Ian Currie has been in the computer game design business for over a decade.
From adventure games to strategy games, most notably the Jagged Alliance series,
his resume is an impressive one. Now as the Director of Product Development
at Sir-tech software, and party responsible for the development of Wizardy 8,
his passion for games is as strong as ever. We recently caught up with Ian to
chat about games, hobbies, and the state of the industry.
Ian: I became interested in computers rather late in life compared to most
people. I was 25 at the time and adventure games were the big thing. I got my
own computer and starting digesting every computer game I could especially the
Sierra adventure games. I bought a bunch of books on programming and set out
to make my own games. I've always enjoyed creating things and the very notion
of creating my own game was intoxicating. I was a sponge and soaked up everything
I could out of the books. My first few games were adventure and arcade games
that I made mostly to practice coding etc, but I found that they were as much
fun to play as to create.
CGO: What was the first game you had a hand in making?
Ian: The first full game that I wrote was a strategy-arcade game entitledChaser.
I wrote it in Pascal over about nine months and sent it to various publishers.
While I awaited a response, I developed an arcade game entitled Space Miner
and then wrote a Sierra-influenced adventure game engine as a vehicle to learn
the C programming language. This turned out to be good practice as I ended up
landing a publishing contract to publish Chaser with Sir-tech Software (although
it would later be called Freakin' Funky Fuzzballs), but they wanted the code
in C, so that porting it to a console would be viable. I had three months to
convert the code, create artwork for three video modes and music. Back then
I did most of my own artwork, so it was a very stressful period. This was in
1990 and it quickly became evident that I needed a team of people if I wanted
to pursue this career path. I learned a fair bit about the business, got to
travel to the Winter CES show in Las Vegas, and meet a lot of game developers
that I respected.
CGO: If you were not involved in games, what would you be doing with your
Ian: Well, I'd like to think that I'd be involved with something that marries
technology and art, as that's where my passion lies. However, before making
games, I worked in administration for 15 years and I suppose if I wasn't successful
at my spare-time game development efforts, I might still be doing that!
CGO: What have you done for the past six months that's unrelated to your
Ian: My main hobby is music. I play guitar and enjoy songwriting and recording.
I'm also an audiophile and a movie buff (I have a large movie collection). I
can usually be found practicing (guitar), trying to write a new song, tweaking
my home-theater setup, or listening to music. Of course, as dedicated as I try
to be to this hobby, it often takes a back seat to gaming when a good game comes
out, as I tend to get addicted like everyone else.
CGO: Can you describe a "Day in the Life" of the Director of Product
Development at Sir-tech?
Ian: Reading emails is the first thing I do when I come in; if there are any
fires that need to be put out, this is how I'll usually learn of them. After
that, it depends on where we are in a product cycle. If it's the very beginning,
there's usually design stuff to deal with-ideas from other team members, capturing
my own ideas, arranging meetings, or working on budgets, etc. If it's during
production, then I'll probably spend a fair amount of time reviewing interface
mockups, playing around with prototypes, working on design holes and anything
else that needs attention. Towards the end, there'll be a lot of testing and
refinement and the coordination of the same with others.
CGO: What is the part of your job that you like the most?
Ian: I think the most rewarding aspects are when a programmer or artist has
completed something that needs evaluating before proceeding further. That's
when the product morphs from a somewhat hazy vision inside your head to something
tangible on screen. It's not always good, but most of the time it is. Every
time a new aspect of the product becomes tangible and is evaluated, the overall
vision becomes more of a reality and it's very exciting and motivating. Other
rewarding aspects of the job are some of our design meetings; there's usually
a lot of creative energy floating around the room and inevitably we come up
with ideas that really excite us. And, of course, when the product is finally
released, it's fantastic to be able to get all the feedback about what we did
right and what we did wrong.
CGO: And your least favorite part of the job?
Ian: I think the part of my job that I hate the most is dealing with a situation
where a team member is not working out. You can imagine how many people are
attracted to this industry; not all of them have what it takes to make great
games. While you do your best to hire the most promising candidates, many times
you never really know how well it's going to work out until some time elapses.
It's not a pleasant situation. I think, after this, the other aspect that I
like the least would be localization work (i.e. foreign language translations).
There's very little (if any) creative work involved.
CGO: Aside from titles you have worked on personally, what are a few of
your favorite games?
Ian: My favorite games are Space Quest, Wing Commander, Eye of theBeholder,
Command H.Q. and Asheron's Call.
CGO: That's quite a varied list. Why do those games stand out?
Ian: Sierra's Space Quest was the first game I played from start to finish
and completely hooked me on wanting to work in this industry. Wing Commander
was a game that provided an adrenaline rush, a cool story, and fantastic rewards.
Eye of the Beholder was the first RPG I played and I couldn't stop playing.
It was so immersive, I would jump when the phone rang. Command H.Q. was the
first multiplayer game that hooked me. I can't tell you how many times I've
played this game. Asheron's call was the first multi-player RPG that hooked
me; the seamless world filled with real players just fascinated me.
CGO: Has the computer game industry, in your opinion, focused too much on
technology and not enough on making games fun?
Ian: Yes. We all know many games look great but are totally devoid of the "fun"
element. I'm sure many of those games were results of situations where developers
ran out of time (after all, you build the technology first). I'd like to think
so, anyway. While I appreciate technology like anyone else, my games have never
depended on it. The game designer in me wants plenty of opportunity to adjust
anything in the game that isn't delivering entertainment to the player. That's
what it's all about for me-entertaining people. If something stands out to me
in a negative way, I'm going to do everything I can to change it. The challenge
of making sure a game is fun is the best challenge of game development. It doesn't
matter if something works the way it was specified to in a design doc. If it
doesn't feel fun, or worse, feels like work, then it either changes or disappears.
I love to analyze either our own games or other games as to what were the fun,
or addictive elements, what didn't work, etc. It's my passion.
CGO: If you could be any character from a video game past or present, who
would it be and why?
Ian: Let's see...which one got the most girls? Actually, that would be probably
that loser Leisure Suit Larry. Hmm. Seriously, all my favorite characters have
died many times at my hands! In real life, I wouldn't want to be any of them
because I wouldn't be able to rely on the LOAD GAME feature.
CGO: If you could work with anyone in the industry past or present, who
would it be?
Ian: That's a tough one because there are a lot of talented individuals out
there and I really like the people I am working with. I suppose I'd like to
work with someone like Tim Cain (of Fallout and Arcanum fame) - not only do
I have a lot of respect for his talents, but I can also identify with his style.
CGO: If you were Lord God of Gaming with an unlimited budget and a team
of anyone you wanted to work with, describe the project you would head up.
Ian: We'd build a MMORPG Star Trek type game. I'd want to create a game that
was part space simulator (with combat), part planet exploration, and part political.
We'd create so many unique worlds, filled with either non-sentient creatures
or full civilizations and have valuable resources placed on many of them. I'd
fill the game with great quests, and expansion would be easy in an infinite
universe. Anything one could dream up would be fair game in a setting like this.
Every day, a new world to explore, complete with the apprehension and wonder
that a foreign planet could offer. Sigh...
CGO: What do your family and friends think of your profession of choice?
Ian: I'm sure they were all surprised that I could actually earn a living doing
this, but they seem to accept it and take it for granted nowadays. None of them
play games, so they can't relate very well.
CGO: Do you think that there is room in today's PC strategy market for turn-based
games? Many developers have a tough time selling turn-based games to publishers.
Is there still a viable marketplace for them? Or have too many publishers jumped
on the real-time bandwagon?
Ian: I do think there's room for turn-based games-especially in Europe.However,
real-time is becoming more and more important because multiplayer is expected
to be a feature in every game these days (and sells products). Real-time is
much more suited to a multiplayer situation, as there's little or none of the
downtime that you experience in a turn-based game while awaiting your opponent's
CGO: Do you think D.W. Bradley's influence has lived on with the latest
Wizardry game? Did you consult with Bradley in any way on Wizardry 8?
Ian: No, we didn't consult with him in any way, shape, or form. However, his
presence is there, in a way, since he helped to define what Wizardry is. David
made a fair number of changes to the series when he came aboard (for Wizardry
5). While we had to evolve the product dramatically because of the time lapse
and gaming market changes between when Wizardry 7 came out in 1992 and now,
it's still a Wizardry product. It's still going to feel like a Wizardry game
to Wizardry fans - and a lot of that is because of what we retained from previous
versions. I suppose it would be natural to assume that we kept the "best
parts" and changed what we think should have been changed.
CGO: Finally, will there by a Jagged Alliance 3? Has there been any discussion
on the topic?
Ian: We've been working on JA3 for a while now; however, we're still not in
heavy production. We've worked extensively on the design and we have a core
team dedicated to the project, but we're currently negotiating with publishers
before committing to any timeframes. While at Sir-tech we've always enjoyed
the luxury of building the game we want to build (without any publisher intervention),
we're going to go it differently on Jagged Alliance 3 to avoid the frustrating
delays that we've experienced with our last three products.