SPOTLIGHT: Behind the Disk - Jim Walls, Police Quest Designer

Most people think of the Highway Patrol as cops who lurk on highways looking for speeders and drunk drivers, and who rescue broken down travelers. However, the experience Jim Walls brought to Police Quest 1 was much more than that.

"There's a real element of variety and danger in the job," says Walls, a veteran of 15 years with the California Highway Patrol. "You never know who you might be stopping."

Walls most recent example of the uncertainty and danger of his job was last January, when he pursued a reckless driver off a freeway ramp and on a high-speed chase. When his quarry finally turned at bay in a dark parking lot, Walls found himself looking down the business end of the man's 357 magnum.

"I couldn't get my seat belt off fast enough to get out of the car, and he got the drop on me," recounts Walls. "He had already shot out my windshield and was coming toward me, I just knew I was going to die. If his car hadn't started rolling just then and distracted him, I wouldn't be here today."

Walls continued, "When I first saw this guy, he was pushing the speed limit a little too much. But when I started to follow him, he dropped back to 55. I was getting ready to cut him loose when he veered over two lanes and roared up the off ramp. Then I decided he was probably drunk, and took off after him. At that moment, I had no indication he was in possession of drugs and packing a gun."

Although the criminal escaped that night, he was later apprehended and convicted. But the episode had left its mark on Walls, who discovered he had lost his taste for the job.

"I used to get excited about going to work, and really enjoyed the challenge and excitement," he recalled. "But I got to realizing that the only nice people I met in my job where the ones I gave speeding tickets to. Not criminals, just ordinary people who pushed it a little and got caught."

"I decided I didn't want to keep working with low-lifes on an everyday basis."

"Then, just when I was wondering what I did want to do for a living, Ken Williams suggested I write a game about police work."

"Everything I put into the game is stuff I personally experienced. The procedures, the patrolling, the investigation, the arrests and the shootouts. The only thing in the game I hadn't done was go undercover. I had friends who did though, and their experiences are included."

"If people like the game, then I'll be glad. Because it represents a real picture of police work. There's a lot of tedium, and a lot of rules we have to follow. If we don't, lives can be lost or arrests can be bungled. But there's a lot of headwork and excitement, too."

While the design of Police Quest is Jim's, he didn't get much into the programming. "I tried to learn, but I don't think I helped much," he admits wryly. Sierra veteran Greg Rowland handled much of the program coding and graphic design, with Al Lowe helping on the programming and Jerry Moore adding a few pictures. "I also tried a little graphic programming, but nothing I did was usable," says Jim.

Police Quest is Sierra's second 3-D animated adventure game to be placed in a present-day setting. The first was Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, which was released in June. But since "Larry" is based on a "fantasy" night on the town (probably far removed from reality), Police Quest is truly Sierra's first real-life 3-D adventure.

If Police Quest is as well received as early indicators suggest, Jim will return next year with Police Quest 2.

"I'm already thinking about it," promises Walls. "I hope I've learned a lot in the past few months, and will be able to make an even better game next time."

You did pretty well the first time, Jim, especially for a rookie.

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