[ Legacy of Kain: The Lost Worlds ]

A Discussion With Jon Miller

article by Ben Lincoln


In May of 2012, I received a most unexpected email. Jon Miller, game industry veteran — including time as the executive producer for numerous Crystal Dynamics titles — had come across the article I had written years earlier regarding the similarities between the concept art for the unfinished Chakan title for the Sega Dreamcast, an unreleased PC title called Sirens, and Blood Omen 2 (see Chakan and Sirens).

He offered to talk on the phone, and we had a very interesting discussion, during which I took pages and pages of notes, not knowing when I might have another chance to learn so much about the history of my favourite series and some of the people who had been involved in making it. I then made the unfortunate mistake of putting the notes somewhere that was safe. So safe, in fact, that I didn't find them for well over a year. However, at long last in the late summer of 2013 I unearthed them, and now present what I learned.

Jon Miller's Time in the Games Industry

Jon's first exposure to programming when he was 12 when he stumbled across the Logo lab at MIT. He describes Logo as "basically Lisp with a simpler syntax and a turtle"[1].

He got his start as a game developer in the early 90s, building Sega Genesis titles. He is generally (though not always) credited as Jonathan Miller - see the reference section at the end for a variety of links.

He moved to San Francisco in 1991, and met Steve and Mira Ross in 1992. The two Rosses had already developed the concept for Sirens when Jon Miller met them. All three of them would go on to work together on Chakan: the Forever Man for the Sega Genesis. According to Jon, the art for the Genesis Chakan game was very faithful to the original comic-book art by Robert A. Kraus.

Jon and Steve would team up again in 1993 — along with Dan Rosenfeld — to found HeadGames, where they would develop further Genesis titles including X-Men 2: Clone Wars. Around the time that HeadGames was being founded, Mira Ross joined Crystal Dynamics.

In 1996, Jon moved to Crystal as well, and began trying to convince Steve to move there as well, although this would take some time. He served as executive producer on Blood Omen, where he worked with Amy Hennig (who was the design manager for that title).

By 1997, Steve Ross was working at Crystal Dynamics. His first title for them was Gex 3D: Enter the Gecko, followed up shortly by Akuji: The Heartless. Jon thinks very highly of Steve's art, which he says he "loved bringing to life", and describes as having a signature feel — that there is always a common "look" running through it, much like how nearly any work by H.R. Giger is instantly identifiable as having been produced by Giger. He wouldn't be surprised if Steve Ross' art influenced Soul Reaver and future Kain games, but he also believes it's hard to avoid similarities in games about undead warriors, even if there are no intentional references to other works in the genre. Much like Steve Ross himself, Jon attributes any similarity between the Dreamcast Chakan concept art and Blood Omen 2 to that common "look", as opposed to intentional reuse.

Jon and Amy Hennig would continue to work together, with Jon continuing as executive producer for Soul Reaver, Amy Hennig's first chance to direct a game of her own. He remembers that early on in that game's life, the transition between the Material and Spectral realms was even more pronounced, with dramatically-changing colours and shape-shifting of the surroundings.


Jon Miller left the games industry in 1999. Looking back, he remembers the shift to 3D as being a sea change, because it required so much more time to create the in-game models as well as debug the games.

He is, however, tempted by the "back to basics" aspect of mobile games, as it makes possible a return to the smaller, tight-knit teams of the 16-bit console era: one programmer, a couple of artists, and one person to handle music and sound effects.

He is also very interested in Scratch, an MIT project which he considers the spiritual successor to Logo, and hopes that it achieves a similar goal of introducing programming concepts to a wider audience.

Jon's line of work since 2003 has been high-end modern lighting. [I'm particularly fond of this Tron/Remember Me-esque modelBen Lincoln ]

Appendix: Tracing a Few Strands of the Tangled Web of the Games Industry in the 1990s

When someone from the games industry tells you that "everyone knows everyone else", they're not fooling around. This small sample of "3 degrees of Jon Miller" emerged during the research I did to augment my notes.

  1. David Foley went to Northeastern University (in Boston) in the 1980s, where he met Randel Reiss. Randel introduced him to Burt Sloane, and Burt introduced David to Jon Miller.
  2. Jon Miller's brother Mark moved to San Francisco to work on videogame music and sound effects. He shared a house with Burt Sloane.
  3. By 1991, Jon Miller, Mark Miller, Burt Sloane, Randel Reiss, and David Foley were all working for Sega on Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin for the Genesis. They followed this up with Taz-Mania - another Genesis title, but this one developed by Recreational Brainware.
  4. Meanwhile, Steve and Mira Ross were both working on X-Men and other titles for the Genesis.
  5. Jon Miller had met Steve and Mira Ross in 1991, and by 1992, six of the seven (both Millers, Sloane, Foley, and both Rosses) were working at Extended Play on Chakan for the Genesis.
  6. Chakan was the last title the Northeasterners would work on together, although David Foley would go on to become part of the Urban Strike team. Urban Strike is the second sequel to Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, which future Legacy of Kain series writer/director Amy Hennig worked on as an artist.
  7. Steve's wife Mira made the jump to Crystal Dynamics in the mid-1990s, where she worked on numerous titles including Gex, Pandemonium!, Whiplash and Project Snowblind.
  8. Jon Miller, Mark Miller, and Steve Ross continued to work together on Genesis titles through 1995's X-Men 2: Clone Wars.
  9. In addition to Mark Miller, X-Men 2: Clone Wars' sound design team included Kurt Harland (of Information Society), and Jim Hedges.
  10. By 1996, Jon and Mark Miller had both moved to Crystal Dynamics.
  11. Mark provided sound effects for Pandemonium! and Pandemonium 2, and was A/V manager for Blood Omen.
  12. Jon served as executive producer for Blood Omen, with Amy Hennig as design manager. Jon continued as an executive producer at Crystal on Gex 3D: Enter the Gecko, Akuji: The Heartless, and Soul Reaver.
  13. The director of both Gex 3D: Enter the Gecko and Akuji: The Heartless was Glen A. Schofield, who would later go on to direct Blood Omen 2 (and much later, Dead Space).
  14. Some time after the release of Blood Omen, Steve Ross moved to Crystal Dynamics, where he worked as an artist and designer on Schofield's games.
  15. By 1997, Jim Hedges and Kurt Harland had also moved to Crystal Dynamics. Both of them would contribute to numerous games, including every post-Blood Omen Legacy of Kain title.

Additional Reference Material

Steven A Ross - Steve Ross' portfolio website, although as of this writing it hasn't been updated since November 2010

Steve Ross - IMDB entry

Mira Ross - IMDB entry

Game Developer Research Institute Interview: David R. Foley

MobyGames entries for:

(note: I have omitted the MobyGames entry for Steve Ross, as they have incorrectly conflated multiple people with that name together, resulting in a wildly-inaccurate list of titles)

1. He is correct, although I was not aware of this fact even having worked briefly with Logo myself as a child.
2. A fairly complete list is available over at Moby Games, although beware that it appears to have some inaccuracies - most notably due to Jon Miller (former games industry professional) having the same name as Jon Miller (sportscaster) and Jon/John Miller (Sony employee).
3. Steve has a personal site highlighting his work as a game artist, although as of this writing it hasn't been updated since November 2010.
[ Page Icon ]