Interview with Jon Payne

This is the transcription of an interview Angel Draco had with Jon Payne from Impressions. Jon in an irregular visitor to our forum, where he’s present as “Itchy.” He and other V.I.P. visitors can be recognised by the blue used to paint their nick name.

Enough introduction, here’s the interview.

Angel Draco: Hello Itchy!

Itchy: Hey there.

Angel Draco: I’ve got lots of questions submitted from C3 fans.

Itchy: Just understand there’s some questions I can’t answer, either because of contractual stuff or I just can’t speak as well on that topic.

Angel Draco: No problem. Trade secrets and confidentiality agreements, etc. I know how that goes.

Itchy: Yeah, it’s a big hassle.

Angel Draco: How about a little bit about yourself. How old are you? You mentioned your wife, how long have you been married?

Itchy: I?m 32 years old and have been married for 2 years. I was stuck in the midst of testing C3 this summer and missed both our anniversary and her 30th birthday.

Angel Draco: Ouch! I’d be sleeping on the couch!

Angel Draco: So what is your current job at Impressions?

Itchy: I’m the Quality Assurance Manager

Angel Draco: And what does that entail? Who do you oversee?

Itchy: Essentially, it means I’m responsible for testing the software and making sure that the software works as specified. Sometimes that involves technical “bug” type of issues, sometimes it involves the more nebulous areas of game balancing and game play.

Angel Draco: How many are on your staff? If you can characterize it like that.

Itchy: The staffing levels fluctuate according to project needs and requirements – we quadrupled our staff with temps for testing of C3 but still maintain a full-time staff of 4 QA testers at the moment. We also use lead testers to oversee and coordinate the more immediate and day-to-day and minute to minute testing.

Angel Draco: I have to ask, what’s the story behind your nickname?

Itchy: Hehe…well, a few years ago I got a BAD case of poison ivy; I was sitting around with some friends watching the Simpsons when an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon came on as I was scratching my brains out – the connection and nickname was immediate.

Angel Draco: How long have you been involved with the computer gaming industry itself, and what did you do before you came to impressions?

Itchy: I’ve been at Impressions for about 2 and 1/2 years (it was and is my 1st job in the game industry). Before that, I was writing PC game reviews for the Washington Post down in DC.

Angel Draco: You mentioned to me earlier that your first job with Impressions was working on Lords of the Realm 2? I still love that game!

Itchy: Yeah, I still enjoy Lords2 myself, despite having played it for about 6 months straight. Actually, David Lester (the C3 designer) and Simon Bradbury (the C3 programmer) had the same role with Lords2.

Angel Draco: Really!? That explains it. It?s a top-notch game. Lords 2 was my first experience with Sierra and I was very impressed.

Itchy: Have you exploited the “sending carts of zero supplies” feature in multiplayer?

Angel Draco: No, give me the scoop!

Itchy: You can send out limitless numbers of carts with zero goods. During the move turn, they sometimes “carry away” invading armies. It was one of those “bored at 10 p.m. after a week of multiplayer testing” that I uncovered.

Angel Draco: That is so cool! What an Easter egg! I had the game before I had internet access, so I missed out on all the cool fan sites and other secrets of the game. But I digress. Back to C3!

Angel Draco: Maybe you can put a small mystery to rest: Who is that on the cover of the C3 box?

Itchy: Heidi Mann, one of our extremely talented artists. The arm of the centurion is Darrin Horbal, our art director. The centurion face is just some stock photo, I think.

Angel Draco: Caesar 2 was very popular. What was the team specifically trying to improve upon in C3?

Itchy: Well, that’s difficult to say, exactly. David is probably better equipped to answer that but I can give a rough answer. I think that one of the biggest complaints with C2 was that the game became repetitive after a while and that greater mission diversity was needed. Also, that integrating combat into the city view was a more immediate experience. Again, David’s the authority here.

Angel Draco: Great Segue into my next question: Many fans did not like the way the military component was “toned down” in the game because it was integrated. Personally, I think it’s fun and adds a lot of excitement when the enemy is about to come crashing through my city walls. It adds a “real-time strategy” feel to the game.

Itchy: I was also surprised to see the combat in the city level – the combat in C2 was pretty hard-core and after a while I just started auto calculating the battles. I think because it?s a Sim in Real Time that has a combat component, people starting thinking Warcraft2 and C&C – where the combat is the focus.

Angel Draco: Apart from its being set in ancient Rome, why is C3 different from other sim-building games? Do you think it’s what you just mentioned: a blend of Sim and Real Time?

Itchy: I think that C3 is an extremely in-depth game that is also very easy to pick up. When we first started playing/testing it, I felt like I was peeling an onion. There were just so many layers. I think that, plus the immediacy of feeling like your were involved with a living, breathing city full of a whole cross-section of inhabitants.

Angel Draco: I totally agree. The visuals are really quite stunning. There’s a real satisfaction watching your city come alive, hearing the sounds, the movement, ect.

Itchy: Yeah, it’s also fun just clicking on the people and see what their names are. I particularly enjoyed finding a barbarian named “Jon the Pain.”

Angel Draco: Yes! I think the citizen’s names and their voices are most everyone’s favorite part! I personally love the children. I also fall on the floor laughing when the market lady tells me that I’m a “heathen” because the gods are angry.