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INTERVIEW: Brian Reynolds, Big Huge Games 2001

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  • INTERVIEW: Brian Reynolds, Big Huge Games 2001

    BRIAN REYNOLDS: Big Huge Games, 2001

    Apolyton: Let's start with the expected question: Why did you leave Firaxis? Some say that you got tired of doing "Sid Meier" games

    Brian Reynolds: It was time to move on. I left Firaxis in December 1999, over a year ago, so rather than focus on why I left that company I think it's much more interesting to focus on why I'm so excited about Big Huge Games.

    Making computer games has always been an entertainment industry--hits and flops, 10% of the products make 90% of the money, and so forth. The trick to making a living at it has been to figure out how to make games good enough to be in that top 10%. What has changed over the years is that it the bar has been driven higher and higher--the market has grown more competitive with key players like Blizzard, Ensemble, Westwood, and so forth making massive investments in development: in talent, in resources, and especially in polishing the quality of the experience delivered. One can no longer expect to have great success just because a game has the best graphics (but not gameplay), best marketing (but not technology), or best game design (but graphics).

    If this sounds more like a "business" answer than a "gamers" answer, it's because I've interpreted your question in terms of general interest about why I've pointed my career in a particular direction. I'm also personally really excited about our game (REALLY looking forward to the multiplayer code going in soon), and I'm still continually amazed by how much fun it is to go to work at Big Huge each day and interact with our (very highly motivated!) team. About a week ago we flew the whole team out to Redmond, Washington (home of Microsoft) to get the teams at both ends together for our official "project kickoff meeting". It was a real hoot (like when they fed me barbeque spicy enough to fry my innards out) and a great "team building" experience, and also got everyone's creative juices flowing on both sides of the team. I should also mention that Microsoft and its game team have been absolutely superb at every step of the way.

    What we've done at Big Huge is put together not only a product idea but a business model that will allow us to compete at the top of the market. We're well along in building a team which can deliver first rate production values as well as the first rate gameplay you've come to expect from us, and we've built a relationship with Microsoft which will give us access to their massive publishing, testing, marketing, and distribution resources. It's the right game idea, the right team, the right business model, and the right publisher, which is why we're so excited.

    Apolyton: Last March, when we interviewed Tim Train, he had spoken about you having 5-6 possible ideas. If we have gotten it right then you have now shortened the list to just one. How did you end up choosing this project?

    Brian Reynolds: Yes, we arrived at our plan through a long process of brainstorming among the team and talking with Microsoft. Picking topics is one of those careful balancing acts-- on the one hand you want a topic that excites and motivates the team, and on the other hand you also want a topic that you can market to a broad audience. It is possible to go too far in either direction at the expense of the other, usually with disastrous results. If the team is really excited about a topic but that topic only appeals to a niche audience, the game won't be successful. Similarly if the topic would appeal to a broad audience, but the team isn't very excited about doing that kind of game, you likewise have a problem. So the trick is to find a topic that satisfies both criteria, and I think we've done that.

    Apolyton: How can you incorporate the thinking, the evaluation, the strategic planning that a player does in a TBS game into RTS?

    Brian Reynolds: This is also pretty near to being a content question, but speaking purely in the abstract I think there are some clear directions for doing this. More than that would probably be "talking about content".

    Apolyton: Do you think that some of the ideas of The (Civ3) List can fit into an RTS game?

    Brian Reynolds: I don't really want to comment on Civ3 stuff.

    Apolyton: Speaking of lists, need one? A list for RTS by TBS gamers!

    Brian Reynolds: Sure, why not! If some of your fans are interested, we'd love to hear from them.

    Apolyton: Especially since your publisher is Microsoft, will be you doing games for both the PC and consoles (more specifically, X-Box)?

    Brian Reynolds: Actually we're a purely PC house right now. Console platforms in general still aren't very suitable for strategy games--consoles and strategy games don't play to each others strengths very well. In a strategy game you need to be able to visually distinguish between a lot of different things at once (which console display resolution and graininess can work against) and you need to be able to point at and select them (which console controllers definitely work against). We certainly leave open the possibility of future XBox stuff, but our focus right now is PC.

    Apolyton: Where does one draw the line between delaying the release or sending the game to the market as it is? What is unchangeable: the features you set out to have in the game or the deadline you set to do it?

    Brian Reynolds: If you delay a product in order to make it great, you're simply delaying your success. But if you ship a product before it is ready the results can be disastrous. A great game shipped late will still be great whereas a mediocre game shipped on time will probably fail. There are eventually some practical limits as to how long you can work on a game before technology leaves it behind or before your company is bankrupt, but within any reasonable timeframe the emphasis should clearly be on making the game great.

    Apolyton: Is the ease that the Internet provides for distribution of patches eventually good or bad for the industry (known problems are some time left to be fixed in patches)?

    Brian Reynolds: In a way this question speaks to some of the same quality control issues as the previous one. Clearly the emphasis should be on shipping the product in the first place with the problems fixed, and holding products until they are ready--shipping a buggy product will just hurt the success of what might otherwise be a great game. Remember also that quality control and quality assurance are aspects of game development which are in significant part owned by the publishers--and I'm happy to report that Microsoft's broad experience of the software industry has helped it hone a process whereby patches are really the tool of last resort. In my own experience even a very thorough testing process will occasionally miss significant issues, and there is a certain amount of prescience necessary in making product shipping decisions--because practically speaking, "the bullet leaves the gun" about 3-4 months before you see the product on the shelves. So when a significant problem is discovered after shipping a game, a patch becomes necessary. But definitely our emphasis is on getting it right the first time.

    Apolyton: BHG now has 10 people, are you going to be growing more? We believe you mention on the BHG site a plan to have up to 30 people on staff. With a scheduled release in about 18-20 months (correct?) Isn't this a bit of an organized chaos?

    Brian Reynolds: Actually I think we're at around 14 full time right now, depending on what day of the week you get this ;-). Our plan is to grow at a rate of approximately 1 full time person a month until we reach our full team size (at the end of our first project) of around 25. Some months we grow more quickly or more slowly, but the statistical 1-a-month average is what in our experience (and the experience of other successful game companies) has been a reasonable rate of growth. Our official release schedule is currently "2002".

    Apolyton: Are we going to be seeing you at E3 this spring?

    Brian Reynolds: We won't be showing the game at this year's E3. Our debut is planned for later on, and we don't really think it makes sense to show a 2002 product in early 2001.

    Apolyton: Bonus question: what's your stance in the recent "unique civs" discussion? SMAC had them and it seems that Civ3 will have them too. Lots of lots of people though want the option to play with generic civs like Civ1/2. Your opinion?

    Brian Reynolds: Again I really can't second guess what others are doing with their future games. Speaking in a general sense, unique races/civs has been the trend of strategy games in general over recent years, particularly since the success of Starcraft. These days the debate in the industry seems to be more about -how- unique races should be (compare Starcraft's very unique races to Age of Kings' moderately unique races) than about -whether- they should be unique, the typical tradeoff being between "more races" and "unique-er races" It's also worth noting that Age 2 has a game option to eliminate the uniqueness of the races; Starcraft of course does not, the uniqueness being integral to the whole design. Looking back on my past games, Alpha Centauri's moderately unique factions seemed appropriate for the subject matter--it helped draw clearer distinctions between the political viewpoints being emphasized. At the time of Civ2, unique races "hadn't been invented yet". So you can always boot up good ole Civ2 -- you'll get no complaints from me about that!

    Originally posted at (defunct)
    Last edited by Aeson; May 26, 2014, 09:53.

  • #2
    Life goes by and you get Zynga'd in the process, to end up working on a secret new project, it is so secret that it is a question whether it exists at all.
    Socrates: "Good is That at which all things aim, If one knows what the good is, one will always do what is good." Brian: "Romanes eunt domus"
    GW 2013: "and juistin bieber is gay with me and we have 10 kids we live in u.s.a in the white house with obama"


    • #3
      This is hard to read on the Black Background-Theme.

      Rise of Nations turned out to be a decent Game bundled with horrible Copy-protection
      Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!


      • #4
        Hmmm ... maybe we'll have to go with just plain text if the "Apolyton" blue is hard to read on the dark themes ...


        • #5
          It is very interesting interview about the game. I like it.


          • #6
            write so good ,i like


            • #7
              The "link" blue is much easier to read than the dark blue on dark backgrounds.
              No, I did not steal that from somebody on Something Awful.