May 12th 2017 by LeifPagrotsky_ • 52 Questions • 2450 Points
I have loved games all my life, made board games as a kid, started programming computer games in 1975 in college, then professionally since 1980. I was one of the first 10 employees at Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts, The 3DO Company, and Dreamworks Interactive. More recently I focused on Serious Games in education, health, training, and neuroscience, before becoming Google's Chief Game Designer for 4 years. I quit there last month to get back to my first love: making games people love to play, with cutting edge technology, new creative tech niques, and great collaborators.
Some games I've contributed to include the arcade game Sinistar, LucasArts games like their flight simulator line, as well as Graphic Adventures like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and Fate of Atlantis, The Dig, and the first two Monkey Island Games.
Here's a more complete (but still partial!) list: http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,1657/
How did you experience being against the official party line in the Euro Referendum of 2003?
Playing through Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was one of my defining childhood memories. What was the process of making 3 different middle sections (fists, brains, pair)? Was there any sense of how many people played through each or all 3?
It was very tough in the Cabinet meetings but the opposite among people outside.
That was my idea, we'd experimented a bit with mixing different play styles in our Last Crusade adventure game, and I wanted to take it further. Hal went along with it, somewhat reluctantly because as project leader it fell on his shoulders to implement all the extra work involved in 3 paths (I think it meant the game was about 2x as hard to make as if it had been one path, not 3x as there was a lot of commonality/reuse of assets). We had fun coming up with ways to appeal to each type of player. I don't have figures for sure, but I'm pretty sure that only a minority of players - I'm thinking 10 or 20% - played through on all 3 paths, but that was mostly anecdotal, we didn't have analytics built into the game as it would now. The intention was not for people to replay so much as for the game to essentially adapt itself to the favored style of the player - but we also knew that completeist players would want to try every variation, and the "Indy Quotient" system was designed specifically for them, to encourage them to keep going. To get all 800 points you needed to play all 3 paths AND several variations and "achievements" that were possible within each.
Interesting side note, that 3 path structure inspired Louis Castle at Westwood to do something similar with his Bladerunner game, and took it several steps further. Brilliant game, I'm looking forward to see what kind of games come out of the current movie sequel to that.
Many years ago I listened to you talk at my school. You talked about how underestimated the "gråsosse" was. To go slow and be careful and not trust fast and easy solutions. Today we have a media climate that seems to value extreme opinions, easy solutions, bickering, and name calling. How can we move from that to a media climate that value in-depth analysis, intellectual honesty, and carefully planned solutions even if they are difficult to understand?
Whoa whoa whoa
YOU made Fate of Atlantis?
I don't have any questions man, I just wanna say that game is so good, it's my childhood, I had a CD for it, I loved it so much
You're awesome, LucasArts games were godlike
Thanks for remembering my visit to your school a long time ago! My views haven't changed on that issue, but what to do about it? This is a billion dollar question. I wish I knew. What do you think?
Aw, thanks - I co-designed it, there was a big team and Hal Barwood had the most influence on the game, but as it was the most successful adventure game LucasArts ever did (at least before the recent mobile game remakes, don't have figures on that) and did better than either of the other Indiana Jones games we designed without each other, I think it hit a sweet spot of collaboration, where Hal's writing and cinematic experience blended well with my game design skills. And as with so many things, there was a good dollop of luck and timing, but thank you in any case for the kind words. Incidentally, a bit of trivia - for a long time the working title was Indiana Jones and the Key to Atlantis, but we weren't really satisfied, and I think the manager of the division was particularly adamant that we change it. There were dozens of alternatives thrown around, including some I've forgotten except that they were terrible (and had strong supporters nonetheless). But I think "Fate of Atlantis" was perfect, short but provocative, and with a tinge of foreshadowing since Fate often implies a bittersweet ending. Names are one of the hardest things to do - not kidding, anyone who has worked on a game will concur.
To digress - I remember in particular one 3 hour session doing nothing but hashing out the name for "Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe" - that was actually thrown out as sort of a joke, along with "Hitler's Greatest Hits" which I expect would not have been a wise move. For the record, we had a long talk about the ethics of making a game where you could play the German side, but we thought (and I still believe) that in doing a war game, allowing people to play both sides is important to remind you that there were human beings on both sides of any conflict.
How have the current politics of both the US and Brexit impacted Sweden (in regard to trade/trade laws), and more particularly, how have they impacted your role?
FoA was one of my favourite games as a kid. I still use a quote from the game regularly: "I don't think that will work."
The effect so far has been in the form of worries and uncertainties about the future, but I don't think it has had an impact on reality yet.
We enjoyed the recurring catchphrases that we stuck into our subsequent games as Easter Eggs. My favorite that I wrote was originally in the Last Crusade game, "I'm selling these fine leather jackets" - that showed up in many subsequent games.
What do you think to Ron Gilbert's Thimbleweed Park? I saw in your MobyGames credentials that you were a play tester :D
Almost, Ambassador is the title of the chiefs of Swedish missions in capitals or in international organizations like the UN. Consul Generals are located in other important cities like New York, Istanbul, Hong Kong, etc.
Loving it - I've been very busy job hunting since it came out so besides my early testing, I've only been able to get partway into the game so far, but I think Ron and company did a perfect job of capturing the feel of our old games, while actually upgrading the quality in many ways. It's not so much an authentic 80's game as it is an evocation of our memories of what the games were like - when you actually play an 8 bit game now it can be shocking how primitive the tech feels. I'm eager to finish the game.
What was your secret for attending all the events that was going on in Gothenburg?
How was it to be a part in the beginning eras of gaming?
Great! I began making computer games in college in 1975, purely for my own satisfaction, but realized I could apply it to my degree (I went to Hampshire College where they let you design your own curriculum) and used games to show off the programming, physics, and astronomy expertise I was gaining. Never thought at the time that it was preparation for a career, except as a programmer doing boring stuff (I did a lot of business programming during my college summers to make cash, and figured that might be my career, but wasn't too enthusiastic about it). But as soon as I graduated I got lucky and got right into the games industry, and never looked back. Certainly being part of the birth of Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts was an early highlight that I will always treasure. I realize now we were very lucky, those of us who started in the 70's and early 80's, because we got to figure out the rules and learn on our own, with no one telling us what to do - we made a lot of mistakes, but there was a freedom and freshness that I miss today. But at the time, particularly when I took my first job at Milton Bradley, people were telling me that I should be wary of "this video game thing" and that it might be a fad that would blow over. I believed them, but it made me even more determined to enjoy it while I could. I don't think it's a fad any more...
Why did you make Sinistar so goddamned hard?
Money! The game was significantly easier up to about 6 weeks before release, but it was averaging about 3.5 minutes of play per quarter, and we needed to get it down to about 2 minutes in order to optimize earnings. We didn't want to make the first level too hard or no one would come back, so unfortunately we had to goose up the difficulty of level 2 a lot, more than we wanted for fun, but the earnings were critical. The "legend" is that RJ Mical still has a set of the ROMs of the easier build lost in his garage somewhere, but I'm dubious about that.
1) What did you come here hoping people would ask you about?
2) What did you come here hoping people wouldn't ask you about?
Do you think Fate of Atlantis can be made into a movie? Do you think these point and click adventure will make a comeback?
Nice, friendly and easy questions.
Difficult and hostile questions.
Can be - sure! Will be - very unlikely. Steven Spielberg enjoyed it - he is a hard-core game player, I have a lot of stories of seeing how dedicated to games he is - but he has plenty of ideas of his own about Indiana Jones, as does George. I got to brainstorm with the two of them together when I was the first project leader on The Dig, and really respect their depth of knowledge and their creativity, so I don't think it will be chosen as a movie plot, unless at some future point there is perhaps an animated series like George has done with Star Wars, giving them the option to explore many different stories.
As to point-and-click, it's already made something of a comeback, I'm amazed at how many new games are being made in the genre. I'll put in a plug for an indie game called Agatha Knife, from a Spanish studio called Mango Protocol. I saw it at a conference in Barcelona last year and it's just been released, very biting satire and funny, although it takes a lot of swipes at organized religion and has a pretty (charmingly) horrifying premise. I'm excited to see how the genre has stayed alive and in recent years, grown quite a bit. But it will never be as central as it was in the late 80's/early 90's.
Can you comment on how tall you are? My father and I saw you last year at "En kväll i New York" at the Apollo Theater and remarked that you are a bit shorter than our 6ft selves.
What would you say is an often overlooked aspect of game development by most people?
Hmm, I'll answer that from the viewpoint of developing games, not playing them, I think that's what you're after but correct me if I'm wrong. Writers (if the game involves writing/story) often are short-changed, with professional writers only brought in mid-way or later in the game, when the best story games have good writers on board from the first day. Musicians also feel overlooked, but unless it's a music-oriented game I don't think they have as good a case.
I grew up playing fate of Atlantis and have almost gotten a tattoo of Sophia's necklace or the oricalcum statue thing. Where did all of the art come from? Also, was there any real strategy involved in the fist fighting? I quickly learned the sucker punch command and ended most fist fights as soon as they started, since I was an impatient kid, but was there more to it? Was I missing out on some sweet mortal kombat-esque fighting sequences?
All of it was created by the artists on the team, inspired by Minoan art and directed in some cases by Hal Barwood. There are some fans that have created versions of the necklace and statue, really quite nice, you can track them down online. I bought a few for myself from someone in Spain who shipped them. A tattoo would be awesome, I know someone with a Sinistar tattoo but not any Fate of Atlantis ones, but I expect they're out there.
Hello. Mr. Pagrotsky. I am interested in scientific research in Sweden. What are the fields that Sweden has excelled in? Is there room to grow? If a scientist wants to go to Sweden either to immigrate or do collaborative research for a period of time, or maybe teach, what are the steps one could take? I have been to the Stockholm Water Week, and it was a fantastic event.
What were the challenges of working on a 4th Indiana Jones story when there were already episodes/stories in existence? Was it difficult to come up with something new & fresh while still keeping within the general feel of an Indiana Jones story?
The first step is to visit: https://studyinsweden.se https://studyinsweden.se/plan-your-studies/degree-programmes/phd-studies/
Many programs are available in English at every university. Welcome!
No, it was a pleasure. We had lots of ideas - had narrowed it down to the one we chose, and one about a quest to find Excalibur, but rejected that one because it wouldn't have easily given Jones a reason to go anywhere but England, while Atlantis gave us a lot more interesting options. Game developers always have many more ideas than time and resources to implement them.
Red rooster isn't a Swedish restaurant it's just run by a swede! They serve soul food.
do you think games are any more violent today than they were in the 80's?
I recognize many of the flavors. Fun fact: Marcus Samulesson and I grew up in the same suburb.
Hard to say - objectively, probably so, but I think that's mostly a result of the power of the platforms and the graphics. If you look at books, movies, even opera, themes of live and death - and violence - have always been popular, although with games as with other media the violent ones are minority of the total.
The alternative-right have created a narrative of Sweden being on the verge of collapse due to muslims. I am sure that with your role you often get confronted with this perspective.
How do you refute this false narrative when you come across it?
Do ordinary Swedes know about this narrative? If so, what has the reaction been in Sweden?
was there a particular reason for you not working on Indiana Jones & the Infernal Machine? :)
Ordinary Swedes don't know about the fake narrative that Sweden is on the verge of collapse, and would not recognize it if they knew about it. The reality is so different that such statements sound absurd to us. Sweden is in good shape, the economy grows twice as fast as that of the US, employment is the highest in Europe and growing, crime rates are on a level Americans can only dream of, the budget and foreign trade are both in very big surpluses. If that's called a collapse, I suppose many countries would vote for it.
I wasn't at LucasArts by then! I was working at The 3DO company on their game console (first one using a CD drive as standard).
Interesting question - with all of my games I usually know even before they are shipped of several things I would have like to have done differently, but didn't have the time. I think that's very common among designers, we're always tinkering and if you indulge the urge to change everything, you end up with one of those disasters that goes on for years and never comes out. Like - no, I won't be catty. I think that with hindsight, I would have made the most changes to Koronis Rift, the first game I did at LucasArts. Looking back, I made many mistakes that a rookie designer tends to make, chief among them trying to do too much, and also putting too much effort into parts of the game that weren't enhancing gameplay. In some ways that was one of the very first FPS games, and I think I could have made it a lot more exciting if I'd made it less strategic.
Tough call. Ruling out games I worked on myself, I guess the first one that comes to mind is Star Control 2, I loved that game. Very creative, and a great blend of story and gameplay.
What's your favorite adventure game?
Do you think point and click adventures still have a place in modern gaming?
What could developers do to make them more attractive to a wider audience?
Fav adventure game - probably Monkey Island 2. I didn't have a lot to do with the production, so I didn't get sick of it from having to play it too often. I think Ron, Dave and Tim made an amazing team, and certainly brainstorming with them was incredibly fun, and seeing how the game came out, there were many bits that would make me laugh even after seeing the same joke many times. I still remember one of my favorite points in making the game, where we were talking about how Guybrush could slide down a rope - "What if he used a hook?" "Not funny enough" "How about a rubber chicken?" "Nah, a rubber chicken wouldn't slide, you'd get stuck." Silent thought, and then someone (could have been me, I honestly don't know because several of us can't agree) said, "not if it was a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle" - and we all cracked up. Modern gaming - see above, I'm happy to see as a genre they're doing pretty well, but I don't think they'll ever be as popular as they used to be.
More attractive - Hal Barwood and I had an idea we toyed with in Mata Hari involving turning dialog and information into physical tokens. I still think we could go much farther - we came up with the idea fairly far into design, and if we designed a game from scratch around it I think it could be amazing - but I doubt it would make them really mainstream. I think they're an acquired taste, and it's like a specific genre, e.g. "mockumentaries" that some people find really enjoyable, but never are breakout hits these days.
Sinistar was awesome! Did you believe at the time that the inclusion of synthesized speech in games would develop into full speech soundtracks or were you of the opinion that it was a passing novelty?
It was too new, we just thought it would be fun to try. Sinistar wasn't the first arcade game to add speech, but it was the first one I think to create a specific character, and with only 7 utterances (see this for a marvelous analysis: http://onastick.net/drew/sinistar/ ) Ken Fedesna, the head of engineering, was responsible for giving us the permission and encouragement to use the speech chip, it had been developed for a pinball game (Black Knight? I don't recall) and he thought it would be a good fit for Sinistar. It definitely is what most people remember from the game.
Could there ever be a game that is pure character study, without missions or objectives? Like Glengarry Glen Ross: The Game?
Sure, and I'm positive it's been done with some of the indie art games, I'm not a big player of that style of game but I've seen enough to think it must have been done. "Her Story" on mobile games is kind of that, although arguably so.
What advice would you give to the parent of a pre-teen, who's absolutely nuts about making games, game-design, programming and playing?
They've a talent and knack (from my v. limited perspective), how do I support, encourage and engage without being pushy? (ie. balance of playing vs. creating).
Any pointers from your experience on the 'making side' gratefully received.
The gateway these days is often Minecraft, I'd recommend that if your child hasn't yet tried it, it's often a way people get started, particularly 10 year old boys it seems. But I'd also recommend checking out one of the several publicly available game making programs that require very little programming expertise, can't recall a particular one at the moment, sorry! But playing stuff your kid makes is a good idea.
Sinistar kicked a$$!! Was there any way to get past the 3rd level? I've seen people playing old games (Asteroids comes to mind) to the point where they could play indefinitely. Sinistar was a BEAST. I probably paid for your kids college trying (and failing) to survive the 3rd level.
Hah, I didn't ever get a cut of the profits from the game - but I did get my first car with bonus money, so thanks! Sure, I've gotten to level 5, and know many people who have gone higher, but it is of course extremely difficult. See above for why that is.
Nope, I have only been to one E3 in the last ten years, don't find it very useful for me any more.
Did you ever receive complaints in the mail about Sinistar? I wasn't around in the 80's but that game seems absolutely mentally scarring, and I can't imagine it went through without some sort of controversy, internal or otherwise.
Whoops, tried to reply to this but something went wrong. Anyway, no, there wasn't any controversy - people liked being startled for the most part, a few were resentful but most people thought it was a fun surprise, and got over it quickly. In a crowded, noisy arcade I don't think it was particularly scary.
How much easier did game development went once you started developing for machines with actual operating systems?
When you guys made games back in the old days, a lot of that stuff was done without any kind of middleware or sophisticated tools - literally just commands executed directly on the hardware. Yet those games are still some of the most fun, clever, and memorable games of my lifetime.
It was pretty gradual as OS improved and tools became available. I'm glad you liked the old games, but overall I think the quality of games overall has improved, we just tend to have nostalgia for the ones we saw when we were younger.
Which of your games do you still dust off and play, just to enjoy playing them?
I don't - just never been motivated to go back much. The one I most miss playing (but that I'd rather play a modern version of) was Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. And I wasn't very heavily involved in the development of that, it was very much Larry Holland's work.
What is your opinion on games having loads of DLC and no game? Also Whats your opinion on competitive shooters like CSGO and Overwatch?
Not sure what you're referring to, I guess I'm not playing games of that sort. I've never played CSGO or Overwatch. So many types of games now, and I've spent more time on VR and to some extent mobile games recently.
I'm a 28 yo male that wants to be a video game producer. I'm going back to school in the fall to finish up my degree in computer science with a minor in business. What steps do I need to make so that my dream becomes a reality?
There are entry level producer positions - assistant producer or possibly another unique name. www.gamasutra.com has lots of job listings. If you are a competent coder you may well find it easier to get a job using those skills and work internally in a game company to become a producer.
Hi! Developer here. I want to ask you how marketing was for you. How did you maintain a following? Did you gain subscribers on YouTube or followers for your blog about your game?
I don't think that's relevant for me - I didn't market my own games, I've always worked for companies or clients who either handled that, or in the cases of some games, gave them away for free to the people who needed them.
I'm a computer science major and graduating this year. How do you suggest I get into working for a game company? I've applied to internships with no luck, and I have been making games in my free time already. Here is a link to one I made last semester if curious. https://youtu.be/rKxdbytKNtA
Keep making games, and be persistent. It's a cliche, but that's by far the best way. Persistence is key, keep trying. If you are a programmer I think you'll succeed, don't insist on a job where you get to do the design yourself and you'll get in the door.