Chapter 8: Part 2 -- Work hard, play hard

By David Craddock, Oct 30, 2012 8:15am PDT

In part 1 of our exclusive look at chapter 8 from Stay Awhile and Listen, Condor co-founders David Brevik and Max and Erich Schaefer lined up two additional projects to hire more staff and start on Diablo, and Eric Sexton was left hanging, waiting for his dream job. Today, we go behind closed doors to take part in Condor's "work hard, play hard" culture.

* * * * *

They didn't hire me for another year. I think I called them up once a week, saying, "Hey, how's it going? I'm still here!" At one point they said, "We really want to hire you, we just can't right now. Get back in touch with us every so often and we'll let you know what's up."

    I took that as a cue to call them every single week, and at some point they told me, "Hey, why don't you check in, like, once a month?" I might've slowed calling to every other week.

      - Eric Sexton

      One year later in 1995, Condor had drummed up the resources to bring on Sexton as an artist. He showed up for his first day of work excited to dive in, but found only a blank space in the main room where a desk should have sat. Rick Seis and the rest of the gang explained to Sexton what was required of him on his first day.

      You would take the VW van that Max owned, and you'd go to Desk Depot, and it was just old desks. You would pick your own desk, haul it up with everybody's help, and you'd just drop your desk down and that's where you worked. No cube farms or any of that crap, so communication was awesome. You just looked over at someone and said, "Hey."

        - Rick Seis

        Trundling to and from the furniture store, Sexton dropped his desk in an open space in Condor's main room and joined the party. He started on the Game Boy version of NFL Quarterback Club as a pixel pusher, herding pixels together to create graphics. Like the rest of the guys, Sexton loved the open atmosphere at Condor. When he got stuck, he could spin around in his chair and asked for help. If he needed a break, he got up and moseyed around to see how his friends were getting along. He wasn't the only drifter. Matt Uelmen was more likely to be found milling around the main room than closed up in his music room writing tunes.

        I've always been one of the worst roamers. Generally, even when I'm at my most productive, it usually happens in one intense three-hour chunk. For the rest of the day I'll kick around ideas or work on smaller-scale things, but I'm able to be a major distraction for everyone else.

          This is partially why Runic Games doesn't mind having me a thousand miles away from the studio in my current job.

            - Matt Uelmen, composer, Condor

            Condor's ability to bring on extra bodies afforded Dave the opportunity to work with his younger brother, Pete--if Pete could prove himself first. After graduating from Chico State with a business degree, Pete moved in with Dave and his wife, Wendy, until he could find a job. Dave's stories about the life and times of a game developer inspired Pete to approached Dave and ask if there might be a spot for him at Condor. To test Pete's resolve, Dave enrolled his little brother in programming boot camp.

            Dave would challenge me: "Here, write this." I would come up with algorithms and functions to figure out how to get things to work. My first goal was to make a game like Centipede. After I programmed that, I made a Pac-Man game.

              - Peter Brevik

              True to his word, Dave offered his brother a temp position. Pete became a regular around the office, hanging out with the guys and sharpening his programming skills while the others banged out milestone goals.

              I looked forward to it every day. We would carpool together, and we would go to hockey games at night together, and work together. It was a great time.

                - Peter Brevik

                The team stabilized gradually and fell into a routine that flipped between hard work and hard play. Several times a day, Robin van der Wel and Dave donned their chef hats to bake EPROMs, erasable microchips that developers used to test-drive their Game Boy projects.

                The microchip had a little window on the top. If you shot it with ultraviolet light, the light would remove all the data. So we put the microchips on this little platform, we'd stick it on this ultraviolet sheet, set the timer for around 30 minutes, and sit there.

                  It was like making toast or something. Tick, tick, tick--ding!

                    - David Brevik

                    You couldn't just test out a little bit of code and run the program and see what happened. You really had to think about as many tasks as possible ahead of time. In that way you had to be a little more organized. You couldn't just change a line of code and re-run it.

                      - Robin van der Wel, programmer, Condor

                      Nearby, Max and Kelly crafted intricately detailed football players and mammoth stadiums while Brian Piltin fought tooth and nail against the M2's nebulous system architecture.

                      For me, working on the M2 game was tough. I had to get out my college physics book to work on that game. I remember the PlayStation coming out. Sony had invested a lot of money into writing libraries to make the programming easier, but with the M2, there was no supporting code for that system.

                        It's funny because I think the whole course of 3DO's legacy would have changed had they just come out with the libraries at the same time they came out with the hardware.

                          - Brian Piltin, programmer, Condor

                          Anyone tired of banging their head against a problem had plenty of ways to let off steam. Some of the guys ghosted between desks to shoot the breeze or ask for advice. Others blasted demons in Doom, picked off aliens in X-COM, or crowded around the Sega to play or cheer on hotly contested bouts of NHL '94.

                          All day we would sit around and play NHL '94, pretending like we were working. We had a schedule up on the wall. Different people played on different days. We tried to spread it out, make the tournaments last a little while.

                            There were specific moves we developed that would score most of the time. Almost all of the time. We had nicknames for every single one of the moves: "Oh, you straight-lined me!"

                              - David Brevik

                              Max, towards the end, actually starts to beat me. He's the only one that starts to beat me. I dominated for the most part. Dave would never come close, but Dave could always beat Max. Always. Whatever that was, whatever their styles were, Dave could always beat Max, but my style was always counter to Dave's style. Always.

                                Erich and Max continued to move up, and yet Max would still get beat by Dave. So when tournaments would come I'd sit there chanting, "Please, Dave, beat Max! "Please, Dave, beat Max!"

                                  - Rick Seis

                                  The team's antics spilled outside the office. Around lunchtime, the hungry gamers piled into Max's beat-up Vanagon and headed to establishments of questionable but affordable quality. Burger King was a cheap but serviceable favorite. Other haunts included The Pelican, dubbed "The Smell-ican" for its iffy service and dicey food; and Amelia's, known around the office as the "house of mediocrity."

                                  We did everything together while at work. We'd go to lunch, and it wasn't like, "Ugh, we've got to go to a company lunch." Everybody wanted to do that. So we'd all go to lunch and inevitably the Schaefers would bring their newspaper, and everybody would pick a section and just eat lunch while reading the paper, with your buddies around you, and not much conversation would happen.

                                    I'd say, "What sections are left?" Everybody wanted Sports or Business, and I'd end up getting Living or something.

                                      - Rick Seis

                                      When the clock chimed five, few people called it a day—sometimes because their tasks demanded that they stay, but usually because they didn't see any reason to leave.

                                      We liked coming to work because it didn't feel like work. It felt like a club where you went to hang out with your friends.

                                        - Kelly Johnson

                                        We hired people one by one as we found good people. We wanted to keep the group together, and I think having a steady group of people that worked together for a long time was something we valued pretty early on.

                                          - Max Schaefer


                                          Tomorrow, in the third and final installment, we explore the early stages of Diablo's development, and see Blizzard Entertainment and Condor lock horns over how the game should play.

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