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Garry Kitchen - Cooking Up Video Game History


From computer software engineer, to producer and of course groundbreaking game designer Gary Kitchen is one of the most successful and influential game developers to come out of the early days of Activision. With titles such as Keystone Kapers, Pressure Cooker, GameDesigner and BattleTank to his credit, Kitchen has innovated gaming and changed the way we play throughout his 32+ years in the industry.

Handheld Electronic Games:

Garry Kitchen started his carrier in gaming at James Wickstead Design Associates, a creative lab who devised design solution for everything from games to industrial design for home electronics. At JWDA Kitchen designed his first portable electronic games, Wild Fire and Bank Shot, both for Parker Brothers, with Bank Shot being named in Omni Magazine's 10 Best Toys of the Year (1980).

Diving Into the Atari 2600:

JWDA was then contracted by U.S. Games, the publishing division of Quaker Oats, who had their eyes set on releasing Atari 2600 games, which had recently become an open market ever since Atari Inc. lost their lawsuit against Activision for making unauthorized games.

The first Atari 2600 game designed by Kitchen's was the side-scrolling space shooter, Space Jockey. He then branched out of JWDA and worked with Coleco, where programmed the Atari 2600 port of Donkey Kong.

The Activision Begins:

Kitchen landed at Activision, joining his brother Dan Kitchen, who was working there as a programmer. At Activision Gary established himself as one of the top console designers with Keystone Kapers, which was named Video Game of the Year by Electronic Games Magazine in 1983.

For his next title, Kitchen pushed beyond the boundaries of the typically 2600 fodder and attempted to make a title that wasn't the typical jumping, shooting or maze hunting, but instead create a challenging spinning plate experience where players had to follow instructions in a randomized order that kept them constantly moving and thinking. Funny enough he set the game in a "Kitchen" and focuses the gameplay on making hamburgers...a lot of hamburgers.

After the crash of the video game market in 1983, Kitchen moved into computers. His next two creations were unlike anything that had previously attempted. The first, The Designer's Pencil for the Commodore 64 and the other 8-bit computers of the time, was an interactive series of psychedelic activities and experiences that Kitchen refers to as an "Early creativity product". While The Designer's Pen eventually faded along with the computer systems it was created for, it was Kitchen's next title that sealed his name in computer game history, Garry Kitchen's GameMaker.

GameMaker was a actually five different game software development tools built with a simplified user interface, so the user didn't need to have a masters in computer engineering to use them. The first of their kind, these groundbreaking tools allowed individuals to make their own all-original video games on a home computer. GameMaker made a massive impact and earned Gary Kitchen the title of Video Game Designer of the Year - Computer Entertainer Magazine, 1985.

Absolute Entertaining:

After GameMaker, Garry Kitchen left Activision and teamed up with his brother Dan Kitchen (River Raid II), legendary game designer David Crane (Pitfall!, Ghostbusters), fellow programmer/designer Alex DeMeo (The Great American Cross-Country Road Race) and John Van Ryzin (H.E.R.O.) to form their own game development company, Absolute Entertainment; eventually they would also be joined by Garry's other brother Steve Kitchen (Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space).

At Absolute Garry wore many hats, working as engineer and programmer on some titles, as producer on others, and of course kept his hand in design. Though Absolute's development division, Imagineering, Inc., he created many historic titles, including Bart vs. the Space Mutants, the first video game based on The Simpsons, The Battletank series, with Super Battletank named Best Simulation Game in 1992 by Game Informer Magazine. The most famous game developed by Imagineering Inc had Kitchen as a programmer and co-designer along with David Crane for A Boy and His Blob, awarded Best In Show at the 1989 Consumer Electronics Show, and winner of the 1990 Parent's Choice Award.

After Absolute:

Although they created numerous titles that remain famous today, due to declining revenue, Kitchen turned off the lights in Absolute Entertainment in 1995, but not before he and David Crane formed a new venture, Skyworks Technologies.

The focus of Skyworks was in the online video game experience, but they also expanded into mobile and handheld games. In 2007 Skyworks Technologies was sold to the Anedom Company, who changed the name to Skyworks Interactive, and continue to run it as a top app game developer.

After his time at Skyworks came to an end, Kitchen continued his long standing partnership with David Crane and the two formed the independent app game developer AppStar Games.

Today Kitchen continues his work as a major player in video games as Vice President of Game Publishing for Viacom's Nickelodeon MTV Networks Kids and Family Game Group. He also gets political as an Expert Witness, consulting as an expert in the field on legal battles involving video games.

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