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Interviews: Developer Focus: Jason Stone

By  on February 22, 2007

Developer Focus: Jason Stone

Funcom Developer Jason Stone stops by to answer Garrett Fuller's questions about live, work and the games industry in this Developer Focus interview.

Tell us a little about your childhood. How did school and where you live influence your choice to join the video game community?

Jason Stone:

I moved a great deal, I think when I counted at around the age of eighteen I had moved something like twenty-three times. The longest I ever went to school in one place was for three years of high-school. Because my family was constantly moving I think I spent a lot more time playing with my commodore 64 and messing about in the early days online. I remember Delphi internet, the web before the web browser, and downloading Apogee shareware like Commander Keen off library BBS while playing L.O.R.D (Legend of the Red Dragon) and trying not to get eaten.


Can you remember your first video game? How often did you play, what other games had an influence on you?

Jason Stone:

My very first video game was Combat on the Atari 2600. My little brother and I actually found the Atari 2600 that had belonging to my mother's cousins up in my great grandfather's attic and were totally hooked. Shortly after that I found a Commodore 64 at a garage sale and my gaming really took hold. Usagi Yojimbo Samurai Rabbit, Rampage, and Autoduel were some of my favorites. I've been influenced by tons of games, so it's really hard to narrow it down. I really feel that as a designer it is important for me to just play everything I can get my hands on. I rank gaming experience as being almost equal with my industry experience when it comes to "most important tool I have" in regards to my career.

Besides games what other influences brought you into your career? Whether it is books, movies, or artwork everyone has different tastes, tell us about yours.

Jason Stone:

I honestly have to say that as I designer I think there is no other influence that truly brings you into this career. You really have to try to get into it. I think there are a lot of common interests amongst many designers, but generally they were not the motivating factors for how we ended up here. Me personally I love movies and music, but am terribly eclectic and pretty much like a wide variety of stuff. I like to read and enjoy historical, low fantasy (Song of Ice and Fire series etc), and science fiction writing (Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game as an example). Enjoy a lot of anime (preferably the ones with lots of action or giant robots and lots of action) , and prior to coming to work for Funcom I was actively pursuing open track days and amateur racing with my car.

What was your first job in games? What other games have you worked on?

Jason Stone:

My first job in games was meant to be a temporary position. I started work at Verant before it was purchased by Sony as a Game Master for EverQuest. I had played EverQuest since its beta and been involved in their volunteer guide program. I was going to only do it part time until I found another network engineering position in the San Diego area. As it turned out I decided to stick with gaming as a job and see where it would go. I have worked as a Game Master and Lead Game Master on EverQuest and a few of its expansions, Community Manager for the casual games department for stuff like Wheel of Fortune, Cosmic Rift, Infantry etc, Quality Assurance on EverQuest 2, Star Wars Galaxies, and little bits on Planetside with some assisting on design work on Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest 2.

What is your job at Funcom? How did you get your foot in the door?

Jason Stone:

My job at Funcom seems to be constantly changing, originally I was hired to be a content designer and work on Monsters. Monsters as being defined as monster creation in the monster tool and creation of AI (Artificial Intelligence) designs. I got into working with the animations and the BCC or Behavioral Control Center and ended up focusing on everything the characters are allowed to do and how it looks. Now I work primarily as a strike team leader and designer with features like combat, control, and PvP (Player vs. Player) to achieve the game-play we want to see in Conan. I got my foot in the door through a former colleague who mentioned Funcom was looking for designers while I was still working for Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). I had known a few of the Funcom guys online for a couple years since Anarchy Online Beta. I bugged them about it jokingly originally and they encouraged me to apply. I interviewed at E3 2004 and started in September.

Take us through a typical day of work on Funcom while working on Age of Conan, what is it like when you show up at the office?

Jason Stone:

It's usually pretty quiet when I arrive, I typically get in around nine and the morning meeting and normal workday does not start until ten. The leads are usually in their morning meeting so I just grab some coffee, check email, read the forums and settle in for the day. I usually bounce a few ideas about what I want to work on for the day with my cohort in crime, the super programmer Thor (he does all the BCC related code). I usually fire up the tools and the client and engross myself in work until around noon or a little late when I go and grab something to eat from ICA across the street (A major Norwegian/Swedish grocery chain). After lunch is typically meeting time if I am going to have one for the day so its design meetings then some more crunching in the tools and testing in the client before it is time to go home. Most of my day is spent with both monitors abuzz with many different windows for tools, word documents, spread sheets, web browsers; email, ICQ, the game client etc.

Are there any friends or family who had a major impact on your career or chasing dreams that you'd like to talk about, do they play games?

Jason Stone:

I was really the first member of my family to really start getting into games so it's a bit funny now that my younger brother and cousins are now also gamers and my family still is not too sure what to think of it. I would have to say that there are lots of people who have helped me improve myself little by little along the way and I could not begin to name them all, however I am very appreciative of my former boss at SOE Robert Pfister who really cared about his employees. I also need to thank my fiancé for putting up with the fact I park myself in front of the computer sometimes. Like I said above I think gaming is very important for me, but it doesn't always mean that those around us understand and agree.

The video game industry continues to grow very quickly. What are your hopes for games in the future?

Jason Stone:

I hope that games continue to improve and that as technology advances we get more opportunities to see our best ideas brought to life. I always feel like there is never a shortage of good ideas just a shortage of ways to make them happen and enough time to do it.

How have things been progressing with Age of Conan? Have you enjoyed working on such a strong IP as Conan?

Jason Stone:

I am going to reverse the order in answering this question, working with Conan is awesome. When I interviewed at E3 in 2004 I was not sure what I was interviewing for I just knew it was a new project and was hinted it was a "major fantasy license" I had wracked my brain trying to think of what it could be, knowing a lot of the other major licenses were already taken. When Gaute finally told me it was Conan in the interview I was pretty much floored and very excited right there, I rushed out and started ordering online and reading all the Robert E. Howard's Conan stories. Things have progressed so much, I don't feel our vision for the game has changed but just using combat as an example it feels like every iteration brings it closer and closer and makes it better and better. I feel very strongly that Conan is going to be a game that leaves a lasting impact on the history of evolution with the MMO genre.

Is there anything you would like to write to the readers of that we have not spoken about?

Jason Stone:

I would just like to thank the fans of the game and the community. I would like to thank people for being gamers and giving me the opportunity to work in something much more interesting than the banking computer networks I used to work with. Often I think fans lose sight of the fact us (meaning developers) are people just like they are and we are not really evil robotic content generation machines (or only a few of us anyway), and that we (meaning us developers again) often forget that the reason we started doing this is because we are gamers just like you and need to keep on being gamers if we want to make good games.