The man who launched Xbox gets the rapid-fire question treatment

FAQ: Ed Fries

[Develop’s archive of FAQ interviewees can be found here. Next month: Charles Cecil]
Who are you and what do you do?

My name’s Ed Fries and I have been working off and on in the game industry since 1982. I built Microsoft Game Studios and launched the Xbox during my 18-year career at Microsoft. I left in 2004 and continue to be active in the game business as an advisor, consultant, and board member.

What are you working on right now?

Earlier this year I released a retro version of Halo for the Atari 2600 called Halo 2600. I run a company called FigurePrints that uses 3D colour printing to turn World of Warcraft characters into statues. I’m one of the owners a game company called Airtight Games where we are working on several new games and I serve on the board of several different game companies.

What was the first video game or product you worked on in the industry?
My first game was called Princess and Frog and was published in 1982 – the year I graduated high school – for the Atari 800 home computer. I had written a Frogger clone for fun in 6502 assembly language called Froggie. Guys at the California game company ROMOX saw the game but it only said ‘by Eddy Fries’ on it. Somehow they found the right Eddy Fries in the country (that would be me) and I signed my first game publishing deal.

What was the first video game you ever played? Did you enjoy it?
My dad worked at Boeing and would bring home programmable calculators when I was a kid. I remember playing games like Lunar Lander and Blackjack on them. Then my mum got a job at Digital Equipment Corporation and would sometimes bring home a printing terminal. We could hook up to the computer in her office over the telephone and play text adventures like the original Adventure and Zork. Those are great memories from when I was young.

What is your favourite game ever, and for what reason?
My favorite game of all time is M.U.L.E. for the Atari 800. I’ve played it for hundreds of hours with an old group of friends. It still stands up as one of the classics of game design. Now I’m teaching my own young kids to play and they love it too. It just goes to show how unimportant graphics are to making a great game.

What is it that disappoints you about the video games industry today?
Right now it’s a tricky time for high-end console games. Huge hits like Call of Duty and Halo Reach are attracting a bigger and bigger share of the development dollars and leaving less and less for smaller, more innovative titles.

What do you enjoy about the video games industry today?
I love the diversity and accessibility that exists in the market today. With the rise of digital distribution through things like the app stores and social network games, it is once again possible for a couple guys in a garage to make a big hit.

What hobbies or collections do you have completely unrelated to video games?
I have about a dozen old mechanical calculators. They date from the early 1900s to about the middle of the century and for the most part are big, heavy, steampunk looking machines covered with keys. The exception – and my favourite – is the beautiful and elegant Curta which looks more like a pepper mill. It just goes to show that there’s always a better way to do something if you think about it hard enough.

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