Blue Sky Rangers remember Gene Smith
I am so sorry to hear this sad news. I remember Gene. I always wondered how such a seemingly easygoing guy could create a game as intense as Bomb Squad - which could really get the adrenaline pumping! He was a pleasure to work with and I know his loss saddens many who knew him. My condolences to all his friends and family.
I remember Gene as a friendly unimposing quiet person who would do anything he could for his friends. He had a good sense of humor and was very reliable. You could always count on Gene. He was very accepting of other peoples' busy lives, but always available when they could spare some time and always there if anyone needed him. He will be greatly missed.
My sincere condolences go out to his family. I will always remember his smiling face.
When I think of Gene I think of the day he and I were working on TRON Solar Sailer and thought we heard a dirty word in the dialog. We worked to isolate the word and created an X-rated title screen for it, all the while giggling like a couple naughty school kids. Then we played it for people one by one to see their shocked reactions. Pretty juvenile, but after twenty years it still makes me laugh. Thanks, Gene.
Gene was an incredibly talented programmer. I have a favorite story that involves him. I use it any time someone talks about "unbreakable" copy protection schemes.
Most folks probably weren't aware of some of the things we did for the PC and Apple games. Because this was a new and unfamiliar business to Mattel, I ended up helping out with all sorts of non-game issues, like duplication of diskettes.
Obviously, one of the critical issues we faced was copy protection. One company that we talked to had a product that was called LaserLok or something like that. They boasted that their system was impregnable, because they physically altered the diskette, making every copy different. What they did was blast the surface with a laser, then read from the location that was damaged. Because each spot occurred in a different place and was slightly different in size, it would create different erroneous bit patterns when read.
They told us point-blank that it had never been broken. They wanted to charge $1.00 per disk for this, because it was so good. So I handed their demo disk to Gene and said "please check out their copy protection scheme," then went off to do something else for a while.
That afternoon, Gene walked back into my office, proudly holding two diskettes - the original, and a working copy. He had cracked their protection in just a few hours through some intense machine-language hacking. We told them we were not interested in using their system, and saved ourselves a lot of money.
On a separate note, Gene did a lot of hacking of low-level code for BurgerTime on the IBM PC. One of his cleverest inventions was a sixteen-color graphics mode for NTSC video. Back in those days, the only officially supported video modes on the IBM PC were Monochrome, RGB (8 ugly colors) and CGA (4 exceptionally ugly colors).
Gene discovered that by setting the video card to a certain mode, he could generate sixteen different values; raw bit pairs were sent directly out the video port and just so happened to create certain colors.
Gene made a list of the colors that were available using this technique and was able to make a version of BurgerTime that looked a whole lot more like the real arcade machine than any of the other modes would allow. The colors were actually very nice. When the IBM folks showed up, they were dumbfounded. Nobody had ever thought to do that, and they were amazed that we'd come up with this weird but very cool code.
We were so sad to hear about Gene. We shall miss seeing him at the trade shows and the Intellivision reunions. I will always remember his face when I would go into his office and tell him, "Well, I found a bug in your BurgerTime," or, "I can't seem to get this awful IBM PC (I was testing with) even booted up." He would just smile at me and we'd work it out. I'd also wonder what mischief he and Keith were up to next with their modified version of Solar Sailer. Ray and I will miss him. We've lost a friend.
Our thoughts are with his family.
|Gene Smith, a pioneering computer and video game designer and Mountain View resident, had his life abruptly ended by an aggressive form of cancer on July 14, 2002. Friends and family were shocked by the tragic turn of events, as the cancer was diagnosed less than three weeks prior to his death.
A native of Berkeley and a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Gene's career in interactive games spanned 20 years, beginning in 1981 at Mattel Electronics, where he designed Bomb Squad for the Intellivision system. With the introduction of the IBM PC, Gene began a long career of developing games for personal computers with leading publishers such as Mattel, Activision and Accolade. As a Senior Designer at Accolade, he designed the Unnecessary Roughness series of football games for which he received a nomination for Best Computer Sport Simulation of 1992.
A diverse talent, Gene also worked at ISIX, a Hasbro startup where he worked on the development of an interactive VCR-based football game. Since 2000, Gene developed online games for Skyworks Technologies.
In all, Gene developed two console games, fifteen games for personal computers and eight online games. Gene's games varied from sports simulations to children's games, flying games, maze games, puzzle games, and arcade games. Tens of millions of computer game players around the world have enjoyed uncountable hours playing his many creations.
Outside of his work, Gene's great passion was for nature and the outdoors. Every year, he would spend several weeks hiking and camping throughout the western United States. His friends and co-workers enjoyed his friendly, easy-going personality and admired his talent as a world-class computer game designer.
Gene is survived by his father and stepmother, Art and Kathryn Smith of Santa Monica, and a loving and extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Gene Smith (right) accepts a programming award for Bomb Squad from Mattel Electronics Vice President Gabriel Baum as Gene's boss, Director Mike Minkoff, looks on (1982)
Gene Smith Softwareology:
Mattel Electronics 1981-1983
- Pitfall II adaptation for IBM PCjr
- Designer's Pencil adaptation for IBM PCjr
- Hacker adaptation for Amiga
- Shanghai adaptation for Amiga
- Hacker II for IBM PC with Steve Cartwright
- Aliens for Commodore 64 with Steve Cartwright, Glyn Anderson, Peter Kaminski
- Gee Bee Air Rally for Amiga with Steve Cartwright
ISIX (A subsidiary of Hasbro) 1987-1988
- Interactive VCR game system (never marketed)
- Bar Games for IBM PC
- Mike Ditka's Ultimate Football for IBM PC
- Snoopy's Game Club for IBM PC with Mike Berlyn
- Unnecessary Roughness for IBM PC
- Unnecessary Roughness 95 for IBM PC
- Unnecessary Roughness 96 for IBM PC
Skyworks Technologies 2000-2002
A memorial service for Gene was held at 11:00 a.m., Wednesday, July 24 at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Hayward, California. Dave Akers, who worked with Gene at Mattel Electronics was there:
Yesterday, I attended Gene Smith's memorial service. About 30 people met at Gene's graveside. The attendee's included Gene's father, his aunt, other cousins and relatives, and some of Gene's coworkers, including some of the early stars of Activision (David Crane, Alan Miller, and Steve Cartwright).
A Catholic priest opened the ceremony and led everyone in prayers. Then people were invited to share memories of Gene. One of his cousins talked about growing up with Gene, and his love of the outdoors. One relative talked about visiting California with a bunch of little kids (when Gene was 18 or so), and how Gene had graciously acted as their Disneyland tour guide. Another relative said that Gene had been working on some kind of computer of his own when he was only 10 years old.
One producer said that on the first game he produced, Gene was his programmer, so he got totally spoiled by Gene routinely doing the impossible. Alan Miller said he had worked with Gene for 20 years at 3 different companies, and had always enjoyed working with him. I made a few comments about the Mattel days, how we could throw a brand new machine at Gene (like the IBM PC) and he could master it and make it do things it wasn't supposed to do.
I was particularly impressed by David Crane's comments. He said that the guys at Activision had thought that they were the experts at pushing hardware beyond it's limits, until they hired Gene Smith. He said Gene was a technical genius at figuring out hardware, and a creative genius at using this knowledge to make fun and visually pleasing games. He said there were only a handful of people on earth who could do the kinds of things that Gene had done.
All in all, it was a very nice memorial service. I'm sure Gene would have liked it.