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Chat with Lance Lewis - The Atari Times

Chat with Lance Lewis

Questions to the Alien vs. Predator namesake
by Atari Fans

December 8, 2005
On December 13, 2004, The Atari Times chatroom hosted a session with Atari Jaguar tester Lance Lewis. If the name sounds familiar, you may want to play Alien vs. Predator again to refresh your memory. This chat has been re-organized into a more coherent question and answer style "interview." Thanks to those who participated and extra thanks to Lance for allowing us to bombard him with questions! (Oh, and a thanks to Darryl B. for asking Lance to chat with us!)

Life at Atari

"I think Sam genuinely wanted the Jaguar to succeed."

Greg: Thanks for dropping by Lance. It's always cool to talk with a former Atari employee! ;-)
Lance: It was the greatest job I ever had. if the Tramiels hadn't ruined it all, I probably never would have left.

K3V: So Lance, do you play games any more for fun or did testing burn you out?
Lance: I have an Xbox. Don't play it much. I have a bunch of arcade games that I play more than anything.

Darrylb: So Lance, which do you prefer: older vs. newer games? (think the "arcades at home" ref answers that though!)
Lance: Darryl, yeah. I go old school. but I'll play Splinter Cell all night

Darrylb: So, is Lance an Atari man from all the way back, to the 2600 days?
Lance: Nah, I was only Lynx / Jag days. but I played the hell out of the 2600 as a kid :)

rpmxixipt: How'd you get into game development, Lance?
Lance: I spent high school playing ColecoVision. Then I got an in with the test department at Atari.
rpmxixipt: lol That's all it took eh?
Lance: Yeah, just a buddy and I was in. :)

Greg: Someone asked earlier where you're working now?
Lance: I'm just doing web s*** for eBay.

Peter: When did you leave Atari Lance?
Lance: Layoffs in 96 I think.

Darrylb: What was the Atari work atmosphere like? Casual?
Lance: The atmosphere was very cool. Relaxed. A couple of the old stoner guys were still there.

Darrylb: Do you keep in touch with any other ex-Atari employees?
Lance: Yeah, Darryl, a lot of us are still good friends.

rpmxixipt: Lance, were you able to transition relatively well post Tramiels? Was it a difficult transition for you to other areas in your field of expertise?
Lance: I was able to leverage the friends I had made there to get work elsewhere. Me and purple worked Atari, rocket science, 3DO together.

DanAVC: Did you know Bob Brodie or Don Thomas?
Lance: Dan, yeah worked with them. Don is a great guy. Funny guy.

evilmaxx17: What was the attitude around Atari around the time of the Jag CD? Did they ever really expect it to succeed?
Lance: By the time the Jag CD came out, we knew it was all about to end. It just couldn't keep up with the Sony PS.
Greg: Too bad. I liked the JagCD. I wish there were some more games for it tho...

Jack (left) and Sam (right) Tramiel.

Peter: Did the change back to Jack Tramiel make a big difference for you at work?
Lance: Huge difference. As soon as Jack came back, he was like "F*** this, you're all fired."
Peter: So do you think Sam was on a good way? Would he have tried to keep the thing running?
Lance: I think Sam genuinely wanted the Jag to succeed. Not just to make money, but to prove that they knew what they were doing. As soon as he got sick, and Jack took over, [he] just wanted to sell it all off.
Greg: Hmm... that's too bad. I wondered if Sam's illness played a role. Although, I hoped Jack would actually do something positive. :-|

Darrylb: Unless you're unsure about how certain companies operate nowadays, any idea of which company you'd take up playtesting with again, if given a choice?
Lance: I couldn't do testing again, the salary wouldn't cover my family overhead

FunkDog: Hey Lance, do you know an Eric Riley that you worked with at Atari? He was telling me that you, him, and a few other Atari guys were gonna startup a new development house ... Any truth to that rumor?
Lance: I know Riley. That rumor is not true.
FunkDog: Oh, bummer dude, I'm sure you Atari guys have some killer ideas.
Lance: Testing was fun, but designing was better.

FunkDog: Lance, what was test life like at Atari? I've heard crazy stories of people with booze in their cubes taking naps all day and stuff ... the stories are almost too far fetched to be believable!
Lance: Exactly. Those stories are true. I often slept under my desk. I was tired.

FunkDog: Hey Lance, any hotties work in the test department at Atari? Or all dudes? You don't hear about a lot of girls in the game industry.
Lance: There was a chick in the test dept. one. She was not a hottie. Most hot chicks don't have to play games to get guys ;)

Greg: So, what was your fav game to test (besides AvP of course!)
Lance: I liked testing Zool 2. That game was cool.

Alien Vs. Predator

Lance is the title character in AvP.

Greg: I just wanna know the basic question: How'd your name end up being used in AvP? ;-)
Lance: I just got lucky. I was spending like 20 hours a day there, days a week. Purple thought it would be funny to put my name in there. It just never got removed.

K3V: I've got my AvP poster with Lance's name on it hanging right by my PC here :)
DanAVC: I got one of those too rolled up though in a tube.
Lance: I liked that poster. The art work wasn't finished. You can see chunks of details missing from the alien.

Greg: Rebellion didn't have their own tester?
Lance: LOL.Yeah, what testers. I think I tested maybe a dozen Lynx games? Most Jag games that came thru.

Lance: What was great, was that the lead programmers/artists at Rebellion had never even seen Alien or Predator movies. None of them.
Greg: Funny, I remember reading how they went and watched them all though.
Lance: They watched the movies after we MADE them. The first rev they submitted to us as a FINAL was awful...There was no objectives other than shooting and finding the exit. That was all the game consisted of.

Greg: Was it really faster in a prev version than the final?
Lance: As long as there were no objects in the game, the engine was FLYING. As soon as the sprites were there.... Ugh. ;)
K3V: Yeah it's rumored to have been slowed down on purpose... Was that true?
Peter: I thought it was so slow because it had to calculate all those aliens running around
Lance: K3V, I don't think that was totally true, only that the alien had faster speed, that was about it.

Greg: Lance, did you help out Rebellion at all with AvP PC?
Lance: No. I was well out of the industry by then. All my design stuff was only on the Jag version. But I think you can see the obvious influences that our designs led them to further develop.

The 3-eyed Lance from Spacewar 2000.

K3V: I think Lance's appearance in Spacewar 2000 is better than AvP ;)
Lance: K3V, that was awful. I was tricked. Chris Thompson told me I wouldn't be recognizable. I was supposed to be green and distorted. He just wanted a bald guy. Next thing you know, I have a third eye. That's it. F*****g guy tricked me ;). We played hockey together for a few years after that.

Other Games & Stuff

Greg: Control of Checkered Flag comes to mind... That just needed a little tweak.
Lance: We spent MONTHS tweaking the control on C. Flag. That was about as good as the programmer could get it... God, I forget his name. We locked him in Sunnyvale for like 3 months. I had to playtest that thing in manual transmission. Ugh.
Peter: The coder said it would not be any better than that and then Atari would go and release it? Kinda hard to believe....
Lance: Peter, yeah. They needed titles and weren't willing to just eat the game. They didn't care if it was a POS. No offense. The guys worked hard on it. It just should have been a demo is all.

Darrylb: Any idea about how many Jag projects were cancelled at that time that were in the works?
Lance: Probably a half dozen that I knew of. But they didn't tell us much. :(

K3V: Were you involved with Legions of the Undead at all? How far along was that game?

Legions of the Undead probably would have been a fun reworking of the AvP engine. It didn't get much farther than this in development.

Lance: Never heard of Legions, sorry.
K3V: [Legions of the Undead] was supposed to run on an upgraded version of the AvP engine, IIRC.
Lance: Not sure what technology was used across them.

Darrylb: Lance, did you see the Black Ice/White Noise review? Do you know how much of it was complete? It sounded pretty huge as it was...
Lance: Black Ice/White Noise would have been cool. We were hoping. Black Ice would have been huge. I think there's a playable demo out there now?

TheGraphicsMan: How far did Tomb Raider make it in development for the JagCD?
Lance: Never saw Tomb Raider on Jag CD. I saw a demo of Highlander 2. Pretty much the same thing but they had mapped the characters. Hover Strike was a POS, but was fun to work on. Good bunch of guys on that team.

Greg: Ooh Yeah... Fight for Life! :-)
Lance: I remember a meeting at Atari regarding Fight for Life. Sony had released their first fighting game for the Playstation. What was that thing called?
Greg: Toshinden probably.
K3V: That was Battle Arena Toshinden, right?
Lance: The 3D fighter with weapons. Yeah, that's right. The Fight for Life producer, Drawing a blank...
Greg: Francios Bertrand.
K3V: FYB I think it was.
Lance: Anyways, we were in a meeting and the guy says. "I know in my heart of hearts that Fight for Life is better that Toshinden." The rest of us were like WOW. That's a crock of s***, but ok. ;) It played horrible. It was like robots. Ugh.

evilmaxx17: Anything interesting behind the scenes in regards to the Pro Controller? Was it released solely for Primal Rage? Also, have you tested any JagVR games?
Lance: As soon as the 3 button controller was manufactured, they realized it was obsolete. The developers hated being limited. I liked the feel of the buttons better on the Pro.
Only JagVR crap I saw was at the E3. It was all out of our sight. [It] wasn't even built in Sunnyvale, far as I know.

A thanks from Lance

The Jaguar VR helmet now owned by Jay Smith.

Lance: The 12 of you that own those are why we stayed there on the weekends. It was fun :)
K3V: Many of us own copies of every POS on the Jag ;)
Lance: lol
Greg: Yeah, we're all here tonight! :-)
K3V: Hahaha.

Lance: So are any of you guys those cool indie Jag developers?
Greg: Funny you should ask... TheGraphicsMan is shy, but he's working on... what these days? [Legion Force?]
K3V: JagMod and TheGraphicsMan are indie devs ;) I am their tagalong tester and media whore.
Lance: You guys are f*****g heroes. Gotta get Carl Forhan in here. That guy is a rock star.

Lance: Ok, I'll catch you guys next week. I'm out. Thanks for the time :) You can check out my s****y website. www.roachnest.com
Thanks Lance for coming! I hope you'll come back!

(Entire unedited chat transcript available upon request.)

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