Careers: Interviews
Internationally renowned Multimedia Authority, Author, and Game Developer

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Gary Rosenzweig.

 

Gary Rosenzweig is the Chief Engineer, founder, and owner of CleverMedia, a game and multimedia development company in Denver, Colorado. He has written 10 books on Macromedia Director and Flash. In addition, Gary is the founder and inspirational talent behind Developer Dispatch, which provides news and notes for Macromedia Director and Flash developers.

 

Gary has degrees from both Drexel University in Philadelphia and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He has been building multimedia projects since 1989. CleverMedia was founded in 1995 and has produced more than 250 Shockwave and Flash games for CleverMedia's sites and other companies.

Discussion:

Q: Gary, we appreciate you taking the time to do another interview.

A: Any time.

Q: How is your wife’s online book business and what have you learned from the experience?

A: It's good. We're a little disappointed with the slow growth of the local retail traffic. But at the same time we're constantly amazed at the strong online market. Who knew that people wanted to order $2 paperbacks on the net?

I guess that's what I really learned. My wife never doubted it, but I'm the one who was supposed to be "Mr. Internet" and trust in the power of e-commerce. But if it was up to me, the books would never have gone online and we'd never have that market.

But my wife, Debby, runs the store. I have very little to do with it now. But I do get all the benefits, such as using it as my own personal lending library. :)

Q: Do you still keep in touch with your former colleagues at Ingenius, a pioneer multimedia news magazine? Can you share some stories about their current experiences? For example, Will Follett is still with you as your Art Director.

A: Will and I have now worked together for more than 10 years. We worked together very closely at Ingenius even back in 1995. You don't see that very often in this industry.

As for the rest, they are scattered all over the place. Thanks to blogging, it is easy to keep tabs on them. For instance, Jay Shaffer has his at http://macaudioguy.com and Ken Gadoua at http://eurl.com. We actually had a huge reunion last summer at Phil Water's house up in Evergreen. We started an alumni Web site as a result of that as well.

Q: What five special and little known developer gems can you share about Flash and Director?

A: 1) Shockwave 3D works better than ever now, since it uses OpenGL and DirectX and can hook into the latest 3D graphics cards. So without even an update to the Shockwave 3D engine, we can do more than ever before with it. If you last looked at it in 2001, you may want to have another look on a 2005 machine.

2) The Flash Communication Server is priced way out of the range of the casual developer. However, alternatives exist, like the Unity server, for much less. Look into them if you want to do Flash multiplayer games.

3) Most things in Director scale well. So Flash doesn't corner the market on scalable games. We just built a game that scales to the size of the browser window (http://justsolitaire.com). Text is the main holdout, but old fashioned fields will scale, and then you can always use Flash members for some text.

4) PDFs can be used in Director to do a lot of cool stuff. Look into the PDF Xtras from companies like Integration New Media. For instance, if you wanted to embed a version of a Web page into your movie, just print the Web page to a PDF and then embed it into the movie with a PDF Xtra. On OS X you can print anything to a PDF. Windows users have some tools that can do the same thing.

5) We've got an online database of Lingo syntax at http://director-online.com/lingo.php. The cool thing about it is that everyone can contribute to the database by adding notes and such. Plus it is sometimes easier to access than the actual documentation.

Q: Which books are your favorites?

A: I assume you mean business-related books, right? Well then my favorite of all time is Hackers by Steven Levy. It is a great summary of three of the most interesting stories in the creation of the computer industry. I like other game-related books such as Game Over, which is a history of Nintendo. Recently I liked Dungeons and Dreamers, a history of computer role-playing games.

But I do get a lot of inspiration from fiction. Science fiction in particular: Robert Heinlein, Philip Jose Farmer, Harry Harrison, Philip K Dick, and some of the other masters.

Q: You have been a speaker at the Game Developers Conference for many years. What session topics are of high interest to you and for what reasons? Moreover, which topics were your favorites as a speaker?

A: I always speak on something related to Web-based games. The last four years I gave a full-day tutorial on the subject. That's a lot of work. So, in a way, I was glad to take a break from it this year. I guess that topic interests me the most because that's what I do. I can speak about it effortlessly and passionately.

But I really love almost any topic that has to do with game design. Most of the presentations I go to at the conference have nothing to do with Web-based games, but yet I find ways to bring the information back to my work anyway.

Q: Please share your five “peeve” areas that need addressing, fixing, updates….

A: Hmmm. In Director and Flash? Or Games? Or something else? I guess if you are asking me, then Director and Flash would be the areas where my answers would be most relevant to readers.

1) Number 1, with a bullet, is that Macromedia needs to pay more marketing attention to Director. I put this above any actual engineering features because Director MX 2004 is so powerful that no one has really reached its limits yet. But the perception by a lot of people is that "Director is dead." This comes directly out of the fact that Macromedia keeps pushing Flash on everyone and ignoring Director. I've heard many stories of companies talking to Macromedia about tools and the only thing they hear back from Macromedia is that Flash is the tool for the job, even when Director is clearly what they are after. Press releases, reports, marketing campaigns and so on all push Flash and ignore Director.

2) Macromedia needs to do something about the fact that anyone can reverse-engineer a Flash .swf file and steal your work. It completely discourages me from doing anything more in Flash. I've already had one game stolen and altered. I know the .swf format needs to be open and all, but there should be a way to create a protected .swf or some such.

3) Director needs a new text engine. The current one is very slow, doesn't scale and isn't very powerful.

4) Currently, when you install Shockwave, you get redirected to a Shockwave.com page. Shockwave.com doesn't have anything to do with Director any more and they are exploiting some sort of old contract to get the re-direct. But I see it as nothing more than a Shockwave.com ad that is shown on my site to my visitors without any compensation to me. It isn't fair to me nor is it fair to the advertisers that pay to be on my site. Then there's the Yahoo! Toolbar installation problem as well…

5) Flash is slow. Not sure what the solution is, but I hear about improvements coming in the next version. I also hear that they aren't that big of an improvement. We'll see.

Q: What are your top games and for what reasons?

A: I like our recent games like Word Spy and Gold Strike because we took the time to put some good production values in them. The old games were slapped together very quickly and we stayed away from a lot of features due to bandwidth concerns. Another favorite of mine is Rebel Dawn. It could have been such a great RPG if I could have only found a viable revenue model.

Q: In what ways would you recommend using Flash as a business enterprise tool?

A: I'll decline to answer here since I don't do business enterprise tools. I wouldn't go near them. Yuck.

Q: You are really into PHP programming. What triggered this interest and what are your thoughts on PHP gaming?

A: Ah, yes. I've very passionate about this right now. I do a lot of PHP/MySQL stuff. PHP is a great language that has a good mix of structure and freedom. I can do quick things quickly and complex things very well.

I became interested in this because I have always needed to do content management systems for our sites in some sort of programming language. I abandoned Perl before most people discovered it because it was too slow. I did all my server programming in C. That's C, not C++. It was fast. For a while I had some Web apps, like a forum, that was faster than almost anything out there because I used C and no one else did.

But PHP was made for content management. And it doesn't do badly for backend systems like high scores either. I've been experimenting with PHP for creating specialized games. I should have at least one finished game in 2005 that uses PHP and neither Flash nor Shockwave. Can't wait to see how I pull that off.

Q: Gary, please choose three topics of your choosing and provide comment.

A: Area 1: One of my recent areas of interest has been creating a multiplayer site for kids. By that, I mean it is SAFE for kids. So no open chat and such. But I want to enable communication anyway. So the trick is to allow only good and harmless communication and completely eliminate bad communication. I'm trying to work on a project that has those design parameters at the center. This probably comes from being a father now, but it has always bothered me that there is a problem at my GamesPark site with bad language and, well, "disturbing" conversations.

Area 2: The problem of video game censorship is another thing I am passionate about. I've always been a defender of the First Amendment, and am surprised that the issues seem to have followed me from my previous career in journalism.

I'm particularly concerned about how small censorship measures can balloon into full censorship. For instance, if a state bans violent video game sales to minors, but defines violence poorly, then suddenly it includes all sports titles as well. Or, if a store decides that it is too much trouble to determine the age of a customer and decides instead not to carry a questionable game at all, thus preventing adults in the area from getting it. This all happened in the music industry in the 80s.

The ESRB (private industry game ratings board) added "nudity" as a descriptor to its labels. It was meant to provide more information to the consumer. But Walmart is now refusing to carry those games. However, it still carries PG13 and R movies with nudity. I could go on and on. I hope to get more involved in the fight against censorship, perhaps in my role as a local chapter coordinator for the International Game Developers Association.

Area 3: The most common question I get asked is "when will your next book be out?"

No more books for me. They are a ton of work, and the market isn't what it used to be. The publishers aren't interested in Director books much anymore, and the Flash book market is crowded. I will update my Special Edition Using Director series if the publisher wants me to, but that would be all. I'll pour my community efforts into my blog (http://developerdispatch.com) and Director Online. Maybe I'll try an e-Book one of these days.

Q: What are the five top resources for developers?

A: 1) http://director-online.com -- tons of articles and such, of which I am the current steward.

2) http://gamasutra.com and http://gamedev.net -- a must for game developers.

3) http://google.com -- so many questions that people email me could be answered if they would just search!

4) Go to the Game Developers Conference every year.

5) Go to whatever local industry group best fits you. Could be the local IGDA chapter, or a local Macromedia user group, or whatever.

Q: Gary, thank you for sharing your years of accumulated wisdom.

A: My pleasure.

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