The lights are on
[Note: This is an extended version of the interview that ran in the October 2012 issue of Game Informer.]
Though today we think of co-op as a primarily online experience, the first game that made cooperative play a mass-market phenomenon was Atari’s Gauntlet. The four-player dungeon crawler offered players an amazingly expansive adventure – and helped establish the formula that still resonates today in games like Diablo III.
In keeping with this issue’s celebration of co-op, we interviewed Ed Logg, the designer of Gauntlet, regarding the game’s development and lasting impact.
What were some of your inspirations for Gauntlet — especially in making a cooperative multiplayer experience?
I always wanted to do a Dungeons &Dragons game, partially because my son was into it and he was constantly asking me to do a D&D game. I just could not figure a way to make a coin-operated game from D&D game play.
I know that there was game called Dandy (later called Dandy Dungeon) that you've mentioned before. How was Gauntlet different from that game?
I played a game called Dandy that was brought into Atari by Robin Ziegler. Once I played this game I knew how to do a D&D game for the coin-operated market. There were many differences between Dandy and Gauntlet. The part I took from Dandy was the scrolling playfield that was bigger than the level and limiting the players to the visible portion, as well as the monster generators and the ghosts. Of course, both games had multiple players (up to five for Dandy and four for Gauntlet) as well as heath, treasure, and enemies to fight. Dandy had no power-ups, transporters, thieves, secret rooms, or enemies that shot back. Dandy did not have the Dungeon Master -- which provided the voice for many [of Gauntlet’s] popular phrases. Things like, "The elf has eaten all the food lately.” I don’t remember all the details of Dandy, so it’s hard to remember everything that was different.
Where there any technical or production problems you encountered in designing and manufacturing the game? Was Atari concerned that the cabinets would be more expensive to produce?
The most difficult was getting engineering resources to built the PCB that met my requirements. The engineer assigned was working on another game and was not available I believe for more than 9 months before Pat McCarthy took over the engineering. We could not fit the circuitry onto our usual two-player PCB so we decided to do the game on a four-layered PCB. Not only had Atari never done this before but it required changes to our PCB layout software but to manufacturing as well. The four-layered PCB solved noise and other problems we had with two-layer PCB so Atari used four-layered PCB for all games thereafter. The cost of the cabinet was never an issue. However, there was a problem with a game without a plexiglass covering the monitor. I had decided to remove the plexiglass to prevent any glare problems that would affect some players view of the screen but operators were not used to this. Of course the most difficult problem was not manufacturing but convincing marketing that I could indeed get strangers to play the game together. The final cost of the game was about the same cost as a normal game so price of the game was very competitive.
Did you have any idea how powerful the draw of cooperative multiplayer was going to be?
I would have to say yes I did know how powerful multiplayer play would be. Not only had I been a big fan of cooperative games like Rip-Off or Warlords but I saw how everyone liked playing Dandy. Of course growing up with board and card games it becomes obvious having more people is often more fun that just playing against bots who you cannot taunt or verbally harass.
Why do you think it was so successful?
I think there were many reasons why this game was so successful. Cooperative play was certainly the most obvious but Gauntlet solved a very important problem we had in the video game industry at the time. The cost to play was just one quarter and it was expected to get 90-120 seconds for your play. So it was very hard to increase the cost of play without doubling the cost, which would not be popular with players. We failed many times to get 50-cent play. Gauntlet allowed the game to earn $1 for the same amount of time most games earned 25 cents without affecting the cost to the players.
In the arcade days, how soon did you find out if the game was a hit? Did you have a feeling Gauntlet was going to a phenomenon pretty early on?
We field tested our games to determine popularity (how much it earned compared to other games) and the games longevity (how long it continued to earn). In our case Gauntlet was tested in a small arcade in a shopping center away from our normal field test locations. Field testing locations agree to keep the game and earnings secret but when I went out there after the game had been in location just a few days and I found David Rosen of Sega there along with several others taking pictures and notes. I had to pull the game after one week and this was the only time I believe Atari had ever done that. By the way there was a small sign over the game limiting the play per person to allow others to play. I had never seen this before either. So from all these "hints" as well as future field tests it was clear we had a winner. More important we heard from all our distributors who had already heard of the games earnings even before we formally announced the game.
Have you seen any of the "Wizard Needs Food Badly" merchandise people sell on the Internet? What's your opinion of that?
No I have never heard of this. I guess it is a result of a widely popular game. It is very flattering!
Gauntlet clearly had a lot of influence on games that came after it, like Diablo for instance. What's Gauntlet's lasting legacy?
I never thought of Gauntlet has having a lasting legacy but I believe that is the result of any successful game or movie. Just think about any successful movie you have ever seen or successful game you played. Very few did not have sequels or had some special phrase or scene associated with it.
Were there any other cooperative games that you experimented on in those days that never saw the light of day in arcades?
As I mentioned earlier there were successful cooperative games that were successful. I cannot think of games at the time that did not see the light of day. In 1976 Atari released a game of 8 player tank so the idea of multiple players was successful before but not for a game with semi-cooperative play (the term I really liked to use). The problem with most multiple player games is the amount of room they take up limiting their sales as well as their increased cost. To a certain degree, Gauntlet both solved and suffered from this problem too. It was about the same cost but the amount of room needed was acceptable for arcades but made it a hard sell for street locations (like 7-11s or bars).
Are you working on any cooperative games on mobile platforms now with your new position at Innovative Leisure?
I am sorry but I cannot talk about what games I am doing at Innovative Leisure right now. It never really has been my job or interest in promoting my games. I like to think the game play will speak for itself.
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