Today’s Playing Catch-Up, a weekly column that dares to speak to notable video game industry figures about their celebrated pasts and promising futures, speaks to former id Software programmer and Crack dot Com president Dave Taylor.
From Id to Crack
During his three-year term at id, Taylor helped program both Doom and Quake, handling sound code, network chat systems, and even the occasional console port. During this time Taylor formed his own company, Crack dot Com. "I asked [Id] if I could have my own company, and they said sure, as long as you don't code and it's not 3D," he said. Abuse, a 2D side-scroller with an intuitive modding system, internet multiplayer (circa 1998), and a unique control scheme employing the mouse cursor for the avatar's weapon, was funded to completion by Taylor, by what he describes as clever strategy. Initially, Taylor tried to sell the game himself, but he soon learned that the internet business model wasn't entirely fruitful in 1998.
"Then, I found that I was not enjoying inventory management and fulfillment," he said, "so I started plugging it to retailers." Initially retail giant Comp USA showed interest, but refused to carry the game as Taylor originally packaged it. "That's when I learned why people are so concerned with cost of goods," he said. "Every box had a T-shirt, a big book, and some other stuff, they each weighed like a pound and cost me about $10 to make after all was said and done," he said. Unable to reach negotiations with Comp USA, Taylor found unlikely aid at the QA department of Origin.
"It turned out the entire QA department was playing the demo at the time, and I guess someone got wind that management was considering distributing it," he said. "I guess QA outed management at a meeting or something and made it happen. And we got really absurd returns for it, just so far beyond the norm. That's when I discovered funding something to completion is the way to go. And even if it's a wimpy little game, it's a lot of money."
The Mysteries Of Golgotha
Almost immediately, Taylor and his team began work on their next game. "I thought, 'Well, the team's sick of Abuse, let's try this genre-bending action-meets-strategy-thing.' I took a very id-like thought process to development, wandering around trying to find the soul of the game, which tends to not work without a John Carmack handy," he said. "We eventually found him, and it was great, but about then we ran out of money." Though several investors and publishers jumped on the opportunity to fund the game, titled Golgotha, Taylor refused to publish a game that he didn't fund to completion. "I was too proud to take publisher money," he said. "I thought, hey, it's my glorious vision, and they're going to f*ck it up!"
Crack dot Com's final act was to release every asset and bit of source code for the game into the public domain, along with one final press release. "The bottom of that release just kind of said, 'Oh, by the way we're looking for jobs.'" he said. "I got some absolutely absurd offers and interest for things I absolutely was not qualified for. I kept saying over and over again, 'Why are you offering me this? I just ran a company into the ground!' But the recurring theme I heard was that they like the idea that we've been through the ringer."
Transmeta Dot Carbon6
Taylor eventually found a home at processor developer Transmeta, "the closest anyone is coming to doing science fiction kind of stuff," as he described them. "It is definitely the future of computing, they're way ahead of their time. It was all very exciting, so I came on to sort of help them debug stuff. They liked me because I could be sort of a pain in the ass. I think some of that came from being an indie guy, where every dollar is my own."
Taylor stuck around until 2001, when he hopped on board American McGee's newly-founded Carbon6. "We'd been friends way back since id," said Taylor. "So I came on board to help with sort of biz dev stuff, tech consulting, producting and design. American's extremely gifted at creating worlds, my kung fu is strong in neat gameplay mechanics, so we worked well together. 'Wonder Twin Powers Unite!' we used to say. While there, Taylor produced Spy Kids Challenger for the Game Boy Advance, which was entirely funded by Miramax. He also had some involvement in American McGee's Oz before leaving.
"I wasn't as closely tied with that project, so I'm not aware of the exact details, but about six months in, the checks just kind of stopped coming from Atari," he said. "So that project got sort of cancelled, but at the same time, since we were trying to develop toys, novels, movies, etc., the toys were already shipping and seling quite well. And as I understand it, sometime after I left, they took a leftover demo from the project and the first 25 pages of the novelization, and sold the film rights to Jerry Bruckheimer. So the film rights were purchased, and the toys were out there, but there was no game!"
Freelance And Fancy-Free
Since leaving Carbon6 in 2002, Taylor has done what he describes as "a sort of cocktail of advising and consulting. I'm sort of well known as having an open ear to young game developers trying to find a way to productize their games. I'm kind of the guy who helps mentor these guys and help them get started." Additionally, Taylor did some optimization work for EA's The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth, and a design document for Legacy Interactive's ER, based on the television series. "Just sort of random crazy stuff," he said. "Probably the biggest one was producing RoboBlitz with Naked Sky Entertainment. We actually made this demo for Intel, and it shipped free with their dual-core processors."
Taylor says two big projects take up his time today; one of them will have to remain secret for the time being, the other is what he describes as "a revolutionary procedural mapping, authoring and rendering package," which he speaks about excitedly. "I say it's revolutionary not to blow smoke up anyone's ass, but it's really shocking. You can actually draw textures, scaled to any resolution of course, and they take anywhere from hundreds of bytes to a couple of bytes of space. "Unlike other solutions, where you press a button to come up with a random procedure and hope it's what you want, you can actually paint. If you don't like a piece of your map, you can move it or stretch it or whatever. It never becomes a bitmap, it just stays in the boundaries of this magical function that I only partially understand." The software, Allegorithmic's ProFX, is currently in the pitching stage.