A chat with Q*bert programmer Warren Davis
As the modern day video game industry continues to grow, the games from the original boom period of the early 1980s have entered pop culture status.
Among the ranks of Pac-Man, Mario and Donkey Kong is Q*bert. The title character of this 1982 arcade smash has continued to live on almost 30 years after his debut, from references in television shows such as Family Guy and The Simpsons to gamers still aiming to be the all-time world champion on the title.
According to Warren Davis, the programmer who brought Q*bert to the video game arcade screen, the lasting impact of the game was not expected.
“It’s nice to hear that Q*bert is still remembered by some people,” Davis told Arcade Game Examiner. “Sometimes it seems like Pac- Man and Donkey Kong get a lot of attention and Q*bert is just fading off into obscurity.”
The initial popularity of Q*bert resulted in numerous home releases, plush dolls and more. It also became one of a handful of video games to become cartoons, as CBS Saturday Morning cartoon Saturday Supercade included a Q*bert segment alongside animated episodes of games such as Frogger and Donkey Kong Junior.
“I wasn’t all that impressed,” Davis revealed. “It was a nice attempt to create a back-story for the characters, but I didn’t think it really needed one. It was also a nice attempt to market the character and help it reach a bigger audience, but I’m not sure that it had any effect.”
After Q*bert, Davis continued to work on video gaming titles including classic arcade shooters Revolution-X and Terminator 2. While these titles differed greatly from his early 80s hit, the goal was the same, he said.
“My approach isn’t all that different. Whatever the genre or style, I try to find a way to engage and challenge the player in an entertaining way,” Davis said.
In addition to game design, Warren Davis has also entered acting, appearing in television shows such as All My Children, House M.D. and the Practice, as well as films such as 2008’s Yesterday Was A Lie.
“Acting is something I started doing in college for fun, and at the time I was hired by Gottlieb, I was also studying and performing improv comedy in Chicago,” he said. “Luckily, I was always able to fit in acting on nights and weekends while my day job was making video games. After a few years, I found myself working in bigger and better theatres and eventually realized that it was something of a second career. Nowadays, I’m more interested in acting and directing than writing software, although I still dabble on software projects that interest me.”
Q*bert has once again entered the public eye in competitive video gaming, including the recent attempt in New Jersey by gamer George Leutz, who saw his world record attempt end after 36 hours when the power cord was jostled. Davis, who learned of the attempt through Arcade Game Examiner, spoke to Leutz shortly after the sudden game over.
“I felt absolutely terrible for him, but he seemed to be in as good spirits as possible,” Davis said. “He had a great group of friends there to support him, and you can’t really ask for anything more than that, can you? I congratulated him, and told him that next time he tries, I’ll try to be present via Skype so I can watch.”
Even though Davis has made a mark on screens across video gaming, movies and television, he turned down the opportunity to plug his upcoming projects.
“I’m not much of a self-promoter. Maybe I’ll develop that skill someday,” he said.