Prepped for Success"
by Colin Covert
(Appeared in the September 1983 issue of "Electronic Games" Magazine)
Is Russ Wetmore a preppie? That's one of those logical-sounding
questions that's actually just a bit dimwitted. After all, no one
expects David (Serpentine) Snider to look like a snake, or for
Michael (Cyborg) Berlyn to be a "Six Million Dollar Man."
Nonetheless, it is a tad surprising to meet the 26-year old author of
Preppie! and Preppie II! and not see a single one of those pesky
alligators anywhere on his clothing. Why, Russ probably doesn't even
have a spare lawnmower, golf cart or radioactive frog in the Daytona
Beach, Fla., home he shares with diet technician Diana.
If Whetmore doesn't look like a card-carrying preppie, he resembles
the typical designer of computer games even less. In a field in
which battered jeans and a T-shirt is the favored uniform, Wetmore
meets the public nattily attired in a conservative, understated
"I like jeans as much as anyone," he insists as he nervously fingers
his fashionably thin tie, "and I wear them all the time. But I'm
determined to dispel the 'computer nerd image." He pauses,
shuddering at the memory of a hundred cruel cartoons too many. "You
know, the guys with the big pencil holders in their shirt pockets.
When I meet businessmen or the media, I wear a suit because that's
their expectation for someone they deal with as an equal."
Wetmore has been meeting a lot of people lately, too. Ever since
Adventure International (Scott Adams) published Preppie!, the wry
humor and diverting play-action of this disk for the Atari
400/800/1200 computer systems have made the soft-spoken Floridian
an overnight electronic gaming star.
Fame came quickly to Russ Wetmore once he turned professional as a
game designer, but he's surely no newcomer to compouters. His dad,
Art Wetmore, was one of the first to buy a TRS-80 Model I. "I saw it
for the first time during Christmas break in 1977," Russ recalls.
"I locked myself in a closet with the machine for a couple of days.
When I came out, I was very interested.
Getting into the world of bits and bytes wasn't quite as easy back
then, either. With nothing more than an instruction manual to guide
him, Wetmore had to discover the highways and byways of computers
pretty much on his own hook. "You know, at the time, I never thought
I could exhaust the possibilites of 4K memory," says Wetmore.
Wetmore seemed headed for anything but a career in computer game
design after graduation from high school. He enrolled at Morehead
State College, Morehead Ky., in 1977 to study musical composition.
He had a strong leaning toward classical music at this time, though
he had a more-than-passing interest in writing scores for Hollywood
"I ran out of money," says Wetmore to explain why he decided to leave
the campus after a little less than two years. "I needed a job, so I
joined a publisher of educational music. He emjoyed working for the
Lebanin, Ind., company, which produces music for junior and senior
high schools, but eventually decided that the future probably wasn't
in this phase of publishing.
Wemore's life took a major turn toward computing when he finally
bought a Model I of his very own in 1980. Almost immediately, he
wrote four or five short BASIC programs, which a local Radio Shack
owner sold locally.
The big time beckoned in 1981 when Wetmore and his colleague, Phil
Oliver, met Scott Adams at a computer show. Adams liked Russ' sense
of humor and eventually offered him the post of author liason.
Although he enjoyed his duties at Scott Adams Inc., Wetmore began to
yearn for the chance to do some designing of his own instead of only
working with the software creators. He decided to specialize in
Atari programs, after seeing most of the other existing computers,
because "it looked viable". Adams loaned him an Atari 800 against
the payment of future royalties in order to help him get started.
Talk about casting bread upon the waters! This example of generosity
on the part of one of designing's living legends has allowed the
company to reap huge rewards, since Russ lost no time justifying
Adams' faith in his ability.
The idea of doing preppie! cropped up only after many others were
discarded by Wetmore. "I thought about trying a pinball program, but
it turned out to be a false start," he adds.
It was Diana who suggested doing something a bit cartoonish. Since
this dovetailed nicely with Russ' own activities, he followed her
advice and came up with the basic idea of Preppie!. "I picked the
subject because preppies were really hot at the time," says Wetmore.
"Actually this game's a humorous poke at the whole preppie
To an extent, the highly successful format of Preppie! developed at
least partly because of the capabilities of the hardware. "For
example, the Atari computer is a horizontally oriented system," notes
Wetmore, "so that helped determined the use of horizontal scrolling."
Although Wetmore freely admits that programming Preppie! was a
learning experience for him, he is proud of the fact that the game
hasa lot of the special touches that stamp a game as truly
professional. He's particularly pleased by the lavish use of music
in his programs. "It adds to much of the total experience," he
Preppie! II, also published by Scott Adams, shows just how well
Wetmore has learned his programming lessons. As good a game as
Preppie! is, the sequel is even better. This time, Wadsworth
Overcash is trying to get into a typically preppie-ish fraternity.
His initiation involves painting the floor of a macro-maze while
appropriate obstacles such as radioactive frogs, lawnmowers and golf
carts attempt to keep him from completing the job.
Why another Wadsworth Overcash epic? "We've had lots of letters from
people who identified with the story of the first game and wanted
more," Wetmore explains. A third game is already under development
to complete the trilogy, and there is really nothing to force
Overcash's creator from going on to produce a fourth, fifth or even
tenth contest starring this whimsical character.
The tentative title of the forthcoming disk is Preppies in Space.
We'll all have to wait until late next year to see exactly what
Wetmore has in store, but his current thinking appears to be along
the lines of "Star Wars" with preppie-type characters and dangers.
Before the release of that title, Wetmore plans to have another newie
in the market. This one should be a change of pace, as Wetmore
temporarily abandons the gaming universe which he created in the
Preppie! series to head off in an unexpected direction.
"My next game will be really esoteric," Wetmore confides. "It will
involve a three-dimensional room filled with bouncing balls which the
player must drop through holes in the floor." The program is still
untitled -- and unfinished -- at this juncture, but the completed
game is likely to further add to the luster of Russ Wetmore's
burgeoning reputation as one of the more individualistic and creative
designers programming today.
Typed by Keita Iida