Friday, November 02, 2012

An Interview With Brent Knowles: Writer, Video Game Developer and Next Gen Social Networking Emperor

Brent Knowles worked for BioWare (now a part of Electronic Arts) for 10 years as designer/ co-lead designer/ lead designer of many of the famous games such as Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate 2 and Dragon Age Origins. He has written many books and has been a winner of ‘Writers of the Future’ Award in 2009. Brent is currently associated with an innovative, state of the art social media revolutionary site Empire Avenue.
Hello Brent, a very warm welcome to Blogcritcs. How would you describe your professional journey in few words?
I have always created stories and worlds to share. Writing stories and creating pen and paper adventures led me to building simple videogames and this
in turn led me to a computing science degree. With the degree and a portfolio
of stories I landed a job with the role playing game juggernaut BioWare. During
my ten years with BioWare I learned a lot about crafting stories and designing
experiences for users. I became a better storyteller and a better game
Now I am back to writing my own stories and doing freelance consulting,
such as my current work with the social media exchange Empire Avenue.
You worked for BioWare for a long time. What major milestones did you achieve there?
I worked on a variety of projects. The most fun I had was onBaldur’s Gate 2 and Hordes of the Underdark, the second expansion for Neverwinter Nights. On these projects the team size was small enough that everybody involved really bonded and we had the flexibility and independence to fill those games with as many cool things as we could think of.
From an achievement point of view I think Neverwinter Nights, which I was the co-lead designer on, was probably the most remarkable game BioWare built. The tools created gave players the chance to craft their own fascinating adventures. I learned a lot on that project.
Of course every project offered me the opportunity to learn. On Jade Empire I learned about action-game mechanics, for example, and on Dragon Age: Origins I really experienced what it was like to be a design lead on a major studio title. I led a large team of designers through the bulk of the development on Dragon Age and through some rather turbulent years and in the end I am very proud of the world and the adventures we created together.

What did you do after BioWare?
My intention was to focus solely on writing stories and novels and this has been what I have done since leaving BioWare. I thrive while building and exploring virtual worlds and it does not matter to me if those worlds unfold on a video game screen or on paper. Both writing and game design have always been attempts by me to share imaginary worlds of my conjuring with others.
The sharing aspect is vital and when an opportunity arose for me to join a company focused on connecting people from around the world and helping
them share experiences, thoughts, and ambitions with one another I jumped at
the chance. And that is why I’m consulting with Empire Avenue now.
Writing is your passion. What do you write mainly? What if you don’t write? Any major achievements?
I write science fiction primarily but I do not restrict myself to any genre. I write about situations and characters that I find intriguing and if that means I write fantasy or horror or something mainstream I will write it.
I have been told that I am a grouch if I do not write so I try to avoid going more than a day or so without writing anything.
In terms of major writing achievements I am thrilled every time I sell a story and am proud of every story I have had published but the most impressive accolade I have received so far is winning first place in the third quarter of 2009 in the Writers of the Future contest. The prize money, while awesome, pales in comparison to the amazing (and free!) workshop the contest sent me to in Hollywood where I met many talented writers and artists.
Any hobbies?
I spend a lot of time with my kids so my hobbies are usually what they are interested in. We fish, build Lego robots, and ride our bicycles. I also enjoy cooking.
Briefly tell us about your association with Empire Avenue.
I try to keep in touch with many of my former coworkers from BioWare and so when Dups (Empire Avenue’s CEO) mentioned Empire Avenue I was intrigued.
I started using Empire Avenue as soon as it went live and sent Dups feedback on what I thought worked and what did not. Eventually they brought me into the company as a consultant and I have been really enjoying my involvement with them.
Empire Avenue is a next-gen social networking site where users connect with others in a way that is completely different and, in my opinion, more fulfilling than traditional sites such as Twitter or Facebook. Basically users exchange resources (called eaves) to create connections and they can express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with other users (or brands) by the amount of eaves they invest. It has been exciting to see huge brands like AT&T, Intel and Ford join Empire Avenue The community has really grown in the last couple months.
I think Empire Avenue is an example of how consumers and brands will interact in the future –‘investors’ on Empire Avenue can reward those brands that engage well with their communities.
Your future plans?
I am a more disciplined writer now than I was a couple years ago and I aim to finish 2 to 3 novels a year. Eventually I hope to see those in print but in the meantime I will continue to write, to learn about the world, to research what interests me and to continue meeting fascinating people and be exposed to new concepts and topics.
And a message for readers?
Ask me questions! Whether on my blog, through Empire Avenue or via e-mail. I enjoy talking to those aspiring to careers in the gaming industry or to fellow writers. I am also exploring the emerging landscape of electronic publishing and have some thoughts on where that is headed. My blog is a mixed bag of topics, from game design to writing to the weird things my kids have found in the backyard. As well most of my stories are available to read online and links to them can be found on my site.
Brent can be reached at:

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