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Interview with Ken Allen
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Mon Jun 12, 2006 06:59pm
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1) How did you enjoy your time at Atari?Ken A: One of my greatest passions is to make games, so when the chance to work for Atari came along the ‘mother of all video game companies’, I was elated! Over the course of my four-year tenure at Atari, I met some pretty amazing folks who share the same passion. Unfortunately, during that period, Atari has gone through a number of significant challenges and changes in the company’s attempt streamline its operations and find the right leadership. When I left Atari in the round of layoffs in Feb 06, I was saddened to leave all the great people I’d come to appreciate. Fortunately, the video games industry is like a big family, so I know I’ll keep in touch.

2) It was a sad moment when you announced that you were no longer with them, how did you feel about the response you got from lot of members on various forums?Ken A: Well to be honest, I wasn’t really looking for a response. I have a lot of respect for the regulars who post in the Atari Community, and I felt that, since I have been somewhat active in the forums, I owed the regulars proper notice of my departure. But to your point, everyone has been very supportive and appreciative of my involvement with the community and shared my regret for leaving.

3) How do you feel RCT3 from start (Vanilla) to finish (Wild) went?Ken A: I am thrilled by the whole experience. The series has won a number of awards and RCT3 is one of the top selling PC games since its release! RCT3 Wild! even beat out one of the Sims expansions for expansion pack of the year (with all due respect to Will Wright)! I realize there is a few things we could have done better, but overall I’m quite pleased!

4) Were there any plans for an RCT4 or 3rd expansion pack when you were part of the team?Ken A: First let me qualify my answer by saying I am still bound by the confidentiality agreement I signed while working at Atari, and under the category of trade secrets are marketing and product plans. So, you’ll understand if I don’t reveal everything I know. But I can tell you I was pretty gung-ho for several more expansion packs and how we could move to a sequel. I was beating the drum pretty loudly at Atari for RCT3's future, and I’m fairly certain all the right people were listening.

5) Do you think there will be a RCT4?Ken A: In a perfect world, yes. But let's be honest. It’s no secret Chris Sawyer is suing Atari, and Atari, at one point, was suing Frontier for taking ThrillVille to Lucas Arts, a game originally commissioned by Atari (although I read recently ThrillVille is being distributed by Atari in Europe - something that would normally be done by Activision - so I think Atari and Frontier are on better terms). I won’t bore you with all the details here, they're easily obtained elsewhere. To be candid, from my perspective, there’s enough animosity between everyone in this relationship to start a small war. Will there be an RCT4? I suspect that until the lawsuit between Chris Sawyer and Atari is resolved, the likelihood is very small. But that’s just my opinion based on my reading of the news. Fortunately, in the business world, good businessmen make decisions on what is good for business and not by whose feelings got hurt. So who knows!

6) In what areas would you improve the game?Ken A: There are a few things I regret, such as not supporting the Intel video chipset and not producing a low-res version of the game for lower end machines. The game scales quite-nicely between high end and low end systems, but there were lots of people at or below our low end spec or had frame-rate lag even at the lowest settings and who wanted to play but couldn’t, in hindsight a low-res version just for them would have been something worth planning for. Everyone knows the system requirements labels on PC games are more confusing than ever, so I can’t lay fault with consumers who purchased the game only to find it was not playable on their home computer. I just wish we could have done something from a programming standpoint to make the system requirements label on the game box less of a factor.

I also think we could have tightened up the character AI, offered more options in the designs for scenarios, expanded the kinds of marketing campaigns, given the GUI a few tweaks here and there, added a scenery importer, finalized the movie recorder, offered carnival games, produced a wider variety of show-ride options and expanded the RCT3 MixMaster to include rock-and-roll shows. Had I been involved in any future work on the franchise, these are things I would have pushed for. There're also a few logic problems that still bug me, but those are things I can count on two hands.

There are also a number of complaints I’ve read claiming that many of the rides did not accurately portray their real-world counterparts, and I can appreciate the feeling shared by coaster enthusiasts who’ve voiced such an opinion. But let me just say, RCT3 is not a true simulation (in the strictest definition of the word); it’s a scale model - a resource management strategy game. And a pretty darned good one at that! For those who want a detailed recreation of their favourite coaster designs, all I can suggest is that you look somewhere else.

Throughout development, we had a list of ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ features, and some of those never made it in. As with any project where deadlines and street-dates are always looming, you’ve got to prioritise what’s important. So in a sense, we have similar pressures to that of movie editors who've have had to leave some of their favourite scenes on the cutting-room floor.

7) Which is your favourite game, Soaked or Wild?Ken A: Wow, that’s a tough one. Both expansion packs were very innovative in their own ways and each offered new levels of fun and excitement. I honestly don’t think I could choose between the two.

rct3x: Cool Are you aware of any news about the future of RCT?

Ken A: The only news I’m aware of is that of ThrillVille, about which you can read elsewhere. I must admit I’m a little disappointed I won’t be involved with this game because the whole idea of bringing RCT to the PS2 and changing the game’s focus to be more peep-oriented was originally my idea. My colleagues at Sony (SCEA) were exited about it too when I presented the concept to them for approval as a PS2 title. And I would have liked to have stayed at Atari long enough to influence the game design for ThrillVille to the level I did for the PC versions of RCT3. But, as a seventeen-year veteran in the games industry, I know you can’t dwell on regrets like this and that you have to move on. I don’t know what will ultimately become of ThrillVille, but I have confidence the game is in very capable hands and that Lucas Arts will take good care of it.

9) Do you keep in touch with Chris Sawyer?Ken A: I’ve had very little interaction with Chris Sawyer, and usually have dealings with him through Frontier or his agent. He seems like a likable fellow, but he enjoys his privacy, and I respect that.

10) You suggested an Open Source RollerCoaster game. Do you have any news on this?Ken A: I’ve been intrigued of late by the notion of open source projects. And one of the things I think makes some games successful is user-created content, the RCT franchise being one of these. One day I thought to myself, 'What if the whole game were made up of user-created content??' I don’t know if open-source is the right answer, but I’m looking into what can be done and what makes sense. Apparently, a lot of Atari Community members find the notion intriguing as well.

11) Can you give us a general overview with what you'd like to see happen with the 'RCT3 Open Source Project' and how'd you’d like to see it proceed?Ken A: Well, first off, we would not be able to use ANY intellectual property from the RCT series. PERIOD! This would be an open invitation for a lawsuit. (To readers: got that?) But I think there’s a real chance to make something fans of the RCT series would enjoy. I share the frustration of many players that there seems to be no amusement park management game on the horizon worth playing. Theme Park has gone sour, all’s quiet on the RCT PC front - and most the other coaster building games or related tycoon games are abysmal. So what are our options?

I was inspired by one posting in the Atari Community forums (I think it was JonWil) that suggested Frontier and Atari open up the source code for RCT3 fans. Naturally, Frontier would never open up the source code to this game, but it got me thinking. In exploring the options for an open-source game, you have to consider about what kinds of things the community really wants to contribute. Right now it’s just a ‘thought problem’ I want to ponder. So in all honesty, it’s just too soon to openly discuss details. And presently I’m just listening to the reaction to the poll I posted in the Atari Community forums; digesting the reaction. If something ever becomes of the idea, I’m sure word will get out.

12) If it were to go ahead, how successful do you think it would be?Ken A: I guess that depends how many other people support it. Some open-source projects are hugely successful; take the Wikipedia, programs like Bugzilla and the Linux operating system. And I think there’s something very appealing about software built by the community, something very democratic. Could a game achieve similar success? I would not presume to know, but it’s a question worth asking, I think. Don’t you?

13) Do you like the idea of ThrillVille to be released on consoles and what it allows people to do?Ken A: Honestly I haven’t seen any of the design highlights since September 05. And I suspect several core things about the game to which I’ve been privy to have either evolved or have been dropped in favour of other design ideas. The best way for you to get info on this product is to visit the Lucas Arts website and have a look at the screenshots and trailers they’ve posted there. I wish Lucas Arts and the dev team at Frontier all success with this title and hope this brings the franchise to a new audience. But if it flops, don’t come to me. Wink

14) Do you visit any RCT3 fan sites?Ken A: You know, I have to admit I haven’t visited any fan sites since leaving Atari. But when I was deeply involved with RCT3, I made it my business to lurk around the fan-sites. I don’t have a favourite. I’m just appreciative that so many of you have such a deep affection for the RCT series to devote your resources to this franchise.

rct3x: Thanks Alot,

Ken A: You are very welcome! And stay tuned!
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