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Gas Powered Games Interview - Part 1

After leading Cavedog Entertainment through the critically acclaimed release of Total Annihilation, Chris Taylor formed Gas Powered Games. In this extensive interview, we visit their headquarters.

Washington is a state with a rich history of gaming innovators. Aside from Microsoft and Nintendo of America, about two-dozen other companies call it home.

I had the fortunate opportunity to stop by the offices of Gas Powered Games to speak with Chris Taylor – founder and lead designer, as well as several members of his team in various departments to discuss gaming history and design, technology, and the climate of Washington state as one of the “big three” locations in the United States for game development and publishing.

Within certain genres of gaming exist some very specific stereotypes when gameplay, mechanics, and technology are concerned. Not to mention the fact that each style seems to attract a different sector of the population.

Traditionally, Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games were known for isometric God-like displays where the player could easily watch over and micromanage all aspects of his or her campaign. Resource management, strategic placement of assets, and calculated offensives were the backbone of gameplay.

Graphics and sound effects were rarely more than afterthoughts in the design. On the other hand, the Role-playing games (RPGs) of late sought to immerse the player in a world of fantasy and adventure. Strives in technology (both hardware and software) enabled designers to create expansive environments, populated with sophisticated enemies possessing human-like AI.

Again, the general rule graphically employed an overhead or isometric view, or a simplified 3D engine to set the stage. But rather than immerse the player into a lush, exotic world in which to explore, the general feeling was that of detachment due to limitations in hardware.

Enter Chris Taylor, game designer. After elevating Cavedog entertainment through releasing the critically acclaimed futuristic RTS title Total Annihilation, he decided to start a new type of company – one not burdened down with the familiar corporate chains-of-command that more often hamper, rather than help in the creative process.

In 1998, armed with little more than a dream and a small team of dedicated craftsmen (and women), Chris drew up plans to make a revolutionary hybrid of two tired genres, in an attempt to create something fresh, new, and entertaining.

Dungeon Siege would be released 4 years later, published by Microsoft Games Studios out of Redmond, Washington – the nearby gaming colossus under parent company Microsoft.

[PC Gameworld] Please state your name and role at Gas Powered Games.

[Taylor] My name is Chris Taylor. I’ve been in the business for about 15 years. I was born in British Columbia, Canada. I’m strangely proud of that, I don’t know why. (smiling) I need to be talked to, I think. I need to be medicated! I grew up there and got my first job in the games business at a company called Distinctive Software in Burnaby, which was later bought by Electronic Arts.

I came down here (Seattle) seven years ago. In January of 1996 I started at Humongous Entertainment as project and design lead on Total Annihilation. Then I left and started up Gas Powered Games in May of 1998. Our first game, Dungeon Siege came out on April 5th of last year (2002).

When I started at Distinctive, there were about 16 people. Over time, it grew and grew to over 400 employees. Today I believe it is now approaching 1,000 people – the largest internal development studio in the world under one roof.

[PC Gameworld] Hardball 2 was a title you worked on years ago at Distinctive?

[Taylor] That’s right. It was my first assignment at Distinctive. I showed up on a Monday morning, and they said, “Chris, your first game is going to be programming Hardball 2.” I was the only fulltime person on the development team.

I was the programmer, the designer…I worked with an artist and a sound person part-time. I used what we called game libraries – a set of core game code. That was my first gig, and it took me 15 ½ months to finish, and it seemed like forever! I was 21 at the time and thought to myself, “This thing is taking an infinity to produce!”

[PC Gameworld] That was a continuation of the Accolade game?

[Taylor] That was their flagship title. It was Bob Whitehead’s game. He also worked at Atari, founded Activision, and then went on and founded Accolade. He’s a huge forefather of our industry. Great guy.

[PC Gameworld] Am I correct in assuming that Total Annihilation was your first RTS game?

[Taylor] More than that, Total Annihilation is the first game that I designed where anything blew up! All the other games were sports games. I did Hardball 2, 4D Boxing, and Triple Play. Then I did a game for the Japanese market. I also worked on Test Drive 2 on the Sega Genesis, which was a port of the popular PC version.

So yeah, TA was my first non-sports title. I was totally inspired by Command and Conquer. After playing it, there were a few things I wanted to do. I wanted to have the tanks be able to fire when they were retreating. It was so horrible to have your tanks get their butts kicked, and then while you’re retreating, get finished off. There was no retreat.

As much as we all hate to do it, it’s part of strategy. You have to decide when to pull out, to cut your losses. If you can’t cut your losses in a war game – retreat, or more specifically pull your forces back – then you’ve only got half of the experience. That was one of the first things I wanted to do.

If you’ve ever played TA, then you know that those tanks will fire no matter what, just like in real life! I believe an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank can track four targets simultaneously and hit them all while moving. In this day and age we can do it, so I’m sure farther in the future we should be able to do it.

So, Total Annihilation was based on those games. I had just played Command and Conquer, Dune 2, then Warcraft 1 and 2, and wanted to make my own game to try out my own ideas. I wouldn’t say they were necessarily better ideas, but they were my ideas, and I wanted to give them a try.

Read Part 2 of this exclusive interview!

Sep 24, 2003

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