Lori Hyrup, an Associate Producer on Dark Age of Camelot, completes the Mythic leg of our profile series
In the last developer profile from EA Mythic, we speak to Associate Producer Lori Hyrup about her journey into the game industry. She has worked at this Fairfax, VA developer for quite some time in various positions.
Tell us a little bit about your life growing up. Where did you live, what did you do, did you go to school?
I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1979, my grandparents, followed by my mother and the rest of my family, moved to rural Lake County of Northern California. There they settled in a small town called Clearlake Oaks. I was five years old at the time. Though many people (even Californians) are unfamiliar with this region, Clearlake is the largest natural freshwater lake completely within California. It is also believed to be the oldest lake in North America, formed around a series of dormant volcanoes, the largest being Konocti, a name given to it by the legends of local Pomo Indians.
As the only child of a single parent in a place where my nearest friends were often miles away, I frequently had to find or invent the means to keep myself entertained. Being surrounded by wilderness, I spent a lot of time in the great outdoors hiking, exploring, observing wildlife (which sometimes included mammals such as mountain lions, bobcats, bears, mink, bald eagles, osprey, blue herons, various species of snakes, lizards, newts, and salamanders, and hundreds of other types of birds), fishing, camping, swimming, water skiing, etc.
I went to high school at Lower Lake High School, some twenty miles away from my home. After graduating, I went to San Diego State University where I got my B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Zoology (no surprise there, eh?) and a minor in Physical Education.
At what age did you start playing games in general? Did you play any sports? What were your favorite games as a child?
I've been playing games of one type or another for as long as I can remember, from early childhood board games such as Candyland and Chutes and Ladders to more advanced ones like as Monoply, Life, and Dark Tower. I played interactive games such as Tiddily Winks and Mousetrap and card games like Uno and Solitaire.
As for sports, I could probably write an entire book on my experiences. Here are some of the high lights:
My very first competitive sport was speed skating (roller skates), which I did between the ages of three and five (before moving to Clearlake). At five years old, I won a national competition against children several years older.
Before we moved from the Bay Area to Clearlake, my mother had been friends with a number of players on the Oakland A's. As such, I went to nearly every A's game and was frequently taken on to the field during pre-game events. Those early experiences had a lasting impact on me. After moving to Clearlake, one of the first sports I took up was baseball. I played baseball between the ages of 5 and 15 as the only female in my little league, progressing through minors, majors, and senior league. In middle school, my ball playing experiences overlapped, and at 12 years old, I began playing softball. Because of various rules, I was not allowed to play baseball in high school, so I moved forward with softball. The transition actually worked out well for me, and in my sophomore year, our team won our first state championship victory. In 1991, I was invited to participate on the junior Olympic softball team, the California Stars, where we played a series of tournaments and exhibition games in Europe. I went on to play NCAA Division I softball in college. Today, I coach and play on a county women's fastpitch softball team. In total, I have currently accumulated 27 years of ball playing experience.
In addition to (and sometimes overshadowed by) the baseball/softball experience, I played competitively thirteen years of basketball, seven years of volleyball, and three years of track. Basketball and volleyball were both considerations for college, but because I never grew taller than 5'3" and they are both height-desirable sports, I ended up going with softball.
My favorite non-sport, non-video game was probably Dark Tower. It was an electronic adventure board game published by Milton Bradley. The game could be played with one to four people and had an electronic tower in the center of the board that kept track of the game's interactions. It was fairly advanced for its time with a distinct RPG flare. Unfortunately, there was a lawsuit regarding the intellectual property of the game, and they decided to discontinue game rather than fight the lawsuit.
Various influences can have a major part in games. What influences outside of game-play bring life to your work? Any ideas that you get from Books, Movies, Comics, Real-Life Stories, Art would be great here.
I tend to find inspiration all around me. My office is decorated with animal tapestries and pictures, with stuffed animals, plants, and figurines. My bookshelves, both at home and at work, are filled will hundreds of books. Some are works of fiction, generally of a fantasy nature, and others are non-fiction works based on an eclectic variety of topics.
I pull a lot of my inspiration from personal experiences and education, as well as from my personal interests in mythology, fable, folklore, and legends. I thoroughly research a project before finalizing a design and try to figure out what sounds right and what does not when applied to a game setting. Sometimes that means using a myth or legend as a foundation and then extrapolating the potential permutations of original idea to come up with something new and different. When coming up with in-game wilderness areas and animal-type monsters, my background in biology and ecology proved to be an invaluable source of inspiration and insight. Though less frequent, I have also found inspiration from various fantasy book series, movies, and anime.
At what age did you start playing video games? Can you tell us what your first video game experience was?
Though rural, Clearlake was not completely cut off from modern culture. The San Francisco Bay Area was about a three-hour drive away, and the region I lived in was a popular vacation spot for those wishing to get away from the city. As such, I have had access to video games nearly my entire life.
The video game playing of my early childhood is a mixture of memories. We had one of the first generation at-home Pong systems (with the giant paddles). I recall playing that even before I started kindergarten. Many of the lake resorts I frequented had an array of pinball and video games, some of latter being a mixture of electronics and mechanics (such as Pitch and Bat). Additionally, my mother worked at a pizza parlor in town a short distance from my elementary school, so I spent many after school hours helping her bus tables and other types of labor in exchange for quarters to play their games, which were usually traded out every few weeks or so.
Any game I could play well was a potential favorite. For arcade games, my favorites changed through the times and included some of the old familiar games such as Mario Bros., Ms. Pacman, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Kangaroo, Burger Time, Galaxian, Joust, Centipede, Popeye, and Dig Dug. On my Atari 2600, I enjoyed Pitfall, Warlords, E.T., Journey Escape, and Venture. On the Colecovision that I frequently monopolized from my friends, I enjoyed Cubert and Smurf. Then, in 1985, I begged my mother to get me a Nintendo Entertainment System (because it came with a robot). I got my NES but the Robot did not live up to anyone's expectations. That was fine because Super Mario Bros. soon occupied my time, followed by the Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Kid Icarus. Metroid was particularly enjoyable to me. I spent many hours learning how to beat the bosses and drawing out maps of the areas is the game. I learned how to beat the game in under an hour, and that is when I found out that Samus was female (as a young girl who played video games during that era, it was a huge source of excitement). A few months after I finished all of my meticulously drawn maps, a friend from school revealed a relatively new magazine called Nintendo Power, which displayed full color maps of the entire Metroid game. I was a bit upset that people could use the magazine's information to "cheat" when I spent all my time investigating the game and figuring it out. I eventually got over it.
What was the first game you worked on? What others games have you been involved with?
The first game I ever worked on was Dragon's Gate.
I was also involved with Rolemaster: Magestorm, Splatterball, Darkness Falls, Aliens Online, Starship Troopers: Battlespace, Godzilla Online, Silent Death, Darkness Falls: The Crusade, Darkstorm: Well of Souls, Spellbinder: The Nexus Conflict, ID4 Online, and Dark Age of Camelot.
What is your job at Mythic Entertainment? How did you get your foot in the door?
I'm currently an Associate Producer of Dark Age of Camelot.
In 1996, I volunteered my time as a remote staff member for a variety of AOL channels, mostly so I could earn enough compensation to play their online games (they charged hourly for the games back then). In September of that year, I began beta testing Dragon's Gate, a text-based RPG developed by Mythic (though they were called Interworld Productions, back then). When I learned that Dragon's Gate needed a person to develop their forums, I offered my skills, and my offer was accepted. I eventually cross-trained from forum development to in-game staff.
By 1997, I became a remote-staff administrator for Dragon's Gate, which included the management of the forums and the monitoring of the overall game performance. I also spent a large portion of my time designing content and improvements to the game's systems. In the summer of 1997, I visited the Mythic home office and ended up having a very short, impromptu interview. In September of that year, I moved from San Diego, California to Fairfax, Virginia and began working for Mythic full time. Originally, my first priority was to administer Dragon's Gate and act as a liaison for everything we did on AOL. During the next three years, I wore many hats simultaneously, which included the managing all of the company's customer service, public relations, remote staff of over 250 people across 10+ different games, overseeing content development and design for our text games, coordinating beta tests, and continuing to act as a liaison to AOL, Engage, and Gamestorm.
When we first began our work on Dark Age of Camelot, I continued to handle our early game PR, customer service, beta invites, and feedback. However, I was also asked if I could "help" with some of the world building, which included the physical building of some of the zones, planning monster groups, encounters, AI implementation, etc. Very quickly, my "help" grew in to full time content development where I took the initiative to shape much of the top-view of the world, conceptualized many of the monsters, and come up with big-picture backstories, etc., and I spent hundreds of hours implementing those concepts.
Through that pre-launch period, I also came up with and implemented the Team Lead program for DAoC. Because I knew that I could not possibly know what was going to be best for every class we implemented, I wanted direct access to representatives/liaisons of those classes so the company could obtain focused feedback.
Though neither a programmer nor artist, I am still something of a Jack-of-all-trades and make myself useful wherever possible.