So over the last 3 months you’ve seen me opine on the building blocks of computer game design. I myself have only come part way though; we’re still in the design and build stage of our game, while there are hundreds of other people who have actually finished games and put them out there. What about those people, who must know even more than I do?
Well, before I even started writing the proposal for this column, I’d decided that every so often I’d interview someone from the industry, and put the results up as a column. If nothing else, it’ll get differing opinions up here from the different game designers, and you’ll all get to read what these people have to say.
Since this column is about creating a game, though, my interviews are going to take a slightly different flavour than most others you’ll have read: I’m mostly concerned with the beginning steps, the first games, and what’s different once you have a game out on the shelves. This edition I get to interview everyone’s favourite game mogul, Bill Roper.
Behind the Veil: First of all, thank you for coming out. I know it means a lot to me and my readers.
Bill Roper: It is my pleasure. Through the years we have spent so many hours reading the comments and stories on diabloii.net, we feel like you guys are like an extended family.
BtV: What prompted you to start working on Warcraft those many years ago?
BR: When I started at Blizzard, it was the total and complete dream job. I had been playing games for as long as I could remember, so any chance to work at a company and actually get paid to make them was almost inconceivable. I had a close friend who worked as an artist at Blizzard and he told me about some contract work they needed done for music on the PC version of Blackthorn. I sent in a demo tape, and then followed it up immediately with another for voice over work when he told me they needed someone to narrate a demo for this game they were making called Warcraft. When the chance to stay on full time came up – or more accurately I begged my way in – I quit my other job and started what has been a wonderful career.
BtV: What were your expectations for the game when you began?
BR: I came onto the Warcraft project about 5 months from release, so it was a huge learning curve for me, but back in those days, it kind of was for us all. I got to jump right in and really help define the fiction of the world through the writing and voicing of the missions, the manual and talking with the gaming community press once the game came out.
BtV: What kept you going during Warcraft’s long creation period?
BR: Knowing that we were really onto something special. I can still remember that first time two people hooked up for a multiplayer game. We all knew that the game had turned a very important corner and that it had taken a quantum leap forward in terms of fun. Being able to see and play the very visible results of your hard work keeps you working through the long nights and difficulties that always arise.
BtV: How did it feel to finally have the game on shelves and be able to say, “That’s ours, we did that?”
BR: It is one of the more satisfying and gratifying moments I have ever experienced. When you walk into a store or, most importantly, talk with people who are playing the game you helped create, it is such an amazing sense of accomplishment. It’s not uncommon to sneak into a Best Buy or an Electronics Boutique and take photos of your game actually on shelves. It is that final moment when you see it in a box somewhere, or go online and play with someone you have never met, that it finally becomes “real.”
BtV: With one game already under your belt, was your mindset for the second game, Diablo, any different?
BR: The mindset was really the same – to make the best game possible. We have always kept the game first and foremost in our minds, no matter the genre. Probably the biggest difference with Diablo was the introduction of battle.net, which was borne out of what was best for the game, but was also very different than anything we had ever done before.
BtV: And as you moved on to the next game, and the next?
BR: Every game is a new adventure, with new challenges, new pitfalls and new opportunities to make something fun and compelling. Those initial feelings of excitement and drive and discovery that we all felt when we were working on our first game are still there now with the game we’re making at Flagship Studios.
BtV: Fast-forward to Warcraft III, which was created under a fully developed company. What was different than ten years earlier?
BR: The biggest difference was probably the ability to support the game, which was AMAZINGLY grander in scope and functionality than the original Warcraft, on a global level. The amount of dedication to purpose and logistics it takes to launch a game worldwide on a specific date is difficult to describe. It takes a coordinated team of marketing, PR and sales people working in tandem with the developers to pull off, and it was something pretty amazing to be a part of.
Also, the maturity of the company as a development studio was very different. There were so many elements of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans that were, back then, new and unknown. By the time Warcraft III rolled around, the team had been through and refined aspects of the process so well that issues that had once taken weeks to solve now only took days or hours. That is something that experience gives a team – the ability to get through potentially sticky development situations in short order.
BtV: Are there any mistakes you made that you wished you hadn’t? Any that you feel you benefited from in the long run?
BR: Too many to count, but I’d like to believe we all learn from our mistakes. I know that every game I have ever worked on was better because of the successes and the missteps made in our previous efforts. As long as you aren’t afraid to go back and say, “Yeah, that was something we really screwed up” you can address it and avoid it in the future.
BtV: If you could give one piece of advice to computer game developers, what would it be?
BR: Don’t be afraid to throw out something that doesn’t work. So often developers become slaves to a massive design document that was written in the first 3 months of a project that they are afraid to cut something from the game that just isn’t working. You have to be adaptable in your development process and be willing to adjust to make the game as fun as you can. If you always keep the core vision of what you want your game to be in mind, you can be flexible to achieve that goal, even if it means throwing something out that you thought was going to be brilliant.
BtV: Thank you for your time, and for being so open with us, and best of luck with Flagship Studios.
BR: Thank you for the chance to keep in touch with some of the best gamers in the world. We hope that you will all keep an eye on what we’re doing and get as excited about Flagship Studios and our new game as we are!
So there you have it, folks, the first of what I hope will be many interviews with computer game designers. Next edition, I’ll start getting beyond the hidden obvious to what actually makes a computer game work, when I start to talk about the 3 designs.
Disclaimer: Behind the Veil was written by Chris Marks and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.