Heaven Games Invades Big Huge Games

Interview with Doug Kaufman

Part 1

This is the start of a series of interviews HeavenGames conducted on our visit to Big Huge Games. To begin we start with our interview with Doug Kaufman, senior designer at Big Huge Games. The 1st part of this interview we get a background bio on Doug Kaufman and how Big Huge Games was formed.

Without further adue, here is a transcript of the first 10 minutes of a 90 minute interview with Doug Kaufman...

DK: Where did the name HeavenGames come from?
Soc: Started with Archangel
Zen: It started with Civilization Heaven, which evolved into Age of Empires Heaven and then Age of Kings Heaven, and then we we started to form a network
DK: Makes sense
Soc: I mean the guy who started it all off, his online nickname was Archangel
DK: Thats why he called it Civilization Heaven?
Soc: ya
DK: Civilization Heaven? Funny
Everyone: hahaha!

DK: So whats up?
Soc: I guess we'll start things off.
ODA: Ya lets start things off.
Soc: Alright to start things off can you give us a bio of yourself. How you started off...
ODA: Don't forget to identify yourself for the record
Soc: I think we already identified him
ODA: Oh good ok alright, let's start.

DK: Well I started playing games when I was very young, around 8 years old my mom bought me a copy of diplomacy for my birthday and I knew a guy at the college where she worked, who was a grad student who made his own board games. He would draw them out on big tile boards and basically play old AH (Avalon Hill) style rules with these gigantic boards layed out in the ball room at school. So I got really interested in games and I met a friend of mine, Al Leonardi. Actually through creative writing class. He was teaching a creative writing class but he was a big gamer and he was a teacher. So as a young man I allowed to go over to his house and play games when I wouldn't have necessarily been allowed to go to other places. Um and he had this idea for a game, that we worked on and self published which was called "Ace of Aces" and I was sort of his 25% partner in the game. We decided that was my contribution to the design and so I also put up 25% of the money for the 1st publication and we got some profits off of that. And they wanted to, he had some other partners in the business, and they wanted to sink the profits into another print run. Being just in college at the time I didn't want to sink $10,000. So I kept my $7500 profit and went to New York to be an actor. That was pretty much it for professional game design for me. I mean there was like no question that was a dumb place to make money.

Umm I was in New York, struggling actor type and one of my roomates in the place I lived, with 5 other people was a gamer and he told me about Westend Games where they gave free pizza on friday nights for play testing. So you're not going to turn down free pizza when you're a struggling actor. So I gave them a call and they asked me for my qualifications. So I mentioned that I had been a co-designer for Ace of Aces, and it turned out they were hiring at that time. They were just getting started, they were nothing but a company of one designer, the owner's girlfriend who ran the business and a graphics department and they had decided to try to go legit and actually try to make a profit, cause up to that point it was a tax write off for his other business and they hired, I think they ended up hiring four designers over the next 6 to 8 months and since I had just called and had these qualifications and they paid dirt cheap and I was willing to work dirt cheap. They offered me a job as a designer. and I said well no, well I take the job if you're willing to let me go on auditions and that if I get a show, and I can just sort of take off as much time as necessary and I think they were wise to the ways of New York actors, cause they said "ya sure ya no problem".

Everyone: hahaha

DK: "You do that, when you get your show Doug, you'll be, you can go off" and of course I never did. I never actually bothered to go to more then 2 auditions after that. I never got a part until years later in an off-off-off-off broadway company just for fun. So I ended up making that my profession and it kinda grew from there starting at $17,000 a year in New York City. Umm worked for them for 6 years during which they moved to Pensylvannia and some of the people who were in New York didn't want to make that move so they started looking for other places and one of them was a fellow by the name of Jeff Briggs. Who found a job at MicroProse as a computer designer. I think he did it through networking at game conventions. About a year after he went to MicroProse, he called us up those of us who was still left at Westend and said, MicroProse is still looking for more designers. So all you guys up there who are interested should come down and interview, and I think he had three of his friends from Westend, one by one come down to interview and stay over at his house and leave just before the next guy got there. So we never saw each other and so didnt exactly know who was interviewing and I was the one who guy the job.
So I started as a junior designer at MicroProse and worked on a bunch of projects there. Umm and finally got to design a project there, and then we were cutting way back on internal designs, so I also became the external producer and were looking for outside developers to publish games through MicroProse. So I did that for awhile but that was sort of a not so much a designing games thing it really more of a business thing, and then the guy at MicroProse, Lawrence Schick who had gone on to AOL called me up and said "why don't you come work at AOL, I'm starting up the games department". I did that for 3 years, but that never really got off the ground, because there really was never a good business plan for games for AOL. Within the first 6 months when I got there, they had been a per hour service, and that was like Ok invent a game and people want to play and pay per hour. Thats great, thats a great Challenge. About 6 months later we went to a subscription service and it was like don't invent anything that wants anyone to keep on the system for more then 5 minutes please, and games were just in the toilet for a long time until they came up with a business plan. So in the meantime I started looking for other things.
Then Jeff Briggs called me back, now he had started a company called Firaxis and so I went up to work for Firaxis for a year and the Brian Reynolds had some kind of business decision to leave Firaxis and start his own company. He saids "Why don't you come work for me at Big Huge Games" and I angsted over that for awhile and came over here to start working on some brand new stuff cause Firaxis was into Sid Meier's turn based things and I really felt like turn based was on the decline and wanted to work on real time stuff and that's what we had in mind and I thought a real time Civ would have been great. When we started talking about Civ 3, we had a meeting to say "what can we do to with Civ 3 at Firaxis that would be really cool and different and make it neat" and I said "there's only one thing I can see on the box that's going to make people buy this game just right off the bat if they weren't going to already, cause its a Civ game and that is: Now In Real Time" and they said "aaah umm no we don't think we want to do that". and I think that was also what broke Brian's spirit cause he also thought that was the way to go. So we started a game to work on real time, started a company to work on real time strategy games and thats how I came to where I am.

Soc: So in all the many ah..compared to all of the many companies you have apparently worked at for gaming software. How do you like things here at Big Huge Games?

DK: I compare Big Huge to the places I've lived while I was working at all those companies, which were like rural Pennsylvannia and New York City. Opposite ends of the extremes. Being able to get somewhere or not having anything to do or whatever, and Baltimore I think is a place thats right in the middle because there is a city in that direction, country in that direction. And As far as companies I've work for. I've worked for big souless organizations like AOL, and 4 man start ups like Westend and this is right in the middle. Its not really huge so doesn't have huge souless corporate politics to worry about and its not an inconsidered start up of a guy who's girlfriend whose running it as a tax break for him. It is a business that was conceived from the beginning to be small, sort of elite and well run. But to treat it employees really well. So its kind of model a little bit on Ensemble (Studios). I'm given to understand, and so we have a ping pong table, pool table and a bar but we also have long hours and working hard to make really cool things but from the beginning the idea was we not going to do this unless we got funding and unless we can get really good people and unless we can kinda fit everybody into the space available and not grow beyond a certain size and within plus or minus 10% I think we've achieved all the goals and so its the best place I've worked at by far.

. . . and I have to say, in case this gets quoted in some way that Firaxis was very similar as far as a concept from the beginning, its just that I didn't get to work for them for that long, so I can't really compare the two.

Soc: and so this being not the largest company I guess the name is a bit of a misnomer?
DK: Absolutely not!
Everyone: haha
DK: hehe, Its the games that are Big and Huge!
Soc: Ahh yes!!

Stay Tuned for part 2...

DK = Doug Kaufman (Big Huge Games)
ODA = One_Dead_Angel (Rise of Nations Heaven)
Soc = Socvazius (HeavenGames)
Zen = Zen (HeavenGames)