we didn’t need any nudging along those lines. And we took solace in the knowledge that the kids of today are probably equally resourceful. This industry has always respected self-starters.

And that reminded me of the old Consumer Electronics Shows and that reminded me of a classic Tod Frye story. . .

It’s a delightful evening with the crew as we gather for dinner after a long hard day of brainstorming ideas and examining competitive product. The festivities start with a round of drinks, and by “a round” I mean around several apiece for openers. We’re having a good time and chatting enjoyably when all of a sudden Tod (of 2600 Pac Man ignominy) slams his glass down on the table, startling everyone. He yells at the top of his lungs:


Everyone within a 50 foot radius is stunned, just staring at Tod anticipating some manner of explanation (oft the case with Tod). Those at our table aren’t quite so shocked since Tod is frequently given to such acronymatic ejaculations, albeit not usually so intense, however we are no less curious since “T.I.S.” is not part of Tod’s usual repertoire. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long for clarification. Tod continued at full volume,


After about three seconds of dead silence. . . our whole table starts laughing uproariously and the evening is officially ON, in a fasten-your-seatbelts sort of way.

At the Game Developers Conference there were quite a few interesting technologies for motion capture for animation and motion recognition for game control. They were very cool to see. Way back at the Consumer Electronics Show there were always the new peripherals and technologies to make development easier or new directions possible. It seems that every entertainment oriented endeavor is split between content and tools, and the trade shows tend to highlight both at every opportunity. On some levels you could reasonably ask: has anything really changed? Than again on other levels you could reasonably answer: yes, it certainly has!

We drank our way through dinner and after that it was time to retire to one of the hotel rooms for the kinds of refreshments better consumed in a less public venue. The crew at this point consists of roughly ten of us, including programmers, managers and one department director with an eye on becoming VP. Let’s call him “Steve.” Steve is a pretty funny guy when he let’s himself go, and no one was doing anything this evening that was likely to increase inhibitions. :)

Now we’re on the fifth floor of a very nice hotel and we are having a lovely time enjoying the view through the French doors and past the balcony. Tod is out on the balcony doing his usual acrobatic horsing around routine as he is wont to do (we still need to get to that “sprinkler lobotomy” story).

So Tod is messing around out there and we are all in here trying to keep the smoke inside for discretion’s sake. Then Tod decides to take it up a notch (another Tod predilection). He does so by jumping up on the railing of the balcony and doing a tightrope routine. Appreciate that he is pretty high (in every sense of the word) at this point and so he is taking quite a gamble and we are all equally elevated and so are sort of enjoying the show and only mildly contemplating some of the poorer outcomes only inches away. Tod is showboating and loving it and we are laughing and egging him on. And finally Tod is looking down over the balcony and he says “You know, this doesn’t really look so bad. . .’ and then he jumps.

That’s right. He actually jumps off the fifth floor balcony. In the down direction. We are suddenly stunned and speechless for the second time this evening, only this time carries a very strong “HOLY SHIT!” component to it. Faces change. You could see some fright and worry and some empathy for poor Tod and in at least one case (Steve’s) there is that look of someone who has just seen his career dive off that balcony with Tod. Steve is the senior ranking officer there and he knows that at the inquest he will have to explain how, as manager of the group, he thought it wise to play along this far with the troops. After a few more moments of disbelief we rush over to the railing on the balcony and look down. Well. . .

There’s Tod looking right back up at us, laughing hysterically at some very scared and agonized expressions. It turns out there’s a plaza level (with some lovely shrubberies) built out the back of the hotel on the fourth floor level, so Tod has only really jumped a few yards, but he sold it like five floors and we all bought it. The dramatic dynamics were very intense though, which is one thing Atari activities are very much about.

But the best is yet to come as Tod is still very wasted and wandering around the plaza, chortling beneath our flushed and relieved faces, when he decides it’s time for a bathroom break. So he wanders over toward one of the bushes and proceeds to start relieving himself right there.

At this point Steve, who hasn’t said a word since Tod’s first departure (in fact, has only just started breathing again) puts on his voice of authority and creates one of the great (hitherto unpublished) moments in Atari history. He points a finger at Tod and yells out “Tod, STOP! You can’t do that in those bushes! We might have customers in there.”


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