Friday, September 2, 2011

The Making of The Lost Vikings

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1) I am re-archiving historical content which has been deleted (why Blizzard did this, I can only guess).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.


  1. Faking email addresses to get in contact with people? That's kinda shady, Retro Gamer must be the tabloid mags of games journalism. XD

    Thanks for the repost though, fascinating stuff!

  2. Haha! You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to work through PR people.

    After weeks of trying to contact someone at Microsoft, being passed from PR rep to PR rep, telling me they had to analyse if said person's current project conflicted with the topic I was covering (a retro topic), and a tonne of other nonsense, I just faked 50 variables of his name and bulk sent them.

    Mission accomplished, next day I had my reply.

    I do this a lot. To quote Predator: I AIN'T GOT TIME TO BLEED. And I will do whatever it takes to get my scoop.

    PR reps in my experience are just filters to prevent you getting what you need - if you can circumvent them, all the better.

    Take this example. Are people at Blizzard really too busy? Or did the PR guy just decide it wasn't important enough because Lost Vikings isn't a current hot topic? Who knows...

  3. AND Retro Gamer is British, after all. ;)

  4. Gosh, you people are such pussies. Here's what you do : get around to their working place, wait for the end hours, tail their car, then, when the guy is getting the key to open his front door - BAM ! Club him on the head and drag him off. There's your exclusive interview. Maybe next time he will think twice about using those pesky PR people.

  5. Of course people at Blizzard are too busy, money doesn't count itself you know. :3

  6. Posting an interview that's not yours when you obviously have no right to, stealing images from other websites, and faking e-mail addresses in order you want.

    Have you ever heard of a little something called ethics ?

    You stole 90% of this article from people who did their job honestly and you're part of the reason why the PR people won't let anybody through in the first place.

  7. Well, (A) the interview was lost to the internet's void saved only by the Archive and is merely being reposted to save people the effort of digging it, and (B) the original source was pointed so it's not like it's stealing. Even the image sources were credited. There's really no lapse of ethics going on here...?

  8. Narushima, chill bro(?). Normally I'm not the biggest fan of Sketcz (however he IS improving, yo) but this is really an important piece of history that we cannot afford to lose.

    Not only that, he MENTIONS it's a repost right in the article. His ass is covered. Yours isn't. So y'know, chill?

  9. Merely saying who you stole from does not make it okay.
    You need the author's permission to use something they created. There's no "I think it's okay because...".
    Copyright law is not the sort of thing you can take liberties with just because you've got some lousy arguments.

  10. Here at Hardcore Gaming 101 we take a realist approach to copyright law. Some things are more important than petty bureaucracy.

    And by the way, copyright law is the sort of thing you can take liberties with because you've got some arguments (which in this case are anything but lousy). It's called fair use defense.

  11. Say that to a lawyer, see how hard he laughs.

  12. I realize this is the stupidest troll argument on this blog so far, but:

    (a) No one "owns" this interview. It was on the Blizzard site for years, and is gone now. So what exactly happens to this stuff when web sites disappear? I suppose they should left forgotten? Also, sourcing things like interviews is something journalists do, you know? Have you ever actually written a paper in school? This is how these things work.

    (b) You do realize the writer was being cheeky when images were "stolen" from other websites, right? Mobygames doesn't own these screenshots either, and they strictly fall under fair use.

  13. DA and Derboo have already made all the valid points that need to be made - but I want to add, from a personal perspective, if you think saving a developer interview from the void because they chose to trash it is somehow a bad thing, then this is the wrong website for you.

    Here is the URL for the old interview:

    And it says I broke the site. Waybackwhen only seems to work sporadically for me, and that's only if you know the original URL. Googling does not bring up WBW caches. But reposting it here does allow other people to Google for it.

    I'm not going to allow knowledge to die because some uptight lawyers and lawmakers somewhere made some ridiculous rule. If Blizzard kept this stuff online I wouldn't have to do their job for them.