Eugene Peyton Jarvis was born in 1955 in Palo Alto, CA. He originally attended college with biochemistry in mind, but soon turned his UC Berkeley education to computers. In school, Jarvis did FORTRAN programming and also spent time playing an early game called Space War. He focused on earning an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degree, and as he was graduating, attempted to get a job at California-based Atari.
After finishing school, Jarvis went into a job at Hewlett Packard and was tasked with creating a compiler for COBOL, a programming language. Finding the environment not to his liking, Jarvis resigned after three days. As fate would have it, Atari came calling on the same day, giving Jarvis his first game job: programming pinball machines. Jarvis would eventually move to Chicago to work at Williams Electronics after Atari's pinball division failed.
During his time at the company that we now know as Midway, Space Invaders was released, and electronic arcade games began a rise in popularity that would eventually push pinball machines out of the spotlight. Space Invaders inspired Jarvis to try his hand at video game development, and along with Steve Ritchie, Jarvis came up with the idea of Defender. The game went on to become a huge hit, despite the large number of buttons used to play the game and its harder-than-most game difficulty. The game is notable for several reasons, including being the first horizontally scrolling game and is said to have earned over a billion dollars in arcades.
After the success of Defender, Jarvis and Larry DeMar formed a new development company called Vid Kidz. The duo would first create Stargate, a sequel to Defender, as well as Blaster, a follow-up to Robotron: 2084 that was innovative at the time, but ultimately didn't garner much attention. Jarvis eventually transferred back to California to attend Stanford, but he continued his work on some of Midway's most important early arcade games, such as Narc, Smash TV, and Cruis'n USA. Jarvis branched out on his own in 2001, forming a new studio named Raw Thrills and employing several ex-Midway employees. The company has developed a handful of games that went on to be highly successful in the now-sluggish domestic arcade market, such as the light-gun shooter, Target: Terror, as well as arcade racing games based on The Fast and the Furious.
Jarvis received a Pioneer Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences on February 6, 2014. In addition to running Raw Thrills, he also teaches at DePaul University in Chicago.