Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Where are they now? - Brian Fargo


Brian Fargo in the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter video

For today's "Where are they now?" we're going to take a look at one of the most important figures in the PC games industry. In fact, without his support, we wouldn't have seen such great Computer Role-Playing Games (CRPGs) such as Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment or Fallout, or maybe even developers such as Blizzard and BioWare. I am of course talking about Brian Fargo, former CEO of legendary games company, Interplay, but what did he do during his early years? What were his major accomplishments while he was CEO of Interplay? What happened to him afterwards?

Brian was born an only child in Long Beach, California on 15 December 1962. He is a descendant of the same family that created banking giants Wells Fargo and American Express. Brian developed a taste for creating video games in 1977 when his parents bought him an Apple II computer. Brian released his first game in 1981 called Demon's Forge, a graphical text adventure which he developed and marketed himself. Around this time, he also developed games for World Book Encyclopedia (it's like Encyclopaedia Britannica, only American).

In 1983, Brian Fargo would create the company he's best known for which was called Interplay Productions. Interplay's first contract was with Activision to produce a graphic text adventure called Mindshadow. After this was completed, Interplay worked on what would become an iconic RPG franchise during the 1980s called The Bard's Tale with the first entry in the series being released in 1985 under the long winded name of Tales of the Unknown: Volume I - The Bard's Tale. Incidentally, this game was developed for a small newcomer to the publishing world known as Electronic Arts, which as you probably know, isn't so small nowadays. Another three Bard's Tale games would be made by Interplay called The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight (1986), The Bard's Tale III: Thief of Fate (1988) and The Bard's Tale Construction Set (1991). Brian was a level designer on the first Bard's Tale, a scenario designer on the second, director for the third game and executive producer on the Construction Set.

Brian tended to be credited as a director or producer for his work in the 1990s and 2000s but one of his most famous games in which he was a designer was the post-apocalyptic RPG called Wasteland which was released in 1988. Brian would go on to be credited for work on over 40 games while working at Interplay (according to MobyGames), far too many to list but some of my personal favourites that were developed by Interplay (with him as part of the production team) includes 1988's Battle Chess (where he worked as the producer), 1990's Battle Chess II (where he again worked as the producer), 1992's Castles II (where he worked as Executive Producer) and 1993's Star Trek: Judgment Rites (where he again worked as Executive Producer).

As you can see, I've only really fond memories of Interplay-developed games in the 80s and early 90s, but that's only because when Brian made the decision to have Interplay publish games in 1988 (instead of only developing them), he opened the doors to some of the industry's greatest developers. For example, in 1992, a development team called Silicon & Synapse developed a game for Interplay called RPM Racing. Eventually this developer would rename itself to Blizzard Entertainment and develop the majorly successful Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft franchises. Famous RPG developer BioWare also got their start working with Black Isle Studios at Interplay on classic RPGs such as Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment. Black Isle would also work on the critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic RPG Fallout, which was inspired by Brian Fargo's Wasteland. While he is never explicitly mentioned in the credits of the Fallout games, each of the game introductions starts off with "Brian Fargo presents" to honour his contributions.

In 1994, Universal/MCA bought a 45% stake in Interplay and the company eventually went public in 1998. Unfortunately this didn't seem to provide enough funding so Interplay ended up needing to source additional funding from French games company, Titus Software. In 1999, the relationship between Brian and majority shareholder Titus Software deteriorated due to "a differing ideology of management", according to Brian. In 2000, Titus Software exercised a majority control of the company and as a result, Brian resigned his position after almost two decades with Interplay.

After leaving Interplay, Brian founded inXile Entertainment in 2002, a company with many former Interplay employees. The name inXile is a pun for his post-Interplay career, as Fargo’s title at the company is "leader-in-exile". Brian worked as the designer, writer and executive producer for 2004's The Bard's Tale but since that time, I haven't really taken any notice of inXile's titles, probably because most are mobile or console focused games. It took another 10 years before inXile was again in the PC gaming spotlight with the big news of a Wasteland 2 Kickstarter project commencing on the 13 March 2012. By the end of the funding campaign, almost $3 million USD was raised, making it one of the largest video game projects in Kickstarter history.

Brian and inXile managed to top their previous effort on Kickstarter in 2013 when Torment: Tides of Numenera (a CRPG based on Monte Cook's Numenera setting which promises to have a rich story like Planescape: Torment) raised over $4 million.

Brian is currently still working at inXile Entertainment and Wasteland 2 is currently available on Steam Early Access for $59.99 USD. It is scheduled for proper release in a few days (19 September 2014). Definitely looking forward to this title although perhaps I should give the original a shot beforehand?


LINKS:
[ inXile Entertainment: About Brian Fargo ]
[ Wikia Fallout Wiki: Brian Fargo ]
[ Wikipedia: Brian Fargo ]
[ MobyGames: Brian Fargo ]
[ Wasteland 2 Kickstarter Project ]
[ Torment: Tides of Numenera Kickstarter Project ]

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