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Interview With Art Min, ex-LGlass'er

Art Min is an ex-Looking Glass employee who was one of the contributors to such LG games as System Shock, and Terra Nova. He then moved on to start his own company, Multitude, where he created one of finer games in the past few years, the fine online squad combat game, FireTeam. We conducted an interview with him, regarding his experience at Looking Glass, as well as some questions regarding gaming in general. Note: This interview was conducted several months ago -- it was 'stored' in our archive, and so we decided to release it.

"Since I'm outside the 'glass' - I'll answer the questions I can, and that may give you an interesting perspective (possibly)." - Art

Looking Glass


1) Looking Glass is sometimes perceived as a company which makes very good games that somehow don't sell as well as they should. Is this accurate at all?

Well, who decides how "well SHOULD they sell". I think LG games are deeper gaming experiences for those who get it. So I believe LG games are games that should be $100 premium games for the "small" group of people that want to buy them. The interesting thing is that niche markets these days are nicely sized. I mean Thief isn't going to sell a million units but it'll sell a decent amount. And if EA pushes System Shock 2 - that could do VERY well.

2) What makes Looking Glass different from other developers?

There's very much a "analytical" view of game design at Looking Glass that is very rare elsewhere. I think it has to do with the largely MIT heritage that LG has. MIT teaches very analytical thinking and process and it carried over to LG, besides the fact that many people had to be reasonably smart to even get into MIT. This has carried over to Multitude, where we too have a very analytical view of game design. I believe LG has been driven by Doug Church's vision of doing something different and saying "screw derivative" titles and what the market thinks they "want". He believes in using the medium to do something unique.

3) What led you to do two very different types, a flight sim and a golf game?

Flight Unlimited was underway when I started at LG, about 1993. And it was there because Seamus Blackley had a vision for a flight simulator and Seamus had great physics demos and great charisma which probably led to the beginning of FU. As for Golf, I remember that being a project that we had a few resources that really wanted to do it and the Golf market is pretty big (as we did a bunch of Links port to the Mac) although crowded. Then the project mushroomed into taking over a large amount of the development resources (I left the company before this point).

4) We have received tons of emails regarding just what "Salt the Fries" means. Can you explain this to us?

I'm not sure if I told this story to anybody before or if anybody knows the true story (some may dispute this). It was some Saturday at LG, when we were working on System Shock. I had to go to McDonalds and get the order for everybody (low man on the totem pole back then and I had a car. I ordered so much food that they had to give it to me in a box, a box which the fries came in. That box said "Salt The Fries" on the outside and I believe the development team fell in love with that saying and the rest is history.

5) What's your favorite LG came? Were you part of the dev team? What did you contribute?

Shock is clearly my favorite game - it was a VERY tight team that just rocked. It was my first project and I was spoiled - the team and design was just awesome - I have yet to repeat the fun and excitement of that project. As for my role on Shock, I did game system stuff - like one of my first jobs was the vmail animation system and the biorhythms. I eventually wrote the combat code and other miscellaneous game system code.

Personal


1) Please introduce yourself (what you do, games you have/are working on, etc..)

Art Min. I started at LG in 1993, as a game programmer on System Shock as a summer intern. I also worked there my senior year at MIT "part-time" 40-60 hours/week. I graduated and started working on Terra Nova as a game programmer, got promoted to lead game programmer, and then eventually lead programmer of Terra Nova. There I worked with Dan Schmidt (project leader) on getting that game done. At that point, I left LG and moved back to California (where I grew up before going to MIT). There, I started Multitude, with Looking Glass co-founder, Ned Lerner. I designed and was the project leader of FireTeam, a squad based internet game. Various LG-associated people worked on FireTeam, Harvey Smith (QA lead on System Shock) helped me as lead designer after I got the basics of FT down. And Rob Fermier had a brief stint helping us write game code.

2) What's the best part of making games? And the worst?

The creative process is the best part about making games - we're working in a medium that has so much possibilities to give an experience that no other medium can give. Interactive, immersive entertainment. It's an amazing mix of cutting-edge technology and the creative process. With games, there is no right answer since it's a lot about "fun" and game balance which is unquantifiable. This is why it's interesting to apply the "analytical" skills to the game design process.

The worst is the lack of time - there's just so much we could do. And we're also working on a moving platform - I mean the Voodoo 3 just came out. Games take 18-36 months. So if we started working on a game are we writing for Voodoo 3, Voodoo 4, or Voodoo 5? Windows 2000, Windows 2002? How much memory? What are the markets going to be like? Never mind the pressure from the publishers who want the game yesterday or the investors. As long as people realize that they shouldn't be held to the advances in technology. Game design and the experience is the important thing. It's hard to balance all this when you don't have enough time.

3) How did each of you get interested in games? How did you get into the game industry? What are your favorite games, and why?

I remember getting an Apple II a long time ago. Playing Temple of Apshai, Lode Runner, Apple Panic, etc. There I played Ultima IV, V, and VI for many, many hours. I got interested in the computer from all this, but didn't do any real serious programming until I got to MIT. And from MIT, that's where I met the guys at Looking Glass. The event that changed my life - interviewing with Seamus and Doug.

My favorite games are strategy games and role playing games. I like stories in RPG and the experience of being somewhere else. And I like strategy games for the planning and thinking.

4) Was there ever a time where you were completely psyched about a game you were helping in creating, but at the end were disappointed at how it turned out?

Terra Nova could have been much better - but we were under pressures to ship (due to an overexcited VP of Product Development) and a few weeks could have really helped the project out. I also think that the team finally came together near the end of the project and that was a little too late to make the missions much better.

5) Can you give us a description of your typical day in the office? What's the best part of the day? The worst?

Best part of the day is 3AM when you finally figure out a bug or problem or finished some code that put some REALLY cool feature in.

Worst part of the day is generally when you get distracted by lots of email, meetings, web surfing and you've realized that you got nothing done.

6) What do you consider to be the 'perfect' game?

I plead the fifth on this one.

7) Do you have any important words of advice to those still in college (or high school) who want to become involved in the gaming industry? Any do's and dont's? Is Computer Science a 'must'?

A computer science degree is not a must. Understanding about games, a good thought process, and a good understanding about the technical issues (coding for example) are what's important. Those who are interested in getting into the game industry should show a commitment to learning and striving to be better at the game development process. Taking computer classes is always great since we work in a technical medium. Write simple games on your own, learn the process. Create maps using the world builders - think about how to make games that you played better. Write it down and repeat the process.

8) What do you enjoy doing, other than making games? Any particularly cool (or odd) hobbies?

I personally really enjoy skiing, hockey, and painting. I've been trying to learn painting on my own but plan to take some classes this summer. I play on an ice hockey team in the area.

9) Tell us about your teenage/college years- what did you spend time doing? Were you a good student? Where did you attend, and what was your major?

I spent my time studying and being a big nerd. I was very studious, which I guess is from my asian upbringing. I was a pretty good student until I started working at LG. I got a Computer Science degree from MIT.

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