Earlier this week, I got permission to interview Jon Burton, Founder of Traveller’s Tales (Who made such games as Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic R, and the Lego games since Lego Star Wars.) It was conducted via email, and it was an absolute honor.
The Interview with Traveller’s Tales’ Jon Burton
NintenCity (Lily Shults): But the first thing I’d like to ask you is permission to post this interview to Nintencity.com, if you do not agree, then I completely understand.
Jon Burton: That’s fine
Alright, First question, what convinced you to start Traveller’s Tales all those years ago?
JB: I tried making games since I was 14 – back then on an 8-bit British computer called a Sinclair Spectrum, but no one would publish them (they weren’t very good!)
Once I got a Commodore Amiga I made demos (there was a demo scene back then) and met a great graphic artist (Andy Ingram). Once I had an artist to work with I realised I could make games that would be taken more seriously than with my “programmer graphics”. We showed an early build of “Leander” to Psygnosis, initially just to get advice from them, but the wanted to sign us up on the spot. We actually said “no” to them as we wanted to be sure we could make the game, but luckily when we returned a month later they were still interested.
Where did the name ‘Traveler’s Tales’ come from?
JB: A chapter heading in a book by Carl Sagan called Cosmos.
What would you classify as your biggest success in the gaming industry?
JB: Getting the exclusive rights to publish LEGO games.
Are there any notable canceled projects you’ve worked on?
JB: We were making a Justice League game for Midway (I think) which we got quite far with before it was cancelled.
Biggest regret from your time in the game industry?
JB: I don’t think I have any. Looking back on things that didn’t work out for us at the time, we got a better opportunity than if it had worked out. Haven was a failure for us so we didn’t get to make a sequel which was a big problem at the time, but that team made LEGO Star Wars instead…
Any particularly funny or notable stories of the gaming industry?
JB: I think I made David Jaffe cry in a Disney design meeting once – I’m pretty sure “God of War” was a direct result…
How did Traveler’s Tales manage to pick up the Sonic license?
JB: We made Mickey Mania on the Genesis and Kats Sato (who was a producer for Sega) saw it and loved it. He admitted to me he ‘stole’ ideas from it for Clockwork Knight, and he sought us out when they needed someone for a 16-bit Sonic.
How would you describe the game’s industry, back in the day and today?
JB: It can be much more sterile and corporate today, but the app store and indie scene have brought back of what used to make the games industry so great.
What drives you to keep doing what you’re doing?
JB: I just like being creative. Thinking up fun ideas and things people haven’t seen or done before drives me I guess…
What advice would you give to an up and coming game developer?
JB: If you can, stick singularly to your vision. If you do and it’s a success, you know how to make games people like. If you have to bend your vision to someone else’s will it becomes very difficult to make decisions, as it’s not your vision or ideas anymore.
Plans for the future?
JB: Enjoying You-Tubing at the moment. Fun to dig through old memories. I’ll direct films if I get the opportunity and I’m always trying to think of new ideas and ways to experience games, so watch this space…
(Yes, that’s how he actually ended it.)
Thanks to Jon Burton for his time in this review! I sure enjoyed chatting with him and getting an insight on how his studio works. Stay tuned for more here at NintenCity.