Warwind – Aaron Kreader
How did you come to Dreamforge back then?
After going to collage in Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon University) for art, i was eager to find work. I was working every job EXCEPT in art. Finally I saw a post through a newsletter from my collage and immediately applied. I loved games, art, and specifically RPGs. Seeing what they created, it was a clear fit. They thought so as well.
How was it to work at Dreamforge?
In the beginning it was, in a word, „magical“. Everyone working there was very nice. The focus was very intense and the talented group of 15 or so people working there gave us the feeling we could create anything. We were all fairly close to each other and I cared deeply for everyone there. To be able to work with a team of talent and creativity like that formed my aspirations for decades even after I had left. I think they grew to around 50 or so by the time I left.
Except War Wind, if I see it correctly, you have only made role-playing games and adventure games, so how do you come to the decision to make a strategy game?
At Dreamforge I was an artist. However, I LOVED game mastering original 1st Edition D&D, and would, at night host sessions to play adventures I created and modified. I think it became clear to the owners and managers that I had a capacity for story telling, world building, puzzles, and theatre. So they asked me to help John „Fuzzy“ McGirk with some design work on another project, as well as the owner Chris Strakka who was in charge of game design. Me and John got along wonderfully. He is a very creative guy, musical, and has a unique imagination and easy personality. So even though at that time, RPG was my main interest, I also loved dissecting, studying, and re-designing strategy games and war games. Prolly from pure hubris I thought i could be a master of game design and aspired to make the next best Warcraft, albeit with all the features I wished it had.
Until today, in almost all RTS games you always have a human faction. I like the idea that in War Wind there are only non-human factions very exciting. How did you come up with this idea and did something inspire you about the factions. Then for what reason did the humans actually come back in War Wind 2? By the way I love these obblinox punk dino cyborgs. Awesome!
I did not want to have humans in this world because I liked the idea or feeling that the player was experiencing something entirely outside of the realm of comfort and typical thought. If you played a human race, you would bring human drama and conceptions, I didn’t want that. It really was a world that pushed out from somewhere else into my imagination and I dont know how or where. I just love world building. Recently I moved and found an entire box of drawings from my work on the Warwind project. I was drawing that world like mad, building the races, creatures, and cultures. But it seemed adding humans would make it too familiar, something i felt was overdone. The only reason humans were added to WW2 was because SSI (the publisher) insisted upon it. They said they did „market research“ and it would create more popularity–so I did it. But that broke my heart and contributed greatly to me leaving. So i am very thankful for them, because it „pushed me out of the nest“ so to say. I was so comfortable there, I would likely not have been eager to leave if not for WW2.
You can see that you put a lot of work into the design and setting of the background story. In this genre you usually like to use quite a few clichés, so you decided to go for a much more complex world? Is it perhaps because of your RPG game background that you wanted to have a more unique world? It seems like there was more background that didn’t make it into the game.
Yes, my RPG background contributed to this indeed. As did my interest in story. I work a lot on storyboard work for film/tv/streaming now and realize this aspect of my art was alive even then, just in the form of world building for games. WarWind btw is not the title i wanted, i cannot recall the title now, but it was far from war (another publisher insisted idea)–maybe it was Race for Yavaun (Yavaun btw is named after my favorite cousin hehe) I cannot recall. That rich background is far wider and bigger than what even made it into the game. Of course at the time i thought the whole project failed the vision I had (which was rather unrealistic to be honest). I wanted the game play to be so creatively interesting and inspiring to the player that they felt like explorers on an alien world. It might have ended up just looking all a little bloated with too much divergent content. And the reviews were mixed, which sort of depressed me too. I pushed the programmers to put a lot more than prolly the CPUs of that era could handle—they did amazing for the time. Warcraft was cleaner, faster and simpler—things the public likes, but i was admittedly bad at delivering simple. I wanted complex, intriguing, and bazaar.
I think one of the strongest points of War Wind is its art design and also its atmosphere. What was the vision for the look and feel of War Wind? Were there influences from Warcraft? At least at first view I think there are similarities.
At first the engine was modeled after Warcraft. Everyone in our office played it, so you cannot remove yourself from that comparison. It frames your idea of what can be done in an RTS wargame. And Warcraft was revolutionary. But the atmosphere and world design was inspired by the Dark Crystal and by elements of the Baha’i teachings of the oneness of humanity (Bahais reminded me of the Shama’Li and their quest). I loved this idea that the races of Yavaun were at one time all one and they seperated. Each race was a facet of their original humanity, the body (obblinox), the mind (Tha’Roon), the spirit (Shama’Li), and feelings (Eaggra). It is ironic that humans don’t appear, but the basic realities of our humanity are all deeply apparent in these 4 points, and of course the 5th which is the unified integration of them all. (Very much like Julie Walker’s oneness model which i discovered YEARS later–weird, right?). I love asymmetrical game design too, the idea of each having a valid view, but also a deep flaw to overcome.
I’m a bit of a map lover. I can spend hours browsing through atlases. Therefore this question. In the manual there is a map of Yavaun and before the missions there is always a snippet of this map. Unfortunately you could not interact with it. Was there anything else planned with this map at that time?
I had wanted the map to be far more interactive and immersive. Something that came up against the restraints of reality and time and budget.
What happened to you and Dreamforge Intertainment after War Wind? Were there any ideas for a third War Wind or another RTS?
After doing a few RPG titles and art on a number of games i started to have odd panic attacks. Some very wise person in my community showed me a quote from Carl Young that profoundly affected me. Something like „Panic attacks are the souls last and most desperate way of communicating something vital to the mind and body that is being ignored.“ Well that really affected me. I think within a few weeks I announced I was leaving. It was around the same time WW2 was announced. But from a core place within me, i knew I was not made to create war games. I was really a story teller parading as a war game designer. Something I couldn’t see at the time. It also turns out one of the owners sadly developed a cocaine drug habit and was driving the company into the ground. Very sad, because I really loved him and everyone there like family. But I think my instincts were telling me to get out of there. In the end, it was an amazing experience which showed me a lot about what I loved in life and what I needed to create. Closest thing I ever did to another strategy game was a card game called Villagers and Villains (2011). It has less war and more building however, but it is very light and fun too. Sort of like being a mayor in a fantasy RPG town. It was rather successful and was part of a national tournament in Vegas. So fun.
Thanks for all your wonderful questions and trips down memory lane. i hope nothing here dispirits anyone who loved Warwind. I loved making the parts I contributed, and it makes me happy to hear it gives people some measure of joy. That is all one can ask for!
A few more specific follow-up questions to the answers:
“So they asked me to help John „Fuzzy“ McGirk with some design work on another project, as well as the owner Chris Strakka who was in charge of game design.”
Do you remember which project that was?
Chronomasters, based on Roger Zelazny books (they stated it was his game design in the credits, but that was more for marketing, it was his concept but the design of each zone was unusable and unfinished. John and I did the design. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronomaster
“I also loved dissecting, studying, and re-designing strategy games and war games.” What games are you talking about here? Are they board games, perhaps? Which ones did you play intensively at the time?
Not just board games but video games, we looked at WARCRAFT, COMMAND AND CONQUER, we looked at SETTLERS of CATAN and even combat games like TEKKEN and TEKKEN 2 and Mario Cart. Playing games at lunch amongst the staff we really broke down what was fun about any given system. It was really research for making better games.
You mentioned that the atmosphere is influenced by the Baháʼí Faith. I have never heard of it until your e-mail and directly researched it first. Sounds very exciting and progressive. How are you connected to the Baháʼí Faith?
In Pittsburgh where i was living I was close a number of Bahai’s in the area and striving to study, understand, and master the concepts. It was all very open. No secrets, no hidden agendas. And so much to study. It greatly affected me and inspired me and gave me the idea of cooperation and a sense of being one human family–not separate from any nation or religion, but part of all of them.