Interview:Karen Mangum

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Karen Mangum worked as an artist on video games from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. We asked her about her video game past (see her resume here). Here's her reply:

Hello -

I can discuss video games I worked on.
My knowledge is all quite "past" as I've been out of the business for a very long time now.

ADDRESSING NEVER RELEASED TITLES:

It was not uncommon to work on titles that were never released.  The "hits" were always few and far between.
"bread-and-butter" titles - the ones that sold not that well, but consistently - were mostly the classic sports titles (football/baseball/basketball, racing cars, golf).  The "Other" category was often very hit or miss.  The majority of the things I worked on were in here.

Cancellation of a production could be due to changing market forces (not "cool" anymore), changing platform (a couple of titles took so long to develop that by the time they would be ready, the platform was being discontinued), production hiccups that meant final wouldn't be ready for a long time, etc.

Keep in mind that a dev. cycle could be 1+ years.  Things change.  If the companies looked at the projected $ returns and determined that they wouldn't be able to sell enough units over the course of the projected product lifespan to make up the development costs == then cancel.

This is all back in the day when everything was hand drawn and coded.  There was no motion-capture yet; and game houses were just beginning to move into the Hollywood-production method (producers, directors, location teams, etc.)
Now there's a separate games-unit for filming & working on a game to be released alongside a movie title - we didn't have that then.  If a movie came out, the game came out later.

There were often budgetary problems, usually because a development cycle was taking longer than anticipated, and budget was used up.  This was a case especially for 3rd-tier titles and small companies.  It takes a _lot_ of sales to make up for the costs of development.

It was VERY common for projects to run over schedule.

CLEARWATER

"Clearwater Software" was a tiny development house in Tahoe.  They went bankrupt.  I worked on their proprietary "TUME" tile-editing software for Sega games.  I don't remember if they ever actually published a title.  Often, however, large houses contracted out work to small places like this.  It was easy to do when all you needed was a few people, a room, and some computers.

GENERAL

Video games was a *BUSINESS*.  The development houses are there to make money.  We had a schedule and milestones to make.  The development cycle always always got crazy at the end when we were trying to make deadline - usually November so the product could be in shelves for the Christmas Buying Season.  There was consistently too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Project outlines changed; goals changed, and we (the dev team) had to accommodate.

Of the things I worked on that did get published, none of them were huge sellers.  So there's usually no "fame" involved for the majority of us.

Thanks to Ms. Mangum for her time. You can see her webfolio here.

Interview conducted via e-mail by CRV in June 2007.