This is the second part of an introduction from Norv Brooks, designer of Aloha: The Spirit of Hawaii from Blue Panther Games, LLC.
In PART I, Norv describes his gateway into cardboard gaming through frontier towns cut out from the backs of cheerios boxes. Now, join him on his journey with video game companies that has come full circle to his tabletop roots.
Journeying on down the path of video game productions, I designed and program a little game for the Atari 800 I called “Seatraders”. Electronic Arts was not a large corporate video company at that time and I was able to submit “Seatraders” to them. I had a nice response back that they felt Atari was fading from the video market arena and they would pass on “Seatraders”. They were right about Atari and the PC games. They did continue for several years with their dedicated game consoles such as the Atari 2600.
Moving on ahead to the early 90’s I had become a fan of Avalon Hill’s Civilization/Advanced Civilization. I wrote Avalon Hill a letter asking if I could convert the game to a computer version would they be interested. They were interested and that became my first experience as a professional programmer. However, I was very new to contracted work and Avalon Hill was new to computer game production. I believe they had released a couple of minor works. Our agreement was a one page letter between Jack Dott, one of the Owners of Avalon Hill, and me. What became apparent was that a well written document of work agreement is not for a lack of trust but for good communications. What I was expecting to provide Avalon Hill and the assistance they would provide was quite different from what Avalon Hill was expecting me to provide and deliver. Both parties quickly realized that I did not have the resources nor the experience to deliver what they required. They brought on board an experienced Producer name Jim Rose and adjustments were made. Jim hired a veteran Programmer, Jim Synoski, to take over the lead and after adjusting my Royalties percentage I was kept on as an Auxiliary Programmer. The project turned out to be an enjoyable and experience building one for me. Jim Rose and I have remained friends and resulted in him providing me a few years later an opportunity to Develop a project for Talonsoft.
In July of 1997 I was hired through an agency to work for the reorganized computer games division of Disney which had been renamed Disney Interactive. I worked as a tester in Quality Assurance and eventually worked up to a Project Lead. Working for Disney had a lot of nice perks. Once all the Disney Interactive employees went to a meeting held in the Grand Californian Hotel at Disney and after the meeting we had a scavenger hunt throughout Disneyland. It was a rough job. Of course, like all large companies there were management & policy issues, but overall, it was a great place to work. But, in 2005 they reorganized not only the structure of Disney Interactive’s organization but it its goals were changed to pursuing the mainstream AAA non Disney IP games. In October of that year I was laid off.
One of my favorite projects was Disney’s Villains’ Revenge which was one of the few games developed in house. Jimmy Cricket has torn out the end pages of the stories which allowed the Villains to escape and the Blue Fairy tells Jimmy the Villains have to be caught so that they can be returned to their right places.Watch the game’s introduction video here.
In early 2000’s after I had worked up to a QA Project Lead at Disney Interactive a major opportunity came my way through my friend Jim Rose. He had formed a video game company Talonsoft which had gained some success with his war game line. He had an interest in producing a wildfire game and had remembered our talking of a game I was developing. A contract was offered to me to develop a game for Talonsoft. He advised me to have a lawyer look over the contract. Remembering my experience with the Avalon Hill agreement I took his advice and consulted with a lawyer. I found a great lawyer who took an interest in a struggling developer and charged me what I’m sure was way below the going rate and stuck with me through the whole ordeal with Talonsoft/Take Two. Though I had a multi-page contract this time there were still communication difficulties. To my surprise, Jim had sold Talonsoft to Take Two (think Grand Theft Auto) and within two months of signing the contract, he left the company. It was never said but I had the feeling that Take Two’s Talonsoft manager Chris Mate felt I was pushed on to him. Which probably was the case.
Another issue was my developer mental attitude. I still was working with that Atari 800 concept that one man could develop a game. Take Two was looking for a AAA product, but I was bringing a one-man development experience and resources. Not only was I the extent of Vronsoft, the name I called my company, but I lacked the experience to program what was needed and had not developed other resources required such as an artist. On top of that issue I was able to make an arrangement with my supervisor at Disney Interactive to cut my hours but keep my job. So, I was trying to develop a AAA video game with less than a full commitment and insufficient resources and skills. A formula for failure. Another issue was an overvalued estimate of an engine that I had designed to display 3D like terrain using an enhanced version of the original Sim City terrain.
After a trip to Talonsoft’s Maryland studios and a couple of months working with them it became apparent that an acceptable product was not going to happen within the time frame required. With the aid of my lawyer I was able to retain the cash advance I had received, the non-exclusive rights to my Intellectual Property but had to give up the title “Wildfire”. Take Two went ahead and develop a Wildfire game with an east coast company.
BEER & PRETZEL RESOURCES
I did not give up on the wildfire type game with the failure with Talonsoft/Take Two. I kept on working with the theme but changing the title to “Smokejumpers”. I bought a license to use Garage Games 3D Torque engine and got a working prototype of the overview of the game. I got an appointment with Garage Games co-founder Jeff Tunnell to present my game concept. He was generous with his feedback and finally got me to understand I did not have the resources & skills to produce a marketable 3D game. He suggested that since I was doing board game designing I should stick to a 2D game with a table top format.
I FINALLY ACCEPTED THAT I HAD BEEN TRYING TO DO A CHAMPAGNE VIDEO GAME WITH BEER & PRETZEL RESOURCES.
In 2008 while still trying to work on “Smokejumpers” my son Brad & I started participating in a Yahoo group called SoCalPlaytesting. When we joined in Travis Ball and Michael Nickoloff were heading up the group of game designers that would meet and play test each other’s games. As time progressed Martin Hagvall started to spearhead the group. For some time our sessions were a sporadic affair until about 2009 when David Mines and myself started coordinating the group to where we are now a group of 20 to 30 designers that meet regularly once a month. Our group coordinated the 2009 & 2010 Rio Grande Games Design contest held at the Gateway conventions. We currently have several members who have a game published or are in the process of being published.
When Brad & I first started with SoCalPlaytesting group, we came up with a game design we called “The Roads of Rome”. When we got a working prototype, I contacted Zev at ZMan games and he agreed to look at it. Brad felt concerned that we were sending it before it was really ready. To my chagrin he was right. Zev passed on it and said he didn’t feel it had enough to do with the Roads of Rome. We went through several major revisions but still haven’t come up with a version we like. It’s sitting on the shelf for now. We’ve since designed several working prototypes of games including games entered in both Rio Grande Games Design contests. After my wife and I made our second trip to Hawaii I was inspired to design a game which showed there’s more to the islands than beautiful sunsets, great beaches and mai tai’s. Steve Jones, Blue Panther Games, llc, liked it and published it. It was released late 2012 and has had a good reception. So, Aloha and mahalo!