Mike Legg (EA/Westwood Studios) – Interview

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He’s worked on more legendary titles than you can shake a stick at! You heard me, C&C, Dune II, Blade Runner, the Legend of Kyrandia games have all had this man’s magic sprinkled on them. EA/Westwood Studios/Petroglyph legend Mike Legg answered lots of Adrian’s questions for your reading pleasure…

**Once you’ve read this why not have a read of our interviews with Westwood Studios’ stalwarts Joe Bostic, Frank Klepacki and Denzil Long!**

 

How did you get the opportunity to enter the video game industry and do you remember the first game you ever worked on?

In 1982/1983 (during high school), a friend and I wrote a hockey game for the Apple II. We took it to Electronic Arts (San Mateo) to be published, but did not get it to happen. However, we did get job offers to start at EA in 1984 as junior programmers, as soon as we graduated high school. We ended up both going to college to study Computer Science, instead.

In 1986, while in college, I was working at a local computer store, Century 23, with Louis Castle. He and Brett Sperry had recently started Westwood Studios (while working part time and taking college courses). I then bumped into Brett one night at the arcade Caesar’s Palace, where we were playing gauntlet together. We talked about me joining Westwood, he talked to Louis, and I joined on in October of 1986 as a programmer.

My first game at Westwood was Phantasie III: Wrath of Nickademus for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, and PC/DOS. We were making it for SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc) working with Chuck Kroegel there. It’s fun to note that Chuck eventually became part of Westwood, and has also been at Petroglyph (he’s our CEO) since the beginning.

 

How did you get the opportunity to work at Westwood Studios and can you recall your initial interview and how do you reflect back on the early days of this amazing company?

I knew Louis from the high school days and from working together at Century 23, so I didn’t really interview with him. My interview with Brett sort of happened at the Caesar’s Palace arcade. We did not really know each other until then.

Working at Westwood was absolutely fantastic! Those days were the “Wild West” of computer game development. Going to the office was like visiting a magical clubhouse loaded with all kinds of cool technology. We were there are the time, and it was hard to go home. We worked a lot of crazy hours just due to the pure love of what we were doing and what we were working on. I was there from 1986 through the closure on 2003, and loved every minute of it!

 

You worked on all three of the awesome Legend of Kyrandia games. What was your exact role on these games and is it true that Westwood was later sued regarding who owned the rights to the game?

On Kyrandia 1, I was the Designer and Lead Programmer. On K2, I was part-time Designer and Lead Programmer. On K3 I was Lead Programmer. Westwood had licensed the rights from an online game called “Kyrandia” for the Multi-Comm BBS systems. It was a multiplayer, text-based game where people were wizards and were able to cast spells on each other. Westwood did everything by the book, and the case never amounted to anything.

 

The single-icon cursor for all actions in Legend of Kyrandia was quite a big move away from other well-known adventure games, such as the SCUMM engine. How was this ambitious element of the games conceived and were the old school LucasArts games an inspiration?

The item cursor / icon just happened organically as we were protyping the new engine for it. It just felt so natural and worked so well. We were hugely inspired by the LucasArts games – I’ve always been a huge fan of them since way back in the day. In K2, we added the “Lost Cave of CheLuck” (so similar name) as a tribute to LeChuck the Pirate from Monkey Island (a-ha! – Ed).

 

How do you reflect back on the Legend of Kyrandia games and do you have a personal favourite in the series?

I love them! K1 was my favorite since it was our very first Graphic Adventure game and we had glorious 320×200 256-color VGA. I worked on the design with Paul Mudra (Audio Director) and Rick Parks (Lead Artist). The world was just beautiful to see come together as the artists added new scenes.

 

 

Would you ever like to see a new Kyrandia game be developed or even remastered versions of the original trilogy?

I’d love to see a new story in the series, or a reimagining of the original!

 

Westwood Studios is probably best known and respected for their huge influence on the RTS genre. Do you remember the day when the shift moved away from other games to really focus on this evolving genre?

In the early 90’s, our first RTS was Dune II. At the same time, we were also working on Legend of Kyrandia (Adventure) and Eye of the Beholder (RPG). Until the end of Westwood, we were still developing RTS games (C&C 3) and various genres of games on different platforms.

 

What was your role in the development of the Dune 2, and how did it feel to be working on such a groundbreaking game?

While Joe Bostic was programming on Dune 2, I was programming on Kyrandia 1, and Phil Gorrow was programming on Eye of the Beholder. We shared a lot of code back and forth for all 3 games, forming the Westwood Library of code. I was also the Death Screamer voice for Dune 2 – you can hear me anytime someone gets killed. Those death scream voices carried on in the C&C and Red Alert games, as well as the Petroglyph RTS games.

 

Do you have a personal favourite house and vehicle in the Dune universe and are you fan of both the books and film?

I hadn’t read the books back then, but really dug the film. My favorite house to play is House Harkonnen – with the Harkonnen Devastator tank. I’m very excited about Legendary Pictures’ new Dune movies, and can’t wait to see how they look.

 

I assume the Command and Conquer series was born from the amazing success of Dune 2. How was this new IP first discussed and was there ever a point when the game was going to go in a different direction?

From what I recall, Brett Sperry and Joe Bostic were scheming a possible fantasy-themed version of an RTS – sort of a “Command & Conjure”. However, the modern-military theme of C&C felt more accessible to a wider audience of players back in those days. Back then, Fantasy hadn’t really broken through yet as pop culture.

 

Why do you think the Command and Conquer games were so popular with both critics and gamers and how do you personally reflect back on this time?

We loved playing C&C with each new build just as much as we loved making games. Everyone could tell there was something very special brewing there. I believe it was so loved with the combination of addicting gameplay, the full-screen cut-scenes, the Frank Klepacki soundtrack, and Joe Kucan as the unforgettable “Kane”.

 

C&C: Sole Survivor

 

What is your personal favourite Command and Conquer game, vehicle and character in the series?

The Red Alert series have always been my favorites with the alternate history twists. I loved any Tesla-based unit or structure. The Yuri from RA2 was also a blast. I’ve always loved Kane, since he was played by Joe Kucan. Joe and I went to high school together back in the early 1980’s, and I have many fond memories of those days.

 

The amazing adventure game Blade Runner went back to Westwood’s earlier roots. How exciting was it to work on this project and what was your exact role on this game?

It was very exciting to work on Blade Runner! I was Co-Lead Programmer with Mike Grayford. James McNeill was also coding on the project with us. Louis Castle has this awesome idea to make the entire screen a fully-animating movie set, and it worked.

Also memorable about Blade Runner was that I was working in “Building 2” at Westwood, where the Dramatic Assets and Audio Departments were. We got to meet and spend time with some of the original actors from the first movie. When Sean Young walked into my office one evening, in full “Rachael” costume and makeup, it blew my mind.

 

I would love to see a remastered version of Blade Runner and even a new game based on the latest movie. Would this ever be a project you would like to get your teeth into?

Yes! The world is so rich and evocative! It lends itself so well to the “Detective / Mystery” genre, so many more games and stories could be created (hooray!! – Ed).

 

Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat looks like a great PS2 title. Was it a lot different working on a game purely aimed at the console market as opposed to the more Westwood traditional PC market?

Yes, it was very different. Originally, it was a PC multi-player game that took place in a “living” Pirate world on a game server. We were very inspired by Sid Meier’s Pirates and had sailing, trading, ship combat, docking at towns, and more. It was all about growing your ship and crew, and becoming a legendary Pirate.

When we switched to console, the play did not fit, so we refitted it to become more of a sailing action adventure.

 

How do you reflect back on Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat and why do you think it failed to reach an audience?

Ultimately, we bit off much with having both the Sailing and Land modes. Instead of having one excellent game mode, we ended up with two less-than-excellent game modes. First, after changing the game away from was originally on the PC (a “Sim Pirate” game), it became a game all about sailing, fighting other ships, and trading with (or battling against) seaside towns and ports – much more action-based. The sea combat was quite fun. Later, it was decided to add on a second “Land” mode to include exploration, sword fighting, and treasure hunting. Along with this, the PS2 was very challenging to develop for, as were were writing all-new code from scratch. The scope just got too big for the game. That said, I still think it’s fun, and love to hear when someone was a fan of it.

 

We have had the ultimate pleasure of interviewing Joe Bostic, Frank Klepacki and Denzil Long over the years. How would you reflect back on your time working with your Westwood colleagues, and do you feel this amazing group of people was the main reason Westwood Studios reached such amazing heights in the video game industry?

It was magic! The folks at Westwood were just absolutely amazing, and we had a ton of fun making games together. We worked a lot of long hours, but had a huge love for what we were doing. I’m very thankful to still be working with many of the team today at Petroglyph. The success of Westwood was due to the passion, vision, creativity and leadership of Louis Castle and Brett Sperry – all backed up by an incredible team of game makers. It was a Golden Era of game development.

 

When did you realise you were ready to leave Westwood Studios and start Petroglyph?

We had just finished pre-production on Command & Conquer 3, had the project green-lit, and were about to get started. We got notification that 3 EA studios were going to be consolidated and relocated to other locations. Most of the C&C3 team was going to be moving to EALA in Playa Vista, California. At that time, I had been at Westwood for 17 years, and truly enjoyed it – I never ever thought I would leave. We had really built roots in Las Vegas with families, homes and close friends. With our parents (of my wife and I) here, and as their only children, we could not leave. Plus, we thoroughly enjoyed living in Las Vegas and it’s cost of living. We decided to stay in town and just start over.

 

How do you reflect back on the early days of Petroglyph Games and how proud are you of the companies amazing success?

I remember when we first signed the Star Wars: Empire at War contract with LucasArts/LucasFilm, we were extremely excited and terrified at the same time. We had to get an office, hire up, and get all our stuff together to create a new game (and game engine technology) from scratch! Thankfully, the assembled team was excellent, and we got rolling quickly. Soon after, the initial fears wore off as we started to get the game up and running. Plus, working in the Star Wars universe with our very first project was a dream come true.

The last 15 years has been a wild ride of both amazing and some bizarre experiences, working with different publishers, and creating many different games of varying scope and budgets. So much changes in our industry at a constant rate, that we have to stay nimble to keep up with the times and stay in business. As I write this, I’m still having fun programming on our game projects, and we’re very thankful as a studio to be working both on Conan Unconquered with Funcom and the Command & Conquer / Red Alert remasters with Electronic Arts. Both are excellent projects to be working on!

 

It must have been amazing to work on Star Wars titles so early on with Petroglyph Games. How did you get the opportunity to work on these titles and did you feel a lot of pressure to make sure these games were as good as possible?

It truly was amazing to work on the Star Wars titles! In 2003, we scheduled a bunch of project pitch meetings with publishers during the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is Los Angeles. We were set to meet with many publishers and pitched different ideas of games we could make for them. Right before the event, Simon Jeffery, president of LucasArts, called and suggested that we have a meeting, and we agreed.

Shortly thereafter, we went to E3 with many meetings lined up. When we went to the LucasArts meeting, it was very short and sweet – Simon told us that they wanted to make a Star Wars RTS (with space, land and galactic modes), and wondered if we’d like to do it. We heartily agreed, and were told that Randy Breen (VP of Development) would come and visit us at our office in Las Vegas the next week, to continue planning and discussions. We walked out of the meeting with our minds blown and stupid smiles on our faces. We immediately realized that we’d better get an office for the next week’s meeting. 🙂 After that, the rest was history! We are so appreciative of Simon, Randy and the whole crew at Lucas for all their support of us with our first title as a new studio.

And, yes, there was a lot of self-inflicted pressure to make the games as great as possible, but our high morale and the hard work of the team carried us through.

 

 

What exciting projects are you currently working on and how can our readers stay up to date with your latest games?

We are currently working on two new Strategy-based projects. The first in Conan Unconquered that was just announced (this interview conducted Dec 2018). We’re working with the fantastic team at Funcom, and the game will be launching some time in 2019.

Also very recently announced were the Command & Conquer + Red Alert Remasters that we are working on with our most excellent cohorts at Electronic Arts – our former parent company for the past Westwood days. The project is just ramping up, and it’s a delight to be working with the folks at EA again!

Both of these are fantastic projects and great fits for our studio and team. We do our best to post all of the most recent and relevant information on our Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/petroglyphgames/

 

Out of all the games you have been involved in, do you have a personal favourite and why?

Of all the games of various scopes, team sizes and productions budgets I’ve worked on over the many years, I’ve been proud of the work and effort that has gone into all of them. I really don’t actually have a personal favorite, since so many of them are near and dear to my heart. Though, I do have some really fond memories on an online, multiplayer pirate game prototype / proof of concept that we created back in the old WS days – that actually never got shipped. It was very fun to play, and a blast to work. I’d love to make that game over again some day.

 

Are there any games you started work on but were never released, and if so, which unreleased game do you think would have been the most successful?

The pre-production version of the sequel to Command & Conquer: Renegade, which was set in the Red Alert universe, was looking like it would be a really cool game. I’m not sure how successful it would of been, but the team was very passionate about it!

 

If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would you choose and why?

Nathan Drake immediately jumps to mind! He’s such a likeable, relatable, and down-to-earth guy who would have many fascinating stories to share. I loved all of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series of games – some of my all-time favorites! If you have not made it to the very end of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, you should!

 

Adrian

 

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