Not Without My Pixels: The Skip Calhoun Story
Video games have blossomed in recent years, evolving into a form of entertainment every bit as popular and artistically valid as film, music, and domestic abuse. In fact, games have become such a large part of mainstream culture that some developers are now household names in their households. While most gamers have heard of John Carmack (Doom, Quake, Extreme Paintbrawl), Warren Spector (Deus Ex, Thief, Warren Spector's Spooky Haunted House), and Tim Schaefer (Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, the upcoming mega-blockbuster Psychonauts), you'd be hard pressed to find someone who can recognize Skip Calhoun, my all-time favorite game designer.
Skip's relative obscurity is particularly puzzling when you take into account how influential his games were. At the very outset of the video game industry, he came out of nowhere with his first game, Ping.
Ping sold well and received critical acclaim ("I can't stop winning, this is the best game ever!" gushed the only gaming magazine at the time), but Calhoun felt that something was missing. After several months of research, he realized that the right side of the sceen was woefully barren. People had loved the controllable paddle on the lefthand side of the screen, so why not use one of those to fill the void? Calhoun set to work, and within weeks he released the sequel to Ping which we all know and love...
Rather than rest on his laurels, Skip set to work on what is widely considered the world's first action/platformer. In Adventurous Pete's Adventurous Adventure, players were given unprecedented freedom and could literally move in a small circle (clockwise). The title captured the imaginations of players everywhere, and the demand for the game was so great that Skip had no choice but to follow it up with a sequel. Adventurous Pete's Jungle Adventure soon appeared, with all the walking-in-circles action found in the first game but with a GREEN background. The game completely sold out within three weeks of release, and over the following years Calhoun released Adventurous Pete's Snowy Adventure, Adventure Pete's Why Are You Still Buying This Drivel, Adventure Pete's Please Stop The Pain, and finally Oh My God Help Me I'm Going Insane. At this point, Skip disappeared from the video game industry for no apparent reason. He left behind an incredible legacy, but what became of the man himself? Why would he quit when the Adventure Pete series was at the peak of its popularity? The only person who knew was Skip himself, and I was determined to find out.
Screenshots from : Adventurous Pete's Adventurous Adventure, Jungle Adventure, Snowy Adventure, and Oh My God Please Help me I'm Going Insane
Just days before this article was set to go to press I was able to track Skip down, and we arranged an exclusive interview over lunch. Sitting down to a plastic tray stacked with White Castle burgers with Skip, I opened by asking what he had been up to since he dropped off the face of the Earth during the Atari age.
"Life has only gotten better since I stopped making games.", Skip said. "Why, this entire time I've been extremely busy holding onto my world record for not having been attacked by an octopus. I haven't been attacked even once! It's difficult, but worth all the work that I put into it."
At this point I realized that Skip had gone insane. I mean, there was clearly an octopus attacking him as we spoke. Every once in a while a puckered tentacle would squirm up from under the table and try to find purchase on his face, but Skip would press it down, visibly straining while looking me in the eye and smiling as though nothing was happening.
"Oh, I see how you're looking at me. Think I'm crazy, don't you?", Skip growled, only a tentacle covered his mouth halfway through and he had to repeat himself. "They said I was crazy for mixing peanut butter and jelly together, but I wasn't. I was crazy for thinking the resulting combination was lighter than air and filling a blimp with it."
At this point the octopus managed to wrap several tentacles around Skip's neck and began to choke him, and the entire interview went down in flames. I attempted to save my idol's life by wrestling the octopus from his neck, but Skip continued to pretend it wasn't there. After angrily lashing out at me with a 2-minute long stream of ethnic slurs, he was escorted out of the building where, incredibly, a second octopus leapt off the roof and attacked him. Dumbfounded, I sat back down at our table and watched through the oversized plateglass window as he stumbled out of sight and into obscurity once more.
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