Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Psychochild

Posted by Randolph Carter on April 23, 2009

MMO community connection:
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Chapter 1: Introduction

What is your name (your online persona/alter-ego, what have you)?

I go by “Psychochild” online, although my given name is Brian Green. I use a pseudonym because my given name is rather common.

What is your connection to the gaming/blogging/podcasting community (your chance to plug yourself here)?

I’m an MMO developer as well as a blogger. I’ve spent most of my career on the “indie” side of things, including buying and relaunching the classic online game Meridian 59. I also co-edited the book Business & Legal Primer for Game Development.

Please take a minute and describe what your blog/podcast is about.

My blog at Psychochild.org covers MMO development topics, primarily, since I’m a developer. I cover game design, programming, and business. I also cover writing, although I consider writing more of a hobby than a professional focus for now.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. I moved six times, but always lived near Des Moines or the surrounding communities until I went to college at Iowa State University.

Where do you live now?

I live in California. I lived in Silicon Valley for a while, but now I live a bit south where the rents are cheaper. I moved out here to get my first job in the game industry.

Your level (age) is somewhere in the range of (pick one): 10-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90

Pretty solidly in the 31-40 category.

What do you do for a living?

I tell people I’m an MMO developer. I’ve worked on a few projects that never really saw the light of day, so I don’t have a long and impressive resume. I have done programming, design, and business on various projects.

Currently, I do a fair amount of consulting and contract work on MMO projects to make ends meet. I’d like to do a true indie MMO project, but have yet to find people willing to dedicate the time required.

If you could reroll your career, what would you be?

Assuming I didn’t want to be an MMO developer (the class always seems to get nerfs), I’d probably want to be a writer. In high school I said I wanted to write but didn’t want to deal with the unpredictable income. Now I’m a game developer who prefers to run his own business.
Ha!

List five random things most people don’t know about you.

  • I can speak Pig Latin incredibly fast. I will almost certainly be the fastest Pig Latin speaker most people will know.
  • I need 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and usually get cranky if I don’t get it. This boggles most other game developers who can survive on less sleep during crunch periods.
  • I grew up very poor. My father was a union assembly line worker and always seemed to be on strike during my birthday and Christmas. After my parents divorced, my mother went to community college to get a degree in Accounting and delivered pizzas to keep us fed and clothed. My only exposure to computers as a kid was at school or at friends’ houses because we couldn’t afford one.
  • My absolute favorite type of game is “Metroidvania”. I love exploration in games, and these types of games are the pinnacle. After that is PC type RPGs, of which Might & Magic 7 is the best.
  • I’m on a crusade to have people italicize game names, just like is proper for books and movies. I think games should get at least as much respect as other works. (Now, let’s see if the site admin adds the italics tags to the games mentioned in this post!)

Feel free to discuss any family you have here.

I don’t get along too well with my family. I am only really in contact with my mother, who despite her age loves IM chat.

I’m one of the lucky ones who has met my soulmate; her name is Kat. She loves me and accepts me as a game developer, and has given endless support in our 15+ years together. Without her I don’t think I could have withstood the tribulations of being a game developer and a small business person. We’re not married, though, by her choice. We have no plans to have kids, but we have three adorable cats.

Chapter 2: Origins

What kind of games (if any) did you play as a child before you got into video gaming? Did you play with family, friends or was it more of a solo activity?

My family had a few of the “classic” board games: Monopoly, Sorry, and the like. We would occasionally play as a family. I don’t remember playing many games with other kids, other than your typical “cops and robbers” type games outside.

I did create a few board games of my own, though. My mother had some poster board for one of her classes when she was getting her degree at the local community college, and I used some of it to make a Transformers themed board game. I scavenged pieces from other games, such as houses from the Monopoly set to create “energon cubes” for the game.

One year for Christmas I got a “100-in-1″ gaming set. It had a bunch of generic pieces and some printed game boards with different rules for games. That really spurred my interest in games and my desire to create new ones. I drew some additional game layouts on the back of the boards and created new rules for existing ones.

When I got into the more advanced games, few people were interested in playing with me. I remember getting a war game based on Napoleonic wars and begging my father to play with me. He got frustrated with the game very quickly.

What other hobbies and/or activities did you have as a child (sports, music, etc)?

I did a bit of music when I was in school. In elementary school we learned how to play the recorder (a woodwind instrument). When I was a bit older I tried to play the clarinet, but band practice happened during other classes and I was always too engrossed in class to remember to go to band. Added to the fact that my practices irritated my parents, it was a brief hobby.

I also got into programming as a kid. In 5th grade, we had a class on typing. I took to the class well, so the teacher gave me a game written in BASIC to type into the Apple II computers in the back of the classroom. I was enthusiastic, because I had been an avid console gamer to that point. After I had typed it all in, I got my first taste of debugging. Learning to debug the problems and then tinkering with the program got me into learning BASIC. Of course, I could only work on stuff at school since I didn’t have a computer at home. I used to write out programs on notebook paper at home in anticipation of being able to type them up at school. One time we were able to check out a Commodore 64 from the local library, and I missed the school bus quite a few times when I was typing in programs instead of watching the clock.

Were you ever exposed to pen and paper role playing games? What was that experience like?

I was, in a very round-about way. I grew up going to a very conservative church that truly believed that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Satanism; all paper RPGs were similarly evil by association. So, it was something of a forbidden fruit for me, and therefore very alluring.

One of my earliest “real” paper RPG experiences was buying a module for TSR’s Star Frontiers on clearance at the local Target store. I saved up the money to buy it. Unfortunately, it was just a module and I didn’t have the base set, so most of the stuff was practically indecipherable to me. It was neat to look through, though.

When I got into BASIC programming, a friend of mine, who was also very religious, got involved at the same time. We started making games and found some RPGs, but he didn’t want to play them because they had “Satanic magic” in them. So, we started creating our own little games with each other. We had basically re-created paper RPGs without knowing much about them. Because we couldn’t use magic, and I knew that some herbs can heal (like Aloe Vera), I did some research on the magical properties of plants. I found some books on Wicca from that research. That’s right, *not* playing D&D lead me to read up on witchcraft!

My first real introduction to D&D came from a friend I met at church. (Funny how church and D&D intertwine so much in my life, now that I think about it.) He loved paper RPGs, and we played a bit of D&D.  Eventually we started designing our own paper game system when I was in high school; it was a horror-themed game based on the Friday the 13th TV series where the players had to gather cursed artifacts.

I got into D&D heavily in college. That’s where I met a bunch of my friends who I am still in touch with and where I met my long-term girlfriend. People always get jealous when we tell them we met playing D&D.

Did you read much as a child? If so, what did you like to read (books, comic books, etc?) Please list some favorite authors, titles, etc.

I read obsessively as a child. I was the quiet kid in the back with his nose in the book most of the time. The first books I really remember reading where the Hardy Boys books. The small school library had them and I read them in order. Don’t remember how many I ended up reading, but probably a few dozen. I also read the Encyclopedia Brown stories; I was often the smartest kid in the class, so someone recommended I read those.

I also read a lot of science fiction after I got bored with those titles. I read through most of the kid’s science fiction at the public library, then started going after different books in the adult’s section. To be honest, most of the books were garbage, though. I didn’t have anyone else that liked S.F. giving me any direction, so I just picked whatever caught my attention, and it was usually bad. For example, one of the Star Trek novels I read had Kirk captured by the Romulans. He seduces one of them (of course) and makes an escape with her helping. Along the way, he kicks Romulans in the groin (ow!) and comments how the women were equally susceptible to a groin shot as the men were.

In the past decade, I’ve spent time reading some of the classics I missed the first time around.

Would you say that any of these games or books had an effect on your later appreciation of computer gaming and ultimately MMOs? Please explain.

Paper gaming had an obvious impact. Learning computer programming and playing computer games got me into paper games. I think that since I didn’t get immersed into D&D immediately, it didn’t limit my design imagination as much. I was used to coming up with interesting new rules for mini-games for my friend. When I got into MUDs, I preferred the LP-MUDs because it was easier to program them without owning the game. I was able to earn a wizard (coder) position on one game and do game development.

As for books? I’d say gaming impacted my reading more than the other way around. As I said, most of the books I read were cheezy science fiction, intellectual cotton candy. I didn’t read many of the classics until later. For example, I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until after I started playing D&D. I read one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, because I played a MUD where someone had created an area and a player class based on the series.

How were you fist introduced to video games? How old were you? What was the platform?

I was about 5 when I saw a display for the Atari 2600 in a department store. I was fascinated by the idea of playing games on the TV. Every time my parents went to the store, they knew exactly where to find me when they were ready to go.

Later I got an Atari 2600 from my parents. I scrimped and saved to buy the cartridges. The big “video game crash” in the early 80s was awesome for me, because the local stores were trying to unload cartridges cheap. Yeah, some really sucked, but when you paid $1 for it the quality threshold was lower. I eventually had the largest collection of games of the kids in my neighborhood.

Did you ever play coin-op games at the arcade? What was that experience like?

When I was at a department store, my parents would find me at the video game display area. When we were at the mall? The arcade (or, sometimes, the Radio Shack playing the computer games there).

I loved arcade games as a kid. When you’re poor, a $2000 computer is out of reach, but you can play a few 25 cent games easily enough. I would also beg for quarters/tokens from people, or find free credits people didn’t play. I’d also take over games from people who had to leave. Of course, when I was young I really sucked at the games because I didn’t have a whole lot of quarters to practice. I never got past the first levels of most games.

My favorite arcade games were Capcom’s Forgotten Worlds, Atari’s Gauntlet, Data East’s RoboCop and Midway’s Total Carnage.

A little known fact: the Windows GUI front-end for MAME was developed with help from Chris Kirmse, one of the original programmers for Meridian 59.

What was the first video game you can remember playing that really made an impression on you? Please explain.

Probably Space Invaders, because I played the game on both the Atari 2600 and the arcade game. It kind of blew my mind that you could have the same game on different platforms. It was also one of the first games I really remember playing a lot (even though I sucked at it in the arcades). The Atari 2600 version also introduced me to my first cheat/easter egg: if you held down the reset switch while turning the game on, you could get 2 missiles at a time instead of one. That made the game a lot easier!

What gaming consoles have you owned in the past?

In roughly chronological order:

  • Atari 2600
  • Nintendo Entertainment System
  • TurboGrafix-16 (with the CD drive)
  • Atari Lynx
  • Super Nintendo
  • Sega Genesis
  • PlayStation
  • Gameboy Advance
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sega Dreamcast
  • PlayStation 2
  • GameCube
  • Nintendo DS
  • Wii

I’m scared to think about how many games I’ve owned. Easily a few thousand total. I tell people owning that many games is an occupational hazard for game developers.

I still haven’t bought one of the “current generation” consoles, though. I spend most of my time playing and developing MMOs on the PC.

Feel free to share a story related to your gaming experience as a child.

One of the first arcade games I saw was the cocktail version of Donkey Kong at the local pizza place. I talked my father into playing it with me. Since the controls were at the opposite ends of the table, I thought one person controlled Jumpman (aka Mario) while the other controlled Donkey Kong. Turns out, each person played one at a time and the screen just flipped around to face the player. Looking back, it’s interesting that I thought the game should be simultaneous multiplayer instead of playing one at a time. Probably one of the reasons I like MMO development.

Chapter 3: Online

Were you ever exposed to MUDs?

Yes! Those were my wild days in college. Starting in freshman year, spending late nights in the computer lab, compiling my CS homework and playing MUDs during the downtime (and sometimes when I should have been doing the homework!) I’m pretty sure the only reason I passed my introductory C++ class was because I learned LPC (the language the MUD gameplay was coded in) at the same time, and both languages have similar syntax. I certainly wasn’t going to the 8 AM classes four days per week!

The best part was making maximum level and getting access to the programming infrastructure on the games I played. The last push to “make Wiz” was over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my friend at the time. We played for 24 hours straight, caught a bit of sleep in the study area, then went back at it and got the maximum level together.

The MUDs I played extensively: Genocide (where I first used the name “Psychochild”), Highlands, Farside, Kerovnia, and Astaria.

What was your first MMO experience?

I played MUDs until I graduated from college. I didn’t own my own computer in college, so I didn’t get into graphical MMOs until later. I had heard about Ultima Online, but I didn’t have the opportunity to play it.

So, my first real experience with MMOs was with Meridian 59. I was applying for my first game industry job at 3DO in 1998, and the producer for M59 saw my resume and my MUD development experience. I had heard of the game before, but I thought it was for the 3DO console. Meridian 59 always had terrible advertising, so it never got the wide recognition it needed. But, they set me up with a free account to give the game a try, and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t always get to play the game as much as I wanted after I started working for 3DO, but I still enjoyed it.

If possible, list all the MMOs you’ve played extensively.

  • Meridian 59 – Pure mage with: Kraanan, Shalille, Faren, Jala
  • Dark Age of Camelot – 35 Dwarf Thane
  • EverQuest 2 – 67 Kerra Necromancer
  • World of Warcraft – 80 Night Elf Druid
  • Lord of the Rings Online 40 Elf Champion

I’ve also dabbled in most other major North American games, but I don’t have the time to play many of them extensively.

What is your current MMO of choice, or perhaps, what are your current MMOs of choice?

Lord of the Rings Online has my primary attention these days. My better half started playing it, and gaming with someone you love is the best. :)

I’ve also been playing a bit of Atlantica, but my characters on there have languished a bit while I’ve been busy with conferences. Any gaming time I get right now, I prefer play LotRO.

Which MMO have you spent the most time playing? How long would you say that has been?

Easily Meridian 59. In the 11 years since I started working on it, I I’ve put in hundreds of 24-hour days, and many more times that if you count the time I’ve spent developing and testing the game.

Have you reached level cap in any MMO? If so, which ones?

Unfortunately, Meridian 59 doesn’t have levels, exactly. I’ve built powerful characters, but my preferred type has a lot of skills and I never maxed out a character for various reasons (one explained later). One of my design goals was to allow players to participate in the game, including PvP, without having to have a maxed out character.

Currently, I’ve only ever reached max level in WoW; three times: original, “The Burning Crusade”, and “Wrath of the Lich King” with my main. I guess I did reach max level with my Warlock alt in TBC as well, but I didn’t do much with that character.

I will probably reach max level in LotRO. I’ve gotten bit by alt-itis in that game (I have all 7 slots filled with characters on one server), but I signed up for a year’s subscription. Unless something goes horribly wrong, I’ll probably get one character up to max level in that time.

Loki taps you on the shoulder one day to inform you that you have fallen victim to one of his elaborate pranks. The world you’ve been inhabiting of countless MMOs to choose from and play has merely been a dream. In reality only one MMO exists. After laughing at you for a bit he decides to take pity on you and allows you to choose which MMO will remain. Which one would you choose and why?

I’d tell Loki to knock it off, and threaten to nerf him more than he already is if he doesn’t settle down. I’m the administrator here! Loki is also the name of one of my cats that passed away a few years ago, so it would be strange to have his ghost visit me.

However, if gaming Ragnarök did happen, I would choose MUD1 as the game to stay around. It’s the progenitor of almost all the games we currently have, so if we start there then we could re-create all the current MMOs (and perhaps make them even better!)

Are there any MMOs currently in development that you are particularly interested in? Please explain.

Yes, but I don’t know what they are yet. Independent MMO developers suck at marketing, so I rarely find out about them until they’ve launched (and usually limped along with few players). I think indie MMOs are the more interesting ones to watch these days.

I’m also (slowly) working on a small project as well, so I’m interested in seeing that completed. :)

Feel free to share an interesting or amusing anecdote related to your MMO gaming experience.

There are too many! Here are just a few:

When I was playing MUDs with a friend, he got his friend to start playing. I was helping him with my female character (but we didn’t tell him it was me), then he hit on and kissed my character. He turned to my friend, in the same computer lab, and said, “I just kissed her!” My friend and I almost died laughing. Not surprisingly, the guy got embarassed and never played MUDs ever again.

That wasn’t the last time that character got hit on. I quickly grew tired of being the target of unwanted advances. I really sympathize with what women have to put up with in games.

Because I bought Meridian 59, some people think I’m able to buy and save any game. I’ve gotten emails asking me to buy and relaunch other games, like Earth & Beyond, Multiplayer Battletech, etc.

It’s hard to play your own game as a developer. I want to be social, but if people find out you’re a developer they start treating you very different. I had a mortal character in one guild and people were starting to suspect the character was me. The issue came to a head when a few people were coming to the local area and knew “both of us” lived in the area, so they invited both the character and me (the admin) to a get-together. I had to stop playing the character once he was exposed. Most of my characters have short lives or lonely ones because of this.

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6 Responses to “Psychochild”

  1. You forgot to italicize Might & Magic 7! I’m sure you’re regretting asking me to participate now. ;)

  2. Randolph Carter said

    Not at all. I’m glad you’re here. I’ll get to work on all the others as soon as I have a few weeks to spare.

  3. Mike "Lagmonster" Hall said

    I’m just wondering how long you played Genocide for. Some guy calling himself Chaosprime just logged onto Genocide a few hours ago after spending a good deal of time creating a wikipedia page, which suggests that you learned how to code on Genocide. Since there has never been a developer character called Psychochild, I was just wondering if you could provide illumination on this matter.

    Cheers!

  4. Mike "Ram/Link" Hall said

    Oh. I do remember you playing Tron though.

  5. Led said

    I can find no record of Psychochild on Genocide. You must have had that name changed before Dec 1993, which is as far back as the log goes. I suppose there are other explanations. Anyway the mud is still up at geno.org.

  6. Didn’t check comments until now. Just in case someone reads this….

    I learned coding playing Kerovnia, and was just a player on Genocide. I played Genocide in 1992-1993, so before the log cutoff date.

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