Allen Murray (Head of Production & Executive Producer, Private Division)
After leaving college, Oregon native Allen Murray spent his time playing music and driving for the Army Corps of Engineers before realizing that his computer skills could lead to some programming jobs in the early days in the internet, including one at a startup out of Seattle that was looking to sell books online. His gaming career began around the same time with some work as a modder on games like Myth and Marathon as well as a brief stint as a professional strategy gamer. He later worked with Microsoft on the Xbox Live service for both the original Xbox and the Xbox 360.
Since then his gaming career has included working at Bungie as a producer on the Halo series, helping to develop the original concept and pitch for Destiny, PC development on the Korean MMO Tera, and working at PopCap on titles such as Solitaire Blitz & Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time. His current position is the Head of Production and Executive Producer at Private Division, a subsidiary of Take Two Interactive which funds and publishes smaller, independent games such as Kerbal Space Program and the upcoming The Outer Worlds from Obsidian Entertainment.
He lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Amy, his two youngest (of four) children, and their lizard, Fishy.
What is the first video game that you remember playing?
“I don’t know which was first, but I remember the arcade games of the late 70s – classics like Asteroids and Space Invaders. I was immediately drawn to them and always begged my dad for quarters and we’d frequent a pizza parlor that had this great side room with all of these cabinets and we’d spend hours there.
At home my first console was the Bally Astrocade. We were always the weird house where all of my friends were getting the Atari 2600 or ColecoVision… but no, we had the Bally Astrocade. It did have some pretty fun games, though, especially The Incredible Wizard – and we got the BASIC programming module where I could use a tiny keyboard to write simple programs and save them to cassette tape.”
What are your favorite games of all time?
“I have two for very similar reasons: they both showed me that games could be more. The first was Marathon, the old FPS by Bungie. It came out a year after DOOM and was very similar in terms of gameplay, but with much more thoughtful level design and had this very rich and deep story that was revealed through interacting with computer terminals and talking directly to multiple artificial intelligences. Not to knock DOOM, because I love that game too, but Marathon had this incredible universe revealed through the writing with twists and turns and secrets to decode – many of which have become deep lore that continued through their other games in Myth, Halo and Destiny. I became part of the Marathon online community to discuss and decipher the story and so it was such a delight, two decades later to actually be able to contribute to that canon. My part there is that I was able to create a small group with Frank O’Connor that recreated the Marathon terminal experience in Halo 3 and let the player read the correspondence between two ancient Forerunners and explore more of the origin of the Halos themselves. This is deep nerd stuff.
The second is Shadow of the Colossus. That game showed me that a big budget game could aspire to something more, could be art. At the time I was heads down on Halo 3 and all of the games I was researching were these big, bombastic military adventures. So SotC was so refreshing and I loved just exploring this desolate and beautiful world with my horse, Agro. And the minimalist design blew me away. It’s one of those games that I routinely come back to and play annually and I very rarely play a game campaign more than once.”
Which hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy besides gaming?
“I love to read and am mostly always reading a book. This last year I finished the Malazan: Book of the Fallen series, clocking in at like twelve thousand pages. It’s not for everyone, but I really loved it. The Three-Body Problem trilogy by Liu Cixin and the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin were also highlights. Recently I have been reading non-fiction books, mostly on economics, but also enjoyed the Beastie Boys memoir and am currently reading Semiosis by Sue Burke.
Music is a huge part of my life and I am still playing in local bands, record and perform from time to time and love going out to see live music of all kinds. And I love skateboarding and doing that as often as I can, which now is mostly going to old man hours at the local skatepark which is either Sunday nights indoors or dry weekend mornings between 6-8am where all the old dudes skate the bowl and then go get coffee and pancakes after. It’s a good life.”
Do you and your children play video games together?
“Yes we do. We were all really into Fortnite for about a year but right now my 13yr old son and I play Destiny 2 together all the time and have our own clan with a bunch of his friends. We’re currently going through all of the Forsaken and Black Armory content and trying to coordinate Raid groups with friends at Bungie. He makes fun of my Warlock which I insist is the best class.
I recently played through Florence on the iPad with my 11yr old and she absolutely loved it. And I sometimes play with my older kids, usually online or when they are here we play things together like Oxenfree – more narrative focused games.
We also play board and card games a lot and dive into the modern euro style board games but also fall back to cribbage pretty regularly and these last few months got really into Scrabble. That game is dope.”
How do you make time for gaming with a busy family life and career?
“The short and simple answer is I don’t sleep much. I will play video games with my kids on the weekend and for myself I play after they go to bed, from 10pm to midnight unless I want to read or watch a show – or am at the gym or band practice. Because making games is my job, I also schedule time during the week to play games, some for research but mostly they are games we are actively developing or pitches we are reviewing.
I’d say for every one game I play for fun, I play 5-6 for research purposes and I often play as a content tourist (on easy) just so I can get through it faster to see all of the things. Although more and more of my research is now keeping Twitch streams online in the background. It’s a great way to learn about a game I am not sure I have the interest or time to play, but want to know more about. This last year the Shadow of the Colossus Remaster, God of War and Spider-Man were my personal games. Oh, and Bad North – that game sucked me in for a couple of weeks. And Into the Breach. And lately, Gris. And…”
What is your proudest moment as a parent?
“Just seeing my kids grow up to be kind, smart, creative people. They and their friends give me hope for our future and something to aspire to and I love being a father. They humble me. My oldest daughter currently works for a major NGO helping to coordinate aid programs in West Africa and she’s applying to graduate school. My older son is studying film and music production at college and working on interesting and creative projects and I love seeing him hone his craft. My younger two are in the throes of middle school and play music through the School of Rock program. All of them are strong musicians and I love seeing them perform. I’m never not proud of them. Maybe annoyed sometimes, but always proud.”