Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Westwood Associates .. Studios .. whatever

Kotaku recently did a post on Westwood Studios, called Let's Pour One Out for Westwood Studios. The gist of the story is comparing the take-over of Westwood to EA's new acquisition of PopCap. You can read the article here - Westwood Studios

Kotaku got a number of things right. When you're purchased by EA, it's a slow and painful assimilation. I saw first-hand what it did to many of my friends and if I have any advice to the employees of PopCap; it's don't purchase anything you can't fit into a suitcase.

Kotaku also go a few things wrong. But first let me -es'plain ...

A long time ago, in the late 80's I worked for Westwood Associates. I guess you could call me an employee - although I only made around 17k a year, had no health insurance and at that time Brett Sperry, the owner tried to convince everyone to be a contractor. - this is NOT a hit piece on Westwood, they were small, had no money and were trying to compete with well established companies. Not to mention we were all in our twenties and had no idea what the hell we were doing. So no regrets ..

That's me in the back by an eye.
I was a designer and a writer. I was a designer on Dune II. I was a writer on Eye of the Beholder II and there were other products.

I am not going to go into the whole history of Westwood. I will save that for another post. I'm just going to address some of the conclusion in the Kotaku post.

1. Brett Sperry was not the originator of the RTS. It was a game called Herzog Zwei created by Technosoft. A great little two-player game for the SEGA. Everyone loved playing it at the office. In another post, I will explain how Dune II became an RTS - mostly due to a wretched French company called - Cryo Interactive.

Brett was genius at taking embryos of ideas and designs and making them into something great. He did the same thing with Eye of the Beholder, Circuit's Edge and even Kyrandia. Why some company like Apple never picked Brett up as a VP of design I'll never understand.

2. Eye of the Beholder was NOT just another RP. It was the first (okay second) interactive RP. Games like Black Ops and Halo can thank EoB for establishing the engine. Also, games like World of Warcraft have taken a step backwards - they could learn a thing or two from EoB. *Trivia* - If you really want to the see the first - very first off-rail FPS game - check out DragonStrike. Louis Castle has an incredible mind.

So here is a big, huge, money-making tip for any wanna-be designer from your friend, The Mighty Kmuzu. Go git yerself a copy of EoB, EoB II and Lands of Lore. Play the crap out them and start  thinking of elements in those games that have vanished from modern day RP games. You will make a bucket load of money. good luck .

3. EA was not the destroyer of Westwood. Brett lit the fuse long before EA came around. Once again this is not a hit piece. I do not blame Brett or Louis, nor do I think they acted unreasonably. It was those damn Brits at Virgin Interactive. Brett fell in love (in a platonic way) with the guys at Virgin - hell, we all fell in love with the guys at Virgin. They were charming, funny and from Irvine - which at the time seemed a whole lot more groovy place than Las Vegas.

I left Westwood before Virgin actually took over. I did wait until after Virgin drove us all down in a bus to a some huge park for a party. The volleyball game between Westwood and Virgin is a priceless memory.. I will tell that amazing, funny story later.

After Virgin, there was Viacom and after that, EA grabbed what was left .. and by that time the poker game was pretty much over.

4. Westwood is not gone. It still remains today in Petroglyph Games. It's not run by Brett or Louis anymore, It's run by Mike Legg and Joe Bostic. And quite frankly, I think they're doing a better job - to be fair, its almost 30 years later and both Mike and Joe have a lot more maturity and experience under their belt.

I'm fairly sure Petroglyph is going to stay independent for a while. You can thank EA for making Mike and Joe gun shy about the beauty and fun of an acquisition.

I smell what this article is cooking and I agree, PopCap has no idea what's in store for them. EA has not been a design or game company for a long, long time. They're some kind of distribution company, who don't care if the games are good or bad or whatever - as long as it gets to the channel on time.

Kotaku Article --> Westood Studios

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