Those of you who have been playing RPGs as long as I have will no doubt have fond memories of SSI's "Gold Box" games and, if you could afford to play by the hour, the original Neverwinter Nights on America Online. Several of these early Dungeons & Dragons titles were developed by Stormfront Studios, whose name you might recognize from recent D&D games like Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor and Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone.
To learn more about the company's history and their involvement with so many D&D titles over the course of almost two decades, we fired off a batch of questions to Stormfront President and CEO Don Daglow. In the interview, Don provides us with some great information about the rise and fall of the original Neverwinter Nights, the development of the D&D kingdom simulator Stronghold, their involvement with two of the original "Gold Box" games, and a whole lot more. Have a look:
GB: To start off, can you give us a little background information about Stormfront Studios? When was the company founded, and what games have you been involved with over the years?
Don: Stormfront was founded in 1988, back when our first games included versions for the Amiga and the Commodore 64!
We’ve done a variety of titles over the years. The D&D license has been a recurring theme, starting with the SSI Gold Box titles “Gateway to the Savage Frontier” and “Treasures of the Savage Frontier.” We did the first graphical MMORPG, the original “Neverwinter Nights,” which ran on AOL from 1991-97, years before Ultima debuted in 1998 and Everquest in 1999. We also did an early D&D 3D-perspective RTS, “Stronghold,” which I still get compliments about in the halls at GDC.
If you fast-forward to modern times, our most recent title is the D&D action-adventure “Demon Stone,” which we developed for Atari with author R.A. Salvatore. It was great fun working with Salvatore – he’s both a deep gamer and someone who brings out the creativity in a team – and bringing Drizzt to life was a great challenge.
We’ve always done a wide variety of titles, with D&D just one part of that mix. Our other best-known titles include the Tony La Russa Baseball games, early versions of John Madden Football, and we created the NASCAR racing franchise for EA Sports. Our biggest title in the last couple of years was The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers from EA, based on the film by Peter Jackson.
GB: Has Stormfront specifically focused on obtaining the rights to develop Dungeons & Dragons titles over the years, or have you simply been in the right place at the right time?
Don: Our history with D&D doubtless brought us a lot of licensed projects, and it’s been a passion of many of our team members. But our development strategy has always been to do a variety of titles, and to never get typecast in a particular role.
Ironically, my history with D&D even pre-dates Stormfront. In 1976 I wrote the first mainframe RPG, “Dungeon” on a PDP-10 at Claremont Graduate University. The original D&D RPG had just begun, and my friends and I were part of the early fanatical fan base that flocked to RPG gaming. (Don’t ask how fanatical we were… but if it had been any worse the President would have named a Czar and a Commission to help cure our addiction.) I’d been designing mainframe games for five years, so it was natural to bring the game to the computer.
When the industry began I joined the Intellivision team at Mattel and later became Director of Intellivision game development. We did the first D&D video games in 1982-83, “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” and “AD&D Treasures of Tarmin.”
And, although it did not bear the D&D license, I also produced “Adventure Construction Set” in 1985 with adventure game pioneer Stuart Smith at Electronic Arts.
GB: You've worked with multiple publishers on the many Dungeons & Dragons titles you've developed over the years, including SSI, Ubisoft, and Atari. Have you seen a change in goals for what publishers want to see in a D&D game?
Don: Actually, what’s been very cool is that each publisher’s producers have been dedicated to creating a real D&D experience, not simply slapping the license on a game. Ubisoft inherited a tough situation in Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor, where the game was started by SSI, which was acquired by Mindscape, which was acquired by The Learning Company, which was acquired by Mattel, which spun off the games division to Gores Corp., which then sold it to Ubisoft. Whew! One game going through five acquisitions during its development cycle has to be some kind of record!