Today is my 30 anniversary in the computer game industry. Since I haven't been around as much a bunch of you might not know who I am so I thought this time I'd go into some more details.
My first job was with MicroProse in their coin-op department but when that was shut down I was moved over to the sim group. It was an exciting time for a while but things changed and when a group of us were approached to start a Baltimore studio for Origin, under EA, that would be creating flight sims under the Jane’s Brand we took the opportunity. That went on for a few years, initially under Origin then later under EA directly, but when the stock market took a dive in 2000 and our lease was up instead of moving us to a bigger location and expanding the studio we were shut down instead. Fortunately, after some down time for me, MicroProse was at a point where they were hiring again so I was able to get a job back with them doing an action/adventure game initially for a number of consoles but eventually just for the Xbox. When we finished that up the lease on that building was up and history repeated itself and that studio was closed. Around the time when we had left to join Origin/EA a number of other companies were created out of people leaving MicroProse. One of those was BreakAway which is where I’m at now. Initially the company had planned to focus on sports games but had also found a market for serious games which also could be leveraged into the RTS genre. Initially I was hired to work on a serious game that was an RTS with a large number of units. Over the years the balance of serious vs entertainment titles has shifted back and forth though the serious games have been most of my work the past few years.
This article I wrote quite a few years ago for this site that goes into a lot more details about my time doing flight sim. Below that I’ll put a timeline of the products I’ve worked on that I can show, actually made it to a viable product and that I can find a link about it. For a lot of these my focus was crafting the behaviors of at least some of the AIs though many hats were worn: http://www.SimHQ.com/_commentary/all_047a.html
MicroProse: 1990 – F-15 Strike Eagle arcade game - I haven’t seen this video before, it’s within the past year, but I like that it shows all the different levels:
1991 – Battle of the Solar System (B.O.T.S.S.) - Some footage of our game showed up in U2’s “Better Than the Real Thing” video.
1992 – Super Tank Attack – This isn’t the final version that we actually went with but I think this is the much better game where you try to play against others to get control of the map so I’m glad someone got their hands on that version to MAME. For most of the development you could have up to four people playing and there would be people staying after work to compete. In the final version it was very linear and lost the whole metagame which was why people had fun replaying the game.
1994 – Fleet Defender - Lots of more detail in the article at the top
1995 – Fleet Defender Scenario Disk/Gold – More arenas, missions and we added a basic mission builder. The Gold version was on CD (the new kid on the block) with all sorts of extra multimedia stuff to fill up the space.
1995 – Virtual Karts – Initially it was supposed to be along the lines of a “beer and pretzel” sort of game but then that vision was changed from above.
Origin/Jane’s: 1998 – Jane’s F-15 Video of a run of our demo that I think someone from here did for me. Initial paths were fixed but once engagements started it was all up to the AI so each run of the demo would be different. Obviously not multiple runs of this video however. ;-)
EA/Jane’s 1999/2000 – Jane’s F/A-1A - This is a tribute video someone, again I think from here, did 10 years after the game’s release.
MicroProse (Infogrames / Atari) 2003- Dungeons and Dragons Heroes – Could have up to 4 people playing at once. I really wish they hadn’t cut my lines as the Red Dragon. “But dragons can’t speak….” <sigh>. A video of someone playing the entire game. Unfortunately as the fighter so you can’t see all the interesting spells the guys came up with. There are other videos that show that but this gives a better idea of the amount of content.
BreakAway 2005 netStrike/MOSBY - This kept evolving and getting repurposed for other product so the date is “close enough”. I’d get brought back from time to time to do enhancements as new clients became interesting. From a quick search I could only fine this article that had a couple of images if you scroll to right before the “Serious Game Producers” section: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/serious-games-take-two
2006 – Arabian Lords - An RTS for the Middle Eastern market. Amusingly enough I heard it was banned in Saudi Arabia because the Entertainer unit was too powerful. As one of the team put it, well that means someone played it enough to understand how useful that unit could be. https://www.breakawaygames.com/games/arabian-lords/
2006 – The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-King – We have/had? a Guinness Book entry for the longest game title. :-) Since I was working on two projects at the same time my role on this one was more limited. Still, I was amused/pleased to find out that some of my code from this made it over to Command & Conquer 3. BreakAway also did an expansion for that called Kane’s Wrath and one my friends stumbled across my code while working on something else. Another full walk-through video:
2007? – Relic Hunters - Unfortunately this one never saw the light of day but since we have some video of it on the site, why not show it. While there’s lots of jumping, sliding, grappling and such I had it so that the AIs could, if they had the correct abilities, figure out how to follow you wherever you went. I think this was also where I implemented a breadcrumb system so that if the AIs lost sight of you they’d still have some idea of where you went but if the trail got cold enough they were out of luck. https://www.breakawaygames.com/games/relic-hunters/
2010? - Virtual Borders – This is one of the products base off of the netStrike/MOSBY code. There’s a video so it gives you a better idea of how things work but the scope was more focused for this with a lot less units involved. https://www.breakawaygames.com/games/virtual-borders/
2015-Current – NBCOT Navigator® - This, like netStrike is a project that keeps pulling me back in. There are actually a number of different types of cases and mini-games that are part of it. Most recently I’ve been having to focus on converting this to tablets. https://www.breakawaygames.com/games/nbcot/ This video gives a better idea of what goes on in some of the cases:
PanzerMeyer, that's cool about the place that's been around since the '50s. I think arcades have made a bit of a comeback, usually tied in with a restaurant or bar. Maybe Dave & Busters helped bring some of the interest back. A couple of guys I've worked with have nice personal collections of game and pinball machines. This is a place I'd like to check out sometime:
Mr Blastman, yeah there was a bit more under the hood than a 286. We actually had three board sets working together. There was a Motorola 68000 running the game code, an AMD 29K with some some custom ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits (had to look that one up, I don't think I ever knew what that meant specifically ;-) )) to do the 3D work and a TI-3410 to do the 2D. The boards sat on top of each other with the 68000 on top, the 29K in the middle and the TI-3410 on the bottom. I think one of our units ran about $5-8000 where a standard Street Flighter II machine I think was a little over $1000. Arcade owners wanted to make back their money on a machine within 8 weeks so that was more difficult to do with our machine. One person in the industry called ours a Cadillac machine.
We actually had two other arcade games that we developed to different degrees that never saw the light of day. One was a driving game that I have a prototype unit down in my mom's basement. I have no idea if works anymore. The monitor had a bad capacitor or the like where you'd have to hit things just right to get it to work. Also I think I had blasted the sound chip for it thinking we had another one with that burn since we needed it to archive another chip for the guys who were going to continue to do support for the games. I found out later the other chip either didn't have the data or was corrupted. The chips we'd put in the field machines and prototypes had little windows that you'd cover with a sticker, usually with a version number. To erase them you'd expose the windows and put them in a device with a powerful UV light. Fortunately we didn't have to do this for the dev kits we were working on, usually. The other game was an A-10 where we were planning to have the option to have two machines talking to each other. I started working on it after F-15 and then went back to it after B.O.T.S.S. and had forgot now much fun the prototype was to play but it always was the low priority game. I think part of it was that, especially back then, flying around in 3D was not something most people were used to doing. We also had started working on a location based setup similar to the Battle Tech Centers using SGI Onyx or Crimson machines. I think we used both but one was a lot cheaper so we were switching to that. Between those and the other computers and such we had on the line we would occasionally pop the circuit breaker for our section. One of our team sat right by the box so occasionally he'd reach up to our breaker and if it was starting to get warm he'd say it was time to turn off some of the machines for a while. I'm sure we would have eventually spread the load out but we didn't last much past that point. I have some footage we took of it towards the end I should see about converting to digital, assuming I can find them and the tapes are still viable. They're on S-VHS so that might give me a better shot. I also need to convert a segment on our arcade group that was on a kid's show called, "Not Just News".
Scott, I rank these posts right up there with oldgrognard's flying pics, Dart's construction/destruction mayhem and damson's retro flight sim adventures!
Thanks for the read and videos.
The rusty wire that holds the cork that keeps the anger in Gives way and suddenly it’s day again The sun is in the east Even though the day is done Two suns in the sunset, hmph Could be the human race is run
Congrats and Happy Anniversary.! The article and your posts very nostaglic. You really saw the hey day. Microprose was the best!
I guess you didn't ever work on EAW - European Air War, its another classic flight sim that followed PAW. The AI are a lot of fun. Maybe some parts of all your work made it across pond.
Of course you'd be familiar with the 256 color and the quirky palettes. We still have them, although years ago Some of the PAW and Virtual Karts graphics, even have been extracted and converted for EAW use.
The community made some improvements over the years with former Microprose programmers like Wil Gee got in touch and Infogrames Atari allowed some EAW members to work on code back in 2005 or so. The code is still around.
Thanks. EAW happened after we left to start the Origin/EA Baltimore Studio. TK was still working on Jane's Longbow 2 at the beginning of that and I got to meet him the one time I went down to the main Origin studio in Austin. When I went back to MPS after the EA Baltimore Studio was shut down I was one of the people trying to get the code for people here but it wasn't until after the last bit of MicroProse was closed that it actually happened. If you look at posts on the forum, probably around 2002-2003, you'll see me pop up a few times.