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Tell Me - Russ Pitts

(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)

Russ Pitts 
President, Flying Saucer Media 
Project: Stage of Development Kickstarter (stageofdevelopment.com) 

I was in my first year as Features Editor for polygon.com when I sat with Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio in Austin, Texas for an interview about their game, Dishonored. The game was coming out in a few months and nobody at studio Arkane or at publisher Bethesda was sure how well it would be received. Tracey Thompson from Bethesda had called me to ask if I would write a thing about Harvey and Raph to drum up interest in the game’s creators (and by extension the game) and I said yes and so there I was. 

We had just gotten back for lunch. I’d eaten a small salad to be polite, but I wasn’t hungry. I’d stopped for tacos on the drive down from Dallas, because I’d forgotten to eat breakfast and was starving. This made me late, and Harvey and Raph had looked a little pissed off when I arrived, but these things happen. I think they were hungry. Now we were settled comfortably in a small room at Arkane, Harvey and Raph had finally eaten, and they were starting to talk. 

The interview opened with the usual stuff about how they got their respective starts in games, where they first met and so on. It turned out they had an interesting history of casual encounters and similar life circumstances before ever working together. They could almost have been the same person, apart for one being Texan and the other French. I felt like there was a good story there, and kept asking questions and listening to answers. 

Then, without warning, Harvey launched into this miserable and sad tale about how he grew up in a nothing town on the Texas Gulf Coast and his mother died of an overdose and his father commit suicide. How he joined the military to escape a dead-end future. How he barely survived both experiences. And how he now channels this tragedies into his video games. I was in shock. I had never heard such a real, raw and emotional story in a video game interview. 

I looked over at Tracey as if to ask “Is this on-record? ” 

She looked back, eyes wide and shrugged. She had no idea. Maybe? 

So I kept the material, wrote it intro the piece and the result is one of my favorite stories about video games of all time. It got a lot of people talking about Polygon, and Dishonored, and a few months later both endeavors would become hugely successful.
 
But the whole time I was talking with Harvey and Raph, writing that story and publishing it I was thinking, “F- - -, we should have had a video camera in there. ”
 
A few months later I got the chance to develop a web series based on what I wish I could have done with Harvey and Raph. Human Angle was just that — the human angle of video games. It featured people whose stories were at an intersection of humanity and video games. People of all kinds. We produced 12 episodes, but I always felt like we had just barely scratched the surface. 

Stage of Development is my chance to get back to that, and finish what I started with human Angle. Starting with the stories of Brenda and John Romero and Spry Fox, two stories that are a lot alike in spite (or perhaps because of) their differences. 

I’ve been following both stories for some time. I’ve been interested to see how John Romero has handled a transition from making big-budget games to more indie stuff. Seeing how his relationship (and then marriage) with Brenda Brathwaite, now Brenda Romero influenced his work, and vice versa. And now how the two of them, with the launch of Donovan Romero’s game Gunman Taco Truck, have truly crated a family business. To be able to capture their passion for family and video games, and — for them — how the two are inseparable was a privilege. 

Spry Fox is a different beast. You probably don’t know much about them unless you’ re a game developer. If you are, though, you know they’re one of the most influential studios in the business. Principals David Edery and Dan “danc” Cook are both highly regarded and well known in the industry. Dan especially is considered one of the brightest developers there is. So many people have told me they look to him for advice and guidance, I’ve often wondered why his own company had yet to see a truly blockbuster game. 

When I reached out to Spry Fox about Stage of Development, they were just finishing what they called “a little mobile game” that would become surprise hit Alphabear. I genuinely believe their success story is yet to be fully written, and I wanted to be there to capture it. 

If Stage of Development fully funds at Kickstarter, these are only the first of the stories we’ll be able to tell.

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