Oddworld’s Inhabitants: Craig Ewert, Sr. Programmer

Oddworld's Inhabitants: Craig Ewert, Sr. Programmer [Hosted by Oddworld.com]

Date: 01/02/2001

Interviewer: Oddworld.com

Interviewee: Craig Ewert

ce · Oddworld’s Inhabitants
This time around, we interview Senior Programmer,Craig Ewert. Acerbic, obnoxious, indefatigable, and funny, Craig is a ubiquitous fixture around the Oddworld offices. He’s created core code for every game Oddworld has ever done, but Oddworld fans everywhere should get down on their knees and thank him for one bit of trickery in particular – the QuikSave! Craig, where would we be without ya? (Probably still stuck on the other side of those damn Fleeches!)

Oddworld’s Inhabitants are as diverse as the world they’ve worked together to create. Here’s where you’ll find interviews and other informative articles spotlighting the many creative folk that work at Oddworld Inhabitants. Be they headline players or behind-the-scenes heroes, the Inhabitants profiled here all share Oddworld’s ceaseless dedication to bringing you the best worlds and games that you’ve ever experienced.

Craig Ewert, Sr. Programmer img_main (2)

Craig started working with computers in 1972, when the only access around was an IBM typewriter that would type back at you. He played with every computer he could get his hands on all through college. In 1978, he went to work for Burroughs, who had interesting hardware but boring customers like banks and insurance companies. Eventually he worked his way into the game industry and Oddworld, where he serves as cleaner for programming, and reverse touchstone for design (“Craig hates this, so we must be on the right track”).

Q: What’s your background (education, jobs)?

Craig Ewert: BS Mathematics in 1978 from Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. Worked for Burroughs Corporation, then for some small consulting firm. I did banking software until my soul shriveled. Finally leapt into computer games at Cinemaware in 1989. Then worked my way northward and upward to Oddworld.

Q: Who are your biggest influences? Why?

Craig Ewert: Groucho Marx. His wit is legendary, and I was once compared to him (forpratfalls, not cleverness) in high school. I’ve also been a big fan of Ayn Rand the novelist/philosopher, but after a while her harsh, uncompromising stand on things gets confining. Still, it was a breath of fresh air to read someone who didn’t look upon charity as a duty. The charity I perform now tastes sweeter because it’s free.

In the programming field, where I earn my rent, Edsgar Djikstra, Nicklaus Wirth, and Jon Bentley are primary influences. The first two embody the scholastic mode of programming, where theories about programming correctly and investigations into the ultimate capabilities of computer programs abound. Bentley is a more practical programmer, and his writing elevates the concern with practicality into an art. They all excel at the craft of writing, as well.

Q: As one of the first Inhabitants, do you have any stories from the early days of Oddworld you could share?

Craig Ewert: I’ve spent years in therapy trying to forget those times; don’t make me have a relapse…

Q: What kind of a place is the Oddworld Studio?

Craig Ewert: Like the tenth circle of hell. We are in constant torment, and the temperature is kept at absolute zero at all times. Seriously, it’s part playground, and part coal mine. We have lots of swell stuff here for leisure time (pool table, vast selection of video games, tv, cable, dvd, …) and we’re usually too busy making the game to spend much time with any of it. But, Sherry has style. The walls are adorned with beautified samples of our best artwork. Our guests are feted like kings. I have an aquarium just feet from my own desk, where I can sometimes watch the puffer fish puff.

Q: Who is your favorite Oddworld character? Why?

Craig Ewert: The Sligs. They are a truly wonderful character: heroic, strong, brave,virtuous. Don’t listen to that mudokon propaganda. Lies, all lies. That’s why we sew their lips shut: to stop the lies. Lorne doesn’t really understand the Sligs; he see’s the world through mudokon-colored lenses, and it blinds him to the true nature of Sligdom. And the designers, subscribing as they do to Lorne’s vision, fall all over themselves to make up ever more outrageous slanders about the Sligs. One day, the tables will turn, and then we’ll see who has the last laugh. “Hah, Hah, Hah.”

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Craig Ewert: First of all, I watch movies. Lots of movies, sometimes the same ones over and over. I also host Role Playing games at my house, where several of the folks come to imagine ourselves as swashbuckling heroes of yore. We also play more ordinary board games, mainly from Germany, where they make the best board games.

And I play computer games. Age of Empires, Civilization, Pokemon, Grim Fandango, I played them all. I still play them whenever I have a half hour of free time, and not enough energy to work.

I also watch select TV shows, although it’s harder and harder to accustom myself to the rigid schedule inherent in broadcast television. I’ve become too used to the liberty of Internet content, and I expect my shows to be available whenever I choose to watch them. Plus, the good ones are always scheduled opposite each other. That’s no accident, either; network programmers have admitted doing that on purpose.

Q: List your top 5 favorite movies and/or books?

Craig Ewert: 1) A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. This award winning science fiction novel was so good that when I finished reading it for the first time, I immediately turned back to the beginning and read it again. It combines galaxy-spanning space operatic war with heroism and villiany as close up and personal as a knife in the guts.

2) The Matrix by the Wachowski brothers. “Woah”. I’m a fiend for Kung Fu, sci fi, and exotic visuals, and this one film combines them all. Carrie-Anne Moss is coldly beautiful, and Laurence Fishburne acts with his face. (Wifey and I have become very interested in actors who can express things subtly, as Mr. Fishburne does in this movie). I also love the soundtrack, especially “Clubbed to Death” by Rob Dougan. I only wish I could find the “Clubbed to Death” CD somewhere in the world; what good is the internet when you can’t even buy obscure import CD’s from six years ago?

3) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, 1995 BBC mini-seriesversion starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Jane Austen is regarded as one of the immortals of English Literature, and P & P is revered by many as Jane Austen’s best work. This six hour version has almost all of the original dialog, along with sets and costumes that should stand up well for several decades. And when you’ve finished watching a six hour movie, you can just start again at the beginning, because you’ve forgotten how it start by then.

4) Let it Ride by Joe Pytka, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, and JenniferTilly. This small comedy is a gem. From the initial scene in a chinese restaurant, where Richard and Teri try to patch up their marriage, and end up throwing the entire restaurant into chaos over a fortune cookie argument, to Richard’s constant appraisal of everyone’s earnings potential, to the heart stopping scenes of Jennifer in her red miniskirt, this movie never fails to amuse and delight.

5) Wing Chun by Woo-ping Yuen, starring Michelle Yeoh. I first saw Michelle Yeoh in “Supercop”, and was at once struck by her beauty and her talent. Even dressed down for her role, she shone. In “Wing Chun” whe takes center stage, and you get several major Kung Fu scenes, such as the “Tofu Fight” and the final battle with “Flying Chimpanzee”.

Q: Where do you see Oddworld in 10 years?

Craig Ewert: Like Disney, only with better stories and less sacharine. We’ll be in all the media: films, books, videogames, theme parks, lunch boxes, underwear, breakfast cereals, … We’ll continue to make great video games, and it’s no secret (unless it is a secret; editors, edit this) that Oddworld will be making feature films, just as soon as we can make a deal that nets us enough money to do it right, and enough control so keep the suits in Hollywood from ruining it. One has to wonder how a business that supposedly lives or dies by creativity has fallen into the hands of dolts who can barely recognise a good idea when you rub their noses in it, and then hate and fear it when they do see one.

Q: What do you like best about coming to work? What’s the worst part?

Craig Ewert: Best: My coworkers. We have a great bunch of talents here, and they are all top notch persons, too.
Worst: My chair. I don’t know why, but my ass keeps sliding out of this chair, and I’m always winding up on the floor every 15 minutes.

Q: Is it true you can’t eat junk food and still be an Inhabitant?

Craig Ewert: Nonsense. The food police are easily fooled. I myself have snuck many abad thing right under their noses. Besides that, “junk food” is just a perjorative that the food police use for rhetorical advantage. There’s nothing “junky” about a fine chocolate bar, or a well-made cookie.

Q: If you could change jobs with one of the other Inhabitants who would it be and why?

Craig Ewert: Lorne. He gets the corner office with the wall sized bay window overlooking the main street where all the college babes saunter by. Although that would be a disaster for Oddworld. My taste, unlike Lorne’s, does not run to games that everyone likes; quite the reverse. If I controlled the games, our sales would be in single digits.

Q: What is the longest “day” you’ve ever spent at Oddworld?

Craig Ewert: I think I went 56 hours once, but I wasn’t very coherent at the end of it.

Q: How do you feel about Munch’s move to the Xbox?

Craig Ewert: As a programmer, it means a slightly better working environment, but its not a big thing. No matter what platform or game we’re doing at any time, the jockeys instructions are “I want the horse to die just as you cross the finish line.” And I’m the horse.

Q: What at Oddworld are you most proud of?

Craig Ewert: The perfect save feature of Exoddus. Lorne had the idea and forced us (me) to do it, but I’m the one who squoze 3 megs of program into a 2 meg box. Now, for my sins, I am doing the same thing for Munch. At least this time, I have the space I need, and its early enough that I can set a pattern in place and have everyone live by it.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a Programmer?

Craig Ewert: Get a computer and start programming. With any modern web browser, you can write and run programs in Javascript as a start. Then, learn C++. You can find compilers free on the internet if you look, and cheap ($50) ones bundled in with “How to program in C++” books. The key thing is to learn about algorithms and the principles of programming. Look at the library for “Edsgar Djikstra” and “Jon Bentley” and “C.A.R. Hoare”.