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Who is this guy? — Interviews from 200220032005

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The First Annual April Fool’s Day Treasure Hunt Errand.
The Second Annual April Fool’s Day Treasure Hunt Errand.
The Third Annual April Fool’s Day Treasure Hunt Errand.

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Interview with Sarinee Achavanuntaku - September 2002

Probably what’s on the mind of every fan of The Fool’s Errand: how on Earth did you come up with such a unique and compelling title? What was the motive/inspiration behind the game?

The Fool’s Errand began as a homemade book, years before I owned a computer. The catalyst was the treasure hunt book Masquerade. Its author, Kit Williams, inspired me with his unique way of hiding his puzzles within his artwork. Instead of creating a very difficult solution, however, my goal was to make the experience pleasant and solvable in a single afternoon.

In 1981, I sent away to U.S. Games for a Rider Tarot deck and I was intrigued, for it was the first tarot deck I’d seen that had individual illustrations on each of the 78 cards. I arranged and rearranged the cards until a plausible plot twinkled in my mind’s eye.

That Christmas I wrote a 21 page story and created an 81-piece map spanning another 14 pages (6 random pieces per page). The object was to read the story which yielded the prose clues to assemble the map correctly and then to use text clues from the story to enter into that map.

In this incarnation, there were only 13 treasures and the answer spelled Merry Christmas. Of the dozens of people who received it as a gift, only 3 solved it. My goal of pleasant solvability remained elusive.


The Sun’s Map illustrated by David Wood


How long did it take you to finish The Fool’s Errand, from conception to release?

2 years and $50,000 of credit card debt*.

I bought a fat Mac 512K in late 1984, and by Spring 1985, I was noodling with Microsoft Basic. By 1986 I’d created 30-ish individual data-driven programs whose sum total was The Fool’s Errand. Only one problem. I had to convert this multitude of interpretative files into one single compiled application if I wanted to sell it.

By mid-1987, I had converted the whole kit and caboodle into ZBasic. The labor seemed more Sisyphean than Herculean, e.g. trying to fix the “Print Story” feature which ultimately crashed and burned and died upon the release of the Mac SE — standards weren’t.

*After the game was a success, I confessed to a friend how I’d financed it and how ridiculous I felt having risked so much on an unknown entity in an unknown field. He, on the other hand, thought it was a great idea and credit carded $80,000 to open his successful Galerie Morpheus in Beverly Hills.


I think people would be interested to know a bit more about the making of the Fool’s Errand - specifically, the approach you used to make the “metapuzzle” and make everything (puzzles, each story segment etc.) fit very well together.

The metapuzzle aspect was happy circumstance. The 1981 book provided the structure of the story and map relationship. The 1987 game added the idea of earning those elements.

Creating the game was a delight for me on many levels. Foremost I am a storyteller and film animator. To the latter, I swing toward the abstract, surreal, and avant-garde (and saying things in groups of three).

The cut-and-paste silhouettes set the mood I desired and then I digitized ruffled cloth to create the sky background effects.

I used incremental patterns in dynamic concentric rectangles to create backgrounds on the fly and for free, storage-wise.

As to computers, I had no idea I would be any good at programming, for I mistakenly thought it had something to do with math. For me, it was akin to playing with lincoln logs, tinker toys, and erector sets. I was astonished when anything I did actually worked. Until the very last moment the compiled game was completed, I maintained a morbid pessimism, that with all the many bits and pieces, the thing would ultimately crash. Either I’d break the spine of the language or the computer or myself. Happily, I was deluded.

Beyond the story and map, I employed no master plan or blueprint for the puzzles. I worked in an intuitive manner, allowing myself to ponder this and that, tinker around, try things, see what I can discover. That’s how I approached the computer puzzles. I created whatever I felt was appropriate as I went along, checking off each story segment/map piece as I went.

I’m a big fan of collage, montage, and assemblage, so I endeavored to imbue the game with endless variety, that is, as much variety as I could pack onto a 400K floppy.

In fact, one of my favorite puzzles never made it into the game because it had a bitmap overhead of 57K.

Here’s the 1986 prototype, still in interpretative MS Basic.

The Fool only has three silver coins and he must purchase three expensive items for which the others are willing to pay far more.

What to do?



What’s your single most favorite puzzle/segment in TFE? Which puzzle/segment are you most disappointed with?

Earning the four keys of Thoth to solve the puzzle of the High Priestess is by far my favorite, both for its abstract visuals and equally abstract solutions.

Tied for second would be the roving Death button, the elusive 3 Ships button, and the Humbug button trails.

I’ve no disappointments whatsoever with the original Macintosh game, but the MS-DOS conversion felt to me like a “bizarro world” counterpart. Keep in mind, I spent nearly two years perfecting a look and feel that took best advantage of the Mac’s high resolution black & white. To then see the game close up in gaudy IBM colors and chunky oblong pixels gave me the willies. But viewed from 15 feet away, it looks okay. Kinda.

         


At the Carnival was a bit of a letdown for TFE fans, as it doesn’t have the compelling “meta-story” element of The Fool’s Errand and 3 in Three. Was it meant to be just a collection of puzzles, or is there some other reason?


illustration by Brad Parker

In 1989, At the Carnival was the first in a series of puzzle disks for The Puzzle Gallery, yes, a themed collection of puzzles.

I had a blast crafting this game, for its silly MAD Magazine slapstick humor, for the opportunity to learn how to program in Pascal instead of Basic, and for the chance to experiment with color and sound. It permitted me to refine the interface of the ten traditional puzzles from Fool; for example, by adding an undo move to the concatenation puzzles, they were remarkably easier to solve.

Oh, and it helped finance 3 in Three. I will make no apologies for Hazard Park. When I die, I want to be propped up in their Laff-in-the-Dark next to Elmer McGurdy.


At the Carnival was touted as the first in “Puzzle Gallery” line, but no more games were made. What happened?

Miles Computing went bankrupt.


You said you used to build monsters for amusement parks. Anything you can share with us, e.g. which monster are you most proud of?

My specialty was rotting skeletons with grim grinning skulls. I built monsters from 1971-1974 to pay my way through USC film school at Lake Compounce in Connecticut as a Senior in high school, then Riverside Park and Elitch Gardens (both bought by Six Flags), Lakeside Park, and the now extinct Queen’s Pike in Long Beach, CA.

The photo — Brad Parker (artist renown of Labyrinth of Crete), the chewed-off head from Jaws, and The Fool and his earrings — has little to do with amusement parks. We all love Halloween, that’s all.


How come 3 in Three was never released for the PC?

In 1991, the fanciful look and feel of Three was developed as a practical solution to limited floppy disk space.

CD-ROMs were on the horizon but not widespread — and color PICTs could fill up a 800K floppy in short order.


Necessity being the mother of invention, I had to create my own data-driven Mac graphics language to display all the story, art, animation, puzzles, and sound I envisioned.

I still find it amazing that the final application was only 286K and the data file, 616K.

The publisher, Cinemaware, had a formidable in-house programming team who’d created a proprietary conversion language (BOLT) especially to solve this problem of porting their graphics-heavy games to other platforms. They were planning a 3 in Three IBM conversion.

Then they went bankrupt.

Inline Design picked up the game and they were instrumental in it winning MacUser’s Best Game of the Year. Naturally, they wanted to do an IBM conversion, too, but with a third party developer without heavy graphics credentials. I had to decline.

And then they went bankrupt, too, so it was a moot point.


Could you please explain a bit the history of FunHouse, and how you came to design three CD-I games for Philips Media?


illustration by Brian Allgeier

I’d designed Disney’s Cartoon Arcade for Disney Home Video and Ideal Toys. Their system used a VCR to display video and a linked console to overlay computer games. Basically, watch a cartoon of Donald Duck trying to fix a flat tire and then play a game to help him fix it. There were 10 pairs of cartoons and games with a bonus cartoon if you aced all the games.

Philips approached me to do Hanna Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival in CD-I, essentially the same concept, except that it would be the first CD-I disc to use their Full Motion Video capability to show cartoon rewards for completing computer play.

I started work on Cartoon Carnival as a team of one, programming the concept in Hypercard in a tiny office on the second floor near the men’s room.

During that time, I also Hypercarded Merlin’s Apprentice and Labyrinth of Crete which were green-lighted as well. I’d garnered a $4,000,000 budget with no staff whatsoever to create the projects,

That’s how *FunHouse* came to be, first as 8 people and then as 30 artists, animators, and programmers. Our specialty was hand-drawn animation and we were the first stop when international visitors toured the facility.



What is (are) your favorite recent computer game(s) (if you’re playing any)?

My first and last game console was an Atari 2600.

Truth be told, I’d rather create computer games than play computer games. When I do play games, they are board games for social occasions — Risk, Acquire, Pictionary, Boggle, Racko, Parcheesi, Stratego, Scrabble, Upwords, the usual suspects.


Aside from your games, what games would you rank among the best puzzle games ever made? (Mac, PC, or any other system)

You’re asking a person who hasn’t even played The Seventh Guest or Myst.


If you were given an unlimited budget and time to make a game today, what kind of game would it be?

I’m not sure I’d want an unlimited budget or unlimited time. I prefer working within limitations and I’d rather not work more than a year on anything. If I can reach my core audience and self-publish one game a year, I’d be in Fool’s Paradise.


What’s your most favorite mythical character (aside from The Fool, of course ;)) ?

The Gods, the Goddesses, the fantastic creatures of Greek mythology.


Want to say something to your fans?

Charles de Montesquieu pens “An author is a fool. Not content to merely bore those around him, he insists on boring future generations as well.”

Bertrand Russell adds “The problem is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, leaving wiser people so full of doubts.”

And Alan Key concludes “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Thank you, one and all.