Inside the Vault: Feargus Urquhart

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This week we open the Vault to our friends at Obsidian Entertainment, who as you know are hard at work on Fallout: New Vegas. Up first, we’ve got their fearless leader, CEO Feargus Urquhart.

Has anyone ever pronounced your name correctly?

Not very often, but it does happen and it still surprises me. In school, it was always entertaining when we had a substitute teacher. They would go through the list of students and then there would be a pause. The whole class would look at me with a grin, and I would just say “Here.” That was then immediately followed by the question of my name’s nationality which is Scottish. Urquhart castle is on Loch Ness…Yep, the one with the monster.

How does one go about starting a company like Obsidian?

First, going a bit crazy. Thinking it’s a great idea is also a good start. :)

For us, it was figuring out how we wanted to run a company and then deciding what we wanted to do with it. Our first love is getting to make single player RPGs so that was the goal from the very start. By choosing a focus we knew exactly what we needed to do to build the studio – we knew what projects we wanted, the people and the technology we needed that would allow us to make the games we love.

Since founding the studio, how do you think your role has changed?

The biggest change in my role is that I spend less time doing very specific things on the games we are working on. What I mean is that I don’t do things like edit data files or get art into the game.

Even though that’s the case, I do try and spend as much time on working on the games as possible. For example, on Knights of the Old Republic 2 we were on a pretty tight schedule and budget, so everyone needed to pitch in. I became the guy who put art props (beds, chests, lamps, etc…), creatures and characters into the game.

What is the best part about your job? The worst part?

The best part is that I get to make games. I know that’s a pretty obvious answer but really it is absolutely the best part. I get to be in an industry where I come in every day and do something that I also do in my spare time – it’s my job and my hobby. Now, more specifically, the best part is actually working on a game, talking about how we want to do something and then figuring out the best way to do it.

The worst part is the stress of running a small business. Ultimately it’s my job to make sure that 120 people get a paycheck so they can make their rent, put food on the table and take care of their children. It’s something that weighs on my shoulders every day and it can put a damper on things at times.

How did you originally get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?

The road started for me when I was in high school. I became friends with a lot of people that were in the same D&D gaming club. I’m talking pen and paper, not video games. One of these friends was working at Egghead Software after school and got into a D&D game with someone who worked at Interplay. Interplay was starting to expand and they needed a customer service guy, so my friend took that job. That summer I needed a job and he recommended me for a playtest position. My interview was the VP of Operations looking up saying “So, you’re Feargus?” to which I answers “Yep.” And that was it. I was hired.

Unfortunately, that was so long ago and it just doesn’t work that way anymore. You need to have skills that will make you stand out.

However, I can give you a few important tips to getting into the industry. The first is to use correct grammar in all of the materials you send to the company to which you are applying. A spell checker is also very useful. You would be surprised how often we get resumes and cover letters that would have received a failing grade in school.

The second is to be persistent. Don’t let up and always ask if it would be okay for you to check back in after a couple of months. By asking you don’t come off as a stalker.

Also, if you are local to the company you are applying to, ask the hiring manager, one of the senior development people, or even the CEO out to lunch. It might not get you the job but it might get you some information and perspective on the industry that you didn’t have before.

Thus far, what’s been the highlight of your career?

That’s hard to say. I don’t really dwell on my successes; it’s an interesting character trait. I’m always onto the next thing. Getting to be involved with the creation of Fallout, choosing the name “Baldur’s Gate” for Baldur’s Gate, working on both Star Wars and D&D, having Ray & Greg from BioWare as great friends, and defining the loose technical definition for a Planescape game that Chris Avellone then took and made Planescape: Torment with are all notable highlights. Those are all things that I remember with fondness.

What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?

People always find this to be a strange one, but other than the old PC RPGs – Bard’s Tale 1, Might and Magic 4 and 6, Ultima 3 and 4, and Wasteland – I often go back to Colonization by Sid Meier. It’s strange, and I don’t know what compels me to go back to it, but I think it’s in part because after playing it over twenty times…I still haven’t beaten it.

What games are you looking forward to?

There are a few games that I own but haven’t gotten a chance to play yet, such as Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2. I also need to finish Dragon Age and Assassin’s Creed 2. For future games, I’m looking forward to the next Final Fantasy, Darkstalkers (out, but I don’t have it), StarCraft 2 and Diablo 3.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

There’s usually a child staring at me asking me questions that I’m really not ready to answer. But, more philosophically, it’s that I have a pretty good life. I have a very understanding wife, awesome children, good friends, and I get to come in to work and make games. Hopefully that’s not too mushy.

Worst job you’ve ever had?

Strangely, I’ve liked all the jobs that I have had, which for being 40 is not that big of a list. From 13 to 16, I “stuffed” papers which entailed putting the Sunday LA Times together for about $5 per hour. Then from 16 to 21, I worked for Domino’s Pizza as an order taker, pizza maker, driver, and then manager. It paid pretty well, there were a lot of fun people there, and it helped that the time working there went really fast. Lastly, since I was 21 it’s been the game’s industry. I’ve had fun being a tester, a producer, and now someone in charge of a developer.

Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Well, given half a chance, it really is playing both video games and board games. But, I also do a bit of mountain biking and I read a ton of Sci-Fi / Fantasy and books about the Supreme Court. Yep, I don’t really understand the connection either.

Any fun facts/information you’d like to share about Obsidian?

If the owners of Obsidian are all in a room and you say “Hi Chris,” you’ll have 60% of them say hi back.

Reader Comments

  1. Cool Guy! From Pizza man to game developer ! You are an inspiration to many people! Thanks for the game, they are great, & I look forward to buying New Vegas when it is released. My one request: put some comedy in the games, some funny or quirky quests or just some odd creatures and witty dialog!
    I love games for the playability & beautiful graphics, but humor is a great selling point. Classics like Duke Nukem, LS Larry, & all the little skits in Fallout 1 & 2. Any game that can get a laugh out of the players while playing it is awesome!
    Thanks, & best wishes keeping the money flowin’ & all the kids happy. Family first, remember you work to support your family’s life, you don’t live just to work all the time. Make time for a company Picnic day followed by a four day weekend! Fun for everyone!

  2. Oh wow, it’s Feargus, previously from BioWare.

    I remember there’s a character with the exact name in Baldur’s Gate 2, in front of the circus in Waukeen’s Promenade. And he is in “fear” of the recent troubles in the circus. hehe.

  3. It´s no coincidence. It´s a cameo. And a deserving one, surely.
    I remember a dear friend, who´s no longer amongst us, who said:
    “My dearest memories are playing Fallout… I just wish the world hasn´t got THAT close to that ‘fiction’ becoming a reality. But I guess War, war never changes!”

  4. It is great to see a role model in the world of gaming interactive intelligence, the list of achievements and projects Feargus has accumulated is impressive. I also think it is funny the this programmers are all named Chris. I work in new media with 3 Daniels- Daniel, Dan, and Danny. Weird how that works sometimes.