People throughout much of the world are celebrating the new year, a practice dating back to four thousand years ago in Iraq (then called Mesopotamia). However, back then, the new year was celebrated in what we would now call mid-March, around the time of the vernal equinox. The early Roman calendar, which was composed of ten months, designated March 1 as the beginning of the new year, but later changed the start of the year to January 1 at some point after that became the day for the inaugurating new consuls cin 153 BC. Most nations of Western Europe officially adopted 1 January as New Year’s Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian Calendar that we use today.
While the starting point of the new year has always been, to some degree, an arbitrary thing, we still celebrate it as a period of remembrance of the passing year and a fresh start to the new year. However, this year is not an arbitrary celebration for me, because two months ago I taught my final class at The Los Angeles Film School due to the closure of its Game Production and Design degree program, and in two weeks I will start teaching at the ArtCenter College of Design, which has launched a new Game Design track in its Entertainment Design department.
There is much for me to fondly remember about my five years at The Los Angeles Film School, including:
- Brilliant speakers like Google Chief Game Designer Noah Falstein, “Game Thinking” author Amy Jo Kim, and The History Channel’s “Inventions USA” host Reichart Von Wolfsheild visit my classroom, either in person or virtually.
- Taking students on field trips to Activision-Blizzard, E3, and Indiecade.
- Joining in Pokemon Go Level Design Hike to the Wisdom Tree near Los Angeles’ Hollywood Sign.
- Hosting Rally Point Radio Podcast episodes and interviewing game studio managers and executive recruiters.
- Co-hosting an Analog Game Prototyping Event at the John Anson Ford Theater with the International Game Developers Association.
- Having “Unlocked: The World Of Games” and host Sean Astin visit LAFS to tape an episode about our Game Production and Design program.
- Putting on our monthly Game Fair, where our students showcased the awesome analog, video, and virtual reality games they created in class.
I am even more excited about my future at ArtCenter College of Design, one of the country’s leading art and design private colleges. I look forward to revising my approach to teaching game design for a very different student population, and I’ll be sharing my teaching methods and assignments with my readers here as I develop them.
In the meantime, while the start of the new year may still be an arbitrary thing, I still wish all of you the very best for 2019.
Of the sixty or so videogames I have developed, perhaps my favorite was the Heroes of Might & Magic series, thanks in large part to how well we development leads got along with each other. While we worked very hard, we also took the time to have fun with each other. For example, after I had returned from a week’s vacation with my family, my lead designer, Greg Fulton, had told me that they had added a new character to the Armageddon’s Blade expansion in my absence, and he wanted me to review and approve it.
The character the had named the character they added “Sir Mullich”, and the artwork was based on a photograph of me dressed in a Renaissance Fair costume that I had put on a few months earlier for a photograph used as reference for the town leaders in Might & Magic VI, a role-playing game set in the same fictional universe developed by our sister team at New World Computing. However, it was the character’s description that really got to me: Generally stoic, Sir Mullich is prone to spasmodic fits of uncoordinated excitement believed to intimidate his troops into working faster. As I read it, the rest of the team hovered about, waiting to see how I would react.
Fortunately for everyone, I laughed at their joke about my leadership skills (or lack thereof), but told them that they could keep the character (and its description) in the game. Little did I realize how long that character would live on. Not only did Sir Mullich appear in all of the Heroes of Might & Magic games that our team launched from 1999 to 2002, but the character lived on in the Heroes games that Ubisoft continued to develop after buying the franchise from our parent company, The 3DO Company.
“Sir Mullich” also lives on in the many Heroes sites that the series’ fans publish, and I was amazed that when I entered the name into Google for this article, it received 10,600 results. Even more unsettling, I occasionally receive fan mail from all around the world, sometimes with the fans posing with a picture of me. I may not be famous in America, but apparently I have a large enough following in Eastern Europe for my photo to have been hung up in a gamer’s lounge in Poland or there to be Russian fan art of Sir Mullich in DeviantArt.
What most tickles me is the artwork that is produced for this character, which seems to make Sir Mullich less spasmodic and more heroic with each iteration. Just this morning, my contact at Ubisoft, Julien Pirou sent me some fantastic artwork of Sir Mullich created for Might & Magic Era of Chaos, a mobile game released in China. It’s a far more heroic depiction of me than anyone in real life would think, and having created a game that has a worldwide appeal two decades later actually makes me feel more humbled than heroic.
An even stranger experience for me was meeting the real-life incarnation of a video game I had worked on. The protagonist of Dark Seed II, a horror-themed adventure game I had produced for game publisher Cyberdreams based on the artwork of H.R. Giger, was named Mike Dawson. This character was the same as the hero of the first game in the series, whose name and likeness was based on the original game’s programmer.
When I joined Cyberdreams in 1993, Mike Dawson had already left the company, but I did get to meet him twenty years when I joined The Los Angeles Film School, where he taught Game Programming courses. Far from being the tormented and tortured soul from the Dark Seed series, Mike is an impressively normal guy (albeit with a sly sense of humor), but one who is far more heroic than his video-game counterpart for being an absolutely outstanding teacher who just celebrated ten years at The Los Angeles Film School, where he consistently receives the highest praise from his programming students.
So, what’s it like to be someone who is far less heroic than his video game counterpart but having known someone who is actually far more than his? I’m good with that. I originally got into game development to use computers as a storytelling tool, and so I’m thrilled to entertain people with fictional stories that they continue with their own fan art and fan fiction. But even more importantly, it’s given me many opportunities to meet people like Mike Dawson who inspire me with their real-life stories.