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Interview Blizzard Historian David Craddock's Interview with Brian Fargo

Infinitron

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Tags: Bard's Tale; Bard's Tale (2005); Brian Fargo; Interplay; InXile Entertainment

If you've read about Brian Fargo's career, you probably know that he was involved with Blizzard Entertainment during that company's early years. Blizzard's first titles, including The Lost Vikings and Blackthorne, were all published by Interplay. Interplay was even responsible for the distribution of the first Warcraft game in Europe. It's no surprise then that as part of the research for his book about the history of the company, Blizzard superfan David Craddock interviewed Brian extensively.

Well, it turns out that large segments of said interview had nothing to do with Blizzard at all, and as such they didn't appear in the book. A few days ago, David made those segments of the interview available at Gamasutra. It's truly fascinating stuff, going into a level of detail about Brian's early career that I'm not sure has ever been seen anywhere else. Here's an excerpt, describing the genesis of the Bard's Tale series:

David Craddock: Arguably Interplay's most popular game during the early 1980s was The Bard's Tale [Tales of the Unknown: Volume I]. The game also marked a transition from adventure games to proper role-playing games for Interplay. How did Bard's Tale come together?

Brian Fargo: I had a lot of diverse friends. I was big into track and field, I played football, so I had those friends, then I had friends from the chess club, the programming club, and a Dungeons & Dragons club. Michael [Cranford] was from that side. I always thought he was a pretty bright guy and one of the better dungeon masters.

We played a lot of D&D. We always tried to focus on setting up dungeons that would test people's character as opposed to just making them fight bigger and [tougher] monsters. We'd do things like separate the party and have one half just getting slaughtered by a bunch of vampires and see who would jump in to help them. But it wasn't really happening. It was all an illusion, but we'd test them.

I always got a kick out of the more mental side of things, and Michael was a pretty decent artist, a pretty good writer. He was my D&D buddy, but then he went off to Berkeley, and I started [Interplay]. He did a product for Human Engineering Software, but then I said, "Hey, let's do a Dungeons & Dragons-style title together. Wouldn't that be great?"

That's really how the game came about. He moved back down to Southern California, and I think we actually started when he was still up north. But then we worked on Bard's Tale together, kind of bringing back the D&D experiences we both enjoyed in high school.

I found the original design document for Bard's Tale, and it wasn't even called Bard's Tale. It was called Shadow Snare. The direction wasn't different, but maybe the bard ended up getting tuned up a bit. One of the people there who has gone on to great success, Bing Gordon, was our marketing guy on that. He very much jumped on the bard [character] aspect of it.

David Craddock: Putting a bard in a starring role was the most interesting aspect of Bard's Tale for me, plot-wise. That protagonist slot is usually reserved for meatheads and wizards.

Brian Fargo: At the time, the gold standard was Wizardry for that type of game. There was Ultima, but that was a different experience, a top-down view, and not really as party based. Sir-Tech was kind of saying, "Who needs color? Who needs music? Who needs sound effects?" But my attitude was, "We want to find a way to use all those things. What better than to have a main character who uses music as part of who he is?"
Read the entire thing for more details about Brian's early career, including the adventure games he made before he founded Interplay, his corporate relationships with Activision and EA, and the naughty tricks he pulled to get his games distributed. This is one of the coolest interviews ever.
 

felipepepe

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Brian Fargo said:
As far as attracting attention, I had a budget of $5,000 for everything. My one ad in Soft Talk [magazine] cost me about 2,500 bucks, so 50 percent of my money went into a single ad. One of the things I did was I would call retailers on a different phone and say, "Hey, I'm trying to find this game called Demon's Forge. Do you guys have a copy?" They said, "No," and I said, "Oh, I just saw it in Soft Talk. It looks good. They said, "We'll look into it."

A few minutes later my other line would ring and the retailer would place an order. That was my guerrilla marketing.
Awesome. Considering he was a kid at the time, I wonder how obvious was to the shopkeeper that it was the same kid calling over and over... :lol:
 

Syl

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Brian Fargo said:
One of the big things at the time was, they hated each other, Activision and EA. Just hated each other. We were maybe the only developer doing work for both companies at the same time and they would just grill me whenever they had the chance. Whenever there was any kind of leak, they'd say, "Did you say anything?" I was right in the middle, there.

Priceless. :) And that was almost 30 years ago.
 

felipepepe

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Just saw this:

a96a08149e848622aa4299b93506bb5f_f17.jpg


Blizzard must be really shit these days if no designer had a heart attack looking at this cover and forbade the author from publishing it this way... I mean, Papyrus font, and in title case? FFS...
 

Brother None

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Blizzard must be really shit these days if no designer had a heart attack looking at this cover and forbade the author from publishing it this way...
Hmm? I dunno that Blizzard is involved, it looks basically self-published. It's an eBook only anyway so not like covers matter that much. Looks p typical for a self-published book cover.

Anyway, based on these fragments looks like it might be an interesting read. I might pick it up.
 

m_s0

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Good read but I thought he told the distribution story (one ad and calling the stores)recently during some Q&A video I saw?
He talked about it on one of his panels after W2's success, yeah, probably in a couple of other places as well. Same with EA vs Activision.
 
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Davaris

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Good interview. Interesting that Michael Cranford's name has been coming up lately.
 
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Divinity: Original Sin 2 Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
Apple II seems to be a prominent computer for a prehistoric era of interactive medium. Judging from many interviews with the old school developers.

EA was more gamer-focused as a company. Activision's executive management was more the big business, CEO and CFO types, whereas EA, starting right up with Trip Hawkins and all his guys, they were gamers. When we would try to explain Bard's Tale to Activision, but they didn't really get it. Whereas when I would take it to EA, they got it—boom. Just like that. You want to be with somebody who gets it, and they clearly got it and were excited about it, so we moved fast with them.

Shame it didn't stay that way.


you could pay a guy on e-lance 50$ and he would make a better cover than that...

Or you could e-mail JarlFrank.
 

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Apple II seems to be a prominent computer for a prehistoric era of interactive medium. Judging from many interviews with the old school developers.

It was. The shift from Apple II to IBM PC in the late 1980s was an important transition, akin to the great migration to consoles in the mid-2000s (but without the ruinous consequences).

EA was more gamer-focused as a company. Activision's executive management was more the big business, CEO and CFO types, whereas EA, starting right up with Trip Hawkins and all his guys, they were gamers. When we would try to explain Bard's Tale to Activision, but they didn't really get it. Whereas when I would take it to EA, they got it—boom. Just like that. You want to be with somebody who gets it, and they clearly got it and were excited about it, so we moved fast with them.

Shame it didn't stay that way.

Heh, it depends. You could probably say that compared to Activision, EA still is more "gamer-focused" even today.
 

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