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Grumpy Old Gamer vs. Flying Labs Software

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Grumpy Old Gamer

Grumpy Old Gamer vs. Flying Lab Software

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GCC’s Grumpy Old Gamer recently visited the offices of Flying Lab Software for an onsite interview centering upon their upcoming release – Pirates Of The Burning Sea. This is the first of two articles from that visit, this once focusing upon the company itself…

Russell Williams – Flying Lab Executive Producer“Our biggest asset is our ambition, almost to a fault...” Russell Williams – Flying Lab Executive Producer

In order to save myself the long drive to get from the peninsula I live on to Downtown Seattle where Flying Lab Software makes its home, I decided to take the 25 minute ferry across the Puget Sound (inland salt water). As typical to make me go from happy to Grumpy, I dropped from the clear skies on the hill down to the fog covered Ferry Terminal to encounter the behind schedule ferry. Grrr, is this the indication of my day?
As you will see, absolutely not!

Flying Lab (FLS) is located in the same area as Seattle Pacific University on the western slope of Queen Anne hill. This is a typical trendy collegiate neighborhood full of small restaurants and coffee shops galore. The building that FLS resides in almost looks out of place amongst the brickwork older buildings that have been there for decades with a large glass cubed front, and highly secured door to access the FLS offices.

Troy Hewitt, FLS Community EnvoyAfter a quick phone call to Troy Hewitt, FLS Community Envoy (can you say PR guy?) he’s down the stairs swiftly to let me inside their secretive domain. Troy’s a tall and slender cheery fellow who seems genuinely interested in my visit, probably young enough to be my son. We go upstairs and I get the quick shot of the first floor where the majority of company workers are hard at in front of rows of computers, my first impression was that of a LAN party. They all seem diligent yet relaxed in their darkened area where the most light is being generated from the rows of computer monitors, almost reminiscent of a Navy ship’s combat information center when underway.

As jump up to the next floor we see the upper level offices and I get to meet my targeted audience – Russell Williams – Executive Producer. “Rusty” is happy and funny guy who you can tell right away loves his job and has a passion for the industry. His desk is covered in models and artifacts of what interests him including Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine and “functional” Star Trek hand phaser. After introductions the three of us decide to head out to lunch as our first stop on the tour so we head out to one of those trendy Italian restaurants and dine out on the patio. We haven’t even left the building to walk up the street and the three of us are deep in conversation about gaming in general and war, both current and historical aspects of both. Troy’s youth shows when Rusty and I get a bit carried away about tactics and such of some great naval battles of the past, somewhat of a passion that Rusty and I share as we would find out.

After lunch and long discussions about the industry we head back to FLS. As we discuss as many of the parameters of game design and company attitudes it is clearly to see that this company is different. Ambition is the sword, by which they live and die by, and it is truly reflected in the decisions and focus the company and Rusty have taken in their current project – Pirates Of The Burning Sea. Both Troy and Rusty have come from other gaming company backgrounds and dealt with many of the issues before them, only now they can make the choices that they feel best benefits the customer and the product. The passion for this not released project is overtly evident in all discussions as they both candidly and unabashedly discuss changes in direction guided by lessons learned and the quality control of listening to the customers – currently their BETA testers. Already the game (POTBS) has gone through several changes in direction and grown massively in scope from its inception. So, let’s see some of this game I say.

Troy and Rusty are not satisfied that they are doing justice in showing me what the game can do so they bring in John Tynes – Producer of POTBS. He logs onto the computer and starts showing me some new areas that they are working and while the game itself is impressive, I found his focus and intimacy with the game to be profound. He explains to me many of the reasoning behind many aspects of the game much like a classic car rebuild/collector would show off his greatest car while explaining every detail. This kind of ambition and passion is what leads to a quality project and a game worthy of our purchase and support. For every aspect of the game John can show me, Rusty is chiming in with another aspect for me to see as he sits comfortably on his couch. Half an hour later a girl comes into the office to remind Rusty that they are having their weekly POTBS review of BETA players’ feedback, a weekly ritual in which they put their quality assurance team together to see if they can address issues found within the game. Unfortunately, this signals time for my departure.

During this visit I found every one of the employees to be friendly and happy. For entertainment and perhaps for reference, I had to take a snapshot of their extensive gaming library of over 100 games. Rusty even told me a tale of them playing a game of Gettysburg with some FLS customized rules for added realisms. Game play itself is very important to them for the project at hand. Rusty has a true aversion to anything that might have an arcade feel to it for that lacks realism in his mind. He would much rather see something fluid and robust to take in all aspects such as facing and movement and direction all being melded together into Errol Flynn reflective swashbuckler dance.

The very elements of realism within the game show painstaking detail and FLS dissatisfaction with anything less. During our candid lunch discussions and the three way conversation with him and Troy in their board room, Rusty conveyed the same concerns that I have had about existing games. FLS keeps in touch with their peers’ products and takes note of what works and what doesn’t. Already they have reached out into uncharted waters – literally, in several ways. Almost every one of those directions shares a common trait – Ambition.

As I concluded my vision and sat in my car making notes I noticed that my 2 hour planned visit had actually taken over 3 hours. I could have stayed all day since this company made me feel like a friend or cohort, not some free form journalist from a small independent gaming site. Passion and ambition reek from their offices like smoke from a piano cigar bar, and they do it all with a big smile and plenty of funny stories.

I don’t stand behind many companies nor toss out props very often, but I love these guys. Hopefully, when POTBS gets closer release next year, I’ll get a return visit to see how my friends are doing. Until then, I have the surest confidence in their work.

Gamers with ambition and passion for their product and their customer, go figure!

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Michael "=][= Maximus" Kerr - October 2006

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