Interview With Mike Brunton

Welcome to our first monthly interview with Creative Assembly staff members! We'll start out with Mike Brunton, one of the game designers, who's notably known as the author of the general speeches, and CaptainFishpants on our forums!

GoS: Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself (your hobbies, background and the like)?

Mike Brunton: That wouldn't be my first choice of thing to do. :) But most of this is public domain: I've been working in the games industry for cough-hack-ahem-cough years - well, a long time. Over the, err, decades, I've done time at TSR (back when D&D was really, really new and still played exclusively on paper), Games Workshop (I edited White Dwarf for a while) and Microprose (mostly flight sims). I've also freelanced for more companies than I can remember doing whatever was needed at the time. So far, I've been very lucky in never having what my mother describes as 'a proper job'.

All hobbies and life outside work are on hold at the moment as I spend my non-work time helping to look after my son Thomas, who will be a whole seven months old shortly! Oddly enough, we've had a bit of a baby explosion at CA in the last year, with about 1 in 6 of the staff spawning (and then dying in the shallows like old salmon).

GoS: How long have you been with Creative Assembly? What exactly are your job and duties?

Mike Brunton: This is one of those OMG moments, when I realise that I've now been working (as a freelancer and on staff) with CA for more than five years! Where has the time gone?

I'm one of the design team. This means that I join my fellow designers in hooting cryptically from time to time and the programmers interpret this inane racket to create something wonderful. We also spend a lot of time giggling, plotting the overthrow of civilization, and arguing. Oh yes, we argue, debate, dispute and discuss. Sometimes we even talk about the games we're working on.

GoS: What's a typical day at the office like?

Mike Brunton: Rather untidy, to be honest. Game developers are not the neatest people and what is technically known as 'heaps of crap' seems to be an integral part of our natural environment. We also have to wade through hip-deep levels of sarcasm and silliness to reach our desks in the design corner.

If, however, you mean what do we do all day then the answer is that can be quite messy too. Designers are usually trying to do several things at once: talking through game mechanics, pulling ideas to bits, writing documentation, creating data for the game, briefing artists, answering programmer questions, playing the games, breaking the games (this is good, because if we break something there's less chance of this happening 'out in the wild'), thinking about future products, reading the forums (yes, we do read forums even if we don't respond) and way too many other things.

GoS: Judging by the text you have put into TW games, posts around the community etc. you possess a vocabulary that is arguably matched by few. Myself, I had no idea that words such as 'stultiloquence', 'thaumatomane' and 'vaunt' even existed! What exactly underlies this ability of yours?

Mike Brunton: I just like odd or old words and phrases - stuff that sticks in your head. Language is full of little bits and pieces that shouldn't be left unused: words that are just fun or interesting. Fortunately, to date the TW games have allowed me to be mildly indulgent and stick in odd little phrases that have made me smile. And I used to be paid by the word, so sticking extra text in is always a terrible temptation (there you go: I didn't need to use the word 'terrible', but I did).

GoS: A good deal of people look to work in the game industry, but only a few seem to actually make it. What does, in your opinion characterize a perfect game designer, and what is required from people who pursue a career in the game industry? What kind of education and training are needed?

Mike Brunton: If I ever meet a perfect games designer, I'll let you know! Considering how many games are produced, you're right there aren't that many designers (who don't do anything else) around (some game companies don't have any, which is very odd). Maybe that's why the TW games are quite well regarded... we actually do some design. :)

There are few set requirements for a design job, but being able to think things through and express your thoughts cogently definitely helps. A long history of playing games is good too - and not always video and PC titles, either. All of the designers at CA have degrees (that's true of most other designers I know, come to think of it), but in all kinds of subjects from civil engineering to business to chip design. Our backgrounds and interests are equally varied too. Actually, it's a wonder we get on at all. :)

The best training is doing the job, which does make starting the industry something of a Catch-22. Design is one of those things that you can approach obliquely, by doing other related things like coding, testing, art and production before staking your claim.

GoS: The next question concerns my favorite unit in BI, the Plumbatarii. It was to some degree revamped before the release of the expansion pack. For example, the unit card was redesigned, and there are two different unit description scroll images depending on the Roman faction you are in control of. The Eastern Roman Plumbatarii grow facial hair, while those of the other Roman factions don't. What underlies this?

Mike Brunton: There was a decision made early on to differentiate the two halves of the Empire in subtle ways. One of these was that the Westerners would be clean shaven, while the Easterners would not. Why? Well, beards were often seen as a mark of barbarism in the West while in the East they were manly. Oddly enough, this distinction was also made between what became the Catholic and Orthodox churches: Orthodox priests were generally bearded because Jesus was bearded, while Catholics tended to be clean shaven because they were civilized men.

GoS: What are your favorite factions, units and strategies in RTW and BI respectively?

Mike Brunton: This is a question that no one in the design group should answer. People would dash off to see if we've favourably 'tweaked' our favourite factions!

GoS: Is there anything you would like to say to the fans?

Mike Brunton: Thanks for buying and playing the games! You may not have realised it, but you've financed a metric shed load of nappies (that's 2.2 Imperial shed loads). Oh, yes, and 'Keep watching the skies'! There's a lot more good stuff to come.

GoS: To conclude this interview (sort of a trademark question in HeavenGames interviews), how do you like your coffee?

Mike Brunton: Far too frequently. I was given a Gaggia Classic espresso machine last year and it gets used almost every hour when I'm at home. It's a thoroughly wonderful piece of kit and if Gaggia want to reward me for this blatant product placement, I won't mind at all. :)