DICE 2011: Bill Budge Pioneer Award Panel

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Posted February 11, 2011 - By Kevin Kelly

DICE 2011: "Full Circle" Panel with Bill Budge »

Last night Bill Budge was the recipient of the second Pioneer Award given out by DICE, with the first one going to Pitfall creator David Crane last year. During his DICE panel Budge talked about some of the highlights of his career, which started with him literally copying other games. 

"Pong was the first game I wrote, and I was literally just copying these games. I cloned it. I realized pretty early on that designing games wasn't what excited me, I wasn't going to be good at it, but designing the tools to create these games, that's what I was interested in."

Bill Budge DICE

He had picked up his first computer in 1978, back when they weren't that easy to find. "I looked at the TRS-80, the Color Computer. My friend Andy Hertzfeld (who later became part of the Macintosh team) bought an Apple II, and when I saw how cool it was, you could make sound and color graphics with it, I decided to get one. It wasn't that easy to find though, but I finally found a little TV store that would sell one, although it took them about three months to get it."

He began copying and self-publishing other games, like his Pong clone Penny Arcade. Not to say he was just duplicating disks, but rather he was coding these copies based on appearance alone. The programming was all his, and he treated the Apple he worked on like a treasure, "I would put it back in the box and back in the plastic every time I was done programming with it."

DICE 2011: Bill Budge Pioneer Award Panel

In college a guy looked at his games and told him he could sell them, and Budge partnered with him, receiving a check for $7.000 in his first month. This was surprisingly lucrative back in the days of games being nothing more than a floppy disc in a ziploc bag, and eventually Bill's father told him "Look, you could do this yourself." His sister was ready to jump in, so he formed BudgeCo and published and distributed his own games.

But, he quickly decided that designing games wasn't for him. "I was doing the games, and I was making some money, but I decided it would be really fun to work at Apple. Woz was there, and I started in 1980 and it was a really fun time. I got to just hang out at Apple and visit my friends at the Mac group which was an amazing experience."

In fact, working at Apple is what got him into designing pinball games. "When I arrived at Apple there were a bunch of engineers on the Apple II and III who were fanatics about pinball. They had books, and discussed techniques, and I followed them around and watched them play. That's why I made pinball games." That led to BudgeCo's Raster Blaster, which was the company's biggest hit. 

From there, Budge truly realized his passion for creating tools when he quit Apple and went to EA to work on games directly for a games publisher. "I think I realized after awhile that the business was changing. It was getting harder, you needed a lot of presence, a sales force and all that. The minute I signed up, the stuff the PR people did was amazing. Really good PR makes a huge difference."

One of those things was EA's iconic "Wee See Farther" image, which was put together by Bing Gordon and Trip Hawkins, and presented developers and programmers in a Beatles-esque black and white photograph, complete with Budge (on the far right) wearing a leather wrist cuff. "There was going to be a punk rock party with the Mac software development group. So, I picked that up through a friend and thought it would be fun to bring to the photo shoot."


"I can give some credit to the fact that at Apple I was seeing this sort of Xerox/Parc user interface for the first time. Apple really saw the value in it. I was inspired by the programs that were made for creating things, like painting and word processing, and it seemed to me to be a natural extension to make programs that created video games." Which was finally realized when he created Pinball Construction Set at EA. "When I went to EA, I kind of had my doubts, but I just put myself in their hands. I didn't think people would end up buying computer software. I went along with it, it sounded like fun." 

After the success and rock star treatment at EA (Pinball Construction Set was published in an album format, which had Bill Budge's name on the cover much larger than the name of the game), "I had a lot of things come by. One seemed incredibly stupid. This licensing company approached me with this thing called "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" which seemed like the most incredibly stupid idea I'd ever heard. (laughter) I think I just wanted to write my own software, I didn't want to deal with other programmers."

pinball dice

Budge left the industry for several years in the mid-1980s and spent a few years in semi-retirement, but returned to the industry  in the 90s and worked at 3DO, cresting the 3D engine for Bladeforce, and he later left and went to Sony to design a tools framework for game developers, some of which are still in use today. He then left Sony to work at Google, where he is an engineer. "I started agreeing with the conclusion that desktop apps are dead, and that web apps are very flexible. Which is what I'm working on at Google with the Chrome group. When you take a look at Javascript and WebGL, it seems like such an easy way to get into game development. 

It'll be interesting to see what Budge comes up with while at Google, and he's inspired me to dig around not he web to see if I can find an old copy of Pinball Construction Set to run on an emulator. I had so much fun with that game back in the mid 80s, and wish I'd kept the awesome box art for it.

DICE 2011: Bill Budge Pioneer Award Panel


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