April 26, 2003 at 5:38 am #25211
Firstly, a big thanks! I spent the early years of my life playing Sierra games. It’s funny how you talk about genres of games and Sierra is all by itself.
Anyway, the first game I ever played was Hero Quest (I know, it should be Quest for Glory but it’s always been Hero Quest to me). The quality of the workmanship, the sound, the fact I kept getting killed by those damn brigands at the ambush. I still struggle there even over 10 years later. Oh yeah, and the kick ass art on the box!
Then Space Quest 3, my absolute favorite in the series. The “Sierra Humour”, while in HQ was just bursting at the seems of SQ3. I miss those days….
Anyway, having followed pretty much everything Sierra have done since, and quite a few games before these, I guess I feel part of the family which so many fans felt through your games. It sounds stupid, but I really always followed the game makers even as much as the company. I bought Freddy Pharkas simply because Al Lowe made it.
Seeing you guys have retired, do you know what the rest of the Sierra family are doing now? Are they still in the industry or doing other completely new things?
April 26, 2003 at 8:33 am #25212
(re: Where is everyone now?) I really don’t know what most of them are doing at the moment, but it seems that none of them has actually done anything really interseting after the whole Sierra-Thing blew up. It really makes me sad when i read about Ken and Roberta playing golf – for the past 5 years or so – or Al Lowe launching CyberJoke 3000 as a kind of breakfast entertainment for bored surfers (which, i must confess, has it’s good sides too, because he answered some of my e-Mails now!!!!). However, apparently nobody relly seems to care, which is rather sad, isn’t it?
April 26, 2003 at 9:29 am #25213
(re: Where is everyone now?) Boy, you sound quite glum!
Well, Jane Jensen has worked on her new novel (Dante’s Equation, if I’m not mistaken)…
April 26, 2003 at 10:15 am #25214
(re: Where is everyone now?) It is strange that most of the “great designers” from Sierra aren’t doing games anymore. I’ve been trying to think of who is in the industry and really can’t think of anyone (although there probably is someone I’m forgetting).
I had an email from Jim Walls (Police Quest) recently. He said that he had been at Electronic Arts for the last five years doing games. He was finally exiting the business. Jane Jensen is still writing. And beyond that….
I think it comes down to a few things:
1) Sierra had a unique system that has not been copied anywhere. Be it good or bad, Sierra’s “style” was unusual. My opinion was that computer games were like books or records, and that one person should be the “artist” responsible for the product. I always wanted one person on the game who was accountable for everything in the game. I called this person the “designer”. All creative decisions had to be signed off on by the “designer”. If the game succeeded, the designer got to do another game. If it was a hit, their budget got bigger. If it was a disaster, their career was over. This sounds good in concept but is difficult to implement. As game budgets grew over the years, small 5 person teams became 50 or 100 person teams. Each team member wants to leave their creative vision on the project. In my experience, each team member “believes” that they know more than the designer. The art director tends to believe they have a better vision for the art than the designer. The lead programmer tends to believe they understand technology better than the designer. And on, and on. On a small team, one person can make their creative vision for a product happen. On a huge team, the resulting product can become “design by committee”. A large part of my job at Sierra was ensuring that the teams were listening to the designer, and that the products weren’t becoming the work of a corporate bureaucracy. Once I left, the designers found they didn’t have the same level of management support, and the system collapsed. I don’t think many (any?) game companies exist today that really “feature” strong designers.
2) After the sale of Sierra, I think there was a backlash against the “prior regime”. Perhaps there is a reason why many of Sierra’s designers were never offered more projects, but I can’t think of it. I don’t really want to name names, but there are at least a couple of designers who always shipped mega-hits, who shipped projects on-time, and on-budget, but who Sierra seems to want nothing to do with.
3) Most of Sierra’s designers are “adventure game” designers. It’s what they do. For instance Roberta has said “I design adventure games. I have no interest in designing a action game. When adventure games come back into fashion, I’ll consider doing another game.” Right now, there really isn’t a market for adventure games, even ones that are well done.
4) This could be a factor: Anyone designing games in the early days of Sierra is “older” now. Most games are bought by kids. To be honest, none of the early Sierra folk are kids anymore. You need to be able to relate to your target audience. I have much less in common with a skate-board riding, snowboarding, rap-music listening youth than I used to. I always said that the best designers were those who “lived and breathed” their games. If someone wanted to do a racing game, their whole life should revolve around racing. If they want to do a civil war game, their whole life should be about the civil war. Most of the market today is hard-edged action games. I’m not sure most of Sierra’s designers “live and breathe” that kind of product.
April 26, 2003 at 8:22 pm #25215
(re: Where is everyone now?) Well, Mark Seibert (whose website is in the links area), former musician / producer at Sierra, is working for a new game company in Baltimore called Gentle Revolution Software, making PS2 and PC games. I don’t know of any other former Sierra staff.
I meant to say it before but it seems like Ken is having a great time, playing golf every day!
April 27, 2003 at 4:47 pm #25216
(re: Where is everyone now?)
If you look in the links section you’ll find a lot of sites that will tell you about the old designers and what they are doing.
May 4, 2003 at 5:58 pm #25217
(re: Where is everyone now?) Ken,
I read your letter above and I think you are wrong. You were sounding like the new Sierra Guys there. Gaming was definatly for the younger audiance when you sold Sierra and remained that way for a very long time but I have been to game sites and read a lot of what there designers are saying now. There are a lot of them claiming that they have been missing too much of the market because of targeting the younger male players with arcade and action games. Two companies that are talking about this right now are Her Interactive , Makers of the Nancy Drew sieries and Microids , Makers of Syberia.
May 10, 2003 at 8:51 am #25218
(re: Where is everyone now?) I would also say that games aren’t just kids stuff nowadays, and adventure games do sell, look at Syberia and The Longest Journey. It’s all about marketing the product.
And there is still designers that want to have control over everything when they make a game, and with success, look at Tim Schafer for example. His games, DOTT, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango where all great games with Tim as a Director/Producer in charge of almost everything. And I think that his newest game, which is still in development, Psychonauts also is Tim’s “own” game, or as I have read somewhere: “Tim’s games is his own babies” or something like that. I hope I made my point.
September 3, 2004 at 6:57 pm #25219
(re: Where is everyone now?) Very good points, but I can think of a game company that features a strong designer – Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto designed or produced just about all of their major hit games.
But other than that, I cant think of any designers either – there are some that claim to be professional designers, but seem to be one-hit wonders in denial 🙂
September 4, 2004 at 1:35 pm #25220
(re: Where is everyone now?)
Yes, there are plenty of other strong designers like Miyamoto. There’s Hideo Kojima who does the Metal Gear games (which I despise and would love to digress on…). There’s guys at Sega, Square, etc. I would imagine that most games are still produced with one “designer”, but that some of the designers are more high-profile than others.