A chat with Rich Whitehouse
Originally posted on frag-net.com on January 3rd 2023
I had such a different idea for this interview, it’s funny how things never really go to plan. You see, Rich Whitehouse has been an acquaintance and personal hero to us here at Frag-Net, and we had been thinking about this for a while and wanted to surprise him, but admittedly we wanted to plan some more stuff out and just have been unable to make the time. Of course, that all changed when Rich publicly revealed he has been battling cancer the last couple years and he may not have much time left. We were heartbroken to hear this. I myself have recently lost a close friend, someone I knew almost half my life, and it hurts that not just me, but his close friends and family will lose a part of our world that has been with us for what feels like a lifetime.
Putting aside our grief, we realized time is short, and there’s no more putting this off. We reached out almost immediately, offering our condolences and support. We also desperately wanted to do this interview since we think he is just in general a really fascinating programmer and developer. We also knew he would have a lot of stories and memories that all walks of life should hear about, whether it’s in regard to working on the video game industry, preservation of video games, or just listening to cool Japanese music and using the internet at 16 in the late 90s. We asked if he’d be willing to do an interview, to which he happily agreed. That night eukara had a brainstorm of question to ask, adding many, many more to the list I had initally drafted. Honestly, this entire interview and most of the questions are the work of him (and another friend of ours), I’m just writing the sappy bits that glue this whole thing together.
Anyways, I had some additional questions too, eukara worked for a few hours, and we came up with over 90 questions. We were a bit nervous, as we didn’t want to waste the man’s time and we didn’t know if he’d be willing to or able to answer them all. eukara sent it off, and we went to bed. The literal next day, he mails eukara and he answered every single question. Rich Whitehouse is just that awesome. Really, thank you so much for spending what may be some of your final moments to talk to us, it means the world to us and we hope it brought back some good times.
Alright, I should probably write this just in case you don’t know who Rich Whitehouse is, he is a father and programmer, known for the Noesis model viewer and tool, and most recently having worked with Atari on creating the Jaguar emulator for Atari 50: The Anniversay Celebration. He is also a game developer and player, and may have worked on some of your favorite mods or games such as:
Quake Royale, Head Soccer Online, Scientist Hunt, Jumbot, Prey (2006), Star Wars: Jedi Knight II, and Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Jedi Academy just to name a few. You can see his entire resume here.
I could go on about the man, but why do that when he has so graciously answered our many questions. If you are family, a friend or fan of Rich and his work, are an inspiring young developer, or are a historian, we hope you find this just as invaluable as we do.
Note from Rich: I answered these questions in a pretty dark place, in between cancer surgeries and on a fair number of drugs. I’m still suffering as I write this now, but I’m definitely in less pain! There are some rough answers in here, and some errors or semi-misguided tangents. In reviewing this stuff before it gets posted, however, I also feel like there’s value in recording my unedited darker mindset. So I’m leaving my depressed and drug-addled responses fully intact. Please enjoy, with my preemptive apologies for a dozen or so things in here.
Now, let’s get on with it!
FN: In your own words, who are you, where do you come from, and what’s your passion?
RW: I’m Rich Whitehouse. I don’t really come from anywhere, my parents moved all over the US as I was growing up (they made a lot of bad financial decisions), so I spent formative years in a lot of different places. But I think most of it was spent between Georgia, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Florida. I have many passions, but mostly I love my family and I love creating things.
FN: What was your educational background? Did you struggle in school early on or you acing things left and right?
RW: I remember being in "gifted" classes (the terminology they were using around this stuff at the time still disgusts me) in grade school, but my parents decided to "homeschool" me as soon as I went into middle school because they were moving around so much. They didn’t actually apply any homeschooling lessons, and I ended up teaching myself pretty much everything I know by scraping through resources on the early internet and visiting the occasional library. I’m a rare mutant in this way, and very narrowly avoided completely falling through the cracks of society.
FN: What were your worries and ambitions while you were in school?
RW: I remember being worried from the first time my parents yanked me out of school, thinking that if I didn’t teach myself a valuable skillset, I was doomed. I already expected my access to higher education was going to be extremely limited, due to the unorthodox path of self-education that I’d started down, combined with knowing I’d never be able to rely on my parents for any kind of loan or tuition payment.
FN: Were your parents supportive of your ambitions and your later path in life?
RW: They kind of had to be, because they screwed me out of so many opportunities for education! They were pleased that I seemed to be growing my own skillsets, and that all those hours in front of the computer were paying off in some way, but I don’t think they really understood what any of it meant until I got my first contract job.
FN: What was the first computer you ever used? And what was the first computer you ever truly owned and called yours?
RW: I think the very first one was my father’s Atari ST, which his mom had bought for him primarily for business and his musical hobbies. I got my first exposure to some classics like Lode Runner, Ultima (2 I think), and what I still think of as the first multiplayer FPS, MIDI Maze. Years later, my grandmother bought my father another PC for business, a 486 SX 25MHz, and that’s the one I kind of "took over" more or less by force.
MIDI Maze was an influential and flagship game for Atari’s famous computer.
Atari_1040STf.jpg belongs to Bill Bertram, used under CC BY-SA 2.5
ST_Midi_Maze.png belongs to Tyan23 and MIDI Maze belongs to XANTH Software F/X, used under fair use.
FN: What was the first program/piece of code you ever wrote and or compiled?
RW: I’m not totally sure. I remember getting one of those "learn C++ in 21 days" books that came with an ancient and trimmed down copy of MS Visual C++ for Windows 3.1, and it had some tutorials that operated in the "QuickWin" framework. So the usual series of "hello world", I/O experimentations, etc. stemming from that might have been my first programming/compiling experience. I want to say I was 9 or 10 at that point, but I’m not too sure anymore. The years have all blended together.
FN: What was the first modification to a game you ever did?
RW: I came across some DOOM tools on a local BBS not too long after DOOM’s (shareware) release, and started making DOOM maps right away. Then I got a little more into actual modding. I remember replacing the stock soldiers with Barney (the purple dinosaur) and Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat. I never released any of that stuff. I do remember actually working in MS Paint while making it. I didn’t discover the splendour of Paint Shop Pro until the AOL warez days. I actually still have a copy of PSP5 that I fall back to occasionally even in my modern work, it’s amazing how inadequate modern graphics software is for palette editing and occasionally even for editing alpha channels!
FN: Today, some people are pratically born with a computer in their hands, what was it like using computers and the internet back then and what did it mean to you?
RW: The BBS was a magical thing. The idea that you could connect up to a group of local computer nerds and share software was in itself pretty revolutionary. I was BBS-only for a long time before I had access to the internet at large via Prodigy/AOL/etc. I ended up being an AOL user for a long time, getting involved in all kinds of unsavory chat rooms and such, and that was also my introduction to the existence of software piracy. Ironically, if not for software piracy, I would have been really hamstrung as a programmer early on. My parents were dirt poor at that point, and convincing them to buy anything for me that wasn’t a living essential was pretty difficult. I sadly missed out on the whole Sega Saturn era of gaming because of this, but I made up for it by buying a Saturn as soon as I was collecting my own paycheck!
I guess I got a little off-track there, but it’s worth highlighting that it was really hard to find useful information in those early internet days. You couldn’t just go to a search engine and find a convenient guide to a particular domain of calculus notation within seconds, for example, so I had to really scrape the bottom of the barrel to teach myself a lot of basic mathematical concepts. I ended up having a weird swiss-cheesed knowledge foundation there for a while, where I was missing some basic fundamentals but was still understanding and employing advanced linear algebra.
A Bulletin Board System (BBS) on the left and an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) window. While these were the heart of online communication in the 80s and 90s, today BBS is practically left to hobbyists, but IRC is still actively used, especially in the FOSS community.
Neon2.png belongs to Massacre, used under CC BY-SA 3.0
FN: You had online friends back when that concept was still mostly unheard of, what was it like talking to people without voice or video? Are you envious today of the options people have or are you glad you expierenced it the way you did?
RW: I think people do still meet and spend a lot of time interacting that way, in pure text form over the internet, but of course it’s much easier to move over to video/audio than it used to be. I have a nostalgic fondness for those old AOL chat rooms and IRC channels, but I don’t know that I could say they were a net positive for humanity. I think anything that takes any of the personal/human element out of communication definitely has its downsides, and that probably played a part in forming the early internet troll culture.
FN: Do you still talk to anyone you knew back then? And did you ever meet anyone in person?
RW: I met my very best friend on AOL shortly after the Quake demo (not QTEST, but the actual game) was released. We couldn’t even play together, because we both had AOL and even with its more "modern" TCP/IP implementation, it yielded an unplayable experience with ping times in the 500-1000+ range. So we would compete by recording demos and sending them to each other. One of our main competition points was seeing which one of us could complete E1M1 the fastest with 100% kills/secrets, and I think we went back and forth on that one for literally years. I think I might have won in the end, but I don’t remember what the best time was. It would be great to stumble upon one of those demos, but I think they’re long gone. But anyway, he and I later ended up meeting in person, and we’ve since had many adventures together. He just recently flew across the country to help me out during this difficult time with my cancer diagnosis and a bunch of other terrible things happening in my personal life.
FN: Do you ever miss in the old days of that "exciting" feeling of logging online, and the times we’d be disconnected and LAN only?
RW: I do have some nostalgia for the dial-up experience. It took me a while to migrate from AOL to Concentric.Net and then MindSpring. I remember getting pings as low as 150ms on some Quake servers once I switched to MindSpring, and being so excited about it.
FN: What operating systems were you familar with back then? You had written some perl on some UNIX-like system. We were wondering about the different environments you were familar with back when working on your Quake mods up until now.
RW: I’ve been a DOS/Windows man for most of my life. I’ve ported things to other operating systems, of course, but have generally never been compelled to stay there for any kind of user/developer environment. I’ve been considering a switch to Linux as my main operating system more seriously lately, though, as Microsoft continues to make terrible, fascist decisions in their Windows development. It seems like the actual user experience for any given Linux distro is still full of holes, though. A friend has been recommending KDE neon, but each time I see him have to reboot his entire machine to fix a problem that should have been confined entirely to userland/process space, I’m dissuaded.
FN: Do you remember what got you into writing bots and mods for the Quake games?
RW: Not exactly, but I think it was just the continued desire to tinker with stuff. A really smooth multiplayer experience was still hard to come by with dial-up, even with a decent ISP, so I remember finding the idea of bots pretty appealing for that reason as well.
Reaper bot was created by Steven Polge who later went to work at Epic Games and create the legendary bots in the Unreal Tournament series.
FN: What did you think about the contemporary Quake bots at the time, like Zeusbot, Reaperbot etc.
RW: I loved the Reaper, even though it cheated like hell, and played hours with it. I remember having a bit of fun with Zeusbot in coop at some point too.
FN: Was there a sense of competition back then between modders that attempted to tackle similar problems?
RW: I don’t know, actually, I was pretty disconnected from everyone else. I wasn’t actively engaging in any communities during most of the time that I spent making mods, so I didn’t get a real sense of any of those community dynamics. It’s probably just as well, I was quite socially maladjusted at that point (goes back to the terrible parents), so I probably wouldn’t have added anything good to those communities!
A typical game of Head Soccer Online, notice the ball is a gibbed head, hence the name.
Screenshot by Rich Whitehouse
FN: How did Head Soccer come about?
RW: I think Hondo and I were just playing QuakeWorld and one of us (I don’t remember which) mentioned that it would be nice if the gibbed heads had collision so you could kick them around. Then I was like, you could make a whole game mode around that! Then I went off and started writing Head Soccer. At least I think that’s how it went, it’s been so many years, I could be compositing memories.
FN: You seemed adamant about there not being a Head Soccer NetQuake version. Did you feel QuakeWorld was just that superior over NetQuake, or did you not want to put any work into one?
RW: I don’t remember my thought process at that point, but it’s probably just because I could never go back to not having client prediction, especially as I was still on dial-up in those days.
FN: How did you feel about QuakeWorld as a whole back then?
RW: Client prediction rules! QW didn’t do the greatest job at client prediction, of course, but if you’ve ever played stock Quake with a 200ms ping, you probably understand how important QW was in making internet multiplayer accessible for dial-up players.
FN: Did you look up to any individuals back then in the space of games programming, computer programming or computer science at the time?
RW: I remember thinking John Carmack must be a magical wizard, at the time I didn’t know it was Michael Abrash who did so much of the heavy lifting in Quake! It breaks my heart that they’re both working for Meta/Oculus now, because it’s definitely the worst (morally, logistically at scale) company to exist up to this point in human history.
While there is no denying DOOM created the FPS multiplayer as we know it, Quake and QuakeWorld set the stage and standard for today’s online shooters. This QuakeWorld match showcased above was hosted by YouTuber Decino and powered by Frag-Net/FTEQW!
FN: Do you have any "don’t meet your heroes" moment/story to tell?
RW: I was blown away when I played Metroid Prime and immediately wanted to work with the people responsible for it. Some of the people who made it possible are really great, but some of the other ones are absolute monsters. That’s about as specific as I can get on that one, as I’m still legally-bound (I think, I’d need to review some state contract law) because I took some hush money.
FN: You worked, for a short period of time, with CryTek in the late 1990s/early 2000s. How did that gig come about, what did you do with them and where did it leave you?
RW: I think I actually just answered a call for help on Blue’s News. I ended up working on some AI for them, just prototyping it in Quake 2 while they worked on getting their engine up and running, but none of it ended up being used because no game (as far as I know) ever materialized. It was just a series of tech demos. The original idea, though, is that my work was going to be for a game called Engalus. I got involved with Raven not long after that, and told Crytek I was going my own way, which didn’t really bother anyone because no game had actually materialized.
FN: You worked on many Half-Life mods, Jumbot, Head Soccer, Scientist Hunt, and Action Half-Life just to name a few, what do you have the most fond memories of? And how did you start or get into any of them?
RW: Scientist Hunt was probably my favorite. Hondo and I had a lot of fun testing and refining. We always wanted more violence and more fucked up stuff. I remember wanting to have some sequences with the scientists banging each other and producing little mutant baby scientists as well, but I never got around to it. It was always a treat each time Hondo would come up with a new map secret as well. Those things have their own cult following at this point.
A round of Scientist Hunt on the left, Brian "Hondo" McClelland created almost every map in Scientist Hunt such as the legendary Endless Rain pictured on the right.
FN: If we may ask, why did some of your work on modifications end? Did you view any of them as complete (or) did life just get in the way or did you simply lose interest?
RW: I think it’s generally just been due to something else finally popping up that supersedes the current level of interest in my focus project. Whether that’s for creative or technical reasons, I’ve flipflopped between both throughout my programming career. I don’t think I can ever look at something I’ve worked on and call it truly finished, because there’s always something else I can add or polish, I just have to say "eh, good enough" at some point.
FN: Is that a real life picture of Hondo on HDHouseSci?
RW: It is indeed, although his teeth are not actually yellow.
FN: Back then, did players influence the direction your mods took and how? Mail? IRC? Any forums?
RW: I remember getting hundreds of e-mails per day in the peak days of the Jumbot, and I ran some shitty forums on my TeleFragged site for a while, but I was always pretty closed off to feedback. People would send these huge e-mails with features they felt I needed to implement and such, and I’d just gloss over them and be like "eh, whatever." That’s not the way to be if you want to grow your product and make it marketable, but my focus was always on just making whatever I felt like making. That’s remained the trend in all of my personal projects, really. When you’re working on something for fun, and you have too many of your own ideas already, there’s no reason to listen to someone else’s ideas unless you’re trying to appeal to a specific audience/demographic.
FN: What were your thoughts on videogame consoles at the time (90s to early 2000s), like anything from SEGA Genesis/SNES to Dreamcast?
RW: Well, I loved them all! From a game playing perspective, and later from a development perspective, although I didn’t get into really low-level assembly and the type of specialty optimization skillsets necessary to work on early consoles until well after my Quake/HL modding days. Each of the consoles you mention has its own amazing software library, and I still have one of each set up in my living room for whenever the mood strikes. Of course, emulation is also sufficient most of the time. I still haven’t invested in a MiSTer. I’d definitely use it as a user, but probably not as a developer. I have a lot of respect for what those folks are doing, but it’s generally not for me, I feel like literally translating transistors removes so much of the creative aspect of emulator development and I much prefer the fun and guesswork in higher-level emulation. I know that’s an unpopular opinion these days, though, and I value that meticulous approach for its future historical value.
FN: Since you worked on Action Half-Life, I’ve always had an odd curiosity, was there any resentment or praise for mods like The Specialists or The Opera? Did anyone on the team even know or care about them?
RW: I barely worked on AHL, I really just did the bots for them. So I wasn’t too involved, and the only team member I really interacted with was Payback. (I don’t recall his real name) But as far as I know there was never any resentment!
FN: Did you ever think your mods would have such a legacy as they did?
RW: I definitely never expected anything I made to have any kind of legacy. The mods were really just about learning and having fun. I could see them getting popular at the time, and at one point I remember a single version of the Jumbot had millions of downloads on my TeleFragged site, which at the time was a remarkable stat. But I didn’t know, and still don’t know entirely, how that translates into a legacy. It does make me happy that people are still playing with stuff I made as a teen all these years later, though.
FN: In game/mod communities or some professional studios, it can feel like there is a severe lack of knowledgable programmers, and especially today with already built engines and assets like Unreal or Unity take hold while low level programming or creating your own toolchain gets left behind. Why do you think this is?
RW: Yeah, plug-and-play engines and modular components lower the barrier to entry, so a lot of studios will cheap out and think they can get away with not hiring any dedicated technical programmers. If they get far enough in development to create a horrible mess of unoptimized content/script, they’ll usually just scramble and go contract another studio or developer to untangle the wires for them. That approach usually ends up costing them more than it would’ve to just hire a reasonably competent programmer for the duration of the project, but that’s just part of the human condition.
Lowering the barrier to entry has the benefit of allowing more people more freedom to express more ideas, but in practice I think it’s just flooding the market with more derivative garbage. There are so many more people just trying to more or less clone existing games, or making otherwise uninspired cookie-cutter genre pieces to show that they can. This plays into the fact that the success of a product is also now so far removed from its merit/quality. If you have a good social network and connections behind a product, it can achieve great success even when compared to a product that is superior in virtually every sense (from quality to innovation) but which does not enjoy the support of an established social network. So I think the signal to noise ratio has gotten much worse as a result of this lower barrier to entry, and it’s compounding with that social issue and probably burying a lot of good games that could’ve grown into even better games. I don’t know that there’s a viable solution for this, a culture of non-stop superficial consumer consumption is what most corporations want and so it’s the culture we’re going to get.
Unity and Unreal are some of the most commonly used engines, and while they pack a punch, their controverisal owners ultimately have control over the games they power.
Unreal Engine is owned and trademarked by Epic Games Inc., used under fair use.
FN: Back when you created mods, it feels it had started to shift from people soley making mods for fun to people working on mods as an opportunity to get hired. Did you ever work on any mods in hopes of getting hired? Was there envy by those who did not get hired?
RW: I never did, it was always for learning and fun. I was developing that underlying programmer skillset mostly out of fear initially, knowing that I had to do something to avoid being a hobo when I grew up, but I was pretty surprised when industry jobs/contracts started coming so easily. I think I got lucky in terms of the social exposure of my projects, so I was hired in preference to people who were way better programmers as well. It’s somewhat unjust when you look at it in those terms, but at least I eventually ended up becoming a really good programmer to make up for it!
I never really got any feelings of envy/resentment after I started working in the industry, but I was never part of many communities which probably limited the potential for those issues to arise.
FN: Most people who worked on mods and got hired back then (and sometimes today) were arguably young and inexperienced, and while this was exciting at the time, it’s difficult looking back. You yourself were hired at an increidbly young age, do you feel you were and other modders by extension, were exploited? Or was there genuine talent seeking?
RW: Oh yes, we were definitely exploited! The video game industry has always been extremely exploitative, and folks plucked from the modding fields tended to come with a very low price tag and still had the passion to put in ridiculous amounts of crunch. I can say definitively that I was a genuinely terrible programmer when I was hired at Raven, I’d say the second worst in the company, so it’s hard to argue that I deserved a good salary. But they did put me on Jedi Knight 2 multiplayer, all alone with no supervision (technically, Pat Lipo was my lead, but he was off trying to make something of X-Men Legends for the brunt of development), and I crunched on that thing for something like a solid year. What it was at the end of that crunch, when I look back at it, was a horror show, but somehow after release a lot of people still loved it. It goes to show that sometimes you can put lipstick on a pig and it kinda makes the pig bangable.
FN: What is your thoughts on going into the industry versus running your own studio? Are both ultimately vulnerable to the same fate?
RW: It’s easier to get into the industry, even working for AAA, if you can construct a modest portfolio and put a cheap price on yourself. The industry relies on a revolving door of people doing this to "get their foot in the door", expecting that in the future their treatment and working conditions will improve, but that will only happen for a fraction of those people. Running your own studio is probably not a great alternative, though, because there’s a very high risk of no rewards, and unless you can sucker a bunch of people into working for you for cheap/free, you need publisher funding to build anything sizable. Mod teams converting themselves into companies with shared equity might be viable, but it will probably produce yet another cookie cutter product designed to tick all of the publisher’s boxes instead of exploring new creative ideas that an independent team might otherwise be capable of exploring, and any publisher will still bend you over really far on any deals you make. To me, that kind of defeats the point of forming an independent team, but it could be a viable path if you all just want to pave the way to being exploited by someone with more money.
FN: You got hired at Raven to work on the bot AI for Soldier of Fortune Gold. Do you remember what getting thrown into a studio like Raven was like?
RW: Well, to understand what that was like for me, you have to understand that I had a plethora of psychological problems when I started at Raven. I’d been socially isolated for a good half of my formative years, my mother was physically abusive, and I could barely interact with other humans. So being thrown into my first industry crunch experience on top of that was an absolute nightmare. Maybe that’s why I’m dying of cancer so young. Just kidding, kind of! But yeah, it was very difficult for me, and Raven had a lot of ugly internal politics that I didn’t have the social skills to navigate. So I mostly kept my head down and (poorly) did my work, then after JK2 I got resentful that I wasn’t being adequately compensated for all of that horrible crunch time, and after another crunch cycle on Jedi Academy I got even more bitter. I just sat around literally playing games all day for a few months there after JA was done, kind of extracting what I felt was owed by force, then ended up quitting before they could fire me.
FN: You got to work on games with some big IPs with Raven such as Star Wars. Did you and the team feel like there was a massive responsibility to do them right? Was it stressful?
RW: It was stressful to me for a lot of reasons, but not so much because I felt like I had a big responsibility to do Star Wars justice. I did understand it was a big deal to be working on it, but I also still had no idea what I was doing at that point as a programmer, so I was struggling the whole time just to deliver a passable multiplayer experience.
FN: Were people like the ones at LucasArts involved in any meaningful capacity besides delivering library assets/sounds or guidelines?
RW: I don’t recall ever seeing or speaking to anyone from LucasArts, but it’s possible their feedback was being funneled through the Activision feedback or something like that. (of course, Raven was already owned by Activision at that point, but there was still a logical division)
FN: At Raven, what were your favorite things to work on?
RW: Probably the Ninja Mod for Jedi Academy, which wasn’t technically a Raven project, but I ended up working on it with Mike Majernik and Mike Gummelt after JA had wrapped up. I think we credited ourselves as "Slice, Dice, and Mince" or something like that because we didn’t want to get in trouble for making/releasing it on the tail end of the game.
FN: The dismemberment in Jedi Outcast, who can we thank for keeping that in?
RW: I remember saying we had to leave it in, but I don’t think anyone actually cared what I thought. So maybe we can thank James Monroe for knowing about it but not chickening out and removing the cvar.
FN: Do you have any fond memories or stories involving any specific individuals you worked with at Raven?
RW: Mike Majernik and I remained friends for a long time after I left Raven, he and I used to go get shitfaced together all the time, and we entertained ideas of doing our own indie games quite often. We’re still friends now, but unfortunately haven’t managed to see each other in quite a few years, both having families now and not having much time to go off on our own whims. Hopefully I can see him again before the cancer gets me.
FN: How did you find yourself at Human Head Studios after Raven?
RW: After I got totally crunched/burned out at Raven, I took quite a few months and made some pretty huge strides as a programmer. I started writing my own engine from scratch, improved a lot of my mathematical knowledge, and finally did a little bit of psychological recovery. I recall one of my old Raven coworkers also moving to Human Head and remarking that I no longer even seemed like the same person, which I took as a compliment! So after that growth/recovery period, I looked at other studios in the area and discovered Human Head. I didn’t even know they were making Prey when I first interviewed there, so that was very exciting to me as a long-time 3D Realms fan.
FN: What was the atmosphere like at Human Head working on Prey?
RW: They were just starting a new "iteration" of the game around the time I started there, as I recall they hired 2 other new programmers right around that same time period. I remember finding a lot of old development material on an internal wiki (or maybe it was just a samba share) and being like "god damn, good thing they restarted!" There was some pretty crazy-bad stuff in there, I remember a monster that was nothing but a repeating texture that looked like it was someone’s first 3D Studio experiment. Human Head made some massive leaps forward between that version of Prey and the one that shipped. I was happy to be getting in right as development was beginning on the "good" version!
Prey in 1997 (left) was quite different from the classic we know and love today.
Prey belongs Zenimax & Microsoft. Image on the left taken by 3D Realms. Image on the right belongs to Frag-Net.
FN: Do you recall 3D Realms being involved in a hands-off or more hands-on way in regards to Prey?
RW: From my perspective, it was pretty hands-off. However, I think their feedback was generally routed through Chris Rhinehart, so I didn’t have direct visibility. The only time I directly talked to Scott and George was to convince them to not tie the product entirely to Distream (which later became known as Triton or something, I think) after doing my own technical evaluation of it and determining it was terrible and likely to cause widespread technical problems. That turned out to be a very good call!
FN: Did you feel like your team had a sense of ownership over Prey?
RW: In the emotional sense, I’d say so. Everyone was very passionate about it and we all wanted to make it a really good game.
FN: You seemed to handle the release of the SDK for Prey. How did that come about?
RW: After Prey was released, I immediately took off across the country to live with my friend in Baltimore for a while. HH wanted me to keep working for them, though, and I think that SDK release was just one of the small interim things I handled before going back to Wisconsin.
FN: We noticed that the first release of the SDK happened on 9th of October, which seemingly had been redacted and replaced 4 days later. Do you remember what that was about? (we had a hard time tracking that down, that got me wondering...)
RW: I’m not entirely sure, but I do remember accidentally including some bits that were meant to be engine-only in that initial SDK release. We might have pulled it and re-uploaded it to remove them.
FN: Prey had an official Linux version that was outsourced to Ryan C. Gordon. It seems there was no official release for a Linux SDK. Was there a reason for that, like was there not allowed to be one?
RW: I have no idea, I wasn’t involved in any of those decisions or the port. It might have just been a "not going to bother, not enough interest" thing.
FN: What was your favorite thing you worked on during your time at Human Head?
RW: Getting to actually make the Prey portals work and operate correctly with the DOOM 3 portal/vis system was an honor, I was glad to get to work on the tech for one of the more iconic parts of the game. I also did a lot of optimization work. I remember people remarking after release about how much faster Prey was running much more complex scenes than DOOM 3, which also made me happy. Although looking back, there was so much more I could have done.
The portals in Prey were always a key feature in each iteration of the game, being shown off years before everyone’s favorite portal-based puzzle solving game.
FN: How do you feel about the multiplayer that you all shipped in Prey. Did you feel like you could have done more with it, or were you all satisfied?
RW: DOOM 3 was kind of a rough starting point on the multiplayer side of things, it took a "sync everything" approach. I remember being horrified when I saw that throwing a grenade could eat up to like 3KB/s on its own. I toyed around with the idea of totally restructuring the game code to use a more explicit client-server separation like Quake 3 when I first started on the project, but it wasn’t really going to be worth the investment in time/resources, so I pulled back on it. I ended up spending a fair bit of time just trying to work within that DOOM 3 system and optimize things as much as possible, making as many things purely client-side as I could without making it feel like a desynchronized mess. Since I was the only one on multiplayer, and I was tackling a bunch of random tech stuff on the main game at the same time, it didn’t leave a lot of time for more multiplayer modes and such. It definitely could have benefitted from more variety, but given the time/budget, it turned out well.
FN: Prey 2 was in development at Human Head for a long time, even until after you left. I remember you mentioned the team was ’underwater’ for a while. What can you say about what happened there?
RW: Something might’ve been misconstrued or poorly conveyed there, as I wouldn’t classify it as underwater, but Prey 2 was a little off-and-on as I recall. I’m assuming it’s been long enough now that no one cares if I talk about this a bit, and I’m dying of cancer, so might as well. So when I left for Baltimore right after Prey shipped, HH was going right into working on Prey 2. The plan was to work on a bunch of new engine/tech features early on. By the time I came back to Wisconsin, we’d stopped working on Prey 2 and started working on this new game called SOMA. It was a kind of confused horror music game featuring Linkin Park and somehow involving Marc Ecko. I hadn’t even heard about the transition until my first day physically back at HH, and it caught me a little off-guard. But Brian Karis and I set about enacting our existing plans for overhauling the graphics side of the engine, he’d been making a D3D9 renderer and porting shaders and such, and I implemented GPU-based skinning, efficient (frustum-grouped) shadowmaps, some texture streaming with realtime LOD determination that was based on an article by Tom Forsyth, and a handful of other things.
All of the tech work was coming along nicely enough, and the art was looking good, but the game was pretty stalled out on the design side. It kept changing directions, it seemed like it was definitely a Too Many Cooks problem, and HH was not being given enough control to pick a direction and stick with it. I remember Jimmy Shin, who was the lead gameplay programmer, voicing a lot of frustration about it. After enough reboots in direction there, I could see the writing on the wall, and I had a heart to heart with my boss to tell him I could tell this thing was just never going to ship and I didn’t want to end up in limbo there, so I’d decided to leave the studio. Obviously, it never did ship, but I think it took another 6-9 months to finally die after I’d left. I remember at one point being told that they were prototyping the actual rabbit chase sequence from Super Mario 64, but verbatim and not metaphorically. So I guess after that poor thing was put out of its misery, they must have gone back to Prey 2. I was already gone for that, so I don’t know much more about what happened there than anyone else.
FN: With HondoCorp, games like Corporate Fury and your own comments regarding capitalism we wanted to know what had radicalized you and at what age?
RW: I don’t think it was any one thing, it was just a gradual awakening to the world we’re living in. I bought into the survival of the fittest bullshit for a while in my youth, but eventually realized that not even that fits, because capitalism represents such a corrupt and inverted pyramid of fitness under any reasonable Darwinian criteria. I didn’t even know I was a Marxist until I finally got around to reading Marx in my 30’s. I had a framework for observing the world and the underlying web of corporate exploitation that I’d devised over time, but I didn’t know how inherently Marxist my worldview was until I stumbled into that material. It didn’t really change anything for me, but it helped me feel a little more validated.
At this point, I’m completely convinced that the world is only going to get worse on the whole. Incremental innovations in technology will be used to veil the state of the world under something brighter, much more than to improve life for the people who really need it. This helps enable the ever-present optimists to sing their best rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life as most of the species is sacrificed to the gods industrialism and capitalism.
Corporate Fury, an over the top unbelievable dystopian game about our real life over the top unbelievable dystopian world.
Picture by Rich Whitehouse
FN: Avalanche is a love-letter to FF VII. Have you wanted to work on a title like that for a long time? What were the challenges/difficulties?
RW: Yeah, I made AVALANCHE right after leaving Human Head. I wanted to flesh out my own game engine and make it capable of supporting a full-featured game, and I’d been wanting to make something that was kind of a mix of Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry. The FF7 theme was kind of happenstance, it was just my focus for nostalgic love at the time, so I went with it. Writing the tech from scratch was really time-consuming, but being able to design around tech strengths/weaknesses also helped in a few ways. It’s better to be able to say "I’m not going to do this thing, because it doesn’t work with this system" than to have a designer who doesn’t understand the way the systems work demanding that you do that thing anyway. I feel like I neglected some of the gameplay and design aspects of the game pretty severely in trying to get both the game and tech wrapped up in the span of half a year, but there are still some really fun things in there, and the core combat loop is still fun to revisit once in a while.
FN: What made you choose iOS as a target platform for Corporate Fury?
RW: I’d just made a ton of money writing iOS software on contract for a company called ngmoco:), and in that process I’d ported the AVALANCHE engine to iOS. So Mike Majernik and I started talking about trying to do some kind of brawler for the platform to make a quick buck. He ended up not really having time/energy to work on it, so I ran with it alone. Then instead of making it a quick buck thing, I went to Hondo to ask him if I could use his old Endless Rain map for it, and it turned into a giant, violent testament to my hatred of corporations and capitalism. I put way more into that game than I got out of it financially, and the platform ended up being totally inappropriate for the genre and subject matter, but I still have a special love for it.
FN: It appears you never went back to develop for that platform, was there any specific reasoning for it?
RW: By the time I finished CF, it felt like the market was pretty saturated, and I didn’t inherently like the platform. So I was just never drawn back to it.
FN: Anything to say about Objective-C and the Cocoa/AppKit/OPENSTEP libraries?
RW: I did everything I could to avoid all of that platform-specific garbage when writing Corporate Fury. There were just a few hook points where the platform API’s mandated it, but 99.9% of the codebase is still C++ and anything that needs to interface with any Apple-specific API is abstracted to ensure its evil can’t infect the rest of the codebase. That’s normally how I handle writing portable code anyway, but yeah, nothing Apple did with any of their native interfaces was in any way desirable or impressive to me.
FN: You worked on a handful of ports to the PlayStation Vita. I remember you having said positive things about the platform. What did you like about it. Why do you think it struggled to find a larger userbase?
RW: The best thing about the Vita was the toolset! Profiling on that thing was a dream, and it was easy to get a really good picture of where every bit of CPU was being spent because they actually had hardware CPU profiling support! That’s something that many devkits (looking at you, Nintendo) sorely lack. Debugging and profiling the GPU was also incredibly painless, and I’m rather inherently a fan of that PowerVR architecture.
As for why it struggled to find a larger userbase, I really have no idea. I’d speculate it had something to do with pricepoints, not having enough interest in that gap between "toy" (Nintendo) handhelds and expensive mobile hardware, and Nintendo’s existing dominance in the market kind of forcing Sony to try for that upper echelon despite those factors. But these are just bullshit thoughts I’ve pulled straight from my ass.
FN: Do you still own a PlayStation Vita (or a Vita DevKit)?
RW: I do still own and love my PSVita, although sadly my last devkit was reclaimed by a former employer. I haven’t looked into the state of PSVita homebrew, but would probably not have the time/energy/remaining-life to get into it.
FN: Looking back, what were your general thoughts on the various console platforms post-Dreamcast?
RW: This is a really broad question. I could offer a lot of unique thoughts on each console, because up until the XB1/PS4, they were all pretty different beasts. There are still significant differences in the XB1/PS4 (e.g. ESRAM) and onward, but those differences are getting less important, especially as it becomes more difficult (or by both API design and cert requirements, impossible) to write code closer to the hardware. That’s partially a function of ease of development (and making code more portable between platforms), but also partially a function of fascist DRM policies and console vendors doing everything they can to try to plug potential exploit holes that could allow arbitrary code execution even in userland. I’ve already been involved in one project where those security concerns seriously crippled the performance potential of the application, so I’m annoyed by it. I also understand it, but even in understanding it, I don’t agree with it because I’m not a corporate fascist.
As far as the older post-Dreamcast consoles go, like the PS2, I’d have to go in-depth with each of them. The PS2 in particular was quite a special thing, it has so many quirks and so many different ways to get the most out of the hardware that developers were still kind of stumbling on as the console aged. That’s another thing I miss about those days, you don’t tend to see nearly as much contrast in the visual quality of games between platform launch and end of life now, because there isn’t so much clever trickery to be done at the hardware level, it’s all about higher-level optimization that generally applies to all platforms.
FN: Do you think videogame consoles are still relevant in this day and age?
RW: Yeah, although obviously publishers are going to keep pushing for streaming platforms until we finally cross that threshold. It’s all going to be fascism from there. I can only hope people aren’t already locked out of running unsigned code on their own PC’s before then, Windows is slowly heading there bit by bit. It probably won’t be all that long before you have to edit the registry or something to run a Noesis build.
FN: Do you think publishers should embrace emulation and put older titles on Steam?
RW: I think publishers should generally embrace emulation, yeah, but I also think they should go the extra mile and imbue their game collections with actual history and development material. This is the magic touch that Digital Eclipse has put into every collection I’ve worked on with them. What we were able to pull off with the TMNT Cowabunga Collection, with so much raw design material included in the actual product, still warms my heart.
FN: How do you feel about digital storefronts like Steam, Epic, GOG and so on?
RW: I started using Steam as a necessary evil, but I don’t like any one software company having control over a marketplace or the vast value represented by those digital entitlements. It’s pretty messed up. Of those listed, GOG is probably the best model, and I still refuse to create an EGS account. (actually, I might have had to create one when I worked on Fortnite, but I’ll never buy anything with it!)
Steam, with these images dating from 2003, was the first serious digital store for video games, and took a few years to get a 3rd party (non-Valve) audience and library.
steam-2003.jpg by Stiffer & steam-first-beta.jpg probably from Valve, but origin is unknown. Steam is owned by Valve Software, used under fair use.
FN: How do you feel about lock-in to existing platforms, where people are pressured to consolidate their entire software library?
RW: I’m sure some technical arguments can be made for why it’s "necessary", but mostly I’d just say it’s yet another symptom of digital fascism.
FN: Do you think we’ll ever be able to transfer software between platforms seamlessly?
RW: Probably not unless there’s a financial incentive for platform holders to make it happen, or maybe if some new laws are enacted as a result of the post global climate crisis war and subsequent social revolutions.
FN: You had a run-in with a Valve employee who didn’t return your broken computer to you for some time that resulted in a lot of a series of stupid events. How do you feel about Gabe and Valve these days and about what went down there?
RW: I think something got twisted up there at some point, there was never a broken computer. I think what this is referring to is that when Valve released the Half-Life SDK, there was a fake client API (which you’d want to use for bots), but it was broken out of the box. I was getting some Jumbot crashes that I assumed were related to this, so I sent a snapshot of my code off to someone at Valve who promised to take a look at it. I don’t even remember the guy’s name, I’m not trying to protect him or anything. But I followed up with him once a week or so, and each time he apologized for not having the time to look at it yet, until one time he shot back something like "I don’t have time to deal with this you’re going to have to do your own work." Of course, being only 15 or 16 at the time and thinking the fault was in fact in their code, that offended my sensibilities and I was pretty annoyed that he’d wasted weeks of my time instead of just telling me he wouldn’t help to begin with. So I went and wrote a huffy post about that on the Jumbot site. I don’t know what I said, but I’m sure it was in no way mature or diplomatic. I never heard anything on the matter or thought anything of it in the years following.
After I decided to leave Raven, I had a friend who was working at Valve, and he asked me if I’d be interested in going there. So I said sure, that could be cool. So he went and talked to Gabe Newell about it. Apparently Gabe immediately knew who I was and said something along the lines of "Rich Whitehouse?! That guy talked shit about us on his website, he is NEVER working here." My friend offered to follow up and talk to Gabe again about it, but I said that if he’s enough of a maniac to remember something like that however many years later and hold it against someone who was like 16 when they wrote it, I can’t imagine he’d make a good boss, and we left it at that.
I imagine Gabe is still fundamentally that same type of person, as much as some people seem to want him to be a lovable figure in the industry, and having encountered more than my fair share of sociopaths and psychopaths in the industry I’m not at all shocked by the Gabes anymore. I’m just glad to have found a few people to work with over the years who aren’t monsters, and it’s probably fortunate that Gabe’s response raised the red flag for me before I ended up subjecting myself to the hellish politics of Valve. (of which I’ve since heard many nightmare stories)
FN: How do you feel about companies like Valve not releasing their old code for games like Half-Life under the same terms as id software did?
RW: There can be a lot of reasons for this, maybe there’s some licensed code that they can’t easily decouple or release, or they’re afraid of what might be revealed if the public vets it, or they just don’t care. From what I understand, Valve is a hydra with many dozens of heads now, so I don’t even know what the chain of approval for something like this would look like, but I’d speculate that such a bureaucracy could also be responsible.
FN: As someone with a history of working with id Tech, how do you feel about Zenimax having locked access away to the engine from being licensed?
RW: I’m not up to date on what their policy is there, or if they’re still letting people buy licenses for the older idTech incarnations. If it’s just the newer stuff they aren’t licensing, it’s probably not a big loss, as that tech seems a lot less useful in a general sense and it’s not so hard to come by viable engine/middleware solutions these days.
FN: How do you feel about Valve their hardware endavours such as the Steam Controller, Machines and now Steam Deck?
RW: I think this is probably future-planning against Microsoft, which is also probably why they put as much development effort into Proton as they do. Nothing a corporation does is ever truly altruistic, especially a corporation like Valve.
I don’t have any real feelings on the hardware itself, I haven’t owned any of the above devices.
Valve is behind the Steam platform, and created Half-Life, while hiring the teams behind the original Counter-Strike and Team Fortess and turning them into the juggernaughts they are today. Love them or hate them, there is no debating they’re a complex company with a lot of history to unpack.
Valve_Lobby_2016.jpg belongs to Tim "ThatGerman" Eulitz, used under CC BY 4.0
FN: How do you think Linux gaming, or non-Windows gaming is being perceived in the industry?
RW: I think the priority still varies heavily between titles, depending on demographics. Developers will prioritize it if they think they can make some sales on the platform. It’s not that people don’t take it seriously or anything like that, it just has to establish itself as a market force to get any kind of priority treatment, as with pretty much everything in a world of capitalism.
FN: How do you perceive people playing videogames?
RW: I’m not too sure how to answer this, it’s so general. I mean, there are so many different reasons that people play video games, so many different ways and mediums. I suppose that ultimately it’s more often than not just a form of escapism. Sometimes there’s something tangentially productive to it, like learning something new, experiencing something that broadens your perspective in some way, or forming valuable social connections. But a lot of the time it’s just another way to pass the time or temporarily escape a harsh reality. Now that companies are so actively exploiting addictive personality traits to inform game loops, things are headed a little more speedily toward Black Mirror.
FN: How do you feel about toxicity in online games and communities surrounding videogames?
RW: It’s a natural product of the culture we’ve created around video games, and that culture has been created mostly by greed. The moment any kind of organic sense of community begins to form, it’s seized upon by a publisher/developer for profit, and for a very long time the industry as a whole has been nurturing some of our uglier human tendencies (us vs. them, Darwinian competition) in the name of marketing and profit. Healthy human relationships born in the midst of viciously greedy and exploitative product cycles are like delicate flowers born in the middle of a wasteland.
FN: Do you see yourself as somebody who plays videogames, or would you rather make them?
RW: Both. In my days suffering from cancer here, I often don’t have the energy to invest in creating things and writing code, so I pass the time watching television or playing video games. Normally I would have entered a new creative project binge by now, I usually don’t get more than a few months without doing that, but, cancer.
FN: Do you think games have ’peaked’ in terms of game design or technology?
RW: Technology will always improve, although the pace of progress has flatlined a bit depending upon which metric you use to measure it. Design is a harder thing to quantify. The well-designed games I’ve played of late have still generally been quite derivative, but I can look at movies or music and say the same. Sometimes it takes a real expansion of the medium to drive new design innovations, or at least a less risk-averse set of publishers. VR could be driving a lot of innovation, but what I see in that space is generally pretty vapid, probably owing to the fact that those funding the projects are trying to flesh out a catalogue with a specific agenda rather than looking to take creative gambles.
FN: How did you get started with the Video Game History Foundation?
RW: My friend Mike Mika introduced me to Frank Cifaldi quite a few years ago, I believe it was in response to me offering to use my reverse engineering skills to restore builds and unearth lost video game artifacts. Not too long after that, Frank brought me into the fold and we got our hands on the source code for Aladdin, which led to my whole write-up there. I wish I had more active time for that stuff now as well, but it’s always been volunteer/unpaid work for me, so now I need to worry about both money and making money while having cancer. There’s still a big project I’m working on for the VGHF that I’ve had shelved for a while now.
FN: Video game preservation is a big topic right now, even in the mainstream. With absurd copyright laws and companies hiding away old copies of their games. You yourself work on preserving video game history, can you share any struggles/frustation in your efforts?
RW: My own frustrations mostly stem from DRM and the upcoming threat of streaming-only platforms. I don’t think there’s any world in which we should trust publishers or developers solely to do their own preservation, for quite a few reasons. But we’re going to be entirely at their mercy if we can no longer decrypt or even obtain retail game data.
I think we’re starting to make headway toward getting people to realize why full video game preservation is important, rather than just saying "it’s good enough to have a record of the user experience through some video footage", but a lot of work and awareness-building is still needed on that front as well.
FN: What’s an average day like at the VGHF? Conversely what’s your favorite aspect about working there?
RW: I don’t really work there, it’s just a volunteer position where I pick up a project every once in a while when I have the time and energy to do it. But my favorite part of it is definitely being able to draw from the archives we’ve built so far, crawling through and looking for interesting and previously-unknown things. The Sega VR project was a pretty massive success there, being able to recreate the experience of a hardware peripheral from nothing but a software dump, and allowing anyone to experience a version of some hardware that was canned back in the ’90s. It kind of feels like magic.
FN: How can anyone help the VGHF?
RW: I guess that’s probably a straightforward answer of:
The Video Game History Foundation has done so much for video game preservation.
FN: What is your biggest regret of having been an early modder/game developer, if any?
RW: It’s hard to say I really have any regrets, although being so young, it’s unfortunate that so many words generated by my unformed mind are sort of immortalized. I think dealing with so many people and e-mails at such a young age also jaded me even more, because in addition to support and suggestions, when you hit a certain exposure point, you get a lot of assholes too. Random death threats, people e-mailing literally just to say "fuck you, piece of shit, you fucking suck", etc. were fairly common, like at least once a day during my peak exposure back then. Because I was so young, I think it made me a lot more hostile toward the world, and it took a while for me to work my way back out of that.
FN: What advice do you have to anyone who wants to make or work on games or mods in 2022, if any? Or would you advise against that route these days?
RW: I think the responsible advice would be to do something more valuable with your time. If you’re thinking of becoming a video game programmer, instead become a more generalized software engineer and ideally get a college degree. You’ll have more options in life and you’ll still be able to go back and work in games if you really want to. The career path I took back in 1999/2000 is no longer very viable, and even if it were, I wouldn’t recommend it.
FN: You used to have your own Wikipedia page, yet they removed it - but we have pages for events that seem to be forgotten about after a week. What’s up with that!? Do you know anything about it?
RW: I actually requested that they take it down back when I started dating again, I think around 2010. It was embarrassing having new dates Google me and find it, and I never felt like a Wikipedia article about me was justified. These days, I wouldn’t care, but I think I was going through a sensitive phase and learning humility.
FN: (This may be a tough one) Favorite level/map from any game or mod? Or anything that instantly pops into your head?
RW: It’s probably due to the context of this interview, but the first thing that comes to mind is Billy’s Death House, which I think Hondo later called Hondo’s Death House, because we’d creep around that thing and make up imaginary scenarios and such. It was more the imagination and madness between us that made it fun than the geometry.
Same level as where the image of Hondo from earlier is taken. This level also contains other crazy and incredible complex secrets (right) that are borderline their own mini-level. Famous back then, and famous again thanks to Social Media & Streamers.
FN: Favorite music from any game?
RW: That’s a tough one, I prefer a lot of different genres to fit whether I’m relaxing and working or whatever. Final Fantasy sound tracks have always been a staple of my background selection, but a lot of the Ys games have excellent music too. Then there’s stuff like Devil May Cry, Guilty Gear, etc. that’s nice every once in a while. I also like the Metal Gear Solid sound track for the memories it invokes more than for the actual music, but that’s true for a lot of game music.
FN: Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to videogames?
RW: No, because I’m shameless. But I guess I feel kind of like I shouldn’t have enjoyed Ys 9 even though I did. It felt like it kicked things up on the childish/superficial front, but I’ll always have a soft spot for those games.
FN: Old Internet versus Modern Internet? Better? Worse? Equally terrible/good in different ways?
RW: I feel like an old man for saying it, but influencer culture might be the worst thing to happen to broader human culture since Henry Ford. But of course, that culture is the result of corporations nurturing the narcissistic tendencies in humans, and the early internet had already begun to nurture those tendencies and build up a less incorporated form of influencer. Being a firm believer in determinism, it’s difficult for me to separately qualify the past or future of something, because I view both versions as part of an unbreakable whole. I also believe our species is headed straight to an unfathomable hell of its own making, though, so I suppose I could say everything is terrible now and forever.
Less philosophically, though, I had a lot more fun on the early internet. There was less content, yet it felt like there was so much more to discover, and our means of discovering it was so much more organic. We’re much more funneled, now, and our engagements are far more directed, whether it’s Google or some other asshole corporation doing that direction.
If it wasn’t obvious by our website, we also have a fondness for the old web. Pictured here is some classics: PlanetQuake (1997), z0r.de, Newgounds (2002).
GameSpy is owned by IGN, z0r.de and Newgrounds are copyrighted by their respectful owners
FN: What was it like being of a fan of Japanese television and music back then? Was it difficult to get ahold of anything?
RW: It was pretty hard to come across new material, but I think that made it more exciting. I remember when I discovered Dir en grey on some random website. That was well into my X-Japan/hide phase, but DEG still felt unlike anything I’d ever heard, and they really matured into making some admirably fucked up material over the years. I still don’t think there’s anyone in the world that can stand alongside them in terms of the material they’ve covered and the nuanced way in which they’ve conveyed the brutality inherent in that material. Not to sound too much like a fanboy, though, they’ve also produced some albums which are pretty terrible and forced.
Hondo and I used to discover occasional Morning Musume clips and such as well, and the Japanese cultural tendency to mix the ultra-cute with the ultra-grotesque was an early fascination for both of us.
FN: Do you still have an interest in any anime? Strictly oldskool or do you watch any new shows? Ever watched Toonami/Adult Swim? Favorite anime shows?
RW: I can’t say that I do, it’s been a long time since I found an anime I could really enjoy, Death Note might have been the last one. But I have been enjoying Uncle From Another World lately, I’m just a sucker for the Sega references.
FN: Still like X Japan and or Zilch? Any favorite albums? (RIP Hide) And what do you listen to these days?
RW: I don’t listen to them too much anymore, although 3.2.1 was really the only good Zilch album. The stuff they did after hide devolved pretty fast. I think Dahlia ended up being my favorite X-Japan album, and probably Psyence for hide. I still enjoy some Gackt and Dir en grey once in a while, and still listen to the new DEG albums when they come out. ARCHE was amazing, it’s a new favorite alongside Withering to Death and Gauze.
I listen to a fair variety of stuff these days, lots of random metal of many subgenres, and occasionally cheesy synthpop. I’ve grown a greater fondness for ’80s synth in recent years, I think that’s probably more or less nostalgia crossing over and infecting my musical preferences. Prince has been back on the playlist more recently as well. Prince and Dir en grey are quite a contrast, but I love them both for their own merits.
X Japan in their prime. Hide (last on right), a main member who launched a solo carrer and the band Zilch, tragically died in 1998. They are referenced a few times in Rich's works.
Promotional image belongs to X Japan, used under fair use.
FN: Does it surprise you that Japanese television, music, movies, etc has only gotten more popular with Western audiences over the years?
RW: It does not, American culture has been such a worthless dumpster fire for so long that it’s not surprising to see people turn elsewhere for something more interesting or engaging. It’s one of the first things I did when the internet enabled me to do so, and it’s even easier to do now than it was then. I’ve also noticed that South Korea on the whole seems to basically be adopting Japanese culture wholesale but somehow taking the fluffy and soulless aspects of it and amplifying them, which is mildly disturbing but appears to be a recipe for global success.
FN: Do you care deeply about the format your music is stored in?
RW: Not too deeply, but I usually prefer something in the area of MP3 256kbps CBR for a reasonable size:quality ratio.
FN: In your eyes, most important thing missing from video games right now, if any?
RW: Things that raise awareness, beyond some trivial political cause and into the core of the human experience. Even indie developers are not doing much to take risks and present material that’s sensitive or that could potentially be unappealing due to its inherent nature. I don’t mean sensitive in a "oh look it’s another Columbine simulator" way, but rather in a "this forces us to question the society we live in by forcing us to ingest certain realities in new, creative, and horrifying ways" sort of way. I feel there’s so much that could be done in that realm, but everyone is too busy making cookie cutter nonsense, trying to clone someone else’s game loop, or just being a coward. I see this as the true purpose of art, and video games are a medium better-equipped than any other to achieve that purpose, yet the potential remains mostly unrealized. If I had the energy I had for Corporate Fury all over again, I think I could make something that would scar a lot of minds.
FN: What would you say to 17/18 year-old Richard and any young adults out there?
RW: I suppose it’s good to know that the world is a terrible place, don’t try to be an optimist about it, just accept and work with it. Don’t submit when a corporate fascist tries to control you, and if you’re eventually branded unemployable, you’re doing it right. Also if we’re talking to me specifically here, you’re going to get cancer at around 37, you should ignore your doctors and make sure to cut that out before it ends up spreading all over your body.
FN: Is Walter still your favourite scientist from Half-Life? And did you read Walter’s World?
RW: Walter always did seem to have the most personality. I do recall reading Walter’s World from time to time, but I don’t remember any of the material at all.
FN: You were one of the first to create a battle royale game with Quake Royale. How do you look back on that project and the ’genre’ that emerged from similar types of games that have been released since?
RW: That movie always felt like it just needed to be turned into a game, it had such obvious mechanics that I felt could be adapted to be really fun. I never really refined QR, but I did enjoy quite a few games with friends in the state that I left it. I could have polished it a bit and gotten word out to pump the popularity up a lot, but as with most of the things I’ve made throughout the years, I didn’t really care about making it popular. I wouldn’t have guessed that Battle Royale would become the new "thing to beat to death" in the video game industry so much later, though. It’s probably another symptom of the industry having no real creative imagination, if you give the audience something that is even slightly new and fun it catches on like wildfire, then every major publisher clones the shit out of it.
FN: You were the first person to mod Duke Nukem Forever. You get a lot of comments about it to this day. How do you feel about them?
RW: I’ve been surprised that interest in modding that game has kept up for as long as it has. I remember spending some time to reverse engineer all of those formats when the game came out, and offering to work with Gearbox to release modding tools, but it seemed like they were kind of anti-modding in the end. So I just dropped it. I don’t have any real interest in going back to it, but people ask me to help out or give them old code/specs every once in a while, and I just put them off thinking that I’ll eventually get back to it myself, at least enough to make the skinned mesh exporter somewhat presentable. I suppose it’s looking more possible that I’ll die before that happens in light of the cancer situation, then those people will have to petition my daughter’s trust for my crappy DNF code! (or they could ask Gearbox to just open source the damn game I guess)
Duke showing his love for George Takei! Rich created this mod right after the DNF demo, being the first of a now blooming mod scene.
Duke Nukem Forever is owned by Triptych Games, Gearbox Software, Piranha Games, and 2K Games. Screenshot by Rich Whitehouse. Used under fair use.
FN: Were there any projects that you worked on, that got cancelled, that you wished you were able to finish?
RW: I don’t think I’ve been really invested in any of the stuff I’ve worked on that’s been cancelled. There are a lot of cancelled things that I wish I hadn’t had to waste time working on to begin with, though. There’s also a finished thing that I wasn’t allowed to release for legal reasons, but that’s still recent enough that I should not speak of it lest I run the remote risk of invoking the ire of the Mouse.
FN: What’s the background behind this horrifying display?
RW: It’s Gary Oldman from Bram Stoker’s Dracula in beast form, I’ve been quoting his "DO NOT SEE ME" line there for years. Obviously when doing this I also refer to myself as Dickula, or being of the Order of the Dickul.
FN: Do you have any hobbies/obsessions that we clearly do not know about?
RW: I suppose more recently I’ve gotten into writing emulators. It’s a skillset I’ve had in place for years now, but never had cause to fully employ it until recently. I’ll hopefully be releasing more on that front soon, again depending on how my cancer shakes out. I’ve also done some dabbling on the hardware side of things more recently. I had cause to create a replacement control board for some old hardware recently, but can’t talk about that yet, just in case I get to finish it before I die! But yeah, it usually comes back to video games, whether it’s in the realm of software or hardware.
FN: All we have left to say is: Thank you for your time, and your contributions in both modding and game histroy/preservation, to us here at Vera Visions LLC/Frag-Net, you are a hero!
RW: Thank you for saying so! I don’t think anyone has ever questioned me this broadly or thoroughly before, I hope it will provide a good basis for the DickAI of the future.
It was a pleasure doing this interview, our hearts go out to you and your family Rich. We hope you somehow recover from this and wish you all the best.
- Xylemon & eukara
You can find Rich his WWW site here: http://www.richwhitehouse.com/. He also has a Patreon you can join to support his work! He has just released BigPEmu, which is the first complete Atari Jaguar emulator on the planet. Do check it out.
Aliens vs Predator
Duke Nukem 3D
Jedi Knight II
Quake III Arena