RVG Interviews - Jennell Jaquays.

RVG Interviews - Jennell Jaquays.

RVG is please to annouce our next interview with Jennell Jaguays.

Jennell was the Director of Game Design at Coleco, the creators of the 8 bit ColecoVision game system and ADAM computers, she was the head of the game art and design studios to produce more than 80 video game titles for Coleco’s own systems and competing game consoles. She and her team faithfully replicated and often improved upon the graphics and play action of the popular 80s coin-op arcade titles that Coleco licensed for the ColecoVision earning both critical and popular acclaim.


During a freelance design studio period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she continued to be involved in the video game industry, with concept and design work for Epyx, Interplay Entertainment, and Electronic Arts.

Jennell Jaquays also pioneered pre-made RPG scenarios in her D&D fanzine The Dungeoneer in 1976 and is STILL known for her adventures Dark Tower and Caverns of Thracia.  She assembled one of the first video game art and design studios at Coleco to make ColecoVision games. After working as an RPG artist and designer, she returned to computer games in 1997 as a designer for id Software, as an artist for Age of Empires titles, and co-founder of The Guildhall at SMU in Dallas, a leading video game development school. Jennell serves as Chief Creative Officer for Olde Sküül, in Seattle, Washington.

Other notable Games she worked on.
Quake 2
Quake 3 Arena
Age of Empires III
Halo Wars

Jennell is a frequent speaker at game conferences and will be attending CGE Las Vegas for those lucky enough to attend.

And again thanks to Jennell for taking part.


zapiy
 
Can you talk us through your career at Coleco?


Jennell

I started as a contractor in the late fall of 1980. Michael Stackpole, another Role Play Game author and I had
met up at a game convention in Michigan few weeks earlier. He called me to let me know that he had just been hired to work as a freelance designer on a short term project for Coleco … and they needed another designer. He thought of me. Coleco brought us in to develop a simple role play game for some new hardware that the Advanced Research and Development (ARD) group (under Eric Bromley) were developing using bar code and speech synthesis based on phonemes. In 1980, these were both relatively new technologies. We roughed out several games to the prototype stage for the hardware, which ultimately didn’t go anywhere. We worked as contractors through our 45 day contracts and were both offered jobs. Mike left to become a famous a science fiction author (seriously) and I stayed to become a game designer on staff.

My first months with ARD were in a relatively large department, one that had design, a lot of engineers (electrical and manufacturing), model makers and programmers.  The small team of which I was a part included our supervisor, Tom Helmer (aka Tom Electric), John Ruleman (sp?) our technical writer, Jay Belsky, an engineer/inventor, Mike Stackpole and myself.  John would later be let go and be replaced by Michelle van Schouwen who would stay with the team through the early ColecoVision days. Of that group, I’ve lost touch with everyone but Mike (who did go on to become a famous author) and Michelle (who is now president of a marketing consultation firm). Coincidentally, both Michelle and I named our children after Zachary Smith, the guy who eventually programmed the ColecoVision operating system. Yes, he was THAT impressive.

Coleco went through some departmental upheavals in the next year or so and the ARD group was reduced to a few designers a couple secretaries and a director, along with an engineer that the engineering department didn’t want to take on. It was all internal political games and my department lost that round. And then someone noticed that video games were making money for Atari and Mattel (especially Mattel, a toy company and those they were selling through Coleco’s traditional client base, toy retailers). And with that, ARD was tasked, along with the engineering group to create the specs for a new video game console, essentially based on off the shelf parts. And that engineer that engineering didn’t want … Jay Belsky became the co-designer of what would eventually be the ColecoVision system (though it did spend a little while using the name “SuperVision.” )

While design of the CV hardware was going forward, I found myself working on the Table Top Arcades.  More on that later.  Meanwhile, we were also writing the game specifications for video games.  Those specs were eventually turned over to three different groups … an internal group that would program the ColecoVision game, and two external ones for the Intellivision (and for the life of me, I cannot remember which contractor did this) and the Kitchens (I remember Garry and Steve) for the Atari version. And in the process of all this, I became Manager of Game Design for Coleco.

Against this, we started hiring on engineers, artists and game designers (who would essentially act in the role of the modern associate producer). While I have specific memories of so many of these folks, that seems outside of this question. So I’ll name the names I remember. First artist to come on board was Chuck Lockhart, a recent art school graduate. The first designer to join us was Lawrence Schick, recently from TSR, Inc., the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons. He was the first of many hobby game designers to build out the team. In short order Kevin Hendryx, B. Dennis Sustare, Tom Fulton, and Arnold Hendrick, joined us as designers. Later on that would expand to include Phil Taterczynski, John Butterfield, Michael P. Price, David Ritchie, Joe Angiollilo and indie board game designer Ken Totten. Artists include Dave Johns, Robin Lockwood, Robin Hebb, Frank Lam, Jesse Kapili, animator Juan Sanchez, Deb Lazarus, and Mark Painter.

The art and design teams changed a bit over the course of the ColecoVision and ADAM lifecycles, but stayed mostly intact … until the first layoffs, followed by voluntary departures out of frustration with company management policies. These designers and artist were responsible for nearly every bit of content released by Coleco for the ColecoVision, the ADAM and other consoles and computers that we supported.
Along the way, I had been promoted from Manager of Game Design, to Chief Game Designer, and finally Director of Game Design. With the last promotion, I got a reserved parking space and little more.

In late 1984, Coleco laid off the first of the dev team. On January 2nd 1985, half the in house development staff was terminated in one sweep, including many of my team and even my younger brother Bruce, who had been a part of the QA team since 1983. I had to identify which of my designers (I no longer oversaw the art department) were necessary to operating the team and finishing projects

At this point, all the senior managers for whom I had worked were gone. Eric Bromley and George Kiss: gone. Charlie Winterble, formerly of Commodore, had come in to replace Eric. By that point we realized he had come in as a “hatchet man” to shut down the department. We did make an effort to keep working for Coleco in other roles. All my designers had board game experience. They put together a presentation and business proposal for Coleco stepping up as a publisher of children’s board games. The market was there and they could have made money. Unfortunately, Coleco marketing didn’t see it that way. They unequivocally declared that games of that sort were not their market and never would be, shutting the proposal down. Within two years, Coleco had acquired not one, but two board game companies.

Over the coming months, we had almost weekly downsizings and the team was nibbled away until only a skeleton remained. Those of us who remained were terminated in a single layoff on June 7, 1985. I had been very sick all week and was asked to come in so they could terminate my employment. By that time, no one in the company remained who actually knew what Electronic Game Development department’s designers actually did for the company. And with that, it was over.



zapiy

What was the hardest game to convert to the ColecoVision?


Jennell

I think ultimately, it was Zaxxon. The diagonally scrolling space shooter asked a lot of the system. We were working with contractor 4D Interactive of Rochester, MN on that. They did the heavy lifting of solving the graphic movement. The art team figured out how to make that work as 8 bit simple ColecoVision tiles.  Turbo was also hard, but where we succeed with Zaxxon, I feel we failed with Turbo. My boss had these visions of it working out as easily as Night Driver (Atari 2600), but that game was about the illusion of lit reflectors on a night time roadway. Turbo needed buildings and large trees moving past.




zapiy

Did you have anything to do with the Coleco Adam? If so can you tell us what that was?

   
Jennell

My designers worked on all the titles for it, starting with the “super” versions of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. Personally, I can take responsibility for one feature in the hardware … using the hand controller as cost-reduction way to create a numerical keypad on the keyboard. In retrospect, I think it was a bad idea and did nothing for the console.


zapiy

The Coleco Tabletops are iconic collectors’ items these days, did you work on these systems during your time at Coleco and did you do any of the designs?


Jennell

Yes, I did. Galaxians was the first. This was before any work on ColecoVision started. My department (Advanced Research and Development or ARD) tweaked the gameplay on an external submission. I don’t think they actually had the Galaxians license … and the Space Invaders game wasn’t in there yet either. Next, the company then acquired the license for Pac*Man. I did design work on the play field for that one and played the game to get timing and play information (so much that reading books became weird. I see things moving in between the lines of print and up and down through spaces in the words). For Donkey Kong, Jay Belsky and I played the arcade to “reverse engineer” it for the home video game versions (Atari, Intellivision, and ColecoVision) and for the Table Top Arcade. I then designed and did the production art for the vacuum fluorescent display for Donkey Kong Table Top. 

By the time we worked on Ms. Pac*Man and Zaxxon, I was a team manager and assigned my designers to handle them. Kevin Hendryx laid out the playfield designs for Ms. Pac*Man and Lawrence Schick handled the design and documentation of Zaxxon. Lawrence was the designer on all of Coleco’s versions of Zaxxon.


zapiy

Do you have any early designs from when you worked at Coleco you can share?


Jennell

Most of that is just simply lost. I retained a couple pieces of art done for that first electronic project and a pair of design and writing manuals, but the rest is gone, never preserved. I don’t think we realized we were creating history.


Shadowrunner

How did you get your start in the industry, and did you think it could turn into a lifelong career?


Jennell

My gaming career began in from the art creation side.  I was in college, an art major at a small school in Michigan, where I discovered (or perhaps was exposed to) role playing games for the first time in the form of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I was already planning an art career by that point, hopefully as an illustrator, so I began submitting filler art to hobby game magazines.  That turned into illustrating games for those publishers, then publishing my own role play game fan magazine. That brought me attention as an artist and a designer of game adventures and ultimately a job doing that for a publisher, Followed by a short freelance career doing the same and coming to the attention of Coleco … all within about five years of finding D&D for the first time.


Shadowrunner

Which games that you worked on really stand out and are memorable for you?


Jennell

War Games is one of them. It was a simple concept inspired by a scene in the movie that was totally different than the expected direction than most designers at the time would have taken it. It presented some serious technical challenges to the team that developed it.  Omega Race was another, because it was one of the few later games that I actually worked on as a designer. And then Roc ‘ N Rope, because it’s the only game with my pixel art in it (I did the cave man enemy).


Shadowrunner

Do you play a lot of games yourself, and if so what are some of your favourites?


Jennell

I’m more of a casual gamer these days. I use games for a few minutes of distraction. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I tend to play matching puzzle games like Bejeweled or Candy Blast Mania on my iPad. Except that I enjoy Age of Empires III a lot, a game I worked on about 10 years ago. I play that as well on my PC.


TrekMD

Have you heard of the new ColecoVision Flashback console that will be released this coming October?  What do you think of this new console?


Jennell

I’d heard rumors of a ColecoVision console for years. So when you asked, I had to look it up.  I like that the console, while reduced to be more in keeping with modern electronics, still has a Colecovision look to it. I’d have to say that I’m disappointed by the controller design. I never really liked those controllers. They were awkward and hard to hold onto. If these controllers are smaller than the originals, then I think that’s better.  I love how many of the original arcade games are on it. At the same time, it’s sad to see so many of the best titles are missing (the ones based on character and media licenses especially). The Star Trek game SHOULD be there, as well as War Games (the original), Tarzan, Smurf Rescue, 2010, and Illusions. Plus there’s important arcade titles missing, like Looping, Gorf, Mousetrap, Ladybug, Spy Hunter, Tapper, Turbo, Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Junior. Given the nature of the hobby that surrounds retro games, they should have included either a USB jack or a SD card reader to allow outside content. And yes, I’ll probably buy one of these.



TrekMD

Are you surprised to see interest on the ColecoVision this many years later?


Jennell

I first became aware of the retro console hobby when I found myself actively online for the first time about 17 years ago. About five years later a friend from work learned I had worked at Coleco and let me know he was a fan. He was HUGELY into collecting all retro console stuff (He’s since shed a lot of his collection, but still has a well-organized storage unit filled with retro consoles and computers). He was very excited about some of my Coleco artifacts. What really surprised me was when a former boss (now friend) coded a version of Halo for the Atari 2600!!!


TrekMD

What was it like converting a game as popular as Donkey Kong to the ColecoVision?  What were the expectations like at Coleco?  Anything you wish you'd done with the game that you couldn't do due to resources or time?


Jennell

Donkey Kong didn’t have quite the legendary status in late 1981 that it would develop over time. But it was a fun title and we had it and Atari didn’t. We were more interested in managing the technical implementation. The biggie was converting a game made for a monitor turned on its side to one that what horizontally formatted. It would have been nice to be able to include the Donkey Kong intro and between screen animations, but those were expensive in terms of memory … and Coleco’s management was getting sticker shock as cartridge development proceeded. They estimated cost and profit for CV based on Atari’s 2 and 4k cartridges ... apparently not understanding that CV’s tile-based graphics were far more expensive in terms of memory than Atari’s calculation-based art. Donkey originally shipped on three 8k ROM parts. It was only later, when it was re-coded in machine code that size of the cart came down significantly.


TrekMD

Smurf's Rescue, to this day, remains one of those games for the ColecoVision that brings back great memories of the system.  Was the idea for the game entirely original by your team or was Peyo involved in the development of the game concept?


Jennell

It was an original game concept. I don’t remember the details of how we designed it. At the time, I wasn’t aware that we were apparently creating a new genre in the form of a side-scrolling character game. Peyo’s only real involvement in the game was to tell us all the things that we could NOT do with their characters. A couple years later, the Burroughs estate would do the same thing for Tarzan. Peyo DID complain about the blue color we chose for the Smurf’s skin. It wasn’t the right smurfy color of blue. We had to explain that we only had sixteen colors that we could use, which included only two shades of blue (not counting cyan) and we chose the closest.


TrekMD

War Games is another excellent title for the ColecoVision.  Can you tell us about the development of this game and the challenges related to creating a game based on the movie War Games?


Jennell

Coleco arranged a pre-screening of the movie for us at a local mall theatre. The designers watched thinking “What kind of game can I make out of this?” The obvious solution was some sort of character-based game. But that was the obvious solution. As I watched the movie, I was looking for that hook that would tell me what the game needed to be about. And then at the movie’s climax, the computer test launched all its missiles. As the launches repeated over and over with their dotted line missile arcs, I knew what our game would be about. I combined the idea of Missile Command with its waves of incoming missiles and limited defense towers with the classic magic trick of spinning plates. Not literal plates of course, but rather the ideas of constantly returning to something for just long enough to keep it going. In the case of War Games, it meant the multiple zone screens, each with their own incoming enemy threat.
That idea was approved and we moved forward. I roughed out the concept and flow of play. Joe Angiolillo handled the documentation and play development, working with the game’s Boston-based developer. They solved the problem of drawing those arcing lines in real time.  Finally, we set the difficulty by finding the level of challenge at which our best tester (my younger brother) could beat it, and then make it slightly beyond his skills. That way we figured to make it at least challenging for a 14 year old.


TrekMD

Do you still have any retro consoles?


Jennell

I have an ADAM in a box in my storage unit that may not have been used in about five years (or more) and maybe an old Telstar PONG as well.  I never owned any other consoles. Given the cost of living at that time in Connecticut and having kids and mortgages (and working in games), I could never afford to buy more consoles.


TrekMD

Given your experience working with various platforms over the years, do you have a platform that is your favorite to develop games for?


Jennell

The PC running Windows has been my go-to platform for the past 17 years, mainly because it’s where the gamers are at. Everything else is a port.


TrekMD

The ColecoVision has a rather prolific homebrew community.  Have you had any opportunity to interact with homebrew programmers for the system?

   
Jennell

No, I haven’t.


TrekMD

Was there a game project you may have wanted to make for the ColecoVision (i.e., a dream project) that never materialized?


Jennell

From the very beginning, we felt that Coleco had promised the world a role playing game on the ColecoVision. The traditional pencil and paper role play game Tunnels & Trolls (T&T) was there on the original CV box cover. It was because of T&T that first Michael Stackpole, and then me, and then all the other role playing game designers found our way to Coleco. And nothing was ever done with it, officially. Unofficially, in 1984, design and art put together a demo of what an ADAM version of Tunnels & Trolls might look like. I wasn’t directly involved in it and the output was mostly an art demo. The new ADAM based art tools vastly speeded up the production process for pixel art for Coleco games. We used that speed to explore other things that we could do with ColecoVision pixel art. Somewhere in my papers, I also have the beginnings of a monster A.I. (artificial intelligence) document for the game. All that every found its way to the public was a looping title demo. But I remember work on character paper dolls and inventory screens. Like much of everything produced for Coleco, it was gone long before the age of the Internet began.


zapiy

During your freelance design studio period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, what games did you work on?

   
Jennell

I worked on a wide variety of game-based projects (and a lot that were not as well) , though my primary focus was the paper game industry that produced Dungeons & Dragons. On the software side, I initially worked for Ogdon Micro Design, a Denver-based contractor who created software product for Epyx (founder Bob Ogdon had been one of the principals for a contractor who worked on Coleco titles). I did a lot of one page game pitch treatments for them, some at their request, others my own ideas.  Later, I worked with Interplay on a licensed Lord of the Rings game. I wrote the content for most of their volume 1 game (essentially, The Felllowship of the Ring. After that I worked with the story group at Electronic Arts, first as a designer developing a game called Necroscope and then Bards Tale IV, neither of which shipped. That was my last serious involvement with game software until the late 90s.


zapiy

What did you do for Epyx? Do you have any concept stuff from then to share?


Jennell

I wrote the design documents for a couple games. One was 4x4 Off Road racing, which shipped on several platforms. People reading the credits mistook my credit for “theme” as meaning I wrote the music. Music is simply not one of my skills. I wrote the game design document for the game, not the music. I also did the same design treatment for a game called L.A. Vice which was a very thinly disguised take on Miami Vice, a popular TV show at the time.  My last project was designing and scripting a presentation prototype (in Macintosh Hypercard) an adventure game based on Time Travel. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve no concept materials remaining from then.


zapiy

Did you work on any Atari Lynx or Jaguar games? Which ones and what was the most challenging?


Jennell

No. Those consoles were after my time as a contractor for Epyx, and I never worked on them for later clients.


zapiy

Do you have any stories of unreleased titles you can share that you know of from your time in the industry?


Jennell

Unreleased titles usually mean projects that were proposed, possibly developed a bit and cancelled at some point in development. Hmmm.
There are the super game titles. While most were released, we were forced to toss out original levels that we created for Super Donkey Kong and Super Donkey Kong Jr.  They were in keeping with the style and tone of the original game … but the licensor objected and out they came.  Near the end, I worked with developer Nice Ideas (Bump ‘n Jump, and Illusions) at Coleco to develop a fire fighter platform game that was left incomplete at the end of things. We did some internal presentations for games based on Dr. Seuss content … but again, only ended up with a graphic demo.  We had both a Jeopardy Game show and Family Feud game show near final stages of development for ADAM. As far as I know, they never shipped for a Coleco game machine, though versions for other systems may exist.
After Coleco, I eventually did work for Electronic Arts as freelance content designer and writer.  I worked on two projects for them, Necroscope (a sort of horror take on Wasteland) and Bards Tale IV. Necroscope never made it into development, and Bards Tale was shut down because it had become a bottomless cost center whose art would have been sadly out of date by the time it shipped.
I worked on a computer game version of the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights for Crossover Technologies in the early 90s. I scripted several single player game scenarios for it. Unfortunately, the project couldn’t find a publisher or backer funding and so it shut down. I’m really pleased with the writing I did for those.
Finally, there was “Project Jupiter” that I worked on with Crossover Technologies. It was a non-real time fantasy MMO being designed for the Prodigy network. I was designing the content and doing some concept art for the project. It was going to be big and expensive. I wasn’t there for the presentation of project and the budget to Prodigy’s management, but the story that came back included the first time I ever heard the phrase “He went ballistic.”
At id, I worked on an expansion pack for Quake 2 that was dropped when we shifted directions to make Quake 3. And I was slated to be the level design lead on an adventure game being designed by Graeme Devine. Political power plays inside id forced an end to that project and ultimately led to my departure from the company.
At Ensemble Studios, I worked on the Second Project team for two years, roughing out ideas for new game IP, including a cartoony platform adventure game based on a “generations ship” that had gone wrong, and a driving shooter game. It was that game the encouraged my shift from content design at that company, to art.
Finally, I worked on the World of Darkness at CCP North America as a lead level designer for three years. I left for personal reasons, but I was no longer interested in working on what the game seemed to be becoming. Two years later, after a series of layoffs, the project was shut down and the studio closed.


Retrotext

Was there a project that you worked on that proved you wrong? perhaps for good reasons.


Jennell

I don’t think I was every really convinced that the ADAM computer was a good idea. In the end, it turned out to be ahead of its time. Perhaps too far ahead, but the idea of an AFFORDABLE full-featured home computer was a good one.


Greyfox

What inspired and helped you envisage the wonderful games you created? Did you at times find it difficult in anyway with this medium being so new at the time?


Jennell

At Coleco, with the focus so much on arcade conversions, we found little opportunity for inspiration. We didn’t even have a say in what games we would develop. We wrote up project pitches (I wrote up a design for a Blade Runner game early on), but they were never considered. The few opportunities that we had for original games, we pushed hard to make them original … Tarzan and 2010 action puzzle game come to mind. We were all role-play game and board game designers. We looked for ways to tell stories through our video games.


Greyfox

What tools were available to you at the time? For creating the graphics for improvement of some of the games you worked on?


Jennell

The game designers used word processors to write design documents and stop watches to measure game timing. We drew design layouts on typing paper with pencils and markers. It wasn’t until after ADAM shipped that the art team had digital tools. Until then we used watercolor markers in 15 ColecoVision colors (bought in bulk) on special graph paper (gray lines 256 x 192 squares) made to match the ColecoVision screen resolution. The 8x8 tiles were blocked out on smaller sheets (in marker), and assigned a tile number. These tiles were then hand-encoded as bit arrays in the development terminals (typically a dumb terminal attached to a mini-Vax in our clean room).


Greyfox

What has been your most cherished work and why?


Jennell

That’s hard to say. I’ve done so many different things. Some I’m certainly proud to have done or been a part of, and others in which I turned a crank as fast as I could to feed my family.  I’m proud of my work on a dice game for TSR (now sold by SFR) called Dragon Dice. I designed dice icons and painted covers for several projects in that line. Age of Empires III and its expansion The War Chiefs are my favorite game projects (I worked as a 3D artist on both, and was able to work with my son as a team member on both of them).  As a role play designer, I’m proud of a series of books I wrote called Central Casting (though I owe the world a rewrite for some socio-political statements in them that I now regret, because they wrong then and wrong now). But I think the greatest legacy I may leave (other than being a parent) is the Guildhall at SMU (Southern Methodist University), a graduate level degree program in game development of which I am one of the founders.


Greyfox

What do you think of the industry now? Do you feel it’s simply nothing more than a cash cow now? or is it simply moved with the times? What are your feelings on this?


Jennell

I don’t long for the good old days. The industry is constantly changing and yet remaining essentially the same. Developers constantly push the design and art envelope. Publishers keep trying to find the magic Golden Swan that earns them vast amounts of money for little investment of their own. Someone comes up with a great idea and the market is deluged with imitations and variations, many of them as good as or even better than the original. The one real concern that I have is that there may be too many good games. The market is crowded and there may not be enough game consumers to give adequate return on investment for many of the games, which gives concern that we may be looking at another crash similar to 1983-85.


Greyfox

Out of all the projects you've being a part of, which was the most laborious to work on and couldn't wait for it to be done?


Jennell

Destructor for ColecoVision.  It dragged on and on as one of Eric Bromley’s pet project ideas for a driving module game. We made change after change after change and he kept on tinkering or being frustrated that we weren’t seeing his vision for it. In the end, when we finally locked down the design, the in house programmer on the project said “OK, now that we have a working prototype, when can rewrite the code as final game.” Unfortunately, management and marketing assumed that it WAS a finished game and forced us to ship what was essentially a prototype. What we shipped was never intended to be final code and it went on 54K of ROM.



Greyfox

Have you any anecdotes you'd like to share while working within any of the companies who have had the pleasure of your presence and employment?


Jennell

Well, it’s worth noting that in a nearly 40 year career (and still going) there have been no “perfect employers.” Making games sounds like it would be one of the most enjoyable jobs in the world, but it’s often fraught with long hours, mediocre pay, managers who have no business being in charge of people, company owners who should have turned over running their companies to professionals long before you got there, and co-workers who are all “characters,” often without the best social skills.

At Coleco, the designers survived by getting together for weekly role play game sessions. Lawrence Schick (now the Loremaster for Elder Scrolls Online) ran a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for months, alternating with my Runequest game campaign. We blew off steam by killing imaginary monsters and complaining about the real monster that we worked for. I learned there the least efficient and most expensive way to hold meetings and that the fitting out of my boss’s new office cost more than I made in the five years I worked for Coleco.
At id software, we once helped John Carmack out of his office by breaking through the door with a battle axe (the handle had come off and he was trapped inside).  Quake 2 took longer to finalize than expected, running through Thanksgiving weekend in 1997. Because of promotional tour scheduling and vacation travel, designer Brandon James and I were the only level designers remaining in house. Our lead (who was in Australia or New Zealand on a promotional tour with Activision) left us with instructions NOT to reopen or recompile game levels. Yet the bugs that were coming in that weekend from the testers were all show-stoppers. So we made the executive decision to open, fix, and recompile as many game levels as we could (it ended up being nearly all of them) while the two coders left in house fixed software bugs (and even fixed a few level bugs that could be fixed with code). One more round of bug fixes later, and we went “gold” that weekend and the game shipped. Eleven years later, on Halo Wars for the Xbox 360 it would be almost the same scenario. I was one of two artists authorized to go back into game levels and fix things before we shipped. Oh, and the week before I left id, I met and shook hands with Trent Reznor, the front man for Nine Inch Nails.

Ensemble Studios was one of the best places I ever worked, even though my time there ended in a studio closure with almost none of the staff being retained or reassigned by Microsoft. We were all assumed to be “tainted” by what Microsoft believed to be wrongdoing on the part of our management team. They let us know in September of 2008 that our positions were going away (it wasn’t that we were fired, it was that our jobs were going away). We were still finishing Halo Wars at the time (it would take another five months). Rather than give up on the project, we decided to finish it as the best project possible with the idea of embarrassing Microsoft for closing the studio. I feel we accomplished that mission.

Parent Category: Home