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Developer Interview: Norb Timpko

March 1st, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Civil War, Interview, Mad Minute

Last year’s Civil War Bull Run:Take Command 1861 was one of last year’s big surprises. A game that could have been just Bull Run: Total War was in fact a compelling and endlessly replayable masterpiece. I had some minor misgivings related to the low res graphics at the action level, but I was mostly impressed. And I was not alone.

MadMinute games’ co-founder Norb Timpko agreed to answer a few questions about Take Command 1861 and their upcoming sequel.

Were you surprised by the overwhelmingly positive critical reaction that greeted Take Command 1861?

Very surprised. We worked on this thing for 3 years before anyone else ever saw it. We basically worked by ourselves with very few people even knowing what we were doing. Then the release was completely messed up, so we thought nothing was going to happen with it. The publisher didn’t send out any review copies that we knew of, so we sent them all out ourselves. Then the reviews started coming in and we were blown away. This is the first time that I have ever written AI and people were going crazy over it. Saying that it was better than some of the big dev houses games. Our jaws were dropping. Our reviews were all in 4 out of 5 range. Then we won a Wargamer award and we really felt that we had accomplished something.

In spite of this reception, the game is no longer available from the publisher. Why did they discontinue it?

I can’t speak for them, so I can only offer my opinion based on our conversations. The game did not sell well enough for a budget title. The keep a budget title on the store shelves, you’ve got to move a lot of units. We moved units, but not nearly enough. It’s really too bad because it’s really starting to gain legs. We just won a couple of year end awards and no one can find the game. It’s becoming a collectors item. People are selling it on ebay for ridiculous sums.

How did you hook up with Paradox for Second Manassas?

They had been emailing us for a while. They said that they heard about us on their own forums. So when we decided to test the waters for a new publisher, they were one of the people that we contacted. I remembered the company because Hearts of Iron II came out about the same time as CWBR, and I remember being very impressed with the marketing of the game. Especially compared to CWBR which received none. They flew into town for a meeting and we were very impressed with what they had to say. We’ll know better a few months after release.

Why another Bull Run game and not one of the more popular battles, like Gettysburg or Antietam?

A bunch of reasons really. This was supposed to be a very quick game. Something we could turn around so that people would remember us. We had a few things we wanted to change from CWBR and we wanted to get another title out quickly that didn’t have the budgetware stigma attached to it. The reason we haven’t done the more popular battles yet is that we are still growing the engine. We want it to be perfect when we attack the big ones. Also, we are limited in map size with our current 3D engine, so we need an answer for that before we attack some of the larger battlefields.

What can we expect in the way of changes for the new game?

The first thing that everyone is going to notice is the improved visuals: high resolution units that look absolutely awesome and crops on the maps. The corn and wheat look amazing. But what we really improved is what’s under the hood. We have many ways to play open play now, there’s something for everyone. The biggest new feature is carryover. A scenario designer can now link scenarios and have casualties from one scenario enter into another scenario. You’d better protect your men today, because you’re going to need them tomorrow. It really adds a new dynamic to gameplay, which goes right towards our goal of wanting you to really feel what it was like to be a Civil War Officer.

Many fans have been clamoring for multiplayer functionality in your games. Is this just too much to ask for at this point?

It is too much. We still work on this game at night and on the weekends. We’ve been doing it for over 4 years now. It’s all that we can do to keep up with the single player game. We just don’t have the time, energy, or resources to do multiplayer as well. Our goal is that someday the Take Command series will generate enough revenue to allow the two of us to work full time on the game, at that point we write multiplayer.

Historically, the Civil War has been a fairly constant theme in computer games, but there has been a considerable lack of these in recent years. Why do you think that is?

Because they don’t make enough money. Games are getting written by these giant companies that need huge profits to write a game. On the independent war game sites, there are a lot of Civil War Games. You just won’t see them in stores too much. We figured that since the big boys can’t make enough writing Civil War Games, then maybe two guys could make enough. We’ll let you know how that turns out.

Besides the money, what is the hardest part about working independently? What’s the best part?

It’s the 15 hour days. It’s working full time all day to get a paycheck, then working full time all night and on weekends for your dreams. It’s just really tough to put in those types of hours for so many years. The best part is to be able to do things your own way. There’s no bureaucracy in a two many company. We don’t need massive staff meetings or thousand page documents. Every decision is worked out by a single phone call. Things get done and they get done quickly. We always make our dates.

Any plans for the game after Bull Run 2?

We do have plans, we just don’t know what they are yet. We might do an expansion pack. We might just continue onto the next battle. We’ll have to see. A lot depends on how TC2M does. Because if it does well, then we’ll be talking to Paradox. If it doesn’t do well, we’ll have to decide what we can do on our own.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Justin Fletcher

    Besides the game itself, one of the aspects that impressed me most about the Bull Run was how pervasive it became without the benefit of beaucoup marketing bucks. Hell, my *dad* brought my attention to this one after hearing about it and downloading the demo. Believe me, you don’t get much more mass market than that.