We recently asked the writer, creator and original designer of the Banner Saga series, Alex Thomas how he got into the business of making video games and what keeps him motivated in this incredibly competitive field.
What attracted you to the game development industry?
I don’t know many gamers who don’t have ideas for games they’d love to make. As a kid I’d spend my free time designing games in notepads and playing everything I could get my hands on.
What are some previous game titles or studio names you’ve worked with?
My first job was with a studio called Wolfpack that’s not around anymore. We made the MMO Shadowbane along with a ton of other game demos that never got off the ground, like a Marvel MMO. I followed them as they evolved into Kingsisle, and eventually joined BioWare when they came to Austin. After wrapping up The Old Republic, I joined forces with other developers at BioWare and formed Stoic.
What is the earliest or most intense memory you have of a video game experience?
My parents were always pretty thrifty, so it was hard to get new games outside of Christmas or birthdays, but the one console I did manage to get was a Genesis. I remember my mom renting games for me from the Blockbuster, and just by chance she picked up Shining Force. I re-rent it three times until they agreed to just buy it, and at night I’d sneak out of my room and play it at 4 in the morning and be an absolute wreck for school the next day. A mutual love of Shining Force is what got me my first job interview with a game company, and a big part of the reason we made Banner Saga.
Other than any Stoic games, what is your favorite video game of all time and why?
At the risk of being a video game hipster, it’s still Shadow of the Colossus. It was the first game that convinced me games could be high art, and the first time I’d played a game with an “emergent” story that didn’t try to tell me what to think.
If you did not work in the video game field, what kind of job do you think you’d be doing?
Oh, I don’t know, what does anybody do nowadays? I don’t like working directly with customers, so I’d probably end up being a traditional writer or possibly a private investigator. Don’t ask me why on that second one, just a fascination of mine.
What’s something you’re proud of in the Banner Saga series?
I think we did a bang-up job with the story. Coming from BioWare, I learned a lot about branching story content, and I learned a lot about how I wanted to do it differently. I always wanted to play a game where the story felt more believable, there wasn’t always a right answer, there wasn’t “good” or “evil” choices, and instead of being the chosen one heroes who save the day you’re just a normal person put in a tough situation. The full arch of the story through saga 3 is probably the best thing I’ve ever done, and certainly one of the hardest. Funnily enough, though I worked as a full-time artist in the games industry for almost a decade before starting Stoic, I haven’t done hardly any art for it.
When you’re not working on Banner Saga, what are you doing in your free time?
Ha-ha, free time! I have a lovely wife and daughter and if I’m not working, I’m spending time with them, otherwise it’s writing, designing, artwork, working on project ideas or learning new software.