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Developer Profile - Dan Gale

This interview with Dan Gale was conducted on 5/5/05. Dan & his programming partner Dave Killingsworth are the co-authors of the original and arguably most popular VGA Planets add-on's available. RacePlus, Starbase+, Asteroid, Tachyon to name a few.

Dan also authored the VGA Planets Campaign Editor. All of these great mod's are available online at Dan & Dave Software.

Tell us a little about yourself, and what you have accomplished in life?

I was born and raised in New England 46 years ago and am slowly migrating back there I guess, having lived on both coasts, Colorado and now Iowa. I've been a carpenter, soldier, hardware tech, and have been doing software at MCI for the last ten years (which isn't too bad for a guy with no college on the resume`).

What are your favorite computer / board games and how have they affected the development of your add-on's?

Some of my fondest memories are of a buddy and I playing some of the old SSI war games on an Apple IIe (yeah, I'm old). I loved “blitzing” VGAP on the IRC. Of the new stuff I like the first person shooters when played online against other people (Battlefield 1942 and its mods are keeping me busy these days). My favorite board game was Supremacy.

What's your favorite Planets memory?

This one is a toss-up. There was the phone call where the Campaign Editor was conceived on a three-hour phone call to California with another buddy. And then there are the “flying circus” days of the add-ons when the planets aligned and magic happened.

What specifically inspired you? What were the biggest influences?

One of my biggest drives is to have a seemingly insurmountable problem just begging for a solution – the Campaign Editor is an example of that. Tim had not yet released any data structures or interfaces when that was first written. My love of SciFi has been a constant influence – from endless table-top games (Gamma World, StarFire, various Star Trek offerings, etc.) to a wealth 0f shows (Babylon 5 and Farscape are at the top).

Were there things that you wished you had added to Starbase+, RacePlus …etc…?

We had so many ideas that never saw the light of day but we picked the best ones from the group. I do wish we had done a better job of balancing the abilities in RacePlus.

What do you think are your most important accomplishments to VGAP and why?

While the add-ons are near the top of the list I had the most satisfaction with the Campaign Editor. When sales dropped off I gave it to Tim and last I heard it is being packaged with VGAP3 now.

In this time of graphically intense PC games, what do you think it is about VGAP that has people still playing a game that is over 13 years old?

It's all about the people and how unpredictable they can be. I've yet to see a computer bot commit suicide just to ensure I wouldn't win because it was ticked off at me for something I did or said. The other key thing is that Tim did something that few, if any, have been able to do. He packaged a medium that let any SciFi nut get to play out their favorite TV fantasies of sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise or lurking in the ether in a cloaked ship, while not violating the copyrights of the TV show owners.

In your opinion, what are the key ingredients that a game of this type should have?

Every one of the successful games of this category has actually been two games in one; an economy game and a combat game. If you fail at one of them you will eventually fail at the other. Choices, choices, choices – great games provide you with more choices than you can possibly do in one turn. I learned this from a great “screw your neighbor” game by Avalon Hill called Down With The King. There were 12 possible things you could do every turn – you only got to do 3. That's where the strategy comes in – trying to determine the best choice for the situation. It's the choices that give games great replay value.

How has the Internet affected the expansion of your add-ons internationally?

Without the Internet the add-ons would never have happened they way they did. The best analogy I can give is the pizza house around the corner. They never advertise but there are always lines to get food. It is the word-of-mouth that makes them so popular. This is what the Internet did for the add-ons. The newsgroups, IRC, and VGAP fan sites became the place where opinions were passed around on add-ons and which were good and what to avoid.

How has the fan base hindered or helped your projects as you've worked on them?

Early on, it was the fans that helped us get it right. We got a lot of mail early on with requests for help, identifying problem spots, and sometimes requests for things to add. I still have a package that two guys sent me of a final version of custom campaign they put together using the Star Trek universe as their model – it was quite extensive. Every time you get a “pat on the back” from a fan it's like putting gas in your gas tank – it keeps you going and motivated.

When planning your add-on's, how do you go through the process of integrating themes and story with the constraints of the software?

The biggest constraint for the add-ons was memory space. Since add-ons run as a child process of the main host program there was not a lot left. Our approach was to get a design that we were satisfied with and then see if we could pack it into the space available. There were a few times we had to trim out things to make room for the stuff we felt had to be there.

If you could make any computer game that you wanted, which would it be and why?

I'm always toying with game designs but they are tailored to my limitations. If we toss that aside then the first thing that comes to mind is a fully 3D VGAP style game. I'd love to see a universe where the Z-axis comes into play. I think it would be tough to do in a manner that is easy to use but then that is what attracts me to it.

What's the status of your add-on development and do you intend to continue to develop them or new add-on's for Planets v4.0 in the future?

My involvement with the add-ons has been over for years now. Every now and then I'll get a question from Dave that I'll answer. Going back quite a few years Tim encouraged Dave and I to do a full game. While that did not happen, it is still a goal of mine. So, if there is anything left in me I hope to be able to do a complete game.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Oh I ‘d love to have that cottage on the lake with loon calls echoing across it in the mornings. Professionally I'm content at what I do and I'll be here till something too good to pass up comes along.

Any last words to the Plants fan base?

Have fun! Respect the game and the other players – don't drop out. Thanks to all the fans – especially those that gave us words of encouragement and kept us going in the early days.

Thanks for talking with us Dan!


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