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 business suit.

  • "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 movies.

  • "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 phenomenon."

  • 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 asserts.

  • 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

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