Friday, September 2, 2011
Before Blizzard became Blizzard and made Warcraft games, they were known as Silicon & Synapse, and one of their games was Lost Vikings.
I had been planning an article on The Making of Lost Vikings for Retro Gamer magazine, to coincide with Blizzard’s big anniversary. Unfortunately despite many attempts at faking email addresses in order to get in contact with Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham and Frank Pearce directly, none worked.
Eventually I resorted to their PR department, who passed me along several times before settling on one contact, who said he’d try to arrange it. In the end they said everyone was too busy and they wouldn’t be able to do it.
So the article is a non-starter. In my research though I discovered that Blizzard’s Insider newsletter did an interview with Mike Morhaime for the 10th anniversary of the game. Which I’m reposting below. Why am I reposting content from another website? Because Blizzard deleted it from their archives, thereby forcing me to rely on the Wayback Machine. Which is shaky at best.
So this post serves two purposes:
1) I am re-archiving historical content which has been deleted (why Blizzard did this, I can only guess).
2) If you know Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham or Frank Pearce personally, and think they’d like to be interviewed, head to Hardcore Gaming 101’s front page and get in touch with us. From what I can tell only Michael is still full-time at Blizzard, so maybe the other gentlemen will be more willing to talk.
Enjoy the interview. All the images were stolen from various other websites, like Mobygames and Wikipedia.
Interview with Mike Morhaime
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Lost Vikings, Blizzard recently announced plans to bring the title to the Game Boy Advance this spring. The Insider spent a few minutes with Mike Morhaime, president of Blizzard, to talk with him about the game's creation and what it was like to work at Blizzard back in the Viking days.
BI: Can you tell us how the idea for The Lost Vikings evolved?
MM: Everyone in the office was playing Lemmings at the time, and loving it. We especially liked the way they had characters with unique abilities working together to solve interesting puzzles. With that style of gameplay in mind, Vikings started out as a puzzle game that involved a lot of Viking characters onscreen simultaneously. As we got further along in development, we learned that it just wasn't possible to create that many characters with sprites on the Super Nintendo, so we decided to cut the number of Vikings down to five - each with their own unique abilities. We really liked the arcade action feel that directly controlling fewer Vikings gave us; however, we found that five was still too many to achieve exciting gameplay. After a bit more design work, we paired it down to the three Vikings that we have since come to know and love - Erik, Baelog, and Olaf.
BI: How many guys worked on the game? How long did it take to develop?
MM: I believe we created the game with only about twelve people on the team. Development on the project began late in 1991 and we finished the game in about a year. It was a really exciting time for Blizzard, because this was the first game that we developed from the ground up as a company.
BI: What do you remember about that time at Blizzard?
MM: Back then, we were much smaller, so it was easy to have frequent all-company events. A couple cars could take the whole company out for drinks after work. Our projects were a lot smaller back then too, and (believe it or not) we had a reputation for consistently finishing games on time. No one knew who we were or had any idea of what we were working on back then, but we always felt like we were on the verge of something big. When the magazine reviews started appearing for The Lost Vikings, it was a great thrill for all of us!
BI: The original Lost Vikings featured both the Blizzard and Interplay logos. What was the relationship with Interplay?
MM: Several of our earlier games were published by Interplay, including The Lost Vikings. Interplay provided funding for the project, handled sales, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution. They also provided assistance to our development staff in areas where we didn't have sufficient resources at the time. They contributed audio, quality assurance, and they even provided some character animations for us to use as well. They had great comments and suggestions during development, and we learned a ton by working with them. As is normal for a development relationship like this, Interplay retained all the rights to the intellectual property for the game.
When the GBA came out, we felt that it would be the perfect platform for The Lost Vikings, Rock 'n Roll Racing, and Blackthorne. It's always been kind of a dream of ours to eventually get the rights back to our earlier games. We checked with Interplay, and sure enough, they were willing to sell us back the rights. For me, that's a perfect ending to the story, and coincidentally just in time for the The Lost Vikings' 10-year anniversary!
BI: Is there anything you learned in developing The Lost Vikings that has found its way into Blizzard games ever since?
MM: I think we learned some important design lessons that have become sort of part of the Blizzard culture now. Everyone at the company played The Lost Vikings over and over to help test and polish it. We saw what a huge impact that such attention to detail had on the game. We also learned that the people who program and design a game aren't the best judges of how difficult it is to play; they know the game too well. We had to constantly bring new people in and watch them play, especially with the early levels, to make sure they weren't too hard. Working on Vikings helped us remember the big picture: that a game, first and foremost, should be fun to play…that it should feel good and look good. The Lost Vikings was also our first attempt at adding a bit of humor to a game. We wanted each Viking to have some charm, so we came up with funny animations and interesting dialogue to give each character his own unique personality. By the time Warcraft II came along, we had refined the concept a little more, but Blizzard's first attempts at humor began with The Lost Vikings.