In the early 1980s, the school boy John Passfield had an epiphany at the Lismore Country Show. Amongst the livestock displays there was a little computer expo with a CP/M computer (or possibly a Commodore Pet) on display. Here Passfield played the text adventure “Colossal Cave”. Typing away, he entered the cave and was attacked by the dwarf. When Passfield typed “throw axe”, the dwarf disappeared in a “puff of greasy smoke”. He was hooked. He thought “I love computers” and embarked immediately on a mission to persuade his parents to get one. It arrive at Christmas, a VZ 200 which he used to program games in Basic. The following Christmas, they got a Microbee and Passfield created his first commercial game, “Chilly Willy”. He was in Grade 10 at school. He had been playing the arcade game “Pengo” at twenty cents a game and thought he would make his own version that he could play as much as he wanted. It was not quite the same as the arcade version as he added new levels and changed some of the gameplay because it was fun to experiment. On completion he sent it to Honeysoft, the Australian-based publishers whose name and Gosford address appeared on software he had for the Microbee.
Passfield explains that at the time his school boy self knew nothing about copyright and did not think twice about naming his “Pengo” clone after a cartoon character. Honeysoft wrote back saying they liked the game and they would publish it. Without any contract or even a phone call, the school boy John Passfield found himself a game developer. He never told his school friends in Grade 10 at the NSW timber town Kyogle High of his new status in case they though he was a nerd, but he enjoyed the extra pocket money. In 1985 he published a second game with Honeysoft, “Halloween Harry”. Influenced by his love of the “Ghostbusters” films, in “Halloween Harry” you play a ghost hunter armed with a garlic blaster for shooting the undead. “Halloween Harry” was all his own design, the first of many games he designed based on his ideas and studying the design of other games. Although Passfield did not have access to many commercial games for the home computer, he read the reviews of games in popular computing magazines such as Computer and Videogames and tried to work out how they might play, developing possible design scenarios and sometimes writing code.
“Halloween Harry” was the last game that the schoolboy Passfield published in the 1980s, although he wrote many more, including a Star Trek Text Adventure. The Microbee waned in popularity and Passfield went to University and studied Computer Science. Graduating top of his year he had a choice of jobs – he thought his passion for games design a youthful pastime with no way of generating a living wage – so took a job working with Telecom. A few years later his love of comic books brought him into contact with artist, Steve Stamatiadis. Together they decided to remake “Halloween Harry”, taking advantage of the memory and graphic potential of the new generation of computers. In 1993, they co-founded Interactive Binary Illusions to make “Halloween Harry” for the Amiga. The successful adventure game was distributed internationally through Apogee. Passfield and Stamatiadis later established Gee Whiz! Entertainment in 1996, and then Krome Studios with Robert Walsh in 1999.
Passfield is responsible for the “Halloween Harry”, “Jaruu Tenk”, “Flight of the Amazon Queen” and “Brainiversity” properties. At Krome he co-created the “TY the Tasmanian Tiger” series. He has worked at Pandemic Studios / EA. Passfield joined the Australian Studio 3Blokes in 2009 and became a co-owner 3Blokes. The studio was acquired by Californian Social media product developer Rockyou in 2011 who closed it in 2012.
Passfield is currently the founder of Red Sprite Studios, a games company, as well as the program manager of Right Pedal Studios, a mobile games accelerator.
Reference: Interview John Passfield, 27 September 2012.