David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults, as well as numerous nonfiction books documenting videogame development and culture, including the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Shovel Knight by Boss Fight Books, and Long Live Mortal Kombat, a trilogy delving into the bloody history of the world's most infamous fighting franchise. Follow him on Twitter @davidlcraddock.

GameDev Stories Collection: Volume 1 by David L. Craddock

Now in its eighth installment, GameDev Stories is a treasure trove of information for those in the games industry, as well as those who cherish video games as a hobby. GameDev Stories Collection: Volume 1 rounds up some of the most popular interviews from the first seven installments, providing readers with a best-of gallery and a sampling of all that awaits them in all seven volumes.


You don't get eight books into a series of books that collect your favorite interviews without having to make tough choices about which of those were your absolute favorites. The conversations archived in GameDev Stories Collection were selected from the first seven installments of GameDev Stories, and they don't even scratch the surface of my favorites—but they'll do for a start. -David L. Craddock, curator




I've spent much of my career writing about video games recounting how blockbusters like Doom, Diablo, and Mortal Kombat were made, but I'm just as interested in recounting the making of games you may not have heard of, or perhaps have not thought of in decades. Veil of Darkness is one of those, and one of my favorite games. It was made by Event Horizon Software and published by Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI), a publisher known more for strategy titles like Panzer General II and the creatively named Twenty Wargame Classics.

I discovered Veil of Darkness in the bargain bin of a K*B Toys and was intrigued by the vampire and his bloody fangs on the cover. At home, I installed the three-disk program and settled in for one of my favorite gaming experiences of the 1990s. Part adventure, part action, Veil plays from an isometric perspective, like Diablo would three years later. You're stuck in a valley trapped in the 1800s, and the only way to leave is to kill the vampire, Kairn, who rules the region with his minions—wolves, will-o-wisps, a banshee, and lots of skeletons, zombies, and bats. Stock horror creatures, but the devil is in the details. You make your way to Kairn by completing a prophecy, each line of which is a riddle you must figure out how to solve.

Veil's story is simple but effective. A lengthy prologue was published in the game manual, and the strategy guide's prose was written as a narrative, a gimmick I loved as a kid. When I couldn't play the game, I could read the strategy guide like a novel! (Rusel DeMaria wrote his strategy guide for Prince of Persia and Prince of Persia 2 the same way, and I read it as many times.)

Years ago, I made contact with several of the developers who worked on Veil of Darkness and asked them to help me tell the story. I've woven their transcripts into an oral history I hope to expand on one day.


Part I: A Family Story

Very few classic games are the product of a developer's first attempt. Or their second, or their third. First comes influence and inspiration. For Veil of Darkness's future team, that inspiration came from childhoods playing board and tabletop games, and being drawn to creative arts.

SCOT NOEL, WRITER: My nephew is Christopher Straka, one of the three owners who founded Event Horizon, later known as Dreamforge Intertainment. One decade younger than me, when we were growing up Chris was more like my kid brother than my nephew. He was always wanted to play games, and at first that meant toy soldiers on the table with the two of us making shooting noises at one another. For me, especially at first, this was just the chore of keeping the kid happy and giving the adults a chance to take a nap, but I could only take making machine gun noises through my teeth for so long.

CHRISTOPHER STRAKA, DESIGNER: I've been around games as long as I can remember. Our family and friends all played games; we were a gaming family. Some of my earliest memories are of playing with my uncle Scot, creating or own war games with plastic army men, string, rules, and quarter flips. My first computer gaming experiences were Pong and an early armored combat game of some sort my uncle purchased for the TV. Curiously, I never played Chess or Checkers.

Scot and I were huge Avalon Hill Board Game fanatics, starting with Alexander the Great. I never managed to beat my uncle because I could never maintain the morale of my armies. That still irks me to this day. Alexander was designed by Gary Gygax, who later went on to co-create Dungeons and Dragons.

We grew up in the days of the game rooms and arcade games; if you did well you were like a rock star with a crowd gathering behind you to watch. Over the years, I've owned every single game console, form Atari and Coleco to the new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

SCOT NOEL: As soon as Chris matured enough to deal with it, I started adding rules. "Look, you want your guys to take out my guys, I'll flip a coin, you call it." This quickly advanced to "OK, this string is the range a sharpshooter can fire accurately. This other string is for machine guns. And hey, foot soldiers can only move two inches at a time, I'll let the tanks go six."

Chris loved this. He found lots of ways to cheat, but he loved it. He started complexifying the rules himself, adding reinforcement and terrain rules. Then we found the old Avalon Hill board game Alexander the Great by Gary Gygax. For both Chris and myself, a life-long love of true gaming had begun.

Event Horizon, Veil of Darkness's publisher, came many years after Chris and Scot bonded over games. First, there was Paragon, and with Paragon came one of the uncle-nephew duo's most powerful artistic forces.

JANE NOEL, ARTIST: I've always loved games. With two brothers and two sisters close in age, we played cards and board games constantly. I remember as kids when we first got Pong that you could play on a TV. There were four variations and we played for hours.

I had never really considered a "career" in games. In the 80s that wasn't really a career track you'd ever heard of – especially in Western PA. I just knew I wanted to do computer art. I saw an ad in the paper for a part time computer artist. I sent my resume and samples and got the job at Paragon.

Paragon Software is not in any way related to Event Horizon and Dreamforge. Starting at the beginning—or from what I know as the beginning—Paragon Software, located in Greensburg, PA, was founded by Mark Seremet and FJ Lennon in either 1985 or 1986. They created Master Ninja for DOS before I was hired. Chris Straka, a founder of Event Horizon, was hired because of his martial arts expertise. I don't recall how they did it, but Chris modeled for the ninja poses. Tom Holmes, another Event Horizon founder, was the lead programmer.

CHRISTOPHER STRAKA: I met Jim and Tom at Paragon Software. Tom and I were employees; Jim was a subcontractor hired to port Paragon titles to the Atari ST. I was initially hired as a martial arts consultant and did all the choreography for the DOS game Master Ninja: Shadow Warrior of Death. That was in 1986.

The owners of Paragon at the time approached me because the first product they wanted to do was a martial arts product. I knew Paragon owner Mark Seremet from high school and we had trained at the same martial arts school. I started training at age of 13 at a small school in Greensburg, PA. I trained mostly in Tae Kwon Do and Judo. The game we were trying to beat was Karateka, a Broderbund title that was available across several early computers, including PCs, Atari, and Amiga.

Although Master Ninja is a "ninja" game, the moves are all Tae Kwon Do and Judo, techniques no real ninja would be likely to perform. Beyond the choreography, I designed how the various martial arts moves would interact with one another and I contributed some puzzle-solving elements. It was kind of rock-paper-scissors at that point. We did break up the action occasionally with an adventure game arcade sequence. I remember they filmed all the moves that were required for the game. This was before the days of green screen and motion capture; still they were able to transfer the film into data.

I liked the environment and they liked me enough to keep me on in data entry and customer service after my Master Ninja tasks were complete.

JANE NOEL: At that time, they'd already released Master Ninja for DOS with an outline character. With CGA and even EGA graphics, there wasn't much you could do to show detail. When I started, they were just beginning work on a new game, Wizard Wars, and needed to do Commodore 64 and Amiga versions of Master Ninja. Initially, most of my time was spent on the two versions of Master Ninja. I remember the programmers would port the art from one format to another and you'd have a basic outline or shape, but would need to detail it.

I remember working on a Koala Tablet on the C64, a very early drawing tablet with a stylus. It was an experience. The C64 had some weird graphic restriction that you could only have 4 colors inside a certain grid of maybe 16 pixels. If you accidentally dropped a 5th color into the grid, it would randomly change the work you'd already done. By comparison, working on the Amiga in Deluxe Paint was a dream! It would let you pick 32 colors. (DOS EGA would let you use 16 – always the same 16 and they weren't great colors to start with). I remember Tom Holmes wrote a program that we used for Wizard Wars – it would load the EGA art and it would show a couple different versions of the art in CGA so you could pick the best one.

I worked on artwork for various versions of Master Ninja, Wizard Wars, Guardians of Infinity, Spiderman & Captain America, Mega Traveller. Several of those were uncredited. Most of these Paragon games were done on DOS, Amiga, Atari ST, and C64. Much of the art would have started on the Amiga and ported to the other versions.

Several years ago, I found some old Amiga disks and got them transferred so I could see the art. When I opened them in Photoshop, they looked about the size of a postage stamp. I don't recall the resolution of the Amiga, but I'm guessing 320x200. I remember working for days, pixel by pixel, on one background.

Every RPG developer dreamed of working on Dungeons & Dragons, but TSR—and later Wizards of the Coast—didn't give their license to just anyone. With Advanced D&D off the table, Paragon's developers worked with another popular tabletop license, one that found them before they could even think of looking for it.

CHRISTOPHER STRAKA: Believe it or not, we were contacted by a gentleman by the name of Paul Will. He was local and he had a great many contacts in the pen-and-paper gaming industry. Paragon did have interest in AD&D, but those guys were busy talking to bigger players than Paragon. The MegaTraveller license was more accessible and fell into a range of mutual benefit for Paragon and MegaTraveller, so we came to an agreement. Paul Will helped make the connection.

Design at Paragon was a group effort and in that environment where everyone was contributing, my talents at design were first recognized and given some play. Design was far simpler and development could involve only a few people; it was a whole different world. The designer was responsible for creating the premise of the game, all of the conceptual elements of game play, working with the writer to structure dialog trees, working with the programmers to communicate how the game design was to be implemented.

A big part of my job was working to maintain the integrity of the design within the given budget. One thing that is the same today as it was then is how easy it is to build way beyond your budget. We tried to designing into each game a level of flexibility that allowed us to make changes when needed without losing game play or blowing our budget. And finally, it was the designer's job to play the game again and again and again, not so much from a bug-testing standpoint, but from a game play standpoint. Was the game coming together as a fun experience that matched our vision?

JANE NOEL: At the time Paragon didn't really have any full time designers. FJ Lennon, a Paragon founder did most of the design on Wizard Wars and Guardians of Infinity. Chris was a good story teller and had a great sense of games, but I don't think they respected him as a designer.

I know I'd played a bit of Traveller years before and I expect Chris may have too. So we probably knew more than Mark Seremet and FJ. We both have a love of science fiction and were excited by the project. I loved the process of bringing ideas to life. I understood mechanics and balance, though not as well as Chris. Traveller was such a rich environment that we spent a lot of time learning the universe just so we could pare it down into a manageable game.

Chris was the one with vision. On all projects, whether I was credited designer or not, my strength was always editing and improving on ideas from the team. I'm sure that's a good part of what I did here too. I was more involved in "making lists" on this project than some of the others.

CHRISTOPHER STRAKA: The best thing about working on MegaTraveller was that it taught me that I wanted to move on and do different types of games and better games. With AD&D not being an option, MegaTraveller was still a fairly popular gaming system and one based on science fiction. To tell the truth, the game represents my first design blunder. MegaTraveller was a party based system (with more than one character in your group), and the combat mechanics are actually pretty complicated. I was leaning toward designing real-time combat that had more of an action feel. Needless to say, that doesn't work well with five people in your party and a complicated combat system to begin with.

JANE NOEL: Chris and I always got along well. He's a lot less process oriented than I am. I'm an intuitive thinker, but Chris is much more of a "by the seat of his pants" person than I am. I know we worked together for most aspects. I think he probably did more of the story where I would have had more control of the visual design. I'd even done an airbrush painting that we wanted to use for the box, but MicroProse wouldn't go for it.

I did a lot of the art – from designing the interface to weapons and backgrounds. Some of the art design happened while we were designing. I don't remember for sure, but I expect Chris continued on with design details as I moved to producing art. I remember Chris working hard to balance the combat system.

CHRISTOPHER STRAKA: In my defense, we did try the option of allowing the player to control one character at a time or all five characters simultaneously, or a second option of controlling one character while the computer controlled the other four. In the end, it just didn't work out. The combat experiences just became too difficult to control. My bad.

However, the real-time arcade style of combat would carry over to all the products that I designed for Event Horizon and Dreamforge, which is why a lot of those games were single-character games.

JANE NOEL: I loved, loved, loved the character generation system in Traveller. It was fun on pen and paper. I really loved it on the computer (one of my favorite parts of the game.) You really got to build out the character and skills in wonderful depth. I remember how cool it was to generate characters in our game. One of our goals was to make the system so accurate that you could make pen and paper characters on our character generator. I also remember working with Mark Miller, the creator of Traveller. He was wonderful to talk to.

Few game developers are content to work on other people's ideas for ever. Inevitably, Chris and his friend shared a growing passion to strike out on their own.

CHRISTOPHER STRAKA: Tom and I worked together at Paragon for a while, and then there came a point where Paragon was not making the types of games we wanted to make, and we also thought we could do a better job. These were the days that you could start a gaming company out of your garage, or in our case, from Tom's apartment. When Jim Namestka realized we were interested in forming our own company, he was excited to join us and offered his own skills in management and salesmanship.

I wrote the business plan and the product proposals and submitted them to many possible publishers. As our working relationship solidified, work divided out with Tom as programmer, me as designer, and Jim, as president, handling the contact with publishers.