Cognation Part 2


Here, I will go into some of the history and personalities involved in the making of Cognation. Again, this is more like a developer diary, and may not be riveting for all. But there’s some interesting stuff here.

Upgrades! That’s the stuff!


A few years ago, (I don’t remember how many and I don’t want to,) Blizzard Entertainment did something very cool. Yes, I know Blizzard does something cool every 12.5 minutes on average, but this was different.

They started a “Side Projects” program. The idea was simple: Blizzard employees could make their own independent games while working for Blizzard, with a few caveats.  I’m not sure how much detail I’m allowed to share about the side project program, so I’ll just say that the terms are very generous, and far more open ended than most studios would allow. Blizzard is aware that creative people sometimes need a creative outlet outside of work, and that allowing them to do this would be good for morale.

And it’s also a great way to get creative professionals to push themselves and develop their skills. I can absolutely testify that working on Cognation caused me to do lots of new things, and stretch some of my existing skills. So the program actually benefits Blizzard, but it’s still a great program for employees.

So it Began:

When The program was announced, I knew I wanted to do something. I had a few ideas, but the idea, in this case at least, was not the driving force. The real force, which I talked about in my previous blog post, was the desire to create. Paired with that was the chance to work with awesome people. So I went home and talked to my wife Diandra about it. The program allowed for non-Blizzard employees to be involved, so long as they agreed to the terms of the side projects program. Diandra and I have been together for many years, lived in several countries together, and both worked at BioWare. We share so many interests, but come at them in different ways, that it made sense to work on something together. Also, despite her blunder in marrying me, she’s a smart creative, with a super strong sense of what the player is feeling at any given time.

Our skills are different but overlap – I’m a writer and Diandra is an editor. I knew that she’d be a great partner in building a universe, and had a strong suspicion that she’d be great at level design. Ultimately, the two of us would be able to handle the writing, world building and level design of a game. We’re both avid gamers who would at least have lots of opinions (informed or otherwise,) on matters such as systems design.

But for the overall concept of the game, as well as the nitty gritty, I knew we’d need a team of super talented, motivated people. More importantly, people who would be awesome to work with.

At the time, I was lead writer on the Diablo team, working on the expansion, Reaper of Souls. But I’d transferred there from the StarCraft team where I’d worked with Andy Bond, on StarCraft II: Wings of LIberty, and Heart of the Swarm.

Andy is an amazing engineer, a calm, thoughtful professional, and a great collaborator so I was excited at the prospect of working with him agian. He always delivered great features while making it look easy, and was passionate about storytelling. I can’t give you the details on this, but I can say that Andy had a major and insightful criticism of the first pass narrative for Heart of the Swarm. Addressing that note led to a significant improvement to the entire narrative of that game.

So I approached Andy, and he was interested in teaming up! We’d enjoyed working together in the past, and both had a desire to do something independently of our (still rewarding,) day jobs.

I should say here that this is a recounting of events from my perspective and I’m not trying to paint Andy as someone passively waiting for me to show up and plant the idea – he (and later, Anessa,) were very likely thinking about doing something in the side projects program. But I have not yet learned mind-reading, so I can only tell my story. (NOTE: If I do learn mind reading, I will not admit to it.)

In the next post, I will dig into the bulk of how we developed this game, and an important arrival on our team!