Warwind – Jane (Yeager) Noel
How did you come to Dreamforge back then?
I started in 1987 at Paragon Software, a small local company that was making games for Microsoft. At that time, the Marvel license was cheap (can you believe that now?) But we did side scrolling games for Captain America and Dr Doom, Spiderman, Punisher, Xmen on Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and some DOS too. We also did Megatraveller (a space RPG) and Space 1889 in my time there.
In 1991, three of my coworkers (Tom Holmes, Chris Straka, and Jim Namestka) started their own company called Event Horizon. I was their first employee. We worked Darkspyre, on an isometric Gauntlet style RPG action game that was published by Electronic Zoo (a company formed from ex-Microprose employees.)
The company grew from the four of us to over 60 people when I left in 1999. The company survived until 2001. (more on that later)
In those days, independent developers worked with many different publishers. Darkpyre was our first game, then Dusk of the Gods was with Interstel, then SSI picked us up for The Summoning. We worked A LOT with SSI and their D&D License – Ravenloft, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, Menzoberranzan, and Dungeon Hack. There were probably a number of projects that never came to fruition with them too.
When we wanted to do our own RPG, SSI must not have been interested because New World Computing (the Might and Magic franchise) published that one.
Around that time network gaming (LANs) were starting to take off. Warcraft was huge. And SSI wanted something like it. AC Kreader (how we knew C. Aaron Kreader), was an artist on many of the SSI games and wanted to try his hand at design. He wanted something different too. His ability to come up with concept art and get his vision across was an important aspect of why the game is unique…and probably also why it’s not focused on humans. He created 4 unique races and balanced them well. Each has a style of gameplay that makes sense for the race.
How was it to work at Dreamforge?
It was an amazing place to work. Many, many very talented geeky people. It’s awesome to be part of a creative group that (generally) worked well together projects they loved. For many people this was their first job out of school. Scot and I were a little older and I think we understood how special it was at the time. Many of the employees went out into the industry and worked on (and still work on) games at Microsoft, Sony, Amazon, Blizzard, Epic, Big Huge Games, Firaxis, Bethesda, Warner Brothers, Upisoft, Luscas Arts and on and on and on. REALLY talented people.
Now it’s 25 years later and some of us keep in touch (largely via Facebook), but we also had a reunion where a number of us got together a few years back. I know when some of them are out and about at conventions, they try to hook up.
Many of them have moved from company to company as it happns in the industry – and many of them have commented about how truly special their time was at DreamForge Intertainment.
You probably noticed that our magazine is called DreamForge Magazine. Obviously that all started there. Just as we were starting to work on Ravenloft and the company was growing, we needed someone with management experience and writing experience. Scot had won 2nd Place in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future (Vol 6) and had been writing novellas and some of the text for the games. He came on full time around 1993 or 1994. With many common interests, we became friends and eventually married. So that is a rather special, personal reason why DreamForge is special to me.
The industry was changing drastically at that time. In the late 80s and early 90s it was a lot of small development houses. Games were put out on 5.25” or 3.5” floppies. But by the mid 90s, teams were growing, budgets were growing and companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Disney decided they wanted a piece of the pie. Big companies with big budgets started buying up all these smaller development houses. DreamForge kept holding out for a better deal, but eventually the big companies bought what they wanted, and weren’t really interested in independent developers anymore. DreamForge closed up somewhere in the summer of 2001.
When I quit in 1999, I started a company doing computer training and web development. He joined me in the business by 2001. We grew that into Chroma Studios, a full service design and marketing agency in the Pittsburgh area.
For many of Dreamforge’s games, SSI was the publisher. How was the collaboration with SSI and did the sale of SSI to Mindscape have any impact at that time?
I don’t remember the Mindscape purchase having a drastic effect – we were still working with the same people from SSI. I do remember that there was a LONG chain of purchases and mergers that went from SSI and eventually landed at Ubisoft. It got harder and harder to maintain the relationships that we had established as the people from SSI weren’t involved as much. I remember The Learning Company in between there too, and Ubisoft. I had left the company by then, but they were then working on Myst III and Ubisoft pulled the plug on it.
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?
I know at the time it felt like everyone wanted the next Warcraft. I’m not sure why SSI trusted us with a strategy game when they were experienced with wargames. Maybe we took the idea to them…I’m not sure.
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?
AC liked the idea of non-humans and as an artist had a great vision. But there were humans in WarWind 2 because that “order” came back from the publishers. They felt that many people couldn’t relate to the aliens and they wanted humans involved.
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.
RPGs were a love of many of the people there and all of our games (adventure, strategy and RPGs) all seemed to have some aspect of role play and deep story. We had a lot of talented concept artists at the time too. The design was quite collaborative.
I don’t have enough brain cells left to remember what didn’t make it into the game. J
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?
Not enough brain cells for that either.
Was War Wind actually successful? In Germany, at least the press was very enthusiastic about your game.
It was successful enough that SSI/Mindscape was interested in a sequel. But they must have felt it was too different from Warcraft. I know SSI games in generally did really well in Germany.
What happened to you and Dreamforge Intertainment after War Wind? Were there any ideas for a third War Wind or another RTS?
I sort of covered that above.
I remember we were working on a very early version Playstation – well before it was released – with the intention of doing a version of WarWind on that. I want to say that was after we had completed War Wind 2. I honestly don’t remember why that never happened. I think SSI/Mindscape must have decided not to do it. I now the pre-release Play Station was really limited in the number of polygons that could be displayed and we weren’t have much luck recreating the spirit of the game. We did work on Rites of War – a Warhammer 40K game. Scot worked on that one – so he might remember more. I think it might have had a bit more of a turn-based element to it.
The next big game we did was with ASC – Sanitarium. It went on to considerable critical success and did OK commercially. It was an story-based point and click adventure game. 3D games were really getting started then too. We worked for a long time on an unfisnished game with ASC for Werewolf – based on the White Wolf RPG. It was an ambitious project at a time when the Unreal Engine was just getting started. DreamForge was struggling and ASC was bankrupt.
I saw that you are currently publishing a science fiction and fantasy magazine called DreamForge Magazine. Is it actually a coincidence that this magazine and the former development studio have a very similar name? I love reading science fiction myself and am looking forward to taking a closer look at your magazine. (:
No accident here. When we were brainstorming names, Scot tried out a number of ideas. None of them clicked. Then we said, why not use DreamForge. The company had been disbanded at that point over 15 years. We were also working closely with Jane Lindskold. She’s a novelist with 25 novels to her name. Scot has been “pen pals” (literally pen to paper letters for years) since we worked on Chronomaster. Jane is another long time gamer. She was working with Roger Zelazny and helped him design the game. When Roger passed away, Jane took over the project and finished the novel and the writing for the game. We’ve been friends since. She was the first person we talked to about the idea for DreamForge Magazine. So that connection was part of the decision too.
We are excited to be starting our 5th year on the magazine. It’s been a wild ride. But it shares some of the creativity and community of the original DreamForge Intertainment. We’ve done art and writing for years as a part of our marketing company and have helped many clients build their businesses. While that’s rewarding, it’s not as exciting as truly creative work. At DreamForge we have a community of writers on Patreon, artists, and supporters – in the larger community of science fiction and fantasy. We’ve just had a blast and we love seeing the success and growth of many of our newer authors – much like we were proud of all of the DreamForge artists and programmers that went out into the world and made great games.
Well that might be more rambling than you were expecting. I’m sorry I couldn’t remember more specifics of the game. Different times we’ve had people ask us about Ravenloft, Menzo, Veil of Darkness, Sanitarium, and others. I remember bits and pieces of each, but not really much detail. We are all honestly amazed that there are people like you that appreciate these old games. Most of these games were really pre-internet and pre-social media…so most of our feedback at the time came from reviews. We never really heard much from people that loved (or hated) the games. But it’s a great feeling when years later, people come back and say something that you were a part of made a difference to them.