Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Where are they now? - Jim Walls


A photo of some of Sierra's designers. Jim Walls is second from the right.

For today's Where are they now? I'll be basing it on another of Sierra's great game designers, namely Jim Walls, creator of the Police Quest series. Unlike other Quest games by Sierra, the Police Quest series was the most realistic: players assumed the role of police officer Sonny Bonds and many of the puzzles in the game would be simply following proper police procedure. Failure to do so would usually result in a premature ending to the game (e.g. running a red light without the siren on). Before we talk about his most recent activities let's take a look at how Jim Walls ended up working for Sierra On-Line.

Jim Walls was born and raised in California and actually started off his first career as an optician for several years, working for optometrists and ophthalmologists in the Fresno area. In 1969, he met the husband of a colleague who was just about to graduate as a California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer. The man's enthusiasm rubbed off onto Jim and two years later, he too became a CHP Officer.

Jim served as a police officer for 13 years although a particular incident in 1984 where he was involved in a shootout mentally scarred him for life. Jim was eventually placed on administrative leave while his condition was investigated and during this time he managed to meet Sierra co-founder, Ken Williams. Ken often got haircuts by Jim's hair stylist wife, Donna, and when he mentioned that he wanted to make a police adventure game but with an actual police officer as a designer, Donna passed on Ken's contact details to Jim.

After meeting Ken for the first time, Jim was asked to develop a story based on some of his experiences while serving as a CHP Officer. Ken liked what he read and eventually they translated the story into a design document. During this time, Jim received support from other Sierra veterans such as Ken's wife and creator of the King's Quest series, Roberta Williams, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy (creators of Space Quest) and even Al Lowe (creator of Leisure Suit Larry) towards the end of the project.

Besides 1987's Police Quest, Jim would also design its sequels Police Quest 2 (1988) and Police Quest 3 (1991). He also designed the game Codename: Iceman (1989) during his time at Sierra.

Jim decided to leave Sierra after the completion of Police Quest 3 and then worked with Tsunami Games (which was composed of many former Sierra employees) on another police adventure game called Blue Force (1993).

In 1996, Jim made his way to Nevada so he could work for Real-Time Strategy giant, Westwood Studios. Jim was contracted by Louis Castle to work as a designer on Blade Runner (1997) in order to make the police segments as authentic as possible. After Blade Runner shipped, Jim worked as a full-time designer at Westwood Studios until 2003. He helped design action-adventure Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002) and sci-fi MMORPG Earth & Beyond (2002). Earth & Beyond would be the last game to be developed by Westwood Studios before it closed for good in 2003 by EA.

For the next 10 years, Jim was most likely doing what Ken Williams was doing, i.e. enjoying retirement. It wasn't until 2 February 2013 during a podcast that Jim revealed he was seriously thinking of creating a new police adventure game, thanks to the successes other ex-Sierra developers were having with Kickstarter (and Choicest Games was one of the first places in the world to break that news ;)). On 16 July 2013, a Kickstarter project for the game Precinct was launched aiming to raise $500,000 for development. Unfortunately, the goal seemed unreachable and the Kickstarter project was cancelled a few days before the funding deadline. Robert Lindsley (another ex-Sierra employee) and Jim then took to funding the game through their own website but ultimately this too proved to be a failure and after only two weeks, they cancelled this funding drive too. Jim sent an email to all Precinct backers to say the project was on hold but that...

This is not the end! Precinct will rise again! It's too good not to.

It's been about a year since the end of the Precinct funding drive and there's been no news. I'm hoping that recent developments such as Sierra's rebirth encourage Jim to come back out of retirement again and to pitch his idea once again :).

EDIT (14/08/2014): I just confirmed with Jim Walls that he is indeed enjoying retirement at the moment and no one has approached him yet with respect to working on a new game. He is still hopeful of doing Precinct in the future though. I hope he gets his chance!

[LINK: Jim Walls Reloaded ]

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