An Interview with Rod Nakamoto, Producer of Wing Commander® : Prophecy from Origin Systems, Inc.
We have heard that you are a true fan and a Gamer, not just a businessman. Do you believe this is a fair description on yourself?…….
Yes, that is true but because of my responsibilities, I don't spend as much time as I'd like, playing games. At home, I have a P200 PC, Sony PSX, Sega Saturn, and a Nintendo 64 to keep me from being starved for games. Some of the more recent titles I've played are: Diablo, Red Alert, Tomb Raiders (PC and PSX), Soviet Strike (PSX), Virtua Fighters 2 (Saturn), Descent II, Duke Nukem 3D, Mario 64, Wave Racer, Crash Bandicoot. This goes way back to the days of the Apple II, Atari 800 and Commodore 64 - I had tons of games for these machines. I am currently very intrigued by MDK…
How did you get your start in the world of computer gaming, and what are some of the projects you have worked on in the past?…..
I am actually a formally trained artist - I achieved a Master of Fine Arts degree from one the most prestigious art schools in the world - the Rhode Island School of Design. Somewhere along the way I got interested in computers and struck upon the notion to merge art with technology. The only problem was that I got more involved with the technology than the art. I started programming and blending some of my art work. In the late 70's, I built my own computer systems and wrote the operating systems to run them. Later I purchased an Apple II computer, with a cassette player (programs used to be sold on audio cassettes before the availability of floppy disks) and got hooked on Apple Trek. After playing a few games, I realized that there was really no sound, except for the clicking and hissing coming out of the tiny speaker. Using my new found hardware expertise, I built a plug-in card that had a primitive sound (by today's standard) processor and a speech synthesizer chip. I wrote all of the software including one of the first text-to-speech translators. I called this product MockingBoard. With the addition of additional investors, I started manufacturing this card in 1980. In order to really sell these cards, I realized that I had to enlist the services and support of the then fledgling game industry. I spent many months traveling around the country, gaining support for the MockingBoard. I got a young company called Electronic Arts to support the card, a very young Richard Garriot (it's actually how I first met him…) with his product called Ultima, and many other recognizable names. Ultimately, I sold 50,000 cards and left the company when my investors decided that the IBM PC was not going to be a game machine (boy, was that a mistake…). That was 1984. I then moved back to Los Angeles where I decided to use the contacts that I had developed and started a contract software company called Interactive Designs. Between 1984 and 1990, I programmed over a dozen products (back then products could still be done in less than nine months). I programmed one the first 16-color EGA PC products called Ikari Warriors ( a replica of a popular arcade game by SNK). I also did a 16-color versions of Defenders of the Crown, by Cinemaware, Super Hang-On, Power Drift, Cabal, and a whole slew of 'replicas'. (Note - I call them replicas when others call them ports of arcade games. The reason I don't call them ports is because I was never supplied with any source code, data or even someone to talk to about a particular product - instead they supplied me with a video tape of the game, played from beginning to end - and had to come up with the entire game design and spec from that tape). As my company crossed over into the cartridge market, I contributed less and less, concentrating, instead, on running the business. In 1993, I sold my business, which had grown from 0 to 45 employees, to a company called Sega of America. Between 1993 and 1996, I was Vice President and General Manager of Sega Interactive, in Los Angeles. And most recently, I moved to Austin, to become part of the Origin family.
What does your job at Origin entail, and what do you like best about it?…..
My responsibilities as Executive Producer involve managing the Wing Commander and Crusader product lines. The part that I enjoy the most is the fact that I am a lot closer to product again, where my duties at Sega were more administrative.
Wing Commander is a HUGE property.
Origin has a reputation for being "special". How are you planning to maintain and to build on that reputation?
Mostly by delivering the best possible product that is deserving of a Wing Commander or a Crusader product. These products have already established themselves as high quality, successful products. I intend to carry on the tradition of quality and innovation that is expected of all Origin products.
What do you think is the most important aspect to feature in games today? And what possibilities are you looking forward to in the future?
I think games need to evolve, primarily because the people buying these products are evolving. Today's consumer is more computer literate - they understand how things are being achieved on a computer system, there is no magic. Back ten, twelve years ago, very few people understood how some of these games were being done - it was a black box - magic. I think if we're ever to see the kind of growth that we did back then, we'll have to put more of the magic back - people need to ask 'how did they do that?' again. My personal view is that the way we entertain people will change - intelligence, emotion, sophistication - these are areas where the programming will need to catch up with the hardware. The 3D phenomenon we are witness to is what we in the industry call 'eye candy'. Eventually we need to add substance to the visual experience.
Have you played any of the previous Wing Commander games?
Yes, I was always a great fan of Wing Commander .
Is there anything you can tell us about the future of the Wing Commander line?
I wouldn't want to spoil our surprise…All I can say is that a new Wing Commander product will be released later this year…and it will be AWESOME. As anticipated, it will be a strong single player game with a new multi-player component. If you're interested, I'll supply more information and previews as we get closer to our target.
How important do you think fan ideas and feedback are to the development of future games?
I actually believe in the feedback process. It is not very often when one can obtain feedback directly from the people who actually purchase the products. But I do believe also in some organized method for conveying that information. We are always excited to hear feedback (bad or good) about how we put games together. Most of the time we are left to any feedback we might get from magazine reviewers…and that's not necessarily unbiased.
In recent months full motion video has come under scrutiny from the fans. Many say that too much time and money is being spent on FMV and that this can cause gameplay to suffer. What are your thoughts about it?
I am one who agrees with that view. I believe that the product should drive the FMV as supporting material not the other way around. I believe that it is an effective way to involve the player in the fiction but not at the sacrifice of game play. It's what I admired in the first two Wing Commanders - the game play came first, above all else.
Do you have any plans to continue the using and evolving the animation style that was so effective in Privateer 1?
Yes, there are some things I could mention…but it will have to wait for a more appropriate time.
Is it a possibility that we will see a Privateer 3 sometime in the future?
Yes, it is a possibility…(see previous answer…)
Please tell us a bit about yourself... your interests, hobbies, and "outside life".
I spend a lot of time programming, developing new ideas, playing my guitar, photography, fly fishing, RC cars and surfing the net (this is really what I do in my spare time, the other stuff is just for show…).
This was supplied by the Worlds of Origin web site located at http://www.bestware.net/whisper/woo/.