Ludo, Ergo Sum

Ludo, Ergo Sum
Secret Agent Candy Man

Dave Thomas | 14 Mar 2006 07:00
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Trip Hawkins is deep in a secure underground vault, standing in a telephone booth, talking into his shoe.

This is probably not true. But it's how I image the man on the other end of the phone - the guy who started Electronic Arts and 3DO, launched the Madden NFL game franchise, and now runs the mobile entertainment outfit Digital Chocolate. Because Trip (yes, even the people that don't know William Hawkins III just feel compelled to call him Trip) inspires a kind of crazy imagination in the people around him and because he really does have a secret formula so valuable, writing about its existence must make him a target for international rings of corporate spies.

So, maybe Trip's not pulling a Maxwell Smart when he answers the phone to do this interview. Maybe he's more a James Bond, wearing a white tux, sipping a martini and playing baccarat in Morocco as he answers my questions. And maybe that secret formula he tells me is locked safely in his computer is actually microscopically etched on a titanium plate, tucked inside a lambskin attaché, secured to his hand with molybdenum handcuffs. Really, he's probably just sitting in his office in San Mateo talking on a speakerphone.

All I know for sure is Trip wants to explain what's wrong with Madden, why companies shouldn't follow EA just because it's successful and provide a little insight into what happened to society between the time people moved out of mud huts and started telecommuting on the internet.

Most of all, Trip wants to talk about games.

First Cinematic: Trip Dreams Big
If you wanted to be one of the people who would shape the personal computer revolution, being born in 1953 would be a good start. You'd be old enough to experience things like the launch of the Apple II, and young and foolish enough to believe these clunky new hobby gadgets would change everything.

Of course, it would also help if you were a little different than the other baby boomers. In fact, it would help if you were a lot like Trip.

"Basically, I grew up in the golden age of television and didn't really find television to be all that great."

Sure, he'd sit down for an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E or catch a Bond flick. But his real love was games.

"I'm just such a complete and total game nut - I'm the kind of guy that likes to go to a board game store and spend hours in there looking at every single game that they have in inventory. I'll buy three, four, five games. I've got huge piles of board games in my house. I play a lot of videogames and I play internet games and mobile games and games, games, games, games, games! It just really doesn't matter what form it's in. I just enjoy every sort of game there is."

A card-carrying game nerd, Hawkins played D&D and enjoyed the Avalon Hill war games. He'd even crack open a business simulation game if it promised a little fun.

"And then the really big love for me was sports simulation."

In a time when computers were thought of as code-breaking machines or science fiction information processors that ate paper punch cards and produced teletype reports, Trip's idea of sports simulation was firmly rooted in a pencil and paper card game called Strat-O-Matic.

Although he enjoyed the tax accountant-like tabulating and ledgering required to simulate a pro sport game on paper, it wasn't long before a piece of technology with a Star Wars-sounding name showed up with a picture of a better gaming through computing. In 1971, Trip encountered a PDP-8, the early computer hobby kit that was not much more than a box with some toggle switches. No mouse, no monitor and you programmed it by changing the wiring. If the young Hawkins had been Newton, this would have been the part of the story where the apple hit him in the head.

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