"It was really frustrating. The MechWarrior team had at least a year delay to reconstitute ourselves and bring that together."

Bruce Shelley's Ensemble, however, found their culture to be a more perfect fit, and is still making innovative strategy titles for Microsoft, most of which bear the "Age of" label (although the company's latest, which is still in development, is set in the land of Halo). I asked him what it was like being known as the "House of Age." "A year ago," says Shelley, "Tony Goodman, our studio head, had an epiphany about our development plans. We had a second project underway. The team said it would be a really good game, but it was not their dream game. After thinking about that for awhile, he decided to stop that project because he felt it was critical that the leaders on a team at least be very passionate about it.

"We then put together two prototype teams containing some of our best people and told them to create their dream games. A third prototype is now in development. We are hoping that these will all turn into great new products, all very different from Age of Empires. Many of our people really want to do something different.

"If everything takes off, we will have to grow our studios substantially and our culture will have to adjust. MGS has strongly encouraged this new thinking. They would love to have a first-party studio launch some great new products that might become franchises. It is an exciting but daunting challenge, but at this point I don't think our studio has ever had better morale or more excitement."

For Weisman, the personal victories come in smaller sizes. Such as helping colleagues avoid the same fate as his FASA. "It was fascinating to me [in 2001]," he says, "when we were involved in the Bungie acquisition. ... It was kind of eye-opening. We spent a bunch of time talking about how, if indeed we were going to go through with this acquisition, the best case was to leave [Bungie] in Chicago. If that fails, we have to create an isolated situation: They're not a part of Microsoft HR; they're not in the way of that part of the org chart; they're in a totally separate, isolated room. There's that locked box that you leave them in. Because otherwise the same thing will happen to their team that happened to mine.

"While I couldn't convince them to keep it in Chicago, I did convince them to give them a private office and leave them totally alone, which is why I think the Bungie team survived in a much better state and was able to keep a lot of its own development culture rather than get absorbed into the Borg."

Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. He has written and produced for television, theatre and film, has been writing on the web since it was invented and claims to have played every console ever made.

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