Ted Price talks about the birth of Insomniac, “We got rejected by every single publisher”

Ted Price interview insomniac

I was recently lucky enough to visit Insomniac to get the latest info on Fuse, its new shooter. While I was there I also interviewed founder Ted Price about the company’s history from start to finish, including a lucky last chance.

Ted Price interview

Part one of the video interview will be up next week but for now here’s an excerpt covering the birth of Insomniac; from a one-man operation during the creation of Disruptor, its first PS1 game, to a three game deal. Over the next few weeks we’ll cover everything about the company from it’s PS1 days, through to PS2, 3 and beyond.

Leon: What was the thought process behind Disruptor? What were you doing beforehand?

Ted Price: I was working at a medical company, my uncle’s company, as a med tech, after I graduated from college. I was going out on house calls, with physicians, and looking after various sick people in their homes.

Leon: That’s quite an unusual leap. Where did the idea come from, and the experience to then work on a PlayStation game?

Ted Price: I’ve always been a gamer, as a kid I programmed games, or tried to program games, and I just continued that love affair with games into college and beyond. When I was at the medical company I ended up doing a lot of programming there, you know, databases, and I ended up deciding that medicine wasn’t going to be my life. I left the company, start saving and doing some consulting, to set up a video game company. For me, I was missing that creation aspect from my life, the opportunity to build stuff from scratch.

Leon: So just by working a normal job you were able to raise enough capital to build a game. Was that including the dev kit?

Ted Price: That allowed me to gain enough cash to start the company; that means I could rent an office, buy a 3DO dev kit, a PC, a Mac, and food, which, as a 23-24 year old, I wasn’t spending a lot of money outside of working in my 10X10 office and programming.

Leon: So who was there at the time; who were the people involved from the beginning?

Ted Price: At first it was just me for a while, and then I got wind of a guy named Al Hastings, who was a roommate of one of my mum’s friend’s sons. Sorry, it’s complicated [laughs], but he was about to graduate, we both went to Princeton back in New Jersey. I was told that if I wanted to start a game company, that Al Hastings was the smartest guy around. He was about to graduate with a double major in cognitive science and computer science, I think. It was true; Al is a brilliant guy, and he agreed to come out to California, where I was living, and join me at Insomniac. We put together a video for our first demo for Disruptor, and we literally drove up and down the West Coast, in my Saturn, knocking on the door of every publisher we could find, showing them our video, that showed our first quasi-level in Disruptor. Al had done all the programming, he built this engine from scratch in a month, and I was doing the art, animation and sound.

And we got shot down. We basically got rejected by every single publisher, and we came home, we were down to the last few hundred bucks in my bank account, and Al was living on my couch, so I was paying for everything, and it was about to be lights out. But, we made one last trip to Universal Interactive Studios, in Los Angeles. It had just opened up, a game division at Universal, and we met a guy named Mark Cerny; he took a look at what Al had programmed, and he said ‘Wow, you guys have some real technical chops’, but it was really Al with the technical chops, I was just the random art dude. So, he said, “Let’s work together”. I remember coming home from that trip, and I had a message from him on my phone saying ‘Let’s do a 3-game deal’. That was incredible. For a couple of guys who were just doing garage development, to get an offer for a 3-game deal was amazing.