Lead Designer for Crimson Skies
John Howard is the Lead Designer of the Crimson Skies PC game project from Microsoft.
John took a few minutes away from his busy schedule to discuss the development and
evolution of this exciting new air combat game.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
(Laughs.) It's actually pretty boring. I grew up in Nebraska - and escaped. Over
time, I ended up working at Virtual World Entertainment Group - a division of FASA
Corporation - as a webmaster. Eventually, I worked my way over to FASA Interactive,
where I became involved with what would eventually become Crimson Skies.
"Would eventually become"?
Crimson Skies was originally proposed as a possible computer game by Jordan Weisman
(among others). It was called "Corsairs" in its original incarnation. Eventually,
the project was shelved as we worked on other stuff, but the concept just wouldn't
That's when the boardgame was developed?
Yes. We all just really enjoyed the feel of the universe, and knew we were on to
something special. I actually wasn't part of the original pitch to FASA - that was
all Jordan Weisman. I got involved when Jordan started looking for team members.
When he told me about the project I jumped at the chance to be involved.
So, what was the development process on the Crimson Skies boardgame like?
It was actually pretty cool. It was literally an after hours effort, between Jordan
Weisman, Dave McCoy, Lex Story, Vic Bonilla, Tom Peters and a number of other people.
We did it in our spare time, on weekends, after business hours. Crimson Skies was
just something we all believed in, and I think it showed.
So, the design process on the boardgame was truly a labor of love?
Absolutely. And it worked, too, I think. We wanted to build the boardgame so that
we could showcase the Crimson Skies property, with an eye towards expanding on it
in other ways. It was why I was attracted to the project to begin with... it was
a game I just really wanted to work on. In terms of development, I'm much more involved
here than I was on the boardgame. For the boardgame, I just helped out as much as
I could - graphic design, for example, and just contributing ideas.
Describe your work on the PC game.
For the initial design, it was a matter of sitting down with Jordan and Dave and
talking about what we wanted to accomplish, and how we wanted to accomplish it.
That's the best part about this project: we very quickly discovered that we had
a clear vision of the Crimson Skies universe and where we wanted to go with it.
We're all on the same page, in a very collaborative effort.
CS: So, what are you trying to accomplish?
A lot of things, really. First, we really want to showcase the Crimson Skies universe.
Crimson Skies happens in this place in history where there's a lot of nostalgia.
Not 'lame,' misty nostalgia…it's like the romance that people feel for the Wild
West. You know, how cool it would feel to stride into a saloon with a six gun on
your hip and run the bandit out of town. But, Crimson Skies has a very different
grace and elegance, and, I think, more of a sense of style.
So, that's one of my main goals in the development of the Crimson Skies game;
I'm always trying to inject a distinct style, either through snippets of dialogue,
the look of the terrain, the music…right down to the paint schemes on the planes.
I guess what I most want to do is move the player to feel like the hero of a
movie, in the best, most classic way. Not in a 'Bruce Willis' way - but in a Cary
Grant, Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne sort of way. The player should always feel
like the hero, and this game is built to reinforce that feeling.
Well, we're not building this game like a flight sim. The first step in underscoring
that flamboyant, swashbuckling feel was to ignore some of those annoying little
'physics things.' We're not trying to build a realistic flight simulation, but at
the same time, Crimson Skies isn't a cartoony, arcade-type game, either. We had
to find a middle ground, where the planes were more powerful, more responsive and
more intuitive to fly, so that the player can just concentrate on being a hero.