Rick Dawson Interview


~ August 2011 ~
I've been around so long now that even my fans have fans! 5 years ago, Rick Dawson was an aspiring filmmaker who had taken inspiration from my work with games. Now he's the real deal with several movies under his belt already - including work with Dan "The Beast" Severn, Dustin "Saved By The Bell" Diamond, and Ron "Porn Star" Jeremy. Here, we catch up in our 2nd exchange:

Mat, the last time that we spoke was roughly 5 years ago when NitroBlitz was running an article on Sex & Violence in gaming. I remember that you gave us some great feedback on your opinions as far as the violence in gaming. Do you feel that, since then, violence in gaming has become more acceptable in society?
If anything, I've actually been pleased to see that gaming has become more creative in the past few years. The Nintendo Wii and X-Box Kinect have added a whole other layer to the scene, often resulting in more "innocent" gaming experiences. Although I made my name with formulaic PC games (violent ones at that), I've always been drawn to "games" in their purest form. I never allow myself to forget that many of the sports we enjoy are basically "games" - an ingenious cocktail of rules and challenges. Before I ever owned a computer, that's how my creativity manifested itself - with "games" of all kinds that defied categorization. That's why you often see little concepts like Sure Shot and Moksha popping up at my site, which wouldn't have looked out of place on a 1980's arcade machine. I've been very interested to see things like the Wii tip things back in that direction. The new consoles and handhelds have also done a good job of resurrecting "retro" games and bringing classic concepts to a wider audience. The games industry has finally hit its stride where it's comfortable in its own skin - past, present, and future. It's no longer the cheap imitation of the movie industry that I criticized it for being...

As a hardcore fan of yours Mat, I have to ask this... WHEN ARE WE GOING TO SEE ANOTHER GAME from MDickie?
I can officially confirm that there IS a major new game in production to be released before the end of 2011. It will be my first since 2008's You Testament, and will be another "dark" project that's developed without anybody knowing. I don't want to hype it too much because it's another one of my notoriously "strange" concepts that will disappoint a lot of people - especially the wrestling fans. Although I'm back into wrestling, I have no desire to make another entry in the Wrestling MPire series because they're already well catered for by the modders at the MPire Mall. They're pressing ahead graphically, which is all anybody ever really wanted from me. That said, the new game might very well be the most innovative ever devised so it will be interesting to see the reaction. I feel very privileged as a solo game developer and have this burning desire to do things that wouldn't otherwise exist - for better or worse. There are a lot of times when I have to ask, "If I don't do it, who will?"

With the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, is there a possibility that we will see a MMA MPire?
Coincidentally, I had a dream last night where I was booked to fight Brock Lesnar in such a match! I was concerned about the pummeling I would get and talked him into working a staged wrestling match for the fans. Rather conveniently, that pretty much sums up my answer to your question. Perhaps it means I wouldn't be up to the challenge of an MMA game and so I divert your attention to pro wrestling instead! To be honest, I'm not sure how an MMA game would differ from the wrestling games - at least not in a positive way. All I see is a lot of rolling around on the ground. I'm not sure how my unique brand of destruction could tie into that! It is an extremely popular suggestion, though, so I may have to educate myself. The more I think about it, the more it would be a great addition to a sporting trilogy alongside Reach and Wrestling MPire...

With talks that we have had, internet piracy has led to a lot of your discouragement and is a big reason why we haven't seen more games from you in recent years. Do you think that we need to make piracy laws stricter? Are you taking precautionary approaches for future endeavors (i.e. better security measures)?
Well, I no longer make games for a living so it's not really an issue for me anymore. A lot of my fans were triumphant when I went freeware, but as we've seen there are two sides to it because the games simply stop coming! I've compared piracy to hitting the "pause button" on a piece of entertainment that you claim to love - especially at the independent level, where the "Robin Hood" theory doesn't quite hold up. I was consumed by game development 12 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. It's impossible to sustain that work rate unless it's also your livelihood on some level. You either make games of that size and quality for a living or you don't do it at all. Something has to give. I can't really blame the public, though, because they're just doing what has become standard practice. Broadband has allowed entertainment of all kinds to effortlessly gush into our homes. Music and movies are feeling the effects too, as I'm sure you know. And I'd be hypocritical if I criticized it too much because I've downloaded stuff myself when it hasn't been easy to access. I was only able to get back into wrestling because it's streamed online now! I think the only solution is to acknowledge the state of play and figure out new ways of making entertainment commercially viable. You have to accept that thousands of people are going to engage with your product for free. In a perverse way, piracy is kind of a compliment! The question is, how do you make the most of that attention?

I just recently played Hard Time and I have got to say, for some reason this is my favorite MDickie game yet! What inspired you to make this game? Have you yourself ever done anytime in the joint?
Haha, no I'm "straight edge". I'm as square as the pixels in my games. You can obviously tell by how amusingly unrealistic the game is! It's an outsider's wild imaginings of what prison "could" be like. It was largely inspired by the HBO show "Oz". I enjoyed that along with all the other great US dramas of the time, and it occurred to me that the character interaction had a lot of potential. My games had been using increasingly larger universes and increasingly sophisticated AI, so prison was a great laboratory for the evolution of my work. A lot of little innovations came out of Hard Time that went on to make Wrestling MPire 2008's backstage politics more involving. All of my games are interconnected and I'm very proud of that. A dozen people can like my work for a dozen different reasons. There's the wrestling fans, the industry fans, the religious fans, the retro gaming fans, and people like yourself who'd vote for Hard Time. I feel it's unprecedented for an independent developer to spin off in so many different directions like a mainstream studio. On the other hand, another factor in the creation of Hard Time was that I knew my limitations. I knew I had something to offer the Grand Theft Auto genre that Rockstar had popularized, but I also knew I was incapable of single-handedly creating a city (I couldn't even create a convincing street in Popcorn!). So I played to my strengths and created a deliberately claustrophobic version behind bars. I suppose that's the story of my career - playing to my strengths and masking my weaknesses, making a little go a long way...

How long did Hard Time take to make?
As it says in the credits, "This game was made single-handedly in 3 months - figure out how you feel about that." It turned out that very few people felt positively about it! It could be argued that my work rate was a bad thing rather than a good thing. There were a lot of complaints about quantity coming before quality. My business model involved churning out up to 4 games per year. A lot of people claim they would have preferred to see one solid release per year. But from my perspective, each release WAS solid at the time. I had my own commitment to quality and I was always putting forth my best. There was no scenario where spending more time would have miraculously produced better modeling and texturing. On the contrary, it was the constant evolution that was necessary. The more projects that lived and died in my hands, the quicker my style would evolve. I became more of a perfectionist from the release of Reach onwards. That's when I finally reached a graphical style I was happy with and proud of. It's a shame my career ended shortly afterwards because in many ways I was just getting started. But there was always a time limit on the game I was playing. I only had 10 years to make as much of an impact as possible before advances in technology rendered me irrelevant...

With gamers starting to find themselves more and more in love with MMORPG's do you have any aspirations of making an MMORPG? I would love to see Hard Time as an MMORPG.
It's definitely something I'm missing out on. I suppose a truly online wrestling experience would be the greatest leap forward for the Wrestling MPire series. However, it's something I know absolutely nothing about - either as a gamer or a developer. I've never played games online, and therefore was never inspired to MAKE them online. I envisage it being horrendously complicated for some reason, which can't be true otherwise it wouldn't be so popular. Again, it may be something I need to educate myself about - but it's hard to fake these things. I run on pure passion, and if I'm not passionate about something then I won't overcome the enormous obstacles to achieving these things. I could only make those wrestling games because I was a wrestling fan. In order to make online games, I'd have to become an avid online gamer...

What is a typical day in the world of the MPire?
When I was doing it full-time, I had my days organized quite neatly. The first thing I would do each morning was spend an hour reading my e-mails and catching up on my correspondences. Then I would devote the rest of the morning to graphical work - especially if it was 3D modeling and animation. There were 2 reasons for this. One is that it was quite an easy and enjoyable way to start the day. The other is that is was necessary to produce the media that I could then work with as a programmer in the afternoon. I dedicated most afternoons to that because it was when I was most alert and productive. And then in the evenings I would come back to work on my website and update fans on the progress that had been made that day. Either that I would do something else relatively easy to wind down - such as creating music or engineering sound effects. The days used to absolutely fly by - and still do. I used to call my laptop my "time machine" because the hours flew by like minutes! That routine worked for me at the time, but I would never go back to it. I've got my "work-life balance" right these days. My theory is now "work to live" instead of "live to work". Making games is still an enjoyable part of my life, but it no longer defines my life...

Do you see yourself creating a game designed for a major console in the future?
"Design" is the operative word because I would never be able to develop one! Although I enjoy programming within my own little world, it's not something I excel at in the real world of C++, etc. I may be a "jack of all trades" but I'm the master of none. There's no one thing I excel at to the satisfaction of a mainstream studio - with the possible exception of design and marketing. I'm an "ideas man" as far as they're concerned, which isn't without its merits of course. To be honest, it has never been something I've desired for myself. I was actually warned away from the mainstream industry a long time ago because you work so hard on something so uninspiring for so little credit. That was never my experience for a single day, so I dodged a bullet in many ways. We'll get an update on how the industry feels about me when I release my next game. Every game developer in the world will have an opinion on it. We may not see my games on mainstream consoles, but we will see mainstream consoles in my games...

Mat, before we tune out (because I know that you are a busy man), I would just like to say that growing up you were an inspiration for me to do my own projects - and that there would be no Anti People or Tetherball without MDickie. Is there any links that you would like to promote? Is there anything that you would like to say to your fans?
I'm always glad to hear that people have taken inspiration from my work. That's where the "Inspiration For The Interactive Generation" tagline comes from. I made no secret of the fact that I felt what I was doing went beyond mere games. My solo efforts were testament to what can be achieved by sheer will and hard work. When I saw the movie "Limitless" I thought it was a documentary! I genuinely believe that it's possible to function at that level (without drugs). I know for a fact that the human brain really is capable of extraordinary things if you entrust it with the responsibility. I suppose it comes back to my background in fitness. When you lift something over your head that weighs more than you, it redefines your ideas about what is or isn't possible. That's a universal philosophy that you can take into any other area of life. My message was one of ambition and optimism - reaching for the stars and landing on a cloud. It wasn't the self-obsessed egotism that many misinterpreted it as. On the contrary, it was me reminding YOU that you too are capable of more than you've been led to believe - either by yourself or others. As Theodore Roethke put it, "What we need are more people who specialize in the impossible." My work was one long assault on the ignorance of others and the unnecessary belittling of oneself. The Ultimate Warrior is doing some great things on that vibe with his "One Warrior Nation". I'd encourage fans of my work to check him out at I love to be inspired - whether it's by profound words or remarkable deeds. All I ever wanted to do was share a little of that with the games industry because I felt it had self-esteem issues.

Here's a trailer for a movie Rick made about wrestling called "Win By Fall":


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