Tim Cain interviews are know no longer holy grails but RPGcodex just interviewed him and this one in particular is fairly well done and covers a lot of topics. Below is the news article RPGcodex has about it, you can read the full version here:
In this entry in the RPG Codex retrospective interview series, we are happy to offer you an interview with Timothy Cain. At Interplay and then at Troika Games, Tim Cain designed some of the RPG Codex' all-time favorite CRPGs: Fallout, Arcanum, and Temple of Elemental Evil. The interview deals with Tim's career and his thoughts on RPG design, and even includes a question on Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. We are grateful to Tim for taking time to answer our questions in detail. Have a snippet:
Troika's games, while arguably among the genre's most outstanding achievements, were notoriously rough at the time of release, often criticized for bugs and unfinished content. In retrospect, how do you explain this? Do you feel this kind of criticism can sometimes get unfair?
I don't think criticizing Troika games for being buggy was unfair. They were buggy, and I think there were two big reason why that was so. First, we tried putting a lot of features into these games. We really needed to learn how to edit, because we would spend a lot of man-hours putting a feature into a game that hardly any of the players would ultimately care about. For example, Arcanum had newspapers that reported on major incidents that were caused by the player, but I don't remember a single review mentioning that. We spent a lot of time getting that working, and those hours could have spent balancing real-time combat, or fixing the multiplayer code.
Second, we kept our team sizes small, both for budget and for management purposes. This meant we had less total man-hours to work with, and all of the late nights and weekends couldn't make up for the fact that we only had about a dozen people working on the Arcanum and Temple projects. Looking back, I am amazed our games were as feature-rich as they were, but I am not surprised they were as buggy as they were. We should have made some serious feature cuts early in their development.
Troika got characterized as “always blaming the publisher” when something was wrong and I think this was unfair. We would always own up to the parts of the development process in which we had made mistakes, but it seemed that if we ever said “we messed up this, and our publisher messed up that”, some people just heard the latter part of the comment and would start screaming “Troika is blaming the publishers again!”. It got frustrating after a while, especially when I saw people at Troika quoted out of context. But I did gain quite an insight into the American political system, which seems to deal with the same kind of illogical, sound bite oriented system of criticism of its political candidates. People hear what they want to hear, and often make up their minds before seeing, or even in spite of, any evidence to the contrary.
Temple of Elemental Evil featured what is to this day the best translation of D&D to the PC. Sadly, there only was one game using that engine. Were there any plans to keep using it for other games, or perhaps license it to other developers, in a manner similar to the Infinity and Gold Box engines?
Yes, we had great plans for that engine. For the sequel to The Temple of Elemental Evil, Troika proposed using the super-module GDQ: Queen of the Spiders, which consists of seven modules from the popular Giants and Drow series, plus the special Q-series module that completed the adventure. In fact, we were going to let the players bring their characters over from ToEE directly into the QoS, so they could simply continue playing with the same group of characters. Alternatively, we had suggested using the engine to create the long-awaited Baldur's Gate 3, and Obsidian had also expressed interest in licensing the engine to make D&D licensed games. Unfortunately, Atari never followed up on any of these proposals.
In his speech at the 2012 Unite Conference, Brian Fargo claimed the industry has "come full circle" since 1980s, shifting away from the console model dominant since the late 1990s and back towards "2 and 3 man teams" empowered by new tools, crowdfunding, and new distribution methods. Do you agree with this kind of picture? How would you describe the way the industry changed over the years that you have been active in it?
Small 2 and 3 man teams may be able to produce a few PC and console games, but mostly they are making smaller games that have much less complexity or player time investment than full-sized games, and those latter games still need a team to develop them. I am glad to see crowdfunding add an alternative to the publisher model for many developers, and digital distribution creates sales channels for smaller companies that can rival the older physical distribution of large publishers. In short, I think variety and options are good things, in the game industry as well as in games.
I am concerned about the mid-tier developer being crowded out of the market by these new methods. It seems that we are increasingly seeing two types of games, ones made by small independent developers and ones made by huge, publisher-owned teams. The mid-tier developer, which have teams of 30-60 people, are shrinking, and small teams of less than 10 people and large teams of over 100 people are becoming the norm. I am worried what this means for the types of games that will be available over the next few years. Will they be either small casual games that you play for a few hours and then move on, or gigantic behemoths that you devote months of gaming time to, possibly investing in DLC to stretch the gap between sequels? It's as if books are disappearing, to be replaced with short story collections and lengthy book series, or movies are being replaced with TV shows and movie franchises. Is there no middle ground any more? I don't know, and that worries me because some of the best games have come from such development, and it would be a shame if it was lost.
The interview really covers a lot of ground, so I strongly recommend you read it in full.