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Brian Fargo Interview and Career Retrospective at Polygon

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Brian Fargo Interview and Career Retrospective at Polygon

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 2 May 2014, 22:40:20

Tags: Brian Fargo; Feargus Urquhart; Interplay; InXile Entertainment

There's a feature over at Polygon today on inXile and former Interplay CEO Brian Fargo. It's both an interview and a kind of retrospective of the man's career, with commentary from Feargus Urquhart, Blizzard's Rob Pardo and former EA executive Bing Gordon. Much of the article is dedicated to the anti-publisher angst that we know and love (although Polygon's interviewer does manage to elicit more nuance from Fargo on this topic) but there's also lots of fun historical detail. I quote:

As head of Interplay, Fargo became one of the most powerful individuals in gaming. He was also very good at spotting talent. "I gave Treyarch their first start in the business. I gave Blizzard their start. I gave BioWare their start. That's what I would do," Fargo says. "I would see talent and say, 'let's do it, make it happen.'"

Some of the people he hired in those early days are now leaders in their own right. Blizzard Chief Creative Officer Rob Pardo began his career as an Interplay tester. "He was one of the titans of the industry," says Pardo. "He was somebody that everyone at Interplay looked up to. We always aspired to be in his good graces."

Pardo recalls being invited out to Fargo's house to play World of Warcraft 2 [sic]. "He had this whole LAN setup at his house," he says. "He played video games and really cared about them. He wasn't just some business guy. He played games all the time. You could always talk to Brian about games."

Fergus Urquhart is CEO of Obsidian Entertainment, which recently made South Park: The Stick of Truth for Ubisoft, and is working on its own Kickstarter-backed RPG, Pillars of Eternity. Like Pardo, he began his career in Interplay's QA department, rising quickly to run the company's RPG studio, Black Isle.

"[Fargo] was very in tune with the games that we were making," Urquhart says. "Particularly I remember a project review meeting on Fallout 2. We get into the meeting and I'm presenting." The presentation was not playing well to the gathered marketing execs. They made some suggestions about changing the game's art style. "We'd have to redo all the art," Urquhart says. "I wasn't as good at dealing with executives. I didn't want to just say, 'That's stupid.' Brian, he's like, 'No, it doesn't make any sense to change the art. People love the art in Fallout.' That ended it. I don't know a lot of other CEOs that would have been as understanding of the situation and the product and able to head off something like that. It could have really hurt us."

But by the end of the 1990s, Interplay was in trouble. Fargo identifies his own mistakes in the company's decline: He failed to make the jump from PC to the newly dominant consoles.

"Other publishers had that one product that blasted them through to the other side," he says. "With Take-Two it was GTA. With THQ it was wrestling — it got them through the other side for a while. With Activision it was Tony Hawk. You could pin it to one thing. We didn't have that one thing. The only one thing we had was Baldur's Gate, but the problem with Baldur's Gate [was] it was PC. You couldn't sell five million copies."

Interplay was a manifestation of Fargo's skill for serial hit-making. He saw an opportunity and chased it. This was also its downfall.

"He was very willing to take big bets," says Urquhart. "Probably bigger bets than I would have taken. He could only do so much and work so many hours. That's how it got ahead of him. There were more products and more products and more products."

"One of the things I saw happen at Interplay was that we were just stretched too thin," says Pardo. "There were too many games in development. Before you have success you have to be really lean and mean and focused on the one or two things that are going to make you successful. Once you become successful, now every door is open, and you have to have a different sort of discipline."

"I should have stayed more focused," Fargo says. "That's the only thing I regret the most." Interplay dabbled in sports games. It bought Shiny Entertainment. It opened an office in Japan. It worked on multimedia projects. There was a public stock flotation. "It was just too much. I should have just stayed with our core audience."

Interplay was bought by a French outfit called Titus, which had a patchy creative reputation (including the widely panned Nintendo 64 Superman game). Fargo did not work well with the new owners and left soon after.

"These other guys took over," says Urquhart. "They're not bad guys, but they just did not have the vision." Today, Interplay is still owned by Herve Caen, then owner of the now defunct Titus. It mostly sells ports of games from the company's heyday.

In the post-Interplay years, Fargo launched InXile and became a supplicant, going to publishers, looking to get projects like Wasteland 2 funded. Mostly, he found frustration. He was unable to make the games he really wanted to make.
You might also find the article's sidebar to be interesting. It tells the little-known tale of how Brian Fargo indirectly caused the sale of the Fallout IP to Bethesda when he sued Herve in the early 2000s. Oops!

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