The opposite of a success story.
There's no politics."
Norb Timpko was writing a developer diary for Tacticular Cancer, a popular wargaming site, sharing the secrets behind his version of the quintessential indie success story. He and his partner, Adam Bryant, had started their own company, Mad Minute Games, and created two of the best war games since Sid Meier's Gettysburg. They were just two close friends chasing their shared dream. They'd made something great, and more was on the way. That was their secret: no politics. Timpko was sure of it.
"I worked nine years for non-game companies and worked in a game company office for three years, there is always politics. We have none of that. Everything is up front and worked out right away. It has to be,” he continued in the diary. “We have both given up a major part of our lives to make this thing succeed and are undeniably loyal to the product. It's like being in a dysfunctional marriage, but divorce is not an option."
It never is, at the start of a marriage — certainly not in its best moments. Timpko and Bryant were convinced their passion and dedication could always smooth over their differences as they built their Take Command series side-by-side. But just two years later, Timpko and Bryant weren't speaking to each other. They were talking to lawyers instead, preparing to fight for the company assets they'd created together. Their supporters within the wargaming community were waging a proxy war on behalf of the two former partners. Not only were Timpko and Bryant divorcing, but they'd turned their kids against one another, too, in a scorched-earth campaign.
The wargaming community is a small one, and the lines between developers and fans are thin and blurry. Mad Minute's games were built, in part, by community members. Timpko and Bryant didn't just sell war games to a niche audience, they sold themselves to that audience — the idea that two friends could come together and reinvigorate a genre. When their split become public, the same people who had cheered them on wanted to know who to blame for killing that fairy tale.
As Mad Minute Games died its very public death, the only clear, incontrovertible fact was that Timpko and Bryant had never been happy.
Former community members lined up to pick sides while the two partners spoke to everyone but each other, each brandishing increasingly ugly details. Bryant was sick, possibly dying of cancer, and Timpko had effectively stolen his company out from under him, taking the engine and design and forming a new company to carry on Mad Minute's work. Bryant was too sick and too decent to fight Timpko's treachery. Timpko and his defenders, meanwhile, argued that was a warped view of events and that Bryant had barely contributed to the games at all. He was difficult and unreliable, and he'd left Timpko with no option but a total split.
As Mad Minute Games died its very public death, the only clear, incontrovertible fact was that Timpko and Bryant had never been happy. Their partnership was a sham marriage, the dysfunction hidden from view by stories of an odd-couple partnership and a shared dream.
They never made any public statements about what happened, even after their fans had drowned each other in buckets of vitriol. Timpko moved on with his new company, dogged by the accusation that he'd cheated his partner when the man was at his lowest ebb. Bryant, meanwhile, dropped from public view and became a designer without a company, hoping for one more chance at the indie dream.
They weren't undone by the pressure and stress of independent development, or by the frustration of commercial failure. They simply didn't like each other any more. While they'd succeeded in developing a great game, they were never a team.
When they first started working together, they believed they could be.
Bryant and Timpko met at Maryland-based BreakAway Games around 2000-2001. BreakAway was working on Waterloo, the final game based on Sid Meier's Gettysburg, and Bryant had traveled across the country to work there as a pixel artist, a dying discipline at a time when more and more games were making the switch to 3D graphics. But the Gettysburg engine was an old one, and BreakAway's Napoleonic adaptation was a dream job for a history buff like Bryant: He spent his time handcrafting the myriad different regimental uniforms and flags that made the Napoleonic Wars such a unique confluence of pageantry and mass murder.
Timpko was a programmer on the project, stuffed into a crummy, closet-sized office. BreakAway was his first professional game development job, although he'd created a well-regarded Quake mod called King of the Server. He worked on a few minor interface systems while he learned about game development.
They were complementary personalities. Bryant was a charmer: Tall and strong, he still looked every bit like the college quarterback he used to be, despite having fought recurrences of the stage IV cancer he'd been diagnosed with at age 24. He was the stereotypical Californian: laid-back and philosophical about life in a surfer-stoner kind of way, allergic to bad vibes and negativity. Yet Bryant was also a serious war game and history buff, the kind of guy who'd happily spend months painting regimental flag and uniforms for every unit that fought at the Battle of Bull Run, who would visit the battlefields and dream about what it must have been like.
Timpko was a lifelong nerd, driven and focused. He finished high school at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas, then attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis where he joined the football team as a defensive back. But even at the Academy, he admits he felt himself pulled in another direction. He maxed out the first credit card he ever got buying a new computer to run Windows 3.1, and it became his obsession when he wasn't busy with classes or football practice.
Football and stubbornness took him out of the Navy. During one practice he saw a monstrous offensive lineman charging toward him and, since he knew the coaches were watching, threw himself at the larger man. He laughs about it now, remembering that, even as he committed to the block, he knew it was a terrible idea. The ensuing collision blasted a gap into Timpko's vertebrae that bewildered the team doctors he visited upon actually leaving practice, two plays later. He never fully recovered, and so he and his Windows machine left the Academy.
Now he and Bryant found themselves at BreakAway, and the charismatic quarterback slowly won over the studious ex-Midshipman.
Bryant was looking at the wargaming landscape and thought he saw an opening. He'd been pitching it around BreakAway for months before Timpko got there, but Timpko was the first person to give him a serious hearing.
Timpko remembers Bryant telling him, "There's a huge market out there for war games. Because Sid [Meier] wrote Gettysburg, but there wasn't really any follow-up. And I think it's a market we could hit, because there's not enough income for the big boys to enter it. So it's a market that maybe a small group can work at."
They were complementary personalities: Bryant was a charmer. Timpko was a lifelong nerd.
It made sense to Timpko, who had already been playing around with a cheap 3D rendering software called Power Render, which he'd purchased for $300. They started working on Bryant's idea during their off-hours.
They'd talk on the phone after dinner and work separately late into the night, long after their wives and kids had gone to bed. Sometimes Bryant would come over to Timpko's place and work alongside him, bringing his own PC over for longer sessions when they had a weekend to spend on the project. He'd describe the game he had in mind, while Timpko would listen and slowly craft the program that would bring Bryant’s ideas to life.
They had a left-brain/right-brain partnership. Timpko was the programmer, the details-obsessed professional who didn't know a thing about game design or history, but could wring magic from a cheap engine and could translate his partner's wishes into code. Bryant had big ideas for how he could change the war game genre and create a line of games covering the entire Civil War. Each had something the other needed, and for all their differences, their collaboration made for a better game.
Chain of Command
What fascinated Bryant was the hierarchy of an army and the chain of command. Most war games portrayed armies as relatively flat structures: the player gave order to all the units on the field, and they obeyed. While they might make a show of having other commanders on the field, these characters were scarcely more than stat modifiers for nearby units, or shortcuts for moving larger groups of soldiers across the field with the click of a button.
Bryant wanted a game that captured the complexity and interdependence of an army, and which could locate the player not at the top of the pyramid, but at any point within it. In one scenario, players might have nothing but command of a handful of regiments, and in another they might be corps commanders responsible for two or three divisions, a dozen brigades and sixty regiments and gun batteries. Meanwhile, AI superiors would issue orders, peers would act on their own initiative and subordinates might misinterpret or screw up orders.
It was a tall order, and Timpko and Bryant were constantly at odds over the gap between Bryant's vision and what Timpko felt was possible.
"He fought so much of my design," Bryant explains. "He doesn't understand war games, he didn't understand a lot of things. A lot of things I wanted implemented didn't make it in, and I was just going for whatever I could get in. Just to see if I could get some of it."
That divergence, between the game Bryant wanted to make and the game that Timpko could build, was the first major source of tension. Because Bryant was not a programmer, the job of scoping the project often fell to Timpko.
"Frank Lloyd Wright didn't build one of his houses. He had a builder."
"Adam had a lot of very high-level ideas of how things should work," he says. "So trying to figure out which of his high-level ideas I can take in, and break down into something I can use to code. So it's kind of like that. He was very high-level. And I had to bring that down and turn it into something that would actually work in the game."
Bryant puts it another way: "Frank Lloyd Wright didn't build one of his houses. He had a builder.And that's what happened [with us]."
The Frank Lloyd Wright analogy is Bryant's favorite construction of his development relationship with Timpko. The architect and builder. Two halves of a whole.
But of course it was more complicated than that. In addition to the work he did creating the source code from Bryant's instructions and feedback, Timpko was frustrated by how much other work fell on his shoulders.
"Nothing got done unless I did it," Timpko says. "I had to do all those things. I kept emailing him, sending him all the information, trying to get him to step up, but he never would. We had deadlines with publishers; if I wanted 'em done, I had to do everything."
While Bryant named their company, Mad Minute Games, after a British Army rifle drill, it fell to Timpko to fill out the paperwork to incorporate in Pennsylvania. As they brought testers and volunteers aboard the project, Timpko took charge of their contributions. While the pair had originally agreed to have Timpko handling the technical aspects of the game while Bryant managed content generation and production, Timpko steadily found himself taking on more responsibilities.
Bryant, meanwhile, was frustrated with the directions in which Timpko took their game. For instance, Bryant had originally wanted a completely randomly generated war game.
"Nothing got done unless I did it."
"For me it was all about free play and open sandbox, and Norb was all about missions," he says. "That was one of the hugest arguments that we never got over. I wanted everything — every time you booted the game up — to be completely dynamic. To never know what's going on. So the player would always have to think on his feet."
Timpko didn't think that was wise or feasible. "I'm pushing for the whole scenario thing," he says. "Because Adam wasn't into scenarios at all. So I had to feed that on my own. So I'm coming up with a command language so scenarios can be scripted, and I'm working with the test team on that. That's something I thought was important. We were making a historical game; people are going to want to fight historical battles. And to do that we're going to need some kind of scenario language."
Timpko won the argument when testers began to complain about the game in advance of Mad Minute’s submission to the Independent Games Festival in 2004. Until that point, Timpko and Bryant had a prototype where the AI controlled both the Union and Confederate armies and basically played against itself. While the player could step in and issue orders to specific units, the AI could immediately override them, and often did. The testers were starting to lose their minds.
They came to Timpko and Bryant and said, "Look, we need a way to control guys. We can't stand this game: The AI keeps taking over."
Timpko and Bryant came up with a solution that let players override the AI, while preserving their design's emphasis on AI autonomy: the Take Command button. Players could select a unit and toggle the button, putting it either under direct player control or returning it to the AI.
It was a key addition for a couple reasons. For one, it helped give their game its identity: "We're calling the game Take Command, so why not call the button Take Command?" Timpko recalls. But more importantly, it also created a game mechanic out of a fail-safe for the AI, and gave players a way to influence the action without destroying the AI's important driving role.
With those mechanics in place, Timpko went about creating a language for scenario scripting, and built the first scenario that would be used in their IGF submission. It wasn't Bryant's sandbox, but a compromise between his original vision, the technical limits Timpko was up against, the subsequent decisions he made about implementation and the feedback they received from their testers.
Their submission was a big success. They didn't win, but were listed as finalists. Still, the first real cracks in their partnership had opened up. Even as they walked over to the IGF one morning, for what should have been a great, encouraging day, Timpko was telling Bryant that things had to change.
"I remember we're walking into the IGF," Timpko says. "I remember this specifically, I was already having problems with him. We're walking to the IGF and I told him right then and there, 'Adam, if you don't change your tune, I will leave you. I'm telling you.' And I stuck with him for five more years trying to get him to step up to the plate."
At IGF, the two partners met representatives from Activision Value, Activision's budget brand.
Value wanted to release games under its History Channel license, and a Civil War-themed indie game seemed like a good match for the brand. Here again, Timpko and Bryant clashed.
From day one, Bryant had argued that their company could give them complete independence if they self-published. They might sell fewer copies of self-published games, he acknowledged, but they would keep so much more of the revenue that they would be better off. Timpko disagreed, at least for the first game, and argued that Activision Value could give their game prominence it would never find any other way. More decisively, they’d also had a falling-out with their original artist and partner, Russell Vaccaro, and another artist had agreed to work on their game on the basis of a deferred payment. They owed him several thousand dollars for his work, and the Activision partnership would let them pay him right away. There was no such guarantee with self-publishing.
Timpko won the argument, and the two took a large payment from Activision in exchange for publishing rights. At first it seemed like the right decision. Shortly after Activision published The History Channel Civil War: Bull Run, Timpko and Bryant went to Target and headed to the PC games section.
"We went out and we saw the game on store shelves," Timpko says. "And that was frickin’ awesome, because we had written it in our basement, and I'm walking into Wal-Mart and Target, and there that thing is! Sitting on the shelf! That was so cool. Because we'd worked so hard ... To see something you'd worked so hard on sitting on the shelf, it was a great thing."
"I told him right then and there, 'Adam, if you don't change your tune, I will leave you. I'm telling you.' And I stuck with him for five more years."
Unfortunately, Civil War: Bull Run was a poor match for the budget software section. It was a serious war game with dated graphics, so it was both intimidating and unappealing to the casual, impulse-purchasing big box store consumers. To stay in retail, Civil War: Bull Run needed to move a certain number of copies per week and, after only a few weeks, it was clear that it would never hit that goal.
"There was no digital download at this point, or none offered," Timpko says. "When we started not hitting the numbers it was taken off store shelves. And all of a sudden that thing we'd worked on for five years was gone. The deal we had made didn't have any contingencies for that. So our five year baby was dead."
Civil War: Bull Run remains missing in action. The deal Mad Minute struck with Activision never had a sunset, and as a result they had given away the rights to their game forever. According to Timpko, it is slowly becoming a collector’s item among their fans, because, with the exception of those copies that Activision pressed in 2005, it’s effectively gone.
Timpko never made another deal like that again, making sure their next contract, with Paradox Interactive, included a date by which the rights would revert to Mad Minute. Once again, though, he and Bryant skirmished over what direction the company should go next. Timpko wanted to turn around the next game very quickly. They had the design, the engine and a ton of assets from the first game. He felt, and their testers and scenario designers agreed, that they could make an even better second game, packed with new scenarios. In fact, thanks to the Army of the Potomac’s complete lack of progress from 1861-1862, they could even use the same battlefield. Civil War: Bull Run could easily become Take Command: 2nd Manassas.
Bryant, however, was eager to move on and make a game that accorded more with his original ambitions. He wanted to make Take Command: Shiloh, and hopefully lay the groundwork for the more dynamic, sandbox-style game he’d always intended. So he decided to focus on that while the rest of the team made 2nd Manassas. It was an unsatisfying compromise for Timpko, since it left him with the lion’s share of production responsibilities for the second game, and put content generation on the shoulders of a still-uncompensated team of volunteer scenario designers.
Even though the disparity between the partners’ respective wishes was growing, to all outward appearances, Mad Minute Games was doing just fine. In fact, with Take Command: 2nd Manassas, they seemed to be doing better than ever.
The Chaos of Battle
"Have you ever seen the diorama at Gettysburg?" Bryant asks me. "It's chaos. You look at it, and it's just a mosh pit covered in smoke and dust. That's war. And that's what we wanted to get across. ... You're not just at the top of the pyramid. You've got people above and below you."
What Bryant, Timpko and their scenario designers did was nothing short of a revolution in wargaming. Unlike most war games, where players usually have godlike control over their armies and nothing to worry about except taking their objectives, Take Command captures the chaos of battle.
This chaos allows Take Command some fascinating opportunities to use your expectations against you. You might be told to storm a nearby ridge, but if you continue to attack when your fellow commanders on either side begin to retreat, you could be leading your soldiers to slaughter and opening the door to a counterattack. On the other hand, if you give up too readily, you might be discarding a chance for victory. Since you can't control what your allies do, you have to be the best commander you can be in the midst of confusion and contradiction.
No other war game at the time created such realistic, confusing dilemmas, and Take Command: 2nd Manassas used clever scenario design and scripting to keep players as paranoid and harried as any Union general who ever took the field against Robert E. Lee. If this was Mad Minute's second game, wargamers could not wait to see the third and fourth.
Despite Take Command: 2nd Manassas' warm reception from critics and players, it was shattering Mad Minute Games. Bryant had relatively little to do with Take Command: 2nd Manassas. He did not write the scenarios, nor the language or tools that created them. While his big idea is certainly one of the major reasons TC:2M is so special, it’s also undeniable that the dozens of expertly crafted scenarios show it off to good effect. Most of them have several different scripted openings that make them fairly unpredictable.
Still, it is animated by his original ideas, and even includes the sandbox mode he wanted to be the focus, although he admits it’s fairly rudimentary. It also features a lot of his artwork: flags, uniforms and lots of painstakingly created terrain.
Whatever the cause, their relationship was quickly becoming impossible to sustain.
None of that mattered to Timpko, who felt burned by Bryant's absence from the project. He’d expected Bryant to do more project management. Instead, Bryant had occupied himself with art, and puttering around with Shiloh, a game that could not really go into development until Timpko and the rest of the team were ready to move over to it. The feeling from many of the scenario designers, and from Timpko himself, was that Bryant had basically absented himself from the development of Mad Minute’s second game.
"When he wouldn't write that first scenario for IGF, he was breaking our agreement," Timpko says. "That really irked me. But then in Civil War: Bull Run, he stepped up and wrote the scenarios. So I thought things were going better.... TC:2M is where it went down the toilet. He refused to do any of the stuff [we'd agreed on]."
Bryant points out that Timpko complained a lot about how much of the work he was doing, but rejected any suggestion that they bring in another programmer to lighten the load. Timpko, by his own admission, never gives up control of his code. Bryant has always suspected that Timpko brought in people to water down his role in the development, retained a monopoly on the coding work and later leveraged that imbalance to make his case for his split with Bryant.
Whatever the cause, their relationship was quickly becoming impossible to sustain.
"We were arguing constantly on the phone," Timpko says. "We didn't want it in the public eye, so we'd never publicly speak about the problems. We kept it between ourselves."
The Summer of Discontent
In the summer of 2007, Timpko called Bryant and told him that working with him was too hard. Bryant was surprised, but thought he could still appease his partner.
"I said ‘look, whatever, I'll pay you 60-40,’" he recalls. "And he says, ‘No, I want 60-40 of the company.’ And that I would not do. Because that gave him control of the company and [its] direction."
"I didn't want more of the revenue. I wanted a partner who did his job," Timpko remembers.
They discussed adding another co-owner to Mad Minute Games, one of their lead scenario designers who had taken on more responsibility with Take Command: 2nd Manassas. "But we couldn't agree on how that worked," Timpko says. "I felt that it was Adam’s duties that the person was going to take over, so I felt that a larger percentage should come out of his share. He didn't agree with that, so we couldn't settle on the way that worked."
"We were very upset with each other, so it went into limbo," Timpko says. "He wanted everything shut down. I didn't. I wanted to move forward still. We both started doing research to legally figure out where we stood on different things. I remember looking all over the place to find software laws to see what I'd done right, and what I hadn't done right. We were looking to see what our legal responsibilities were to the company."
Bryant was in no shape for a fight. His cancer had returned.
"All of this time, I have a tumor growing in my throat," Bryant explains. "So I'm not in the best of health, and in the spring we stopped talking and I moved out to California, and that’s when I had more issues. I had surgeries; they removed most of my tongue and throat, and chemo. And they told me bad things were going to happen. And meanwhile, Norb is telling me he's got the code and he's moving on."
As Bryant headed back to California and more cancer treatments, Timpko and the team worked on the final patch for Take Command: 2nd Manassas. Timpko says he kept Bryant copied on all the team emails regarding the patch, but never heard anything from him.
After the patch, however, a tester called Bryant’s attention to the credits page, which included a new line: "The War3D Engine is licensed from Norb Software Development, Inc." It was the first anyone had ever heard of Norb Software Development, Inc, or a license to use the engine that Timpko had developed as part of Mad Minute.
Then a community member noticed a thread at the IGDA forums where Timpko was soliciting advice about the legal status of his code before the split became known publicly. To the community, it looked as if he had been planning a sneak attack against his partner for months. Timpko was furious and locked down the Mad Minute forums, at which point community members brought the argument over to The Wargamer. It was the forum equivalent of a barroom argument turning into a street brawl.
Bryant thought he had a strong legal case against his former partner.
The ensuing thread meltdown irrevocably poisoned Timpko’s relationship with many in the wargaming community, and would cast a long shadow over his later attempts to launch his own series of games. Mad Minute volunteers poured into the thread to condemn or support Timpko, while Wargamer regulars offered harassment and judgment from the sidelines. For many, the story began and ended with Bryant's cancer and Timpko's seizure of the code.
Then things took a turn for the bizarre as a newly created forum account, "Coder," appeared to defend Timpko. Coder wrote: "Although I'm not a personal friend, I have exchanged emails with Norb, he's been very helpful with programming questions on the game I've been working on. … I am a programming consultant and no matter what you feel is right, Norb is in his right."
For good measure, he added, "If Norb is the only one that worked on the code, then it's his by copyright law. Saying someone else owns it is like saying Joe Schmo has rights to the Sistine Chapel because he told his buddy Leonardo that it would be a good idea to paint the ceiling of a church with some scenes from the Bible."
Then another response from Coder appeared … except it was first posted from Timpko’s forum account. The reply was deleted before Coder posted under his own name, but the cat was out the bag: Timpko had used an alias to blast Bryant publicly without appearing to break the partners' public silence. Although he denied it at the time, Timpko now admits that he was Coder ... for the most part. He insists someone else also used that account to defend him, but refuses to say who it was.
Far from defending Timpko’s reputation, the Coder persona had torpedoed it. While a number of respected Mad Minute regulars had let it be known that they felt both Bryant and Timpko had legitimate grievances, and that the situation was more unfortunate than anything, Timpko’s use of the Coder alias seemed to confirm everyone’s darkest suspicions. Coder’s tone revealed a shocking degree of contempt for Bryant, and also made an argument on behalf of Timpko that amounted to "might makes right."
He wasn’t wrong, though — Timpko walked away with the code and began developing Scourge of War: Gettysburg with his new company, NorbSoftDev, and a number of former Mad Minute team members. Bryant thought he had a strong legal case against his former partner, but he lacked the money to pursue it. His attorney said the case would cost $20,000 in court fees, and Bryant and his family were already wiped out from his medical bills. "The truth is," he says now, "you don't get justice unless you can pay for it. And I didn't have the money to pay for it. And so he wins, in the end."
No Win Scenario
Timpko has never felt like he won. "I didn't want this to happen. I didn't want this at all. I knew I was going to look like the bad guy. I knew he had [cancer], and no matter what happened, I was going to come out looking like the devil."
Timpko is aware of how he sounds. In our interviews, he gets uncomfortable when the subject of Bryant's cancer comes up. He sounds frustrated by it, and eventually I ask if he thought Bryant used his recurrent cancer as a guilt-trip.
"How is this ever going to sound nice?" he mutters. "You don't know the guy for very long without him telling you. Everyone at BreakAway knew it when we were there. When I knew him he was bench-pressing 400 pounds, he was riding a bike every day, he was in unbelievable shape. You didn't think about it when you saw him.... You just don't think of him as being someone going through that. When I think of cancer I think of someone like my uncle. He died in two months. That's what I think of. And Adam's been hanging on for over 25 years. So yeah, I didn't really think about it. I didn't think about it when I joined up with him. I didn't think about it when I left him."
"I didn't want this to happen. I didn't want this at all."
Timpko's bitterness is understandable: To an extent, he discovered there is no winning a fight with a cancer patient, no matter the prognosis or the bad blood between you. On the other hand, it's not like the pity of compassion Bryant receives is any compensation for what over twenty years of recurrent cancer has done to his life.
"I was stage IV cancer when I was 22 years old," Bryant explains. "They irradiated me. I keep getting cancer every five to seven years. And so it's kind of tough and it's kind of hard. It's gone right now, but I'm overdue. Going back to do my checkups. Losing jobs, having four kids ... I've had cancer five times, dude. With every one of those comes surgery. That's kind of why I talk funny. I hope you can understand me. They removed a good portion of my tongue and a lot of the floor of my mouth and some of my throat, radiated me, chemoed me into oblivion. I'm here. And my only goal is to find another programmer, and make this before I go. So I can give my wife and my kids something."
Bryant, however, was not blameless in how Mad Minute ended. After Timpko called to say he wanted out of the company, he tried repeatedly to settle with Bryant. Bryant refused to come to an agreement and avoided making a deal because he thought that, legally, Timpko would have no choice but to share their source code as part of the dissolution of the company. "I just didn't agree to giving way — because I thought that was the only way that I could get half the code when this all ended. I was like, 'There's no way I can lose. I'll get a lawyer and we'll come to some easy agreement.' And I was horribly wrong. I got nothing."
Finally Timpko decided to force Bryant back to the bargaining table. He locked up their royalty fund and refused to pay out any more money from royalties until they'd divided the company's assets. Since Bryant couldn't afford the court fees for the case, with medical bills mounting, he was forced to come to terms with his partner.
According to Timpko, they eventually settled their differences and split the company’s assets using a draft system. Bryant could go first and take an asset of his choosing, or he could go second and take two. The source code, however, was off the table. Bryant elected to go first.
"I got the rights to sell TC:2M," Timpko says. "He decided not to have them. They were offered to him, he didn't take it. He wanted the Take Command trademark."
Bryant’s account squares with this. "I got a small amount of royalties that were owed to me, and I got the trademark for Take Command, which is what I fought for. I got the TC trademark, and that's all I got."
Timpko doesn't regret the tactics he used. "My conscience is clear. I offered him so many paths. Always trying to give him something. I said ‘I will give you the engine. I'll only do European battles, you can continue doing the Civil War.’ You know why he wouldn't take the deal? Because it would have required us to settle, but he was still holding out hope he'd get the code. I was offering him the final product. Not the code, but the tools he'd used to make the game. I left that offer on the table, he wouldn't take it. I offered him TC:2M, it was still making money, he wouldn't take it."
Bryant's feelings toward Timpko and their shared history veer through bitterness, pride and magnanimity. He is adamant that Timpko stole his game design and company, and that he would have won his court case against Timpko if he had only had the money to fight it. He is just as adamant that Norb made his dream come true, and deserves a ton of credit for what they achieved with Take Command.
"I couldn't have made the game without Norb," Bryant admits. "To his credit, he worked hard as hell, as hard as I did, and we did it. Shoulder to shoulder. We went into battle. And we decided to make it. And it was the greatest experience ever. Even though it ended badly, I wouldn't take it back. Because now I know the power that I have. I can do this again. All I need is someone I can look in the eye and shake hands with, and rock on and go."
It's a stunning statement, given that the entire history of Mad Minute Games and the Take Command series is a cautionary tale about doing business on nothing more than a handshake and a shared goal. Bryant doesn't see the contradictions, though. The same qualities that exasperated Timpko also make it hard for him to nurse a grudge, or to dwell on his disappointments.
Bryant just wants to make another game — the Take Command game he was never able to make alongside Timpko. He wants the sandbox warfare they couldn't create almost a decade ago and an RPG-style campaign progression. But perhaps more than that, he wants to work on one other project: cancer software that walks patients through their disease, and helps users to talk about it with their friends and family.
"Those are the two loves of my life that I want to go out trying to build. And my health is good enough that I can do it. If I can find somebody who wants to play ball."
Shadows of the Past
Four years have passed since Mad Minute Games dissolved. Timpko continues to make Civil War games, and recently partnered with war game publisher Matrix Games/Slitherine Ltd. to market and distribute them. He sells Take Command: 2nd Manassas through his company, while Matrix offers Gettysburg, Antietam and Chancellorsville. It is the sort of lineup Mad Minute's fans used to dream about.
Still, neither man has realized the ambitions he had when they first started working together. Timpko is still doing game development on the side, rather than working full-time on his own company and games. Bryant is nearly broke, hoping for one more chance to make a war game.
Timpko argues now, as he did then, that Bryant overplayed his hand. He was the designer and co-founder of the company, but could not match his partner's technical acumen and was ill suited to playing the role of manager. He left too much of the company's administration in Timpko's hands, which meant that when Timpko finally decided to call it a day, he was basically able to excise Bryant from the company. "He was so uninvolved in the game development anyway that he completely, through his own free will, made himself completely unnecessary," Timpko says.
Timpko named his new series Scourge of War, after a line from Lincoln's second inaugural address: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away."
Wars never really do, though. The aftermath lingers long after the fighting stops. As intractable as Bryant may have been, the fact remains that he was by Timpko’s side to create Mad Minute Games and the Take Command series. They wrote the code together, as Bryant's intentions were translated through Timpko. Both the Take Command series and Scourge of War originate with their collaboration. They ended their war. They settled nothing.