From Total Annihilation to Dungeon Siege to Supreme Commander, Chris Taylor has a long and storied history with real-time strategy games. Gas Powered Games’ founder and lead designer on the upcoming Supreme Commander 2 is one of the most important creators in gaming, continually taking the RTS genre to new heights. He also happens to be ridiculously funny (sometimes it hurts hanging out with him, from all the laughing) and super sharp. I recently caught up with Taylor to ask him about working with Square Enix, running a development studio during an economic downturn, downloadable content, and more.
Raymond Padilla: Hey Chris! How is the funniest man in game development doing these days?
Chris Taylor: Keeping the dream alive, as I like to say!
RP: You’re hard at work on Supreme Commander 2. While lots of people are excited about the game, I’m really interested in your experiences working with Square Enix. From your dealings, what are the differences between working with a Western publisher and a Japanese one?
CT: They’ve been really great to work with, and they’ve easily been among the best publishers we’ve ever worked with. Truly a pleasure.
RP: Did you ever get the “token white guy” feeling during business meetings with Square Enix?
CT: LOL… Come here Ray… can I have a hug?
RP: I’m sure you’ve noticed, but the economy has been wretched for the last couple of years. How has the economic downturn impacted Gas Powered Games? What are some of the adjustments and hard decisions you’ve had to make?
CT: We’ve really had to focus the company. We did a lot of things that were pretty standard; cut costs, tightened our belt, cut our team sizes back. It’s been painful, but it’s also been good to go through. You know the saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… and now we are stronger for having gone through it.
RP: Some people feel that the economy is forcing many publishers and developers to grow up, and that ultimately this weeding out process will be a good thing. Do you agree with that sentiment?
CT: Well, I can’t speak for anyone else in the business, but I can speak from my own experience. I have certainly grown up and have a few grey hairs for having had to deal with the challenges the economy created.
RP: At DICE 2009, you told me that you’ve been in game development since May 1988. A lot of things have changed in the last 21 years. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed.
CT: Well, our target market has changed. The whole business has opened up to include many new types of players. It used to be 18-35 yr. old males, and now the rest of the world is playing games. This is a very good thing, but it also means that we have to think differently about what gaming is. We also play online now more than ever, but not in a competitive way, it’s actually about playing together, which I think is a great change. We also play on more devices than ever, and are focusing less and less about technology whizbang, and more on the actual gameplay, characters and story. And I guess I would be insane not to mention the increase in computing power, and visuals. I started out on a TRS-80 with 128×48 pixels, that were black and white no less…
RP: A lot of publishers are interested in fast tracking digital distribution. As a developer, do you see any creative possibilities for Gas Powered in digital games? For example, Cliff Bleszinski probably wouldn’t have been able to work on Shadow Complex without digital distribution.
CT: Digital distribution is the future; there is no doubt about that. It’s just a matter of time. Some say it will be sooner, maybe 2-4 years, some say later, 5-10 years, but it’s all the same… it’s coming, and will be the way in which most players acquire games. And yes, there will be some great opportunities; especially for smaller companies… in fact, it’s a big enabler for small game companies to do some very cool things.
RP: How do you feel about paid downloadable content that’s released on the same day a game comes out? A lot of gamers feel that this stuff should be included with the game or available as free DLC.
CT: That’s a tough call. I haven’t personally confronted that as a gamer, so I can’t draw on my own emotional reaction to it… which is how I like to make decisions. Incidentally, Stardock is going to be releasing two new Demigods very soon, and they will be free, as promised. It is worth noting though, giving stuff away for free is fun to do, but it’s tough to run a business like that. :)
RP: I know you’re Canadian, but you have extensive experience working on baseball games. I was born in the Bronx, so I have to ask you, how awesome was it for the Yankees to win the World Series?
CT: When it comes to baseball, it’s like getting the bill at dinner… when I see it coming; I suddenly feel the urge to go to the bathroom… does that make sense? Okay, that could be funnier…
RP: Lastly, my readers love hearing about what talented and handsome developers are playing. What are some of the games you’ve enjoyed in 2009?
CT: Well, not to sound cliché, but I recently played a bit of Modern Warfare 2, and Uncharted 2, as those are no-brainers. I played some Wolfenstein, BF 1943, and with my kids, I like playing the LEGO games (they are quickly becoming an ageless favorite in the Taylor house). I did just get Dragon Age, and will be checking that out in the days ahead.
RP: A-ha! After you’ve played some Dragon Age, you’ll have to let me know how you feel about paid DLC on day one. That’s one of the most recent offenders.
Chris, as always, it was a true pleasure. Thanks for your time and I hope to see you soon!