Eugene Jarvis has never been afraid to take risks. A successful game designer responsible for the much-loved Defender and Cruis’n franchises, his daring has paid off. Now he hopes to promote fearless innovation through a new UC Berkeley scholarship.
Jarvis arrived at UC Berkeley in 1973, intending to study biochemistry. As a Silicon Valley native, he’d learned the essentials of computer programming during a high school class trip to IBM. Once he began playing videogames, he realized this was what he really wanted to do: build new worlds. Jarvis switched his major to computer science, learning to code by key punching decks of computer cards in the basement of Evans Hall to run on Berkeley’s 64 bit Control Data 6400 machine – one of the most advanced computers of its day. Upon graduation, he had a job lined up at the prestigious Hewlett-Packard and his future seemed set. Three days into this position, he quit. Jarvis refused to give up on his dream to create the ultimate parallel universe — a quest he continues to this day.
Long interested in the intersection of technology, design, and human factors, Jarvis dedicated his career to applying rapidly developing technologies to age-old theories of gaming and human psychology. He worked for Atari before moving to Williams Electronics in Chicago, where he created the arcade landmark Defender. Ever a trailblazer, he soon formed his own company Vid Kiz, through which he developed the critically acclaimed Stargate and Robotron 2084, which introduced the twin-stick control. After receiving an MBA from Stanford, Jarvis pioneered 3-D photorealistic texture mapping for the 1990s Cruis’n series of driving games at Midway. Since then, he’s embarked on his newest journey with his company Raw Thrills, Inc., producing such hits as The Fast and the Furious and Target: Terror.
Jarvis has been honored with the IGDA Game Developers Choice Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Pioneer Award. And UC Berkeley, Jarvis claims, was a key component to this success:
“UC Berkeley is one of the few places where you can pursue a rigorous course of study in a vast array of disciplines ranging from Philosophy to Literature to Mathematics to Quantum Physics. Berkeley’s long tradition of independent inquiry and free speech provided an ideal environment to test new ideas, and question the assumptions and complacency of the current status quo.”
Which is why Jarvis is creating the Eugene Jarvis Media Innovation Scholarship. Recognizing that education has become increasingly expensive and that students as a result are motivated to make educational decisions based on future job prospects, Jarvis hopes to promote intellectual exploration. The scholarship will support students with innovative design projects at the Center for New Media who show financial need.
“The undergraduate experience is the most formative in education. It’s the one time in your life you have an open mind and are absorbing knowledge while trying to find your mission on earth […] College is the ultimate kickstarter. I want to give students the freedom to learn the tools that will allow them to make something of their lives.”
Jarvis chose to work with the Center for New Media on the scholarship, because of its role as an “innovative incubator.”
“There’s all this cross-pollination going on there. To make something new you have to take two different things and combine them to see what happens.”
The Eugene Jarvis Scholarship is supported by the Ruth Johnson Scholarship Match Program, which provides a dollar for dollar match for gifts to new endowed scholarships. This match was made possible through the bequest of Ruth Johnson, who graduate with honors from UC Berkeley in 1938. She completed graduate work and obtained her teaching credential the following year. She taught French and Spanish in public high schools for 30 years. Ruth survived her husband Milton, a U.S. Army Veteran. During their marriage the Johnsons lived in a number of places in the US and Japan. Ruth was motivated to benefit undergraduate students with scholarships when she learned about the increasing difficulty many students had paying for their Berkeley education – something she treasured throughout her life.
Eugene Jarvis photo courtesy of AIAS
Game photo courtesy of Todd Carr on Flickr.