BU Interviews: Secret Level
Magic: The Gathering - Battlegrounds
Developer: Secret Level
Publisher: Atari Having recently completed Secret Level's Magic: The Gathering - Battlegrounds on PC and Xbox, a game that is a major departure from 'normal' uses of Unreal technology, I decided to pay a call on Producer Leif Jensen and Lead Programmer Josh Adams from Secret Level and talk to them about their company and the fun, addictive game they've produced.BU: Tell us a little about yourself, and how Secret Level came into being.SL (Leif): My name is Leif Jensen and I am the producer from Secret Level on Magic: The Gathering – Battlegrounds. Secret Level was founded in 1999 and has shipped game titles with publishing partners Atari and LucasArts, as well as, developed technology for partners such as Epic Games and Sony Computer Entertainment of America. SL (Josh): I’m Josh Adams, the lead programmer on Battlegrounds. I am also one of the three founders of the company. The other two founders and I had another game company, MagicArts, where we worked on three projects, which unfortunately never came out. We realized it was time to venture out on our own and start a company that would go places. And we have. In the same time it took MagicArts to make no games, we’ve already put out 4 games.BU: After developing games like Star Wars: Starfighter and Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter for LucasArts, what brought you guys to the conclusion that you could take a turn-based card game like Magic: The Gathering and turn it into a 3D, real-time computer and console game?SL (Josh): We have plenty of D&D-playing-type folks on staff here. The fantasy genre was definitely a draw for us. As our first original game, we thought it would be good to do a game based on an existing set of rules so we weren’t pulling something out of thin air. Now that we’ve wet our feet, it may be time for something totally new! BU: How did Secret Level get involved with Unreal technology, and how difficult was it to get up to speed using it?SL (Josh): Back in 2000, we had some friends in the industry who were approached to port Unreal Tournament to the Dreamcast. They basically passed on the deal, but recommended us to Infogrames (who is now Atari). We put in a bid for the project, and were selected to do it. With a skeleton crew and about 6 or 8 months, we squeezed UT into the memory-limited Dreamcast, to critical acclaim (Editor’s Choice award on IGN, etc). Ever since then, we’ve been in bed with Epic and the new iterations of the Unreal Engine. We ported the new (Warfare) engine to the PS2 and Gamecube, where it was licensed out for such games as Splinter Cell and XIII. It was because of this experience that Atari came to us to work on Battlegrounds.BU: One of your programmers, Al McElrath, comes from the Unreal-engine mod community, having developed the popular Unreal Tournament mod Strangelove. When Secret Level made the decision to develop MTG:BG using Unreal technology, did you actively look at some of the talented people in the Unreal community to help round out your team?SL (Josh): Yes, when I was looking for programmers, Al’s longtime Unreal experience definitely was a factor. We had asked Epic to recommend some programmers, and they pointed us his way. It’s been great. My knowledge of the engine from the bottom up only goes so far. His experience with the engine from the top down has been a wonderful complement. We couldn’t have made this game without him!