By Daniel Busch – [email protected]
“Let me show you something else.” Steve says…the cursor moving quickly down to a menu screen in “Quick Play” mode.
“To change the difficulty, this menu allows a user to change the size of the pockets…” He set’s the pocket size to 4 inches.
“Users also have the option to handicap the game…click ‘here’ to change the number of games each player races to.” I receive a two-game spot.
I am in Chatsworth, California at the home of inventor, programmer, and long-time pool player, Steve Chaplin. Peering over his shoulder from his home office, Steve is taking me on a rapid-fire tour of his latest creation called Virtual Pool 4, the offline version of which is to be released on August 15th, 2012. Within 15 minutes of parking my car, Steve has armed me with a cup of coffee, a Virtual Pool T-Shirt and a pen. As I take notes, I begin to recall that feeling of when I was 6 years old, and my new best friend is showing me his Lego set on the living room floor.
Steve is navigates and I begin to take it in… This game ROCKS beyond my comprehension. I’m not even a gamer and I just can’t wait to play it. The tagline that, “Virtual Pool is so realistic, it will make your REAL pool game better!” is quickly realized. Hell, I’m even picking out a custom cue and looking at it close up. The mother of pearl inlays come to life under the lighting when I change the angle of view. For a brief moment, I’m no longer peering over someone’s shoulder. Rather, I’m a rookie hustler in a dusty old garage, playing the ‘Room Boss’ on an old bar table with worn cloth and dirty pool balls. I’m recalling the stench of an old hall I’ve visited in the past, the dim lighting, the bikers I’ve played and the action I’ve seen. Yes, after a long 12 years since the release of Virtual Pool 3, Steve Chaplin has again achieved greatness. He has conquered the code, re-defined the physics of the game and re-invented the ‘VIRTUAL’ of Virtual Pool.
About a year ago I was at Hard TImes Billiards in Bellflower, California playing in a small weekly ‘handicap’ 9-Ball tournament. It was on this day that I met the soft spoken man named Steve Chaplin who, playing better than I, was required to spot me the 8-Ball. Towering me at 6’7″ to my 6’1″, Steve moved like a mantis around the table. He really knew how to put the cue-ball where he wanted. I knew right away that I had to play well and fortunately, I was feeling pretty good that day. Playing a race to 3 games, I was able to defeat Steve and walk away with something like 3rd place in that event. To me, Steve was another one of those pool players who I would file away as someone NOT to play ‘even-up’ for the cash, because he was a far better player.
A few months later, I’m on the phone with Corey Harper, a professional pool player who owns a small ‘billiard boutique’ in Pasadena called Crown City Billiards. He’s inviting me to a weekly 10-Ball ‘ring game’, $100 minimum buy-in with a 6 player cap. When I ask him, “Who’s in?”, he tells me it’ll be Himself, Oscar and Ernesto Dominguez, Chris Tate, Steve Chaplin and Me. Okay, so I’m the man behind POV Pool and I play fairly decent, but that doesn’t mean I can hold a candle next to any of these guys. I decline the invitation.
Then Corey starts talking about Steve Chaplin:———————————————————————— Corey: “Have you ever played Virtual Pool, Daniel?” Me: “Sure. Hasn’t everyone?” Corey: “Well Steve INVENTED it!. He’s known to most players as ‘Virtual Pool’ Steve.” Me: “Oh, Wow! That’s great. That’s probably why the game is so much better than other pool video games. Steve actually plays pool.” Corey: “Well that’s probably one reason. But he’s also been a programmer for quite sometime. He’s coming out with a new version soon which is supposed to blow the old versions away. You guys should get to know each other.” Me: “Well I’m still not coming this Wednesday, but thanks for the invite.” ————————————————————————
It wasn’t until 6 months or so later that I ran into Steve again at Hard Times Billiards. By this time I had streamed some pretty big tournaments such as The 16th Annual Jay Swanson Memorial Tournament, The 3rd Annual Hard Times 10-Ball, The 1st Annual West Coast Challenge in Mountain View, CA and at least 7 of the Hard Times 1st Sunday Tournaments. I have been covering the pros and meeting many players, but now I’m interested in bringing the audience a little more than just streams.
Steve and I began to talk shop about each others’ work and about 6 weeks later, on July 5th, 2012 I had the pleasure of driving to his home office in Chatsworth for a full on interview with the man behind Celeris Inc., and the best pool simulation game on the market, ‘Virtual Pool’.
Who Is ‘Virtual Pool’ Steve?
Steve Chaplin was born in 1958 at Queens Hospital in Los Angeles, to a creative family of musicians and composers, mom a piano teacher and his father, a music professor at Cal Arts who, also studied computerized music. After relocating to Valencia in 1971, little Steve Chaplin attended Hart High School where he was relatively free and happy to develop his own interests. He gravitated toward playing piano, violin and basketball, but after all is said and done, Steve admits to me during our interview that he had three main interests in High School…
“…Music, Physics and Recess!”
Steve had the stereotypical ‘cool parents’, who didn’t ask to see his report cards or force him into any particular field of study. His passion for the piano and violin makes a lot of sense against the backdrop of his parents’ musical contributions and Steve’s height of 6’7″ seemed an obvious choice to get into basketball.
Meanwhile, it’s the late 1970’s and the age of computers is still sitting on the bench in Steve’s life. Texas Instruments invents the ‘Speak and Spell’, Atari introduces the very first VCS game console and for the very first time, consumers are beginning to get a glimpse how artificial intelligence and computers can change our lives. Steve’s father set a huge example in his life by continuing his professorship at Cal-Arts and moving forward with his interests in computers and music. Through his father, Steve would be introduced to programming technology and would lead to his eventual decision to study Computer Science at Cal-State Northridge (CSUN), where he eventually received his Bachelor Of Science in 1982.
Before receiving this degree however, Steve has also obtained a 20 hour a week internship with the well known airplane manufacturer, The Lockheed Corporation. In this age of opportunity, where computers are quickly becoming all the rage, he is writing programs for to solve hypersonic aerodynamics while attending school at Northridge.
What About Pool?
Steve discovered pool in his teens at the community clubhouse in Valencia but it wasn’t until he went to Northridge that he really started to love the game. With the internship at Lockheed and attending college full time, Steve definitely needed some leisure time and playing pool offered Steve exactly that. And, like most good pool players, he was a natural for the game. Within 7 months and was considered to be the best player in the room. After receiving his BS degree at Northridge and school now out of the way, pool dominates his life almost as much as it does his job at Lockheed. Playing quite a bit of Straight Pool with his friend and mentor Jerry Chappell and others in the room, pool consumes him for about 40-50 hours a week. With the exception of Jerry, he’s still the best player in the club and having the time of his life at it, too. The thrill of the game and the luster of winning had so much appeal to Steve that he came to a point in his life where he wondered if he could go ‘on the road’ or turn ‘pro’.
Steve really began to weigh this options but eventually realized the he was already heavily committed to computer programming and making a pretty decent living at it. Why turn away from a sure thing which you already love when the other path is sure to be riddled with hard life lessons and fraught with danger? Ahhh, the gritty, winding road of the pool-hustler. Winning big and even losing it all in the same week or sometimes the same day. Traveling from one cheap motel to the next. Smoke filled rooms and sleepless nights… the prospect of knowing that so much tireless work and dedication might reap so little reward. The eventual revelation of this future led Steve to making one radical decision.
Steve would quit pool completely…for 17 years.
In 1984, he quickly decided to form his own company called Celeris Inc., to focus on Aerospace sub-contracting for various companies. It wasn’t long after this that Steve was back at The Lockheed Corporation, this time armed with several of his own employees, developing display applications for radar, weather tracking, air defense systems. For Lockheed, Celeris Inc. also developed cockpit displays for F-22 Raptor fighter jets, command and controls systems and antisubmarine warfare (ASW) systems.
Through the 80’s and up to the height of the Cold War, Celeris Inc. made a big name for itself in aerospace programming. Obtaining contracts with Hughes Aircraft, Singer-Librascope, Northrop, Unysis and a host of others. Celeris CEO, Steve Chaplin was becoming quite successful, partly due to the fact that he always maintained his focus on excellence and innovation. At one point he was overseeing almost 25 of his own employees to handle some of these contracts.
But then, it all began to change…
Celeris Enters The World Of Gaming!
“It was kind of like the ‘world peace movement’ We decided to make love instead of war…” Steve says.
Steve continues, “When the Cold War ended, the defense business began to dry up we had to look at where the company should go from here. Celeris had a lot of people that liked games and so we developed an animated puzzle game called ‘Flixmix’. It was self-published and we had some success but nothing huge. However after that we had a meeting to decide on another game. This is when I announced that since pool is such a great game, wouldn’t it be cool to make that simulation that is just like real pool, then it will be a great game too!”
Falling in love with this logic, Steve’s associates and engineers quickly went to work on the first ‘Virtual Pool’ game, which was eventually released in 1995 on DOS. The funding for the game took some time to acquire, sending Steve on the road to the doors of GT Interactive, Activision, Maxiis, and THQ; all of whom declined to take part in the development of the game. Finally, Steve developed a partnership with Interplay who agreed to publish, promote and distribute the game. In 1997, Virtual Pool 2 was released for Windows which also included Virtual Snooker. The physics of the game, graphics and realism were like nothing ever released by any other pool game out there. They also developed versions for the Playstation and Nintendo N64. Since then Celeris has focused almost entirely on new releases and upgrades to the game which has spread internationally amongst gamers and pool players alike. With each new release, Celeris has added many updates and included new pool games like One-Pocket, 3-Cushion Billiards and minor releases like ‘Virtual Pool Hall’ and finally a version of Virtual Pool 3, released in the year 2000.
But what spells real success for Steve and a game like Virtual Pool? One would think that opening the royalty checks from sales on a successful video game would motivate anyone to forge ahead in this business. But, it seems to me that for Steve, the evolution of Virtual Pool also came with some unexpected moments to inspire him further which, I believe continue to motivate his quest to further develop the best simulation pool game ever. Like, the time when Interplay was courting the film director, Steven Spielberg who, while on tour of their facility, stumbled on some testers of Virtual Pool game. Mr. Spielberg immediately looked at Interplay Executives and said of Virtual Pool, “This is the best game I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Another story that he shares with me happened during his research for Virtual Snooker, which took him on a trip England to spend an entire week with Steve Davis, who was the #1 World Snooker Champion at the time. They played many frames of snooker together, shared stories and Mr. Chaplin also discovered that Mr. Davis had actually won 3 world championships playing with a crooked cue.
Let us not forget also that Steve Chaplin is forever grateful to have a loving and supportive wife, has never forgotten the example that his father set for him and credits the handful of talented engineers and programmers involved with Celeris Inc. Steve made the important decision to sacrifice a life to become a full time pool player which, could have proven very difficult for him to enjoy in the real world. Instead his dreams came true in a ‘virtual world’ and he has gained a comprehension of the pool that would amaze even the likes of top professional players like Efren Reyes or Shane Van Boening.
Introducing Virtual Pool 4
Get ready to be blown away, folks! On August 15th, 2012 consumers will be able to play the latest Celeris product, aptly named, ‘Virtual Pool 4’, available for download as a desktop release at the Celeris website at a price point of $29.95. It will be an offline, desktop version; the online version, to be released later this year in December where users can also join the VP4 social network and forums, compete head to head and in network tournaments for virtual cash and real prizes.
Referring to VP4, Steve says, “The latest version is almost a complete re-do. A lot of the changes were made form user feedback from the previous versions. I’ve added 6 new games which now totals 17 in all. This includes a new ‘U.K. Pub Table’ for 3 of those new games. It contains all new physics and Artificial Intelligence. We’ve also built our own movie player which is used to play the Steve Daking instructional shots and for the practice shots, and the graphics are out of this world. ‘Pro-Tour Career Mode’ allows users to enter tournaments at different venues, playing different games and matching up with professional and top amateur players from real life. There is also a ‘Trick Shot’ section of the game where a player can re-create or even invent their own shots.”
In real life, a pool player is faced with many different playing conditions which could either hinder or enhance their performance during competition. Virtual Pool 4’s design, mirrors this to the extent that users will suffer the same fate during competition at any of its virtual arenas. Different tables and cloth conditions, varied pocket size and cleanliness of the balls, lighting conditions of the venue… Especially ‘Hustler Career Mode’ where each room is different and the action gets tougher as players advance through a hustler career. Steve has gone to such astonishing lengths to add contrast to each scenario that users will enjoy thousands of hours of action and not once have to empty out their wallets when they lose.
Another feature added to VP4 are the improved ‘Training Aids’ for users who would like to understand the fundamentals of Billiards/Pool and improve their playing skills. The advancement of the physics also allow players to perform true to life jump shots and masses. For the most part, anything that can be performed on a real pool table can be performed in Virtual Pool 4.
Steve adds, “We are very excited about the training aids available for users during practice, such as the viewable ghost ball and tangent line/s of a shot. There are 3 different modes of training aids which I believe will help users develop their skills. In addition, providing users the ability to change game parameters and table conditions was also very important. Pocket size has always been a factor for real pool players, so why not add this element to the virtual version?”
It has been 12 years since we’ve seen an update to Virtual Pool. The demise of Interplay, the rise of new technology, and a new publishing landscape has not discouraged Steve Chaplin to forge ahead. Another reason it’s taken so long is that historically Virtual Pool has been a game that always pushed the envelope of what technology could offer consumers in the first place. It literally was the best and most technologically powerful pool simulation you could buy at the time. Consumers have actually had no choice but to wait for the technology to catch up and be ready for the next version of the game. That said, VP4 users are sure to be happy with the new product!
Developing partner relationships has also played a great part in the realism of and excitement of VP4 which for starters, Celeris has Corey Harper of Crown City Billiards to thank. Corey has led Steve to several key, industry contacts and players. In turn, Celeris has gone to great lengths to build these relationships and incorporate some of them into the game. Custom cues by Tiger Products, Viking Cues and Ariel Carmeli Cues can be selected from the pro-shop and can be seen in amazing detail during game play. Cues from partners will be given to online tournament winners.
The mere realism of the game has also prompted pool and billiard organizations, such as the BCA/CSI (Billiard Congress Of America/Cue-Sports International), UPC (Universities Pool Council), GB 9-Ball Tour to agree to cross-promotional efforts of the game in exchange for logo placements and links to websites within the game itself. These organizations, generally committed to providing league systems and venues for pool players to compete at, have fully endorsed the VP4 product and are anticipating some growth because of the impact that VP4 can have on a user’s real pool game.
British Professional Pool Player, Trick Shot Artist and Instructor Steve Daking took an immediate interest to Virtual Pool 4, went above and beyond the call of duty by producing a library of over 140 video instructional shots in pool and billiards where he also explains the fundamentals and techniques necessary to execute them. All of these shots have been incorporated into the game, which the user can also practice and master.
Media organizations such as The Action Report and POV Pool are also committed to the game’s success. Celeris has signed on over 80 real players to be used as characters in the Pro Tour Career Mode, which should mean increased traffic and exposure of these players by these media providers.
Thanks to Steve Chaplin, a new fascination with the game of pool is experienced at an entirely new level. The anticipation of the release of Virtual Pool 4 spells a big win for the pool world as a whole. Through the digital medium, Virtual Pool 4 delivers such a richer understanding of the real game of pool and because of this, top players around the world get exposure, leagues receive new inquiries and gamers get to know what it’s really like to BE a Pool Player. This could not be a better time for the gamer, the pool player and for Steve Chaplin of Celeris Inc.
For more information and pertinent links:
Celeris Website: http://www.celeris.com
Steve Daking Website: http://www.stevedaking.com/hustlebox/
Crown City Billiards: http://crowncitybilliards.com/store/
Viking Cues: http://shop.vikingcue.com/home
Tiger Products: http://www.tigerproducts.com/
Ariel Carmeli Cues: http://www.accustomcues.com/
Cue Sports International: http://www.playcsipool.com/
GB 9 Ball Tour: http://www.gb9balltour.com/
Universities Pool Council: http://upc-pool.org.uk/cueaction/
The Action Report: http://www.theactionreport.com/home.html
Point Of View Pool: https://povpool.com/