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Tour of Chicago Pt. 5: Midway Chicago
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Tour of Chicago Pt. 5: Midway Chicago

December 27, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

The Road to Here

Scot Bayless started making games in 1987. “It was purely a passion thing,” he recalls. He was then in the defense business, where he could have stayed, though he was a gamer at heart. “I was so bad that for a while I used to buy stuff from SSI before it even got on the shelf. [laughs] I was a real geek.”

But one day, he got a call from his brother, then working at SSI. Did Scot want to do some work on the side? Bayless accepted an Amiga-to-PC port, then joining SSI full-time to complete Pool of Radiance and later Curse of the Azure Bonds.

Bayless then had the opportunity to head up Accolade’s Tools and Technology group. Accolade was conflicted about needing a Tools and Tech group, and Bayless left for Spectrum Holobyte to run Falcon 3.0.

He then worked for SEGA, during “the halcyon days, when SEGA was making absurd amounts of money, and we were all having a lot of fun.” Bayless was involved in the North American launch of “all those failed platforms. I take no responsibility for any of that,” he jokes. “But we did work really hard to make them succeed.”

Studio head Scot Bayless has an impressive resume.
Prior to joining Midway in 2004 he held executive positions as EA and Microsoft.

Bayless then went to a little start-up called Eidetic, the studio that made Syphon Filter, and recalls a time when the company went through a cash-crunch. “We found ourselves with one project, and two project’s worth of people. Since I had a lot less skin in that game than my partners,” Bayless continues, “I volunteered to leave my money in the company, and go find something else to do,” in order to cut head-count. Bayless kept his money in Eidetic right up to the point Sony bought it.

After Eidetic, he moved on to work at Dynamix. “I had a great time working at Dynamix,” he said. Sierra bought Dynamix right about the time Bayless arrived. Not long after, “There was that sale to CUC, which became Cendant.

“The guy that was running Cendant Software wanted me to open a studio in the Bay Area,” Bayless recalls, “so I packed up my family, moved to the Bay Area, and set up shop, I had a team going and another team lining up” – that was when he got a phone call. “Basically, they said, ‘hey, we just got caught cooking the books. So, we’re out of money. You can come back to Oregon, if you want.’”

Instead, Bayless began talking to EA, when a friend in the recruiting side of the industry telephoned, saying, “I’ve got something really cool to talk to you about.” Since Bayless was looking, he asked. “Okay, you’ve got to promise not to laugh,” the friend said. “What?” Bayless asked. “It’s Microsoft,” the friend replied. “And I laughed,” Bayless recalls. “I did.”

After talking to them, though, Bayless started in Dean Lester’s game group, eventually heading the studio to ship Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 and 2002. At the request of Ed Fries, Bayless started a new studio aimed at Xbox titles, shipping Crimson Skies. He would then take over some of the troubled developer relationships, including Oddworld, Relic, and Bungie.

“Despite Alex’s reputation for being chaotic and way too blunt,” Bayless notes about Bungie’s Alexander Seropian, who now runs Chicago studio WideLoad, “I really enjoyed working with him.”

Bayless was at Microsoft when he got a phone call from a friend at EA, saying he should come to work there. “Long story short, I went to EA.” Ultimately, it was a disappointment for Bayless. “Not because EA is a bad company. Some of the most brilliant, brilliant people I’ve ever worked with were at EA. It’s a hugely powerful, important company in this business. But they were trying to find out what they wanted to be.” Bayless was recruited to start new IP, “and that got me excited. That’s why I’m in this business.” After two weeks, he was put in charge of the James Bond franchise. “At that point, I realized we probably weren’t going to stay together.”

“It’s more about me than it is about EA,” Bayless concludes.

The Heart of Midway

Bayless describes Midway’s Chicago studios as the heart of the company’s product development, “for a long, long time,” he says. “There are roots at this place that go all the way back to the beginning of time at Midway.” The building itself used to be the manufacturing facility. “If you walk around this rat maze, this was all stuff put up by Neil Nicastro when they stopped making cabinets and silk-screening them and building circuit-boards, and started actually making software.”

That has a big impact on the DNA of the studio, notes Bayless. “We have guys here who’ve been in the business a long time. Their entry into the business was by way of coin-op. And that really has a strong influence on how you think about the games you make.”

Bayless observes that those roots impact the studio’s grasp of kinesthetics, “which, across the industry now, is kind of hot issue.” The linkage between how someone moves and how it feels is quite important and powerful, and Bayless believes it far too often doesn’t get enough attention.

Most people lack a fundamental command of that linkage, though Bayless has found a few studios that really understand touch. “There are guys here who really understand touch,” he adds. “It’s because they had to hook people on a thirty-second cycle. It became part of the DNA of the studio because of coin-op.”

Bayless can argue that it cuts both ways. If you’re good at capturing player’s attention in the first minute, it puts you at risk of thinking of games in one way that can preclude certain kinds of depth that you might find elsewhere in the industry.

Part of what Bayless has been trying to do is help foster some of that other thinking, while capitalizing on and continuing to respect that command of kinesthetics. “One of the things I’m a huge believer in is focusing on playing to your strengths.”

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

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