Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May
15, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Video Games For Fun and Profit
Scott Marshall’s resume is largely fun and games.
On it appear Monopoly, Frogger, Warrior 2000, Flight of the Intruder,
Scrabble, Touchdown Football, and even the Simpsons: Bart Versus the
Space Mutants. Marshall is a software engineer, and has worked on
any number of video games, most often as lead programmer.
On Thursday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. he speaks on "Are Video Games
as Much Fun to Make as They Are to Play" at a dinner meeting of
the ACM/IEEE at the Olive Garden restaurant on Route 1. His
is free; dinner is menu price, and reservations are required. Call
Marshall is a Princeton native. His mother, Elaine Toscano, now
and living in Cranbury, was the kindergarten teacher at the Riverside
School for many years. His father, Donald Marshall, also retired,
and now living in Florida, was a chemical engineer who worked for
Western Electric in Hopewell. When Marshall senior’s employer threw
away phone relays, he brought them home to his son. Using these
Marshall, a sixth grade student at the time, designed a computer to
play a video game — Tic Tac Toe. This was in the early 1960s,
well before game consoles and personal computers began appearing in
the family rec room.
While he was enamored of all things electronic, including amplifiers,
discarded telephone switching equipment, and computers, Marshall toyed
with taking up a different career altogether. "I’m a film school
drop-out," he says. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New
York City with the idea of becoming a movie director. But soon
he couldn’t handle the competition. "It was ruthless,
he says. "You have to have a cold heart to navigate the political
landscape of Hollywood."
Back in Princeton, he put out the word that he could use a job and
his former seventh grade science teacher recommended him for the
of audio visual technician for the Princeton school system. From there
he went to work for Panasonic. "If you sent in a VCR to factory
services," he says, "I fixed it."
Then a friend told him Sarnoff was looking for people to work on a
secret computer development project. It was the late 1970s and home
computers were beginning to appear. Most, however, had black and white
displays. Sarnoff, developer of color television, "wanted to
its experience with color TV," says Marshall, by inventing a
home computer with a color display.
At the same time that it was working on computer hardware, Sarnoff
was developing games to would play on it. "One of the issues,"
says Marshall, "is if you have a computer, and nothing to run
on it, that’s no good." So work on a new machine and utilities
for it — including games — went on side by side for several
years, until, Marshall says, the whole project was killed. He isn’t
exactly sure why, but believes it came down to money, to
in smoke-filled rooms in New York."
Meanwhile, he had become captivated with game programming. "I
saw people doing it, and it looked neat," he recalls. He talked
the programmers into teaching him, and became so adept that he helped
to create complicated games, including a flight simulator.
Marshall left Sarnoff in 1989 after a decade with the company, when
it was sold to G.E. But he had developed relationships with a number
of game programmers, and the contacts led to work in the video game
industry. He put out games for Atari, Sega, Nintendo, and other
including Tonka Raceway for Hasbro Interactive on Game Boy Color,
shown in the photograph on this page (from a December 1, 1999, profile
in U.S. 1.) Sometimes he worked alone, doing everything from the story
line to the music to the action. "The old Atari games," he
recalls, "were simple enough that one person could do them."
Big games, on the other hand, "take millions of dollars, dozens
of people, and up to a year of work." An example of a big game
would be a role playing game like Zelda, or most of the new
action or sports games.
His most recent game, M&Ms Blast, a Nintendo Gameboy Advance game
that was produced for exclusive distribution through Toys R Us,
fell into the big game category. "It was a Ben Hur," says
Marshall, using game programmer speak that, loosely translated, means
"blockbuster." He was the lead programmer and started out
working alone at home. Then, as time pressure mounted, he moved up
to Edison, near company headquarters, and worked with a team of
to rush the game to completion in time for the all-important Christmas
"It’s a party game," Marshall explains. "A bunch of
move characters around a game board. When the characters land on dots,
magical things happen." There are over 6,000 magical dots.
different happens when a particular character lands on each.
dot was programmed by hand and tested," Marshall says.
Everything had to be right. "In games," Marshall says,
can be no bugs." That is one of the things that, in his opinion,
makes game development the most difficult kind of computer programming
Marshall generally shepherds a game through, taking charge of the
technical elements. A big game also has a story artist to write the
script. Other programmers may do the title screen, the legal screen,
the instructions, the screen where gamers enter their names, and the
"glue screens" — the screens that appear, for example,
when a player completes a level. The main game screens, where the
action takes place, "are so complicated," says Marshall,
they want only one person to do them." He generally is that
the guy who programs the frog to jump on the log or the race car to
slip smoothly around curves.
Each action takes thousands and thousands of lines of code, and there
are few shortcuts. Marshall has done several car racing games, and
for those he was able to use the same basic program, changing the
music, the layout, and the look of the cars. But for the most part,
he says, "kids like games that are unique and different."
That means that programmers generally start from scratch. "How
many logs? How many cars? How fast are they moving?" are some
of the variables Marshall cites.
He says he does not find the work tedious. "It’s engrossing,"
he says. "It’s always different. There’s a lot of variety, a lot
of problem solving." He writes a few lines, and then tests them.
"I forget what time it is. I look up and it’s 3 a.m."
When he is not writing video games, Marshall does contract work, much
of it for Sarnoff, where is he working on a digital camera that is
set to replace film in movie theater projection booths. His specialty
on that project is audio, and he is called in whenever there is work
to be done on that aspect of the new camera. He is also a musician,
a composer, a writer, a public speaker, a film historian, and a
of antique electronics — including radios from the 1930s to the
1950s and some televisions from the late 1940s and from 1951.
This diversity is a good thing, because there is competition for work
in the game programming industry. Recent college graduates, who love
the work and are willing to do it for very little money, make it tough
for veterans like Marshall. He doesn’t actively look for work, but
waits for his contacts to call. Despite the difficulties of game
he is happy to get the calls. Getting a magic dot to behave perfectly,
or a race car to pull out of a spin in the nick of time is not easy,
but, says Marshall, "when you get the work right, it’s
In New Jersey there are 750,000 displaced homemakers.
Some found themselves suddenly a family’s sole support when a spouse
died unexpectedly, or just as unexpectedly, left the family. Many
have been out of the workforce for years, and some have not held a
job for decades. "It runs the gamut," says
program coordinator for the Career & Life Planning Center, a program
sponsored by the Hunterdon Educational Services Commission, which
these women prepare for re-entry into the job force.
The center offers a plethora of services to displaced homemakers,
and on Thursday, May 16, at 10 a.m. holds a stress management workshop
at the Sandhill School in Flemington led by social worker
Ann Kokinda. Cost: $5. Call 908-788-5489.
Being left alone to cope with all the responsibilities of running
a home will certainly induce stress — particularly in a downsizing
economy — but there are a number of concrete steps displaced
can take. What to do first? "After you finish crying,"
Brown-Kahney, "think of short and long term goals:"
a long time to come to grips with their new situation. Others, with
bills pressing and little in the way of savings, need to get into
something — anything — quickly. The key here, says
could be temping. And it is not just for those who need cash for next
week’s groceries. "Many big companies do not advertise in the
papers," she says. These employers, often among the most
in the area, sometimes like to look workers over before offering a
permanent job. Temping can be an excellent way to get a foot in the
or a corner office, a reception desk or a flight deck, every workplace
now uses computers. The Career & Life Planning Center teaches computer
skills, and has machines on which job seekers can practice. Many
some taught by their children, already are computer savvy, says
but others still are afraid the things will blow up if they touch
the wrong button. Getting comfortable with a keyboard is an absolute
requirement for employment circa 2002.
issue for displaced homemakers who have spent several decades running
school fundraisers and balancing the family budget. Some feel they
have nothing to offer in the marketplace. Not so. The Career & Life
Planning Center spends time showing clients how to translate non-paid
experience into corporate speak, how to translate the tasks they
at home into equivalent tasks in the workplace.
the thing for a woman who hasn’t donned a work suit in a while. There
are now more options than ever, says Brown-Kahney, mentioning
programs and distance learning as two particularly good fits for women
who need to earn and learn at the same time.
workshops to teach women how to protect their rights throughout a
divorce proceeding, how to collect child support from a reluctant
spouse, and how to apply for any disability or survivor benefits due
are in their 40s, but there are also women 20 years younger —
or 20 years older. As for the age issue, Brown-Kahney says,
often are happy to have older women. They are dependable, have a work
ethic, and are not just flying in and out of the job."
Corrections or additions?
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