Jordan Weisman's been making games for longer than almost anyone.
He's had a hand in almost all aspects of game development over his 35-year career, one that's spanned tabletop, ARGs, and digital games. Weisman is best known as the creator of FASA, and with it, Shadowrun and BattleTech. But he's also a veteran of Microsoft, serving there as creative director of Microsoft Games from 1998 to 2002, when he oversaw the launch of the original Xbox. He's contributed to game education programs, co-founding the Center for Serious Play at the University of Washington. And he was CEO of WizKids, best known for its HeroClix miniatures game.
I had the opportunity to speak to Weisman at PAX last weekend, not only to get an update on Harebrained Schemes' projects but to get his perspective on Microsoft's most recent foray back into PC gaming, and what it means to be an independent studio in the midst of a PC gaming boom.
On the blessings and challenges of being an indie dev
"It's the best of times, worst of times," says Weisman. "The access for independent developers to bring their games out to market is unparalleled. That's fantastic, right? The ability to get help in bringing those games to market through venues like crowdfunding is fantastic. And the tools that you need to create games have dropped in price so dramatically over the past decade and become so much more accessible."
"Now, the downside to all that is, there's a lot more product in the marketplace. And so your ability to make noise is hard. You really have to work, as an independent, as much on your community development as you do on your software development. It's something you've got to take really seriously. To be able to break out from a huge amount of content that's coming out."
On Harebrained's next project, BattleTech
"I'm really psyched. I made mech games for a long time, starting with the original BattleTech board game, and the BattleTech Centers, and then the MechWarrior series, the MechCommander series. But it's been, I'm embarrassed to say, 19 years since I've made a mech game," said Weisman. "I'm really excited to make another one now, I really want to dive back in and go back to the real roots of the game."
"The ability to take that universe and now do that in a modern tactical game where we can get into even more depth than we did in the old days as a pen-and-paper but make it fluid and fast playing so you're focusing on the strategy, not on the mechanics. But the mechanics are really deep there, great differentiation of the mechs and of the mechwarriors, deep skill trees for them."
"If you look at Shadowrun, Shadowrun's an RPG with a really strong tactical game underneath it. This is flipped, [BattleTech] is going to be a tactical game with a lot of really great storytelling underneath it. One of the things that I've been sad about in some of our Mech games over the years [is that] they haven't been really well situated within the universe, they haven't brought the story of the universe out to the forefront and that's something we're determined to do with this title."
On Microsoft's return to PC gaming
"I think what I've seen over the years is there's a bit of a cyclical nature, right? 'We're in PC games, we're out of PC games, we're back in PC games,' I think some of that is responsive to the market. There was a belief for a while that PC games were going to go away, that consoles were going to rule everything. I think we've seen that not pan out."
"I also think that they're starting to really embrace a larger vision about games, not just about platforms. The original games group [at Microsoft] was designed as a way to promote Windows, as everything at Microsoft is, it was about promoting Windows. But it's really moved past that, and I think Phil [Spencer]'s really doing a great job of looking at a bigger agenda that's really more fan oriented than it is platform oriented. And I think that's very exciting."