The lights are on
Favorite game of all time?
I go back and forth. Sometimes it’s X-COM, sometimes it’s Civilization. Then there are some old school games like the original Castle Wolfenstein and Diablo II. If anything inspired Thief, it was that. Some old Looking Glass games, before I got there...Ultima Underworld and System Shock. Beyond Good & Evil is a game I’ve always loved. I loved Wind Waker, Paper Mario...I’m really quite eclectic when it comes to games.
What was the last great game you played?
There are so many developers now in their prime just knocking it out of the park every time, whether it’s Naughty Dog or BioWare or guys like that. One of my co-founders at Irrational is at a company called Robot Entertainment, and they did a game called Orcs Must Die. I thought that was a very smart, fun little game. There’s something about it that feels like an old Atari 800/Apple II kind of vibe. I really liked how simple it was and how it’s a combination of strategy and action. It reminded me of that old Battlezone game in 1998. I like weird hybrids, I like experiments that are very hardcore gamer experiences. I’m not big on games where it’s like “Hey, play this game where you’re a piece of dust.” That’s not as much me, but I like games that take hardcore tropes and mix and match them.
If you weren’t creating games, what would you be doing for a living?
Lying in a ditch somewhere. I don’t know, I remember going to my tenth high school reunion. The story of a high school reunion is supposed to be the nerd goes to it and he’s successful and happy and the football hero is kind of a loser. I went to it and I remember being with a girl that I didn’t really love, and I was working as a computer consultant on Wall Street. I really was not very happy. I ran into the football captain, and he had this really successful business and this beautiful wife, and he looked super happy. I was like “wait a minute, this is not how this story goes.” Shortly after that is when I decided I have to figure out what I’m gonna be. That kind of stuck around for a long time. I settled on games and it seemed like the right mix for my skill set. I lucked out, and I found the thing that I had a passion for and a thing that I could be relatively successful at.
I heard that there’s a story involving you and another writer named Ken Levine. Tell us about that.
It’s weird because Ken and I both tweet and sometimes we get mistaken for each other. The Time magazine thing happened, and a friend of Ken’s called him and was like “Hey, congratulations!” and [the other Ken] was like “What are you talking about?”. Then he realized it was meant for me. I don’t know if he remembers this. When I was living in L.A., I got a suicide answering machine message. Guy calls up and says “Hey Ken, I just took a bunch of pills and I just wanna say goodbye to you. This is Frank.” I’m like “I don’t know any Franks.” Then it occurred to me that he worked in the entertainment industry, and realized he might be talking about the other Ken Levine. I had to back [Frank] down very quickly, because for all I know this guy is dying. I called [the other Ken] up and said “Hey, I think I may have gotten a call for you that sounds quite urgent” and he actually reached out to the guy on the phone and talked him out of it. He and I wound up having a chat afterwards. He worked for M.A.S.H., he worked for The Simpsons, he worked for Cheers, and he was also a sportscaster. Because of that, I have a credit on a game called Front Page Baseball that’s actually his credit. Once you get a credit on MobyGames, you cannot get your name off it no matter what you do. Ken and I wound up chatting, and he was a nice, unassuming guy. He’s had this huge writing career, and I guess we collectively kept this guy from killing himself.