Hal Barwood interview

Hal Barwood is a game designer at LucasArts, where he was project leader on a number of projects including the classic graphic adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the PC action-adventure Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine and most recently, a 3D action-adventure game for next-generation consoles called RTX Red Rock. AdventureGamers had an opportunity to interview Hal about his projects, both present and past, and ask him about recent trends in the game industry.

I'm sure a lot of readers will recognize your name, but could you briefly introduce yourself and your professional background?

I'm a game designer & project leader at LucasArts, where I've been working for the past 12 years. My academic background is in Art & Cinema, but long ago, in the days when silicon first emerged from volcanic vents, I taught myself to be an assembly language programmer on the 6502 and 68000, and before that I spent 20 years in Hollywood as a screenwriter (Sugarland Express), screenwriter-producer (Dragonslayer), and screenwriter-director (Warning Sign).

Your goal probably never was to have a career in computer gaming. How exactly did you end up working at LucasArts?

Not quite true. I started designing games while in junior high school, and alternately tortured and entertained my friends with several different games I cooked up. Trouble was, those things were all wood and cardboard, and I didn't see doing them as a career, so I followed another dream to USC Cinema School and Hollywood. As it happens, I grew up in Hanover, NH, home of Dartmouth College, where John Kemeny & Thomas Kurtz developed BASIC. One summer I got a chance to sit down in a room full of clattering Teletypes and teach Dartmouth's GE time-sharing mainframe to play Paper Rock Scissors. Many years later, computers came out of their air-conditioned holy places and shrank onto desktops. I bought an Apple 2 and created a sprawling action-adventure game. About that time George was starting up what was then called Lucasfilm Games. He introduced me to some of the first employees, and many years after that, they tapped me to do a follow-up to their Last Crusade adventure game.

In The Secret Of Monkey Island, you are credited as "Special Guest Film Director". Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with the classic adventure titles such as Monkey Island?

The original Monkey Island is one of my favorite games, but I wasn't involved at all. I guess they thought they were hiring a Hollywood guy and were surprised to find I actually knew something about games and didn't mind offering advice now and then (only when requested, you understand!).

Fate of Atlantis was widely acknowledged to be a game with a strong cinematic atmosphere. How does your background in screenwriting affect your approach to game design?

Cinematic atmosphere? I wish! Except for the fact that it has characters and an actual story, Fate of Atlantis doesn't seem the least bit cinematic to me. As to my movie background's impact on my current job: knowing how to scribble never hurt anyone, of course, and here's something you learn from dramatic writing: compression! Make everything as taut as a drumhead. Use as few words and scenes as possible, and make them all count!

What is your opinion on the writing in the game industry?

In general, it's dismal. Not dialogue -- that's superficial. But story construction, how to lay out a plot, how to make characters propel it -- that's hard to find. Now and then there's an exception: ICO, for example. It's nearly wordless, the words themselves are gibberish in any language, yet there's a powerful story unfolding.

Next: Hal talks about his Indiana Jones games

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