Matt T. Wood (Game Designer, Artist, Programmer)
Matt has been creating video games for over 2 decades, getting his start in 1997 when he joined 3D Realms as a level designer and worked on games such as Prey, Duke Nukem Forever and Max Payne. In 2003 he moved to Seattle to work with Valve where he helped to create some of their most iconic titles including Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, Portal 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. He recently departed Valve and formed his own company, Double Dagger Studio, where he is working to create his next games. Matt lives in Seattle with his wife, three children, 2 cats, and leopard gecko.
What is the first video game that you remember playing?
“This is a tough one. I have so many memories of playing games when I was young, but I don’t recall which was the very first. In the arcade, it was probably Pac-Man or Centipede. I remember playing a lot of Centipede in particular. I think I just really enjoyed spinning the trackball around. It’s funny, thinking about this now brings back all of the memories of where these arcade cabinets were located. I can vividly see them in the pizza parlors, the sub shops, the bowling alleys, the corner shops and of course, in the arcades with kids just hanging out together and watching each other play. Those were good times.
I spent a lot of time in the arcade when I was growing up. My dad worked in the department store at one end of the mall, so I would wander around the arcade with my pockets empty, watching all the bigger kids play. Sometimes I would go up and down the aisles checking the coin return slots for quarters and sometimes I would get lucky, but most times not. Haha.
The first game I played on console was definitely Pong. It was at my grandmother’s house and I don’t recall whose console it was, but I distinctly remember spinning those big dials to play. What a special day that was!”
What are your favorite games of all time?
“Honestly, my list is way too long! But here are some that have impacted me in various ways throughout my life.
Zork, Enchanter, and Planetfall (and most other Infocom games) were very pivotal for me and had a big impact on me early on. Experiencing these games and the “feelies” as they called them, which were all of the supplemental things they put in the box, I think were what made me want to make games. I would pore over all of the text included in the box and imagine all the things I could do if the parser were more robust. I wanted to do what Marc Blank, Dave Lebling and Steve Meretzky were doing. To me, they were making magic.
Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Quake gave me the inspiration and the tools that I needed to start making video games. Up until that point, the closest I had come to making games was when I entered them into a computer line by line by copying out of a magazine. I had no idea what I was doing and all the books that I picked up on programming were over my young head. So when these games had tools that you could use to make ACTUAL levels…..wow, I was so hooked! Plus, Quake was an industry exploding phenomenon. It’s hard to imagine where gaming would be today if Quake hadn’t happened.
Some of my other favorites in no particular order are Dwarf Fortress, Sim City 4, Dark Souls, Morrowind, Half-Life, Baldur’s Gate 2, Diablo 2, Final Fantasy 3, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, World of Warcraft, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and Counter-Strike.”
Which hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy besides gaming?
“At one point when I was younger, I thought I wanted to be a movie special effects and prop maker. So now, sometimes, for fun, I’ll build and paint models and props and things. I’m thinking about growing out my mustache and getting a pipe too. Just to complete the dad hobby cliché look. Haha.
But with my current game and the kids, I don’t have as much time for that anymore. Now we try to do more things together as a family. We like to travel together when we can and we recently started doing a board game night at our house.”
Do you and your children play video games together?
“Yes! All three of my kids have been head over heels in love with Minecraft for years. Every time they play, they ask me to play too and it’s always a blast. What I love about Minecraft is that all four of us can be working together on a house one minute, and then the next minute, we can go off in different directions and explore. I love watching them work together and discover together.
Speaking of working together, we love co-op games. Any game that we can play together on the same team to solve problems or work together is a big win in our house. Some of my kid’s favorites right now are Castle Crashers, Battleblock Theater, Overcooked 1&2, and Mario Maker. My youngest son is really looking forward to a game called Moving Out where you work together to move furniture out of houses. He’s been asking me about it almost every day since he first played it at PAX.
Some other games we like to play together are Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the new Spiderman on PS4, Mario Kart, Donut County and pretty much any Mario game.
In addition to playing games, we also work together to make games too. I have a whiteboard in my home office where the kids will write up ideas or drawings and we’ll work together to turn them into little games. We make them in Unity and that experience has been really great for us.”
How do you make time for gaming with a busy family life and career?
“The kids go to bed relatively early every night. My wife is pretty militant about their bedtime and I support that. On the bright side, my wife’s unwavering mission to make sure the kids are getting as much sleep as their bodies need also means there’s consistently a good chunk of time in the evening for game time! But yeah, sometimes it can be pretty tough. The gaming is usually the first to fall off the list and I still have a huge backlog of games that I want to play that I’ll probably never get to. Something to look forward to in my old age, I guess. Haha.”
What is your proudest moment as a parent?
“Again, too many to talk about! But there are a few that I’ve been thinking about recently. They might be small things, but they made me really proud: moments when they demonstrate maturity, compassion, and kindness.
All three of my kids are dancing in The Nutcracker this year and I was helping wrangle the little “party boys” backstage. To begin the show, they all have to line up single file and grab the shoulders of the kid in front of them and trail their “nanny” out onto the stage. They didn’t have a specific order and when my 5-year-old son grabbed the shoulders of the boy in front of him and another little boy just about had a breakdown. HE wanted to be behind that boy! There were only a few seconds before they needed to go out onto the stage and I was about to intervene when my son put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “It’s ok! You can go” and stepped back so the other boy could take his spot. So proud of him for that.
More Nutcracker: my daughter (age 11) was asked to fill in at the last minute for a child who had gotten sick. She put in extra hours at added rehearsals for this part but on the day of the performance, the other child was well enough to perform, so she didn’t end up performing the part. We asked her how she felt about the situation and she said she was just happy for her friend to be well enough to dance because she knew how devastated she would be if she got sick and missed her performance. *heart swells*
Another thing that happened with my 8-year-old son recently was when he was with some of his classmates and they all had to choose a bandana. They were all different colors and one of them was pink. It was the last one to get picked and the boy who was left with it loudly exclaimed that he wasn’t going to take the pink one! Pink was for girls! My son looked at him and said, “Oh come on. It’s just a color!” and he gave that boy his and took the pink one for himself.
Also, in general, I’m proud of how much my kids love to read. Our house is full of books. They stack up in piles on the stairs and in corners and are sometimes used as makeshift desks and writing surfaces. The kids devour books and I’m really happy about that.”