InterviewInterview - Horizons: Empire of Istaria - "Amon Gwareth"

Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted

Developer: Virtrium

Release Date: 12/08/03


Setting: fantasy

Content and Systems Designer Jason "Amon Gwareth" Murdick is perhaps the second most well-known member of the Horizons development team. He is certainly the most active on the forums throughout the internet. A self-described "jack-of-all-trades", Jason has his hands in nearly every system of the game. He fixes, designs, upgrades and manages whatever is handed to him.

Respected by both his peers and players alike, Amon Gwareth is a name that causes people to stand up and listen - and with good cause. If anyone has a beat on what's going on or what's coming, it's Jason... What was your very first video game experience (not necessarily the first game you played) and why do you think that has "stuck in your head" to this day?

Jason Murdick: I'd have to say that my first video game experience was with Ultima 3 by Origin. I had gotten a brand new Apple IIC computer and I was playing the game and having a blast. I got to the end, beat the game, and the screen went black. I thought to myself, that was a weird ending. So, I rebooted my computer, loaded the game, to discover that it had wiped my player disk. I was really upset. So I set out for revenge. I beat the game twenty or thirty times over the next few months, maxed out every character, every statistic, beat every dungeon repeatedly and even started killing the guards in every town over and over and over. Only then did I feel that I had successfully avenged my defeat. Name the five greatest games of all time:

Jason Murdick:
Call of Duty
Ultima V
Master of Orion 2
Galaga Twice you've mentioned the Ultima games. What is it about that series that resonates so well with gamers after so many years and iterations?

Jason Murdick: I liked the Ultima series because of the depth of the story, the possibilities for exploration of the landscape as well as the residents of the towns. And throughout it all, you had a noble goal you were working towards. Afterall, YOU were the Avatar, the embodiment of all that was good and so you were expected to strive to uphold those virtues you gained in Ultima 4. I tried hard to carry those through all of the later games. Probably cheesy, but it was what kept me going. Please give me a description of your job in about 5 sentences.

Jason Murdick: 5 Sentences… Hmm.. Well, my job is a bit weird. I'm kind of a jack-of-all-trades as far as what I do at Tulga. I do a lot of database and def-file related bug fixes, or as Manga likes to call it, Horizons-CSI. I also am a pretty decent writer so I write quests and lore and do the database work for those, as well as the NPCs and other work. I am currently working on getting better at world building to help David and Manga out and so I've been playing with world objects and terrain modifications. And then I also do some programming, working with T-SQL for the XML reports, and with Python for some other projects Tell me about your "professional" life before Horizons. What experience do you have? And what are you most proud of?

Jason Murdick: For four years prior to moving to Arizona and getting a job with Artifact Entertainment on Horizons I managed a customer service department for an internet service provider in the Midwest. And before that I worked in a factory that made industrial circuit boards, doing QA. I think I'm most proud of moving into management and turning the CS department at the ISP around. We went from having extremely high turnover to having very low turnover and getting recognized within our state by several different publications for excellence in customer service. Did you grow up wanting to work in the gaming, not necessarily electronic, industry? Or were your goals different? And if so, what were they?

Jason Murdick
: I actually grew up wanting to be a medical doctor. I always loved genetics in high school and in college. Though I used computers and even wrote little text games growing up, I never considered video games as a career until four or five years ago. Outside of work, what are your passions and hobbies? What would you be doing RIGHT NOW if you could get up from the keyboard and go do it?

Jason Murdick: Well, there is always my computer and games. I dearly love the game called Call of Duty, a World War 2 FPS. I play it quite a few hours each week online. I also like to program games in my own time, especially text-based MUDs. I'm really a big fan of AI and behavioral systems. And when I can find time, which isn't often lately, and unfortunately hasn't' happened much since I moved to Arizona, I like to play strategy games like Shogun, Axis & Allies, Risk, as well as miniature games like Babylon 5 Wars. You stated that you wanted to be a medical doctor until about 5 years ago. What changed at that time to make you consider video games as a career?

Jason Murdick: I discovered, or rather re-discovered, programming. I took a course in C Programming and found out that I really liked it. Then I worked for a while with a friend programming on MUD and began thinking about programming my own games. That interest built and I did more and more work on games on my own as well as mods and non-game programming. Finally, I decided I wanted to finish my degree and I found a school that would help me get into the industry as well as get a 4-year degree. So, I moved to Phoenix 2 years ago and the rest is history. The leap from genetics to AI and behavioral systems isn't that great. Which do you find satisfies your interest most? The artificial systems created for the game or the systems created by the players, and why?

Jason Murdick: As a programmer, I find the AI and behavioral systems created for the game more interesting than the results. I enjoy seeing the reactions of players when they encounter new situations or behaviors. When I redid portions of Lesser Aradoth, I introduced a mixture of aggro, non-aggro, and social spiders to the forest. It was great to me when the first players explored it and found that not all monsters behaved as they expected. What was the process that brought you to working on the Horizons team?

Jason Murdick: I moved to Arizona to finish my Bachelors degree at a school in Tempe that offers a degree focused on gaming. And I sat and talked with the Vice President of Stormfront Studios for almost an hour one evening (he was there giving a seminar) and he talked about taking initiative and doing whatever I could to get into the industry. So that weekend I went out and applied to Artifact Entertainment for a customer service position. I got a response and an interview that very next week! I was so excited. And I got the job! And the rest, as they say, is that… Heh. As someone who has their hands in nearly every aspect of the game, what is the smallest change/fix you've made that has had the most profound effect? What is the addition you've yet to make, but is coming, you're most proud of?

Jason Murdick: I make small changes/fixes on a weekly, even daily, basis that often go unnoticed because they are frustrations to the players. They are things that stand out, such as a misspelled word in a quest, or a missing particle effect on a spell or ability. Fixing these are often not noticed by the players, but they have a profound impact because suddenly the player is not frustrated or annoyed when encountering that situation.

I've got a lot of material written and planned for the Tier 2 lands of Dalimond and Chiconis. Some great stuff that I think will really be an improvement for the game as well as something players have not encountered previously. I can't wait to really get to work on it and get it moved to the live shards. What's the last book you read that had an effect on your life and why?

Jason Murdick: I got a copy of the Q'uran last Christmas and it includes the original Arabic as well as translations and commentary by a noted Islamic scholar. I've been working on that off and on since Christmas and it is very interesting. It hasn't really changed my life, but it has changed my perception of things. I was brought up Southern Baptist and I want to understand other religions and what about them motivates other people. What do you feel is the most important lesson you've learned that you could pass on to someone new to the business from your time on the team?

Jason Murdick: Expect the unexpected. Life is full of unpredictability. And one more clichй… Roll with the punches.

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About the Author, Kelly Heckman (A.K.A Ophelea)

I'm a mother of two boys, ages 11 and 13 and live in the chaos that ensues. I've a permanent disability that keeps me homebound, so books, kids, games and books are my constant companions. Oh, and books, too. *grins*

My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.

I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.

I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.