A CHAT WITH
STEVIE CASE AND JOHN ROMERO
GIGnews recruited Melanie Cambron, known by most in
the industry as The Game Recruiting Goddess, to use her
skills for the good of gamekind and recruit some of the
big names in the industry to give us all valuable
insight into what they do and how they do it.
In this interview, Melanie
chats up Stevie "Killcreek" Case and John Romero. When
swapping stories around the cattle trail campfire, even
cowboys have been heard to tell the tale of game
industry lore: the day Killcreek defeated Romero in a
friendly game of Quake. As one of the few serious
female gamers in the industry in 1996, Case's celebrity
status in the community was immense and immediate. She
signed a contract to endorse and represent joystick
manufacturer SpaceTec IMC as a celebrity gamer and was
invited to join the Cyberathletic Professional League as
the world's first full time professional gamer.
Ultimately, she translated her gaming skills to game
development, which included a three-year stint at Ion
Storm where she found herself once again in the company
of John Romero. Case has been featured in countless
magazines and newspapers including Rolling Stone and
And, as for John Romero, few names in the game industry
have more instant recognition. Both praised and
maligned, just about everyone in the game industry has a
Romero opinion, most of which are posted on hundreds of
gaming sites and message boards. Recognized as the
genius behind some of the most successful games ever
published, Romero, along with other industry legends such
as John Carmack and Tom Hall, developed Doom,
Doom II, and Quake while at id Software.
Romero left id in 1996 to form Ion Storm where his work
on Daikatana received more ink and hype from the
gaming and non-gaming press than virtually any other
game in industry history. Tales of Ion Storm's triumphs
and troubles from their penthouse digs in downtown
Dallas, were followed with an almost rabid intensity.
In 2001, Romero and Case left Ion Storm to form
Monkeystone Games, along with Tom Hall and Brian Moon.
Romero is Chief Executive Officer and Lead Programmer,
while Case serves as Vice President and Production
Coordinator. The company's primary focus today is on
games for handheld devices and mobile phone platforms.
MC: So, let me get the
"Tiger Beat" questions out of the way first. Clearly, I
have not been keeping up with my game industry
love-match gossip, because I only just learned you two
are dating. When did that happen?
SC: We just had our
three year anniversary on January 6th!
JR: We started
dating in January 1999, two years after we first met.
MC: And, John,
the hair. It's gone! What happened? Very Lenny Kravitz
of you. It looks great by the way.
JR: Thanks! After
11 years and a bunch of big changes, I decided to lose
it. Most of the last year I've been working so much
that I had my hair pulled back every single day, so I
figured I'd make it easier to deal with. Change is good!
MC: Down to
business, tell me more about
Monkeystone. You've been up and running for
about 8 months now. How are things going? And how did
you decide to focus on handheld and wireless games?
SC: Things are going
great. One of the most rewarding aspects of focusing on
wireless and handhelds is that the games are small and
the dev cycles are short. We have already shipped one
Pocket PC game and four mobile phone games. In the next
month we will complete something in the neighborhood of
3-5 products for systems from the PC to phones. We are
also on the Gameboy Advance warpath, which is quite fun.
JR: While I was
still at Ion Storm, near the end of my time there, I
started seeing the potential in doing games for wireless
devices. Then, within the next six months, the
worldwide wireless "push" was tremendous, so my desire
to focus on wireless was well-founded. In addition to
that, the project development times were very short,
which was something I wanted after my last three year
MC: So much has
been written about wireless games in the past couple of
years. In fact, I think GDC is having its first Wireless
Game Summit this year. Where do you see this segment of
the industry heading?
JR: This segment of
the entertainment industry is going to be huge. Just
about everyone has a cell phone, as opposed to having a
console system. The market potential is massive, but
there are just as many challenges along the way. It's
still very young right now, but as new standards are
adopted and technology improves, the games will go from
the Atari 2600 stage to the C64 stage. We're not too
far from that right now.
SC: Actually I'll be
attending the GDC Wireless Game Summit, which should be
exciting. Clearly the segment is growing. There are
plenty of technological challenges to deal with at this
point, particularly in the U.S. We are excited to be on
the cusp of what we see as a major explosion in wireless
gaming. We are especially excited about the future of
multiplayer gaming on wireless devices.
MC: To say Ion Storm's
downtown high-rise Dallas office was legendary, is
probably an understatement. Monkeystone, on the other
hand, is based outside of Dallas in Quinlan, Texas,
which, if I'm not mistaken, probably qualifies as "the
country". Describe the working environment and
atmosphere at Monkeystone.
SC: We do joke about
Monkeystone being the anti-storm! We are most definitely
in the country: Quinlan's population is only 1,300.
There are some drawbacks to that (limited fast food, bad
net connections), but there are plenty of great things
about it as well (privacy, ability to work day and
night)! Monkeystone is a small group, and even as things
progress we want to keep it that way. We really enjoy a
more familial, comfortable atmosphere. We believe in
this company, and we don't intend to hire folks who
don't feel the same passion for it that we do.
JR: It's very laid
back and insulated from the rest of the world, so it's
easier to concentrate on our work. It's great having
everyone in the same room where we can get things fixed
immediately and also just talk in general about anything
without disrupting our work flow. Working with a small
team again is just great.
MC: John, at the
first of this year, Christian Divine wrote an "elegy"
for Ion Storm on Salon.com. And, not surprisingly, it
generated quite a bit of buzz. On Slashdot, John Carmack
posted his views on the article and Ion Storm (at least
the comments were attributed to Carmack). He blamed the
"failure" of Ion Storm-Dallas on "lack of focus, which
came from the top" and "Romero's primary mistake" in
believing that "abstract creative design was a primary,
or even significant, part of a successful game." He goes
on, however, to say that he thinks "Romero has a chance
at a comeback with his current foray into handheld
games. I don't think he ever lost the enthusiasm for
games, but if he can recapture the personal work ethic
that he had early on, he can probably do some pretty
cool things." A response to the Carmack comment said "it
seems a little unfair to have John Carmack reply. Still,
I'd love to see Romero's response if he's up to it."
I haven't checked the thread lately, so I don't know
if you did respond. Do you have a response you want to
JR: I didn't respond
on the thread because it's very rare for me to voice my
opinions on public forums, especially one like
Slashdot. The fact is, I worked hard at Ion Storm but
there were too many factors out of my control to make a
success of it and a lot of my early mistakes, though I
was trying to do what was best for the company, spelled
eventual doom down the road. But my work ethic and the
whole abstract "creativity versus rigid design"
methodology had little significance in the downfall of
MC: Stevie, I've
read that you're handling Monkeystone's public
relations. You two certainly don't have a problem with
getting press, but how do you control it and how do you
keep it positive? Many have said there was no way
Daikatana could have ever lived up to the publicity
hype. What is your promotional strategy for Monkeystone
and Monkeystone products?
SC: I agree with
that assessment. My strategy for Monkeystone is to keep
everything we say positive and only to talk about things
we have confidence in. There is a lot of pressure to
publicly speculate on things like release dates, other
games, and other developers. Though a bit of slip is
unavoidable, we try to hold info until a game is almost
ready for release. I try to keep everything fairly
minimal and realistic. Own up to mistakes but don't
dwell on the past, because it can't be changed. I try to
avoid anything that will draw from our current focus.
Though people want to talk about things that happened
over the past few years, we have moved on and are
excited about our new projects.
MC: When I
interviewed Paul Steed last year, I received some pretty
threatening email from people at least purporting to be
female gamers. They apparently had a problem with
Steed's portrayal of women in his games. Of course, they
remained anonymous. What sort of response did you get
from the female gaming community following your nude
pictorial in Playboy?
SC: The reaction was
mixed. Unfortunately I think it is easy to misunderstand
where I am coming from. I consider myself a hardcore
feminist. I am the hardest of the hardcore! I think as
women we ought to be able to do anything we choose, from
owning companies to being game designers to being moms
or even posing nude. You would be hard pressed to find
any woman or man who is more dedicated to their work, to
learning, and to this industry than I am. So I suppose
that all plays into why I see no great evil in
Playboy. It was a fun and educational experience,
and I am glad I did it. Like you mentioned, the
detractors often remain anonymous, preferring to attack
without consequence. I much prefer to take the risk and
put myself on the line. I do what I do and then I move
on to the next experience.
MC: I've also
read where you, Stevie, said you have been "disappointed
by the loss of community spirit among gamers and
developers." What did you mean by that? How do you both
feel about the current state of the gaming community?
And, if you think that a certain spirit is missing, how
can we go about getting it back?
SC: I don't think we
can get it back. Negativity sells. We can sit here all
day being us, but the real us wouldn't sell - we are
boring! In reality we don't drink or do drugs, we don't
really go out. We work almost 24/7. I suppose it's more
fun for people to invent fantastic stories to talk about
- they want intrigue! Hell, I don't blame them. I like
intrigue. The one thing that does bum me out is seeing
developers rip on other developers, because we are all
big boys and girls and ought to know better. We all know
that a lot of what's out there is not true or
representative of reality. Either way, the community
achieved that critical mass long ago.
JR: Well, nothing
remains the same as it was, and the rise and fall of the
Quake community spirit was inevitable. In the past
several years, the mass media has put a lot of focus on
negativity since people eat it up. The gaming press
took note and changed their editorial policies to
reflect what was happening in the mass media to boost
sales. There's still a lot of that around today because
it still sells.
MC: What advice
do you have for someone looking to get into the game
industry, or stay in it?
SC: My advice is to
be a finisher! There are lots of folks out there who
start a project, get bored or frustrated, and they leave
or start something new. The hardest part of this job is
often staying dedicated at the end and finishing
something at a professional level. Be dedicated, play
games, and work hard.
JR: Getting into the
industry, find something you love and get really great
at it in your spare time at home before getting a job.
If you're already in the industry, be efficient and fast
with your work and try to innovate if at all possible.
Focus as much as you can on your project and it will
turn out great.
MC: I know you
two are scheduled to speak at Full Sail's Success
Seminar 2002. If you could each narrow your success down
to three key elements, what would they be?
dedication, and desire to learn.
JR: Passion, hard
work, and an optimistic outlook.
MC: Finally, at
the risk of sounding like Oprah's Dr. Phil, what is the
key to being able to work together?
SC: The biggest key
really is respect. We work hard to ensure that we are
equals on all levels. We respect and take advice from
each other well -- usually :). We talk through everything
and don't hold back. We are completely honest with each
other. We try hard to make everyone feel comfortable
around us so they can relate to us as individuals. We
make sure to get at least a bit of time just for us to
enjoy life together as it's easy to get absorbed by
JR: We divide our
tasks to suit our strengths and respect the other's
opinions and experience. That way, morale remains high
and we don't get each other mad!
Cambron is a recruiter for game industry leaders
such as EA, Sony, and Infogrames. Featured in
Game Design: Secrets of the Sages for her game
industry knowledge, she also wrote the foreword to the
successful book, Game Programming with Direct X 7.0
and its follow-up. Melanie speaks each semester at the
University of Texas at Austin and the University of
North Texas on the game development industry, and is
frequently interviewed by major media such as the Dallas
Morning News for her industry expertise. She also serves
as a consultant to the City of Austin's Interactive
Industry Development Committee. Learn more about the
"Game Recruiting Goddess" at
www.melaniecambron.com or contact her directly at
Interview With Richard
Interview With George
Interview With Josh Resnick
Interview With Paul
Steed (November 2001)
Interview With Marc
Saltzman (October 2001)
Interview With Rick Hall,
Senior Producer, Ultima Online (September 2001)
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