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Interview: Denny Thorley (Co-Founder of FASA Interactive)

Denny Thorley has been around the gaming industry for over two decades, and has been involved with some great games for a bunch of consoles. You might not have heard his name used too much during the 16-bit generation, but today’s Xbox gamers know his work and know it well. His Day 1 Studios is responsible for the mega hit series Mechassault, which made Xbox Live the thing to have for owners of that console. Well, did you know he was also the man behind the awesome action game BattleTech? He also was a founding member of FASA Interactive, the makers of the classic Shadowrun titles.

Mr. Thorley recently shared some of his Genesis experiences with Sega-16, and what an interesting conversation it was!

 

Sega-16: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Denny Thorley: This sounds a little like a first date. <smirk>. I’ve been working in the game business for about 20 years. Most of that time has been in product development, but lately I’ve spent a bunch of time dealing with business issues related to development. Currently, I’m the president of Day 1 Studios. Day 1 is an independent studio concentrating projects for the PS3 and 360. We also did the MechAssault series for Microsoft.

Sega-16: How did you come to work on the Genesis?

Denny Thorley: I was working with Data East at the time and the Genesis was challenging Nintendo’s dominance of the console game business. The Genesis was a breath of fresh air. It was easy to work on and very powerful for the time.

Sega-16: You were involved with Shadowrun on the SNES, yet weren’t part of the Genesis version? Why not?

Denny Thorley: I had negotiated the license for Shadowrun with The FASA Corporation while at Data East. The license was for all platforms on a world wide basis. Evidentially, Sega had some interest in Shadowrun, but had not moved fast enough to get the license themselves from FASA. As soon as we had the license agreement signed, Sega approached Data East in Japan about sub-licensing the Shadowrun property for the Genesis platform. I was a little bummed, because the plan was to launch on the SNES, Genesis and PC simultaneously, but our parent company insisted on partnering with Sega. So Sega went their own way and developed a traditional RPG with the property on the Genesis while Data East took more of an action/RPG light approach on the SNES. The PC never got completed. Financially it worked great for Data East, but it was hard to build a franchise without being cross-platform.

Sega-16: What did you think of the Genesis version of Shadowrun?

Denny Thorley: It was well executed, but I preferred the more action orientation of the SNES version.

Sega-16: There have been rumors that a new title is in the works. Do you know if this is true?

Denny Thorley: No comment… sorry.

Sega-16: Hmm, interesting! Let’s move on now to BattleTech. The Mech Warrior universe is quite expansive and lends itself to many genres of play. Was the design of BattleTech the only style ever considered, or were others part of the plan at any point?

Denny Thorley: Activision was doing the simulation oriented products with the MechWarrior series. At Extreme Entertainment we wanted to bring more arcade aspects to the game and that became BattleTech and MechWarrior 3050 on the SNES for Activision. Later on we dreamed up the Tactical RTS game MechCommander which helped launch FASA Interactive. Jordan Weisman, Mort Weisman, Ross Babcock (founders of FASA Corp) and I raised some money to allow us to develop MechCommander.

Sega-16: BattleTech has a style of gameplay similar to EA’s Strike series of games. Did you ever draw on them for inspiration?

Denny Thorley: Absolutely. The Strike series was a lot of fun, was easy to pick up and was very successful. It had many positive aspects that influenced the design of BattleTech.

Sega-16: The two-player mode is awesome and really lets both players work together (something not really typical of games of the period). What made you decide to forego the standard “vs.” multi-player mode and go with cooperative play?

Denny Thorley: You have no idea how much grief I took when that mode was first designed. Everyone said it wouldn’t work or wouldn’t be fun, but in the end we received comments similar to yours.. it was a lot of fun and you really needed to work together to be successful. As I recall we were at the technical limitations of the Genesis and I don’t think we could have squeezed a vs. mode into the game.

Sega-16: Was there ever a sequel to The Genesis BattleTech game planned?

Denny Thorley: Yes. I really wanted to update the fast-paced action of the original BattleTech game for the new consoles. After Microsoft had purchased FASA Interactive and moved the company to Redmond (for family reasons I couldn’t move to Redmond… sniff…). I started talking with the new FASA Studios about doing an updated version of BattleTech. So here is the inside scoop… never been told to the public before… MechAssault was to be the updated BattleTech! All of our MechAssault pre-visualization efforts depicted the game from more of an isometric view. This view would allow us stream huge worlds into memory and have “over the top” building destruction. We were pretty pumped, but this little multi-player opportunity came around called Xbox Live. We didn’t feel that we could do a good multi-player game in an isometric view so the camera got lowered and the huge worlds needed to shrink a little bit. That’s how MechAssault and Day 1 Studios came to be.

Sega-16: Did you ever have the urge to work on the Sega CD or 32X? What did you think of both add-ons, respectively?

Denny Thorley: No… never even considered it. Sega was sending really mixed messages to the development community and to the end users. It hindsight I’m glad I never got involved. Sega’s mistakes in this area left the door wide open for Sony.

Thanks for allowing me to reminisce for a while. Now if the PS3 and 360 were so simple… <grin>

 

Our thanks to Mr. Thorley for his highly insightful comments about two of our favorite series. We can’t wait to play the next Mechassault!

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