Tim Cain Q&A #3

Timothy Cain is one of the principals of Troika Games and know for games like Fallout, Arcanum and Temple of Elemental Evil.

Currently Troika Games is working on Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, an action RPG based on White Wolf’s pen & paper RPG. Although everyone at Troika is working day and night trying to complete Bloodlines, Tim has agreed to answer some questions for us.

Although many people probably have heard of you, could you please introduce yourself and tell us something about yourself? For example, what was your first contact with roleplaying games?

I first started playing RPG’s in high school, and I had an unusual first contact with them. I played AD&D with my mother and some people from her office (she worked at the office of the Judge Advocate General, or JAG, for the US Navy, of all places). I was hooked immediately and got all the books, and then I discovered the Ultima series on my Atari 800. I knew then that I wanted to make these games, but I went to college and then graduate school before applying for a job at Interplay in 1992.

Your name became widely known with the release of Fallout and to this day many fans believe that you are the only one who can bring us another “true” Fallout game. Now that the Black Isle Studios at Interplay are closed and Van Buren/Fallout 3 was canned in favor of an action-RPG title for the PS2 and XBOX, many Fallout fans fear that there won’t be any “true” Fallout games in the future. Would you like to buy the Fallout license from Interplay to do another Fallout?

I would like to buy it, but Interplay is not offering it for sale right now, and I doubt I could afford the license even if they did offer it. As an alternative, I would be up for developing Fallout 3 with Interplay.

Bioware’s “Knights of the Old Republic” was a huge success and many claim that is was the best RPG of the last year. Have you played KotOR and what are your thoughts about this game?

I have not played KOTOR, yet. I played very few games in 2003, and I am catching up now. I just finished Call to Duty, and I am trying to finish Simpson’s Hit and Run. Then I’ll play KOTOR.

Most CRPG titles released in the last months are either console games or action-RPGs like Diablo or Dungeon Siege. Do you think the time for more traditional roleplaying games like the Ultima series or your own games like Arcanum is over?

No. People were saying the same thing in 1996, before Fallout came out. “RPG’s are dead. You need to be an action game like Crusader” was all I heard then. I hear the same thing now, just with a different game to compare mine to. Game genres go in and out of style, that’s all. I’m waiting for adventure games to come back into vogue, so LucasArts will change their mind and I can play Sam and Max 2.

As part of GameSpy’s “Game Of The Year Award”, Temple of Elemental Evil won the “Old School RPG Award”. Aside from that and a few favorable reviews ToEE was disliked by a majority of reviewers and gamers. Many reviewers and gamers called it “buggiest CRPG ever” and critisized the story and the voice acting. What are your thoughts on this subject?

I think the negative reviews were fair. More QA time would have helped the bug problem (we got no where near the six months of play testing I recommended in the schedule), but the story and voice acting are squarely our fault. We seem to have teeter tottered from Arcanum (good story, bad combat) to ToEE (bad story, good combat). The third time’s the charm, I suppose.

When you first talked about ToEE over a year ago, you told us that you “fully support the evil character”. When ToEE shipped it was a T rated game and as far as we know some of the evil quests were ripped out. Can you give our readers some details on what happened during the development of ToEE?

I hate to beat a dead horse. Suffice it to say that some game elements that were approved in month 4 were suddenly unapproved in month 18, and we had to scramble to make changes. Some changes were to complex to make (like changing the brothel to an inn), so they were removed. Other changes caused bugs that slipped past or were deemed to minor to change, like characters referring to children who were no longer playing outside of the house. Most of our text was locked late in development to provide the translators time to localize the game to other languages, so minor text bugs were often skipped.

More and more publishers (like Atari) avoid Mature-rated games. The target audience for most existing and upcoming games are teenagers. The people behind Troika Games are famous for mature titles like Fallout, Arcanum and Vampire: Bloodlines. Do you think that designing games for an mature audience will become more and more problematic in the near future?

Probably. Large chains like Walmart do not want to carry M-rated games (with a few exceptions), and it’s tough to make a design decision to cut out such retailers. I just wish that publishers would decide to make games T-rated at the start of the development cycle, rather than the end.

Leonard Boyarsky and his team are currently working on Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and your last title was Dungeons & Dragons: Temple of Elemental Evil. Do you plan to do more games in licensed settings in the future or do you prefer creating games in original settings?

ToEE was my first licensed game, although Fallout was originally supposed to be GURPS. I suppose, all things being equal, I would prefer to make original games in new and different settings, but mostly I just like doing things that are new and different for me. Games take such a long time to make that I prefer working on something fresh each time I develop a game. I loved making ToEE, but now I am on something new. And I have been away from Fallout for so long, that I feel I can return to it with a fresh outlook.

In our last interview you told us that you have proposal out for a “very stylish, very different” SF CRPG. Have you found a publisher that is interested in this game and more importantly can you give us some detail on the game? Is the “post-apoc” concept artwork on Chris Glenn’s website related to this SF CRPG or are those concepts for a totally different project?

I really cannot give out any details. We have made several proposals to different publishers, and they are still considering their options.

“Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magicks Obscura” is one of the favorite CRPGs of many hardcore RPG fans. What are the chances that we’ll see an Arcanum 2 in the foreseeable future? And what about a sequel to “Temple of Elemental Evil”? As far as I know there is a sequel to the original adventure called “Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil” written by Monte Cook. Would you be interested in turning this adventure module into a sequel to your D&D computer RPG?

Well, as I said, I am not very sequel-oriented, but we’ll see. If a novel idea for Arcanum 2 or ToEE 2 came up, along with an opportunity to develop it, I would be all for it. BTW, a copy of Monte Cook’s RtToEE is sitting on my shelf right next to ToEE. I love his work.

Last year has seen an increase in Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs. For example “Final Fantasy XI” was the successful transition of this famous series to the world of online gaming. What are your thoughts on MMORPGs? Have you played any MMORPG yourself?

I have played EverQuest a lot (a couple of years, at least), and Dark Age of Camelot quite a bit too (about a year). I like MMORPG’s, but I like RPG’s more. They are really separate genres, and I don’t feel as “heroic” in MMORPG’s. No matter how fast and hard I play, someone is always higher level, has better equipment, and has done every quest ahead of me. I play MMORPG’s to be social, and RPG’s to be heroic.

What are your future plans for Troika Games? Will Troika continue to focus on CRPGs or will we see games from other genres in the future?

Well, Vampire is our experimental foray into action RPG’s, so let’s see how that does. I’d love to make an adventure game, if those ever come back into style. Actually, a shooter with stats and a good story would be fun too. I enjoy the process of making games as much as the games themselves, anyway.

In April Troika Games will celebrate its 6th birthday. What has changed in the last six years? What were the most memorable moments during the existence of Troika Games?

Troika Games has gotten much bigger, going from 12 to 35 people in that time. We have moved offices twice and had a lot of fun and done a lot of hard work. The moments themselves tend to blur – our 5th anniversary party, late night debug sessions, the spooky urinal. It’s all a rich tapestry.

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