When I discovered Troika Games, I had never heard of the company's three founders, Leonard Boyarsky, Jason Anderson and Tim Cain. I didn't know they were legends in the gaming field, responsible for Interplay's Fallout. I just knew they blew up my computer.
Troika's last game, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, was modeled after the World of Darkness universe created by tabletop developer White Wolf, and a game within that universe, Vampire: The Masquerade, was my first real introduction to what gaming could be.
My cousin, visiting from college one summer, inundated my 10-year-old head with words like Malkavian, Caitiff, Prince and Diablerie. Every night during his stay, we'd sit hunched over a table in a room lit only by a candle, and he'd weave a story where I could influence the world, grow powerful, even stop a minor god from destroying the world. Until that point in my life, I'd played nothing but sports games; participating in a story was entirely new to me.
Bloodlines was love at first install. The game perfectly captured Vampire's spirit, demanding your avatar to make the best of multiple bad decisions; make allies and betray them; and ultimately choose between trying to save every vampire in the city, or to control them. I couldn't stop playing. Just four hours into the game, I was addicted.
I'd already prepared my fake cough to call in sick to work the next day when it happened: As I was navigating Los Angeles, trying to gather some intelligence on a vampire with too high a profile, I heard something inside my computer click. The click turned into a grind, and then my computer shut down and wouldn't turn back on. At all.
By the time I'd replaced all the parts that went blooey, it was December, and the first thing I did was re-install Bloodlines - along with a newly-released patch.
It was January before I'd finished my first go through the game, and after coming up for air, I headed over to Troika's official site to see what else they had planned. Despite the computer nuking, they had earned themselves a very loyal customer. I was shocked to learn that they had laid off all but their three founders, although in hindsight I suppose I shouldn't have been; the last patch they released for Bloodlines was the final official bit of code Troika would ever produce.
"Great Ideas. Never Enough Testing."
Boyarsky, Cain and Anderson's creative vision first came together at Interplay. Together, the three worked on Fallout, the critically-acclaimed, post-apocalyptic RPG that has lived on in the hearts and minds of PC gamers as a sterling example of gaming done right. Cain was credited as Producer, Boyarsky as Art Director and Anderson as a Lead Artist.
Work began on a sequel, but the three "were unable to come to an agreement with Interplay as to how our next team should be structured," says Jason Anderson. The three also ran into a lot more corporate attention after Fallout's success, Leonard Boyarsky tells me in a separate interview. Between that and Interplay's growing pains - the company's expansion was turning the culture bad - Anderson, Boyarsky and Cain struck out on their own.
Boyarsky says, "Interplay had been a great place to work, and we felt that it was losing a lot of what we felt was great about it, and that they were making a lot of bad decisions that would destroy the company. We were about five or six years early on that, but we saw the writing on the wall. If Baldur's Gate hadn't hit big, Interplay might well have imploded much earlier, but we left about a year before BG was even released."