Mike Huang

Written by Medievaldragon on . Posted in BlizzPlanet Articles, Interviews

Blizzplanet recently contacted Mike Huang after we found out that he was running an Ebay Auction sale of most of his belongings from his days as an employee of Blizzard North.  Although, he is no longer in the team after Bill Roper and company moved on to form Flagship Studios, Mike Huang immediately found his way to another Game Developer company where he is using his skills and devotion to games.

He found his room was too cluttered with Blizzard stuff hanging around and decided to give all this stuff to people who can find value on this memorabilia from when Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft were launched. Maybe some older fans who lived and grew up through that stage, few years ago, may find the sentimental value in this memorabillia articles. Due to the magnitude of this Ebay auction event, we contacted Mike Huang to set up an interview. He kindly accepted to tell Diablo, Warcraft, and Starcraft fans a bit more about this ex-Blizzard North employee—who helped in the creation of our favorite games.

Mike Huang Interview

Blizzplanet: What was your major at college?

Mike Huang: I majored in Environmental Science, with an emphasis
in Biology. I’m always proud to say this, because I
think alot of people are under the impression that the
developers who make the games have a degree in
computer science or engineering or art, but in
reality, the people who make the games have a pretty
diverse range of backgrounds.

Blizzplanet: After graduating, How did you end up getting
hired
by Blizzard?

Mike Huang: When Dune 2 (developed by Westwood Studios) was
released, my friends and I played it quite
extensively. We also played a lot of Command and
Conquer (also developed by Westwood) and Warcraft I.
My college dormmates played a lot of Warcraft II, and
would call each other up and play over the modem. I
wasn’t really impressed with Blizzard’s games until
the summer of 1996, when I recieved a demo of Diablo.

The first Diablo was a pretty innovative game for the
time—it was one of the first games that ran in
DirectX, allowing VGA graphics without the use of DOS
Extenders like DOS4GW, which was every graphic
programmer’s nightmare. It featured random dungeon
generation, and pretty much single-handedly brought
back the dying RPG genre. I had played lots of PC
RPGs, and felt that they were inferior for a variety
of reasons compared to console RPGs—but Diablo made
RPGs accessible to the average gamer for the first
time, and it looked better than anything on the market
at the time.

I was impressed by Diablo, and found myself anxiously
waiting for the release of their next game, Starcraft.
Blizzard’s reputation for tardiness really didn’t
begin until Starcraft, so in the Summer of ‘97, I was
expecting them to post beta test signups, and I came
across their job listings—I applied, I interviewed
with them, and the rest is history.

Blizzplanet: What colleges do you recommend to some talented
3D artists and programmers to enroll at to be
successful in the Game development field?

Mike Huang: I went to the University of California at Berkeley,
which has a very strong computer science program that
I chose not to follow. My classmates who went through
the CS program came out with some excellent computer
programming skills, but the emphasis is not game
production. When I was applying to universities in
1992, there weren’t any programs at all—it’s very
different today. A lot of universities now have
classes in many aspects of game development, such as
game design, game development, writing graphics
engines, etc. I think the best thing anyone can do in
searching for an academic institution is just do a
little research on the internet, get a hold of the
course catalog, read the course descriptions, make up
a sample schedule and then ask themselves—are these
classes I would enjoy taking, and do they get me
closer to my goal of being in the games industry?

Blizzplanet: How was your first year as a Blizzard Employee?
How was that breaking-the-ice first days where you are
the fresh guy?

Mike Huang: When I came on board, I had very little trouble
fitting in. Blizzard hires only gamers, so it’s not
like some other game development companies where they
hire a programer to do an ice hockey game, and he’s
never played ice hockey or even seen ice hockey be
played. The employees at Blizzard are people with a
passion for games so I had that common interest
working for me already.

My first year as a Blizzard employee was a pretty
interesting one. Blizzard North had just finished
Diablo and was doing the prototyping for the sequel,
Diablo II. Warcraft Adventures and Starcraft was in
its late alpha/early beta stages, Hellfire, Diablo
Playstation and Warcraft II Playstation were being
licensed out and developed by third-parties. I learnt
a lot about the games industry pretty quickly, just by
virtue of being there at that moment in time.

Blizzplanet: I heard you were into shareware games before
Blizzard came along in your career. What games were
you involved with before being hired by
Blizzard?

Mike Huang: I wrote my first computer game when I was 12 years old
in a summer computer class. It was just a simple side
scroller written in BASIC. All through my childhood, I
played games and thought about how they could be
better, what worked, and what didn’t. When I learned
PASCAL (that was the only programming taught in my
high school), I started to create games to teach
myself programming concepts related to games, such as
collision, missiles and sprites.After that, I began
toying with more complex tasks such as sound and
network programming.

During my senior year of high school, my friends and I
attempted to start up our own game studio—and we
were developing a number of different games. Most of
what we came up with were clones of games that we
liked. We spent a great deal of time on a Tetris
clone, which was where we learnt that programming in
multiplayer code is something that absolutely has to
be planned from the get go. Adding it on afterwards
created a myriad of bugs, and we ended up rewriting
the game from scratch afterwards. On my own, I was
writing sysop utilities for a BBS game called
Tradewars 2002 to add things such as rogue planets and
alien bounties, amongst other things. Our group
produced an edutainment title (which also doubled as a
senior project) which featured projectile motion.

I took one computer class while I was in college and
created a game called Blackout, in which you cut power
lines in order to blackout the city power grid. I also
tried to create a computer version of Magic the
Gathering, but found that each card was essentially a
new rule, and so that writing an AI that could be
challenging was beyond my means at the time.

They were mostly class projects, and we were af
raid of
getting sued for cloning, so we released them mainly
as freeware. Luckily, distribution at that time wasn’t
very good so aside from the floppy disks in my
parent’s house, I very much doubt copies of the games
exist anymore.

When I
signed on with Blizzard, I pretty much gave up
the rights to make games for myself and anyone else in
my spare time while I was working there.

Blizzplanet: What games were you involved with in Blizzard
Entertainment, and what was your role in each game?

Mike Huang: One of the great things about how Blizzard worked is
that everyone was involved in every game at some point
of the process between conception to completion—
they did a very good job of asking for input and
discussing problems and solutions for each game.

I guess you could say that I’ve been involved with
every Blizzard product since Starcraft, including
Brood War, D2, Warcraft Adventures, Warcraft 3, D2
Expansion, Starcraft: Ghost and World of Warcraft,
along with some other products that didn’t make it,
but that’s true of just about every employee at
Blizzard who wanted to involve themselves in the
Blizzard product line.

I remember one of my first contributions to a Blizzard
game was on Starcraft. At the time, the Pylons on the
Protoss side were just farms. I had just finished
playing C&C: Red Alert a few months back, and
suggested to a Starcraft programmer that the Pylons
should power the buildings for the Protoss, and that
taking out the Pylons should render the buildings
inoperative. The programmer brought it up at the next
meeting, and I was glad to see the improvement made in
the next build we received at Blizzard North.

For Diablo II, I was the Technical Producer, which had
a lot of different responsibilities in a variety of
areas, and gave me a great deal of insight and
experience on the entire process of taking a game from
begining to end from the developer side.

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