May 22, 2006

The Apogee Legacy #20 - Joe Siegler

This week's edition of the Apogee Legacy series reaches a milestone with it's twentieth edition. I think when we first came up with the idea, we didn't expect it would run this long. We are reaching the end of the series, as there's only a couple left after this one. This week, we're running a slightly different edition for our twentieth. This twentieth interview is with well.. myself, Joe Siegler. Now I hadn't planned on doing one of these myself, as I didn't think there was a point. Scott Miller asked me to do it, and when I objected, he said "consider it an order", so here I am. :)

The short intro to myself is that I run the website here at Apogee, amongst other things (a more complete list is here). Yeah, I know most people know us as 3D Realms, but I've been here for a long time since before the name 3D Realms came up. Those who know me know I tend to resist change, so even 12 years after we came up with the name, I still refer to ourselves as Apogee.

One of my concerns is that I'm not a traditional developer, and as such some of the questions wouldn't apply to me directly. While that is true, I have a lot of friends who are, and also having read all the interviews before mine, I'd like to think I have some not completely off base thoughts on the matters at hand. As I've already started talking, let's get to the actual questions.

The Apogee Legacy
Past Pioneers of the Shareware Revolution
Issue #20 - Joe Siegler

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

Trying to imitate James Hetfield, circa 1993

Well, that would require the firing up of the wayback machine. I started here in Dec 1992, but I was "involved" before that. I was a customer of this company for awhile. I'm not sure which was the first game I ever bought - it was probably either Keen 4 or the original Duke Nukem game. I was working at a computer repair facility at the time, and on the repair floor, Apogee games were used a lot on the computers. You had to test something, and quite frequently to test repaired floppy drives, some Apogee game would get installed. I also was running a BBS at the time, and Apogee's games were quite popular on the BBS scene.

In fact BBS's are the reason why I'm here. Back in the day, I used to dial up Software Creations all the time looking for the latest shareware releases and updates by Apogee. I would download 'em, and then upload them to several BBS's around the country on my own dime, all not knowing Apogee at all. So on May 5, 1992, along with most of the rest of the world, I was totally blown away by Wolfenstein 3D. It was some seriously good shit at the time, and I knew then that I wanted to try and work there, although I didn't know as what, because I was not an artist or a programmer. After the v1.2 update of Wolfenstein 3D came out, I shortly after that saw a "user hack" version of Wolfenstein pruporting to be "An adult upgrade of Wolfenstein 3D to v1.3". I contacted Scott Miller on Software Creations about it, since this file did not orginate there, like all the others did. Scott thanked me, and Apogee/id issued a statement about it, saying it didn't come from them, there is no "Porn" version of Wolf from them, and it was for this reason that there is no v1.3 of Wolfenstein 3D. Not long after this I decided to leverage this and ask Scott if he needed any help being a beta tester. He said yes, and I was added to the beta testing team (which I later on ending up being the head of, which was amusing to me). At the time, Math Rescue was in beta, so that was my first project.

At the Ft Worth Duke3D Rodeo Shootout, 1996. More Info

After a short time doing beta testing of that (and Major Stryker), Scott posted a message in the beta area asking if anyone from the beta team was intersted in coming to work for Apogee. Originally, I was hired to be telephone tech support for Apogee. Somewhere in my dusty archives is the original message he posted, but I can't locate it now. One highlight in his "incentive" package was that the Coke machine at the office cost only a quarter per can. I figured any company which talked about "Wearing what you want", and offering Coke for a quarter in it's "Come work here" pitch probably was pretty cool. So in October of 1992, I made the decision to move to Texas from Philly to take this job. I was to replace Shawn Green, who was the first employee of the company (outside of Scott and his family) who was being bumped up to the newly created "Online Support" position. However, inbetween my getting hired and coming down, Shawn quit to go join id Software. I then told Scott I wanted that job, since it was exactly what I was doing anyway in terms of file releases, support, etc.. So they gave me that job instead, and to this day I thank Shawn for making that move allowing me to get this job. It's kind of amusing, 13.5 years later I'm still here, and I'm still technically in the same job, as I've never really been formally promoted or anything like that. It's just evolved from BBS's to the Internet and websites/email.

It's exactly the kind of job I would have wanted had I actually stayed in school and got a degree (which I didn't).

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

Well, unlike the 19 folks who have preceeded me in this series, I'm not a real game developer as such. Sure, I write tech docs, I do support, maintain the website, and I even dabbled in level design awhile back with Rise of the Triad, but I hold no illusions. I'm not a game developer, I just work at a game company. Back in 1992, it wasn't an issue of working for anyone else, I didn't know anyone in the game industry. Scott offered the job to our beta team as I talked about above, and I took it. So working for anyone else was not an option.

With Joe Selinske (TRI, Ritual, EA, Black Label) at E3 2001

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

Well, I do have two games under my belt as a formal developer, and those are Rise of the Triad, and Extreme Rise of the Triad. For ROTT, I got paid "per level", it wasn't a royalty type of issue there, I got "x" per level I designed. For EROTT though I got paid royalties. EROTT was totally done by Tom Hall and myself, no one else from Apogee worked on that. So I was definitely excited about getting a royalty check.

I did get a couple of good ones right after release, but it started tapering off not long after that. That's the one beef I had with the game back then - Extreme ROTT was the only game at the time we had no advertising for. We advertised ROTT, and all the other games released back then, but EROTT came out after the 3D Realms label started, and I think the marketing was there for Terminal Velocity, and Duke Nukem 3D was well underway at that point, so EROTT got kind of forgotten about, and if we had marketed it, there might have been more sales for a product that I felt was a lot better with it's level design than the original product was.

It's not a major thing now, because I'm sure EROTT would have been discontinued awhile back anyway, and I thorogouhly enjoyed the experience both from the work done, and working solo with Tom Hall. I'll always treasure that.

With The Levelord (Ritual) & Jim Dose (Ritual, id, Valve) at a Mesquite Outback in Feb 2005.

One final story to this is that the last couple of royalty checks I got were under $10, with the last one I think being about $2. After that, George Broussard (who handed out royalty checks for the company) came to me with a buyout offer, so he wouldn't have to go through all the records just to arrive at a check for $2. So I got a $300 buyout somewhere in early/mid 1996 on my EROTT royalties, which I figured out back then would carry me over to around the year 2035 if I spread out the diminsihing rate at which the checks were coming in, so in the end I made out OK with that in my opinion. :)

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

Well, again only having one game under my belt makes this a bit different, as I'm not sure how to answer this. I'd say the game was fine the way it was. Sure, I know there was a chance to use Build back then instead of the Wolf engine, and I'm sure that might have made the game better had it been used, but to be honest, I rather like ROTT the way it was.

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?

Well, again I don't own the IP to Rise of the Triad, Scott & George do. I think it's a great idea for the designer to retain IP rights. That is however they don't own it just to bury it like some companies do with some properties they own ( that fans have shown there is an interest in reviving).

With Tom Hall at E3 1998.

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

This is not applicable to me at all. No comment.

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

Well, there was already the aforementioned addon pack for my one game, that being "Extreme Rise of the Triad". While I'm not Scott & George, and I can't speak for them personally, I seriously doubt they'd ever want to do another sequel to that.

However... If I ever ran across the kind of stupid money that would allow me to never have to worry about money ever again, I'd personally fund a Rise of the Triad sequel. I still think there's potential for a killer game in the ROTT franchise, and I'd probably try and hire back as many of the original team as I could. Most of what made ROTT "ROTT" IMO was Tom Hall's silliness - the same zany stuff that made Keen "Keen". There's a bunch of other cool things there too, but this game was very much (to me personally) a Tom Hall game.

However, the amount of money required for that dream is far beyond what this Webmaster will probably ever see in his lifetime. So while I WANT to say yes there will be, the answer is probably no.

In a stretch limo with the rest of 3DR on our way to a good dinner at a Steakhouse in Dallas in Nov of 2001.

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

Oh dear God, there's way too many of them! I've seen an awful lot of people come through here, and have been friends with most of them, I probably could tell a story on all of them. The problem is I know so many stories here, how do I pick for this? OK, I'll do a few of them.

Ken Silverman's US Maps

A few issues back, Ken Silverman did a bit about his drawing the United States anywhere. Here's a story I remembered about that. "One time the group of us were out to lunch at one of the local restaurants. This was one of the places that lets you draw with crayons on the table on paper they put on it. As Ken stated, he generally was pretty quiet, so most of us weren't paying attention, just talking the usual trash nonsense. After awhile one of us looked over at what Ken was doodling, and went "What the hell?" Ken was sketching the United States Map. He apparently has the ability to just draw the entire US map on anything. It pretty much took us by surprise, as he was roughly half done at that point, and from that point on we just watched him finish the map. So if you go anywhere with Ken, don't let him wander off on his own mentally, he'll draw the United States somewhere. :)"

ROTT Release power outage

In December of 1994, we were about to release the v1.0 shareware version of Rise of the Triad. As any game developer can tell you, the day before you release is one of the most stressful and worrysome times, as even if you think your game is going to be good, there's that one moment of "What if it sucks?" Anyway, it was the middle of the night and we were all testing, tweaking, packing, etc, as any end of project was. We were just about done, doing final checks, and then we lost power. At first we thought we blew a fuse, and then we noticed the whole building was out, and then we went outside and noticed that nothing had power anywhere that we could see. It was as if the whole power grid up and died. I recall someone at the time saying "id Software did it!". It was both a relief and a stressful thing as we wanted to finish and get the game out. Some of us handled the break differently. William Scarboro slept on the floor of his office. Some of the rest of us (myself, Mark Dochtermann) went downstairs into the lobby of our office building and brought a water rocket. We were bored, and with no computers to use, we had to resort to other juvenile attempts at passing the time. We chose setting off a water pressured rocket inside the lobby of our office building. So we filled it up with water (there's a picture of this rocket on the ROTT CD), and got all excited. Pumped it up, and the stupid thing went up about one foot, and as I recall got Mark completely wet. It was complete failure. We tried again, but the stupid thing never worked right. For some reason we felt it sounded cooler to name it, so the water rocket from Planet Failure was called "The Avenger". Power came on a short while later, and the game was released without further incident, but the water rocket story from the night of release was one I'll always remember.

At SWC BBS in 1994.

Monty Python Tech Support

Back when ROTT was being developed, the Tech Support department in 1994 consisted of Kevin Green, Steve Quarrella, & Lee Jackson (picture). From time to time I'd need to jump in and help them as we were pretty busy at the time. When the four of us were together, it seemed to prompt what I called "Monty Python Tech Support". You see, Lee, Steve, & myself were huge fans of British Comedy. Monty Python & Red Dwarf in particular. The three of us knew the routines, the lines pretty darn well. At a moment when relief was needed (or more likely) when the group of us were just goofing off, or when we wanted to mess with Kevin, one of us would start a Python routine. Since the three of us knew 'em so damn well, we could do them, and we'd do 'em rather a lot. Ended up driving Kevin bananas. That issue aside, it was cool that the three of us had that kind of rapport where we could do that.

More ROTT Development

There's a couple of stories from ROTT development that I'll tell here (although I could do a whole entry on that game's development too). The first is one called "50 Kills". The second is called "Death to a Coffee Cup".

Towards the end of ROTT development, we (even then) were hearing the cries of "You're taking too darn long". So Tom Hall, in his bizarre sense of humour, decided to make a video out of that. We had made this video where he pretended to be an undercover news reporter, and I was his cameraman. We "broke in" to the Apogee HQ, and he was going to do this expose as to why it was taking so long. We ran upstairs, into our offices, and looked around at people's desks, and there was no one there. We eventually found a couple of guys playing ping pong in another office, and it was something along the lines of "Hey, it's game research" or something liek that. My memories of how the video ended are fairly cloudy now. We had Rise of the Triad running in the background on various people's computers, but the funny part of this for me was when Tom got into the offices and looked at one of the computers, the rather distintive sound of a ROTT multiplayer game came up. Tom yelled out in a rather dejected sounding voice "50 KILLS!" - he had set the game's kill total to 50, so the game ended. This compltely ruined his "crazed undercover news reporter" thing and we had to shoot the video again. This was never released, unfortunately - and is lost to the ages. I tried finding this a few years ago to release, but no one knows if it's even around anymore. Shame, as it was pretty darned funny.

Also as a side story to this, the story of losing to an inanimate object in ROTT deathmatch comes to mind. Back then, ROTT had a record for allowing 11 people to play at once in a deathmatch game. Doom was the king of deathmatch, but it was limited with the number of players. With all due respect to Spinal Tap, Rott "Went to 11", and when we were testing deathmatch we didn't always have that many people to play. So we'd fire up ROTT on other computers, and stick down the fire button, so that player would at least be doing something, if not actually "playing". The sad part of this is that we used coffee cups on a lot of the computer keyboards to wedge down the fire button. More than once, one of the coffee cups managed to win the game. I've been accused of not being very good at deathmatch games, but losing to a friggin coffee cup is rather embarrassing.

During a voice recording session for Duke Nukem Forever in 2001.

Mt. Xenophage

Back before I started working here (and right when I did), we used to take our own 1-800 phone calls for orders. Back then we had a guy working for us who took orders named Jason Reed. When we put Xenophage on sale, like every other title we sold, we got a bunch of stock to sell. Jason went and sat on top of the pile of Xenophage boxes, and we took his picture up there. For some reason the image of this picture has stuck in my mind over the years, and it's come to be known as "Mount Xenophage". We ended up using this picture as a Camera Captioning Contest entry back in 1997. The memory remained, as some years later in 2002, we recreated the picture with Bryan Turner on a pile of boxes.

Blackburn on the log

We haven't done this in ages, but from time to time we used to go out collectively as a company and do something outdoors. One day many a moon ago we had rented (or just took over, I can't remember) a park in Garland where we had our own private BBQ. The majority of the company came, and we had a great time playing volleyball, having a cookout, and just generally hanging out.

After awhile we started exploring the grounds behind the picnic area in the park, and ran across a creek with a big tree that had fallen over it forming a bridge to the other side. Since it looked pretty unsafe, it instantly became a dare as to who would have enough balls to cross the thing. Funny thing was that the daughter of one of our employees was the most nimble, going across it like there was nothing to worry about. Some of us tried it but without as much aplomb.

Eventually, Steve Blackburn crossed over, got to the other side, and the got stuck there. He apparently was afraid to come back either because of abuse he was taking, or he just got scared of crossing - don't remember that now. Anyway, this prompted mass taunting and abuse from the others here, particularly Scott & George, who were calling him several names I won't print here. Even the aforementioned kid ran up to him, stole his hat, and came back.

The climax to this story was when Scott Miller got out halfway on the tree, and started throwing things at Steve. No one was hurt, but damn were those of us watching this laughing our asses off. There's a picture of Scott tossing another tree branch at Steve online here. We haven't done anything like this in awhile, and I miss these kinds of company outings.

There's so many others, I could spend all day recounting stories. Some of the others I thought about using here were the story of when we shipped Max Payne, how Corrinne Yu loved to eat cereal in the lunchroom, the entire company going out to dinner to celebrate completing Duke Nukem 3D, Tom Hall's "Iced Tea, No Lemon, No Spoon", Mark Dochtermann's "Lookin' for some Hot Buns!", there's just too many, man!

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)?

I'm gonna pass on this one. I think the folks in this series have already said way better what I could possibly do with this one. Check out the other entries in this series for that.

As Heinrich Krist during the video recording session for Rise of the Triad on Jan 22, 1994.

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

Well, I'm still here, so the "when you worked" doesn't apply. :) But my answer is the same as most people's. Money. Size. Scope. The industry is not what it was when I got hired. Gone are the days like that. There might be a few small independants around on the scale of the old days, but as a whole, the industry has gotten much larger, and much more expensive.

I've always said for years that this kind of thing would come, because there's always this drive from customers for the latest, the newest, the best graphics, etc, etc, etc. Companies that didn't move forward or just stayed at the current level they were at generally got left behind, and nobody wanted that. So the drive internally and externally to provide something bigger and better has gotten us where we are as an industry.

Game budgets are stupid huge, I often wonder how in the heck money can be made given how much these things cost (or so I'm told they cost, anyway). The days of things like Crystal Caves, Cosmo, or other games like that where you could have a team of at most two or three people doing everything, or in several cases one guy doing everything are dead, gone, buried, decomposed, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. The public won't allow that level of game anymore, unfortunately.

Packing Foreign Max Payne Orders - July 2001

We tried a couple of years ago to have a throwback game like that, which evoked memories of the past (this would be Duke Nukem Manhattan Project), but it sold poorly. My gut feeling is that we won't see any more of those old school kind of things from us, unfortunately. I could be completely wrong, but I don't think so.

Of course, "casual games" have their market too, and things like the games on Xbox Live Arcade on the 360 have proven to be rather popular. Plus there's other things like Gold Miner Vegas and things of that nature which aren't going to set the world on fire sales wise, but are darned entertaining games, so what the hell do I know? :)

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

Well, I'm still here, so this doesn't apply at all.

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

Well, this sort of applies to me, as I do work here, but I don't "make games" in the classic sense of being a game developer. I've often thought about doing maps again. I have dabbled a bit with "Duke's Enormous Tool", as well as having several ideas for Prey levels, having played it a lot in the last few months. I might do something after the fact - we'll see if I have the time. :)

Scaring Bryan Turner & Nick Shaffner at DFW Airport on the way to E3 2001.

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

Not really. I'm pretty happy here, and the company has been pretty nice to me over the years. I guess the opportunity I was offered some time ago and did not take was a good one, so it's a "reverse missed opportunity". I was offered a job working for Dan Linton up in Massachussets at Software Creations. It would have been a pay increase as I recall, but I turned it down, because I am a creature of habit, and I didn't want to upset the apple cart and leave Apogee. Good move, as Software Creations ceased to exist within two years of that offer.

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

Let's see, since I can't say ROTT (ha), I'll go with Monster Bash, Wolfenstein 3D, Commander Keen, Death Rally, and Raptor. I liked all of our games for some reason or another, but these are my favorite "games", or old some special meaning to me. Keen 4 was the reason I got my first sound card - I was a PC Speaker person, but at my computer repair job I mentioned above, one of the test machines had an (original) Sound Blaster card in there, and I loved the extra sounds - so I ran out that night and bought my first sound card just to hear the cool sound and music in Keen 4. :)

Joe at his desk (holding Alf) on May 22, 2006.

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

Oh dear, there's way too many! I don't know where to begin. I am a fan of Sports games (baseball & football mostly), as well as open ended things like the Sims and GTA, and the like. Some other games I've enjoyed in the past are Unreal Tournaments, Quake 3 Arena, Doom, Monster Truck Madness 2, Big Rigs (just kidding), and .. there's just way too many.

I have a shelf full of games, a lot are there because I know someone from another company who worked on it. A lot of old friends of mine from other companies (Joe Selinske, Levelord, Jim Dose, etc) are people whose games I like to have on my shelf, it makes me feel good. Also seeing all those games by friends reminds me of how lucky I am to be in this industry and to have survived as long as I have. Granted, my not being a formal game developer has a lot to do with it I'm sure (not the same pressures and issues), but so many of my friends have bounced all over the place, and several aren't even in the industry anymore. It's probably silly, but I like seeing my friends work on my bookshelf.

But for things I truly enoy from other companies, I'd say the ones in the first paragraph, plus Animal Crossing. I wasted a lot of time on that one, and I can't wait for Animal Crossing Wii. :)

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

Thanks for buying our games over the years and keeping me employed. ;)

By request, me with the Duke Girls and then Jeanette Papineau at E3 1999 and 2001 respectively.

Thanks to myself for doing the entry. :) Yeah, this is the bit where I usually thank the person doing the interview, so how do I thank myself here? The series is winding down, there's only a few left, so make sure and stick around for the finale of the series. Here's a few pages about myself or other things I've done.

Another thing I'm proud of in having done this series is getting a lot of other games released as freeware. Given this was my own entry, and my stuff is either still available for sale (ROTT), or is freeware (EROTT), I decided to look into the past and see what obscure thing I could get released. Found one. Some time ago we released an addon for Wolfenstein 3D called "The Wolfenstein 3D Super Upgrades". This package consisted of a boatload of extra levels for Wolf (over 800), a level editor, and a random level generator. This is pretty obscure, in fact, most people don't even know we sold this for awhile. But it's another step in my goal of getting everything we don't sell anymore released as freeware. You can download it from our downloads page in the Wolfenstein 3D section. Enjoy.

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 May 22, 2006 at 2:42 PM | Permalink | Discuss this story on our forums
News Categories: About 3DR / 3DR Staff | The Apogee Legacy