RVG Interviews Brian Fargo.
Here is our latest interview with the fantastic Brian Fargo, Brian was the founder of Interplay where he and his team developed Bard’s Tale, Wasteland, Fallout, and many other games like Mindshadow and Battle Chess.
Brian eventually left Interplay and started InXile Entertainment who had a fantastically successful Kickstarter campaign for Wasteland 2. Below is a list of some of the games Brian has been involved with.
Tales of the Unknown: Volume I – The Bard’s Tale 1985 Writer
The Bard’s Tale II: The Destiny Knight 1986 Writer
The Bard’s Tale III: Thief of Fate 1988 Director
Battle Chess 1988 Producer
Battle Chess II: Chinese Chess 1990 Producer
Blood & Magic 1996 Executive producer
Borrowed Time 1986 Writer
Clay Fighter 2: Judgement Clay 1994 Executive producer
Castles 1991 Designer (assistance)/Producer
Castles: The Northern Campaign 1992 Executive producer
Claymates 1993 Executive producer
Fallout 1997 Executive producer
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I 1990 Executive producer
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Vol. II: The Two Towers 1991 Executive producer
Mario Teaches Typing 1992 Executive Producer
Line Rider 2007 Executive producer
RoboCop Versus The Terminator 1993 Executive producer
SimCity Enhanced CD-ROM 1993 Executive producer
Star Trek: 25th Anniversary 1992 Executive producer
Star Trek: Judgment Rites 1993 Executive producer
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy 1997 Director (project leader)
Total Recall 1990 Programmer
Wasteland 1988 Director
Wasteland 2 2014 Director/Producer
Wild Wild Racing 2000 Executive producer
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, can you tell us how your career in the games industry started, how did you land your first big job?
I guess I created my first big job in starting my own game company when I graduated from high school. It was shortly thereafter I was discovered replenishing inventory at a computer store by a local entrepreneur who was starting his own games company called Boone Software. I spent about a year managing their development before I felt it was time for to run my own show. This was 1983 and the formation of Interplay Entertainment.
How did you decide on the name Interplay for your company?
I wanted a name that would capture this new medium and the word interactive was certainly a key component for what distinguished a game from other entertainment. Of course the word “play” hit the concept of games head on so it seemed natural to combine the words into Interplay.
Can you tell us what it felt like to be the head of a company you formed that had hit after hit?
Running a games company has you in a mad dash punctuated by a series of challenges and battles on a daily basis so it’s rare to feel the elation she is perceived from the outside. Our annual holiday party was one of the few times you could sit back and reflect with me teams of a job well done. I’m certainly quite proud of that we accomplished at Interplay, especially in light of how minimally financed we were compared to most.
How did you manage to create the games and run a company at the same time?
First priority is to make sure the games are hitting the right notes because otherwise no amount of business acumen in the world is going to help. My focus was always on development and will always be on development. It’s one thing to put the desired sensibilities in a vision document but I tried to make sure we stayed focused on that path.
Can you go into any detail about the Titus take over of Interplay?
It was such a mess of culture clash and unfortunately we were losing too much money at the time, once that happens the management loses credibility even if their ideas are sound. The lack of transition to the console business hurt us and our overhead was way too high for our PC games, we really needed to do a restart but there was some hope of a buyer and a deal came very very close. Once that deal fell apart Titus thought they could do a better job and I was tired of fighting so I flipped them the keys and said “good luck”. It’s hard enough to survive in the games business when the management and board are in sync.
Do you have any stories you can tell us about working in the industry back then? Good and Bad.
Hmmm. The industry was completely different back then, we had to make most our tools by scratch and we were often held back by how much disk space we had. People often think that we used the paragraph for Wasteland as copy protection but in reality we ran out of disk space for just text. Being a small company you are in constant peril, and we only survived and went to the next step based on the hits we had. If Battle Chess, Castles, RPM Racing or Fallout etc had not sold successfully there would have been no Interplay. I loved the camaraderie and mood of Interplay, especially in the 90’s. You’ll often hear how great those times were from the people who worked there, it was really special.
You worked on three different Star Trek titles (25th Anniversary, Starfleet Academy, and Judgement Rites). Are you a Star Trek fan or was this just a great opportunity you chose to grab?
I had to hustle like crazy to get those Star Trek rights and it was not all that popular during the time I was seeking it. I would routinely reach out to Paramount about allowing us to make games on the original series and I couldn’t them to acknowledge my existence. Then one day my friend at Konami calls me and says Paramount is bugging him about making Star Trek games and would I be interested in working on it. For the most part we had stopped doing development work for other people but in this case I agreed that I would make an NES Star Trek game only if I could get the PC rights directly from Paramount. Since Konami didn’t handle PC they agreed and that’s how I managed to get those rights.
You’ve funded various projects through Kickstarter in recent years. What made you decide to go this route?
I had exhausted all possible avenues for making a more classic role-playing game, having pitched traditional publishers, mobile publishers and just pure investors. Even though Fallout was a huge franchise and I had the designers of both Fallout and Wasteland on the team I was unable to secure any kind of financing. Once I saw Tim Schafer fund his game I knew that turning to my audience was my last and only hope. It was quite high drama when we launched and I darn near cried when we made our financing goal.
Lots of industry leaders started their careers under you, you must look back and feel proud of your part in making the industry what it is today and a story that perhaps needs to be shared more?
I am proud of what we accomplished at Interplay and the talent that we helped foster. I often felt like the professor at a small college, trying to inspire and put out fires all day.
I think much of the local gaming scene in Orange County was driven by Interplay and I see the effects of it when I read the paper weekly.
Did you ever do any work for the Konix Multisystem?
I did not and it’s one of the few platforms I can’t remember or never heard of.
Mario Teaches Typing ended up being one of the best received and well remembered educational games of all time, generations of kids learned typing from it. Today there are open source clones and there were many derivatives, such as Typing Of The Dead. Do you feel the same about the success and legacy of educational games in the way that you do about games created mostly as entertainment, or is it different?
I think my impact on educational is far less than that of educational but that’s cool that Mario is so well regarded. It was the first educational title I had done and it became a huge success. It probably would have been better if it wasn’t so profitable because we decided to kick off more educational products like Drawing Discoveries, Learn to Program Basic and Chessmates and none of them did nearly as well as Mario Typing.
Rock n’ Roll Racing often makes be best/underrated games lists and is received very well today by retro gaming enthusiasts; is there another title that you feel never got its’ due (whether it was a hit or not) when released that you think gamers need to give another look?
I put more hours personally into Rock N Roll Racing than almost any game we published at Interplay. The concept came from our joy with an older EA title called Racing Destruction Set with us adding improved visuals, great rock music (that we could afford) and the wonderful announcing of Larry Huffman. I think another game that never was fully appreciated was Sacrifice from Shiny/Interplay. Another game that I sunk thousands of hours into. I even made some real world friends out of my virtual partners I had in the game.
You worked with noted illustrator Garth Ennis of Preacher on Loaded; is there another illustrator you would have liked to have work on a game if given the opportunity?
I didn’t get to personally work with Garth but my dream artist to work with would be one of the Brothers Hilderbrandt. I grew up looking at the calendars they did for the Lord of the Rings and their art is synonymous to Mr. Tolkien’s work to me. Their drama and sweeping nature made me visualize the series like no one else. One the things I enjoy is scouting around the art sites for talent, and it was there that I discovered Andree Wallin and managed to convince him to make us some original pieces for Wasteland 2.
We often hear stories about games with tremendous potential that were never finished and were left to the dustbin of history, short of a leak. Were you involved with any unfinished games that you’d like to mention, or was that something you avoided in your career?
One project that had a fascinating design twist was a time traveling game that was going to come after Wasteland. We were unable to make a Wasteland 2 and I wanted to make use of the code we created and we decided to take on time travel called Meantime. What makes a great RPG is having true consequence, for your actions to ripple across the world. Well, once you have the ability to time travel back to the same places you were after visiting the past it opens up a slew of issues. Our design brains started to really hurt but I always thought there was a gem there.
Battlechess is still my favourite version of computerized Chess, is there any chance of porting the classic first version to IOS or Android, the touch screens would work a wonder on this type of game (along with making quicker decisions than my Amiga back in the late 80s!)
I don’t own the rights to Battle Chess so that wouldn’t be my call but I do have fond memories of this title also. It was so critical that this game was successful as it was the first one that I financed myself and paid for the marketing. We would have been sunk if this didn’t’ work. I actually created a video for what Battle Chess would have looked like had we had full audio for the characters speaking, it was quite funny. I should try and find it.
Do you still maintain relationships with friends or contacts from that time period? If so, how often do you all get together or discuss ideas and things from back in the day?
Every so often I’ll be having a beer with Chris Avellone or Feargus Urquhart and we’ll reminisce a bit but we are a bit too excited about our future games and spend most of our energy on that. It’s nice to be back creating the type of games we like to make in the way we want to make them.