Hello and welcome to my little history page. I am a Video Game designer who has been involved with the industry for over 20 years now.  I first wrote this little (read as: long and rambling) history when I created my blog in 2004.  On occasion I even update it.

 

Joseph's Westwood Game Boxes

 

So without further ado, I present you with the semi-professional history of

 

Joseph B. Hewitt IV - Senior Game Designer

I remember playing my first video game at about age 10 when I was living in Italy. My father was in the Air-Force and we were stationed in San Vito dei Normanni, Italy between 1976 and 1979.  I had lost my house key, yet again, and had to go to our neighbor's apartment across the hall when I got home from school.  He had one of the original Pong systems that he used to keep me entertained until my mother got home. I was instantly hooked. I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. You could actually play a game on the TV.  Some time soon after that my friend's father returned from a trip to the States with an Atari 2600 which we just called "The TV Game."  We only had the “Combat” cartridge but we played it to death. Actually I don’t think we realized it was a cartridge and that you could get other games for it.

 

After moving back to the United States and then to Las Vegas in the very early 80’s, my friends and I used to ride our bikes up to Gemco, a now defunct department store. We would stand around the electronics counter for hours playing Adventure on their demo Atari 2600. They also had an Odessy and Intelivision. I even remember they were even selling the Vetrex for awhile. We spent so much time there I am surprised they never kicked us out. I eventually got my own Atari 2600 and an Intelivision shortly after. It was years later that I got my Vetrex which has become sort of a status symbol for game designers to have sitting on their desk. Unfortunately it’s locked away in storage at the moment.

 

My mother, who was very supportive of my computer interests, sent me to a place called Computer Tutors that used computers to tutor kids after school.  This was about 1983 or 84.   It was there that I played my first real computer game, “Cranson Manor” on the Apple II, but I discovered Zork before finishing it. I was instantly hooked on the Infocom text adventure games.

 

When I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, my Mom let me and my brother each pick our own game. I wanted the Infocom game Starcross in the cool flying saucer package, but they didn’t have it so I got the graphic adventure Blade of Blackpool instead. My brother got Jumpman. That weekend my friend Jeff and I went and got Starcross by riding our bikes across town. Don’t tell my mother, she thinks his Mom drove us.

 

I have a 5.25' disk somewhere with Hang Man, Connect 4, and the card game Memory that I wrote in BASIC. I really thought my Hang Man game was pretty cool. If you won, an arrow would shoot out from the side of the screen, cut the rope and stick into the gallows. A letter would un-scroll from the arrow and the caption read Governor’s Pardon. I sent it into one of the computer magazines that was out at the time but they rejected it. 

 

I also wrote a program that would mimic the Jumpman loading screen. I peeled the label off the original disk and switched them so I could take the game to my friend’s house. When I got home I found my brother sitting in front of the computer, where he had been waiting for it to finish loading for over an hour. I felt bad and wound up confessing.

 

Computer Tutors also published educational computer games as Unicorn Software and they offered me a job as an artist. My first published title was an educational game called Animal Kingdom on the Commodore 64 in 1985. I was paid with a Koloa Pad, a drawing tablet for the Commodore 64.  It was worth about $80 bucks at the time and in retrospect, far below the value of the work I had done.  I still have the Koloa Pad.  I did art and design for quite a number of titles for Unicorn Software on the Commodore, Apple II, PC, Atari ST and Amiga. I even did two Scott Adams adventures on the Mac.  They also had me working as one of the computer tutors teaching kids.

 

In 1988 I started working for Westwood Studios then called Westwood Associates. Brett Sperry, President and one of the two founders of Westwood, had actually worked at Unicorn and quit right before I started going there.  Technically, the first game I worked on at Westwood was play testing Questron II which was in its final few days before shipping.  It was a great way to start working at a new place, just sitting down and playing a game all day. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Very quickly however, I was hard at work on The Mars Saga, Battletech: The Cresent Hawks Inception and the AD&D game Hillsfar.

 

The early days of Westwood were definitely the golden age for me. I have so many fond memories of that time. Those people are more than friends to me, they are family. Oh and the practical jokes we used to pull, the speakers hidden in the ceiling, the Tor Johnson mask, the secret passage into Barry’s office and the Westwood lie.

 

The Westwood lie is probably the most famous. It started a little while before I joined. Brett and Louis had gone out of town for a developer’s conference. While they were away, a paper airplane contest took place.  The problem was that one of the airplanes landed on the roof. Everybody knew that Brett and Lou would see it and know they had been goofing off.  I don’t know what actually happened to that plane but a story emerged that Matt Owl had climbed up on the balcony railing and then did a back flip onto the roof.  Now this feat was of course impossible but EVERYBODY knew the story. So when the new guy was told the story and reacted with doubt, anybody in the company could back up the story.  He’d go into Louis’ office and start to ask, “Did some guy named Matt…” and Louis would instantly finish, “Do a back flip onto the roof to get a paper airplane? Yeah it was incredible!” I was hired on right after the incident and was one of the first people it was told to.

 

Mike Legg, now President of Petroglyph Games, is famous for his practical jokes.  He had a Tor Johnson mask that participated in a lot of them but my personal favorite was the secret passage into Barry Green’s office.  Barry would call somebody in his office to talk about something, when a intercom-phone call from Mike would interrupt him. It is important to note that Mike’s office was right above Barry’s.  Barry would put Mike on speaker phone and Mike would instantly start to say that he found some sort of passage in the back of his closet.  Then there would be a loud thumping and crashing and Mike would fall out of Barry’s closet.  The mark would then run to the closet looking for the secret passage to the floor above.

 

What he had done was make a pre-recorded phone message.  Bill Stokes was up in Mikes office and would dial the phone so it would clearly show that the call was coming from Mike’s office. The conversation was all pre-scripted so Barry would appear to be actually talking to Mike. And then on queue Mike would bang around in the closet and then fall upside down and backwards out into the room. It was hilarious to watch.

 

My favorite game from my time at Westwood was Eye of the Beholder.  It is kind of funny that we used to say things about Blizzard making Warcraft; which was a direct copy of Dune II when Eye of the Beholder was a direct rip-off of Dungeon Master.  We actually had to fight SSI to make EoB. Westwood was responsible for the 3D view technology SSI used to win the AD&D license that they used in the original Gold Box Games starting with the original Pool of Radience.  They didn’t think the EoB style game would be successful and instead had us do Hillsfar, which was a sports game along the lines of World Games which Westwood had been known for doing the Amiga and Atari ST version of.  It was only after that Hillsfar that Brett talked them into letting us do EoB. I was responsible for some of the Drow levels and my initials are hidden in the wall art.

 

Westwood became a part of Virgin Games in the early '90s which is when Westwood Associates was changed to Westwood Studios.  Nothing much changed at the time except that we all got official titles.  Before Virgin, Westwood was very loose and we could put anything we wanted on our business cards. The story goes there was an incident after the merge where Brett got into an argument with an associate producer who wouldn't accept that Brett was one of the bosses, not the other way around.  So we all got titles so that the people at the Virgin office would know where we stood in the pecking order.

 

In 1996 a friend invited me to come play a Live-Action Role-Playing game. At the time I had been acting in local theatre and was part of an improve comedy troupe called the Grand Order of Fools (GOOF).  GOOF had just disbanded and the theatre season was over so I was jonesing to be able to do the acting thing again.  The game was White Wolf’s Vampire the Masqurade using the Mind’s Eye Theatre live-action rule set.  I became good friends with Dave, the storyteller who had been running the game for about 4 or 5 years.  He was getting a little burned out on running the game and wanted the opportunity to pass the game onto somebody else so he could relax and enjoy just enjoy it as a player. I turned him down, but it didn’t work. So six months after discovering the game, I found myself running it.  My first story line was a complete flop. I had a very involved plot that involved a little time traveling. I had manipulated some events and encounters between players that would only make sense after future games. Unfortunately, being the new storyteller, somewhat new to the group, and well known for the evil, manipulative, and selfish Tremere character I had been playing; the players didn't fully trust me to run the game. They thought I was just doing some really stupid stuff.  I eventually had to stop the game to prevent some of my key players, including Dave, from leaving. I sat everybody down and explained the whole story to them step by step and what I had planned to happen to bring it altogether.  Many of the players told me they were so disappointed that things had turned out the way they did. They said it was the best live storyline they had ever heard of, and they really wish they would have gotten a chance to play it out.

 

The game ran every other weekend but took a huge amount of time and effort between games.  Just updating the character sheets took hours. I even got them all into a database to try and make it easier.  After about two years I passed the game to one of my narrators the way it was passed to me.

 

I continued to play in the live-action game until a new passion took over my life... Ultima Online.  A number of my friends belonged to what I think was the first "Anti-PK" guild.  The game was over run with Player Killers (PKs) because it was much easier to kill another player than monsters, and players dropped better loot.  The Knights of Glory and Beer (KGB) was a guild formed in Tanaris, an online multi-player tank game done by Sony before Everquest.  When they came over to UO they still longed for the thrill of Player versus Player combat, but they didn't want to kill innocent players. So they started killing the players who were killing the innocent players and the term “Anti-PK” was coined.  It was so much fun dressing up as a newbie and walking through the Cross Roads as bait to catch evil players, sweeping through the dungeons in force, and fighting in mass guild versus guild battles that ragged through the cities.

 

In the late '90s Electronic Arts bought out Virgin.  At the company meeting were we were introduced to the EA big wigs. As a joke, when they asked we had any other questions, I started with, "Yeah, I lost my house near Moonglow..."  Got a good laugh.

 

Everquest was released in 1999 and the 'Paladins' of KGB left the guild and moved to EQ. Our group also left KGB and UO a month later for EQ.  I joined the Guild Afterlife in April of 2001. After 2 years I had been getting a little burned out on the game but joining Afterlife changed my entire outlook. I will admit I probably only got in because one of the guild founders, Hobben, had also been a member of KGB.  I think I am a good player, but the other people in Afterlife are some of the best players out there. I truly feel honored to be a member and raiding with them has taught me much about how hard core players really play games.

 

I also became a volunteer guide in Everquest in May of 2000.  The volunteer guides took customer service calls in game, passing on anything they couldn't handle with their limited CS abilities on to the GM who was an actual Sony employee.  One of the GMs I worked under, Sean Lord, eventually went on to become the lead expansion designer on Everquest.

 

Westwood had been developing a MMORPG of their own called Earth and Beyond. Electronic Arts was desperate that it be a hit, but they were deathly afraid of not beating Star Wars Galaxies to market. Both game were Sci-Fi, space-based, MMORPGs and Star Wars is a big license. It was a bad combination and too much of the game was cut to try and beat SWG to the shelves.  The irony is that SWG was delayed another year.  I had been working on what we were calling Planet Mode in Earth and Beyond, which is one of the things that was cut.  In the end my only contribution to the project that made it onto the shelves was the Window's icon.

 

EA closed Westwood Studios in 2002 laying off about 3/4ths of the company.  Sean told me that if I wanted to get hired at Sony as a designer on Everquest, that I should come in as a GM like he and most of the others designers had.  At the time Star Wars Galaxies was about to be released and I was hired as a GM for that. Sean got me into contact with the lead designer on EQ and we started talking about me getting hired on.  Then Sony Japan announced a billion dollar loss for the year.  A hiring freeze was put on the entire company. I was technically an employee of a temp agency that they used to hire all their customer service staff.

 

Things were starting to look really bad and I was running out of money.  I decided to put my resume out again.

 

I interviewed for Auran Games right before Christmas.  They had just done a prototype for a MMORPG for a Korean publisher.  If the publisher wanted them to make the game now that the prototype was finished, I would have a job.  The offices were all closed down for Christmas and I was told that I wouldn't hear anything till after the New Year.  It was a very oddly nervous Christmas vacation.  On the one hand I wanted the job and on the other it would mean moving to Australia.


 
Fury Box
     I started work for Auran in February of 2004. It would be four long years before the fruits of that labor were released. The game that started as Hwrang – a full blown MMO, got changed to Guardian’s Online – a PvP focused territory based MMO, and finally to Fury – an arena PvP game done MMO-style.

     Fury was entirely a Player versus Player game. There was no Player versus Environment content at all in much the same way that a first-person shooter game is set up.  You played in one of four game types, Vortex (16 vs 16, capture the flag variant), Bloodbath (8 or 16 player, everybody versus everybody), Elimination (16 vs. 16 - best two out of three), or Fortress (32 vs 32 conquest game type that was never actually released). You could sign up for the War Zones via a match maker as a solo player, partial group, or full team and it would add additional players to your team if needed and match you against a similarly skilled team. In the Sactuary, where you character was between War Zones, you could buy from vendors, have items crafted, form guilds, use the Auction House, etc.

     One of Fury's really cool features was the Incarnations.  You only had one character, but you could build many different Incarnations of yourself and switch between them in-between War Zones. An Incarnation was what armor you were wearing and what abilites you equiped onto your command bar.  For example you could build a healer Incarnation and then save it, and then rebuild yourself as a range nuker or melee damage dealer.  If you wanted to play as a healer for your guild group, you would just load that Incarnation and jump into match making, next game if you wanted to play as something else you would just load a different Incarnation.  This way you never had to worry about having a bunch of alts, if you wanted to play a little differently, just build a new Incarnation.

     It should be noted that the entire system was skill and equipment based, so you could build these Incarnations anyway you want, have a melee damage dealer and toss in a ranged nuke or a healing ability.  The system was designed around two axises of opposing elements, Fire/Death which had most of your direct damage was opposed to Water/Life which was your healing type abilities.  You would use abilites to build up elemental charges and then other abilities would use those charges. In addition, you abilities of each elemental type were boosted or hampered by your charges. If you had a lot of Fire charges, your Fire based nuke would be more effective but your Water based (Water being opposed to Fire) would be less effective.  The other axis was was Nature/Growth which was mostly buffs and debuffs versus Air/Decay which was your over-time effects.


 
Interzone Futebol
     I started to prepare to move back to the United States in 2008, when I was offered a job at Interzone Games in Perth Australia where they are making a Soccer MMO to be released first in Brazil. 

    I started working at Interzone on February 4th, which is kind of funny as that is the same day that I lost on the airplane flying to Australia in 2004 due to the time difference and crossing the international dateline.  I was promoted to Lead Game Designer shortly after arriving, and then again to Creative Director.  I really enjoyed my time at Interzone, including the time I spent in Interzone's São Paulo office in Brazil.  I can honestly say that I have never worked with a development team where such a high percent of the team was so dedicated to the project.

     Unfortunately, a culmination of circumstances necessitated that I resign from Interzone in early 2009 and return to the United States. I parted with Interzone on very amicable terms and Nick was kind enough to write me a very glowing letter of recommendation which is linked on the left-hand sidebar. Things have unfortunately not gotten better at Interzone which was recently closed down leaving a number of staff unpaid for months worth of work. The fate of the project is still unknown at this time.

     After arriving back in Las Vegas, I got back together with old friends from my Westwood Studios days, Brett Sperry, Rade Stojsavljevic and Adam Isgreen, who had just formed Jet Set Games. I began working as Lead Designer and Writer for Highborn, a hilarious, turn-based strategy game for the iPhone which was launched in June of 2010 to incredibly good reviews. Since then we have published the game Conspiracy on the PlayStation Home network and ported Highborn to the Android and Google Chrome. We also published an experimental beta title called Music Construction Set: The Blues that allows you to play music with your guitar controller and publish videos of you playing YouTube. 

Anyway, I am very happy to be back in Las Vegas where a lot of my family live and to be working with my good friends at Jet Set Games. I'll keep you posted as things happen. Tootles.

-Joseph-

Last Update: April 15, 2011
Comments