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Brian Reynolds: Focus on Firaxis: A Look Inside the Company


  • Brian Reynolds: Focus on Firaxis: A Look Inside the Company

    Name: Brian Reynolds (Brian is in the middle of the picture to the bottom)
    Title: Designer for Alpha Centauri

    LDespot: What is it like living in the shadow of "The Great Sid Meier"?

    Brian Reynolds: It's a pretty good place to live. Sid taught me most of what I know about computer game design, and although we've moved from a master/apprentice relationship to an equal partnership it's clearly Sid's vision and genius that drives our success.

    LDespot: What caused you to do Alpha Centauri?

    Brian Reynolds: Well, having done a couple rounds of "history of the world" games, we liked the style of game we had come up with but wanted some new subject matter. So a "history of the future" game made a lot of sense. Also, as a science fiction fan, I've found the quality of the fiction in many recent sci-fi computer games to be pretty cheesy shoot-from-the-hip stuff, and thought we would bring a lot of strength to a more coherent "future history".

    LDespot: Were there any particularly challenging design issues that needed to be overcome? What were they and how did you solve them?

    Brian Reynolds: Whereas some games create new genres, others fit into clearly established genres, and Alpha Centauri is clearly the latter--turn-based empire building games have a long history. These games are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and the challenge for them is to refine and improve the genre: adding enough new interesting gameplay and twists that they represent a genuine evolution of the state-of-the-art without losing the original magic which made the genre popular in the first place. We have a pretty good feel for where the "fun" lies in a game--we can look at a game and find its strong points and weak points fun-wise. We then try to preserve the strong parts and replace or enhance the weak parts in ways that do not distract from the core of the game.

    LDespot: What can we expect future Brian Reynolds games to be like?

    Brian Reynolds: That's a little hard to say since I tend to take things one game at a time. My greatest successes so far have involved taking familiar concepts, familiar gameplay and breathing new life into them, enhancing the original fun and bringing in exciting new stuff, the idea being to create a synergy which moves beyond the sum of the parts.

    LDespot:What is your role in Alpha Centauri and how does it relate to the branding of Alpha Centauri as a Sid Meier game?

    Brian Reynolds: All of us at Firaxis are significantly involved in every product we release, but Sid and I trade off the "project leader" role from project to project. For Alpha Centauri, I am leading the project, which means that I do most of the central design, AI, and game programming, and carry the ball on most of the major creative decisions. Sid plays the game prototypes and provides a lot of creative input; this is the reverse of the Gettysburg situation where Sid led the project as above and I spent several months providing design feedback.

    The advantage of our arrangement is that, since we have the manpower for one full product at a time, we always have the next game "waiting in the wings", ready to begin full-scale development as soon as the previous product ships. Sid and I spend so much time working on the pure gameplay aspects of a product that it takes several months, at least, of solo effort to get a new game to the point where it makes sense to commit large amounts of art & other resources. So during the Gettysburg project I was working part time doing design feedback for Sid's project and the rest of the time tinkering around with the Alpha Centauri game. Once Gettysburg shipped, we were ready to go full swing on Alpha, and Sid works part time on that while also supporting Gettysburg and working on ideas for his next game.

    The "Sid Meier" branding carries a lot of good will and recognition among strategy game players, and particularly since we've formed our own company we use it to say "here we are" and remind our fans that it's us. Think of it as a "stamp of approval". I should mention that the current (Alpha Centauri) division of labor is identical to the Civ 2 arrangement.

    Previous: Jeff Briggs - Next: Sid Meier

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