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Interview with Brian Moriarty

Innovation, design and screenplay of an adventure game: Brian Moriarty's views on these topics and some more, in a masterclass worth reading.

# By Paco García |

Interview with Brian Moriarty

AyC: Your games, apart from featuring outstanding premises and excellent plot run, are graced with intelligent designs. Are actually the writing and the designing parts of an adventure game the same block or, on the contrary, are they two independent tasks which could perfectly be done by different people?

BM: I have seen many games designed and written by teams that turned out very well indeed. The classic Monkey Island titles are a fine example. However, my personal style is more solitary. Although I love to bounce ideas off people, and often make changes in response to criticism, I'm most comfortable when I assume final responsibility for a game design. I used to feel that this temperment represented some kind of failure to be a "team player," but now I reject that guilt as rubbish. Some people just work better on their own!

AyC: Between ideating puzzles and writing stories, what have you found more worthy and complicated in your whole career?

BM:The greatest challenge of all was coming to understand myself as a designer and as a person. I used to be willing to make all kinds of compromises to please people (or to make them leave me alone). Now that I'm approaching 50, I have no time for such nonsense. Life is short, and you simply MUST trust your experience and intuition about what is likely to work and what isn't. Writing games is supposed to be fun! If you, the designer, don't enjoy the PROCESS of creating a game, that unhappiness WILL come through in the final product.

AyC: For someone like you, who puts the conceptual risks before the exigencies of the market, the commercial factor must have been a real pain. How does one dodge these bonds to make what he actually wants?

BM:It's important to remember that nobody, absolutely NOBODY, knows the formula for creating a surefire hit. If they did, they would quickly rule the world! Instead of trying to make a hit, a designer must be concerned with making the best possible game he or she knows how to make. But how do you determine what is "best"? The only measure that makes sense to me is this: I strive to make games that I myself would immediately want to purchase if I heard about it or saw it in a store. For example, when I read about EVE ONLINE, I recognized it as a game I'd always dreamed of making, and immediately signed up for it. I had to drop my subscription a few weeks later, though. EVE is addictive, and it was eating all my free time and destroying my life. But they got my twenty dollars, didn't they?

If you try to produce what you think other people will like, you will become a marketeer instead of a designer, and you will find yourself producing me-too knock-offs of the last big hit. Sadly, this happens time and time again in today's game and movie industries, because it costs so much money to produce anything that investors are unwilling to take a chance on anything original. But is precisely those original, quirky games and films that are most likely to fulfill the market's constant hunger for ideas that are fresh and novel.

AyC: In the last few years small companies have been getting quite popular, working apart from the usual distribution methods, acting their own way and getting small (or not so small) profits without having to adapt their moves to the market. Are the authors with personality and character forced to build his own company?

BM:Unfortunately, yes. I can think of only a few game designers with the clout (and patience) to push an original idea through a major studio like Electronic Arts.

AyC: Loom was born from a concept so peculiar that it wasn't unique only when it came out, but also in the present day. What's more important for an adventure game designer, to create an example to follow, or to innovate?

BM:Every designer is different, so there are no hard and fast rules. Some people know how to take existing material and build a great game with it. Hal Barwood's Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is an example of a finely-crafted, highly entertaining genre piece. On the other end of the spectrum is Tim Schafer's Grim Fandango, which succeeds precisely because of its distinctive personality. You can bet Tim was trusting his intuition when he wrote that one. It's amazing that LucasArts let him get away with it! The pressure to produce something easier to explain and sell must have been enormous. I met the same resistance with Trinity.

AyC: You might be aware of the latest innovations in the gameplay: gadgets like the - now obsolete - Eyetoy, unusual features like those in the Nintendo DS, or the future proposal of the Japanese company, Revolution, are desperately trying to exploit the interactivity up to levels never seen before, implementing new forms of interaction like tactile or optic devices for the developers to experiment. Those innovations, though, have not had all the hype that was expected. You created a new conception of adventure game while the rest of the world insisted on the fundamental principles of it, what do you thin about this: is there a huge imbalance between the imagination of the game developers and the possibilities offered to them, or are those who made these innovations who are ahead the actual developers? Is it that they (the developers) are not prepared to take full advantage of these innovations?

BM: Developers are always interested in exploiting new hardware, especially if it clearly enhances the game experience.

For example, when we created Loom, the standard in sound cards was the AdLib, which has a couple of cheesy FM sythesizers and no digital sound at all. A few customers had a module made by Roland called the MT-32, which offered 16 channels of MIDI and sounded much, much better, especially in a music-based
game like Loom. So we convinced management to let us offer an upgrade disk for MT-32 users. It made for great demos, cost little to produce, and made our best customers very happy indeed. I'll bet Roland didn't mind, either.

Nowadays, though, the investment to build a game is so huge that publishers are unlikely to support non-standard hardware unless the manufacturer is willing to fully subsidize the extra cost.

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