Interview: Tom Hall, Owner Of Pieces of Fun & Co-Founder of Id Software

Interview Tom Hall Owner Of Pieces of Fun Co Founder of Id Software
Photo Credit: Terri Hall

For many, Tom Hall is known as the co-founder of id Software and co-creator of the genre changing games, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Despite all that, a game he holds much more dearly to his heart is Commander Keen. Tom Hall spent the last decade doing everything from independent game design, to high profile mobile ports, to highly successful social game design. After a stint with his long time friend and fellow Id Software c0-founder, John Romero, he’s decided to start his own company. Pieces Of Fun. Their motto? “PLAY. CREATE. SHARE. EVERYWHERE!” With Pieces of Fun, Tom Hall hopes to bring game development to the masses. He’s creating a brand new platform game creation tool called Worlds Of Wander. It’s a cross platform (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android) game development environment; you can actually make the game on your iPad… and then play it there too. It also has different difficulty settings for the editor. Difficulty settings as in, you can actually make the editor easier to use or more complex (if you can handle it!). Worlds Of Wander will also ship with Secret Spaceship Club, which he’s dubbed the “spiritual successor to Commander Keen.”

In our exclusive interview, we rap with Tom Hall about game design, why he’s making his own game creating tool, and the efforts of starting your own company. Can you tell us what an average day is like at your game development studio, Pieces Of Fun?

Tom Hall: Well, it’s different than the usual studio, since we’re starting it up with this Kickstarter. We’re all working remotely, and I am spending the day giving interviews, answering comments, messaging and tweeting, and preparing updates. A Kickstarter is a full-time job!

Interview Tom Hall Pieces of FunBSMH: What inspired you to develop a game creation tool?

TH: One was people making (Commander) Keen mods. Going to all sorts of trouble because they love Keen and want more adventures. Second, was seeing all the tools out there after having had social game experience. The tools that exist are often great, but then need a way lower barrier to entry. Most people see those tools and they look daunting and they move on. I wanted something that starts with a game, and you can mess with it a little. Just twiddle some stuff in content that already works. Then you can try a little bit harder stuff. I want to make game creation available to everyone, like MP3s democratized music, and digital cameras democratized taking photos.

Third was my desire to be able to play and create anywhere I am — I want to continue my game on whatever device I’m near. Same with what I’m editing.

Interview Tom Hall Worlds Of WanderBSMH: What makes your tool, Worlds Of Wander, unique compared to the existing ones out there, such as Game Maker and Stencyl?

TH: Those are great. But I want a) a seamless play and creation experience across whatever devices I have — not just publishing to different platforms, but the active experience continues over there as seamlessly as possible, b) this is focused solely on platform games, so we can do focused things and make creation easier, and c) it has to be so easy to use that you can do something substantive and easy right away. It should be such a joy to use, it feels like a game, but you’re creating content!

BSMH: You’ve set your goal on Kickstarter to $400,000 USD, which is not high in comparison to other games, although is not low in comparison to other indie games. Some gamers are seeing it as a high amount of money for an indie game and tool. Can you explain what some of the expenses are for developing & marketing these products that would require that amount of money?

TH: It is very low for developing a creation tool and community. Servers just at low base level can cost $10,000 a month. The game we have is just a demo in one art style, we intend to create art theme packs that you can quickly switch between. Hope people don’t think we’re asking dough for a little platform game. We’re making a community and tools to be able to make all 2D platform game features we can get in there!

Interview Tom Hall Commander KeenBSMH: With your new game, Secret Spaceship Club, what inspired you to make a platformer over any other type of game?

: Well, the two games I’d love to own the IPs for are Commander Keen and Anachronox. Really put my heart into those, and it’s a bummer I don’t own them. I miss doing fun, funny sci-fi games. Doing a cinematic RPG is way beyond the budget of a Kickstarter. And seeing the community making great fan games plus seeing a need for a super-simple game creator (that you can get very advanced with later!) made me want to do this.

Interview Tom Hall Secret Spaceship CLubBSMH: In your Kickstarter video, you mention that you wanted to get back to making games that are personal. Can you tell us a little bit about the story and significance of Secret Spaceship Club?

: Commander Keen is me. A lot higher IQ and space travel, but a lot of the details are based on me as a kid. Of all the characters I’ve created, not owning him is the worst. So I wanted to make some characters and breathe life into them with the life experience I’ve had in the last 20-some years since Keen! These characters are older, Willie and Sheila Wander, helping their Grandpa move out of his house and into the old age home. But he asks them for a small favor before they go, and whisks them away to a space station, revealing he is a member (and founder) of the Secret Spaceship Club, whose agents go about righting wrongs in the galaxy! My games seem to always touch on the topic of who people are and who they are in secret. That duality strikes a big chord with me for some reason.

Tom Hall Interview Chrono TriggerBSMH: What makes a “good” game in your opinion?

TH: Something that engages you. There are a lot of great games without characters. Brilliant gameplay, stunning visuals, and so on. But for me, I love games with characters. Like Billy Blaze turns into Commander Keen, I can turn into this character for awhile, and go on their adventures. It just makes a deeper connection with the game for me. But I love both kinds. Minecraft (no character, really) and Journey (abstract, but visual story-told character) are instantly two of my favorite games of all time. Chrono Trigger is perhaps my favorite game of all time. Talk about characters and adventures they go on! 🙂

BSMH: Do you have more games planned to make after Secret Spaceship Club?

TH: Yeah, I just want that to be the first! And when we have the platform game community rolling, we’ll move onto another genre, making specialized tools and cool game content.

BSMH: Finally, what advice can you share with people who are trying to be a game developer?

TH: Make games. You need to program, do art, or make levels. Because everyone has ideas. Find some like-minded people and make a game! For your first one, make one SMALL. Like Galaga. Pac-man. Donkey Kong. Because those are really hard to finish! You’ll get 80% of the way there, it will be playable, and you will have a sense of pride. But getting that last 20% DONE and finishing a game is tough! I did 50 little games before I started working at Softdisk. Learn your craft. Plus then you’ll have things to show. I did this game. I made this mod. I finished it. Having things you can show is really important.

For a book on it, try Brenda Brathwaite (now Brenda Romero)’s book Breaking Into The Game Industry she wrote with Ian Schreiber. Lots of great tips from people in the industry… including what I just typed, pretty much!

Check out the video for Tom Hall’s Kickstarter

If you like what you read and want to support the idea of cross platform gaming AND game designing, you can check out the Kickstarter for Tom Hall’s Worlds Of Wander. You can also check out our original story on Worlds Of Wander and Secret Spaceship Club

Tom Hall on Twitter

Pieces of Fun Official Site

Pieces of Fun Twitter

Pieces of Fun Facebook

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