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Game Guru Launches New Company In Santa Cruz

High-profile game creator quits Apple to focus on making games for iPad and iPhone.

Graeme Devine is a gaming guru—a title he's earned from a lifetime of developing games.

Remember Commodore 64s and Apple IIes? He made games for those.

But, he's worked on some of the most-talked-about games in gaming history. Devine served as lead designer on Halo Wars, a game that was four-and-a-half years in the making and required the coordination of a crew of 120 employees.

More recently, Devine served worked at Apple, in charge of making sure games played well on devices such as iPhones and iPads. When he took the gig about two years ago, Devine moved to Santa Cruz.

But Devine recently quit on Steve Jobs and started his own Santa Cruz-based business, GRL Games, and he is returning to his game-making roots. His first game, a Mac desktop-based game is part of Apple's launch of the Mac App Store, expected to open on Monday.

Devine sat down with Santa Cruz Patch to discuss his new venture and his life in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Patch: What is it draws you to use this new platform? The touch-screen technology available now seems, pardon the pun, to be a real game-changer.

Graeme Devine: Back when I started in the '80s, you'd spend six weeks making a game and then you'd be done. That was it. Slowly it changed over the years. In the '90s, I worked on Quake III and it was two years, and then I worked on Halo Wars and it was four-and-a-half years, $60 million and 120 people [working] on it. I was the lead programmer, the lead writer. If I mess up, I'm dead. That's it. I was really attracted to the iPhone and iPad because it really felt like it's a return to the '80s, back to six weeks making the game and putting it out. If the game sucks after six weeks, you can recover. There's no four-and-a-half years, 120 people counting on you.

Patch: So what made you finally decide to quit Apple and start your own company focused on Apple-based games.

Devine: I worked at Apple, and I started thinking about opening my own company then. I'd run my own company for 10 years in Oregon and I knew how hard it was to run a company. It's not easy to start one. You have to think about medical every month and all of those wonderful things. It's tough. At Apple, I just became more convinced that I wanted to go make games for [the iPad]. I see how much they really care for their developer community and how much really focus on making them successful. In the end, the game maker in me just had to come back out. I wanted to get back to making games on these devices.

Patch: What makes games so these devices so different?

Devine: Well, with a joystick it was up, down, left, right, fire, so my dad could play that. That was OK. But with the Xbox 360 controller, there were 36 different states and you'd never see a dad touch it anymore. They'd just look at it and go 'Oh my god, that's a lot of buttons.' Games looked too complicated. From the very first time that I saw the iPhone and I saw Steve Jobs up on stage and he's showing the photo application. And he's twisting the photos around and he's zooming in with the pinch and zoom. That was science fiction. And I realized that it was awesome because that controller was no longer necessary. The thing that I'd been holding in my hand was no longer there. I now effectively had a window onto the world.

Patch: Forbes magazine described your job at Apple as "the company's internal and external games evangelist, looking over the software, hardware and application programming interface (API), to make sure they were game-friendly for developers, and ultimately players." Does that mean you were paid to play games all day?

Devine: I get that a lot. My parents think that's still my job. But I hardly ever played games. I mean, I love games, I play them all the time. But, most of the work at Apple was technical in terms of looking at say how well a 3G phone works connect to another 3G phone when one is in Japan and one in Starbucks in North America.

Patch: What kind of games are you into?

Devine: I play all sorts. I enjoy playing World of Warcraft with my daughter. This week we've been all about the expansion. I enjoy playing old-school adventure games. I enjoy playing all sorts of games on my iPad—Cut the Rope and Angry Birds. If the game is very touch interface, I'm right there.

Patch: Tell me about your new game.

Devine: It's an adventure game called Clandestiny. It's an adventure with Andrew and Paula as they go to inherit their fortune in a Scottish castle, which is full of ghosts and full of mystery. It's kind of a Scooby-Doo game and it's very much Scooby-Doo camp. It's a funny first game.

Patch: Now that you mention Scooby Doo, I've read that you've been described as having a Scooby-Doo wardrobe.

Devine: I don't know how that got in the Wikipedia piece. Who put that there? Back in the '90s, when my daughter was 3 and 4 and 5, I used to wear Scooby-Doo clothes every single day—Scooby-Doo shirts and Scooby-Doo sweaters, Scooby-Doo whatever. I was big into Scooby-Doo, but I haven't warn a Scooby-Doo shirt in many, many, many years. That said, I still watch Scooby-Doo.

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