ICONS: Jeff Peters has left his mark on multiple aspects of gaming culture - Part 30 Comments
Welcome to part three of a three part ICONS feature on video game industry multitasker Jeff Peters.
In the first two parts, Peters told of his adventures in the earliest days of the eSports industry and how that led him to becoming part of the first large scale professional video game team and the launch of the legendary Electronic Gaming Monthly.
This brings us the end of the 1980s and the next step for Peters as he began to work inside the video game industry with a jump to SNK during their days as a third-party developer for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
"I was a big fan of SNK and their products, probably dating back to the original Vanguard arcade game and including Ikari Warriors," Peters stated. "They basically offered me a chance to work and live in Japan and be involved in the last round of NES titles, arcade games and the new round of Neo Geo titles and console launch. How could you refuse that offer? This turned out to be a fantastic experience and worked with a lot of great people in that time."
Jumping across the planet in pursuit of his newest adventure, Peters aimed to take full advantage of this shift in his professional environment to develop himself further both in and out of the office.
"Working in Japan with the local development groups was an educational, exciting and inspirational experience. It definitely gives you appreciation to live in another culture and get out of your comfort zone," he added. "While I was there I wanted to experience everything that Osaka had to offer, and the folks I met there were definitely willing to oblige. There’s definitely a sense of work-hard, play-hard there. Every day in the office by 9 a.m. for roll call and usually not leave until 8 p.m. or so in order to go grab dinner with the same crew and drink way too much. This was the schedule for six days a week, as they worked every other Saturday as a matter of normal business practices."
Starting with the now-classic Baseball Stars for the NES, Peters was instrumental in bringing forth a variety of 8-bit and coin op titles that are perhaps remembered even more fondly today than they were during their original release.
"Crystalis is still one of my all-time favorite RPGs and happy to have been a part of the production," Jeff said. "Besides the gameplay involvement, I also did the entire English translation -- so you can blame me if you don’t like the English names -- and I came up with the name and logo. Very proud of how this turned out, and how it’s become a cult favorite. Baseball Stars and Baseball Stars Professional are also some of the best arcade-style baseball games, and the whole series is just fun to play. We also made Little League Baseball, based on the same gameplay engine for the NES, which turned out to be a great addition to their overall sports lineup."
SNK then embarked on what might be considered the most lofty new video game console launch in history, the Neo Geo, where he served as the software manager for the platform and launch titles including Nam: 1975, Magician Lord and Top Player's Golf.
"Getting the Neo Geo and its first round of products ready for launch was wonderful to be in the mix of bringing a brand new gaming console and even a new business model to the market," Peters said. "The launch idea was that consumers could have the ‘exact’ same game at home as they played in the arcades; the cartridges were identical. At the time arcade ports always left something on the table, as the console or graphics couldn’t keep up with the arcade system it was based on, but SNK had visions to change that by providing the same hardware and carts to both the arcades and consumers alike. This concept was bold and new, and a great attempt to bridge the gap left by bad arcade-to-console ports. There was also the concept of arcades renting out Neo Geo systems to players, so they could bring home their favorite game home for the weekend."
While the true-to-arcade experience may have seemed like an appealing concept to consumers, Peters feels that SNK priced themselves out of the consumer market with the $650 1990 console.
"The only real issues with this whole strategy was price. At a time were video game carts cost $30-$40, SNK had to charge $200 or more per game, making the home version of the Neo Geo and ultra-premium purchase, and hard for most households to afford," Peters recalled. "The good news is that the Neo Geo ushered in a new era in arcade gaming systems and quick swap games with their cartridge system that proved to be a huge success to operators around the world. It may have been challenged as a home gaming console, but it was a huge success in the coin-operated space."
Peters then left SNK as the Neo Geo worked to find its niche and worked on a variety of video game projects, including serving as project manager for the arcade version of NBA Jam Extreme, the home console versions of the original three Mortal Kombat games and the PlayStation 2 title Motor Mayhem before landing a job with the legendary Electronic Arts in 2006.
"[My] time at EA was actually a good one, and I feel very fortunate to have had that experience to add to all my other game industry endeavors," Peters said. "As with anything in life, you hope to learn more and more as you go, and I definitely picked up a lot of items from my stay at EA that I still use today. Some of those items are also lessons on what not to do. I worked with a lot of high profile licenses and teams as large as 150+! Managing a team that size creates all sorts of issues to deal with on a daily basis outside of whether the game is fun or not; it definitely makes it harder to keep everyone aligned and stay focused on the singular vision."
While part of EA, Peters has credits on games from franchises such as Madden, Tiger Woods, NASCAR, Superman and titles based on popular Hasbro board game properties. Out of all of them, Peters said his most cherished memory from this time involved a major platform transistion, and a classic video game franchise that may be bigger than all the others.
"As part of my time at EA, I also transitioned from console, to social, to mobile, and digital game development during my tenure, and move with EA through the biggest transition we’ve seen in the last 40 years," he said. "With that transition, one of the great franchises I was responsible for was Tetris. As someone with one foot in the classic space, Tetris was always one of my all-time favorites and I still remember the first time I saw it on a very non-assuming PC in the 80s. When I was in Japan with SNK, playing the head-to-head Game Boy version of Tetris was how we decided who paid for lunch that day. As an outcome, let’s just say I didn’t pay for many lunches. I’d always played versions of Tetris over the years and having the opportunity to create new versions of it, I felt was a privilege."
According to Jeff, those years as a skilled player and Tetris fan contributed directly to the development and success of several variants in the classic puzzle series.
"Aside from polishing up the classic marathon game, and helping to bring to life another variant of the game called Tetris Monster specifically for the Japanese market," Peters continued. "We also designed a brand new version of Tetris, specifically for the on-the-go, all digital lifestyle that we’ve all evolved into, in that of Tetris Blitz. It’s now been live for almost two years, was Editor's Choice by Apple and tens of millions of downloads later, it has developed a wonderful, worldwide fan base and continues to be updated with new features to this day. Proud of what we were able to accomplish as a team, studio and as a contribution to the Tetris history."
After almost 9 years with EA, Peters said he felt drawn to return to the independent roots that made up the core of his rise in the video game industry, starting with the 30th Anniversary version of the classic Boulder Dash for portable devices. He added that the path to success starts when a person goes after what they want.
"First advice for anyone would be to simply follow your passion," Peters declared. "Don’t look for a job, find a way to do what you absolutely enjoy. If you work hard at it, the success and money will come at some point, but don’t let that get in the way of the vision, and honing the craft. Every success I’ve had in my career was driven by passion first, as that clarity of vision will overcome many obstacles that will attempt to get in your way. When I interview folks for a new video game development job, we talk a lot about how they are not choosing a job, but a brand new lifestyle, and that’s the way I’ve always thought about game development. On media and writing, I firmly believe in the act of writing, every day, about something, anything! Read everything you can get your hands on. Get divergent points of view. Learn to be objective and even look at yourself from the outside, as you’ll find something interesting to say if you manage that perspective. Don’t just set a goal to be in media in some way. Instead set a goal to say or accomplish or persuade someone to do something. Be kinetic, not passive. If you have something relevant to say, and its presented and told well, people will follow and the roles will create themselves. In the era of social media everything, you can be your own media outlet, blog, newsfeed or aggregator of information, but none of that is relevant until you figure out what you have to contribute to the larger conversation first."
When looking back on his career from an early competitive champion gamer, to a key figure in the start of a major video game publication, and into his storied run in gaming development, Peters said he is proud of what he has been through, and is looking forward to even more of it.
"I feel fortunate to have been in this business for so long now, and still going, I can't imagine doing anything else," he added. "It's been a long career, and I'm glad I gave up the idea of being a lawyer to focus on fun instead. From competitive gaming, to world records, to magazine publishing, to making video games on just about every platform produced, including arcade games, retail, digital, social and mobile. The journey has been a great ride -- one of great learning, wonderful accomplishments, and making some amazing friends along the way. I can still remember when both of those games came out for the first time, and were ‘new’. To be handed the hallowed keys to be part of their legacy, and have products that are fan favorites and still live and being updated, is a great personal moment indeed. More cool stuff ahead."