Wyvern Interactive Interview: Jonathan Wine and David Dollard (Pt.1)

The day we recorded this interview was the same day as a big Wyvern meeting where almost every single member of the team was present. I had been working with Jonathan and Morgan (Co-Founder) on social media marketing as well as a few other things, but outside of the meeting I sat in on months before this, back when I wasn’t even a member of the team yet, this was my first and…Well, needless to say, I was nervous. I had been doing a ton of work on the upcoming Wyvern website and I wanted to make sure I was fully prepared and actually had something to offer that was good. The last thing I wanted was to come to a meeting unprepared or just to find that I was irrelevant in the big picture. I like being useful and wanted to provide something for the team, especially after seeing how amazing all their work was.

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As I set up my laptop, camera, and everything I had with me that day, I saw that people were already hard at work with concept art, programming levels, and more for one of our upcoming projects. All of their work was incredible. I just wanted to feel like I was putting out enough work to at least somewhat match up. Eventually, I broke off to another room to record this interview, this being the first interview I ever conducted in my life. Before getting started diving into the questions, as we settled into our chairs, I went over the basics of how the interview was going to work. One thing that did set my mind at ease was that I was already friends with almost everyone on the team, so I knew that they were here to support one another, including me now that I was a part of the company. I just didn’t want to let them down.

NERISSA: So, the questions… Some of them are serious, some of them are fun. Don’t worry about “performing”, let’s just talk and have fun with it.

JONATHAN: And you’re editing these, right? So it’s not like if we go on a rant-

DAVID: Or if we stutter, you’re not going to type in eh-ah-eh-uh-ah.

JONATHAN: “David paused, and stared at his lap while answering this question.”

NERISSA: Just to mock you guys, I’m going to do that. (laughter) No, guys, if there’s something that isn’t relevant or just isn’t entertaining-

JONATHAN: If it isn’t entertaining?!

NERISSA: Yes, so be funny dangit! (All three of us laughed) Really, just have fun.

Once that was out of the way, and now that the laughter had helped me to shake off a bit of my first day jitters, we actually got started. With my camera poised and ready, rolling away, I looked at the first question on my laptop and started. 

NERISSA: First, let’s start with what your roles are in Wyvern Interactive?

JONATHAN: I’m Jonathan Wine, I am the Founder as well as the Creative Director. I technically have the title of CEO, but unless I’m in a really formal business setting, I don’t like to use that, because I’d rather be known as someone on the development floor and doing the stuff I’m passionate about, rather than being somebody who sits in an office and types up documents all day long.

DAVID: I’m one of the Co-Founders of Wyvern. I’m sometimes a producer, sometimes an art director. Normally, I handle the art team directly.

So that went well… It stunned me how modest they were. They didn’t announce their titles as a boast of their position, they just said it as a, “Here’s what I do and I’m happy to do it.

NERISSA: Jonathan, what inspired you to create Wyvern?

JONATHAN: (sigh) And we go into this long tale…

When we first started the interview, the three of us were all excited about it, but were still in our overall work mentalities. It was about at this point that we all seemed to, without realizing it, take a breath and just relax into being ourselves. It didn’t feel like a series of questions and answers, it just felt like we were around the table telling stories about our favorite things. It was great.

NERISSA: Haha, “It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away-”

JONATHAN: It WAS a long time ago. When I was a kid, I had a tendency to, at any sleepover, tell stories to my friends. What I always tried to do was say, “Okay, I’m going tell you one then you’ll tell me one,” and they’d go “Oh, okay,” and then I noticed that I would always be the one telling stories. Then I would be asked to do it again…and then I’d be asked to do it again. That’s when I realized that one of my main passions, career wise, was storytelling. I’m a big reader, I’m a big movie buff, big TV show watcher, so I thought I was gonna go through one of those mediums, but as I investigated each of those when I was a teenager, none of them really clicked for me because I always felt that they were either too distant or they weren’t … immersive, enough? I don’t know, I love reading, but there’s something about seeing something happen in front of you. And yet movies and TV can’t suck you in like a book can.

I got into videogame design because I love the idea of putting someone into a world. I love the idea of somebody living and breathing and experiencing stories. So I realized I wanted to do videogame design and then really quickly I realized I wanted to have my own company. I didn’t want to be making stories that I wasn’t really that passionate about. I knew I had to do that at some points in my life, but I really wanted the main focus to be that I, and eventually the people who would join my company, could look at a game and say, “this is ours. This is our baby.”

I didn’t think that was gonna hit for a while but when I went to Mason in their game design degree, I met a couple of people, who grew into a lot more people, who banded together and said, “Yeah… let’s just do this.” We’re small, we’re very consolidated right now, and Wyvern’s more of a secondary life than a career for any of us, but we’re all working toward it and hoping… knowing. We all know eventually this is going to happen. We’re going to do this.

DAVID: We use the term back-burner a lot. The flame’s always on but it’s hot when you need it to be and cool when it needs to be.

NERISSA: Now, you (Jonathan) said you were really into TV and you explored those other fields before coming to gaming, so you didn’t start with this. Did you (David) start in the gaming world or did you come to it later as well?

DAVID: I kind of came into it, to be honest. I was never really a huge gamer, but one thing I found is that I really like 3D modeling. I realized, through Mason, I could find a way to vicariously train my 3D modeling skills in the game design program. By freshman year, I bumped into Jonathan and we had this conversation about how there was this lack of drive and motivation to put out quality. People just wanted to play video games instead of actually putting in the effort to make what they had in their minds come true. That conversation made Jonathan and I become closer, become friends, then we realized we’re two people who have a lot of gumption and drive when it comes to making our visions a reality.

When he brought up the idea of Wyvern, I really liked his- I don’t like to say criteria- but it was almost like a pass. Some things we had to have to get in – everyone has to have a passion, a drive, more than anything. Because you can have a passion for something, but if you don’t have the drive to make it happen, it’s not going to happen. So far, what I’ve seen with Wyvern and how it’s grown, the people we’ve picked have this tenacity, this passion AND drive to make it happen. We also love the idea of relying on one another.

At this point Jonathan murmered a small ‘yeah’ with a sigh of delight. Almost every time that the Wyvern Family or the passion of the team was brought up, I could see this light igniting behind their eyes. There’s no way to fake caring like that. I don’t think it’s ever been more apparent to me that they truly love this company.

DAVID: We’re not just coworkers. We’re not just people who are working together to make a game. We’re friends first and foremost. Sometimes that gets lost along the pipeline when we get into heavy duty development time, but we try our best to make efforts to keep that solidarity within what we call the “Wyvern Family”. And I can really get behind that because I like working with people I like, and if you don’t like the people you’re working with, things aren’t gonna go well.

JONATHAN: Which bleeds into our actual business model to a point, because one of the main things we’ve always said is that you could be the most talented- whatever you are in your field- but if you don’t click well with the team, we don’t really want you. I think part of the reason we do so well is because we ARE so close. We can push each other, we can have honest conversations with each other. I can’t tell you how many times-so technically I’m higher than David and he’s higher than his art team, but there have been so many times where people who are technically in the hierarchy the “lower” ranks will come up and give an idea and we’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s awesome.” It doesn’t have to go through a channel, it doesn’t have to go through, “We need to write this down”. So while the titles are there, the bond is what solidifies everything more than anything else.

DAVID: The titles, they’re only names, honestly. They’re just for organization, mostly. We all command the same kind of respect. We’re all working at the same plane here. We’re all at the same level of experience in our main fields. Some are better at certain things, some are not as good as others are in particular fields. But we’re all gonna help each other out. There is no “I’m above you, you have to listen to me” attitude.

JONATHAN: There’s a difference, I feel, between a leader and a boss, and that’s something we really try to maintain. We do have leaders in Wyvern. You have to have that in any organization. But I always think of that model that says, “A boss is standing on the chariot and pointing where he wants to go, a leader is helping the others pull the chariot to get there.”

A mental image popped in my head as he said it of all of us in Grecian garb pulling a chariot with some horrible company exec. on top, waiting for the right moment to topple it, and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t really entertaining. But I loved that phrase and it rang 100% true. The Wyvern team leads weren’t the types to just sit and bark orders.

NERISSA: All right, let’s see…Wow, there were actually three questions I had written down that you guys knocked out in one go

Jonathan let out a triumphant “YEAH” like one you would expect to hear if a quarterback scored a touchdown. David stayed sitting, laughing and shaking his head.

NERISSA: Let’s see, how many did we knock out? “How long have you two been working together,” Yep, you guys said since Freshman year-

When I said this, Jonathan interrupted, talking a bit to himself as he tried to figure out exactly how much time had passed.

JONATHAN: Two years?

DAVID: Three years.

JONATHAN: Three years?!

DAVID: Almost four now.

JONATHAN: Holy cow…. Four years….

DAVID: It was around this time Freshman year, actually. Yeah, so four years.

JONATHAN: That’s crazy.

You should have seen them. They both had to take a moment to really let this sink in. To give you some context since you weren’t in the room, these two are so close that they’re practically blood at this point. The look on their faces when they realized just how much time had passed since that first meeting showed off just how crazy it was that to them that time had flown so fast and how close they had become in that time.

NERISSA: Next: When it comes to writing and art specifically, how do you two collaborate?

At this point, Jonathan just about leapt off of the table he was sitting on, he got so excited, clapping his hands together in uproarious laughter.

JONATHAN: OH, THIS IS A GREAT STORY! But I’m gonna let him tell it. You tell it.

He looked like a kid who had just seen Santa in a mall for the first time. It was hysterical. He almost leapt off of the table where he was sitting and his reaction was so loud and abrupt that David let out a belt of a laugh as he jumped, partly from surprise and partly just finding Jonathan’s gesture amusing. I couldn’t help but laugh along and it took me a second to regain my composure.

DAVID: Back when Jonathan and I were first becoming friends, and he was still kind of subconsciously testing me out, seeing where I was, not just as a friend, but as a possible coworker-

JONATHAN: I’m always testing him out as a friend.

So much for regaining composure. All of us couldn’t help but laugh at that one.

DAVID: He brings me over to his dorm one day and we’re all just kind of sitting around, talking, you know, and one of his friends asks, “Does he know about your story?” So we started talking about this story that Jonathan’s been working on for a while now-

JONATHAN: This story is my baby, just to clarify. This is my first born child. It means everything to me. This is why Wyvern exists, is this story. So the measure of value to how impressive this is, what he’s about to tell you…

DAVID: Jonathan starts describing some of the characters to me, going into more detail about one of them. After about ten minutes of giving me tidbits about this story and about three minutes of describing this one character, he says, “Do you have a drawing pad with you?” “Always.” “Okay, draw him.” So they’re playing Tekken in his dorm and I’m sitting there for probably the next twenty minutes doing a rough sketch of this character…

JONATHAN: This kid was huddled up, quiet as a mouse. To the point I had one of my friends lean over and ask, “Is he okay?”

DAVID: Just imagine me in a corner like that with a drawing pad. I finished working on it and I said, “Hey, is this what you were looking for?” Jonathan’s face lights up and he FREAKS out.

JONATHAN: It’s going to be years before I can get in front of people and say, “This story is happening,” because I know for a fact that David and our other Co-Founder who’s not here today because she’s sick, Morgan- they all know that this is so important to me. It was really funny, he was telling me when Brianna and I got married, one of the wedding presents he actually wanted to give me was a 3D model of my favorite character in this story and he came up to me later and said, “I couldn’t do it.”

DAVID: I couldn’t do it justice. I wanted to do it but I am NOT at the point where I’ll be proud enough to say, “Yes, this is it.”

JONATHAN: But that night he drew that character… I will always go back to that night when he did that, because it took what was a dream for me and showed me that it was physically possible. This is something that is going to be a long way away but…For me describing a character for ten minutes and for this kid to lock on in an instant and say, “Yeah, I got this,” … I didn’t know what to expect. But here it was, this character that had been in my head for almost a decade staring right back at me…I was floored. David and I will make this joke that it’s so unfair to the rest of the other artists because I don’t have to ever really go into details what I’m looking for with him. I can say three words and he’ll know, and give me EXACTLY what I’m thinking. The connection is there. And nights like David drawing in the corner… those connections. That’s why we’re here. That’s why there’s a Wyvern. That’s the family.

-Jonathan Wine, David Dollard, and Nerissa Hart

Written by Nerissa Hart

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