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Peter Clausen: There are other people from this era of gaming like Steve Meretzky, or Al Lowe and they don’t seem to be able to return into the gaming industry. You have adjusted much better. Why do you think that is?
Bob Bates: Well first of all, Steve is still very much in the gaming-industry…
Peter Clausen: He’s doing some online-stuff, isn’t he?
Two good reasons to play Spellcasting 301.
Bob Bates: … Steve is a good friend of mine. For about five years he was the creative director at world winner, a company that’s doing competitive online games. Two weeks ago he went to work at Floodgate for Paul Neurath, who is another person from that era, doing mobile games. So Steve is still active as a game-designer.
Al got out of the industry for a while. He is looking at opportunities. We may see him again in some capacity. Hopefully. What a great designer Al is. And a great guy too.
Some people have sort of stepped out of the business-end. As the industry has changed, the kinds of things that you can do in a game have changed. So some people have stayed to fight, and try to figure out ways to keep doing stories in games, which is what I do a lot. Some of those guys are in fact still around in some capacity.
Peter Clausen: Anyway, you have worked on lots of different projects. From “Eric the Unready” to “Unreal” to “Panzer Elite Action”. What was your favourite kind of project, and what project contains the most of Bob Bates?
Bob Bates: Well, I mentioned the game earlier. It was “Eric the Unready”. This was the game where I had the most fun. I did the writing and the programming, and I felt very alive while doing it. Because it’s a really interesting task and set of ideas.
In terms of classic adventures “Time Quest” was probably my most intricately designed game. It was like a clock, where everything comes together. There is a big difference between “Time Quest” and “Eric the Unready”.
Time Quest was among the more serious Legend games.
In “Time Quest” everything had to actually make sense, and be logical and completely fit. But in “Eric the Unready”, if there was a joke to be had I went for the joke. Those are different activities and the games have to reflect that.
Peter Clausen: Yeah, I remember the whistle at the end of “Eric the Unready”. And you pretty much brushed over it, and made a joke of it.
Bob Bates: Because it’s a different kind of entertainment, the player has different kinds of expectations. I very much enjoyed working on that. But I also enjoyed working on different kinds of projects. There is a common thread to all of those things. What I try to do, is to find a theme and find ways for that theme to emerge, rather than beating someone over the head with it. Just reassure its presence in the game, so when the player is running along, or when he is done, he reflects on this theme. And it’s not a message like “You should live your life this way”. It’s more of an interesting issue. Even in Unreal II I was looking at the idea of authority. You start with two characters, one who absolutely believes into authority and comes to distrust. And the other character is paranoid, trusts no one, but in the course of the game she comes to trust some people. As a writer I am not saying “Authority is good” or “Authority is bad”, I am saying it’s kind of ambiguous, and that’s interesting to think about.
As I do different games, I think of those kinds of things and try to put them in. And that goes back to my very first games like Arthur and Sherlock. Except for Eric. Eric was no theme, just fun.
Peter Clausen: By the way, your producer on Panzer Elite Action is Michael Hengst who is a kind of cult-icon in German gaming journalism. How did you get together?
Bob Bates: Well, we go back a long way. Michael was an adventure game fan. And back in the Legend-days he would do interviews and we got to know each other and liked eacht other. I don’t think that goes all the way back to Infocom. I think I met Boris there [Boris Schneider-Johne, founding member of the German gaming press – nowadays he is doing PR for Microsofts gaming division]. But Michael goes back to Legend.
And that’s actually the connection that brought us together for “Panzer Elite Action”. Because he knew of my interest in story. And he had this action-game, but wanted another dimension to it. And I said “Michael, I don’t know a lot about World War II tanks”. And he said “That’s okay, our team in Slovenya knows a lot about tanks, and they are passionate about that”. And Michael himself is passionate about tanks. So those three elements came together very naturally. Michael as a producer, me as the designer, and the Zootfly team, who are really wonderful people. Really smart, and the real stars of the game. There is a tendency in our business to give a lot of credit to somebody whose name you might recognize. But the people who made this game are the Zootfly team.
Thomas Nickel: One last question - How do you see yourself and your games? Do you see yourself as some kind of auteur, in some sense?
Bob Bates: Unfortunately the answer is yes. I say unfortunately because, certainly in America, the idea of an auteur implies a certain sort of arrogance. I try not to have that part. But I think a lot of storytelling in games, and how these things come together. There are two different camps of games designers. There are some game-designers, very smart ones, who think their goal is to create an environment where a player comes an to create their own series of events. Their own story. What they call story. Which I don’t call a story. It’s to create sandbox. To create a world of legos. To say “Look what I made, look how interact with it”. I understand that, and I understand the fun in that. But it’s not what I am interested in. Because when you listen to someones story, for example when someone tells you about a MMORPG he is like “So, I was going and I met this other guy, we joined together and there was a monster on the hill, and we killed that monster, and that was a hard fight. So we went down to the village and got some gold”. And as you listen to him talk about it, you think “Okay, that’s…”
Peter Clausen: It’s not really interesting.
Yeah, it’s interesting to him, but it’s not interesting to you. Because a story has what I call “authorial intent”. There is a theme, a message or something the story is about. And those things tend to be universal, which is why something like the Hero’s journey has all these common elements that resonate with us, as humans. There is a full talk about this I did at GDC. If you are interested in it, it’s on the GDC-website.
And I consider myself very much in this camp. I am much more interested in designing an experience, thinking of an emotion or thought that I want to live in your head. Figuring out a way for the game to create that in your head, rather than just saying “Here’s a world, go have fun it, and whatever you do I hope you enjoy it”.
Peter Clausen: Thank you for this interview!
Well, everybody tried this. Right? Right??
Text Copyright 2005 Peter Clausen
Screenshots Copyright JoWood, Legend Entertainment