DuelTris's Steve Chiang makes it big at Zynga


Filed under Game trail, Mainstream coverage;
1 comment.

Game Informer has proven an unlikely yet excellent source for insights into Apple II celebrities. The monthly gaming magazine covers the electronic entertainment industry that consists of Windows, Mac, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, and iOS games, among others. But their regular back-of-the-book feature, "Classic GI", delves into the history of Apple II games such as Maniac Mansion and companies like Activision, while interviews go direct to the source with gamers who got their start on the Apple II, like Steve Wozniak.

In June 2012, the print edition's monthly interview was with someone named Steve Chiang. I found that curious, since there's another Steve Chiang in the Apple II world: DuelTris, a 1992 multiplayer Tetris variation with an excellent soundtrack and power-ups that enhance, rather than muddy, the gameplay, was developed by DreamWorld, an Apple IIGS software company consisting of Steven Chiang, Dave Seah, and James Brookes. But this interview was with someone who was big in the modern, not retrocomputing, game industry, so I chalked it up to coincidence: perhaps it was a common enough a name that Game Informer had found someone else in the industry who shared a name with the developer of one of my all-time favorite Apple II games. (I've been wanting to set up a DuelTris tournament at KansasFest for years!)

Steve Chiang
Who might this Steve Chiang be?

Wanting to learn more about this unknown figure, I scanned the article's margin for his professional timeline:

  • 1983: BONDING Chiang meets Jason Andersen, who would go on to co-found Tiburon. The pair bonds over games
  • 1990: FIRST STEPS In the summer. Chiang and Andersen begin working on a paint program for the Apple IIGS called Dream Graphics
  • 1992: INDIE PUBLISHING The pair release the finished Dream Graphics and sell around 5,000 copies
  • 1994: WEAPONLORD Chiang follows Andersen to Visual Concepts and helps create the ultra-challenging cult SNES/Genesis fighting game Weaponlord
  • 1995: NEW BEGINNINGS Chiang leaves Visual Concepts to join Andersen and John Schappert's new development studio, Tiburon
  • 1996: BIG BREAK After Visual Concepts fails to deliver a PlayStation version of Madden NFL 96, Tiburon is given the chance to turn its college football game into Madden NFL 97
  • 1999: PRODUCING HITS Chiang ships his first game as a producer, NCAA Football 2000
  • 2002: MANAGING GROWTH Co-founder John Schappert departs to EA Canada, and Chiang earns the title of general manager at EA Tiburon
  • 2007: THE SPORTING LIFE As senior vice president and group general manager of EA Sports, Chiang oversees all development of sports games
  • 2010: THE SOCIAL SCENE Sensing a chance in the market, Chiang departs Electronic Arts to work for Zynga as president of games

That's right: it's the same Steve Chiang, an Apple IIGS shareware game programmer, who went on to become president of games for the company that makes FarmVille.

For an Apple II programmer to "make it big" is not unheard of — just look at Bill Budge, Brian Fargo, Jordan Mechner, or any of the other developers John Romero interviewed for his KansasFest 2012 keynote speech. But it strikes me as unusual to see a game developer advance up the corporate ranks, as opposed to continuing to make games.

What could've led Chiang to change his career path? The answer may lie with us. From the DuelTris documentation:

Registration

There are two ways to register your copy of DuelTris.

  1. Send a $15 check or money order to the address below. In return, we will send you a version of DuelTris with preferences and high scores enabled.
  2. Send a $20 check or money order to the address below [redacted]. In return we will send you the Limited Edition version of DuelTris, which includes the fully functional game, plus a special 3.5" disk case, similar to a CD jewel case w/ a full color insert and printed instructions.
  3. All registered users will be entitled to future versions of the game.

    If enough people send in their registration fees, I'd be interested in adding more features to the DuelTris, such as joystick support, modem support, tournament mode so you can set-up round robin tournaments, saving of each person's win-loss record, better computer logic, etc. I'd also be very tempted to start another 2 player game. Otherwise, I'll stick to commercial software.

If only we'd paid our shareware fees, we might never have gotten FarmVille! (Or maybe we would've, except for the Apple II.)

But it might not be too late. If we all send our DuelTris registration fees today to Chiang, c/o Zynga, maybe we'll rekindle his love for the Apple II. I wonder how many of those Limited Editions he has kicking around the office…?

(Hat tip to Open Apple)


  1. I believe Jason Andersen was a part of DreamWorld as well. Also, there was another guy, Shawn Martin (went by Ferrari?), who did most of the artwork.