|Having been unfairly attributed as "the
creator of Ultima Underworld" in the past, the designer
and producer of Deus Ex sets the record straight.
FIRST EVER GAME: Space Rogue and Ultima VI
ROLE ON ULTIMA UNDERWORLD: Origin Producer
ALSO WORKED ON: Martian Dreams,
Bad Blood, Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Space Rogue, Wing
Commander, System Shock, Thief: The Dark Project, Deus Ex,
NOW DOING: Running Ion Storm
|>> How did you get into the
games business and what was your first commercial project?
The first commercial game work I did in was development work
on Matt Costello's single-player "pick a path" adventure,
"Thing In The Darkness" published in an early issue
of Fantasy Gamer magazine.
The first "real" papergame work I did was editing
and rules development on TOON: The Cartoon Role-playing Game
(designed by Greg Costikyan).
I wrote a bunch of role-playing adventures and boardgames
on my own (I think "Orcslayer" for GURPS may have
been the first, but I'm not sure) but I don't know if anyone'll
care about that.
The first electronic game work I did was, well... I was assigned
to several projects when I signed on at Origin, all in-progress
simultaneously: I worked with Paul Neurath on the plot and
mission flow-charting for Space
Rogue, and wrote all the dialogue for that game. (Paul
rewrote every word, I'm pretty sure, and I think I ended up
with an "additional materials" credit or something).
Paul gave me quite the education. I also worked with Richard
Garriott on the plot and missions for Ultima
VI and continued on that project as Associate Producer
for the duration. Working with Rich on the UVI
plot was totally eye-opening. Together, those two experiences
probably determined pretty directly the kinds of games I wanted
to work on from then on.
The first projects I produced on my own were Bad
Blood and Martian Dreams,
both in collaboration with a guy named Jeff George (who has
since basically dropped off the face of the earth, despite
the immense promise he showed back then). Chris Roberts was
listed as co-producer on Bad Blood but, really, he was off
making Wing Commander at
the time - all I did on THAT project was try to keep people
out of his way! Martian
Dreams was the first game I'd
call my own (though, again, Jeff George was the project director,
so a ton of credit goes to him and Mike McHaffry, the lead
programmer, led a team of terrifically talented people). But
Martian Dreams wouldn't
have happened without my initial work - I came up with the
basic setting and plot and all the historic characters and
worked with that team on a daily basis to implement it. So
that'd probably be my "first" game in some cosmic
>> So you were not "the
creator of Ultima Underworld"
as many people seem to think?
I was the Origin producer on Underworld
and I contributed significantly to the project design as well
as process, but I get far too much credit for Underworld's
development while Paul and Doug get far too little.
Just to be clear, Paul was the guy who came up with the original
concept that became Underworld
and founded a development studio to make the game; Doug was
the first programmer officially hired to work on the title
but, frankly, it took me about ten minutes after talking to
him for the first time to realise he was the Project Director,
if not in name than in fact. Without me, the game might have
been later or different; without Paul and Doug it isn't too
much of a stretch to say the game would never have happened.
I just hope you don't UNDERESTIMATE my contribution to counterbalance
the fact that I typically receive too MUCH credit for Underworld!
I did sweat blood over that game...
>> If you had one special,
overriding memory of working with the Ultima
Underworld team, what would that be?
The Underworld team
was something really special. They were a bunch of young,
brash, MIT students and ex-students. Kids, really. Most of
them lived together in a place they called "Deco Morono"
("Ten Dumb Guys") but they immediately put the lie
to that the first time I set foot in the place. I mean, maybe
my memory's faulty and I'm misremembering what happened but
I swear there was a conversation going on in old English when
I arrived. And I don't think anyone was quoting Chaucer -
there were people TALKING in old English. Morono indeed!
Eventually, the Underworld
team moved out of the Blue Sky offices in New Hampshire (and
stopped working out of dumb guys) and, in the dead of winter,
found themselves in a terrible little office in Somerville,
Massachussets. Paul found the place - in the basement of some
social services building, meaning there were always interesting
people around! I don't know what he was thinking... Anyway,
the place was locked when we arrived for the first time but
several of the team members just whipped out their lockpicks
(physical hacking being a big deal at MIT, apparently) and
we were in. The wind whistled in under the doors so badly,
we had to stuff towels under them to keep from freezing. Throw
a bunch of folding tables, a bunch of folding beach chairs,
a fax machine and anywhere from 6-10 people into a room so
small I wouldn't put three people in it nowadays and you've
got the picture.
But in that little office, that team created some serious
magic. I mean, the sense of doing something incredible was
palpable. They may not have noticed - they were too busy MAKING
the magic or maybe they were just too young or new to the
business to realise how special they were and how special
what they were doing was. But I was there those last few months,
working on docs, going over buglists with them, testing the
game as it changed, daily, and I felt how special it was every
minute I was there. It isn't too much to say I felt HONOURED
to be there with them.
That team was more cohesive than any I've ever worked with.
They were more audacious and enthusiastic than they should
have been under any circumstances, let alone under the pressure
of completing their studio's first game - a game unlike anything
anyone had ever seen. It was an absolutely incredible experience
- one I feel lucky to have been able to share.
Oh, and make sure you tell the story of Kevin Wasserman, MIT
PhD and ace playtester (!), who managed to get through Underworld
in something like 47 minutes. Lots of people challenged him,
but I don't think anyone ever beat his time...
All I'm saying is make sure the team gets appropriate credit.
It's great that people are going to read about Paul, Doug
and myself, but they should know about Dan Schmidt and Jon
Maiara and Marc LeBlanc and James Fleming and Tim Stellmach
and Kevin and the other people who changed the face of gaming
in a draughty little basement in Somerville...