My interview with Michael Cranford in 2009

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My interview with Michael Cranford in 2009

Post by 8bitweapon »

Greetings Michael!

Let me 1st say what a pleasure it is to talk to you like this. The Bard's Tale series has given me over 20 years of gaming pleasure. Thank you soo much for creating such an rich 8 bit world to explore.

Now for the interview:

1) Was there any early games you programmed that weren't published that are like Maze Master/Bards Tale/rpg?

All the RPG games I developed were published. I did a game for Broderbund Software called Centauri Alliance, but it was completed right at the point the Apple II was dying, and so few people knew about it. It was similar to (but more extensive than) Bard’s Tale. I also designed a game for the PC (the name escapes me, but it had a sci-fi/horror theme). I did do some unpublished action games, but all of those are long since turned to dust. J All my work in recent years is web-based applications.

2) What had you make Maze Master? How did that project lead to Bards Tale?

I was a big Wizardry fan. I used to play it late into the night when I was doing my coursework at Berkeley. I then got employed by Hesware (they were looking for students who could do video games, and I was doing them purely as a hobby while taking courses in Architecture). I did a bunch of ports for them (like Apple Donkey Kong), and then convinced them to let me do Maze Master. I had, on my own time, generated the code to do the same 3D wall animation as Wizardry, but my code was written in machine language. (Wizardry was written in Pascal, which was a highly inefficient platform for the Apple II.) As a result, I knew I could blow Wizardry away. Hesware agreed to do the game, but their sales staff was so ignorant to RPG that they didn’t promote it. I was standing in the booth at a trade show (anonymous) when I heard a distributor ask a sales person about Maze Master. The sales person said, “You don’t want that, come over here and let me show you this XYZ action game.” I was pissed, complained to my boss. I got an apology from the marketing VP, with a promise to do a better job on this. Hesware was out of business within two years (no coincidence). They could have had the first Bards Tale if they had a clue.

Maze Master was a 16K cartridge game, therefore HIGHLY limited. I always had a dream to do a better-than-Wizardry game, that used solid graphics for walls as opposed to vector lines. When Hesware folded, I went to work for Interplay Productions, and eventually decided to share with Brian Fargo a prototype I had built (rather than try to do my own company and proceed with my own concept). That turned out to be a bad move for me (good for Brian though!), but that’s how it all started. My concept, my prototype were used to sell the idea to Electronic Arts. At that point the game was named Shadow Snare.

3) I've always associated music* as a key part of the bards tale games. Who's idea was it to include music in the game and why?

Entirely my idea, though of course this was so long ago that many may remember it differently. J The idea of the Bard character type was mine (I mean, a D&D concept, but using him as a game character with music was my idea). The think I liked the most about Wizardry was the magic, so I intended to improve on that significantly. The Bard was an idea to take that to a different level, by associating magic with a background effect. I worked with some guys who were keen on integrating music with video games while at Hesware, and we brought one of them on as a contractor to do the music. (That was Larry Holland, who was an excellent programmer in his own right and a dear friend, and ended up doing a ton of work for Lucasfilm after that.) It also inspired the revised name of the game. (I did not come up with the name, it was a third party consultant, Roe Adams.)

4) Where there other plot ideas or game play elements that were not used in BT1 and/or BT2?

I don’t remember. I pretty much developed the core map and then, if anything, added more as I went along. I conceptualized and coded the whole thing, BT I and II, with the exception of a graphical compression routine that Bill Heineman provided (a good piece of code, I remember). I did all the graphics for BT I, and we had an artist assist on BT II. I was not involved in BT III. I left Interplay and went back to school.

5) Did you intend BT2 to be historically hard to beat? ;)

I think that this was a mistake. We wanted to make it tough, and the playtesting wasn’t very good, so it ended up being too tough. I got a lot of grief from people for quite a while. Hard to be programmer, artist, designer, and game tester, you know? Needed more input!

6) What was your idea for BT3? You mention that you were planning to make one at the end of BT2. We know you didn't work on the released BT3 for personal reasons so we don't need to know those details. We want to know what would BT3's story be about or game play be like had you made it?

All I can remember at this point is that I had an idea for a much larger universe. I ended up doing that in Centauri Alliance, it was much larger than BT II or III. What concepts I had at that time have since faded from my cerebrum.

7) Did you begin programming BT3 at all? If so, how far into it did you get? Do you have any working disks of the project?

No, I had nothing to do with it. I was disillusioned by the industry and frustrated with my relationship with Interplay. I had a desire to finish school. I did end up coming back and working with Broderbund after a hiatus, and those were really, really good people. I’m sorry the game was launched too late to help them.

8.) What had you make Centauri Alliance? CA was harder to beat than BT2, so what had you decide to make it such a challenge to complete?

Centauri Alliance was harder? Hmm, I don’t remember that. I’ll take your word for it. More playtesting needed!! I wanted to do a project while I was in school (from my home and on my own time), and thought I would shift gears and do a bigger universe than BT II. Not much else to it. The support I received in the way of artwork took so long to come, that the project was seriously delayed. I could have kicked myself for not doing it on the PC, after the fact.

9) Would you ever be interested in making a new BT/CA style game?

Absolutely, I have thought of this many times. At this point, everything is built on 3D engines, and that is certainly the way to go. I don’t have much interest in learning to code for one of those, but I would certainly be interested in the other game logic, and I would be extremely interested in just working as a design consultant. I think MMORPGs are marvelous.

Thank you Michael!
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