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“An Unfortunate Affair a story by Sir Chadwick Moore,” reads one of Arcanum’s loading screens presented as a magazine cover. For years, I treated it as such - a mere loading screen. However, during a recent replay of Arcanum, that screen caught my eye for some reason, sending me on a little investigative trip.
And as it turns out, that story actually exists (you can read it over here) and Sir Chadwick Moore, or rather Chad Moore, is very much a real person and a bit of a Renaissance man among RPG developers. Over the years he's worked on numerous notable titles, including Fallout 2, Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, and even WildStar, Carbine Studios’ short-lived MMORPG.
Chad’s areas of expertise include scripting, writing and narrative design, character modelling and animation, and even voice acting direction. And right now, he’s directing a yet to be announced and mystery-shrouded RPG over at inXile Entertainment.
Having discovered all that, I simply had to learn more about this veteran developer who, up until recently, was very much off my radar. Here’s the resulting interview:
GameBanshee: You’ve been in the video game industry for over two decades and in that time, you wore plenty of hats. Cinematics, voice acting direction, programming, writing and world building. Can you tell me a bit about how you got into the industry and how you’ve managed to acquire such a varied skillset?
Chad Moore: That’s a pretty long story, but I’ll do my best to summarize the high points. Back in the early 90’s, I got some experience using a 3D package called Alias – and I leveraged that knowledge (in conjunction with what might be the worst demo reel in recorded history) to land a job at Brian Fargo’s Interplay in 1995. While there, I worked on a PS1 game called Red Asphalt (which was originally meant to be the sequel to the Rock-n-Roll Racing) modeling cars and environments. I also decided that this fun little racing game required extensive backstory, lore, and character development – parts of which eventually ended up taking up more than half of the game’s manual. This was an omen of things to come.
Being at Interplay, and by extension Black Isle studios, I was around some of the industry’s most skilled RPG makers. That’s where I met Leonard Boyarsky, Jason Anderson and Tim Cain (the original creators of Fallout) – which eventually led me to Troika Games where I really developed my RPG chops working on games like Arcanum and Vampire, along with continuing to hone my skill as a 3D artist. After a brief stint as a Lead Character Artist at Treyarch Studios, I joined Carbine Studios - where I was reunited with many of my old colleagues from both Interplay and Troika to help them create the game world and narrative for WildStar, an MMO that released in 2014. At that point, I decided to break completely from my career as an artist, and focused solely on my skills as a designer, world-builder, and storyteller.
Fast forward to 2019, and I join the team at inXile – where I’ve once again joined forces with both Brian Fargo and Jason Anderson to lead the team that’s creating the company’s next-gen RPG. Needless to say, I’m very much enjoying my new gig.
GB: Over the years, you had a hand in creating a number of notable RPGs. Fallout 2, Arcanum, Bloodlines, just to name a few. Is there any reason why you were drawn to this particular genre?
CM: I’ve always been a storyteller at heart. I spent a lot of time as a kid writing stories on an honest-to-god manual typewriter. I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, and was an avid comic book collector for many years. RPGs were just the natural extension of these interests, which presented a more interactive way of living in these fantastic worlds. Where you could be the hero of your own story. It’s one of the reasons I still love the genre to this day, especially when I get to help create the world, its characters, and its stories from the ground up.
GB: You were heavily involved in the production of Troika Games’ Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. In fact, your alter ego, Sir Chadwick Moore, was immortalized in one of the loading screens as the author of “An Unfortunate Affair,” a very much real short story that served as a piece of foundational fiction for the game. Can you tell me something about how that story, and the game’s unique world that combines magic and steampunk technology, came to be?
CM: That was a really fun and interesting project that I took on soon after joining the team at Troika. We had already done a lot of early world-building, but we needed something to bring all of those great ideas into a more compelling picture of what the world was like. And so “An Unfortunate Affair” was born. It ended up being a lot longer than I’d originally planned – but I think it was really successful in communicating what was unique about the game world. It was really useful for the team as a creative target, and I remember the community really enjoying it when we released it later on.
GB: Where does this story of yours fit into the bigger picture? It mentions Tarant, the game’s biggest hub, features some prominent NPCs, describes a good number of spells and technological gadgets, and even sneaks in a mention of the infamous gnome conspiracy quest. Did you have some reference document when writing about all those things or did you invent them for the story? What's the chicken and the egg situation here like?
CM: It was a little bit of both. Things like Tarant, Tulla and the gnome conspiracy were already an established part of the lore – and I wanted to weave them into the narrative. But I created the characters from whole cloth to tell this particular story, and made up a few gadgets and spells along the way. The best part about the whole experience was going back and weaving those characters back into the game itself – so you could meet Perriman Smythe in Tarant, or Sebastian in the Boil, and recruit them as followers. Even Willoughsby and Lorham made cameos. My inner lore nerd still gets a little giddy just thinking about it.
GB: Beyond that story, which parts of the game you personally worked on? Which were your favorite?
CM: Outside of the character models that I modeled and implemented into the game, one of my main responsibilities was writing and scripting many of the followers. Each of them had different stories and personalities, and many of them would react differently (and sometimes violently) depending on who else was in the group. It was a very complex exercise, but very cool in those situations where their reactivity was on display. There were some really great personalities in there as well – from Magnus Shale Fist the secret descendant of the legendary Iron Clan to Franklin Payne the world-renowned explorer.
GB: Among many other things, Arcanum is notable for its writing style that feels very authentic to the time period it depicts. Was it difficult to write in that unique old-timey style?
CM: It took a little while for the team to gel around that pseudo-Victorian style – but once we got rolling, it just became second nature. There’s a lot variation even just in the English dialects in that era – from the cultured and haughty voice of the high class (like Geoffrey Tarrelond-Ashe) to a more guttural Scottish brogue (like Magnus). And each of those has its own unique idioms and turns of phrase. As a writer, it was just a fun world to create in.
What’s really funny is that to this day I still catch myself writing the word “magick”. We had to write it so many times in dialogs and other materials, it just became muscle memory. It took me years to stop doing every time.
GB: An individual by the name of Edward R. G. Mortimer is credited as the game’s main writer. From what I can tell, he was an editor and contributor to Judges Guild, a pen and paper RPG publisher from way back in the day, but very little is known about him. Can you shed some light on who Mr. Mortimer really was and what he did for Arcanum?
CM: My memory on this was pretty fuzzy, so I had to go straight to the source: Tim Cain. Tim told me that Edward G. Mortimer was a designer from the Judges Guild - a company that made modules for D&D and AD&D back in the 70’s and early 80’s. Mortimer wrote some really good modules for them, so Tim contracted him to do some additional writing for Arcanum. Back then it was much more difficult to coordinate with employees remotely, so most of what he wrote was additional material for our generated dialog system. Although he didn’t end up being a major contributor over the long term, Tim was happy to have worked with (and hired, in fact!) one of his favorite JG designers.
For my part, the one thing I remember about Edward R. G. Mortimer was that he had the snazziest pair of rainbow suspenders I have ever seen.
GB: Back when I first played Arcanum as a kid, I played as a dwarf, and when none of the elves would tell me how to get to Quintarra, I actually restarted my playthrough with a new character just because that particular quest got me hopelessly stuck. Playing the game now, I actually see how many contingencies you have in place to let the player discover the elven city. And to this day, I keep finding new quests and solutions for them. What was it like to design such a deep and intricate system?
CM: Unbelievably painful. Just kidding. But in all seriousness, we wanted to make a game where you had a ridiculous amount of freedom. You could walk anywhere in the world. You could kill any NPC – which included major quest NPCs and followers. Because of this, every quest had multiple entry points, dependencies, and contingencies. And many of those contingencies had contingencies. The complexities were endless, and it took a lot of organization and design gymnastics to make it all work. But it resulted in a game that gave you unprecedented levels of agency – and vastly different ways to solve problems depending on what kind of character you created and the way that you chose to play. It was a monumental achievement by a very small group of devs (there were only 10 of us!) – and it’s nice to hear that Arcanum is still entertaining and surprising players more than 20 years later.
GB: Now, let’s move on to some of your other projects. While you were still at Troika, you had a hand in making Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines happen. And once again, it looks like you were involved in pretty much everything from character art to the game’s main story. What are some of your favorite memories about that project?
CM: Bloodlines was such a great project. I remember meeting with the guys from White Wolf to talk about the WoD, and then getting a huge box full of all the source material to dive into. I remember meeting Gabe Newell up at Valve and talking about how could we use the source engine to create our world. Lots of late nights with Leonard and Jason talking about the best ways to translate the VtM systems into the game. About what city the game should take place in. About the kinds of music that best represented the game’s vibe. Creating the first prototype with Jeanette, an alleyway, and a creepy basement (parts of which showed up in Gimble’s Prosthetics years later). Writing the game’s main story arc. Creating the Malkavian’s language. Modeling characters like the Nosferatu, the Tzmisce, and the Werewolf. Directing voice over and hearing our characters come to life through talented folks like John DiMaggio, Courtenay Taylor and Gray DeLisle. Watching a coven of dominatrix vampires spank fans with a leather horsewhip on the show floor at E3. Those were just a few of the highlights. But the best part was that we had a great group of devs who really cared about making a cool game. Many of us still keep in touch to this day.
GB: Have you been following the development of the sequel by Hardsuit Labs? Any sage advice you’d like to impart to your successors?
CM: I was very excited to hear that Bloodlines was getting a sequel, and have been following the progress of the game with a lot of interest. My only advice? Follow the canon – it will never steer you wrong.
GB: Between Arcanum and Bloodlines, you worked on both isometric and 3D action-RPGs. Which way of doing things do you prefer? Why?
CM: 3D ARPGs are definitely my favorite of the two genres. Personally, I like the more immersive experience that a first-person game provides, coupled with skill-based action-mechanics that you can enhance and progress through role-playing systems. There’s an immediacy to that kind of experience that I really enjoy. I’ve always felt that Bloodlines was ahead of its time in this respect – a truly deep and immersive story-driven RPG blended with a fun and engaging action game. In many ways it’s become the template for what many consider the modern RPG.
GB: Later in your career, you were the lead narrative designer and creative director on WildStar, Carbine Studios’ MMORPG that launched back in 2014 and then was shut down in 2018. What exactly went wrong there, in your opinion?
CM: That’s a pretty long and complicated story. Let me start by saying that I had a really great time working on WildStar. That dev team had some of most talented and creative people I have ever worked with, and we created something that was truly unique - both in its design and its personality. That being said, my personal opinion is that the game struggled to find its design vision, which resulted in difficulties attracting a large enough core audience to sustain itself. It’s unfortunate that it’s not around anymore – but there’s still a tight-knit community that keeps the game’s memory alive.
GB: While developing WildStar you were reunited with your Troika colleague - Tim Cain, who then left Carbine for Obsidian. And I’ve heard rumors that his departure was not the most amicable one. Can you share anything about working with Tim on WildStar and his subsequent departure?
CM: Tim and I worked for a number of years together on an earlier incarnation of WildStar – which I very much enjoyed as Tim is a chocolate connoisseur who often shares his goods with people who sit near him. In terms of his departure: WildStar was a game that was more than seven years in production, and a lot of folks came and went during that time. What I can say with the utmost certainty is that I’m very happy that he found a great home at Obsidian – along with being excited for both he and Leonard on their recent success with The Outer Worlds.
GB: Over the course of your career, you went from working with small dedicated teams to directing an MMO. What was that like?
CM: The trajectory of my career has been pretty unique, and I’ve seen the industry undergo extraordinary changes - but the one thing that I’ve learned in my twenty-five years of game development is this: when you get a passionate team of any size working together on a shared core vision then fantastic things can and will happen. I feel very lucky to have been a part of creating games that continue to inspire players across the world – and I’m looking forward to making more of them with Brian, Jason, and the rest my new family at inXile.
GB: Thank you for your time and good luck with your future endeavors.
CM: Thank you!