January 30, 2006

The Apogee Legacy #4 - Tom Hall

Today our "Apogee Legacy" Interview series continues with its fourth edition, this time with Tom Hall, a core figure in the early days (and more) of our company. Tom was a founding member of id Software, working with them and us on Commander Keen & Wolfenstein 3D. He later joined Apogee, and was the project lead on Rise of the Triad, as well as having his hands in several titles doing work for them ranging from Hocus Pocus, Duke Nukem II, and Duke Nukem 3D. Additionally, he was the original project lead on Prey when it was in it's original incarnation.

Since his time here, he's worked at Ion Storm, Monkeystone, Midway, & now KingsIsle. Tom has a huge connection with us and our past, so we're sure you're eager to hear what he has to say...

The Apogee Legacy
Past Pioneers of the Shareware Revolution
Issue #4 - Tom Hall

1) How did you first come in contact with Apogee?

Scott Miller had been trying to hire John Romero from his old days as a contributor to Uptime (an old monthly software magazine on disk), then he'd been getting fan mail from various people which he hung up. Then he noticed they were all coming from the same address! Both amused and angered, John wrote a strongly-worded letter back, only to find out it was Scott wanting to publish something.

Carmack and I had stayed up late one night making a funny joke demo of Super Mario Bros 3 and putting it on Romero's desk in the morning. This lead to a demo for Nintendo, which got to the head table but was rejected, so we decided to do our own thing. I went off to my office and in 15 minutes came up with the story of Commander Keen, which Scott was dying to publish, and so he did!

2) Was there a reason you decided to work with Apogee, say versus going on your own or working with another company?

Scott was so excited to publish us, and he sent us pizza money, which was so cool of him and a big convincer. Once Keen started selling, we realized we could live on that money. The rest is history.

Tom on his first day at Apogee

3) Looking back, was there anything Apogee could have done better, regarding the marketing and distribution of your game?

Well, the initial "Miller Model" of the buy one, get two was brilliant. But they needed to grow as we did. We had our computers networked before they did, putting the money back into the company, and we knew DOOM was gonna take off at least as well as Wolfenstein 3D did, and we didn't want that handled by a company with SneakerNet going on. But we totally owe our initial success to Scott believing in us.

4) Do you think your game was made better or worse by working with Apogee?

I think the Keens were made better by the trilogy thing. I think they were a little me-too during the development of early Prey. But working with Scott and George was a pleasure. Those guys love games.

5) Apogee had a policy of letting the designer or studio retain full intellectual property rights to their game. Nowadays, it's rare to find a publisher who allows this, especially if the publisher is providing the funding. Do you believe that it's best for the creator to retain IP rights? Why or why not?

That is awesome of them. Just wish I owned Keen. :-) It's kinda just a business property to the folks over there at id. Ah well. For some reason they want the ten thousands it is worth while the millions roll in.

5a) And if applicable, have you benefited from retaining ownership of your own IP?


5b) Do you think there'll ever be a sequel to your game(s)?

If I owned Keen, there sure would be. I don't consider that GBA game canon by any means. :-)

Searching for something in the offices where Rise of the Triad was developed. Mark Dochtermann is in the background.

6) Is there any story/incident that stands out as interesting during your time associated with Apogee?

Back in the development of Duke Nukem 3D, I walked into George's office and said, "When people get done with work, they are playing DOOM. Something is wrong if you have a new first-person shooter with deathmatch working, and everyone's not playing it." George took over the project and gave it a much higher fun factor. George MADE that game fun.

And the reception for the Dopefish was so strange. One guy became an ordained priest of the church of the Dopey Fish. It's just funny that a dumb fish from one level of Keen 4 is now an industry easter egg thing. Heh.

7) Apogee was an early pioneer in terms of teaming up with external designers and studios, and continues to do so even to this day (currently working with Human Head Studios on Prey). Why is it that so few other studios do this (mentor and fund outside projects with lesser known teams)?

They don't have the guts, and they are run by business people, not former (or current) developers. Some studios ARE run by former developers, but they've been converted into the evil business people, like some sort of Body Snatchers movie.

8) What the biggest difference in the industry nowadays versus when you worked with Apogee?

Shareware isn't such a big thing, since everyone does demos now. And the bar is so high with the new graphic cards and consoles, and there's SO much high-quality web content out there, it's hard for a small timer to stand out. Even phone games are getting high tech! But

There's always room for innovation. Perhaps the next place for the small games is e-paper. Who knows?

9) What have you been doing since your time with Apogee?

Did id Software, ION Storm, Monkeystone Games, Midway, and now KingsIsle Entertainment. I've been busy. Anachronox won a number of awards, Congo Cube was rated "A" by PC Games, Area 51 did well (I had a little input, but didn't make that game), and now I'm doing an MMO (massively multiplayer game). I'm still excited to be making games.

Tom in 2003.

10) If you're no longer making games, have you thought about returning to this industry? If not, why not?


11) Looking back, are there any missed opportunities that you wish you'd have jumped on?

No, it's been a pretty good ride. Wish I had the rights to Keen and Anachronox, but I've tried to stay creatively happy throughout my career, and have pretty much done that.

12) Other than your game(s), what's your favorite game released or produced by Apogee (or 3D Realms)?

Other than our stuff, Duke Nukem 3D is still the best from that studio. Really fun.

12a) And what's your favorite 2-4 games released by anyone else?

Chrono Trigger (SNES), Wizardry I (Apple ][), Ultima III (Apple ][), Half-life 2 (PC), Day of the Tentacle (PC), Secret of Monkey Island I & II (PC), um... oh wait, you said 2-4. Did I mention Sneakers (Apple ][)? Ape Escape (PSX)?

13) Is there anything else you'd like to add about your time here or to fans of your title(s)?

See, a bunch of folks can just get together, make the type of games they love and come out with fun, popular stuff! And dudes, finish Duke this year. Really. Ya might, I dunno, put a milestone schedule together, maybe something in Project. Just an idea.

Just kiddin'! We all want to PLAY it! Quit hoggin' it, man!

And to the fans... really, thanks for playing the dumb little games me and my buds have been making in a little room somewhere. What an odd job this is!


Tom with George and David Gerrold when David visited the 3DR offices in 1995.

Thanks to Tom for helping out with the interview series. You can read more about Tom's life on his website. Additionally, we still sell all the games he worked with during his time with us (Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Rise of the Triad, Terminal Velocity, etc...) so make sure and check them all out on our Games Page.

Make sure and tune in again next Monday morning, when we bring you the next in our Legacy Interview series.

Posted by Joe Siegler on January 30, 2006 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Discuss this story on our forums
News Categories: About 3DR / 3DR Staff | The Apogee Legacy