Love the One You're With

Tom Hall Makes His Move


A legendary game designer, a master at chess, and a skilled photographer, Tom Hall is also a microcosm of the game industry at large. When 2005 started, he was making single-player games for Midway.

By mid-April, his bags were packed and he’d moved to the MMOG capital of the world, Austin, Texas. By August, it was announced that he was hard at work as Creative Director for the new MMOG start-up, KingsIsle Entertainment.

Not much else has been said about KingsIsle or the game they’re developing, except in the game you ” … can do fun things,” and that KingsIsle is well funded and lead by J. Todd Coleman, of Wolfpack Studios fame.

What was it that made Hall want to forge virtual worlds? Understanding his motivations give insight into the industry as a whole. Here, then, are several questions with Tom Hall …

Will you ever do a single player game again, or have MMOGs captured your heart and mind?
“I’m sure I will. Especially if I ever get the rights to Anachronox or Commander Keen back! But I have quite a few cool game ideas just waiting for the right time or technology.”

What is the main difference between a single-player game and an MMOG?
“The social experience. You can talk to folks, you can aid them, you can hinder them. Just the experience of seeing people going on their own agenda makes the world feel amazingly alive. And it provides gaming war stories on a much more epic scale than other games can. Also, it’s one of the longest types of games to play to the end. Pretty much running for the long-distance gold are MMOGs and Baldur’s Gate. Who has that much time to play one game? I wish our industry would get funded to stop for a year, so I could catch up. But I still go in WoW … even though I don’t have that much time to play it … Dang it.”

How is an MMOG different from Deathmatch?
“Well, you have more opportunity to be cooperative. Sure, there’s Capture the Flag and so on, but you can specifically help each other out with personal agendas, like friends do. The bonding over 20 hours is greater than the bonding over 20 minutes. Deathmatch is the one-night stand of gaming.”

What was your first exposure to an MMOG?
Ultima Online. It was really fun, but I was leery of getting sucked in. A friend of mine did that, and played it 16 hours a day straight through the entire Christmas break.”

Which MMOGs have you played?
World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, Star Wars: Galaxies, Lineage II, Project Entropia, There, Runescape, Puzzle Pirates …”

What chain of events prompted you branch out into MMOGs?
“I’d always wanted to do Anachronox Online … Then, I recently got a really interesting idea for an MMOG, and had to do it. So, here I am. Not really a chain, more like one, shiny link.”

What’s surprised you most about working on an MMOG?
“How many there are in development! It’s hard to believe that there are this many people as dumb as I am for attempting this. Okay, okay, there haven’t been really huge surprises, it’s more the different set of needs.”

What hurdles need to be jumped?
“Well, it’s simply the biggest thing you can make. I thought we were insane for doing a Square-sized game with Anachronox. Now I go try to make the only kind of game that’s bigger! Woo hoo!”

What did you think of World of Warcraft?
“I love it, though, of course, sometimes I hate it. I love the beautifully polished world they have. And many of the quests are really fun. It’s one of the prettiest games ever. I just wish some of the interactions were more than right-clicking, there weren’t so many FedEx quests, and that the auction house wasn’t in one place. But man, they really, really did a lot of things right. They single-handedly validated the genre for a lot of people.”

N. Evan Van Zelfden expects great things for the future of games. Games are the greatest art form to date, he asserts. This is why he plays games, writes about them, and continues to work in the industry of games.

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