Hi, folks! Here’s the transcript of my interview with the great Paul Neurath of Otherside Entertainment. Paul is a living legend among game developers, with a long list of innovative and much-loved titles, including Ultima Underworld, Flight Unlimited, Thief, System Shock, Terra Nova, and now, Underworld Ascendent. Watch below or click the read more to see the transcription.
Matt: Alright folks, I am here with Paul Neurath, who I don’t think it is an exaggeration at all to call this guy a living legend among game developers. His resume goes all the way back to some of the very early days of the video games industry. He has founded lots of companies, OtherSide Entertainments is his most recent one. They are working on Ultima Ascended of course. Before that he founded Blue Sky Productions, which later changed the name to Looking Glass Studios. He is also the founder of Floodgate Entertainment. He has worked on lots of games we have talked about on this show before and I am sure you are familiar with including Auto Duel, System Shock II, Thief, and of course Ultima Underworld. How are you today Paul?
Paul: Pretty good.
Matt: First off I wanted to congratulate you on your Kickstarter success for Ultima Ascended. You had asked for $600,000.00 and ended up $860,356.00 and I really am looking forward to this. I have the boxed copy headed my way hopefully soon. However long it takes though take your time. First off I am wondering about this result, are you pleased with this result? Is it more or less, did it surprise you, kind of what were your feelings on it at this point?
Paul: I think what pleased us the most was the fan reaction. Just hearing from all these people who played the original Underworlds. We are really looking forward to seeing where we can take the franchise. Just hearing the passion and the fans, the voices, the backers voices, and the participation in the campaign was, that was great to see. Great to see that we were not the only ones that were excited to try and bring it back. We had other people with us.
Matt: There was a great deal of excitement. It is my understanding if, for folks out there that haven’t pledged, or maybe they pledged already but didn’t, they still want a T-shirt or something like that, it is still possible to pledge on directly on the website with Pay Pal?
Paul: Yes, and we actually just expanded two days ago. We now have credit cards we accept too. So we are continuing to Crowd Source fund. We will probably do so till around the end this year.
Matt: For folks that want that T-shirt, I think I saw it was $25.00. Is that a limited supply or what? What is the deal with these T-shirts?
Paul: Well we are doing one that is unique for Kickstarters that has a unique look to it. Then we are going to do a different one for the same $25.00 and then we are going to do a different one for post-Kickstarter. It is important that people who stepped up in the first 30 days on Kickstarter get some exclusive things.
Matt: So for these extra funds that are coming in, are you still working towards the stretch goals or is this a different set of goals?
Paul: Yes, we currently announced stretch goals that went beyond the funding that we did in Kickstarter so we are maintaining those stretch goals. We will see which ones we get to over that and balance more in the year.
Matt: I really am hoping you can have one for the co-op. I was really pleased with that. I thought that was a great idea especially since you have got the people that got the last copy, the digital copy too, so it would be perfect where they could send that to their friend and cooperative buddies. I really hope that will happen. Well what is the, I guess it has been, actually how long has it been since the Kickstarter, I didn’t write this down, but has there been any news or any big developments? It is kind of early I know, but how is it going? Everything going according to plan?
Paul: Well not going according to plan, that would be, the only thing that is known is that I will be surprised if it did go according to plan. It wouldn’t be software development if it did, but no, it has only been a little over a month. A moth and a day I guess since the Kickstarter ended. So, you know lots of what we have been doing is just really starting to shift from pre-production towards production. Lots of the work we did and the Kickstarter was really concept work and prototype work. You learn lots from that, but then you have to make the shift over to production where you are actually building the real stuff.
Matt: I wish I could have been there when you finally clinched that goal for the first time. It must have been a very good feeling knowing that you made it.
Paul: It was, there was a little bit of you know finger nail biting before we reached the $600,000.00 because that, we were more than half way through the campaign when we reached the $600,000.00 funding, but once we did it was great and then we got into the stretch goals. It was nice then when we made a really nice push on the final days. The fans really responded well.
Matt: Going back through your updates I noticed you gave a lot of shout outs all throughout the campaign to other Kickstarters. It seems like, I don’t know if you have been keeping up with some of the recent Kickstarters, the Seven Dragon Saga. That was when I was really behind and unfortunately didn’t make. This one, Dungeons of Valador, are you familiar with that one?
Paul: Ha ha.
Matt: There is a bunch of them, but that one is kind of frustrating because it was so close, it was like three days and it was getting really close. Of course the Black Glove, some of the Bio Shock guys, I didn’t know if you would be familiar with that one or not.
Paul: I am, I backed that one personally. Some of my friends were on that one. It is harder to Kickstart Crowdfund games today than it was a couple of years ago. You know in the early days when Crowd Source funding was really brand new and exciting like back when Brian Fargo was doing Wasteland II with some of those other early starters and all. There were a lot more people paying attention to Crowd Source funding and fewer are today and I think people if they really get excited or passionate about something they will get behind it. I think though for titles like Black Glove or Kickstarter projects like Black Glove when you don’t have a known quantity it is completely original it is really hard to Kickstart. You really only have a three day window on Kickstarter and to build up awareness and get people to understand what you are trying to build and then fund that all within the span of 30 days is really challenging. To some degree we had a big advantage that we had a known quantity of doing a new Underworld, we had an existing fan base. Even then, there is the Descent game being done now, the new version of Descent. I know they are still working to get their minimal funding. It isn’t easy.
Matt: I think you at some point, I saw some stats on the updates, sort of a breakdown of who is supporting the Kickstarter. This is just going from memory, but I wanted to say it was something like 70% were people that had played Ultima Underworld back in the day?
Paul: It sounds right, if anything it may be higher than that. I think that people who back Kickstarters now for games are mostly people wer are comfortable with Kickstarter and have used it before and it is a fairly narrow slice of the audience of the gamers. Underworld I and Underworld II, over 1 million copies of those games were sold since it was released, so when you think of the number of people who backed it, which was a little less than $14,000, $13,800 and change, it was a pretty small percentage of people who bought then game, and then there were people who didn’t buy it, but played the game with their friends or other methods. There is a lot of people who were either were not aware of the Kickstarter campaign or if they were they were just not comfortable with the concept of Kickstarters. It is a pretty narrow slice that actually participated in the Kickstarter.
Matt: That was really, I really liked the blog post you did. I remember that, I guess it was in the midst of your Kickstarter when this, these websites, sort of gaming websites were coming out with this almost anti-Kickstarter rants. I don’t know what it was, but they were basically trying to insinuate that all these projects were failing to materialize and big scams and pretty preposterous. It must have been a terrible thing to see right in the middle of your Kickstarter campaign.
Paul: It was, and our P.R. firm was not thrilled with me wanting to speak out on it. It was a test that I just stay silent on, but I didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. I know nothing about the project that was getting hammered on, I hadn’t been following that particular project, but some of the press were greatly enlarging on one project or a few projects struggling to get through development on Kickstarter and sort of generalizing and saying this is just almost implying that all Kickstarter projects are going to or are likely to fail and are way over promise on what they are going to deliver. To me the odd thing about that is, and I have been in the games industry for a lot of years and there are tons of games that go through traditional game publishers that over promise and fail to deliver and fail to even get done. I don’t know what the statistics are, but there are lots of projects that never make it through development and get delivered. Now it may be that gamers, fans, are not aware of that and so they just assume that if a project gets started in development it is going to get done and meet all the expectations and be a great game. I do not think there is anything unique about Kickstarting as in not Kickstarter games are risky or over promised where as non-Kickstarter games are all wonderful and get delivered. So it just seemed like a broad brush and there is some great games that have been Kickstarted and delivered. You know Wasteland is quite a good game, Wasteland II. Some other games have come out.
Matt: Have you played some other games as of recently?
Paul: I haven’t, but some friends have. I need to play it.
Matt: Maybe you should wait until after…. You know when you get totally into it. I thought it was amazing. You know, Brian Fargo, I love his trialers or his pitch videos where he has a little kid on there talking about how difficult it is to deal with publishers and all this stuff. I was reading the stuff about your Kickstarter and how you had been trying to get Electronic Arts to do this projet for a long time. I assume you have probably talked to other publishers too, but they just seem to think there is no market for this kind of game, no one is interested in these kinds of properties any more or something like that. Do you think that is going to change now in the wake of all these Kickstarter projects?
Paul: I suspect that the success of some of these games, yes, it is going to get probably the traditional publishers to look at them more seriously, some of these old properties and bringing them back. It is challenging in that it is not just about the property, it is about the teams and ultimately I think the teams are more important. Just taking something that was a classic game from 10 or 20 years ago and throwing a team on it that doesn’t necessarily understand it or worked on it or whatever. I don’t think that is a recipe necessarily for success. You think you get fairly unique combinations with these teams who worked on these orginal titles who have a genuine passion for really wanting to work on that and that is the case with what Fargo has put together or Chris Roberts or Richard Gary and our own team where you know we really wanted to bring this game back since basically 1993. When we finished Underworld II it was our plan to do an Underworld III. We all thought we were. It didn’t end up working that way. We had to take a 22-year hiatus.
Matt: I saw a clip, this is really exciting to me, I saw some clips on the site from Warren Specter and he was talking on there about how the new Ascended game will have some big innovations in the Realm of Ahok. That is something I have really was excited to hear him say as that is something I have been wanting to see for a long time. We have got graphics that are amazing and all that. I don’t see an equivalent progression with the AI in games. I was kind of wondering if you could elaborate on that. What is Underworld Ascending going to bring to the table in terms of AI that we haven’t seen in other games?
Paul: Definitely AI was a corner stone of the Looking Glass games and we were doing it in the early days. The original Underworld had for its time a pretty sophisticated AI where the monsters weren’t just there to charge you and fight you, but they actually think about whether they want to attack you or not, whether they decide to run away because they were being over matched, whether they were trying to sneak up on you. So we had the beginnings of some of the AI that later in games like Thief who are much further on stealth, but that all relied on some, for its era some pretty sophisticated AI’s. Our underlying goal was to create a responsive reactive world where the player is an agent of change and the world would respond to them. Our philosophy then and now is trying to create a game world that feels like it would exist even if a player wasn’t there and it is ongoing. The player is kind of tossed into this world and permeates it and puts their own stamp up on it because the world reacts to the player’s choices and decisions in what they do. In the end to be part of that as there is mechanics and simulations, physics, and other pieces that go into that, but the AI is where the monsters and the NPC’s kind of think about what the player is doing and make their own judgment calls of whether they like what the player is doing, agree or disagree, or just how they react to that. We want to go deeper with that in Underworld Descended. The computers we were working with in the early 90’s were less powerful than the phone you have in your pocket. So the ability to get a sophisticated AI was fairly constrained. Now we have an enormous amount of horsepower. You still have to be cleaver with AI, it is not easy to do, but it does make our job easier. There are things we can do much more effectively and techniques that we can do that are just out of the realm when we were doing those original games so we think we can get AI. It is not about making it realistic. This is a game. It is not about making AI authentic, realistic, it is just making it interesting and reactive to the player. AI is a lot of smoke and mirrors, but when you have AI’s respond to the player in interesting and unpredictable ways that is when fun game play…
Matt: Really cool, I am really excited about that. Also, I am thinking about the improvisation engine of the original games, what might one expect to see in the new ones? There is an example of one of the videos where there is a spiders that cross a bridge and a guy destroys the bridge, and it is really cool. They are talking about it, well, later you can control one of the spiders and ride back across there somehow and get to the treasure. Okay, that is awesome, but how is it, how can you think of every possibility? I am kind of imagining just 100’s of pre-scripted possibilities, but how would you make, is there a word procedure generate? How would you make it a procedure generated thing?
Paul: We don’t script it. You couldn’t script it all. If you tried to script it all it would feel artificial. We create, it is more comes from a simulation background creating a dynamic set of systems that all interact with each other. Where sort of these systems work well is when you have multiple systems, each system is not that complicated, but the way they interact with each other it is, you get all the permutations and you become almost infinite if you have enough systems. If you had 20 systems that can all interact with each other in many many ways the permutations become a mess. We have a physics simulation, an AI simulation, an apology simulation, all these different elements that play in a way so it becomes very unpredictable. We are not really scripting anything. We set the world in motion and the player walks into that world and starts doing things, casting magic, approaching a creature, whipping out their sword and threatening the creature, battling the creature, or you know whatever they do the world reacts to that. Our litmus test if that is working is that there will … comes that we never expect as designers it is like “Wow, we didn’t know you could do that.” We hadn’t thought that was even possible. If we do our job right the players will discover solutions in ways to all encounters that were not thought for. It can make testing hard. You have to be careful of that edge cases and things breaking. If you can do that you have the freedom to let the players kind of really experiment.
Matt: I was doing my book Honoring The Code, I try to come up with little nicknames for the designers I talk to and I think if I was going to add you, maybe to the second edition, I would call you the Risk Taker. It seems that throughout your history you are always really sort of out there on the cutting edge doing stuff. It was fascinating to me that even you think if anybody would have gotten Ultima Underworld just immediately saw the potential of what it did, Richard Garriet, Lord Burgish. You say even he had to make a case and try to convince him this was worth writing and would be a fun game.
Paul: I think anyone looking back before we had a demo of the game, we had a demo, it only took us less than 6 months to have a playable prototype of the original Underworld. Once we had that demo we showed the demo to Richard and Robert Garriet, his brother, and some of the other folks there, they got the potential. Before then it was just hard to explain. When you said hey we are going to do this in the three-texture map or in the immersive world, no one had done such a thing, so it is hard to visualize that. I think that this is the nature of the beast and once we had the demo which showed the potential the rest was history.
Matt: It is fascinating to me to think how revolutionary that game was especially at the time. This was well before Doom, and Wolfenstein III or anything like that. Looking in retrospect you would think that any publisher would have been really into this and wanted to jump on this right away. It is kind of fun to think there was so much skepticism about it.
Paul: We were put down by most of the publishers. Basically we pitched it around to EA and to the major publishers of that era and they said no they were not really interested in this, we don’t get this. It is not necessarily a technological renovation, you hear that lots about any books and films. I think when anyone is trying to break the genre you know a good TV series like Breaking Bad, it is amazing that ever got as a project, who would think that a TV series, a slow paced TV series about a high school physics teacher becoming a drug dealer is even the basis for something successful. I think it is just the way entertainment is. The folks that are the established publishers that entertain that tend to go heavily on what they know and what has been proven. They look at what sold last year and say you know that was our big hit last year let’s do more of that. That is not necessarily even a bad decision because I think that is often commercial success, but on the margins of that if there is not innovation, genuine innovation in the game industry or any creative industry it stagnates. You know you cannot just do more of last year. So I like to think I am a risk taker creatively. I enjoy kind of disrupting the status quo and proving that something that doesn’t seem like it would make sense can actually work. Commercially it is risky. Looking Glass had its ups and downs and that was in part because we do these games that are really pushing the envelope. System Shock on example, System Shock II were commercial failures. It wasn’t until years later that they really got the recognition. We were just too far ahead of the curve on those games. Just because you are taking a risk doesn’t mean it is going to be rewarded commercially.
Matt: I was wondering to what extent, I have seen theories, one of the reasons they were not more successful was just they put so much, you had to have a really nice PC at a time when there wasn’t hardware acceleration and all this kind of thing. Do you think that is or might have played into it? People really didn’t have the right sort of set ups to play it?
Paul: I think that was part of it. The games didn’t play that well without a high end PC. The frameware was pretty bad. I think a bigger factor, and we learned from it, System Shock was arguably one of our most innovative games really pushing on all fronts. We put so much into that game, there was so many aspects to it. It was a really deep game, but it was also very demanding on players. The user interface was before its time, way out there, very complicated. You had to imagine a lot of little elements to figure out how to play that game. Accessibility was …. So unless you were, it was the kind of game you had to push through initially to figure out how to play it. That is asking a lot of players of a new game, they don’t know if they are going to like it or not. I think that accessibility, we learned a lesson on Thief as an example where we dialed that way back and really prioritized making it accessible and simplified and pushing the subtlety and the nuance of the game play deeper into the game itself, not up front and in your face in terms of the interface. To no surprise I suppose, Thief was by and far the most successful game we did.
Matt: It almost sounds like the Mill and Bushnell story about the computer space to pong. I guess simpler sells better at times than a more complicated game.
Paul: If today the game has been re-released, System Chalk II has been re-released about a year and a half ago. It actually sold quite well. Players are more sophisticated now. They play a lot of first person games, they know the conventions. Part of it is just time, we were too early with that. If you want to be commercially successful with that you cannot be early and you cannot be too late, so there is a time.
Matt: Well I am looking at the various games that you worked on and I can see in each case some really innovative ideas and I think they would be very fun, very promising, but whatever reason they just wouldn’t, it is kind of hard to say, but for me now to look back and say what happened there like with Terranova. I think that was in 1996. Tactical first person shooters, squad oriented tactics. It sounds like it had everything there to be a great game.
Paul: Well Terranova, I think it was a great game. It had some flaws in it and it didn’t come out quite the way we wanted it to. Terranova was one of the more challenging products we had under development. It was 3 ½ years in development, which was a very long time and the engine, we were building our own engine. With the socioeconomic development it was clear the engine was getting pretty out dated and we had to make a decision because we could go back and revise the engine, which would push in another at least ½ a year and make it a 4 + year development cycle, or we could just live with the engine we have. We made the decision to live with the engine that we had. One of the consequences was when the game came out it was visually a little bit behind the curve. That didn’t help the sales. The other thing is Mech Warrior came out a few months before us and Mech Warrior had lots of marketing and lots of support and that didn’t help up commercially.
Matt: It almost takes something like that, the timing is off on something. I had Robert Sirotek on last year and we talked a little bit about you. He was going on about, I think he is really proud that he says he published your first ever product, the Deep Space Operation Copernicus.
Paul: He did.
Matt: That is probably a distant memory now. Do you look back with fond memories on that experience?
Paul: Yeah, I like the Sirotek brothers, Siroteck and Robert Woodhouse and those guys. I was a huge fan of Wizardry, which was one of their classic games. Yeah, I really enjoyed Wizardry and it helped inform, it was one of the games that inspired us to do Underworld. It was a classic game of the 80’s. I enjoyed working with Sirotek, they were a fun group. They gave me creative space to do my first game as an unpublished author, that was pretty cool.
Matt: How old were you at that time?
Paul: I was about 5 years old. I graduated college a couple of years early and was probably 25, 24 or 25, something like that.
Matt: I thought that you also had done some work on Ultima’s III and IV and Auto Duel. I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit on what those contributions were.
Paul: I did some designe work when I started in I think it was Ultima IV and V. I was a fan of the Ultima’s as well and I saw that on the back of the box, I think I had finished playing Ultima III and I saw from the back of the box they were about 40 minutes away in New Hampshire from me. So on a lark I just drove up there and introduced myself to Richard and the other guys. They were quite friendly and welcoming, so we just started talking and it wasn’t long before they said hey, we will give you an office. I wasn’t employed, they just said come work out of our offices. We had an informal relationship. I had my own game, which they ended up publishing. It was the second game that I had worked on on my own, which was Space Road, but I did a lot of sort of just helping out and kibitzing on design work, so Auto Duel was under development. I spent a bunch of time with Chuck Bouchet “Chuckles”, he was the developer behind that. I worked on Origins and, which was Jackson’s port game, conversion over to the Apple. The Ultima’s I worked on and I learned a lot. It was great for me because I had been working mostly on my own before that and both the camaraderie, but just learning from these different developers. Chris Roberts showed up in that time period and I got to work with him. There is just some really talented guys who all shared a passion for making these games and when Origins started to move, relocate back to Texas in the late 80’s that was really an impetus for me to think about starting my own studio. In 1990 I started Blue Sky, but if they had stayed around I probably would have just joined in and joined part of Origin.
Matt: What might have been, aren’t you glad you got that Apple II?
Matt: Do you still have that Apple II?
Paul: You know I don’t. I kick myself, I should have kept it. I know Richard still has his Apple, the original Apple. I sold mine years ago.
Matt: I wanted to talk a little bit more about Space Road. It is a very interesting looking game. I have seen it described as a combination of Elite with I guess Ultima so you get sort of an RPG and space. The lead had those wire frame graphics, but this one had solid polygons right? I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about this game and also how it inspired a Chris Roberts to go on and do Wing Commanders and Privateers?
Paul: Well the game came out for me, really the first game were I thought about doing a hybrid game play. There wasn’t one genre or another, I was trying to blend two genres. I was trying to blend 3D Space Combat as a real time 3D action game. It didn’t use texture mapping, but it used solid 3D models for the space graft and the planets and moons. It had real gravity. It had (inaudible) so it was a really realistic 3D space and lot of systems somewhere that leads to Elite, but then you were a character in the world. You had a role like in Ultima. You could land on a planet or land on a space station and interact with other PC’s and get missions. It was the first game where I really wanted the player to make choices. You could be basically three different roles. It wasn’t a traditional role playing game, but you got to decide about a third of the way through the game you could decide whether you wanted to be a space pirate and try to take on merchants and steal their cargo and sell it for the profit or you wanted to be a merchant and just shuttle stuff back and forth and make profit that way, or whether you wanted to be an enforcer and take on pirates. You can play any of those three roles and depending on which your world would react to that. It had a very simple scheme new. If you started to become a space pirate you get a reputation and the powers that be would start gunning for you and putting a bounty on your head. The other pirates though would like you and would welcome you in. So it had that, it was a very early experiment for me letting players choose their role and have that role impact the world and have the world reacting to you and the role. Again, this hybrid between 3D Space Combat and some role playing elements. I was already allowed on the game and not a perfect game by any means. It was also the last game where I did everything. I did the programming, the art, the music, pretty much made that game. Warren did a little bit of writing, this is where I first got to know and work with Warren. He did some writing on it. I worked with some of the other guys, but pretty much 95% of that game I did myself. I realized who that experienced it. That wasn’t the best way to do a game, because I am not a very good artist by any stretch of the imagination. I was a pretty good programmer, but the art, I wasn’t good at it at all. So it convinced me that I need to work with a team on my next project. When that game was wrapping up I remember Chris Roberts played the game intensively for weeks and asked me lots of questions on how the 3D worked and what I was thinking about design and a couple of months later for Wing Commander. I think we helped inspire him. Wing Commander is quite different in some ways. He played that game and he was a big fan of Allegiance and some of the other games that I had that got him thinking about Wing Commander. I think probably where Space Road influenced him the most was in creating a real 3D action, space combat game where you are battling people in real time. I think he saw that this could work really well and of course we started doing texture mapping and then he started doing texture mapping on Wing Commander and creating that kind of realism. I think that influenced him as well.
Matt: Did you have anything to do with the choice of cover on Space Road? I was admiring that guy in the leather jacket, that is pretty cool.
Paul: The story there is the marketing guy for Origin at the time of the institute was really a great guy. He had a thought at the time of doing photo realistic covers, taking you know, photo shoots using real actors and I didn’t realize he was going in this direction. He asked for my input and I said the one thing I want is not a realistic cover, I want something that is a piece of art or as a distraction. I don’t want photo realistic, I would prefer not to. We ended up with photo realistic covers, marketing!
Matt: Ah, marketing. I listened to another interview you did, it was some guys from MIT if I looked at that right. They were talking and you talked in about how you actually worked on one of the Madden games for the Sega Genesis. Apparently, I don’t know if this is still true, you said that was probably the most or biggest selling game you ever worked on.
Paul: Yeah, for that era it was. The first two games we did as Blue Sky were Madden Football 1993 for the Sega Genesis and Ultima Underworld. Two very very different games. If you an imagine completely different platforms, completely different genres. Kind of crazy we would use those two games, but our thinking at the time was that Underworld was risky, kind of wild. We didn’t even know if it would be a successful experiment. So the though as a small business was let’s do one game where it’s a slam-dunk where we know it will be successful. Madden 92 was a big success. It was with Electronic Arts and they were paying us well to do the development. We as developers had some background on the Sega Genesis, which was the platform that we have it on now, and EA was in a pickle because the original team doing it was falling apart and they were five months from having to ship Madden because Madden has to go out by the first day of the football season. They came to us and used the “you have five months to do this game.” I am not sure if they thought we could even pull this off, but we did. It ended up selling over, well over a million units. I think it did like 26 million in revenue. I believe it was EA’s biggest selling title up through that date, the biggest revenue generating title. It was a monster hit. It grew the Madden franchise. It was sort of a trail of Perdue football game and when people think of Looking Glass, but it generated some nice royalties for us and helped fund us getting Underworld done. So no problem with that.
Matt: Do you guys have a lot of football experience?
Paul: Zero. As a game designer I never wielded a sword and lived in a fantasy life either. That didn’t slow us down. As a game designer you take on all kinds of topics. I learned football and again we were not doing an original title. We were doing a sequel of Madden 92, a formula, I think we generally improved on it, but we were taking what they had on Madden 92 and improving on it and being very selective about it, the improvements. We only had five months. It was not a huge change from the prior game, but yeah, game design is… you learn as a game designer to really improvise the subject matter you are doing if you are passionate about it. I enjoyed working on that project. I don’t follow football per se.
Matt: When you guys talked about Flight Unlimited, it was a huge game, that is my understanding right?
Paul: It wasn’t a blockbuster, but it did quite well and that came more from my, the co-founder of Looking Glass, after being Sky and going for about a year and a half or two years we merged with Learner Research and met Learner’s Group to form Looking Glass and netted on Chuck Yeager’s Flight Trainer at Electronic Arts in the 80’s. You may have a copy of it.
Matt: I have Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat.
Paul: I don’t think Ned worked on that. He did the flight trainer one that was done in 86 and a follow up advanced flight trainer in 88 or 89. He gained a reputation as being a top guy and doing flight simulations. Ned when he joined he really wanted to take that forward for Unlimited and Unlimited was pretty revolutionary for its time with the aerobatics and photo realistic. One of the things I have talked about before is if we were to do Looking Glass over again we would have a much tighter focus on genre. Having a studio, we were always a small independent studio, and doing sports games, role playing games, flight simulations, and the last couple of years we did Nintendo 64 games. It was all over the map at times and it is hard to manage all of that. It is hard to keep a tight vision on what you are doing when you are tackling so many different genres. I think our visions were too broad in terms of tackling all those different genres.
Matt: You used the word hubris to describe all of this. It sounds like the team, I guess they were working on such different projects it resulted in some tension within the group right?
Paul: It did, and in so doing all those different genres contributed to some of that tension. We had people who really loved the flight simulation so they came to Looking Glass to do flight simulation, that is what they were passionate about. Then we have also from the role playing, 1st person role playing and immersive games like System Shock and Thief, and that is what they were passionate about. The people were really pushing on Flight Unlimited to get that wrapped up in about six months. A lot of developers we kind of put additional resources on it and some of the people were resentful about that and they felt we shouldn’t be putting an effort on that game because they were flight sims, those are not real games. So it could create some tension and that is one of the challenges of trying to run a studio where you are trying to do these very different genres. It would have been easier for us no question just to say hey, we are going to be known for a particular kind of genre. You look at Valve and they are known for a particular kind of genre, it is just easier to manage those.
Matt: I think you have complimented Blizzard as well.
Paul: Blizzard is known for certain kinds of games. A much larger studio than us even back then and they kept to their knitting in terms of genre and we have some hubris and we felt we could tackle these different genres effectively. In many ways we did, but it came at a cost.
Matt: You have no plans to do a flight sim any time soon?
Matt: A couple of last questions here Paul. Some have been submitted by Twitter followers. This is from Evilsoft. He says, “Why didn’t you ever release editing tools for source for the Ultima Underworlds?”
Paul: People weren’t doing that back then. That really wasn’t something that people were doing in the early 90’s. So I don’t think we even thought about releasing those tools. The tools were not the easiest to use. They were not documented or anything. The designers had to come up to speed on using software. We hadn’t thought about those tools as being something that we would hand out to the audience. Also, this was probably something the EA would have said no way to I am guessing back then. It wasn’t really done. It wasn’t until the mid 90’s or late 90’s that people started to release editing tools and people were starting to do mauds and that kind of thing. By the time that happened it was an old product and we weren’t thinking about releasing tools for it. Plus EA owned all of the, controlled all of the publishing rights. Again, I think that would have been a bit of a hurdle.
Matt: This is probably too big of a question to be asking at this point, but I am going to just throw it out there anyway. This is from Jackbig. He says, “What do you think of the current state of the games industry?” Maybe you could focus a little bit on just what in fact do you think the Kickstarter and the Crowd Funding has had?
Paul: I think it, I will just answer it this way. I think it is great and it is a thriving, new development. If you went back ten years ago you might have drawn a conclusion that the days of indy developers were doomed and it was all going to be public, large funded companies that could put a lot of money behind it, that was the only way forward. So the re-birth of indy developers who could be creative and try new genres out and new game play and be successful at it is awesome. That door has opened up. I think that helps keep the industry interesting. It keeps it fresh and you know, gives me reason to continue to work it.
Matt: Thanks again Paul. It has been really nice chatting with you.
Paul: It was nice chatting with you as well.
Matt: I know you have to get going. Just one last thing, I was wondering if you have any plans for what you are going to do after Ascended?
Paul: We are really keeping a tight focus on doing Ascended now, but again, a bit of a lesson from the Looking Glass days not to get too ambitious. We are going to have our hands full with Underworld Ascended so we are going to really focus on that and we will want to do more games beyond Ascended, you can be sure, but we are just not thinking about that so.