David Dunham – Lead Developer
I guess I’ve always been into creating games. I made my first one while in middle school. It was a simple football game that ran on a programmable calculator. And in high school I did a Star Trek game that ran on our timesharing computer.
I remember seeing a wargame with hexes while at summer camp, but I didn’t actually play one until high school. I think I figured out the cheapest way to get games was not to buy boxed games, but to subscribe to Strategy & Tactics magazine. Each issue had a game in it. My first copy contained Sixth Fleet, and my friends and I played it many many times (even though new games continued to arrive). I know I tried making my own hex games, but they weren’t very memorable.
The US Air Force paid my college tuition and had me fly a desk for four years. I then spent several years with a friend working on what in retrospect was an overly ambitious adventure game system. We probably should have just done a single game instead of making it general enough to handle anything. I got distracted by productivity software and created the Acta outliner (which I eventually reincarnated as Opal for Mac OS X. This led to a variety of software jobs, and the chance to work on Apple’s first handheld platform, Newton. I worked on the book reader and outliner that were burned into its ROM. Then Apple asked me to create a game kind of like Tetris. I figured Tetris had already been done, so I came up with what Apple called Jigsaw Strategy Game. They then changed strategy and said Newton was a business machine, so I don’t think they actually shipped it. We got the rights back, and much later I reincarnated it as Jigami for iOS.
A number of factors finally aligned so that I could work on a much more ambitious game. For one thing, CD-ROM technology was finally cheap enough that an independent developer could create a game to distribute on CD. I put together a team and created King of Dragon Pass. When publishers couldn’t figure out what to do with a game that didn’t fit the standard niches, I learned the basics of publishing and put it out myself. Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned the part of publishing that had to do with paying distributors to carry your game, so sales were better in markets where game shops listen to customers. Like Finland, where King of Dragon Pass was a hit.
A year or so later GameHouse asked me to port 8 downloadable games from Windows to Mac OS X. They liked what I did, and asked me to join. I think I was the 12th employee, though they were growing pretty fast at the time. They got big enough that RealNetworks bought them. And as we hired more programmers, it became obvious that we’d need a Development Manager. I wanted to keep my boss, so I told him I would do it. So for several more years I was in charge of a team of programmers. I lost track of how many games I worked on in some capacity.
Over time, RealNetworks made more changes in how GameHouse was run. The worst thing I had to do was lay off one of the game developers. I decided to leave before the studio completely collapsed.
Coincidentally, this is about when I made a big push to bring King of Dragon Pass to iPhone. It was a part-time project, so it took a while, but the game came out in September 2011, and was once again a hit in Finland.
I realized that the best parts were when I was working full time on games
As to my favorite games: that’s a tough one. It’s changed over the years — I used to really like Civilization (the board game), but it’s hard to imagine having 7 hours in a row to play something. I like the story and world exploring aspect of paper & dice roleplaying games. HeroQuest and FATE are probably my current favorites. Monkey Island is the computer game I have the fondest memories of (and it was an influence on King of Dragon Pass). In the heyday of collectible card games I liked Mythos, because it actually related to its subject matter. When my family visits we usually play Give Me the Brain. I enjoy Small World and Dominion. And online, I love the writing in Fallen London.