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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH RYAN KAUFMAN

BUGGED OUT
By Santiago Mendez

Ryan Kaufman was the official Star Wars continuity supervisor at LucasArts. Keeping the continuity of the Star Wars universe on such games as Republic Commando and Revenge of The Sith (and also being a writer on those games). From time to time he also writes for the Star Wars Insider and the Clone Wars Adventures comics. Given his huge knowledge of all things Star Wars I could have asked him a lot about it. But I didn't, as he has more important things to share with us, like his input on the flavor of Astronaut Ice Cream.
Actually he works at Planet Moon Studios (creators of Armed & Dangerous) where he for example, is a lead designer on After Burner: Black Falcon for the PSP. But his adventures on the game industry began years ago, when he was a tester on games like Full Throttle, TIE Fighter, Afterlife and of course The Dig.

Ryan's world. Screw it?What can you tell us about Ryan Kaufman's world? is it a happy place?

Not sure if the world is happy, but I'm pretty happy in it. So. Screw the world. :)

Cosmopolitan-kind of-question: Tea or coffee?

Both! Coffee gets me going, and tea keeps me running.

What were the first games you remember having played at youth?

I programmed on the Commodore 64. We wrote our own games by copying lines out of a book. It was pretty sad. The first one I copied was a psychologist who would ask you questions and repeat back your answer in the form of a new question. The second was a program that took me hours to copy, then ended up using too much memory, so I couldn't run it. Story of my life.The future at your fingertips!

So, how did you got into LucasArts?

I went to high school with Mark Cartwright, who ran the LucasArts QA department for many years. After I graduated college and was unemployed, I ran into Mark at a New Year's party. I was completely sloppy drunk and babbling incoherently. I was surly and smelled funny. From that, Mark decided that I would make a good tester.

Getting paid to play games in development. What could be better? There is a catch isn't it? Come on, there has to be a catch.

Yes, the catch is that generally 99% of the people who play your game will hate your game. They will also often hate you. You will run into these people at cocktail parties. In fact, these are the only people you will meet at cocktail parties. The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who hate your game, and those who have never heard of it. Or maybe that's just me.

Tell us about the testing process. Do you intentionally go to places or try different things looking for bugs or just play the games normally?

First thing you do when you arrive in the morning, you sit down and you play through normally. You play through every way you can think of, with all the objects you are supposed to use. Then, boredom sets in. You start to experiment. Then you get angry, and you try to find bugs everywhere. Then, you begin to experience a cold, creeping fear that you will never escape test. You curl into a small ball, and suck your thumb. Then you start talking to the characters in the game, wondering if they love you. Then, you check your watch. It's probably about lunchtime, so you get up and go out with your friends.

Okay, okay, serious boring answer follows: You really do try and play thru normally. You look for major problems and suggest new possibilities. Then, as the game gets more solid, you start to get creative and try to find unexpected bugs. Then, finally, you use what they call a Test Plan, which is a list of every item combined with every other item, and you have to go through and test them all. That part is pretty robotic and awful.

Recreation of the bug.Do you recall if The Dig was particularly "bugged"?

The Dig had its fair share of bugs, mainly because it was such a big game. My favorite bug was where, if you talked to Maggie in a certain area, her head would detach and float offscreen. It was very awkward to talk to her after this happened.

What is your opinion of the finished game?

I really liked it. Of course, I never wanted to see it again because I'd played it so much already. :) But as an adventure game, I thought it was great. The art was fantastic, the music was great, and it had that ... I don't know... that feeling of having taken a really long journey. (Well, duh.)

What do you think that was good about those old games as opposed to the more technology-driven games of today?

I think game genres are often a refection of how the platform technology is used by people. Adventure games were really popular at a time when PCs were used by a small(ish) group of people who tended to be thoughtful, curious, and interested in very cerebral puzzles.

Nowadays, computers are used by a much wider range of people, who want very different experiences.

As far as the technology question goes, we can't totally blame technology. After all, games like Myst became popular because people started getting these new CD-ROM drives and they wanted something to play on it.

So, my long-winded boring-ass answer is summed up thusly: I love the old adventure games, and I think they continue to live on in a different form. Check out Oblivion, Zelda, or either of the KOTOR games and tell me if you can't see the heavy influence of old-school adventure games there.

Rumor says you've tasted Astronaut Ice cream. What is your report?The same used by NASA's heroes

It tastes EXACTLY like ice cream, except it's warm and dry as a Saltine. Other than that, no difference.

Heh. Anyway, this weird question comes courtesy of The Dig Survival Kit that LucasArts created when the game came out. It was a box that had a copy of the game, the audio book, the novel, a compass, a keychain, a rabbit's foot, a sponge, some hair, a tooth, a pink ribbon, and a packaged freeze-dried ice cream... aka Astronaut Ice Cream.

Okay, some of that I made up, but most of it is true.

What is the first thing you would do if you were stranded in a deserted alien world??

I'd ask myself the same question I ask every morning of my life: WWBD - What Would Boston Do?

And ...what is the LAST thing you would do?

Resurrect an alien turtle. It's pointless, trust me.

Any anecdote from your time at The Dig project?

Nothing that I could say without legal troubles. :)

Have you been in The Dig's pizza orgy?

I'm sure I was, but I can't remember it. We had many, many pizza orgies over the years. They were all great, but now they sort of blend into one. Which is, I guess, the point of an orgy anyway.

As ill-fated 3D Ben would say...You were one of the lead designers on the ill-fated Full Throttle 2. What is your message to everyone who so unfairly hated it?

I'll answer as Ben would have liked: First, a vicious head-butt, and then we can talk about why you would've loved it.

Now a philosophical question. When a character dies in a video game....where do you believe he or she goes?

Good question, and one that people do not ask me often enough. I believe they get reincarnated as characters in comic books. Then, they get reincarnated as characters in films... then novels... then operas... then paintings... sculptures... and finally real human beings. And then, American Idol contestants. And then cockroaches.

In the same line of philosophicness. Who are you?

Cockroach.

 

March, 2007
Copyright © 2007 Santiago Méndez.

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