... Robert Cheezem
By Dave Giarusso
Way back in August 2000, we had a chance to sit and gab
with Odyssey2 game programmer, the delightful Robert Cheezem. This interview,
long thought lost to the “Horrible Hard Drive Incident of 2000,” was recently
unearthed in primitive paper form, several levels below the substrata of papers
on the desk of DPHQ.
Recovered and immediately archived for posterity, we now present this DP Exclusive interview to you, our beloved readers. A big “thank you” goes out to Robert for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us. Thanks again, Robert!
DP: What are you up to these days? Still in the videogaming computer field?
Robert Cheezem: Well, about ten years ago I started my own computer consulting company. I am president of Quantum Solutions Inc. and we develop custom software solutions for companies.
DP: Our current understanding is that you designed both Smithereens and Type and Tell for the O2. Is our information correct? Did you design any other games for the 02, released or otherwise?
Robert Cheezem: Yes, your info is correct. By the time Type and Talk came out I was ready to leave, so I wasn’t involved in any other games.
DP: Have you designed games for any other system(s)?
Robert Cheezem: No. It just wasn’t fun any more and if you can’t enjoy what you are doing, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it (a personal point of view).
DP: Were games “assigned” to you (i.e., Brass said, ‘we need a math game’ or ‘we need a space game’), or did you come up with your own ideas and then follow through with them?
Robert Cheezem: Both were done at Odyssey. I was assigned games to produce. Others who had more experience and success were given the freedom to create their own games (talk to Bob Harris). But as the “Great Crash” of the game industry approached, companies (including Odyssey) started relying on movie titles to win market share. So overall, creative freedom was an illusion.
DP: What was a typical day at work like?
Robert Cheezem: I would go in early before 8am usually and stay late until 6pm, eave for dinner, and then come back and put in some more hours. In hindsight, I probably should have relaxed more and enjoyed myself. I took it all too seriously.
DP: Did the designers ever go out to the arcade as part of the job? For inspiration? For fun? Might there have been arcade games at the Odyssey offices?
Robert Cheezem: Yes, sometimes a group of us would go out at lunch or later during the day for a quick game, or to see what the arcade world was doing. Please remember, the arcade world and the Odyssey game world were different. The Odyssey system was low-powered compared to the arcade systems.
Later after K.C. Munchkin, some arcade games started showing up. They were mostly for us to look at and evaluate for contract work with arcade manufacturers. They could hit the arcade and home video game markets at the same time.
DP: What is the deal with all the exclamation points! in the game titles, manual, boxes, etc?
Robert Cheezem: I’m not sure. That was handled by a different department as far as I know. But I would imagine it was to communicate excitement. Just a guess.
DP: Who were some of your colleagues at work? Do you know who might have designed the following games? Baseball, Bowling/Basketball, Computer Golf, Computer Intro, Cosmic Conflict, Dynasty, Football.
Robert Cheezem: I primarily worked with Jim Butler and Bob Harris and Sam Overton (Manager). My guess is Sam or Ralph would know who wrote the games. Some were created before I got there.
DP: Do you still
keep in touch with any of your O2-era co-workers?
Robert Cheezem: No, not really. I get a card from Jim Butler’s family at Christmas and when special events happen in their family. But other than that, no. Bob Harris is still in Knoxville last I heard.
DP: Did you meet with Ralph “Father of Videogames” Baer? What was he like to work with?
Robert Cheezem: I think I did. One day we all took a trip to another developer’s office (Home Office). If that was him, then he was a charming man and knew what he was doing. I have great respect for him. I actually used some of his ideas in my business.
DP: Do you still program video games? Play video games? What are your favorite video games? Do you prefer the “old” (pre-1985) or “new” (post-1989) video games?
Robert Cheezem: No I gave up programming video games after leaving Odyssey. I could never get fired up about them. But I still enjoy computer graphics.
DP: What is / are your favorite O2 games(s)?
Robert Cheezem: Probably K.C. Munchkin and Killer Bees.
that K.C. Munchkin was one of the first really big hits for the O2, what was the
mood around the office (presuming you guys holed up in an office) when the
dreaded Atari lawsuit was going down? Disinterest, low morale, frustration?
Robert Cheezem: For me, it was shock and frustration. The game was similar but not a copy. It is like the Macintosh and Windows. I felt that the legal system did not understand the differences. I believe it had an impact on the gaming industry.
DP: Do you recall working on any projects for the ill-fated O3 system?
Robert Cheezem: No, I left Odyssey about that time.
DP: Did you
program any hidden “secrets” into your games? For example Robert Harris threw a
lot of “credits”, including your name, into his excellent Killer Bees game.
Robert Cheezem: Sorry no. I always meant to but there was never enough time. My games were always late.
DP: Do you fondly remember the past video game eras, or do you look at it as just another job?
Robert Cheezem: Actually, neither. It was an adventure. I thought I might even make some money at it. But I didn’t understand the industry, the cycles, and the company’s motivations. For me, it was an adventure that turned bad. But it was NEVER JUST A JOB!
DP: What was it like when the market crashed in 1984? Were people panicking ala the 1920’s, or was it just time to move on to different projects?
Robert Cheezem: I felt enough pressure to leave. I just moved on. I returned to Florida and continued working in computer graphics.
DP: What is your assessment of a bunch of fanboys and girls who spend this much time and energy playing videogames, writing about videogames, and bothering total strangers about videogames that they once developed? (Feel free to really let us have it. We have no illusions about our chosen station in life!)
Robert Cheezem: I think it is GREAT! :) If you enjoy it and it doesn’t hurt others and is not immoral, do it. I wish I had known you guys earlier. You seem to have the spirit that was missing back then (1982-1984).
P.S.: Our stations in life are NEVER what they seem.
|Type and Tell||Odyssey2||Magnavox||released|
Return to Digital Press Home