Getting from Here to There
were working on a violent title like Command & Conquer 3, but on the
other hand, BreakAway does all this altruistic stuff in its serious games.
TH: Right. As games are becoming more realistic, as they’re becoming
better at what they’re supposed to represent, the lines are becoming
blurred, and I recognize that.
I loved playing the original Doom and the original Quake. But I
can’t play Doom 3 because I dislike horror movies. After the first level,
it freaked me out so much that I had to put it down.
Some games, such as what the U.S. Army has put together, are
amazing in terms of technology, but at the same time, are a little disturbing in what they are portraying.
But I don’t have a hard stance on violent video games; different
games for different people. And while I don’t play violent games I
think for the most part those types of games are used as a scapegoat,
particularly when people act out and blame their actions on a game. I
do recognize that games, like movies, have the ability to evoke emotion. But neither games nor movies make a person behave outside
their norm. As I understand it, studies have been performed that show
while aggressive people may play “aggressive” games, aggressive games
do not convert docile people into being more combative. At the most,
playing violent games is a cathartic activity.
Crossroads: It’s really interesting to consider the fact that if you go in
to study computer science or programming, nobody would ever on
that basis accuse you of having bad intentions or doing some sort of ill
to the world, until it becomes clear that you intend to program video
games, or that you know about hacker culture. Those things are so
intertwined in one sense, in the popular culture sense, but then in the
academic sense, we think of people who study computer science as
being very very different, almost harmless or geeky. It’s kind of funny.
TH: It is.
Crossroads: I wanted to also ask about your involvement with the
International Game Developers Association (IGDA). You’re the president of your local chapter, is that right?
TH: I could be considered the president, but we call the position chapter chair. It’s the person with the responsibility of coordinating the rest
of the board.
In 2006, when I was creating Geek House Games, I wanted to get
a local IGDA chapter started in Baltimore because although there was
one in Washington D.C., that’s a far commute from Baltimore, particularly after a full day’s work.
I knew about the IGDA from attending a few Game Developers
Conferences, but I had held off because I heard through the local
grapevine that there was someone else at BreakAway who was already
trying to start a local chapter.
And so while I waited for it to start, I began having meetings in my
house with some friends. Once a month, everyone would come over
and show what games they had, whether they were board games or
computer games or computer systems. Once Geek House Games
started to get rolling, I realized I should just try to start to create an
IGDA chapter because I didn’t know if the grapevine was correct or if
that other person had time to follow through.
Once I contacted the IGDA headquarters, they put me in contact
with Jonathan Hamel, who was the game designer at BreakAway look-
ing to start a local chapter. He and I came together with Soren
Johnson, who was working at Firaxis at the time, and Paul Stephanouk,
who was a lead game designer at Big Huge Games.
The four of us talked over coffee about what it would be like for us
to create a chapter, and then in 2006 we kicked off the first meeting at
The Tree House Lounge. It was only later that I discovered this was a
place where Microprose developers use to hang out at in the 1980s.
Jonathan was elected chair for the first two years, and I have been
elected chair the past two years.
Our chapter has been strong, with 50/50 attendance from developers at the local AAA studios, and the other half comprising indies
and educational institutions with game-related programs.
Crossroads: What are some of those in your area?
TH: Studio-wise, we have Firaxis Games, ZeniMax, Day 1 Studios,
Digital Steamworks, Big Huge Games, BreakAway Games, and most
recently Zynga and Kalypso have set up shops.
Crossroads: What are some of the universities or institutes?
TH: We have had tremendous support from UMBC [University of
Maryland, Baltimore County], UB [University of Baltimore], and
MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art]. They’ve been refining their
programs for a few years and they’ve had excellent curriculum for getting students ready for game development. Recently Johns Hopkins
University has started a game-related program, as well as a few other
universities outside of the immediate Baltimore area.
Crossroads: What do you think those students get out of attending an
IGDA meeting? Can you describe what goes on at the meetings your
TH: We have a broad spectrum of meetings, but we always try to make
the topic accessible to anyone regardless of what discipline they’re in—
programming, animation, game design, and so forth. We want to
make it interesting enough so that after spending all day working on
music or art or code, developers will still want to come out. If it’s interesting to them, it should be interesting to the students as well.
We’ve done some postmortems of games. We’ve had Day 1 Studios
talk about how they built the engine they use inside of Fracture. We’ve
had a few other companies outside Baltimore, such as Fallen Earth,
come out to promote their upcoming MMO. Scaleform, who are
located in D.C., came up and promoted their GFx 3.0 user interface
solution about a month before they premiered it at GDC’09.
We occasionally have topics that are not tied directly to a game, but
broader topics, such as what makes a game fun, or this month we
talked about all the new input devices that are out, from the additions
on the Wiimote to Microsoft Natal, and hosted a roundtable discussion on how they’re shaping the industry.
Once every year, we hold our biggest meeting with slightly over a
hundred attendees, where we have an indie and student showcase of
games. In the last two years, BreakAway has been kind enough to host
it. We set up game stations all around for students and indie game
developers to set up their games. The first year we tried this format,
Firaxis hosted it. I hope we can have each Hunt Valley studio host one
of these meetings as time rolls on.
This year we were lucky to have Sid Meier and Firaxis’s executive
producer Barry Caudil, make time to see the games. That was a treat for