Thumb 20th Anniversary Developer Profiles Eric Johnston

We are pleased to present the third in our series of LucasArts profiles -- an interview series with some of the people who have made LucasArts the company that it is today. This piece profiles Eric Johnston, who has been with the company for over 13 years. Eric is now the leading the programming efforts for the upcoming original game RTX Red Rock™.

Eric Johnston - Sr. Software Engineer

Game History:


RTX Red Rock (PlayStation 2, GameCube)
Lead Programmer

2001 - 2002

Escape from Monkey Island™ (PlayStation 2)
Graphics Programmer

Star Wars® Starfighter™ (PlayStation 2)
Graphics Programmer

1999 - 2001

Star Wars: Episode I Racer™ (PC CD-ROM, Nintendo 64)
Lead Programmer, Co-Project Leader

1997 - 1999

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire® (PC CD-ROM)
Lead Programmer, Co-Project Leader

1996 - 1997

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire® (Nintendo 64)
Lead Programmer, Co-Project Leader

1994 - 1996

Monkey Island® 2: LeChuck's Revenge® (Macintosh)
Lead Mac Programmer

1992 - 1994

Indiana Jones® and the Fate of Atlantis™ (Macintosh)
Lead Mac Programmer

1991 - 1992

The Secret of Monkey Island® (Macintosh)
Lead Mac Programmer

Loom® (Macintosh)
Lead Mac Programmer

1990 - 1991

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade™ (Macintosh)
Lead Mac Programmer

1989 - 1990

Pipe Dream™ (Macintosh)
Lead Programmer, Artist, Sound Designer How did you first get into game development?

Eric Johnston: Ever since getting my first Apple II, I've been inflicted with a serious illness called "I want to play a video game that doesn't exist." The symptoms aren't pretty, and the only cure is to learn to program, and start making them. Even now, that's my real motivation; I make the games I want to play. What brought you to LucasArts?

Eric Johnston: I found out about Lucasfilm Games in a newspaper article that was sitting in my college dorm. I had written some silly little Star Wars game, and thought "I'll show it to them!" I was able to get an appointment to show my game after making a lot of phone calls. When I showed up, the only person available to meet with me was Steve Arnold, the president of the company then. We had a great time, and he asked if I'd be interested in taking on some projects. For several years after that, while I had robotics-related jobs in real life, my hobby was doing contract programming for LucasArts. Eventually, though, I took my job and my hobby and I swapped them. If you ever get a chance to do that, it's a very good thing. I signed on with LucasArts full-time to develop Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire for the not-yet-released Nintendo 64 platform. What was the company like when you started?

Eric Johnston: It was about 20 people or so, all located in a few buildings on Skywalker Ranch. What struck me was how excited everyone was about the projects they were working on. What was your first project/job?

Eric Johnston: I was the programmer, artist and sound designer for the Mac versions of Pipe Dream. The entire project took about twelve weeks to complete, start to finish. What different positions have you held?

Eric Johnston: Several different flavors of "programmer." They don't let me do art anymore. So is "video game programmer" the least stuffy job you've ever had?

Eric Johnston: Well, no. I've actually worked as a robotics engineer, a stunt man, and a flying trapeze instructor, so it's got some pretty stiff competition there. Is it more fun than any of those? Absolutely. And safer. Describe your role in the game development process.

Eric Johnston: I write programs in C, C++, assembly language, and microcode, to make the games function. The role of lead programmer is, I think, the most fun you can have in the industry, because you can actually create a game and get it working with no help. The trickiest thing about the job is that every single thing that can ever happen in the game must be defined in painful detail, or something will go wrong. What are you working on now?

Eric Johnston: I'm currently the lead programmer on RTX Red Rock, a sci-fi action adventure with a realistic feel. It's actually one of the games I've always wanted to make, but the technology hasn't been available until now. RTX Red Rock features Wheeler who is not just a common hero; he's a bionic astronaut who can see through walls. And Mars isn't just a red-tinted backdrop; it's an interesting, dangerous planet crawling with aliens from another star system.

My contribution to the game is primarily on the technology side, and my programming crew is fantastic. Combine that with the best artists, sound designers, and game designer in the industry, and here's what you can expect: super-smooth character control and a rich, realistic environment with rough surfaces and rounded edges. Do you have to wear a tie to work?

Eric Johnston: No, if I did that, people wouldn't recognize me. I do try to make sure my socks match, though. If you could be any character from a LucasArts game which would you be and why?

Eric Johnston: Manny from Grim Fandango®. The world around him is so strange, and it doesn't bother him a bit. What is the most exciting accomplishment the company has made in its 20 year- long history?

Eric Johnston: I can narrow it down to three. The first was the creation of the SCUMM graphic adventure engine, which really changed the way adventure games were presented and played. The second is what the company brought to the world of computer art. As a programmer, I can make things move and get the game running, but the artists give it life. The art department here has always been fantastic. For the third, the credit goes to Vince Lee who made great use of the CD-ROM drive in Star Wars: Rebel Assault®. That title made huge, permanent changes in the way we look at computer games. Sure, it looks primitive now, but at the time, no one had ever seen anything like it. "What? My CD-ROM drive can do that?" What is your favorite moment in game development?

Eric Johnston: The beginning. Progress is rapid, the team is small, and the project hasn't gotten complicated yet. I love to goof off, and test out wacky things I've never tried before. When starting a new game, that's really the only approach that works.

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