Interview with CEO of Mad Doc Software/Rockstar New England


The following is a summary of an interview that took place between Armada Universe and Dr Ian Lane Davis (CEO of Mad Doc Software), on the 24th August 2001. Mad Doc Software would later become Rockstar New England when it was acquired by Rockstar Games in 2008. Rockstar New England was involved in the production of Grand Theft Auto V.

According to Davis, he was always a fan of both computers and PC games. He earned a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, which gave him the credentials to either teach or develop games. He came to realize game development was his true calling.

Davis began his gaming career as the Technical Director for Activision. After four years there, as the development of Star Trek: Armada neared completion, he left Activision to form his own company. The newly-created Mad Doc Software became the developer for Star Trek: Armada II, while also becoming involved with projects such as JamDat Golf and Call to Power 2.

The original Star Trek: Armada was a success because of the way the RTS gameplay handled large-scale space battles. Armada II allowed developers to enhance the first game’s gameplay, while also implementing new features that didn’t make the cut the first time around. Community feedback was also taken into account, as Armada fans provided ideas and requests for the sequel.

Davis and his team prepared for Armada II by playing the first game for a week, and then playing other RTS games for another week, to get a good feeling for the genre. He hoped Armada II would be able to benefit from the strengths of previous RTS games, while avoiding some of their flaws, to provide a deep and exciting experience:

I like to see a deeper economic and resource model, which is reflected in our trading scheme and in the new resources. I like to see unique sides that actually require you to play the game differently. I like depth, and immersion. One thing I really want in an RTS but I rarely see, is an ebb and flow to the attacks; in too many RTS games, there’s a point about 15 minutes into the MP game when you know who’s going to win, and you just play out the inevitable.

The result was a game that required players to work out new strategies and tactics, making use of combat formations, stronger AI, and skills such as warping. Multiplayer included two new modes: Capture the Flag and King of the Hill. The story also influenced the gameplay, as the number of species campaigns was reduced to 3 to allow for a stronger plotline. This allowed each species to have a longer campaign and truly invest fans in the game. The three campaigns came together to form a larger story, and therefore players were required to play them in a specific order.

Armada II also introduced a new species, Species 8472, which was based around bio-matter and remained a mystery leading up to the game’s release. Davis, who loved the themes of hope and morality found in the Star Trek universe, was pleased to be able to contribute to the franchise.

Mad Doc Software was always planned as a small company. When asked about his hopes for its future, Davis said he wanted it “to grow from the current 23 people to 30, and never ever grow again.” As a small team, the company would work on no more than two major projects at a time, with smaller jobs on the side. Armada II was their first major game.

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