I emerged victorious on August 14, 1953 at 2:35 PM to Leatrice and Norman Johnson in Hanover, New Hampshire.
I am an only child, my zodiac sign is Leo, also the Year of the Snake, and my lucky number is 3.
25 years in Bristol, CT — 2 years in Denver, CO — 34 years in Los Angeles, CA — 3 years in Vancouver, Canada.
From 8th grade through high school, I made Super 8 movies, lots of them, including a feature length comedy.
During that time, I also worked at 5 different amusement parks creating monsters for their Laff-in-the Dark rides.
1974-1979: I attended USC Cinema, became a teaching assistant in animation, and earned a Master of Arts degree.
I won awards for my animated shorts: Der Panther, Merlin, Genetic, Odyssey, Anything Can Move.
Throughout this time, I staged Treasure Hunt and Mystery Game parties for friends and friends of friends.
1979-1984: I made corporate and industrial films: “Heating, Air Conditioning, and Ventilation” and other classics.
1983: Allen Pinero did the programming and I designed the content for Labyrinth of Crete, a text adventure.
1984: My crew of 9 created the animated gags for Nickelodeon’s Out of Control.
I bought a Mac 512K in late 1984, and by 1986, I changed careers and created computer metapuzzle games.
The Fool’s Errand (1987), At the Carnival (1988), and 3 in Three (1990) are my classics, which won many awards.
1996-2001: I garnered contract work with Interplay, Mattel, Warner Bros. and Disney.
2002: I designed the $100,000 Treasure Hunt for David Blaine’s book, Mysterious Stranger.
|Home of the Underdogs Interview by Sarinee Achavanuntaku (September 2002)
Probably what’s on
the mind of every fan of The Fool’s
Errand: how on Earth did you come up with
such a unique and compelling title? What
was the motive/inspiration behind the
Fool’s Errand began as a homemade
book, years before I owned a computer.
My inspiration was the popular treasure hunt book Masquerade.
Its author, Kit Williams, inspired me
with his unique way of hiding his puzzles
within his artwork. Instead of creating
a very difficult solution, however, my
goal was to make the experience pleasant
and solvable in a single afternoon.
In 1981, I sent away for a Rider
Tarot deck and I was intrigued, for
it was the first Tarot deck I’d
seen that had individual illustrations
on each of the 78 cards. I arranged and
rearranged the cards until a plausible
plot twinkled in my mind’s eye.
That Christmas I wrote a 21 page story
and created an 81-piece map spanning another
14 pages (6 random pieces per page). The
object was to read the story which yielded
the prose clues to assemble the map correctly
and then to use text clues from the story
to enter into that map.
In this incarnation, there were only
13 treasures and the answer spelled Merry
Christmas. Of the dozens of people
who received it as a gift, only 3 solved
it. My goal of pleasant solvability remained
The Sun’s Map illustrated by David Wood
How long did it take you
to finish The Fool’s Errand, from
conception to release?
2 years and $50,000 of credit
I bought a Mac
512K in late 1984, and by Spring
1985, I was noodling with Microsoft
Basic. By 1986 I’d created
30+ individual data-driven programs
whose sum total was The Fool’s
Errand. Only one problem. I
had to convert this multitude of
interpretative files into one single
compiled application if I wanted
to sell it.
By mid-1987, I had converted the
whole kit and caboodle into ZBasic.
The labor seemed more Sisyphus
than Hercules, e.g. trying to fix
the “Print Story” feature
which ultimately crashed and burned
upon the release of the
Mac SE. Little did I know that the system “standards” were a moving target.
*After the game was a success, I paid off the debt immediately. Then I confessed
to a friend how I’d financed it
and how ridiculous I felt having risked
so much on an unknown entity in an unknown
field. He, on the other hand, thought
it was a great idea and credit-carded
$80,000 to open his successful art gallery in Beverly Hills.
I think people would be
interested to know a bit more about the
making of The Fool’s Errand - specifically,
the approach you used to make the “meta-puzzle”
and make everything (puzzles, each story
segment etc.) fit very well together.
The meta-puzzle aspect was a happy circumstance.
The 1981 book provided the structure of
the story and map relationship. The 1987
game added the idea of earning those elements.
Creating the game was a delight for me
on many levels. Foremost I am a storyteller
and film animator. To the latter, I swing
toward the abstract, surreal, and avant-garde
(and saying things in groups of three).
set the mood I desired, and then I
digitized ruffled cloth to create
the sky background effects.
I used patterned concentric rectangles to
create backgrounds on the fly, and
for free, storage-wise.
As to computers, I had no idea I would
be any good at programming, for I mistakenly
thought it had something to do with math.
Happily, I discovered it was akin to playing with an Erector set. I
was astonished when anything I did actually
Until the very last moment the
compiled game was completed, I maintained
a morbid pessimism, that with all the
many bits and pieces, the thing would
ultimately crash. Either I’d break
the spine of the language or the computer
or myself. Luckily, I was mistaken.
Beyond the story and map, I had
no master plan for the computer puzzles.
I worked in an intuitive manner, allowing
myself to ponder this and that, tinker
around, try things, and seeing what I could discover.
I created whatever I felt was
appropriate as I went along, checking
off each story segment/map piece as I
I’m a big fan of collage, montage,
and assemblage, so I endeavored to imbue
the game with endless variety, that is,
as much variety as I could pack onto a
In fact, one of my
favorite puzzles, The Auction, never made it into
the game because it had a bitmap
overhead of 57K.
The Fool only has three silver
coins and he must purchase three
expensive items for which the others
are willing to pay far more.
What to do?
What’s your single
most favorite puzzle in The Fool’s Errand?
Earning the four Keys
of Thoth to solve the puzzle of the
High Priestess is by far my favorite,
both for its abstract visuals and
equally abstract solutions.
Tied for second would
be The 3 Ships elusive
button, The Humbug’s snaky maze button, and Death’s unrelenting button.
Which puzzle are you most disappointed with?
I’ve no disappointments whatsoever
with the original Macintosh game, but
the MS-DOS version felt to me like
a “bizarro world” counterpart, though many people prefer it.
Keep in mind, I spent nearly two years
perfecting a look and feel that took best
advantage of the Mac’s black & white high resolution. Then to see the game displayed with chunky oblong pixels and 16 colors gave me the willies.
At the Carnival was a bit of a letdown for The Fool’s Errand fans, as it doesn’t
have the compelling “meta-story”
element of The Fool’s Errand and
3 in Three. Was it meant to be just a
collection of puzzles, or is there some
In 1989, At
the Carnival was the first
in a series of puzzle disks for The Puzzle Gallery, yes,
a themed collection of puzzles.
I had a blast crafting this game,
for its silly MAD Magazine slapstick
humor, for the opportunity to learn
how to program in Pascal instead
of Basic, and for the chance to
experiment with color and sound.
It permitted me to refine the interface
of the ten traditional puzzles from
Fool; for example, by adding an undo
move to the Concatenation and XOR puzzles, they were remarkably easier to solve.
Oh, and it helped finance 3
But I will make no apologies for Hazard Park.
When I die, I want to be propped
up in the Laff-in-the-Dark ride next to Elmer J. McCurdy.
At the Carnival was touted
as the first in “Puzzle Gallery”
line, but no more games were made. What
Miles Computing went bankrupt.
You said you used
to build monsters for amusement parks. Anything you can share with
us, e.g. which monster are you most
My specialty was rotting skeletons
with grim grinning skulls.
monsters from 1971-1974 to pay my
way through USC film school at Lake
Compounce in Connecticut as
a Senior in high school, then Riverside
Park and Elitch
Gardens (both bought by Six
Park, and the now extinct Queen’s
Pike in Long Beach, CA.
The photo — Brad Parker (renown artist of Labyrinth of Crete),
the chewed-off head from Jaws, and
The Fool and his earrings —
has little to do with amusement
We all love Halloween, that’s
How come 3
in Three was never released for the
In 1991, the fanciful look and feel of 3 in Three was developed as a practical solution to limited floppy disk space.
CD-ROMs were on the horizon, but
not widespread, and color
pix could fill up a 800K floppy
in no time flat.
Necessity being the mother of
invention, I had to create my own
data-driven Mac graphics language
to display all the story, art, animation,
puzzles, and sound I envisioned.
I still find it amazing that the
final application was only 286K
and the data file, 616K.
The publisher, Cinemaware, had a formidable
in-house programming team who had
created BOLT, a proprietary conversion language, especially to solve this problem
of porting their graphics-heavy games
to other platforms. They were planning
a 3 in Three MS-DOS conversion.
Then they went bankrupt.
Inline Design picked up the game and
they were instrumental in it winning MacUser’s Best Game of the Year. Naturally, they
wanted to do an IBM conversion, too, but
with a third party developer without heavy
graphics credentials. I had to decline.
And then they went bankrupt, too, so
it was a moot point.
Could you please explain the history of *FunHouse* and how you came to design three CD-I games for Philips Media?
I had designed Disney’s
Cartoon Arcade for Disney
Home Video and Ideal Toys. Their
system used a VCR to display video
and a linked console to overlay
computer games. Basically, watch
a cartoon of Donald Duck trying
to fix a flat tire and then play
a game to help him fix it. There
were 10 pairs of cartoons and games
with a bonus cartoon if you aced
all the games.
Philips approached me to do Hanna
Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival in CD-I, ostensibly the same concept,
except that it would be the first
CD-I disc to use their Full Motion
Video capability to show cartoon
rewards for completing computer
I started work on Cartoon Carnival as a team of one, prototyping the
concept in Hypercard in a tiny office
on the second floor near the men’s
Also during that time, I used HyperCard to prototype Merlin’s
Apprentice and Labyrinth
of Crete which were green-lighted
as well. I had garnered a $4,000,000
budget and had no staff whatsoever
to create the projects,
That’s how *FunHouse* came to be, first as 8 people and
then as 30 artists, animators, and
programmers. Our specialty was hand-drawn
animation, and we were the first
stop when international visitors
toured the facility, which became a weekly occurrence.
What is (are) your favorite
recent computer game(s) (if you’re
Asteroids, Space Invaders, Defender. My first and last game console was an Atari 2600.
Truth be told, I’d rather create
computer games than play computer games.
When I do play games, I play board games with real people on social occasions — Scrabble, Risk, Acquire,
Pictionary, et al.
Aside from your games,
what games would you rank among the best
puzzle games ever made? (Mac, PC, or any
You’re asking a person who hasn’t
even played The Seventh Guest or Myst (or anything since).
If you were given an unlimited
budget and time to make a game today,
what kind of game would it be?
I’m not sure I’d want an
unlimited budget or unlimited time. I
prefer working within limitations and
I’d rather not work more than a
year on anything. If I can reach my core
audience and self-publish one game a year,
I’d be in Fool’s Paradise.
What’s your most
favorite mythical character (aside from
The Fool, of course ;)) ?
Everything from Greek mythology to Spider-Man.
Want to say something to
Charles de Montesquieu pens “An
author is a fool. Not content to merely
bore those around him, he insists on boring
future generations as well.”
And Bertrand Russell adds “The problem
is that fools and fanatics are always
so certain of themselves, leaving wiser
people so full of doubts.”
Thank you, one and all.