November 8, 2021

Profile: Retro Interview: Paul Jaquays

In perhaps one of Fragmaster’s longest interviews, Jaquays talks about many topics from his background to his opinions on the gaming idustry. Jaquays recounts his lengthy background in the industry, talks about how he designs levels, and even lists the most significant events in gaming history. Fragmaster, a classic gaming connoisseur, even converses with Jaquays about his experiences in the gaming industry of the 1980s.

Andrew “Kolinahr” Wu

By Fragmaster / PlanetQuake

An Interview with id Software’s Paul Jaquays

FM:  (Fragmaster, Lord of Bean Dip) Hey Paul… how’s it going?

PJ: (Paul Jaquays, NOT Pajamas): Not too bad. We just put our E3 demo to rest and it’s kind of quiet around here.

FM: So, Why don’t you give some background on yourself, what you do, why you do it, How cool it is, etc.

PJ: How far back into ancient history should I go? I’m originally from Michigan, I’ve been married for nearly 16 years, have two kids, and now live near Dallas, TX (although I’m a Great Lakes States kinda guy). As far as career hi-lights go … I started writing adventures and doing art for the Fantasy Role Playing game biz (FRP) about 21 years ago while I was still in college (majoring in art) … I even published my own fan-zine for Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) called THE DUNGEONEER. I worked for a small game publisher called Judges Guild right after college, then freelanced for a year, and finally ended up at Coleco Industries at the tail end of 1980. I started there by designing electronic games (the “boop-boop, beep-beep” variety, just about all of them being licensed “conversions” of popular arcade games like PAC*MAN, Donkey Kong, Frogger, etc.) I ended up directing the design group that made ColecoVision and ADAM games. I was swept out the door at Coleco and eventually ended up freelancing in the FRP and computer game markets again. That led me to TSR and eventually to id.I’ve always liked making things, from toys and games when I was a kid, to trying my hand at animation in high school, writing game adventures for publication and eventually learning the business of video and computer games from the designers point of view. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I enjoy making games more than I enjoy playing them.Although I do have an art degree, I pretty much had to teach myself to paint (learning much from my peers). I paint, I write, I edit, I make computer games ’cause its what I do. I don’t think I could NOT do it and still be happy.Is it cool? Hmmmm. I’ve never been cool in my life, but people seem to think what I do is cool. I’ve always thought that it beat having to work for a living.

FM: How do you pronounce your last name, BTW? :)

PJ: Just like it’s spelled. :-> Uh … JAKE-WAYZ.

FM: Why did id hire you?

PJ: I would have to say my varied professional experience and background: Game design, FRP adventure design, video game design and, equally, if not more important, my years as a professional artist. Sandy Petersen recruited me at a teeny-tiny Runequest game convention up in Illinois over the Superbowl weekend. I took a week-long “vacation” from TSR to come interview with id, try out the job, and see if there was a fit with the company. Funny thing is … about 13 years ago, I interviewed Sandy for a job as a designer at Coleco.

FM: What type of levels are you working of for Quake 2? How many?

PJ: I’m a latecomer to the whole level design biz so I’ll probably have the least number of levels in the game. My first projects were something along the line of service basements. A variation on that one may make it into part of the city. One level is based around a service tram car, almost like a multi-directional elevator. This level relies heavily on a “mouse inside the walls” style of game play, with the player popping out in unexpected places to snipe monsters. This doesn’t mean he’s safe from return fire though. I’m currently developing a level based on the Alien capitol city, which in turn connects to the final boss level. I think since I came, I’ve designed or overdesigned four levels and had to throw a good share of them out as “bad pancakes.” All part of the learning process. If all goes as scheduled, I think that I will have 4-6 levels in the game.

FM: Where did you learn to make levels? Have you made any levels for like Doom, Duke, etc.?

PJ: I took a week’s “vacation” from TSR in February to interview at id. I learned the basics then and have been developing my skills since. I’ve played at making some stuff with the Wolfenstein editor. I didn’t actually look at DOOM until I was making plans to interview and pulled up a copy off a shareware CD. I think most of my skill at level design comes from my FRP game design days. There is a certain similarity between the design and arrangement of my old AD&D game levels and my current Quake II levels. I tend to think in clusters of nested and interweaving spaces instead of connected nodes.

FM: Do you plan on making DM levels?

PJ: The way its going right now, one of my City levels could easily be a deathmatch set-up. I’ve also got an idea for something that makes use of one of the new features in Quake 2. If there’s time, I’ll try to make it. It will either be: A. Really neat. B. Intensely lame. C. A cause of severe motion sickness.

(Motion Sickness!? WOO HOO! If only more games had that! :) – Frags)

FM: What’s your favorite part of designing levels?

PJ: Playing with blocks (Making the architecture). The next favorite is running through a level under construction and seeing it come to life. Least favorite is ripping out all the blocks (brushes) that make a cool piece of architecture into a polygon count nightmare.

FM: Have you put any cool tricks in your levels yet?

PJ: I’ve tried, but most came out really lame (or made you sick or instantly killed you while trying to negotiate through them).

FM: What’s Quake 2’s story? Was it easy to come up with?

PJ: The Quake 2 story is the tale of mankind’s final, desperate attempt to defeat an alien race on THEIR homeworld before the aliens can launch the final, fatal attack on Earth. The alien’s have been hammering Earth for decades, destroying it city by city, but never establishing a foothold due to the heroic actions of the unified Earth armed forces. Mankind had been dealt some pretty harsh lessons when they first attempted to assault the aliens on their homeworld. Imagine that the Germans had dropped several large nuclear bombs in the midst of the allied assault on the Normandy Beaches during WWII and you get an idea of what happened.Actually, the story line for Quake 2 has been developing and maturing here at id since long before I came. Kevin Cloud asked me to write that little bit of story that goes in the front of the instruction manual (which I still have to do, ’cause what I wrote got big). I drew upon our shared vision of the storyline we’ve been all been creating together and tried to put it into words. I started writing from the point of view of a soldier on his way to Armageddon and it almost wrote itself. Unfortunately, it’s not editing itself, so I have some more work cut out for me.

FM: Do you \ will you be doing any illustrative-type things for id in the future?

PJ: I would like to do just that. However, it won’t be for Quake 2. I’m needed as a level designer. I also would like to find time to paint a few of the paintings that I want to do, but have been putting off. My personal work has to wait until I can have a place to permanently set up a studio in my home.

(I managed to dig up an example of Paul’s Artwork. Pretty damn awesome, eh? – Frags)

FM: You have been pretty vocal on TC’s and the like. Overall, do you feel that giving the user the tools to change and edit the game has helped or hurt?

PJ: It can do both. In games of all types (FRP & Computer), a typical thing for players-turned-creators to do is make something that breaks the game (in the sense of allowing players to do something that the original designer hadn’t planned on). For better or worse, the grappling hook mod seems to be something along those lines. In some cases, playing with mods can really hurt players in the games. Diablo is a case in point. My son is a big fan of Battle.Net and probably spends as much time there as I spend at id. :) Some players make and use software hacks to hurt other players (yeah it’s only a game, but investing time to make a legitimate character and then have some immature bastard kill your character and then ressurrect him in front of a bunch of monsters really hurts).On the other hand, I think many of the professionals in all facets of the game industry have come out of the ranks of people who love the games they play and want to “turn pro.” Making game mods for fun helps create portfolio pieces for a later professional career. I’ve run into very few profressional game design creators who weren’t fans and players first.If the software mods and conversions are made and distributed within the bounds of the game’s licensing agreement (which the user of game software agrees to when he breaks the seal on the disk) and in the case of QUAKE that means distributed FREE or under a pre-arranged contract with id, then yeah, I think they’re great.

FM: If you give somebody tools though isn’t it human nature that some people won’t read the instructions and use them properly?

PJ: That’s the case with just about everything. It’s why product liability laws are crazy these days. In the game world, it could also be that we get so enamored with our ability to make something happen, that we forget about how it affects other people, whether it’s a mod that unbalances a game, or a conversion that uses someone else’s trademarks and copyrights.

FM: Do you think things have gotten out of hand? How could things be made better? Could some of this stuff be illegal?

PJ: No. The conversions that use id material and are distributed without charge on the net are not a problem. That is a part of the company’s intent. However, making commerical product based on id software, or even creating an association between id and that product with the company’s approval crosses that line. And it’s not just id that has to look at this situation, it’s any company that makes its livelihood from selling intellectual product. Any time someone uses graphics or cartoon characters or other images that belong to someone else and then distributes them on the ‘net, they are violating the copyrights and trademarks (if any) attendant to those images. You can do just about anything on your own computer for your own enjoyment, but once it leaves that computer it’s subject to the laws of the land that may affect it.

(Listening to that Star Wars\Spawn\Descent\Azreal TC etc. people? -Frags)

FM: How is id different than any place else you’ve ever worked?

PJ: It’s in Texas. It’s mostly guys. There’s free food (we had free food at Coleco during the ADAM development crunch, but that was for programmers, not designers). Probably most important though is that the company management/ownership is in the trenches with the staff and actually knows and understands the market they are selling to. We know who is who here in the company, but we tend to work WITH our bosses rather than FOR them. Everyone here has designated specialist tasks to do, but our designs depend on contributions of the group to make them the best they can be. We listen to our own in-house criticism and try to grow from it.

FM: What are your thoughts on the recent Potato Chip shortage? Will this shortage effect Quake 2? Will Quake 2 come in BBQ \ Sour Cream flavors?

PJ: Hmmmmm. I think you’ve spent too long on these questions. Anyway, corn chips have more fiber and are probably better for you in the long run. The salsa helps keeps you awake. Quake 2 comes in only one flavor, DOUBLE EXTRA KICK-BUTT HOT. We expect our engine licensees to satisfy the imaginary need for flavor variety. :)

FM: 21 years in the business is a LONG time. How have things changed since you started? Did you ever imagine it would come this far?

PJ: I have to keep reminding myself of that too. Why, when I was your age we didn’t have these newfangled 32 bit instructions and 16-bit graphics. We only had 4-bit words and you had your choice of “on” or “off” for the graphics, and we were happy to get that! Actually, I think the industry has stayed the same in some senses. Small companies come up with a game, make it good and become large companies. Large companies hire young creative talent. The young talent matures, gets bored or feels stifled and leaves, often to form a new, small company. The small company struggles to survive the first few years while the big company either implodes under the weight of bad decisions or a weak market. The small company comes up with a good game … and the cycle repeats. Actually, having learned what computer graphics I know on 8-bit systems, I’m really excited about what the last 5 or 6 years have showed us we can do with computer graphics, all across the board from prepress, to games, to motion pictures. As far as how far I’ve come … life is really a journey or process and not as much a reaching for a goal. I never imagined having to get a real job, so I always figured that I’d be working in the game/entertainment industry for my entire career. I just like the idea that I can make cool stuff and have people be entertained by it.

FM: Doesn’t it seem funny that some fellow designers weren’t even born when you started working in the biz?

PJ: I’ve had to get used to it, when even the guys I used to think of as my “young” GEN-X friends are now in their early 30s. It goes with the turf. I hope to be entertaining some of these guys’ grandkids some day.

FM: What was your first professional gaming project?

PJ: I’d have to say that it was illustrating the game booklet for CHITIN: I by Metagaming Concepts of Austin, TX (back around 1976). My first “professional” game design project was DARK TOWER, an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game adventure that I wrote for Judges Guild, my employer at the time. My first “electronic” project was working with Mike Stackpole (now New York Times Best-Selling author Mike Stackpole) to design a roleplaying type game for a piece of hardware that Coleco was developing in the late fall of ’80. It used the then radical technologies of speech chips and bar code readers. I stayed at Coleco and Mike went onto famous authordom. My first “published” electronic game was TABLE TOP PAC*MAN. My first video game design was the conversion of DONKEY KONG onto the ColecoVision. My first computer game design was 4×4 OFF-ROAD RACING for Epyx.

(Awww… man… Anybody who’s a Donkey Kong fan knows that the ColecoVision version was the best. Coleco ruled… especially that Smurf game. Wait a minute.. did I just admit I played Smurfs!?! Ummm… Dammit, I’m never doing this again! :) – Frags)

FM: What do you think were the most significant events in gaming History?

PJ: The invention of dice. The invention of playing cards. Board games. Organized military miniature wargaming. The publication of Diplomacy. Avalon Hill and SPI’s publishing of military board games. Ralph Baer’s invention of the concept of using hand controls to manipulate an image on a video screen (he actually holds the first patent for video game and assigned it his employer, a defense contractor in New Hampshire). The publication of Dungeons & Dragons. The original text Adventure game that ran on university mainframes ages ago. The disappearance of that kid at Michigan State University, whose running away brought incredible publicity for Dungeons & Dragons. Nolan Bushnell’s Pong. Coleco’s hand-held Electronic Quarterback game. The Atari 2600 (the first really exciting home video game system). The TRS-80 computer. Space Invaders (the second humoungously succesful arcade game). Scott Adams first adventure games for home PCs. PAC*MAN (the third humoungously successful video game). The 8 bit home computers (Apple II, Commodore, Atari). Wizardry. The Macintosh computer (for it’s user friendly interface). The 1984-85 crash of the video game market. The IBM PC. The first Nintendo home system (return of home video games in the U.S.). Castle Wolfenstein 3D (shareware as a viable marketing path). DOOM which became one the first home PC games to get mass-market public attention.

FM: Can you even begin to guess how many games you’ve worked on?

PJ: No, because it would have to include everything I illustrated, wrote, edited, commented on to a co-worker, developed, directed or guided. A lot. Probably over 100 to 150+ projects, if you count Colecovision carts, game books, card games and dice games.

FM: What arcade ports did you work on for the Coleco?

PJ: They really weren’t ports because the games had to be redesigned from the ground up, including rearranging the screen from vertical to horizontal format (in many cases), accommodating a 16 color palette and trying to fit it all in 8 to 32K of ROM. In a sense, I worked on every arcade conversion that came out from Coleco, because by that time I was managing the game design group. In one sense or another, every game design document, every graphic and every game revision passed in front of me and I made changes and suggestions. But I’ll try for the short list: Donkey Kong, Turbo, Mousetrap, Ladybug, Donkey Kong Jr., Pepper II, Carnival, and Venture and Zaxxon were in that first go round. Later on we did more complicated ones like Star Trek, Congo Bongo, and Spyhunter. We had less involvement with the Atari 2600 and Intelllivision ports because we knew less about those systems than the contractors we hired to develop them and were usually happy enough if we ended up with something that played like and vaguely resembled the original. I did some of the first CV art designs for Mario, Donkey Kong and the Princess for stuff that was used in Toyfair demos. I feel really good about my designs for WARGAMES, based on the Matthew Broderick movie about the computer. When I saw the movie, I knew what the game had to be.

(Mouse Trap was 90 times better than Pac-Man! – Frags The Pac-Man Hater)

FM: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you while working on a project?

PJ: It has to be the tragic tale of “Phil the tragedy magnet” and the Donuts. During the development of the ADAM computer at Coleco, my entire department was woken in the wee hours of the morning and told to haul ourselves into work to test SMARTWRITE or whatever we were calling the installed word processor on ADAM. One of my staff, let’s call him “Phil,” thought it would be a good idea to bring donuts. It’s 3 AM and Phil is riding through the bumpy streets of Hartford on his teeny little moped carrying one of those huge, industrial sized flat boxes of bakery donuts. Right in front the Coleco building, he hits a pothole and wipes out. He shows up inside scraped and damaged and carrying a bedraggled box of donuts that smell faintly of gasoline. Well someone takes him and his moped home and he drives his car to the hospital. While he’s gone, somebody steals his moped. Later that morning, the boss that nobody likes snags one of the donuts and doesn’t notice their odd flavor … This is only one of many of the “Phil the Tragedy Magnet” stories.

FM: How did the “Video Game Crash” in the mid-80’s effect your career?

PJ: I lost my job. My entire design department and I were laid off 12 years ago this month. No one at Coleco even knew what we did for the company. All our original bosses were gone and the guy in charge of us had been brought in as a hatchet-man … I think we call them “corporate downsizing specialists” now. I didn’t do work for the computer game industry for another two years. I worked as a director of product design for a start-up company for a year run by one of my former bosses at Coleco (whom I intensely disliked and distrusted), got fired (I’m a creative guy and the job turned into a bean-counting operation), and went free-lance. My freelancing moved me away from electronic games for the most part and back into illustration and Fantasy Roleplay Game adventure design.

FM: How did you convert over to the computer industry?

PJ: In a very real sense, I didn’t come back completely to the computer industry until this year when I joined id. After being let go from Penguin Products (That was it’s name, honest!! I worked there after Coleco), I began by freelancing for a developer who had done work for us at Coleco and was making games for Epyx at that time. I wrote up a number of game concepts for them, created design spec’s for a couple and programmed a Hypercard Demo for another one. Mike Stackpole introduced me to Brian Fargo at Interplay and that eventually turned into designing an FRP computer game for them that in turn became Lord of the Rings vol. 1. A friend of Brian Fargo’s later hired me to write design documents and game scripts for EA. When Bard’s Tale IV went down in 1992, that pretty much ended my involvement with computer games. Multiple independent contractors working on project were being replaced by development groups that did the whole project … something I wasn’t in a position to set up. I decided to focus on my illustration skills … which eventually led me to TSR … and in turn … to id.

FM: Have you discovered any of the classic video game emulators for the computer yet? Do you have any thoughts \ feelings about these?

PJ: I’m aware that they are out there. I’m not certain how I feel about freely distributed copies of the old ColecoVision carts … it walks that line we’ve been discussing in the TC debate. For years I had hoped that someone would make an emulation “box” that would play old ColecoVision games on newer computers (as first my ColecoVision failed and then my ADAM began acting cranky). While I doubt that there is anyone out there that really officially cares about what happens to the ColecoVision and its children (I’m talking about whoever owns the fallout from Coleco, not the Colecovision fan base), a number of the games that Coleco made were done on a royalty basis to the developers. Distributing their work without their permission walks in gray area. I haven’t seen or played the conversions, but I guess that now I’ll have to look. I did play some of the Activision ports of their old Atari 2600 titles to the Mac and thought they were pretty lame (I’m spoiled now … 15 years ago I realized they were state of the art and were making the Atari do things it wasn’t supposed to do).

FM: Don’t you think the Internet has changed the industry? I mean 15 years ago you wouldn’t be posting your progress or voicing your opinion about a video game project to thousands of fans worldwide.

PJ: The internet has changed more than just the game industry. It’s changing the way we communicate. I think nothing of replying to a letter from someone I’ve annoyed with my opinions, and perhaps ending up with, if not a friend, at least someone who is not my enemy. Fifteen years ago my employer would have called me out on the carpet and reamed me out for expressing my opinions publicly (it did happen once at Coleco when I gave an interview to my home-town paper and the opinions were extremely mild). I think the internet is great for communication. I love e-mail, perhaps too much. Now, on the other hand, it also opens up new opportunities to hurt people, either by thoughtless letters, killing characters in games and so on. Overall, the good outweighs the bad.

FM: When did you start using the Internet?

PJ: True confessions time … the day I started at id. My previous employer didn’t provide ‘net access for artists and I could never justify purchasing a new modem (I’ve got a 2400 baud Zoom gathering dust near my Mac).

FM: What web sites, T.V. shows do you follow?

PJ: I check out Blue’s News, Redwood’s and PlanetQuake daily for industry news. I like to see what the various skin artists are showing. And every couple weeks I check out Dilbert. T.V.? I haven’t followed television in about, oh, nine years, ever since my wife and decided to pull the plug on it because it was luxury we couldn’t afford (Yes, I was once a “starving artist” … or at least a relatively poor one). I think I would be an X-Files junkie if given the chance. I do listen to a lot of book tapes while I work … does that count for anything?

(Heh… it’s not like I keep score :) -Frags)

FM: How are you different from the “other Paul” at id (Paul Steed, Artist)?

PJ: I’m older, much taller, significantly heavier and probably less personally intense than the amazing Mr. Steed. I have a “traditional” art background, where his is more electronic. I think weights should be left lying on the floor where they can’t hurt people.

FM: Got anything else to add before we get to “Complete the Sentence?”

PJ: Completely off topic, but I sell prints of some of the paintings I’ve done over the years. Alas, I don’t have an online venue to sell them so I can’t show them to you. Anyone familiar with my work can write and I can tell you what things are available. End of shameless commercial plug.

FM: “If I was stranded on a desert island with one video game console (w\ games) it would be the..

PJ: Nintendo 64

FM: “Projects I worked on for Epyx and EA never made it out because…

PJ: I designed a “Miami Vice” knockoff for Epyx that went never went past the design document stage. I wrote up a number of proposals for other games (working for a developer under contract to Epyx) and even programmed a Hypercard demo of an “educational” time travel game. I was contracted to develop a “monsters as heroes” RPG for EA around 1990. They pulled me from that project to help out on Bards Tale IV. That project gulped vast amounts of cash and resources before crashing and burning due to its trying to be too many different kinds of games at once. Buggy editor and system code and the lead programmer quitting the company didn’t help. Death was a kindness to that project.

FM: “The funniest thing I’ve ever seen was the…

PJ: “Feature” in the old ColecoVision cart “SMURF ADVENTURES” where you could make Smurfette’s dress disappear. Had to do with them number of sprites on a line in that particular graphics mode. OK, so I don’t get out much.

(BWAHAHA! Note: This is not like why I liked Smurfs :) If you got the game and want to try this out (I’ve never done this… honest… so I don’t know if it works), go to the end screen where Smurfette is, walk left until she’s out of the picture then come back and her dress should be off. At least, that’s what loonyboi told me… (He’s a pervert) :) Don’t believe me? Well… You’ll see… – Frags)

FM: “The stupidest thing I was duped into buying was the…

PJ: …Koala KAT drawing pad for the Mac (circa 1986). I returned it.

(Man, is this scary… I mean frightening :) I remember using the Koala in 5th grade. It sucked, but you could do these cool mirror effects with colored lines. Hey it was cool at the time…. – Frags)

FM: “Not many people know that id has a…

PJ: …Refrigerator full of ice cream treats.

(Ice Cream in a Refrigerator? No wonder Abrash left! :) – Frags)

FM: “One of the coolest people I’ve ever met was…

PJ: Michael Whelan (the fantasy & SF artist). He critiqued my art work and signed two of his art books for me with very encouraging words. Made me try harder at learning the illustration craft, and eventually paid off.

FM: “Quake 2 is unlike any other project I’ve worked on because..

PJ: …It uses up-to-date technology.

FM: “If I wasn’t making games I’d be…

PJ: Painting book and game covers for TSR and preparing to move to Seattle with the rest of the TSR staff. If anyone pays attention to the fantasy game industry, they would know that TSR has been bought out by Wizards of the Coast, makers of the Magic the Gathering card game.

FM: “At 3 A.M., nothin’ beats going to the kitchen and …

PJ: You must be joking … Actually, I haven’t done all-nighters in about 10 years (either to get a project done or deal with a sick baby). The body just doesn’t work that way any more.

FM: “My favorite part of Quake 2 so far is…

PJ: …Adrian Carmack’s and Kevin Cloud’s amazing 8-bit textures. They look great even without GL and truth be told, they aren’t even using the entire palette yet. There’s still colors reserved out for later use

FM: “Many people will be surprised that Quake 2 has…

PJ: …Next to nothing from Quake 1 in it. This ain’t no sequel!!

(Then why does it have a “2” after it? :) -Frags)

FM: “This interview was…

PJ: …Long :)

Microphone cover photo by Alex Cole on Unsplash

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