PVB: “Hello Steve! Could you introduce yourself to our readers who have not yet heard of you?”
SW: “Sure. My name’s Steve Woita. I’ve been in the video game biz since about 1980. I got my degree in Electronic Engineering. My first job out of college was at Apple computer. I started out as technician fixing Apple II mother boards on the assembly line. It was such a learning experience for me software and hardware wise. After a year or so of doing that I knew every digital signal on the Apple II mother board and then I moved over to Research and Development and I worked on some cool projects there.”
PVB: “You were the main man behind Ocean’s Waterworld for the Virtual Boy. Could you tell us about your time at Ocean and the development of Waterworld?”
SW: “Jason Plumb and I were working at Sega at the time. I had an original idea that I wanted to do for years and Jason and an artist named Tom Payne (not sure on his last name spelling) were given the go ahead to do the game. To get the green light on an original game design that would get full support by a big company like Sega at that time (now its mega worse) was huge. The game was moving along very well. Both Jason and I made sure every thing in the group was moving as we needed in order to integrate all of the assets in to the game and tune everything so that it played as best as possible. Well, a game that was also being designed at the same time was called Sonic Spinball. A deadline was starting to near for Spinball and everyone in our group was called on to help finish this game. Jason and I were asked to help out on this project which was in huge trouble at the time. We said we’ll help but the both of us must work off site so that we will not be disturbed. The deal was when we finished working on Sonic Spinball we would come back to Redwood City and continue and finish up our original idea. When we finally finished Sonic Spinball and came back to Sega in Redwood City, we found that they had hired a producer to “Help” us on our original idea. To make matters worse, they put the art director of another project to be the final say of the look of our original game! At that time, Jason, Tom Payne and I were the ones that had the final say on everything. So to make a very long story short, I was very upset that some producer (which was my role along with designing and programming this game) got hired without being interviewed by me and putting someone else in charge of the look of our game. So at this time we got the Sonic Spinball game out on time for the Christmas buying time (November 23rd 1993) which was a huge achievement for how messed up that project was.
So at that time our original game that we had got off the ground the way we wanted it to and built and designed it the way we wanted to was now screwed up. So I got a call from a recruiter that said we’d like to hire you to a company that really needs your experience. I said: “Hmmmm, you know what, how would you like to also get my programming buddy Jason Plumb?” he said let’s talk. We did and both Jason Plumb and I resigned from Sega at the same time. Note: They didn’t give us our bonus for finishing Sonic Spinball on time. They said if you leave we won’t give you your bonus (which was due to us). We would’ve stayed if they let us finish our original game that we started, but it didn’t work out that way so we ended up at Ocean Of America.
Both Jason and I were both told that we could do anything we want game wise at Ocean of America. So we refined our object system in C (up to this point almost everything we did was in assembly language). We wanted to do an Arcade game but they said that wouldn’t be a good idea. We started to get the feeling that all these guys knew were movie licenses. Oh, yeah, I also approached our management and suggested that we license Doom II and put it in an arcade cabinet. I also said we should license the Doom II engine to use in our next game, they said no. At this point we knew that Ocean of America just secured the movie rights to Water World. So we said lets do a really cool Water World themed pinball game for the PC and make the code totally portable for whatever game consoles we got the rights to publish on. Management let us work on the design for awhile and said “I’m not sure a pinball game is what we had in mind”. So much for letting us do what we want. At this time the Virtual Boy and the Sega Saturn were not out yet and nor were their development kits. Jason and I started working on the programming and design of what would be the Virtual Boy Water World game by first proto typing the game in C on the PC. We figured it would be cool to have the game play where you rescue the Atollers from the jet skis who would ride over them and pick them up and drag them off of the screen then you go after them and shoot them and the Atoller would be left behind ready to rescue by driving by them. Also, if you viewed the play top down, it was kind of like Asteroids but you had to protect these drowning people. We really liked the game play.
So we ported the code over to the Virtual Boy in about 2 or 3 days. When we got it to work (at this point the game was just in 2D top down) we couldn’t believe it! This was the first time for both Jason and I to see the code we wrote on the PC work on another platform! It was something I’ll never forget.
Now it was time to turn this game into a 3D game. We worked on getting water in the game but it turned out to not leave much bandwidth for all of the other elements of the game to be serviced in one game frame and it occluded all of the other necessary elements crucial to the game play so we had to throw out the water and hint to it with particle effects.
Frame rate and game play were always our major focus.
Remember there are four buffers to deal with on the Virtual Boy (at least the way we did it). A pair of buffers per eyeball. Each eye sees a different position of the same object in order to carry out the 3D effect in your brain. We’d write new back buffer data to the left eye and right eye buffers each game frame to reflect any new object positioning (to the off screen buffers) while displaying what happened the previous game frame on the foreground left and right eye buffers or in other words what the player actually sees buffers (this is called page flipping with 4 pages). In order to achieve the 3D effect in one’s brain, the object in the virtual space of the game must be precisely tuned to the distance between the player’s left and right eyes and where the object is supposed to be in the virtual distance. The space between the eyes (inter pupillary distance) adjustment feature on the Virtual Boy (knob at the top) allows the player to set the distance between the two 50hz rotating mirrors (one per eye ball) that are used to spray the images off of the two separate columns of 224 LED’s that are getting their data from two left and right eye display buffers. This graphical data is literally reflected from the two columns of 224 LED’s to the two 50 Hz mirrors that are right behind the plastic red lens filter. This graphical data is actually sprayed on to the retinas of both the left and right eyes of the player. Now that the player has manually adjusted the distance of the mirrors to suit their eyes, we have to calculate the correct horizontal displacement values so that the object appears to be out in virtual 3D space. This took us awhile to calculate the values. If these values are off just slightly, the player will start to get sick. Both Jason and I arrived to work one day and found out that our manager decided without our permission to send the game to our testers to see how well the game was coming along. Well we were not done tuning the horizontal displacement values and sure enough, the testers got sick! I truly miss working on that machine. I did feel like we were just starting to scratch the surface of what this little machine could do. It really felt like you were working on 3D!”
PVB: “What kind of tools were used for the development of Waterworld? Did you develop any custom tools?”
SW: “There only tool that I can remember that was developed was somthing that converted the high quality art work from Max to shades of… Red :)”
PVB: “Were there plans for any other Virtual Boy software after or before Waterworld? Did you have any other game concepts in mind before Waterworld took shape?”
SW: “Well Ocean got the license for WaterWorld before the VB came out. So we were working on the game idea on the PC. The PC was our main dev environment. We used a product called “Multi Edit” for editing our code. We then compiled the stuff with Microsoft’s compiler. When the VB came out we took what we had at the time on the PC and ported it over to the VB and finished the game off on the VB ”
PVB: “Are the rumours about a linkable 2-Player mode in Waterworld true?”
SW: “They were true. Both Jason and I wanted to have a head to head battle with the Jet skis but Nintendo decided to cancel the serial cable. Big mistake.”
PVB: “Was anything ever programmed link cable-wise, or was there even a 2-Player Prototype?”
SW: “No. Nothing was ever programmed for the never released two player cable link. We were really upset at that. I had the whole design worked out in my head. We would’ve had it runing in a day or two.”
PVB: “How would the Waterworld 2 player mode have been like?”
SW: “Both players would have their Virtual Boy machines wired up with the serial cable a few feet from each other. Each player would be on a jet ski and have there own life meter. The arena would be of medium play size so the players couldn’t stray too far. The game would’ve played like paint ball and each hit would decrement that player’s health bar and when that health bar ran out that would be 1 point for the other player. First person to 5 or 10 would be the winner.”
PVB: “Anything else you wanted to program in or ideas that didn’t make it into the final game?”
SW: “I may’ve said this one before, but we really wanted the water in the game, you know, with waves and what not, but it totally got in the way of the game play.”
PVB: “What about the unreleased Saturn version of Waterworld? Was it like the VB version or the SNES version? Or even completely different?”
SW: “We had nothing to do with the SNES version. We only did the VB and Saturn versions. The Saturn version was really a great version of what we wanted to do. We had smart bombs floating in the water that you’d use at the right time and take out as many enemies that were visible out in the world. The water was the best water I’d ever seen in a game at that time, Jason Plumb nailed that down. We also had a weapon that shot saw blades out onto the water, and the blades would skim 5 or 6 times before you couldn’t see them anymore. We had a bunch of very cool weapons in the game. The Saturn version was completely finished and then Infograms took us over and decided not to release the game. I’d have to say, that even by today’s standards, it was one of the best playing and looking games around.”
PVB: “So the Saturn version would have been Waterworld as you wanted it to be… too bad it wasn’t released. Were you still satisfied with the Virtual Boy version, seeing that most gamers out there don’t really like the game?”
SW: “The word on the street is that a lot of the “hard core” gamers like the VB version..It’s a little hard to understand for the unskilled player on how to best play the game. The Saturn version is a very, very good playing game and I wish I could get that game out there right now.”
PVB: “Was a release of Waterworld in Japan planned? There’s japanese text on the Precaution Screen at least…”
SW: “Hmmmm…I don’t remember that Japanese text…Weird…To get back to your question, yes, if they wanted it. We didn’t do a translation yet, but we were ready to if the wanted it.”
PVB: “Do you know anything about Worms for Virtual Boy, which Ocean would have published?”
SW: “No. I wonder how that would’ve turned out? We used to play the PC version in the lab all of the time.”
PVB: “”How long did the development of Waterworld for the Virtual Boy take in total?”
SW: “It took about 6 months.”
PVB: “How was programming for the Virtual Boy? Did you like working with it?”
SW: “I loved programming for the VirtualBoy. It was real 3D, not 3D rendered stuff smeared on a 2D screen.”
PVB: “Why not get back to VB programming with TinyGames? Heh.”
SW: “I might do that… You’ve got me thinking about it!”
PVB: “Fingers crossed! Thanks a lot for the interview, Steve!”
SW: “No problem. Thank you for doing the interview. I do miss programming and designing games for the VB. Thanks a lot for all of the questions!”
PVB: “Oh, by the way… did you keep anything from the development of Waterworld? Sketches, Prototypes, Tools, Hardware?”
SW: “Yes I did :)”