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TOTALLY GAME

Times Staff Writer

BAREFOOT and bouncing around like Gumby on a trampoline, David Perry moves around his two-story Mediterranean-style villa in Dana Point like a kid loose in an amusement park.

He starts in the grand entry hall where a long skylight blasts the area with sunshine and the walls are painted to look like shops in an Italian village. In the living room, a stream burbles over rocks, emptying through a cutout in the glass wall into the backyard swimming pool. “The house is inside out,” he says, “the inside looks like the outdoors.”

The 6-foot-8-inch Perry then dashes into other rooms, his teensy dachshunds at his heels, where the fun continues. One room is stuffed with blinking arcade games, another with remote-controlled helicopters and disassembled circuit boards. The floor of the gym is monopolized by a solid-steel version of the heart-pumping stepping game, Dance Dance Revolution.

As if these toys weren’t enough, he flings open the ornate doors of an antique armoire to reveal helter-skelter piles of electronic game boxes, cartridges and consoles. “If you really want to understand me, this is it,” he says.

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Don’t write the guy off as just a big kid. The 39-year-old multimillionaire is a major player in the video-game industry. He’s a wizard at writing the software that gives form and movement to game characters and plots. His bestsellers include those based on “The Matrix,” “The Terminator,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Aladdin.”

Sales of all the games he has worked on over the years have totaled more than $1 billion, according to the New York-based market research firm, the NPD Group, which tracks the $12-billion-a-year U.S. video game and PC game industry. In 2002, Perry sold his company, Shiny Entertainment, to Atari for $47 million but continued as president until this February.

Now working at home, he’s breaking new ground again, collaborating on his first multiplayer online game called 2Moons. Based on a Korean video game, it will be available free to players.

His home has the same mix of fantasy, entertainment and a sense of empowerment as one of his games. From his landscaped backyard overlooking the ocean, the tech genius from Northern Ireland points to the cove where he first tried a boogie board a few days after arriving in the United States in 1991.

He recalls looking up at the houses next to the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel hotel and thinking, “So this is how Americans live? They rock.” Five years later, he bought one of the houses.

PERRY grew up in the small town of Donegore in the late 1960s and ‘70s. The son of a photographer and a British Airways employee, he says it was too cold to do anything but stay inside, study the manuals at his school’s computer lab and write software for his puny Sinclair ZX81 home computer so he could play games on it. The self-taught programmer sold his first computer games for about $600 when he was 14, opened a bank account, and rapidly turned a hobby into a career. At 17, he moved to London to create video games for an industry that was as young and unsophisticated as himself.

At 24, he was lured to the United States by Irvine-based Virgin Interactive and two years later, he started Shiny Entertainment, which dreamed up Earthworm Jim in 1994. That slimy superhero was such a hit that it became a cartoon show and was splashed over lunchboxes, Marvel comic books, fast-food meal boxes, and even underpants.

His ability to push the industry forward with guitar sounds on Global Gladiators, zooming and sniping in MDK and character possession in Messiah put him on top of the industry, says longtime game-industry expert Victor Lucas, who is the executive producer of the TV show and website “The Electric Playground.”

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Fun may be Perry’s model to success, but it makes for a free-wheeling approach to home decor that would make most guys smile but design purists cringe. There’s a Disneyland feel to the house -- a mix of Mediterranean, French, Shabby Chic and other themes tossed together with this high-tech stuff.

Perry converted most of the rooms in this 5,901-square-feet house into play spaces. His first furniture purchase was a pool table, which is still the centerpiece in the living room.

Since their marriage in 2001, his wife, Elaine, has added fine French antiques, artwork and family photographs to the bachelorscape of foosball and flickering computer monitors.

But no amount of toile fabric on quaint settees can hide the big boy toys. Their 22-month-old daughter, Emma, has clusters of her playthings in almost every room too. “All the brightly colored plastic in the house is Emma’s,” Perry says, as if he needs to distinguish between his things and a toddler’s.

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“Even before Emma came along, we had toys and stuffed animals everywhere,” says Elaine, 30. “Our lives revolve around games and toys. We are two kids.” Emma’s pink Shabby Chic nursery with a Snow White theme was once their “boardroom” where they played Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.

“I used to be a neat freak,” says Elaine, a former Miss Maui, “but it’s a lot more fun to enjoy the people in this home and not worry about toys being out. We both have an island mentality: laid-back and friendly.”

EMMA’S ride-on cars and miniature shopping carts are parked across the entrance to the home theater off the faux-finished hallway. The theater’s double doors are made of used pallet planks -- “the lowest form of wood,” says Perry. “I like how it looks so old.”

Small cone-shaped metal adornments were attached to the wood to make it look like the gateway to a medieval castle. Above the doors are classic comedy and drama masks, a nod to Elaine’s appreciation of the acting profession.

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Inside the room, the entire text from the play “Romeo and Juliet” is framed on one wall. Below it is a cushy leather couch. When the family isn’t watching movies, Perry spends hours playing games on a widescreen monitor. There are tidy built-in shelves and custom window shutters to block out the sun.

Across from the theater in what used to be a guest room is the arcade, filled wall to wall with vintage games that he’s collected over two decades. There’s the pinball game the Getaway, the coveted sequel to High Speed. The Terminator has a special chip that emits a profanity in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice. Funhouse was pieced together from remnants of many originals. “It has the voice of Ed Boon, the game pro who did Mortal Kombat,” says Perry, who spouts the history of the game industry like most kids would baseball.

There’s also a compact version of Centipede. He had it built with shortened legs, so his wife, who is 5-foot-3, could play it. It was a present on their first anniversary. “I have the third highest score,” she says. The top two positions? David Perry.

One wall in the room has a built-in vault that holds thousands of pages of his programming code and hard drives. “It’s a 4-ton, lead-lined, fireproof safe that workers craned in and when it slipped a little it almost took out the walls,” he says. In another part of the house, the server room contains the controls for the web of high-speed data cabling and other game-enabling wiring.

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The couple’s playful lifestyle is evident upstairs too. Underneath a swag of copper-colored silk over the wrought-iron headboard in the master bedroom, Perry plays video games from a wireless console and a carpeted runway makes it possible for dachshunds Angel and Rascal to sleep next to him. Elaine created a separate reading area nearby with a chaise lounge, book table and antique dresser. But steps away is a 2-foot-high robot, a gift from his accountant, and seashells he has collected while diving the world.

Perry’s home office has interior windows that overlook the skylit entryway.

In this room, which used to be where Elaine displayed her doll collection, she has installed dark-stained custom wood cabinets, tucked filing drawers in the closet and hung his collection of Pietro Annigoni portraits of women.

With nine monitors at his desk, Perry calls his office “a geek’s paradise.” One monitor has a still image of his wife and daughter. On another, he launches a PowerPoint presentation that he uses as a speaker at game developers’ conferences. He says when he dropped out of college to write software, teachers scoffed at him. Now, almost 300 colleges offer courses in game programming. “Games are fantasies for sale,” he says.

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A portrait of Clive Sinclair, who invented the tiny computer Perry launched his career on, is part of his slide show. Perry explains that Sinclair’s success took a nosedive with two other inventions: a “geeky” folding bike and a compact electric car “with a washing machine engine” that was the British equivalent of the Edsel.

“It had no roof in a country that rains a lot,” he says. “So Sinclair Research came up with waterproofed silver space clothes to wear. He didn’t understand cool.”

The message he learned from Sir Clive and passes on to thousands of hopeful game creators?

“Stick to what you know,” he says, punching the keyboard to jump to an image of Earthworm Jim holding a plasma blaster. “Then it’s always fun.”

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Janet Eastman can be reached at janet.eastman@latimes .com.

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Hit all the buttons

Ready to get serious about playing video games? Game developer David Perry offers this advice on tricking out a game room:

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Games and consoles. The Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii will be released this fall, so home gamers may want to wait before updating or selecting a new console. But for now, Perry likes the Xbox 360 and recommends having two wireless controllers. He suggests subscribing to Microsoft’s online service Xbox Live for free downloads of new games such as “Lost Planet,” demos and high-definition movie trailers. He suggests renting games from companies such as www.gamefly.com, www.gamelender.com or www.blockbuster.com to see if you like them before buying.

Screen. You want a display with a fast refresh rate with true high definition. Perry says to look for high-definition sets that are 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. Plasma screens often have slow refresh rates, making the images smear when the game moves fast, and if white text is on the screen for hours, it may burn onto the screen.

Blackout blinds. A carpenter made hinged custom wood blinds for Perry’s room. He say most blackout material has stitching holes, which let light leak in and cast light spots across the screen. Some camera games might want you to be able to open the blinds, so don’t just seal windows.

Surround sound. Audio is half of the gaming experience, says Perry, who has 7.1 speakers and a powerful amplifier with DTS/Dolby processors that immerse players in three-dimensional sound. “You also need a good subwoofer so you can feel the bone-crunching sounds that games emit,” he says.

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-- Janet Eastman


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