Don Daglow Interview, Part One

Let me just preface this newsbit by saying that the now-defunct Stormfront Studios is one of my favorite video game developers of the 1990s, primarily because of the three Gold Box titles they spearheaded: Gateway to the Savage Frontier, Treasures of the Savage Frontier, and the original Neverwinter Nights on AOL. That's why I was pleased to see that founder Don Daglow was willing to answer a batch of questions about the early days of video game development over at Game Thingie:
There's always been a lot of discussion about who was the first one making certain genre's, and Neverwinter Nights is called the first graphical MMORPG. Could you elaborate on the properties of game mechanics or the technology that plays a role in calling a game the first of its kind?

"I think it's a good question, cause a lot of firsts are slippery.

Neverwinter Nights I think was, because it was graphical, easier for people to see it was first, but there's always a hommage. What came before that allowed us to do that. I knew about MUDs, so the way that text-based games had developed. We had that hommage to those people.

Air Warrior, by Kesmai, which is a game that does not get the respect it should. They had realtime multiplayer flight combat between airplanes in the days of 1200 rpm. That was incredibly hard to do. And one reason I knew NWN could happen, was that I had seen Air Warrior. If I hadn't seen Air Warrior, I wouldn't have known. So yes, we did the first RPG that was graphical. But, we had Bartle's MUDs, which were in turn based on stuff I'd been around earlier, and we had Air Warrior all to look at. Which we then adapted which said: well we know Air Warrior works. It was just a matter of figuring out, what they were doing with airplanes we had to do with RPG, so we just believed in it. It was just an intuitive belief.

And the meeting where we got the green light, we had worked so closely with AOL that we had both my team and the AOL team in the room saying 'should we do this, should we not'. Part of my team was saying we should not do it. Part of my team was saying we should. Part of the AOL team was saying we should do it. Everybody thought it was a good idea, but some people thought it was too soon, systems weren't fast enough. They thought it was impossible. Two other groups had tried, and never showed. And so I would love to tell you it was scientific, but it wasn't cause Steve Case basically looked across to me and said 'do you think you can do this'. And it was one of these, 'okay, I trust you but be careful what you promise me because I trust you', and he and I had worked together on other games, and I just thought about it. I thought about Air Warrior and I thought about everything we knew and I knew, we can do this, so I said 'Yeah, I think we can do it'.

There were different issues but I knew I had a strong programmer to be the lead programmer. I knew I could figure out the packets on it and the programmer, Cathryn Mataga, a female programmer, was fabulous then and know. And I though, I think I know how to figure it out, Cathryn knew how to figure out these things and we put our heads together to work on this. And with Steve in those days, we shook hands and the deal was done."


Any last remarks?

The one thing is, if we get too fixated with what came first, as opposed to what it means to the craft. I would like to think, especially as time goes by, that what is really paid attention to in our work is, did we really affect people in any way? Did we change lives in any way? Rubins and Caravaggio changed the way people could feel when looking at a painting. It changed people's lives, people came from all over to look and discuss 'how does he do that'. That's what's worth paying attention to. If someone comes along and has a PDP-10 role playing game that turns out to be before Dungeons, yeah I'd be a little bit disappointed. But for the world at large, it really doesn't matter. How people feel about the game and what it meant to people, that's important. And I would much rather turn out to be second or third of something, and have made people feel like it mattered, than to get involved in the first-second-or third war.