TTH: Besides your degree in computer science, you also hold one in Spanish. How have you used this experience in your design? I heard you also have a knack for metaphor – lay a good one on us, if you can…
Brian: No pressure, huh? *grin*
Think of game design as being like a houseplant. You plant the seeds, water it, put it in the sun, and maybe even talk to it. No one element guarantees success. And, you have to know to do all these things, even if you don’t need to know deep details like the chemical reaction for photosynthesis.
Likewise, a good game designer has to know a bit about everything involved in making a game. While I have not had to use my Spanish degree directly, it was a degree that focused on understanding what you read and communicating with others. I feel these are two of the most important aspects of game design. I often say that presenting papers in front of a class speaking a language that you didn’t grow up with makes it easier to present ideas in your mother tongue.
In addition, my background in programming gives me a better perspective on how the design gets turned into a program. One of the reasons I get hired as a designer is because I know what’s possible and what is not. I am also able to contribute to the technical design and I can do scripting and programming when it comes to implementation.
I feel I’m a better designer since my interests are so diverse.
The original box art for the 3DO version of Meridian 59.
TTH: What sort of events lead to the eventual demise of Meridian 59, and what made you decide to purchase the game from 3DO? What kind of success have you had since then?
Brian: The reasons for 3DO shutting down Meridian 59 were pretty simple: they took all the people off the project and most of us eventually left the company because we were not able to work on online games. When we all left they did not have anyone who had any technical knowledge of the programming system, so they decided to shut the game down rather than face the possibility of the game failing and them having no idea how to fix it.
My partner, Rob “Q” Ellis II, and I had recently formed a company when Rob kept writing 3DO asking them if they were going to sell the game. We wanted to save the game from being lost forever. There are some really great games that people talk about fondly in the past, but you can’t play them anymore. AOL’s Neverwinter Nights, for example, or Multiplayer BattleTech are great examples of games people are no longer able to enjoy. We wanted to save Meridian 59 from a similar fate.
The game is still running and it makes a very modest profit. It’s not going to challenge WoW for dominance anytime soon, but at least people can go play it and see a bit of what the “old school” was like.
The Near Death Studios Logo
TTH: Since you purchased Meridian 59 in 2001, you’ve obviously worn a lot of hats to keep the game running, from programmer to marketing advocate. Was it a shock to see the other side of things rather than begin solely a designer? How difficult were the other processes to learn? Do you have any suggestions of reading material or other sources for other indie developers?
Brian: When I started Near Death Studios, Inc., I had little appreciation for the finer points of running a business. It’s not something that you really think about when you’re making a game. We had someone who was originally handling the business side of things, but he left the company at an unfortunate time and I had to step up to ensure that the company stayed in business when we were buying Meridian 59. Since then, I had to learn a lot about the business side of things and now I know a lot more about it.
The business side of things isn’t hard to learn, but most people see running a business as a distraction from trying to make cool games. Unfortunately, the truth is that you need to run a business in order to make money from the awesome game you’re making. I’ve found that I’m actually pretty good at running a business, even if I don’t enjoy that as much as I enjoy making games.
Unfortunately, there are very few games that really deal with the business and legal issues of running a game company. That’s one of the reasons I co-edited the book Business & Legal Primer for Game Development with Greg Boyd. One of the chapters is entitled, “I Wish I Knew” and is an entire chapter dedicated to what some experienced people wish they had known back when the started.
Some of the best information is available online in the form of different blogs. One of the best is http://gameproducer.net/.