Bill Roper

VP/GM, Product Development, Disney Interactive Media Group

Designer Perspective Bill Roper.jpg

Bill Roper is a game designer and producer whose credits include games such as Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (1994), Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (1995), Diablo(1996), Starcraft (1998), Starcraft: Brood War (1998), Diablo II (2000), Diablo II: Lord of Destruction (2001), Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002), Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne (2003), Disney Epic Mickey 2 (2012) and Diablo III (2012).

On getting into the game industry: I have always been an avid gamer, ever since my mom and dad introduced me to cribbage and blackjack (respectively) to teach me quick addition skills at the age of five. I was doing desktop publishing on the 4:00 p.m.–1:00 a.m. shift for a company called Lasertype when a good friend of mine told me about an opportunity at the small game company where he worked. They needed someone to do the music for a port of one of their games onto the PC because the regular music guy was busy working on their first self-published title. The company was Blizzard, and after doing music for the PC version of Blackthorne, I was fortunate enough to stay on to do voice-over work, world design, and the manual for WarCraft: Orcs and Humans. The day I started in the game industry and turned in my resignation to the desktop publishing company was one of the best in my life.

On favorite games: This list changes slightly every time I think about it, due in great part to the sheer number of games I play. Also, these are from an all-time list, and not necessarily the ones I am playing right now—some of which might be on this list if I wrote it out again in few months.

  • Wizardry: One of the great early gaming experiences on the Apple II, I can still remember marveling at the fact that it looked like you were actually walking down a hallway to fight the monsters. The dungeon designs, the puzzles, the interface, the items (Cuisinart the Vorpal Blade) and the story were all fun and exciting. Wizardry was definitely a defining title in my high school gaming days on the computer.
  • Carcassonne: This is a fantastic board game out of Germany that centers on the construction of cities and roadways. It changes every time you play it, thanks to the system of people playing a randomly drawn tile on their turn. The game has a lot of social aspects as well because each piece is flipped up and the entire table is supposed to give their advice on how best to play it. I can, and have, played game after game after game of this for hours on end.
  • Diablo II: Although I worked on this game, it (along with the expansion set) still holds my interest. It is a wonderfully fun romp where just about everything is random, so it simply never gets old. A great community of gamers has grown around the game, and hooking up to play over is so easy, it all makes a terrific package for single- or multiplayer fun, whether I have 15 minutes or an entire weekend to spend on it.
  • Grand Theft Auto III: Whether you agree with the edgy premise of the game world, the mechanics and thoughtfulness that went into this game are undeniable. I have played this since it came out, and I am still finding new, fun things to do. The openness of the design and the sheer fun of driving around at breakneck speeds keeps this high on my list.
  • Poker: I honestly think this is perhaps the perfect game. It has simple rules with a limited and easy to understand number of pieces, has innumerable game variations that don’t require an expansion set, is played by both core and mass market gamers, is portable, has a scalable risk to reward ratio, and is equal parts skill and luck. Throw in the fact that it is a multiplayer game, and you can hopefully see why it has all the pieces of the puzzle for being an amazingly good game.

On inspiration: I think that everything we do in life can act as inspiration for making games, whether reading books, watching movies, listening to music, traveling to different places, playing sports, or just simply living your life. I have always believed that you have to play games to make games, just like a chef eats at a lot of different restaurants to better understand and refine his own craft. I can look to games from Civilization to Monopoly to EverQuest to Super Mario Bros. to StarCraft to Bard’s Tale to Half-Life to Madden NFL and find elements that either really make that game work or could have been done better. The real challenge comes in being able to just sit down and play without completely analyzing every minute element, but I suppose that comes with the territory.

Advice to designers: To quote a popular ad campaign: “Just Do It.” You can’t get good at making games unless you make games. Use the level design tools that are a part of many of the best-selling titles to work out game ideas. Tear apart board games to prototype your ideas. Play around with existing games by changing rules or goals or the strengths and weaknesses of the individual components and see how the balance works. Most importantly, never stop playing.