Homewood designer’s Rampage game hits Hollywood

  Brian Colin of Homewood shows off the original
  video game Rampage he created in the 1980s.
  It will soon be a movie.
(Photo by Mary Compton/
  H-F Chronicle)
 

Brian Colin was happy to be chased by monsters through the streets of Chicago this summer.

The fictional scene is part of an upcoming movie based on the video game the Homewood resident designed for Bally/Midway in 1986. Gamers consider Rampage a classic.

“It’s wonderful when fans remember your game fondly, but it’s even more wonderful when they grow up to be film producers and movie stars,” Colin said. “Rampage producer John Rickard confided in me that he and (the movie’s star) Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson were huge Rampage fans as kids and it was their love of the game that made the movie a reality.”

The movie is set for release in April.

Bally/Midway cranked out titles like Pac-Man and Space Invaders in the early 1980s.

“In 1982, I answered an ad one day for a job at the Bally/Midway company, thinking that I was applying for a job as a pinball back glass artist. But as it turned out, they were looking for experienced animators for their relatively new video game division,” Colin said.

“To be perfectly honest, when they offered me the job as an animator I was not terribly excited because the visual side of video games was still at the Pac-Man level. I remember thinking to myself ‘This is it. Childhood’s over. I’ve got a real job.’”

In reality, it was just the start of his 35 years in video game design. Colin put his name on over 80 titles. Classics like Arch Rivals, Xenophobe and General Chaos — along with Rampage — made him a household name among gamers. Colin has a recognizable cartoonish graphic style and an element of humor that makes his games memorable.

“In short, it’s player engagement,” Colin said. “If you want to make a great game, your Aunt Tilly should be able to play it as well as the fastest, the guy with the greatest hand-eye coordination and skill set that breaks every record in every game he ever sees.”

Colin founded Game Refuge in 1992 after being asked to develop games for Electronic Arts. He still operates the company with partner Jeff Nauman.

Doc Mack, the owner of Galloping Ghost in Brookfield, one of the largest arcades in the country, has asked Colin to be an honored guest at several events.
 
“There’s so many games out there but (Colin’s) games have really stood the test of time,” Mack said. “Everybody young and old still enjoys them, even in 2017. Games created even five years ago, they just don’t have the same impact on people.”

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that one of his most popular games will be a movie. When portions were shot in Chicago, Colin was invited to come on to the set. The film crew was excited to know he was there and invited him for a cameo role.

“I spent several days running in terror from invisible monsters throughout the streets of Chicago,” he said. “Of course, I’m no actor, so it may end up on the cutting room floor. But still, (it was) a mind-blowing experience.”

Colin was also asked to visit the set in Atlanta during the last week of shooting.

“I’m afraid I can’t share the photos or the stories until after the film comes out but I can tell you that I spent the entire time grinning like a 10-year-old kid in a candy store,” he said. “Most unbelievable of all, the cast, crew and producers were incredibly welcoming, enthusiastic and gracious. They treated me like I was the celebrity. I still grin like an idiot every time I think about it.”

Colin has only compliments for stars Johnson, Naomie Harris and Jason Liles, who each took the time to thank him for visiting the set.

The whole thing almost never happened, though. Colin was turned away the first few times he pitched the Rampage plot of a giant monster smashing buildings.

“I brought it to my boss and he said ‘No. You can’t have the player be the bad guy.’ So I went over his head to the vice president, who said he loved the game but since there was nothing else like it (the game’s idea) was too much of a risk,” Colin said.

Bally/Midway came under new management at about that time. Colin had a new boss.

“He announced on his first day that he had an open door policy. Needless to say, I was waiting for him in his office the next morning, pitched him the game, and he immediately gave it the green light,” he said. “The rest, as they say, is history and Rampage went on to break every arcade earnings record.”

Video game companies were reluctant to use the title of “designer” in the early days of the industry because they came at a higher pay grade than programmers or animators. 
Colin wasn’t called a designer until he met Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, often called the father of video games.

“(Bushnell) was touring our offices and I had a new game that was just going out on test,” he said. “They turned to me and said ‘And this is the game’s designer, Brian Colin.’ I plotzed. The next day I ran out and added the word ‘designer’ to my business card.”

The industry has evolved to groups of hundreds working on games for years at a time with massive budgets. Colin said he never had more than 45 on his team and deadlines were always important, even if they required 20-hour work days.

“In those days, by the time you finished a game you were already thinking about the next one,” Colin said. “One of things that was ingrained in me early was, if I don’t get this thing done on time people on the factory floor are going to be laid off.”

In the last few years, a renewed public interest in retro games makes Colin an in-demand personality at video game conventions. He speaks to crowds, meets fans, signs autographs.

“(During game test periods) you’d go and stand in the back of the arcade and watch people play and watch people’s faces, see what pissed them off or made them laugh, see what made them reach for another quarter. I thought those days were long gone until I started going to these conventions,” Colin said.

“I’m watching parents, grandparents dragging their kids and grandkids, watching them play (my games) as a family. I hadn’t seen that for 25 years so that was wonderful.”

“What Brian Colin did for the industry, he created something that 30-plus years later people are still so enthralled with and passionate about,” arcade operator Mack said. “People like Brian really deserve the credit they get.”


This story first appeared in the Dec. 1 print edition of the Chronicle

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