Tom Hall is a versatile game designer with over three decades of experience. He has worked on note games such as Doom, Duke Nukem, Rise of the Triad, Wolfenstein 3-D, and Anachronox (all traditional games). But he has also shown interest in the broader craft of making games for other platforms, working on the Diner Dash mobile games at PlayFirst and later at Glu Mobile.
Now he’s shifting his focus to virtual reality games. This week he announced he’s joining Resolution Games, the Stockholm, Sweden-based company that Candy Crush Saga co-creator Tommy Palm runs. Hall has joined as a senior creative director and said he’s happy to work on “de-stressors,” or games that reduce daily stress.
Hall started his career at id Software as one of four cofounders, making legendary first-person shooter games for the PC. He left to cofound Ion Storm and rode that company through its rise and fall. His colleague from the id days, John Carmack, became the chief technology officer at Oculus and pioneered mobile VR before moving to a consulting role last fall.
Hall’s endorsement comes at an interesting time for VR, which has struggled to find its footing. Initial sales are far below what advocates hoped for around 2014, but passion for VR abides, and headsets such as the Oculus Quest have been selling out during the pandemic. I talked with Hall about the arc of his career and why he was drawn to VR and augmented reality games.
Resolution Games has published VR games that include Bait, Acron: Attack of the Squirrels, Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs, and Wonderglade. The company employs 66 people and is working on Cook-Out: A Sandwich Tale and Blaston.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What’s been going on? You left Glu not long ago.
Tom Hall: Yeah. It was a wonderful experience over seven years. The team felt like a family. Our studio was really special. I’ve been following VR for a very long time. With the team, I made a VR game in 1992, Wolfenstein VR. It was a nice peek at the future.
GamesBeat: Did that ever make it out into the market?
Hall: It was an arcade machine. You lowered a helmet over yourself and controlled it with a joystick. The field of view was a little bit wider. It was an interesting project to try, very early on. I’ve been interested in VR and AR for a long time. I have a ton of headsets, a ton of games. Back at Glu, we released VR titles and things with AR features. It’s a fascinating medium to explore as a game designer.
That’s one of the reasons I was thinking — there were the first early starts. “Gee-whiz, this is a shiny new toy.” Now we’re in companies that are serious about taking VR and AR into the future, thinking about what game experiences could be besides just playing basketball or things like that. Something a little deeper. It’s an interesting time to be in the space. AR is going to infuse our lives. VR is going to grow into a more mature medium. We used to ask if a game could make you cry, if the sense of personal reality could be so strong. With the right experience, you’re going to cry your eyes out.
This is a great time to be making VR content at a premier VR and AR developer. I’m really excited about it.
GamesBeat: Why have you been so open to new platforms throughout your career? You were in the PC world. You were in mobile. You’re moving to VR here. Other people tend to stick with the things they started around.
Hall: At id, we had a thing where we made Gamer’s Edge games and id games. We tried all sorts of games. That was exciting. As we sort of co-invented the first-person shooter, it was like — we made five of those, refining the process of it, from Hovertank on. To me, who [got] the honor of defining and refining the basics of what FPS controls are, how you move in 3D, how you take actions — that was a heavy honor to have.
Now we’re past the initial phase of that in VR, how you move and so on. But we’re still finding out what actions you can take in the environment, what actors and items in the space can mean. The emotions and experiences that we can draw out going forward need to grow beyond fear and vertigo. We want to explore how meaningful an experience you can have and get beyond just shooters that are scary. What experience can be novel, given this first-person, very intimate experience?
GamesBeat: What titles did you work on at Glu?
Hall: I did Diner Dash, Cooking Dash, and Restaurant Dash with Gordon Ramsay, and I worked on Diner Dash Adventures. We had a new technology panel, also, so we kibitzed on various VR and AR features for games. My most recent title out was Diner Dash Adventures.
GamesBeat: In that case, where people would say “These aren’t real games, the real games are Quake and Doom,” what was your answer to that?
Hall: Free-to-play games are fun, bite-sized de-stressors. You can enjoy a game loop over a period of days. In a way, it fits the VR session experience. People will play a session of VR and then pick it up the next day. That’s a natural move onward. I don’t think that it’s valid to say that these games are better than these other games. I love all kinds of games. Making Wolfenstein and Doom was an amazing experience, and making free-to-play games that millions of people play is an amazing experience too. I just want to put fun experiences that have strong character and personality in front of people, and I hope that they enjoy them.
GamesBeat: How many game companies have you worked at now?
Hall: I’ve been in the industry 33 years, and I’ve been making games for 40. I don’t have that count on me, but it was id, and then Apogee and 3D Realms. Ion Storm. MonkeyStone Games. Then I went to work for Midway, and then KingsIsle, Loot Drop. Then PlayFirst/Glu Play, which is now part of Glu Mobile, and now here.
GamesBeat: What did you consider to be the most fun, and why?
Hall: They’ve all been fun, awesome experiences. Maybe the craziest part was when we first got a check for Commander Keen and realized we could make games for a living. But we were also on a death crunch for years and years. It was great because we loved making games and we were young, but there’s something to be said for work-life balance. I’ve enjoyed every period because I’ve always tried to seek new challenges instead of sitting down. You talked about the variety of games. I like finding what’s cool and new each time, so there’s always a new challenge and I’m always learning.
GamesBeat: Do you feel you eventually hit that work-life balance?
Hall: I think so. The industry is maturing a bit. I still have that in me. If I’m going to sleep and I think of an idea, I’ll stay up and write it out. But it’s by choice, not because of the system.
GamesBeat: It doesn’t feel like we’re at a place where people are accepting all gamers and all games as “real,” I guess. I feel like we still have a ways to go to get there.
Hall: Some gamers are reacting to these new kinds of games. “Oh my gosh, this rock-‘n’-roll music is horrible!” But people enjoy these kinds of games. They’re having fun. They’re taking a break. You give them something they can pick up and let them have fun.
GamesBeat: What was it about Resolution Games in particular that was attractive?
Hall: As I said, with VR and AR, and Mike Booth coming on board, that was interesting. A friend mentioned they were making some cool games. One of the Anachronox team, Henrik Jonsson, is in Sweden working there on Amplifier Game Invest. He said that these were good people. I had a programmer friend who said they were making some cool stuff. I already had Angry Birds VR and AR, so I knew these were solid, polished titles. We kept talking, and it made more and more sense. I want to get in that forefront, changing the nature of what’s possible. This is a good marriage of talented, top-tier VR and AR developers. They just won an award for Angry Birds. What doesn’t make sense? I’ve been a passionate VR and AR guy for many years, and they’re making great games.
GamesBeat: As far as where VR is now and where you think it has to go — it still needs to find more of a mainstream audience. What’s going to get it there?
Hall: I liked what John Carmack said about Oculus Quest being in the Switch area of adoption. I think that’s smart. Weirdly, my former cofounder and I are working on a device that he brought into being. That’s been cool. These are all stepping stones toward AR being woven into our lives and VR having the potential for emotional connection, virtual connection. The pandemic is showing us a time where everyone is virtual. That would be more powerful altogether.
Everything is marching forward. Devices are getting more advanced. Control is getting more advanced. We’re hitting a sweet spot now where people have voiced what they want out of the experience, six degrees of freedom and all that. We’re about to see more mature stories told in VR. Jon Favreau did a great title, Gnomes and Goblins. It’s a movie-like experience. He took that experience and directed a digital movie in VR with the Lion King. It allowed him to be in the scene, to see the shots.
All these things are starting to click and elevate what can be done in the real world, what can be done in digital entertainment, and what can be done in VR. We’ll see that mature and broaden as creators make really touching things. You could see the artistry being applied to this new medium. You had Bjork making this wonderful video where she’s dancing around you. So many experiences are possible, the expression of an art piece into a new art form, a new medium. We’re learning how to use this first-person experience in bold new ways and convey more meaning to the player or the viewer.
It’s all very exciting. Each device and each step forward are marching toward a wonderful future where that’s possible. Whether it’s the Oasis, or whether we just use this as a connection so we feel like all the team members are all in one spot — it allows an experienced person to operate remotely. It’s going to be infused in our lives, just like AR. Being someone that determines where that goes and how it grows is exciting.
GamesBeat: What sort of role do you have within the team? How do you like to work in terms of team size and so on?
Hall: My official title is senior creative director. It’s interesting because Sweden is like, “Well, we have to figure that out.” We have people on the team that have 25 years of experience, and they’re just “game developer.” It doesn’t matter as much, culturally. But it’s cool. The teams tend to be smaller and more experienced, which matches my style. At id, we were all experts in our lane. We did our stuff. “OK, I need to know this, and I need to know this. OK, do it.” We’re working the same way here. We come up with a bunch of stuff and link it up. It’s surprisingly effective and wonderful.
GamesBeat: Did the team at Glu wind down, or did you decide to leave on your own?
Hall: It had been seven years. I just thought it was a good time to explore. I’d learned all I could learn there. It was time to move on and explore somewhere else. This is a perfect destination for that. They were all amazing, almost above every other team I’ve experienced before. They were a real family. It was special. But I thought it was time to do it.
GamesBeat: Are you still based in San Francisco?
Hall: The cool thing about this is, since it’s remote, I can be free to — if I want to move on with my family I can do that. But it’s wonderful to have that remote working. In this pandemic, everyone is in it, but it’s nice to be able to do that. Once the air clears, I’m sure I’ll be hopping over to Sweden once in a while. But for now, it’s fantastic.
GamesBeat: As far as making games during the pandemic, it seems like it’s still possible.
Hall: It’s very natural. We don’t have any watercooler conversations, but it’s almost easier to ping people on Slack or do a quick video call. It works very well so far. It’s been a fantastic experience getting to know Tommy and the team, everyone there. It was surprisingly nice and natural. “You’re doing great stuff, I’d like to work with you.” “OK, let’s do this.” I respect the games Resolution has made, and I can’t wait to join forces.
GamesBeat: Hopefully, the game industry will — I don’t know … I can’t say “calm down.” It’s been crazy in the last few days, the last few weeks, the last few months.
Hall: I just hope it results in a kinder, gentler game industry. That’ll be a good thing.
This post by Dean Takahashi originally appeared on VentureBeat.