Exclusive: Tom Hall On id, Kickstarter And Worlds Of Wander

Tom Hall has had a diverse career, having both helped make the popular PC platformer Commander Keen and create the first-person shooter genre with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. It doesn’t end there, however — he also one of the main forces behind the RPG Anachronox and he more recently developed the social game Pettington Park. At Pieces of Fun, he’s now looking to return to his roots with the game Secret Spaceship Club, a very Keen-esque game, wrapped around his new creation tool: Worlds of Wander! He kindly gave some time to talk to us about this Kickstarter project, his attempts to reconnect with old IP and his take on “open source” projects.

[a]list: Tell me why you decided on Worlds of Wander for your next project?

Tom Hall: Well, we tried another a Kickstarter that was sort of a first attempt to see how the process goes. We retooled what we were doing and planned another RPG, but we budgeted that out and it was too ambitious for Kickstarter: it was going to be a spiritual sequel to Anachronox. Then I thought it’d be fun to do Keen again. I’ve seen people making mods, showing people making new content in Keen games. There are editor tools out there and they’re brilliant, but they’re not focused, they don’t let you make differently themed games and they’re not across all platforms. I want to work with my PC/Mac at home, and on the road I want to work on the same content on my iPad. So that idea bubbled up. Brenda and John suggested that I start a new entity, so that’s where Pieces of Fun comes in. I wish I had Anachronox and Keen again, but this opportunity will allow me to build an IP.

[a]list: Did you ever attempt to work with those who currently own the Anachronox and Commander Keen licenses?

Tom Hall: With Anachronox, it’s interesting. I created that game at Ion Storm, which was later sold to Eidos, which a dozen years later was acquired by Square Enix. So now Anachronox, a tribute of sorts to the Final Fantasy franchise, is owned by Square Enix, which owns Final Fantasy.

We asked Square Enix and they politely said that they weren’t looking to work with outside partners and did not want to part with the IP. If Square Enix circled back around, however, I’d gladly work on Anachronox again.

[a]list: Of course, id Software and all their properties are now owned by Zenimax…

Tom Hall: I asked, and Zenimax sent a flat, lawyer-like business letter rejecting it. Not even entertaining the idea was painful, but it’s been 27 years. It’s time to move on.

[a]list: You’ve had a long and storied career in the gaming industry. What pushed you to do something Commander Keen-esque?

Tom Hall: It’s been interesting trying all sorts of genres. At Software Disc (Softdisk), we did a variety of software projects, like a magazine for games. There was Gamer’s Edge, and I snuck in at night and did fun design work with John Carmack, John Romero, and Adrian Carmack – it was a new game every month and it was fun to explore different genres. Those different experiences has helped me enjoy making different sorts of games. The second time I asked Zenimax about Keen and they said they weren’t interested, I decided I had fun making funny sci-fi games and it’d be wonderful to re-explore this sort of universe.

[a]list: Where does the aesthetic inspiration for Worlds of Wander come from?

Tom Hall: Growing up, I loved Star Trek and Star Wars along with cartoons like The Jetsons and Duck Dodgers. Keen was heavily influenced by all that. The cool thing about Worlds of Wander is that it can do a Western game – you can change the theme and the whole world could change. All the art packs will have everything thing you’d need to put in the game and will auto-decorate.

We want to curate it, because I don’t want the community to look like MySpace. If there’s a good art pack we want to include it — a good example would be Minecraft, which has about 10 art packs that are really done well. We’d like to see art packs that bubble up and are rated high and they are approved for use. If we add something new like a bullwhip, all the art packs have to support that – there has to be a commitment to keeping that alive.

[a]list: Sounds like you’re keeping the spirit of open software code alive from your time at id.

Tom Hall: When we founded id, we were excited to just sell games. I credit Carmack to have the desire to say that all information should be open. The more and more we made games, the more we made the data formats open. Where we’re currently at… when I looked at all the editors out there, and while they might be brilliant, their barriers to entry are high. Look at Photoshop, people are going to be intimidated by something like that.

[a]list: In some ways, your project sounds similar to LittleBigPlanet.

Tom Hall: LittleBigPlanet is brilliant. Someone made some of the beginning levels of Keen in LittleBigPlanet and it was more awesome than we originally implemented! I want tools like that, but I had a sense that the game needed a simple and advanced mode. The simple mode gets you used to the concept of editing stuff, and the advanced mode is for people who wanted to drill down into the details. I think those tools need to be on whatever device is near. I want to continue to create in an environment that’s device agnostic and want the players to know the feeling of being a creator. I hope there’s and era where games are democratized like with MP3s. Digital cameras let people take and share photos easily, regardless of if you have a Canon or a Nikon, and I think that’s the sort of convenience that should be there for games. And I’d like to enable fun universe because I like to play fun games!

[a]list: You did a Kickstarter with Brenda Brathwaite last year called Shaker. What did you learn from that experience?

Tom Hall: We both developed RPGs that got acclaim back in the day, so I thought, ‘let’s come together and work with the community and people who loved those games to make what they’d really love to see.’ We came forward with more of a collaborative process in mind. That’s not what the platform is for – it’s more for ‘Oh, this is cool; we’ll support it’ than crowdsourcing.

In hindsight, we’d frame it differently, but now we’re trying with a different game and project.

[a]list: Talk to me a little about Kickstarter and what attracts you as it has attracted a lot of other independent game designers.

Tom Hall: It seems to provide a cool platform for games, if there’s enough players interested in an odd idea that a publisher might not think will be a big AAA title in Unreal Engine 4. It takes a new idea that people want to exist and lets them execute on it. So it’s a special corner of the market and if it works that’s great, if not it’s over in a month! It’s a cool way to try out a new idea.

[a]list: Now, Heaven forbid you don’t get funding, but what’s the plan B for Pieces of Fun if this doesn’t work?

Tom Hall: For context, we have a very small team that’s put together a demo and the guy who produced Anachronox put together the video for the game. We’re trying to keep it small to see if it works out. If not, we’ll work on it the background – it will become a pet project. Adapt and improve, that’s what I say!

[a]list: Any final thoughts on the project, Kickstarter or anything else?

Tom Hall: I just like the idea that it’s coming at a time that people shouldn’t have to care what platform things are on. Mac is just a PC as far as its a hardware spec. Even if the market is not as thunderous as the PC, it should be another SKU. There should come a time when another platform becomes prominent – like Valve wants to support Linux – it should be a the norm.  It’d be great when a game comes out if it would come to every platform. I think many developers would applaud that.

[a]list: Tom, thanks.

Deep Silver Looks To Mobile

Deep Silver has announced it will be expanding in 2013 and getting into mobile development. The Koch Media publishing label counts Dead Island, Risen, Sacred and Saint’s Row amongst its owned properties.

“Nowadays, gaming can play a role anywhere and anytime… at home or on the go,” said Koch Media / Deep Silver CEO Klemens Kundratitz. “It is therefore only logical to extend the brand universe of a game to different devices. Having a brand strategy that is multi-platform – including mobile – offers a full, all-round experience that enables players to enjoy different aspects of a game world wherever and whenever they want.”

“In the near future, our cross-platform approach will allow us to promote our games from new angles, because we will have a whole group of games connected to a brand on different platforms,” added Deep Silver’s Menno van der Bil. “Players of our upcoming mobile titles can expect the same level of originality and innovative-ness that they already know from our existing products.”

Zynga Baltimore Closed

Zynga has closed its Baltimore office, making redundant around 30 employees. The company is also closing multiple Texas studios and consolidating employees into offices in Dallas and Austin, and is also consolidating studios around New York City.

“In an effort to leverage resources as we focus on creating franchises and driving profitability, Zynga has made changes to four of our U.S. offices,” Zynga COO David Ko said. “We are closing the McKinney, Texas and downtown Austin offices and relocating those teams nearby to our existing Dallas and North Austin offices. And, we will be consolidating our NYC offices to move staff to our NYC mobile studio. Also, as a part of today’s changes, the Baltimore studio will be closed. While these decisions are always difficult, these steps will affect approximately 1 percent of our workforce and enable us to focus our resources on the most significant growth opportunities.”

These announcements follow the departure of Zynga Baltimore founder Brian Reynolds after the discontinuation of CityVille 2. The McKinney, Texas studio originally developed Words With Friends, though its co-founders Paul and David Bettner left in October.

Source: VentureBeat

Oscars Platform For Emotional Ads From JC Penney

JC Penney used emotional spots during the Oscars. The half-dozen ads aired during the Oscars were themed around the tagline “Yours Truly, JCP.”


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The spots were heavy on images of Americana, with many focusing on brands now available at JC Penney, including Levi’s, Cosabella, Pearl by Georgina Chapman and Joe Fresh. Only time will tell if this new campaign (which will be ongoing) will be as successful as last year’s spots with Ellen DeGeneres that focused on whether return policies and pricing strategies had always been befuddling at retail.

Source: AdAge.com

Google Glass Launching In 2013: Reports

Reports are that Google is looking to release Google Glass by the end of 2013. The wearable technology is expected to retail for less than $1,500.

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Google Glass is a technology that Google hopes will introduce wearable, hands-free computing to millions. Google recently announced an open beta of sorts of the technology, where users will pay to get an opportunity to use the device.

Source: LatinosPost.com

Aurora Sees 10 Million Visits In Home

Developer nDreams has announced that Aurora in PlayStation’s Home has had over 10 million visits since its launch in March 2011. The developer has made a number of games within home, starting with the alternate reality game Xi in 2009.

“We’re incredibly proud of Aurora and the players who have helped make this such a successful virtual space,” said nDreams CEO, Patrick O’Luanaigh. “We don’t shout about ourselves very often, but nDreams continues to grow with a clear focus – to remain one of the leading publishers in PlayStation Home whilst becoming known for exciting and unique tablet games. We’re on track to launch a number of tablet based titles this year that we hope will demonstrate our distinctive approach to free-to-play development.”

“We’d like to publicly thank Sony Computer Entertainment for their continuing support on PlayStation Home, a highly underrated platform with a large, smart and passionate community, and we hope to continue our strong relationship with SCE moving forwards alongside our growth into tablet gaming,” he added.

Funcom Names Head Of North Carolina Live Studio

Funcom has named The Secret World‘s game director Joel Bylos the head of a new centralized live team in North Carolina. The studio is designed to help provide both content and support for its lineup of MMO titles.

“Having one centralized live team responsible for both the health and the future of each online game means there will always be fresh ideas, years of design know-how and invaluable skill with our tools flow freely between each project,” said Bylos. “I am very excited to have been given the opportunity to lead this team going forward and we have already started mapping out a very exciting future for Anarchy Online, The Secret World and Age of Conan. Stay tuned, great things are coming!”

Funcom has undergone some major restructuring lately after announcing that The Secret World was moving away from a subscription-only model. Along with appointing Bylos director of The Secret World, the company has scaled back its Bejing and Montreal studios.

Cliff Bleszinski Talks Turmoil In The Gaming Industry

Cliff Bleszinski has departed Epic Games, but he’s never really departed the spotlight of the industry, giving interviews and having a presence of industry events. If there’s a reason why he hasn’t started his own studio already, it’s because he sees the industry in a state of flux right now.

“This business has not been in a state of transition like it is right now since the video game crash of the ’80s,” Bleszinski said. “I really think we’re in a massive state of turmoil. I think Nintendo could possibly be faced with the situation of becoming a company that only makes software moving forward. I think Sony and Microsoft are about to come to major blows. But at the same time, people love playing games on their iPad. The PC is going through a wonderful renaissance right now. I think we’re ready to do digital download games all the time…I just want to see what happens. In regards to the industry, it’s like the Super Smash Bros. of business right now, and I want to see if Peach or Mario wins.”

Bleszinski thinks that console owners need to make their platforms more open than in the past. “When Gears of War 2 launched and we found out that our netcode wasn’t working right, it took us three months to get an update out,” Bleszinski said. “By that time, the majority of users had moved on to the next game or had traded it in. If Microsoft and Sony are to do well in this next generation, they are going to need to reduce that time as much as possible, as well as continue to enable user-supported mods, independent games, and really just get rid of the wall that makes it incredibly hard to find those products, even if they’re allowed on the console… All that red tape needs to be stripped away in order to create an ecosystem to allow for a product like Minecraft to actually happen on a console.”

Bleszinski will be giving the keynote at the 2013 East Coast Games Conference, where he says he’ll reflect on the past of games rather than look to the future. “It’s about what videogames mean to me,” Bleszinski said. “Ultimately, I want to take people on a journey through my 38 years of growing up playing games since the age of 6 when I first saw Space Invaders. And how throughout every major milestone of my life, video games have been there for me in a very positive way, and hopefully reminding people that this is a very wonderful medium. And to be frank, I’m kinda tired of it being challenged as some sort of demonic thing in pop culture.”

Source: GamesIndustry International

Sony Hires New Firm For U.S. PlayStation Media Business

Sony Computer Entertainment America announced that it has hired Carat Global to head up the company’s media business. Carat replaces Deutsch L.A., which was also relieved of its duties as SCEA’s creative agency a few weeks ago.

“All of the participating agencies presented outstanding approaches during the selection process,” said SCEAs senior vice president of PlayStation brand marketing Guy Longworth. “Carat presented an innovative model that will drive significant marketing value to SCEA, and we look forward to partnering with them. Deutsch has been an excellent partner for SCEA over the last six years, and we would like to thank them for their dedicated service to our business.”

Marketing Awards Final Extension

The deadline to enter Game Connection Marketing Awards has been extended to this Wednesday, February 27.  The online forms will remain open until 11:59 p.m. PST.

Submissions require brief descriptions and, in the case of creative categories, assets that can be uploaded digitally.

Enter now!

Winners will be announced at a ceremony on March 25 at Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco.

The awards are sponsored by [a]list and include three categories exclusive to the U.S. – Best Overall Campaign, Best Original Content and Marketer of the Year.  The full list of categories follows.

Source: Game Connection