Feargus Urquhart has produced some of the biggest games on the planet and helped establish some of our favourite retro games. How on earth Adrian managed to track him down I’ve still no idea! Anyway, for your entertainment here is our quickfire Q&A with IGN’s unsung hero of 1999…
How did you first get into the video game industry?
I have pretty much always been a nerd, I couldn’t wait to get an Atari 2600 when I was 8 or 9 (if I remember right). Although, I got the Sears branded one, which looked even more 1970s than the regular 2600! I also started playing on an IBM PC that a friend of mine’s father had. We played a lot of the original Decathalon and the Infocom text adventures like Zork and Deadline. Another one of my friends’ fathers put an Apple 2E together and that started me on my love of CRPGs. When I got a Commodore 64, I started playing games like Ultima III and Bard’s Tale. I didn’t know at the time that the developer of Bard’s Tale, Interplay, was only ten miles from where I lived! Fast forward to college and a friend of mine, Chris Taylor (eventually the Lead Designer on the original Fallout) said they were looking for testers. I play tested games for a couple of summers whilst away from college and then I got a full time project manager job, dropped out of college and was now in the game industry full time.
You have had many roles in the video game industry from writing manuals and producing games to actually becoming a CEO of your own company Obsidian Entertainment. Can you briefly explain the massive rise in your career and if you always had the ambition to own your own company from an early age?
I have to admit that I never thought I would run a game developer (company). If you asked me when I was 12 or 13 if I would be the guy managing the internal and external development of some of the best known Dungeons & Dragons CRPGs, I would have looked at you strangely and assumed you were nuts. I think the difference back then was no one really thought games were a career. My parents certainly didn’t! Let’s just say the conversation with my dad about dropping out of college three or four classes short of a Bio-Engineering degree from UCSD didn’t go particularly well… But he did tell me it was the right decision a few years later.
Ultimately, I was both lucky and a hard worker. I didn’t know it at the time, but the way I tested games, explained bugs, presented myself when asked questions, and wasn’t afraid to let people know what was wrong about things lead to Interplay giving me more and more responsibility. The lucky part is that I got into the industry when the stakes were much smaller (games cost much less than $1M to make, while they now can cost $100M or more). Plus, games were still only for nerds, so there were only so many people looking into games. However, I think I did work incredibly hard, worked late hours, and focused on how to make the games I worked on great. I try to tell people that a great game speaks for itself. If you helped make that happen, then that’s probably the best resume you could have.
Out of all the various roles in your career, which one did you most enjoy and why?
I have really enjoyed all the positions I have been in, because they were great for where I was in my life at the time. Being in testing in my early 20’s was great. I met a great group of people, wasn’t weighed down with a ton of responsibility, which meant going out, hanging out at bars, and my gaming wasn’t impacted by that pesky work thing. As I got older and wanted to move forward in my career, I was able to dive into the games that I worked on. I got to write dialog for Shattered Steel, worked on early brainstorming for Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate, and do area design for Fallout 1 and Fallout 2. I really enjoyed being able to contribute to the design of our games, although I will admit I made the Turbo Plasma Rifle in Fallout 1 way too overpowered (no! – Ed).
On the business side, I’m incredibly proud that I was able to get Interplay to sign up Baldur’s Gate (my boss at the time turned down the project), help the Fallout 1 team staff up to make it the great game it became, and work through all the agreements and business that has gotten Obsidian where it is today. I have to admit that a lot of the business is stressful and can sometimes be tedious, but the games I’ve worked on probably wouldn’t have been what they are today without me doing that work (and we thank you for it! Ed). I suppose the game stuff I’ve done was rewarding whilst I was doing it, while the business stuff has been very rewarding after seeing the results.
In 1999 your huge efforts in the video game industry was recognised when IGN awarded you the Unsung Hero of the Year – how did it feel to win this prestigious award?
It’s always great to be recognized and I guess I have often been someone who has been half in front of the camera, and half behind the scenes. I’m not someone who is interested in or needs fame, I’ve seen what that has done to some of the people I know. But, it is always great to get a little bit of it. 🙂
You were involved in Heart of the Alien: Out of this World parts I and II (Another World 2) – I am a huge fan of the original title – why do you think the sequel wasn’t as successful as the original and why was it only released on the Mega CD?
Wow! That is going back a whole lot of years. I’ll have to admit I really don’t know. If I had to guess looking back through the years is that the Mega CD itself was not very successful. Part of that was that developing for it was expensive. The development hardware cost $10K or $15K back in 1995. Sadly, one of the Mega CD development kits ending up serving as a doorstop for Eric DeMilt – producer on Fallout 2, and the current Lead Producer on Armored Warfare at Obsidian (that’s a pretty cool doorstep – Ed).
You were heavily involved in both Fallout and Fallout 2 – how does it feel to be involved in two of the biggest games in history?
Proud and thankful. While I feel my contribution to Fallout 1 and 2 helped them be the successful games they are, I would never want that to take away from what the team put together. The direction of Fallout 1 was really due to the early development team who worked on it for a couple of years before I got involved for the last 18 or 24 months. I am very thankful, because Fallout has both truly helped my career, and it is always amazing to have something you worked on loved by so many people.
Do you think you would personally get along with the Vault Dweller if you met him in real life?
Which Vault Dweller? The one hopped up on Jet, or the guy who loves Dogmeat? I think the Vault Dweller I like the most is the one that did it his way, helped people in the Wasteland, and gave the Overseer the finger silently. It’s funny after almost twenty years, Chris Jones, Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarky, who just joined Obsidian, have been talking a lot lately about what makes a character like the Vault Dweller who he is in the game. While I don’t want to spoil anything, those conversations are definitely making us think about how we want to approach what is next.
That’s got us on tenterhooks Feargus! We know you’re a busy man so we’ll let you get back to working on the next big thing. Readers, if you want to keep in touch with what Feargus is up to why not follow him on twitter @Feargus