In my opinion, Redwood Games was one of the best education game development houses in the early nineties. With classic such as Math Rescue and Word Rescue challenging children to learn in exciting and engaging ways, their games were mainstays of my childhood. Developed by Karen Crowther (now Karen Chun), the games were published by Apogee and went on to be nominated for, and win, many awards in the educational gaming category.
So what happened to Redwood Games, and Karen Chun? Is she still making games? Is she retired? Continue on good readers, for the answers lie in the interview below!
Jason: What originally drew you to programming games?
Karen: I absolutely loved the Keen games and Tom Hall’s sense of humor in writing them. Also I was working as an engineer with two small kids and was at my wit’s end on how to keep them entertained while I worked from home. The first game I wrote (Talking ABC’s) was designed to entertain them. My 4 year old is the voice on that (which incidentally was the first talking game made. This was before sound boards)
Jason: How did you eventually end up working with Apogee?
Karen: Scott and I were talking because I was a big fan. I sent him Word Rescue and he gave me tools for sound effects (again – before sound boards). Tod Replogue (Duke Nukem) answered some of my questions about low-level video programming. In those days the game had to fit entirely in 540k of memory so we actually used video memory to store graphics. To achieve a smooth scrolling game, we had to program down to the hardware using DOS interrupts. Programming was a lot more fun then because there was less to remember and it depended on being tricky about how you did things.
Jason: How much do you think the industry has changed since the early 90’s?
Karen: Computer games went through the innovation-consolidation-monopoly cycle very quickly. When I started, a single person (or in my case a programmer and artist) could create a game in less than a year and market it ourselves. My first game cost nothing except buying a compiler. My last game, Rescue the Scientists, had a quarter million dollar budget, used Christopher Lloyd for voice over (who incidentally made more in an hour than I did for the whole game). Now we’re looking at multi-million dollar budgets, teams of artists and a stranglehold of big players controlling access to retail shelves.
Jason: Any chance we’ll see these games on websites such as GoG.com? I know there are a lot of fans who would pay for “Windows” versions of the games.
Karen: I keep saying I’m going to make windows versions of these games but then I get “Polynesian Paralysis” a dread disease here on Maui where you start to work and then say, “Oh forget it, let’s go to the beach instead” 🙂
Jason: How are you enjoying retirement? Are you ever tempted to return to game design?
Jason: What’s your favourite videogame you’ve played?
Karen: Fool’s Errand, Keen and Peter Oliphant’s Lexicross (visual values are awesome in modern games but for playability and humor, you can’t beat the old games.
Jason: What are you doing now?
Karen: I spend a lot of my time paddling outrigger canoe competitively. That’s the Hawai’i state sport and thankfully they have age brackets because I am getting seriously OLD. I’ve paddled a 6 person canoe across the 41 mile channel between Moloka’i and Oahu “Na Wahine O Ke Kai” race and still compete.
Jason: And last but not least…Pickle Wars. Where did this fantastic concept come from? The game has become quite the cult classic.
Karen: I’m so glad people like it because it is my favorite too. It’s a mixup of all the space opera’s I ever watched. The artwork was by a moonlighting Lucasfilms guy and the music by Bobby Prince. Bobby Prince as well as being a fabulous musician is a heck of a nice guy and this game was the most fun I ever had.
So there we go! If you’re interested in her games you can head over to her website to download shareware versions of the game, and even purchase the full versions! If you have kids, or just want a trip down nostalgia lane, I fully recommend it. The games are fun, and most of all for kids, educational.