My Interview with Arnold Hendrick, Darklands Designer

Matt Barton's picture

Welcome back to Matt Chat! This three-part episode features the first-ever video interview with Arnold Hendrick, the award-winning designer of Microprose's Darklands. The interview covers his background and interest in military history, the ups and downs of Darklands' developments, what it was like working with Sid Meier, and the tragic bug that robbed Darklands of its deserved financial success and sequels.


Rowdy Rob
Rowdy Rob's picture
Joined: 09/04/2006
Video lengths, and... Arnold Hendrick's mind-blowing thoughts!

Ok, I guess I try to refine my "time" comments to make basic points, but I really feel that I must mention Mr. Hendrick's opinion on modern gaming, because it seems like he goes against the general consensus of what most AA'ers think or believe on the old-school/new-school games. Mr. Hendrick at least deserves some commentary, considering his thoughts and credentials!

On timing: I think "podcasts" are a different animal, like I said, than videos. If you guys did videos on Youtube that were "as long as it needs to be," it might be a disaster. "This interview needs to be 4 hours long, with 16 parts." That ain't going to work on a video, particularly since Youtube seems designed for "short-attention-span" video segments. But podcasts are designed to be listened to at length.

As for skipping to the podcast segments you're really interested in, I do that, but for the most part, I actually do want to listen to every segment and give each host a fair shake. Most of the hosts of "Retrogaming Roundup" are actually very listenable, so I want to hear it all, but after listening to the show piecemeal over several days, I tend to get distracted by other stuff (like a new "AA Radio" podcast) and never get around to finishing the RR show and actually forget about it until Bill mentions the next episode. I may have missed some great stuff.

That having been said, I have listened to all three "AA Radio" episodes and greatly enjoyed them, particularly the latest episode! But if the episodes start becoming epic marathons of time, I think only the most hardcore of the hardcore will stick around until the end.

Ok, now, finally..... Arnold Hendrick!

In the first part of the "Matt Chat" episode, Mr. Hendrick said something to the effect of "today's games have refined and improved the user interface," making the gameplay a smoother, more enjoyable experience for the modern gamer. That goes against just about EVERYTHING I've seen posted on AA from hardcore CRPG'ers and sim enthusiasts! What Hendrick considers "refined," most AA'ers seem to think the gameplay and interfaces of today have been DUMBED DOWN!!!

Heck, even Matt himself said something to that effect in his segment in the second "Armchair Arcade Radio" (or, from now on, "AAR" for shortspeak). And many CRPG'ers on this forum seem to concur with Matt on this opinion. "Modern games are dumbed down!" Mr. Keith Burgun, himself a game designer, has posted messages seeming to strongly agree with the "dumbed down" argument, going for a more "old school" gaming experience in his own game.

So what is it? Is Mr. Hendrick wrong? Are YOU wrong? Am I misinterpreting Mr. Hendrick's comments?

Food for thought, eh? A week late, but this has been on my mind since first viewing the latest Matt Chat episode.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Well, there's a big

Well, there's a big difference between streamlining and dumbing down. I don't think anyone seriously wants to go back to the days of cassette loading and having to memorize a bunch of arbitrary keys just to play a game. Nor would we want to go back to trying to control a pointer with a joystick or keyboard instead of a mouse (at least I wouldn't). Who in his right mind would want to go back to the days of having to look up words in a manual, or write down huge passwords instead of being able to easily save a game?

I think what Mr. Hendrick had in mind were precisely these kind of advances. You could easily remake Darklands to be a much smoother and more intuitive interface. Indeed, the sign of a good interface is that you barely notice it (except with pleasure, of course). You don't need to "dumb down" the game itself; it could be as complex as you like.

A really awesome book that you should read on this topic is Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things. It's so well written that you wish every interface designer had read it at least three times. Go get it; you won't regret it.


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