WarCry Interviews Runic Games’ Travis Baldree


Runic Games Interview
WarCry Network
August 10, 2008

Please introduce yourselves and give us your game development histories.

My name is Travis Baldree. I originally created the Diablo-style Action-RPG FATE, and then went on to build the Flagship Seattle team as Project Director, where we created Mythos, an Action-RPG MMO.

Max Schaefer, my partner, was the Executive Producer for Mythos. He was one of the original Founders of Condor ( which became Blizzard North ), the creators of the Diablo franchise, which needs no introduction. Max went on to become one of the cofounders of Flagship Studios, and we’ve been working together on Mythos for the past few years.

Our fantastic team is comprised of the original members of Flagship Seattle, who have a large number of released titles between them, and who have worked closely together on Mythos through thick and thin.

What is the background for the name “Runic Games”?

I think like most company names, it was a tortuous process of elimination, where everyone had their favorites. A long process of thinking up fantastic names and discovering that someone else already had them resulted in a short list of finalists, and an elimination round determined the winner. I should really come up with a better story though!

When was the decision made to form Runic Games?

Immediately after the dissolution of Flagship Studios, we knew we wanted to get back to doing what we’d started with Mythos. We believe that there really isn’t much in the market like what we were attempting to do – an Action-RPG with a large shared MMO world, and fast-paced randomized dungeon adventuring. Our entire Seattle team is really like a family, and we knew we wanted to stick together, and this seemed like the right thing to do. Maybe sooner than we expected to be doing it – but sometimes you just have to treat life’s unexpected twists as an opportunity.

How many other former Flagship employees are working at Runic?

The entire Flagship Seattle team – 14 all told – has signed onto Runic Games. They’re a hugely talented group, and I couldn’t be happier. The thought of our little family getting scattered to the wind was pretty awful, and I’m breathing a big sigh of relief right now that we’ve managed to stay together.

What type of games is Runic looking to develop?

We believe strongly in the idea behind Mythos – a fast paced Action-MMO that doesn’t require enormous time commitment to play, and favors quick and visceral combat right alongside the social aspects of MMOs. That’s really what we want to deliver, and we think the market could use that type of game right now.

Initially, for which platform will Runic develop games?

The initial plan is to start on the PC, but I don’t really want to rule out consoles. There’s an even more untapped market there, and I’d love to play this sort of game on my 360 from the couch.

Does Runic have plans to develop any games for consoles? If so, do you have any thoughts as to which one(s)?

I think there are advantages to all 3 of the consoles right now, and interesting ways to approach this sort of game on each one – but we don’t have any concrete plans to do so as of yet.

At this point, and we realize this is very early on, does Runic have a business model for the games it develops? For instance, will games be subscription based or micro-transaction based?

It’s hard to say just yet – we definitely believe in the free-to-play model that we were espousing with Mythos, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll be doing it with our first product for certain. I’ll probably be able to answer this question a little more thoroughly in a few weeks.

What lessons were learned during the last several months that will affect the way Runic develops/markets games?

Mythos was an evolving project, and as such we learned a great deal along the way. One of the main things I feel we came away with was a real belief in how important people are to the project, both in the team and in the community. Working closely with our community over a long period of time was hugely beneficial and rewarding for the Mythos project, and the tight-knit nature of our team allowed us to act quickly and effectively when we met problems along the way. One of the other great lessons was that for an MMO to be truly social, you have to maximize the opportunities for players to interact – the move to an Overworld with Mythos, while it presented issues to resolve, was an enormous step forward for us.

When do you plan to release information about games in development?

We’re pursuing several solid possibilities right now, and once we’ve nailed down exactly which one we’ll pursue, we’ll be sure to announce it as soon as possible.

What is your opinion of the “subscription vs microtransaction” debate?

I think there’s value to both models – for a small group like ours, microtransactions have a lot of appeal. With an initial free-to-play release, the barrier to entry for players is seriously lowered, and individuals who might never have tried your game otherwise will actually give it a shot. I think it’s also what makes the 20 dollar casual game market work – the scrappy underdog can make a go of it.

Just for fun, what do you think about the discussion swirling around the “tone and color” of Diablo 3?

Personally, I think what they’ve done with Diablo 3 is fantastic. It seems pretty obvious that the mandate was to make the game look like a concept painting brought to life, and I think they’ve succeeded pretty wildly. The contrast and use of color really works well for an Action-RPG, where there are hordes of monsters and spells, and separation of individual entities is required for satisfying play. I can’t wait to play it! Blizzard is really second-to-none, and I have nothing but admiration for their work. I know a lot of people are lamenting what they see as a move away from the grim vibe of Diablo, but I think a lot of that gothic feel is really sold by a combination of sound, content and story, and the visceral nature of the game – and Blizzard certainly isn’t skimping on the visceral if the videos are any indication. I also feel strongly that there’s some pretty grim content they haven’t bothered to show everyone just yet.

Please take a minute and “talk” to your fans, and they are many.

I’d like to say that I’ve never had such a fantastic experience with a community as we did with Mythos. It was an incredible time, and one that the entire team and myself would like to recreate. We learned a great deal in creating Mythos, and we’re really looking forward to putting that knowledge to work to create something that surpasses it in every way we can. As with Mythos, one of the most important parts of that process is our interaction with you, and we look forward to working together with all of you to make something special. We hope to see you online again soon!


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