A great way to kickstart our 2018, let me introduce the creator of Desert Strike and Electronic Arts legend, Mike Posehn! And why don’t you check out our Desert Strike Podcast once you’re done.
Mike, superb to have you here at Arcade Attack! We know of your later achievements but how exactly did you get the opportunity to start work at Electronic Arts and had you always been interested in entering the video game industry?
I attended the University of California at Berkeley from 1964 through 1974 where I earned B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and a M.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. After graduation I took a position at Lawrence Livermore National Lab where I developed minicomputer systems for environmental testing. In 1977 I started a small company and developed software for the first models of personal computers. As one of the early computer pioneers, I authored many popular programs including DateBook, Milestone, VisiSchedule and Get Organized. After selling my company to Electronic Arts in 1985, I worked at EA developing Deluxe Video for the Amiga computer. I left EA and started a second company (Granite Bay Software) to work on the Strike series of video games.
You were in charge of the game mechanics for Desert and Jungle Strike, but how much input did you put in for the concept, plot and design of the levels? Who did what when it came to those bits of the game?
I worked for one year on my own creating the game engine for what became Desert Strike (wow – Ed). During the second year of development I worked with John Manley (of EA) to build out the game. I was not an EA employee. I received small advances against future royalties. I wrote all of the code for the game engine and the world builder with the exception of the Midi music driver written by Steve Hays (of EA). John was the creative force behind the plot and the fun factor. We worked together strategizing ways to fit the plot into the game mechanics.
I wrote the game engine in Motorola 68000 assembly language and the world builder in C++. All development was done on a Mac directly connected directly to a Sega Genesis with a writeable cartridge.
When I first laid eyes on Desert Strike I was blown away by how original and open the game was. What was your initial inspiration for this classic title and were you adamant to create something completely new?
I wasn’t a much of a gamer. I didn’t care much for the style of games at that time – they were just too linear and not very interesting to me. I wanted an open playfield where the player was free to roam the world and discover by trial and error how to progress in the game. The trick was to design the game AI and hints to nudge the player in the right direction – therefore the idea of a SNAFU.
How close were the finished versions of Desert and Jungle Strike to your initial vision of the games? Are there any things you would have liked to see in there that didn’t make the cut?
The most important thing to me was the feel of the game. I wanted flying that copter to be fun and satisfying and I think I did a pretty good job. There is a lot of real physics involved plus a novel way of moving the camera. I liked the third-person point of view (looking down on the copter) and first-person controls (as if you were in the cockpit). I stubbornly refused the insistence of some EA producers to have third-person controls (thank goodness for that! – Ed).
Coding Desert was a struggle trying to fit the game onto a 1-megabit (128K) cartridge and the art work suffered. Jungle was much better because we had a 2-megabit cart. I like the look of Jungle much more than Desert.
Can’t disagree with you there! There was some minor controversy at the time about tying a game to a real life conflict – was there any hesitation about that to begin with?
Of course John Manley and I were inspired by events in the Middle East – our original script working title was Beirut Breakout. We were surprised when CNN had a news report saying that Desert Strike was a game about the first gulf war.
Does Jungle Strike take place entirely in North America or the USA? And how much does the plot owe to Invasion USA (Foreign terrorists and drug dealers attacking the country)?
We never identified a location for Jungle. I imagined it to be somewhere in Central America with the drug lords and terrorists.
Desert Strike was the best-selling game in EA’s history at the time, but was there a sense after Jungle Strike came out that the company was moving more toward the EA Sports side in terms of what was being prioritised?
EA admitted that they dropped the ball in marketing Jungle. It could have been a much bigger hit. Of course sports were important, but I think EA wanted to have a hit first-person shooter.
How involved were you in Urban Strike – how much of the game did you end up doing?
I wrote Urban too, but I didn’t like the direction that EA was pushing for it. I didn’t like the idea of flying a stealth fighter because the game engine physics movement through the world was designed for a slower moving helicopter. EA was also pushing for the player to exit the vehicle and interact on the ground – a bad idea in my view (yup – Ed).
Did EA ever try to get you on any other games besides the Strike series? Were there ever any ideas for other games you were interested in making?
There was talk of a title called Future Strike, but nothing came of it.
Ohhh Future Strike sounds good! What did you make of the games later in the series such as Soviet Strike and Nuclear Strike and were you ever asked to be involved?
I was involved initially and they did use much of my world builder and of course game design ideas.
Do you think there is room for a reboot of the Strike series of games?
I think that would be cool. I still like the isometric third-person point of view. I really like the graphics look of some of the “tribute” games people have created.
Why did you leave the video game industry and how do you reflect back at your time at Electronic Arts?
In the mid 90’s I had been on my own doing software for over 25 years, so I took a break from working to spend more time with my children. Those years writing games were brutal in a way. It seems like I worked every day all day. When you work at home, you are always at work. When I did take a vacation, I brought a computer along so I could be on call with EA to find and fix any problems that came up.
Have you ever been tempted to go back into the video game industry?
Not really. I did it when one person could write an entire game. Nowadays it takes a large team to create a game. I don’t think I would like the meetings 🙂
What projects are you currently working on?
I write software for time-lapse photography including remote capture software and an Adobe After Effects plug-in. You can see at granitebaysoftware.com
You mentioned your education earlier, did it feel jarring at all as a mid-60’s Berkeley student to be developing a military-themed game all those years later?
Not at all. I was and still am a classic liberal. As such there is no between conflict with being liberal and being a military supporter. The conflict with the military is a characteristic of the left, not liberalism. After Berkeley, I spent six years in the Army National Guard. Although I personally wasn’t suited to a life in the military I developed a healthy respect for those who choose that life.
Mike, was amazing having you here at Arcade Attack, we wish you all the best for the future. Readers, if you want some more Desert Strike action why not check out our Desert Strike podacast here!
Adrian & Rob