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Interview with Harvey Smith, aka WitchboyFirst off, I'd like to state that Harvey is restricted by legal, and I'm sure marketing, rules not to mention anything about Deus Ex 2 and Thief 3. There were a couple of questions thrown his way that included, or somehow pertained to, one or both of those projects, but he could not answer them. With that said, I do appreciate him taking the time to answer the questions he could, and appreciate his time towards the community. Throw your feet up, lean back, and enjoy the interview.
BackDoor's Intro: Harvey, I'd like to thank you ahead of time for taking the time to answer these questions. In the November edition of PCGamer, there was an article done up on the future game gods. I agreed with a couple of their decisions, but some of the people they picked I did not agree with. I agree with Warren, when he was questioned about who he thinks will be one of the next gaming gods, he said, "For an up and comer, look no further than our own Harvey Smith." Although you're only one piece of the pie that fulfills his/her role in order to ship a great game, I feel that the Game Designer/Project Director is the most crucial person to the team. Without further adue, lets get to the questions.
DeusEx Machina: Before answering the questions below, I'd appreciate you filling in people with a brief Bio of yourself, including the origin of your nickname, 'Witchboy'.
Harvey: I'm a long-time video game addict. Also, I practically grew up playing paper RPG's (and I still do). I started at Origin in 1993, in QA. I tested Super Wing Commander 3DO as my first project. Later at Origin, I was lead tester of System Shock, associate producer of Cybermage and project director for Technosaur (see here: http://www.io.com/~salem/tsaur.html). After I left Origin, I was lead designer for FireTeam. Then lead designer for Deus Ex. I am currently project director for Deus Ex 2. As far as the nick itself, I just made it up one day for some deathmatch LAN game we were playing at Origin. I alternated names in those days, before one stuck. Later I learned that there was an old, old comic book character who shared that name, and also some character in a play that I've never seen. Now people ask me all the time if I'm into Wicca.
DeusEx Machina: When Deus Ex was released, did it take off like you expected it to, or did it take a while before sales numbers started climbing?
Harvey: Deus Ex has sold really well. We're very happy with the way that the game has been received, critically and commercially. We were initially up against some stiff competition, but the game has continued to get attention, which is really nice.
DeusEx Machina: Deus Ex shipped right before the Summer months, so what have you been doing all Summer long besides partying on Warren's Yacht?
Harvey: Slacking. Prepping for the next round of games. Hiring people. Playing games that I needed to catch up on. Starting a 3rd Addition D&D campaign...
DeusEx Machina: Since you started working with the people you've worked with in the games industry (Richard Garriot, Warren Spector, Doug Church), what have been the 3 most important things you've learned? Explain why please.
Harvey: I've learned by emulating some of my mentors, by figuring things out on my own, by trusting my gamer instincts and, lastly, by avoiding emulating some of my mentors. I think some of the most important things I've learned about makings games are related to dealing with teams of people--the most critical issue. Also, from a workflow balancing standpoint, I've learned how to trade off caution and ambition. Lacking this, I believe, hurts many games. You have to know when to reign in your creative desires and structure things so that goals are more easily accomplish, and you have to know when to push for something new, complex and cool. I've also, from introspection mostly, learned more about what drives me as a designer. (More on that, below.)
DeusEx Machina: Overall, you and other team members, have been really great about community involvement. I know a lot of companies that don't get into the community like ISA does. Why does ISA step over that boundary of Company/Community, and give the community so much of its time? I would like to know your personal view on how to keep a perfect balance of the Company/Community Relationship.
Harvey: The difference is that we *are* the community. We are gamers, through and through. We grew up playing games, we understand the thrill of this 'hobby' (or lifestyle choice, or whatever it is). We all wait for the next exciting game the way mainstream people wait for a new Tom Hanks movie. Personally, I think it's great to stay immersed in the community; obviously you have to do so without undermining the company's strategic marketing efforts. You have to balance community versus your own tastes--you have to keep in mind that you are making games both for yourself and for the gamers out there.
DeusEx Machina: Speaking of Community, the fans are ecstatic about the release of the MP Patch. What Augs do you use when playing MP, and what's your favorite map? Can we expect to see you on any public servers, and if so, what's your alias? I'm sure we'd all love to see your gibs flying.
Harvey: I was not a core member of the team that made the mp patch. I only play-tested some off and on. That group was made up of ex-LG people and DX1 team members. (See here for details: http://www.stormtroopers.com/witchboy/) I always play games under the name Witchboy--my nick dating back about 6 or 7 years. Unless I want to be secretive, in which case I use my secret alt nick.
DeusEx Machina: Was Multiplayer something that was put in the original design phase, or was it an afterthought? Why?
Harvey: Originally, we wanted to do co-op mp through the missions, but we ran out of time. We spent all our resources on making the single player game.
DeusEx Machina: We are seeing more and more companies turning to Multiplayer Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch to try and give their games more value. While I would like to see a Singleplayer add-on over a MP feature anyday, I also know that I am not of the greater consensus on this issue. What is your view on the Singleplayer experience and the Multiplayer experience? Which do you prefer?
Harvey: I prefer single player. I like to be the center of the universe. ;> However, I do like co-op or team mp games. (FireTeam was team oriented.) Single player immersive games are my favorite--games like Thief. I would love to see some single player missions done with the DX SDK.
DeusEx Machina: From a design standpoint, DX was a great hit with the community. The fans loved the openness of the levels, meaning, there were multiple ways to get through the levels and not a set path. DX was the first game to break the FPS view mold of being so linear. Did you know this game was going to be so well received because of its non-linearity?
Harvey: Part of our manifesto was "multiple solutions to problems," which grew from the desire to include greater levels of interactivity and freedom. Those things have always been popular with gamers, who crave greater latitudes and forms of self expression within games. It's much harder to deepen a 3D game in this way, but it's worth it.
DeusEx Machina: The Mod community has really taken off with this game. Which Mod are you most looking forward to?
Harvey: The one that actually signs off and is fun.
DeusEx Machina: Will ISA continue supporting the DX Editing community in the future, or do you foresee a change for future installments?
Harvey: The best thing that can happen for the editing community is more autonomy. I'm not sure what the future holds in that regard.
DeusEx Machina: On a more personal side of things. What do you do to get ready for designing a new game? What's your mindset? What's your design philosophy?
Harvey: I have come to see my design sense revolving around 1) immersing the player in a detailed virtual space, 2) enabling the player to *create* something and 3) my interest in the ecology of artificial life. DX included 1 and (partially 2) and 3, but my eventual goal is to work on a project that is heavily invested in all three elements.
DeusEx Machina: A lot of companies separate their personnel and keep them separated during the game development process. For instance, Coders work with Coders and are secluded from Designers. The end result is a game that looks good, but doesn't have very good design. What makes ISA different in this area?
Harvey: We try to set it up so that everyone on our team understands design.
DeusEx Machina: You all have just moved to new spacious offices right down the street from your old offices, right? How did the move go? How is the new space working out for you?
Harvey: We love the new space. It's great, but humble. It feels like a good place to make games.
DeusEx Machina: Since the demise of Looking Glass Studios, ISA has picked up a lot of former LGS employees. How have they impacted ISA, other than causing you all to need more space? Were they all thrown on the Thief 3 project? Or were they split up, some on DX 2 and some on Thief 3?
Harvey: We've picked up some awesome people. We share design philosophies, to some extent. Mostly, they love good immersive, high-fidelity world sims and want to make great games. Both projects here have benefited from signing on ex-LG staff members.
I would like to once again thank Harvey for his time and contribution to the community, and I wish him the best with his career. Cheers goes out to one of the next TRUE game gods in the computer gaming industry.
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