Gorlin accidentally got into game development. While living in Los Angeles working for the Rand Corporation researching artificial intelligence, he borrowed an Apple II from his grandfather. While trying to sell his house and sitting at home for six months, out of sheer boredom, he started writing a game that drew on his affinity for helicopters. A local kid doing odd jobs for Gorlin suggested he should add men to pick up, like in Defender. What resulted from his changes became his seminal game Choplifter. Gorlin completed the game in six months.
Gorlin's next game, Airheart, also for the Apple II, took three years to complete. The following game, Typhoon Thompson, took about two years, but Gorlin admits that the development of these games overlapped somewhat. The development for these games took so long because Gorlin started other games in between—a black hole game and a seaplane game—which proved too ambitious and which he ended up abandoning. During this time, however, he built a lot of tools whose descendants he still uses today.
During this time, Gorlin was an independent developer with an informal relationship with Brøderbund, who published his first game. Being his own boss, Gorlin never felt pressure to finish anything, so a lot of concepts he abandoned, though he thought they would make good games. He just got bored with developing them and said that if he had the modern equivalent of a game producer pressuring him, he might have actually finished them. But he concedes that with a corporate structure, he probably never would have had the freedom to develop his fledgling "experiments" in the first place.
Airheart was the realization of Gorlin's dream of making a 3D game, what Choplifter was originally intended to be. Typhoon Thompson was an even further pursuit of this goal, but his full dream was too ambitious for production milestones and current technology.
Once the Apple II became outdated, Gorlin says he couldn't figure out what its successor was going to be. He says that he was hoping the Macintosh or Amiga would emerge as the new dominant system, but was disappointed that neither did. He investigated DOS, but was disgusted with the horrible hardware limitations. He says he decided to "wait it out" and went back to teaching African music and culture, which he had been doing since 1972.
Gorlin became interested in game development again about 1995, with the existence of Windows 95, DirectX, C++ and other advanced technology. He became the Director of Software Development for Gravity, Inc. in San Francisco, California. He then pursued putting together a development team with Victor Mercieca, but is unknown what became of that venture.