Review of Creating Q*Bert by Warren Davis

This was one of the better books from a game developer. Warren has lived a very interesting life and made some very unique games. He’s made some bizarre games as well. Even when they weren’t as successful, he learned something from his work on them.

I learned quite a bit about the games Warren worked on while I read this. There were a few I had never heard of, he included some stories I had heard before, and he talks about the people who helped him along the way.

His story sounds a lot like the other stories I’ve read so far. There are many parallels between the different accounts of the developers in the 80s. I like seeing how they have a similar background, with a few small twists to them.

I’ve learned from reading stories like Warrens that you must try it if you want to do something. You might not be good at it at first, and you might find out it’s not for you, but you won’t know until you try it. I like stories like this.


Warren talks about how he came to Gottlieb’s arcade division and had more creative freedom early on. This was something a bit different. In other books, it seems like there were tighter schedules, and the ideas for the games weren’t always done in the same way as Warren describes.

He talks about the first game he worked on and how it ended up in development hell until it was finally canceled. The game he describes sounds a bit like a bad version of Defender.

After working on the canceled game, he started playing around with a few ideas. It’s here that he settled on several concepts for what would become Q*Bert.

He mentions M.C. Escher as being an inspiration for Q*Bert. I never thought about it like that. I can see what he’s saying as the design is a little like one of Escher’s art pieces. It made me think more about arcade games and how I never thought about why the games were the way they are. I had a similar feeling when I was reading about Missile Command.

I like how he brings up the other people who helped him work on the game. It’s nice to hear stuff like this. I got that Warren was just a good guy. He seems to have wanted to make the best game that he could and didn’t care about doing it all himself.

The testing is one of the things that I don’t think I’ve heard that much about. Warren goes into a good amount of detail here. He talks about the feedback he got and how he handled it. One thing to take away from this is that not every suggestion needs to be implemented, like people not understanding the joystick.

I like how he talks about field testing the game. I haven’t heard much about it in other books. Most of them don’t go into the detail that Warren does. At least from the books that I’ve read, I haven’t heard much about how it all went.

Finally, he brings up the merchandising of Q*Bert and how he made the Faster, Harder, More Challenging Q*Bert ROM. He talks more about the FHMC ROM later in the book and how he helped to release it on MAME.  

Laser Disc Games

After Dragon’s Lair was released in the arcades, other companies decided to make games that used Laser Discs. It was a new medium, and it offered something that other games at the time couldn’t. They also broke down a lot.

There are two games brought up. The first was M.A.C.H. 3, a shoot-em-up, and the second is Us vs Them, a conversion kit for M.A.C.H. 3. Us vs them is the game that I thought was the most interesting.

I found it more interesting because of how much detail Warren gives the reader. He talks about how they captured the footage, how he digitized it, how he edited it all together, the decisions they made while making it, and the cutscenes. I like how he walks us through the creative process of the game. It’s similar to how he explains Q*Bert.

This game about an alien invasion is always a good idea for a video game. Granted, I cared more about how they got all of the flying footage that the game was played over. He talks about going to California to get the flying footage and traveling to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to get the forest footage. I’m from Michigan and went to college in Kalamazoo, and it was cool to know that some part of it ended up in a video game.

This also led to how they digitized images and video into video games. Warren was one of the pioneers in doing this. This software and other techniques would be used in games like NARC, NBA Jam, Revolution X, and Mortal Kombat.

Improv Classes and Acting

I wasn’t expecting to talk about Warren’s acting career. I also didn’t know that he had an acting career! It was something I wish he had written more about. Later in the book, he does as he was thinking about moving to California.

He was in several video games, took improv classes, and was in many plays. It made me wonder how things could have been different for Warren. If he had been an actor, would someone else have come up with the ideas for the game he made?

I have no idea. It’s one of the many things I thought about while reading this. I’m glad he made video games, and while I didn’t play them in the arcade, I have had fun with some of the games he worked on.

Other Things I Found Interesting

Warren didn’t work on Q*Bert Cubes, which was a follow-up to Q*Bert.

When Gottlieb was renamed to Mlystar, Warren pointed out it was Rat Slym spelled backward. This happened during the meeting that the name change was announced.

Warren went to work at a few companies in between stints at Gottlieb and Williams. I like hearing about these other companies. There are many small tech software companies that I never knew existed.

He brings up a game called USSA, which was a tank shooter. It sounds like it got far into production before being canceled by internal politics. Warren doesn’t seem to have held any grudges about the things people did. It’s a nice message.

I liked his story about going to play NBA Jam and showing unsuspecting people that he is in the game. I wonder how many other people do this?

I think it was cool that he had to remind a few companies that they own the rights to Q*Bert. There are a few stories near the end of the book about it. I wish he had been able to do more with it.

Final Thoughts

Warren talks about having more stories and teases other books. I’m looking forward to them if they are written. I know that developers have lots of stories, and in the books, they make some have to be left out. I wish they could include them all, even though I understand why they have to be left out.

Reading books like this is fun. Even if it’s a title game, it isn’t one you have a history with. I never played the arcade game. I did play other games that Warren worked on, and his story fills in some of the holes in my knowledge of video games.

While the creation of Q*Bert was fascinating! I found the Laser Disc games, MACH 3 and Us vs Them, more interesting. I’ve been making videos for a YouTube channel for a while and learning about how footage is captured, edited together, and how it comes together to be more interesting. Also, I just liked the story of them making Us vs Them.

I’m glad that books like Warren’s are being written. There are a lot of stories about 80s arcade games, video games, and computer games that haven’t been written down. You can find parts of them on the internet, but those aren’t always first had accounts.

If you get a chance, pick this one up. It goes well with Sid Meier’s Memoir, Ken Williams Not all Fairy Tales have Happy Endings and Howard Scott Warshaw’s Once Upon Atari.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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