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INTERVIEW - Dan Birlew, BradyGames Part 2 of 2
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posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
date posted: 12:00 AM Tue Aug 1st, 2000
last revision: 12:00 AM Tue Aug 1st, 2000

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Q: The games that are coming out today are more advanced. There's been a lot of discussion in the industry about how much harder they are to play, particularly RPGs, and how much deeper the storylines are. Particularly at E3, during the conferences, we heard a lot about how interactive entertainment has reached a different level where people develop an emotional bond with the characters in the game.

DB: Right.

Q: How do you see this impacting the way you write strategy guides for these games, and how much more important will the strategy guide market be for those?

DB: In working very closely with the developers at SquareSoft and everything, we really do try to get inside information about the characters and their background. For instance, with Vagrant Story, we were able to go to SquareSoft's website and download background information about the characters, and that really helps to extend and develop the character descriptions. By buying the strategy guide, the player actually has more information than what is revealed in the game. And so the character is a bit more fleshed out for them. I really do feel that's a mark of a good strategy guide, that it extends the story. It lets either the long-time, serious player, or the first-time player, get to know the character and the development of the character as the developers have been working on it.

That basically sums it up. The strategy guide really needs to expand on the game to a certain extent. Sometimes we just take the small facts that are barely mentioned in the game and expand upon them to round out the character's background a bit. I have definitely seen from the Internet that players identify with these characters, especially taking on the character's name as their Internet handle. You can see that on a lot of message boards. I think it's important to further that character identification.

Q: I'm curious about what version of the game you're playing when you write the guide?

DB: Lots of times we start with the Japanese version. The game is usually released first in Japan. I received Vagrant Story and Parasite Eve II from BradyGames simultaneously. I started on Parasite Eve II, and, playing the Japanese version, there wasn't a whole lot of language in the way. So I was able to play an entire game of Parasite Eve II using the Japanese version, and there wasn't any difference between the Japanese version and the American version. Vagrant Story, on the other hand, has very complex menu applications. Having the minimal knowledge of Hiragana and Katakana that I have, I was not able to play Vagrant Story in the Japanese version. I had to wait until we got a partial American version.

And then we get continuous versions. In one of the first American versions of Parasite Eve II, there were still some instances where the characters were obviously speaking to each other, but their dialogue wasn't ready yet. So there was no dialogue; however, we were still able to play the game to see what the item names were, the names of the areas, and that kind of thing. So as early as a month before the guide actually goes to print, we usually have a version of the game that enables us to play it in English. That helps correct a few things about the game, and you can catch things you maybe shouldn't have put in.

Q: What inspired you to start writing guides?

DB: It was early in the development of fan sites on the Internet and message boards. I started going on message boards to find strategies for games, and I would share my tactics for games. I found that people were sharing tactics that were more costly in time and harder than what they could be doing. In other words, my tactic would be better than what was being offered. I kept finding this over and over again, that people liked my tactics a little better, so I started pulling my messages from the boards together into guides for games we'd been discussing. I would send it to Internet sites like GameFAQs or GameShark or whatever, and ask them to post it. Then people began asking me questions, and emailing me, because they recognized my handle , President Evil. Putting guides together was a way of not repeating myself ad infinitum. I was giving them away for free, and then my wife said I was investing a lot of time in this, and I should try to do something as a carreer, that I should start submitting them.

Q: What did you do for work before writing guides?

DB: I was an office clerk. For IBM. I worked on presentations and production, in their computer graphics department.

Q: Speaking of your wife, she's a pretty big gamer, too, huh?

DB: Yeah, my wife and I are going to be featured in Official PlayStation Magazine in September as a gaming couple. We've always had a system in the house, and we're always looking for good two-player games. It used to be that all we could find was fighting games and such, and I'd have to lay off and let her whip me, otherwise she'd get mad and not play. But lately that hasn't been the case. Her skill has increased to where she can take me out at full throttle. And Laura has actually been very helpful in writing guides. She helps take the pictures that appear in many of our strategy guides. I'm a real lucky guy. She's very supportive.

Q: I'm curious about your thoughts concerning the explosion of information that, as you pointed out, is free on the Internet, and how that affects your position as an author of these guides. What is your take on the future direction of guides relative to the free exchange of information?

DB: The Internet definitely has its own kind of market. Everytime we publish a guide, I'm eager to go out and see what kind of free guides are being offered as a sort of competition to the guides we're trying to sell here at BradyGames. I usually find that these amateur guides will, to a large extent, help you get through the game. But they aren't as well organized, aren't as coherent, don't have screenshots to help you get through the game, and just aren't as useful for really conquering a game.

Q: As a followup to that, do you see that the availability of broadband will allow you to explore new types of media to deliver the kind of information you're putting into the book now?

DB: I envision that as games continue to move onto the Internet, and as we have more games that are played solely on the Internet, we will be writing a strategy guide that will be accessed from the game, while you're on the Internet. I see that basically, as you're playing the game, you can hit your Help button and the strategy guide will appear. We'll have to work out some kind of a download fee for that, but I see that kind of thing coming along, especially in games like EverQuest. Also, in Vagrant Story, there is a very complete in-game strategy guide available from the main menu. I can see in the future, hopefully us writing that strategy guide that is available in the game.

Q: Does BradyGames have any plans to develop an online interactive strategy guide for Square's Final Fantasy XI, and what are your views on online only RPGs?

DB: As online only RPGs develop, I think we'll need to develop along those lines. I don't know that that is going to happen, I'm speculating, but I think that probably will be in the future of game guides. The publishers are going to have to go into an electronic medium and have the guides available as players need them. In about five or ten years, it seems that's the way we'll want to go.

Q: Beyond what you're working on now, what titles on the horizon are you really excited about?

DB: Well, Final Fantasy IX, and Square's first title for the PlayStation 2, The Bouncer. Those will be really good titles. Beyond that, I'm not really sure what will be coming out.

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