The year was 1986 and my brother and I were heavily into Dungeons and Dragons as well as this really cool new thing known as ’computer gaming’. We’d spend entire nights getting lost in the magic of Bard’s Tale and Ultima. Steve was a silk screen printer and I was teaching high school art classes. In our free time we designed a couple of D & D modules in hopes of selling them; we quickly realized it was nothing we’d make a living at – besides we were having a lot of fun creating art on our Amiga computers.
Then came the fateful night that changed everything. We were at a friend’s house looking at some new Amiga games when we noticed the artwork wasn’t as good as ours. What happened next was a moment I still remember with perfect clarity. Steve turned to me and said "We should make our own computer game". The idea made perfect sense; we could combine our love of role playing and computer gaming. And that was the spark that started the fire.
The beginning was really rough. We had no idea what we were doing but Steve’s roommate had some experience with programming so we explained our idea for a dungeon computer game to him. He said it’d be easy; all we had to do was draw up a grid for the dungeon and then create a separate art file for each of the four directions you could look in from each point on the grid. However, when Steve and I sat down with our 2 room demo dungeon, we quickly realized we’d need hundreds, if not thousands, of individual files to create the gaming experience we wanted.
Steve turned to me and said, "We should make our own computer game". The idea made perfect sense; we could combine our love of role playing and computer gaming.
Looking for help, we found a young programmer named Ben Gokey. He was only 19 years old and self taught, but the programming examples he showed us were very cool. We gave Ben our art files and off he went. Seven days later, Ben showed us what he’d done and it was one of the most exciting things I’d seen in my life. He’d taken our art work and created a small dungeon that you could actually walk around in. It was at that second we KNEW we were going to make a video game.
Realizing it was too much work for one programmer, Ben brought in a friend of his, Rick Johnson. Rick was just as enthusiastic as Ben and filled with creative energy. So fueled by our excitement for the game, the four of us worked for six months in our spare time to build a demo for our first game – BLACK CRYPT for the Amiga.
Proud of our work, we took it to the Amiga users group that met at GENCON in Milwaukee where everyone was amazed. Soon our demo was on almost all of their machines, causing a big crowd to gather around. It was great to see these tough critics getting excited about our work. Even more importantly, this led to our first printed mention in the rumor section of Computer Gaming World. It was a huge moment for us and a much needed source of encouragement.
Fresh from our success at GENCON, we got serious about making a great demo to send out to publishers. Those were good times - very fluid and easy, with lots of creativity...and more than a little friendly competition. We created 5 monsters and every time Steve drew one I would be driven to outdo him which in turn made him want to outdo me. I’m convinced it was that rivalry that gave us such high quality artwork. Also, we had to be resourceful in areas such as sound. The noise of the creature that slid along the ceiling was created by scrapping a microphone across my facial stubble. The smashing of trashcan lids was used for armor. The sound of a heavy stone door sliding closed was really an explosion, mixed in with the roar of a lion playing backwards. Rick even provided a growl for one of the creatures. I also brought in Kevin Schilder, a college buddy of mine who was a high school music teacher, to help us write the music for the opening title of Black Crypt.
Then came the big day. After months of working in our spare time, we pulled a final all-nighter at Ben’s house where we play tested our demo and fixed all the bugs. Then in the early morning, we sent out copies of the game to 10 different publishers. With more than a little anticipation, we settled in for a long wait (we’d been told it would be months before anyone got back to us). Much to our surprise, after sending the game out on a Saturday we had 6 offers by the following Tuesday. Later we found out that the other 4 publishers had a policy of not replying to demos that were sent to them - so basically, everyone loved it. Once the final offers were in, we were flown out to 2 big game companies to discuss publishing deals. After a lot of debate we decided to go with Electronic Arts.
That’s how it all began ... since then we’ve joined forces with Activision and have grown from 4 people to over 100 people. We’ve also acquired a huge new office building complete with a motion capture studio, a sound studio, and 3D scanning equipment. We’ve created many popular titles and sold millions of games. And it all began with one little sentence: "We should make our own computer game."