Stay Awhile and Listen: Meet the Team #4: Matt Householder, Producer at Blizzard North
Oct 21, 2013
Think of Matt Householder as an elder statesman of the action-RPG/roguelike genre. Before David Brevik even dreamed up the idea for Diablo, Matt worked on early hits like Temple of Apshai and a port of Rogue, the roguelike that started it all, for the Mac. Matt also published games for Nintendo and was working as a producer for 3DO when he met Blizzard North co-founders Max and Erich Schaefer. That friendship and his vast industry experience led him to a producer position at Blizzard North shortly before Diablo shipped in late 1996.
Before launching into the material immediately relevant to Stay Awhile and Listen, Matt was gracious enough to talk to me in-depth about his early experience in the industry.
Q: You have quite a history with the dungeon crawler/roguelike genre. Could you tell us about some of the titles you worked on before becoming involved with Diablo?
Way back in 1982, I designed and co-programmed the coin-op video game Krull for Gottlieb. I wrote the design document and managed the tasks to implement the game, the primary creative contributors being Chris Krubel and me as programmer/designers, Jeff Lee (artist), and David Thiel (sound designer/musician). I also created the font, an italic variation on an 8x8 video-game font.
Krull was an action-RPG of a primitive sort, inspired by TRON and Robotron: 2084 (my favorite game of all time) (one of which I recently bought and restored to working order!) and based on the pre-shooting Krull movie script. I still have my original design documents as well as my copy of the script.
In 1982 there weren't good tools for shared development of Intel 8088 assembly language (and, of course, Gottlieb had no computer network), so getting two programmers to work effectively on the same game was not easy. In fact, I remember the VP of Engineering badgering me with questions like, "How is it that it takes two programmers to do one game?"
I moved to San Francisco in 1983 and worked for Atari, porting Moon Patrol to the ColecoVision. (I finished it, but Atari didn't ship it. You can Google "Matt Patrol" for YouTubes of people playing it, though.) I survived the Atari layoffs of 1984 and continued working for the Tramiel regime, coding the line and polygon primitives for the Atari 520ST computer.
In 1985 I joined Epyx as a project manager, working on games for the popular home computers of the time: Commodore 64, Apple II, RadioShack CoCo, IBM PC, Macintosh, Atari ST, and Amiga. A couple of my first projects were to produce two roguelikes for Epyx: Temple of Apshai trilogy for the C64 by Epyx, and Rogue for the Macintosh by AI Design. Fun fact: I ended up buying the Mac that AI Design used to convert Rogue to the Mac. My wife used it for several years (after retiring the C64 and Epson MX-80 printer). It was still in my basement catacombs along with its original cardboard box -- until about a year ago when we sold it on eBay.
I remember that Temple of Apshai trilogy was a huge hit with Epyx' executive secretary, and that she didn't really like any of Epyx' other games. In hindsight, this was a sign of how popular roguelike games could really become once they reached the true mainstream of entertainment consumers.
Q: Between Diablo and Diablo II (with or without Lord of Destruction), which game do you prefer and why?
Diablo II is my favorite. You just can't beat the fun of running around shooting fireballs.
Q: Is there any particular anecdote or memory from your time at Condor/BN that you could share with our readers?
I have some good memories of running in the hills of San Mateo with Alex Munn and Anthony Rivero.
Q: What have you been up to since leaving Condor/Blizzard North?
I worked for Flagship Studios/Ping0, building the production and live-ops teams for Mythos and Hellgate: London from 2003 to 2008. I worked briefly for Zynga in 2008.
From 2009 to Sept. 2013, I worked for Playdom/Disney designing and producing free and pay content for Mobsters and Mobsters 2 (among others). For a period of a couple years, nearly every dollar that Playdom made went through my fingers (and/or my head). I also co-created and designed for them a current hit game on Facebook, Kitchen Scramble.
Now, I have my own business (with a programming partner) working on a new game for Facebook and mobile devices (tablets/phones). It will be out in the spring. We hope it makes $$!
I continue to collect electronic entertainment devices (mostly TV, radio, phonos) and have loaned numerous items for exhibit at the SFO Airport Museum. Through January 2014, four of my items are on display in the International Terminal (before security): a red Ericofon, a red JVC Videosphere TV, a butterscotch and green Motorola 15X16 catalin radio, and an Electrohome "Wok" record player on a white, plastic wasp-waist stand.
I've also been making some battery powered portable speaker systems for iPod/Phone. I've used old wooden radios and porta-bars (from my bone-yard and flea markets) for the cases. It's a hobby, but I might be able to make a few bucks selling them.
I've got another hobby/business idea I can't say too much about -- but it involves super-capacitors!
Q: What prompted you to share the story of your time at Condor/BN in Stay Awhile and Listen?
Over the last few years I've started writing down some autobiographical bits of my 30 years in the game business, so it was already something I'd been thinking about.
Q: As someone who took part in Condor/Blizzard North's history, what are you most looking forward to from the Stay Awhile and Listen trilogy?
Reading insightful perspectives by other ex-BN people--things that make me say, "Aha! So that's why that happened!"
Stay Awhile and Listen: Book I is available now for Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Google Play devices and apps.
DM Press - Monumental Games. Monumental Stories.