Kabam Aaron Loeb Interview (DICE Europe 2015)

It was a strange privilege interviewing Kabam senior vice president Aaron Loeb on behalf of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences for DICE Europe 2015. It was a privilege because Aaron is an excellent fellow that has accomplished a lot in the videogame and theater worlds. Prior to working at Kabam, Aaron held high-level positions at Planet Moon and EA, while his plays have been performed across the country. The interview was strange because we both used to be videogame journalists. It’s true! Once upon a time, before Aaron became a powerful executive and I became a verbal entertainer of international renown, we used to be game journalists in San Francisco. To paraphrase the immortal Phil Collins, “Take a look at us now!”

Here are a few excerpts from the interview. The first clip is about whether Aaron’s experience as a videogame journalist has had any impact on his work on the development side:

For a little while there, no. For what I’m doing at Kabam, very much so. As you know, when I was a journalist, I was entirely in the web space and was never really on the print side — even back in the ’90s. Learning how to talk to an audience every single day, learning how to see what they’re interested in or not interested in, and figuring out how to target your editorial to cover the topics the audience actually wants to hear about and how to target your editorial to come up with stuff that the audience doesn’t yet know they want to hear about — those are all things that help me today.

Next, Aaron talks about his experience as a playwright crossing over into his day job:

When I’m working with writers from one of our games, they take my feedback more seriously because they know that I’m also a writer. I’m not just an executive pinhead. [Laughs] Normally if you’re a writer and you’re getting feedback from the senior vice president of the studio you’re thinking, “Why is this jerk talking to me?!? How can he possibly know the difference between good writing and bad writing?!?” So I do get some respect from our game writers because of my background as a playwright.

Check out the full interview when you have a chance (please!). Aaron is an excellent man and I’m thrilled for his tremendous success.

Unity David Helgason Interview

It was an absolute pleasure chatting with Unity founder and former CEO David Helgason. While it’s normally intimidating talking to someone that’s exponentially smarter than you are, David Helgason is such a nice and interesting man that the exercise was fun. We had a lengthy chat about Unity’s evolution, games that inspire him, and his eclectic taste in movies. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

You know, we didn’t even call Unity an engine in the beginning. We thought of it as a tool to help developers build the games that they wanted to build. At first, we focused on small platforms, where the target specs were pretty low. When mobile started to grow, we targeted that — around the time the iPhone 2 came out. At the time, the hardware was super low end. As the market grew, our customers became more and more demanding, wanting to build bigger and bigger games. Then we started working closely with the console manufacturers. These days, AR (alternate reality) and VR (virtual reality) are really taking off, so we’re working closely with that as well. We’re constantly working to try to stay ahead of the curve and provide our customers with all the technology that they need. It’s very different when you’re working on a high-end VR game than an iPhone 2 game in 2008. [Laughs]

We’ve been very lucky that we have a lot of customers that are happy to pay. Unity doesn’t really cost a lot, but we have enough customers that are happy to pay the pittance it costs. That enables us to aggregate the revenue and hire a lot of great people. We’ve been hiring like crazy in order to invest really deeply and long-term into the Unity platform.

When we started, we were out to democratize game development. We wanted to significantly change how games were built and who could build games. We wanted to expand that universe, so we had to give people great tools.

Again, I’m really, really happy with how this interview turned out. Please, please, please hit the source link, give it a read, and let me know what you think. If you’re a male gamer nerd then I guarantee that you’ll have a man crush on David Helgason. If you’re a female gamer then it’ll more likely be a crush crush.

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Amazon Games Alf Tan Interview

Here’s a brief chat I had with Alf Tan, head of games business development for Amazon. Prior to joining Amazon’s game team, he worked for Microsoft Game Studios and Microsoft’s Xbox team. His goals at Amazon are to make Amazon a great platform for developers to publish their games on and for customers to buy their games from. In the interview below, Alf talks about Amazon’s culture, how the company views developers and gamers as its customers, his favorite movie, and more. Here’s a brief clip:

We see developers and gamers as customers, and will relentlessly drive hard to deliver what both want. One of the core areas we are focused on is the set top box space to deliver a great gaming experience. Today, many customers have to find gaming experiences in their living rooms through a $300 console. We see an opportunity to deliver great games to customers at a vastly different price point. We have done that through providing fun and challenging gaming experiences on Fire TV with launches like Flappy Bird Family, Crossy Road, some of our own games like Sev Zero, and new experiences like GameFly Streaming.

Alf wasn’t as forthcoming as the other DICE Europe 2015 speakers I interviewed, but he has an interesting position at a powerful company. While Amazon has had success with its games division, the sheer size and influence of the company give it a chance to be a dominant player, especially as it pursues original content. I’m curious to see how big Amazon Games can get.

When you get a chance, please hit up my interview with Alf Tan and let me know what you think.

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Plastic Piranha Jason Brice Talks Rekoil

Watch Plastic Piranha president & CEO Jason Brice talk about his upcoming game Rekoil. This first-person shooter for Windows PC and Xbox 360 emphasizes skill and balanced gameplay. In the interview, Brice talks about Rekoil’s various modes and different weapons, as well as what makes the game stand out from the competition. While I enjoyed several deathmatch rounds of the game, one of the things that charmed me about Rekoil was the little details. For example, it has a capture-the-briefcase mode instead of a capture-the-flag mode and it has black barrels that explode instead of those deadly red ones we all fear. Those flourishes aside, a lot of hardcore shooter fans have been high on Rekoil. While Brice agrees that it’s a “pure shooter,” he also explains why it’s great for casual fans of first-person shooters.

For more information on Rekoil be sure to check out this excellent preview on PaulSemel.com.

Rekoil Preview

Plastic Piranha Jason Brice Interview

Here’s a short interview with Plastic Piranha president and CEO Jason Brice. For those of you not familiar with the company, it’s the developer of the upcoming first-person shooter Rekoil. Going from movie marketing to creating a hardcore first-person shooter sounds like an odd career path, but that’s the one Jason Brice has followed. Listen to him talk about his coworkers recreating a Call of Duty level in the office to creating CoD maps to creating Battlefield 2142 maps to starting his own development studio. Due to his atypical and unique background, Jason Brice is particularly passionate about giving gamers powerful and robust mod tools for Rekoil.

Jason Brice Plastic Piranha Rekoil

And Now, A Message From Gabe Newell (Half-Life 3)

Dorkly posted an immensely entertaining (satirical) article called “A Message From Gabe Newell.” Valve recently made several announcements on products with enormous potential to disrupt the gaming business (Steam OS, Steam Machines, Steam Controller). While many gamers and pundits have reacted to these announcements with excitement, there are many longtime PC gamers that have can’t get Half-Life 3 out of their heads. The (satirical) message from Gabe Newell addresses all of that and more. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the letter Continue reading “And Now, A Message From Gabe Newell (Half-Life 3)”

Watch the Evil Game Design Challenge

Here’s a long, but terribly fascinating, video featuring three veteran game developers participating in the “The Evil Game Design Challenge.” The panel is hosted by Scott Foe, known for his work on the Sega Dreamcast, the Nokia N-Gage, and, most recently, Douche Defender. The participants have been in the gaming business for a long time, but have recently been focused on free-to-play games. You’ll watch Greg Costikyan, Dan Rubenfield, and Ethan Levy — dressed as evil villains — compete to come up with the best monetization, retention, and virality plans for Super Mario Bros. 3. Yes, imposing modern monetization, retention, and virality methods on an all-time classic is evil.

Check out the clip below and let me know what you think of “The Evil Game Design Challenge” (I usually say please, but since the subject matter is evil, I’m leaving it out). Lastly, help me get over my hangup that “virality” is becoming a word.

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Beyond: Two Souls Gameplay Video

Here’s a sweet behind-the-scenes video of Beyond: Two Souls by Quantic Dream for PlayStation 3. In the video, the developers explain the features of the gameplay and the thought process behind it. Yes, it’s chockfull of quick-time events (as you’d expect in a Quantic Dream game), but the developers are trying to make things as transparent as possible. There are times when you’ll see the traditional cues for input (square, circle, etc.) but there are also times when you’ll see a simple white dot that indicates that an action has to be made. The goal is to make “the player forget that he has a controller in his hand.”

Also, the video explains why the Quantic Dream crew had to research “fishes swimming underwater.”

As a mark for the developer, I’m completely psyched for this game and really enjoyed this “making of” video. Check out the clip and let me know what you think (please!).

Noah Falstein Appointed Google Chief Game Designer

Between Android and Chrome OS, gaming has been a small but growing part of Google’s business. With Noah Falstein’s recent appointment as chief game designer, it looks like Google’s gaming ambitions are growing. However, there’s a lot of speculation as to what exactly those plans are and which products they’ll cover. Many have surmised that the company will up its Android gaming efforts, while others believe that Google Glass will be getting games.

For some background info on Falstein, here’s a clip from TechCrunch:

According to his bio Falstein’s been in the computer games industry since 1980, spanning companies such as LucasArts, 3DO, and Dreamworks Interactive, and is the designer behind a number of hit titles. He most recently ran his own consultancy, The Inspiracy, which offered companies help on game design, development and business, as well as being a regular on the lecture and speaking circuit.

A major interest of Falstein is the field of “Serious Games,” which he defines as “Using Games, Game Technology, or Game Industry Techniques for a purpose other than pure entertainment.” The list of Serious Games projects Falstein has been involved in spans anything from using game techniques to improve health and education, to financial projections.

The Google I/O developer conference is a few weeks away, so the company’s plans for gaming and Falstein’s role should be clarified then. For now, let’s play the speculation game! What do you think Google’s gaming plans are for the near future?

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Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition Postmortem

Overhaul Games president Trent Oster posted a long and excellent postmortem on Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition on Gamasutra. Oster goes over several things that went right and several things that went wrong during the remake of this BioWare classic. As a fan of the original game, the new game, and BioWare, I really enjoyed all five pages of the postmortem. In addition to the behind-the-scenes factoids you’d expect, the article covers a lot of BioWare history. It was one of the most enjoyable videogame postmortems I’ve read in years and I highly recommend checking it out.

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