Ed English (1996)
by Tim Duarte
TD: What games did you program at Parker Brothers besides Frogger?
Ed English: I was hired by Parker Brothers because I had game experience programming for Fidelity's Chess Challenger in Miami. They didn't tell me I would be working on videogames; it was a pleasant surprise. The only game I programmed at PB was Frogger. Initially, I spent time disassembling cartridges to learn how the 2600 worked. We had some hardware and register level doc from a consulting company, but still needed to see how the registers were used in an actual game. I stayed at PB for about a year.
TD: Which games did you program at Coleco?
Ed English: I quit PB over money. Frogger sold over 4 million carts, generating over $80 million for PB, who had never done $100 million for all products combined. I figured I was due to get on a royalty plan. PB refused, instead offering bonus dollars that did not reflect a product's contribution to the company; the PB VPs didn't want 21-year-old programmers making more money than them! I quit and started Individeo, Inc. with another PB programmer, Ed Temple (Ed programmed Amidar). I called on all the main 2600 cart manufacturers, looking for the best deal. Everybody wanted us - Frogger was a great resume enhancer. Some almost fell off their chairs when I said how much we wanted. We went with the highest bidder; Coleco was the best deal. We contracted with Coleco to do their Atari 2600 line for two years. I made some big bucks for a 22-23 year old! I bought a Porsche and a house! I programmed Mr. Do! and Roc'n Rope. My partner did Front Line, Looping, and Cabbage Patch Kids. Looping and CPK came out great but were never published for reasons unknown to us.
TD: Did you program games for any other systems besides the 2600?
Ed English: After the Coleco deal, we did develop an original game on speculation called Raiders of the Rebus for the C-64. It was a mistake and we ended up not being able to sell it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Players played an action sports game (hockey and basketball) to solve a mental puzzle, by knocking off blocks that covered a graphic rebus below. They had to try to guess what the rebus puzzle meant, while pitches and pucks were flying at them.
TD: What are you currently doing now?
Ed English: At the moment I am programming modem firmware for one of the top modem manufacturers. Hard to believe, but I am back to programming in 6502 Assembly Language again.
TD: Did you have a coin-operated machine of Frogger to use as a "model" for your 2600 version? Did you have programming specs for the arcade machine (like what level the snake appears, etc.) to work from? If you did not have game specs, did you have to get really good at the arcade game to program the higher levels?
Ed English: Yes, I had an arcade Frogger at PB for a model. PB's game room got popular with employees, they had to restrict access to get people to do some work. Frogger specs were rough and translated from Japanese. Mostly I learned how it worked by playing it. Coleco sent us four arcade games to convert. I still have Mr. Do! and Roc'n Rope in my cellar.
TD: Did you ever see/play the Starpath Supercharger version of Frogger, programmed by Steve Landrum? What are your opinions of this version?
Ed English: No opinion, as I never saw it.
TD: Did you program Frogger II?
Ed English: No, Mark Lesser programmed Frogger II for the 2600 for PB.
TD: Did you have any input for Frogger II? Did Mark consult with you? Do you still associate with Mark?
Ed English: No, I was gone from PB before Frogger II was started. I still see Mark once in a blue moon at the annual Microsmiths Summer Bash that my friend Rex Bradford hosts. Rex did the PB Star Wars carts, worked at Activision for awhile, and did Mean 18, plus a bunch of other stuff. Mark Lesser has done some Sega sports carts in the last couple of years. Mark told me at a cookout that he did borrow some of my code for Frogger II.
TD: What other game companies did you apply at? Did the big-names Atari or Activision appeal to you?
Ed English: After PB, I contacted five or six companies, including Atari and Activision. The big-names did not appeal to me. Frankly, I already had some sort of fame. After Frogger, I was looking for money. A bunch of my programmer friends left PB and went to Activision about a year after I left.
TD: How did you come up with the innovative feature of "B" difficulty in Frogger, allowing scroll wrap on the river portion of the screen? Incidentally, this is the feature that allowed many novices to videogames to get hooked on the game.
Ed English: Thanks for the kind words. I don't recall it being any great breakthrough I came up with. I remember we were trying to think of a good use for the B switch.
Frogger (LEFT) and Frogger II: Threeedeep! (RIGHT)
TD: How did you do the two-voice music, which had never been done in a 2600 game up to that point?
Ed English: Jim McGuiness, my boss at PB, first suggested trying to do two-part music, multiplexing one sound channel with sound effects. It worked! Jim even offered to write the code for it, but I remember at the time being fiercely protective of Frogger - no one but me was going to write a single byte of code for it. It's funny what a small world it is - I just met a guy in a Windows programming course at Harvard, Gary Smiley, who worked in the DP department at PB. Gary told me he actually scored the Frogger theme song that I put in the game into notes.
TD: What were your development systems at Parker and Coleco like? It is true you sold this system to Matt Pritchard of Texas? He's a reader of the 2600 Connection newsletter and he said he is working on some new games for the 2600.
Ed English: At PB we used a 6502 cross assembler on a PDP-11 and downloaded to some no-name 6502 in-circuit emulator. Fairly primitive, but we got the job done. For Coleco, I was not an employee, but a contractor. We took out a bank loan for $15,000 and bought four Apple IIs and four Microtek 6502 in-circuit emulators. We used the Merlin assembler on the Apples. It worked great! Every month or so I'd FedEx or drive the latest ROM down to Hartford, CT from a Boston area office we rented. Yes, I did sell one of my 6502 ICEs to Matt. I need to touch base with Matt soon to see how he is doing.
TD: Were there any games you started work on but did not complete? Any projects you would like to revisit?
Ed English: Not really. Once a project was started, we finished it. It's too bad Looping and Cabbage Patch Kids didn't get published; they really came out great (no, I can't send anyone the ROMs). But we couldn't complain - Coleco paid us a lot of non-refundable up-front money toward royalties anyways.
TD: Did you do any original, new, top-to-bottom game designs, or did you work exclusively on assigned projects (i.e. translations of coin-op machines)?
Ed English: As contractors, we did mostly coin-op conversions. CPK was the only in-house development that Coleco gave to us. We thought that was going to be a home run, because this was during the height of the CPK craze. The only other original game was the one I mentioned previously, Raiders of the Rebus, for the C-64. After we realized we couldn't sell that, we decided to seek refuge from the videogame market crash and to get "normal" programming jobs for a year. Well, it's been 15 years...
TD: Are you surprised that people still care about the 2600?
Ed English: Actually I was more than a little surprised when I first stumbled into an internet newsgroup that covers the 2600. But I know what a deep impression the stuff kids are interested in during their "formative" years can have. I still treasure my 1960s comic books and non-sports trading cards that I collected when I was that age. So I certainly understand the lasting bond people have to the 2600. It was GREAT at the time.
TD: What games for the 2600 did you most admire when programming it? What games have you liked since then?
Ed English: Programmers of the 2600 always looked to the guys at Activision and Imagic for pushing the edge. Stuff like, "How did they get 8-digit scores, when tripling the 2 sprites only gave you 6?" was always interesting. Those were the cartridges you disassembled if you wanted to learn how to program the 2600. For playing, I always liked the simple but engaging games like Kaboom! and River Raid.
It is unfortunate how corporate the videogame business has become, with the hardware manufacturer dictating how many and how much independent 3rd-parties can make. The good old days of the "open" 2600 are gone forever from the game console side of things. That's why I like the PC - it's open, it's documented, and you can do whatever you want without getting permission from some controlling hardware company. The days of the 2600 were like the wild west. It was a blast! Ribbet!
Ed is currently the CEO at Elerts.
|Frogger||Atari VCS/2600||Parker Brothers||released|
|Mr. Do!||Atari VCS/2600||Coleco (Individeo)||released|
|Roc'n Rope||Atari VCS/2600||Coleco (Individeo)||released|
|Raiders of the Rebus||C-64||Individeo||unreleased|
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