Howdy folks, I’m Kevin Lambert, Design Director for Microsoft Casual Games and one of the original members of the team. I feel obligated to say “Howdy” because I was born and raised in Texas.
I’ve known I wanted to make games since I was a kid. When I was in 3rd grade, I remember sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office with a bunch of other kids. I noticed we all seemed equally bored, so I crumpled up a piece of paper and said to the kids next to me, “Here, take this. If you can bounce it off the wall and land it in that plant pot in the corner, you get 100 points. Double points if you hit two walls before it goes in.” That’s just how my brain naturally worked. I see a game in almost everything!
I laid eyes on my first video game on an elementary school field trip to a roller skating rink. While all the kids were going around and around on their skates, I sat in the arcade the entire time and watched people play pinball and Space Invaders. It was at this moment I totally knew what I wanted to do with my life.
It’s really a shame they didn’t have video game specialty schools like DigiPen when I was growing up. Instead, I bought book after book on how to make video games that I read in my spare time. I was also fascinated by computers and technology so a computer science degree made a lot of sense, which I received from the University of Texas.
My first game industry job was at Monolith as a programmer. I contributed both game design and code to some of their early titles and I even got to lead the design and programming effort on Gruntz and Tron 2.0.
After five years, an opportunity came up for me to work as the design lead for Dungeon Siege 2. I had always been a huge fan of action RPGs (The Secret of Mana being my all-time favorite), and Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games is an amazingly creative individual that I was thrilled to work with, not to mention he’s a completely hilarious guy. The original Dungeon Siege was awesome, and I was excited because this would be my first 100% design job with no programming (although I did manage to sneak in a lot of script code for the DS2 journal).
Once I got a taste of full-time design, I never looked back. I decided to join a group of friends and start a company called Secret Lair Studios which was eventually purchased by Vivendi and branded Sierra Online (yes, the same company that made all those great point-and-click adventure games back in the 80’s, but this was a rebirth of that studio which had gone dark for several years).
All the while I was working at these companies on different types of games, I had some friends who started up a small casual games studio. They said, “Casual games are great, they’re games for women and people who don’t really consider themselves gamers!”
Ultimately I had to experience this crazy “casual games” phenomenon first-hand, so I took a lead designer role at Big Fish Games where I finally got to see inside the minds of this fascinating audience while working on what eventually became Drawn: The Painted Tower. And my friends were right! Casual games were AWESOME! Not only were these players totally different than any group I had experienced in the past, but all the little polish items like win-animations and coins that fly to the score-bar were no longer “low priority features that we can consider if we have extra time”, they were the bread and butter of these games! Of COURSE the coins fly to the score bar, what else would they do?!
I still remember my pre-screen interview at Microsoft back in early 2011, back before Windows 8 was even talked about. It went something like this: “Hey Kevin, how would you like to work on the classic casual games that come with Windows like Solitaire, Mahjong, and Minesweeper? We want to try to reach a larger audience and find a way for players to play longer and come back day after day. Does that sound like something that might interest you?”
My response was almost immediate: “Dude, you had me at Solitaire!”
Seriously? A chance to work on the most played video games in all of history and make them cool?! The opportunity was both tremendously exciting and, at the same time, terrifying. I mean, what if I became known as “that guy who screwed up Solitaire?” Well, I suppose if you believe there’s no such thing as bad press, that’d still be kind of awesome — but it was nerve-racking!
Fast forward to today, where I manage the creative vision for all the Microsoft Casual Games and collaborate with the team to decide what games or features we should work on next.
In my free time, I enjoy playing board games, card games and, of course video games, and I also enjoy singing and rollerblading. I’m a foodie and a meat & potatoes guy at my core, so if you ever want to know where the best steaks or BBQ joints are in any area where I’ve lived, just ask!
My job really is incredible. I get to work on some of the most well-known games in the world with an awesomely talented team who all enjoy collaborating as much as I do. And now, for the first time ever — we will collaborate not just among ourselves, but with all the passionate players out there who are interested in working together with us to improve our games and build new ones.
I look forward to working with all of you!