Eugene Jarvis, the famed Williams Electronics game designer and founder of Raw Thrills, was inducted into the Amusement Industry Hall of Fame back in March.
An avid gamer, chess and pinball player as a kid, Jarvis loved to sneak out of the house with his buddies to play pinball at Johnny’s Smoke Shop in Menlo Park, California. He studied computer science and microprocessor programming at the University of California, Berkeley, where he got hooked on “Spacewar!” (1962), the first true video game, running on an old IBM 702 mainframe in the Physics Dept. basement.
After graduation, Eugene got his first big career break working as a pinball programmer for Pong developer Nolan Bushnell at Atari in 1977. Jarvis earned the nickname “Dr. J” (in honor of the basketball great Julius Erving), when he was able to flash a pinball playfield light bulb, which the prior programmer claimed was impossible. Dr. J programmed and created sound and light effects for the early Atari pins The Atarians, Time 2000, and Space Riders. Jarvis teamed with proto lab lead tech Steve Ritchie, on the first of Ritchie’s designs – Airborne Avenger and Superman. Williams Electronics President Michael Stroll brought Ritchie and Jarvis to Chicago where they collaborated to create the electronic multiball classic FirePower in 1979.
The Space Invaders phenomenon got Eugene excited about video game design, and inspired Jarvis’s debut video project: the 1980 megahit Defender. Its pioneering multi-screen horizontal scrolling world shooter featured multi-planar color graphics, particle effects, algorithmic explosions, intelligent AI enemies and heart-pounding twitch game play.
In 1981, Jarvis and Larry DeMar started the indie studio Vid Kidz to further explore the arcade game medium, creating three classic titles: Stargate (1981) was the supercharged sequel to Defender. Robotron: 2084 (1982) introduced the dual joystick control and remains a classic action title with a dedicated cult following. Blaster(1984) was a pioneering 3D space shooter, challenging players to run a 20-wave gauntlet to reach the ultimate destination.
After the arcade crash of 1987, and a stint at Stanford GSB, Dr. J returned to Williams pinball for his last collaboration with Steve Ritchie, the 4-ball manic action F-14 Tomcat.
Jarvis, George Petro and lead artist Jack Haeger created NARC (1988), which debuted full color digitized live-action actors, backgrounds, flying body parts, and high-resolution graphics, in an urban-themed cop action thriller.
In 1991, Jarvis founded TV Games to create the first 3D texture mapped polygon arcade adventure driving game. In 1994, Nintendo and Midway Games acquired TV Games, and released the driving trilogy, Cruis’n USA (1994), Cruis’n World (1996), and Cruis’n Exotica (2000). The Cruis’n games pioneered photo-realistic 3-D texture mapping and modeling, and hyper-realistic driving mechanics in real world locations. The Cruis’n series remains the most popular and top selling arcade driving series ever.
After the Williams/Bally/Midway shutdown in the arcade crash of 2001, Jarvis and fellow coin-op refugees Andy Eloff and Deepak Deo founded Raw Thrills to create a new generation of futuristic arcade video games.
Raw Thrills captivated players with their early titles: Target:Terror, The Fast and the Furious and SuperBikes. The studio grew rapidly and in 2006 merged with George Petro’s Play Mechanix studio, creators of Big Buck Hunter and Terminator: Salvation, making Raw Thrills one of the top video arcade game developers in the world.
Today Jarvis continues his work as creative director at Raw Thrills. Recent titles include Jurassic Park, Cruis’n Blast, SuperBikes 3, Big Buck Hunter: Reloaded, Halo Fireteam Raven, Minecraft Dungeons Arcade, King Kong of Skull Island VR and Fast and Furious Arcade.