I’ve managed to release THREE games with industry legends in the past year– Scott Adams, currently at Clopas, Ken and Roberta Williams, currently at Cygnus Entertainment, and Corey and Lori Cole, currently at Transolar Games.
My contract with Transolar wrapped up a year after Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption shipped; I was working on a visual novel set in the same universe, Summer Daze: Tilly’s Tale, on top of doing ongoing bug support for Hero-U. Eventually I needed to move on; I was largely waiting on the author to finish the script, and needed to save up to get out of a bad living situation in Florida! Rather randomly, Roberta Vaughan of the Classic Gamers Guild reached out to me and connected me with Ken Williams, who at the time was working on a new, unnannounced game.
Most people would have jumped at this opportunity. As is well known in adventure game circles, Ken and Roberta sold Sierra Online in the 1990s, retired to live on a boat, and were done with game development. Furthermore, I had worked for some of his harshest critics at Sierra, especially over hiring disgraced LAPD chief Daryl Gates to design a game in the Police Quest series. I’d heard horror stories about crunch, mismanagement over the switch to 3D, and petty office drama at Sierra. I have a chronic illness (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) that requires me to be very careful about work/life boundaries, and at the time, it was 2021, right during the heart of the pandemic.
Roberta Vaughan convinced me to interview anyways. She assured me I was the best person she could think of for the job. She put me in touch with the people working on Ken’s game (it’s since grown to 30+ developers, but back then it was just two people).
I bought a copy of Ken’s book to prepare, and found out that we had a surprising amount in common. Ken and I had both finished high school at sixteen, and both of us began supporting ourselves at eighteen doing contract programming. Rent in 1970s California would be very different than rent in early-2000s Boston, but it’s a huge point in common that not many people I know experienced! Furthermore I hadn’t even thought of him as a programmer! I thought he was just a businessman; indeed the Digital Antiquarian describes him as such. But unlike any of the other Sierra programmers I knew, he’d actually gotten back into game development out of a desire to learn Unity, and had done the Unity development and C# coding largely on his own before I got started. I learned more from working on Ken’s game for six months than I had at any previous job, and the work itself turned out to be incredibly fun and challenging.
Unfortunately it was also quite physically demanding. I was primarily working on getting the game to run in VR, using an Oculus Quest (eventually rebranded as Meta Quest) headset. While it’s possible to simulate or run VR games without a headset, for performance and user interface design, there’s really no substitute. And even the lightest VR helmets weigh enough to cause dizziness and headache long term. I’m prone to migraines and cervical instability from EDS to begin with, so while I enjoyed developing the prototype, the actual labor of porting the PC game to VR under tight deadlines looked like it would cause my physical health to spiral out of control.
Shortly after taking a medical leave, one of my coworkers connected me with Scott Adams (of Adventure International), who was also looking for a Unity developer. I’d never played Scott’s games (he retired around when I was born!), but was aware that he was a major influence on the Williamses. Scott was working on remaking a Flash game (Bubble Bonk) in Unity for iOS and Android, and had just had a heart attack, and needed to offload some of his hours.
Thus I ended up signing a contract for a third game, while still theoretically available to help with two more! I wrapped up my work on Bubble Bonk right before release; Colossal Cave 3D Adventure came out in January 2023 after two years of development, and Summer Daze: Tilly’s Tale shipped a few months later, after five years of development.
It’s good to have closure and move on to new projects.