Lidwine Sauer Talks Ubisoft Strategic Innovation Lab

Lidwine Sauer is the director of insights and trends for Ubisoft’s Strategic Innovation Lab. A relatively new department at Ubisoft, the Strategic Innovation Lab monitors and analyzes trends in technology, society, and business in an effort to anticipate the future and stay on the cutting edge. At DICE Europe 2017, Lidwine Sauer will be discussing how creative organizations can best take advantage of rapid changes and innovations. Here are some excerpts from my conversation with Lidwine Sauer.

On technology from the outside permeating gaming:

We feel that it’s very important for game developers to understand that the industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The industry is shaped and influenced by lots of different things. Innovation in technology, of course, translates well into what we do in games. Our gamers are also consumers of other products in other industries. Their expectations will be shaped by what they experience outside of our industry.

One of the trends we talk a lot about it is the development of artificial intelligence — more specifically, the development of machine learning. That’s an example of something that’s developed by the tech giants, mostly the Internet giants like Google and Facebook. They’re very much at the forefront of these AI developments. That’s going to spill into the gaming industry; it’s already changing how we make games and changing how we play games. For example, we have a game that’s called Star Trek: Bridge Crew that offers the opportunity for players to interact with the game AI through natural language. The technology behind the game is derived from things that have been worked on in other industries.

On how societal changes impact gaming:

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Mike Bithell Talks Subsurface Circular and More

Mike Bithell is a British game designer best known for the BAFTA-Award winning Thomas Was Alone. Recently, his company released Subsurface Circular, which was quickly met with positive acclaim. At DICE Europe 2017, he’ll be talking about offering high-quality entertainment through small games with small budgets. Here are some excerpts from my conversation with Mike Bithell.

On Subsurface Circular:

It’s a detective game about robots riding an underground train network. You play as a detective. You have to have various conversation with colorful characters who are also on that train with you. You’re trying to get to the bottom of a series of disappearances. Various robots have gone missing, something seems not quite right, and you’re trying to get to the bottom of it. You play through a series of a dialogue sequences — kind of like a conversational puzzle game, at some level, but with a level of visual polish that hopefully makes it satisfying to a broad audience.

On whether videogame creators can switch between small projects and big-budget products, similar to what movie directors do in Hollywood:

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Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir Talks Diversity and Inclusion in Gaming

Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir is quite charming. She has that cool Icelandic accent, produces excellent games, has traveled Thailand extensively, and raises environmental awareness through The Future is Ours. Oh yeah, she’s also the senior producer of the FIFA franchise at Electronic Arts. Prior to working on FIFA, she was senior producer for Star Wars: Battlefront. She also served as producer for CCP on the EVE Online franchise and Ubisoft on Tom Clancy’s The Division.

At DICE Europe 2017, Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir will be talking about the importance of diversity and inclusion in both videogames themselves and the gaming industry. To generate interest in her DICE Europe 2017 session, I had a conversation with Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir on behalf of the (excellent) Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. Here are some clips from the interview.

On the importance of diversity:

Diversity is important in games as it is with any other media. As human beings, we engage with content that resonates with us — content that makes us feel invited and included. For the past 15 to 20 years or so in the games business, we’ve mostly seen the representation of a particular masculine protagonist in games. We’ve seen less diversity in terms of people of color and less gender diversity, although some franchises, such as the SIMS have stood out as inclusive in terms of gender, sexual orientation and race. This has started to change over the past few years. There’s work to be done still, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Looking at the movie industry, as an example, movies that have a broad representation of cast appeal to a broad audience. I don’t believe that’s any sort of rocket science. I believe very strongly that games have the same correlation. In games, we have a chicken-and-egg problem. We’ve narrowly defined the core gamer as an 18- to 25-year old male and have a wealth of content that appeals to that particular audience. Historically, other groups have felt less invited and less included by that content.

On how videogame companies can achieve diversity:

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Hendrik Lesser Talks European Game Development Opportunities

Here’s a chat I had with Hendrik Lesser, CEO and founder of remote control productions (RCP). For those of you not familiar with RCP, it’s an international videogame production house that holds offices in Germany, Finland, and Romania. Prior to starting RCP, Hendrik Lesser was known for his time at Rockstar Games. At DICE Europe 2017, he’ll be talking about the various public subsidies available to game creators. It was a fascinating talk that covered a brief history of European videogame culture, the challenges of creating games in a diverse continent, and the various types of support governments offer game makers. Here are some excerpts from my conversation with Hendrik Lesser.

On what prompted European governments to view games differently:

I think it started as far back as Grand Theft Auto 3. I would argue that it was primarily two countries that spearheaded this — France and the UK. France because they also had a different relation to modern art, especially in the space of comic books. They were more open to games because it reminded them of comics. In the UK, games like GTA3 pushed the boundaries of what was regarded as culture. Then there were the Nordic countries, which understood the business opportunities for young people in the future.

On the advantages and challenges of making games in a diverse continent:

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Hermen Hulst Discusses the Transition From Killzone to Horizon Zero Dawn

Hermen Hulst is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Guerrilla Games. The company is best known for the Killzone series of first-person shooters for Sony PlayStation consoles. Those games have enjoyed a solid following and critical acclaim. In 2017, Guerrilla hit a new level with Horizon Zero Dawn. An open-world action-RPG with a lush setting, the game was a radical departure from the grim-and-gritty shooters Guerrilla was known for. Many consider it one of 2017’s best games.

At DICE Europe 2017, Hermen Hulst will be talking about Guerrilla’s evolution and the challenges he faced preparing the company for Horizon Zero Dawn. Here’s an excerpt from my chat with Heremen Hulst.

In the keynote I’ll be talking about how long this process has been. During the Killzone 3 days, we already started wondering about doing something new. “Is the time there now? Can our creatives do their best work within the same franchise? Is there enough room for wild design ideas?” We actually made the decisions to start investigating new roots towards the end of Killzone 3. That’s when we started the internal pitching processes of new ideas. So we’ve been working on this thing for six-and-a-half, seven years. That’s a very long time.

There were such a wide range of changes. For one, we had always focused on games in a particular genre — the first-person shooter genre. With that comes a certain set of expertise, which you would expect from a studio that operates within that genre. So when you move into a different genre, you’re looking for new areas of expertise. We moved from first-person shooter to open-world action-RPG, so we had to build out our narrative capability. The requirements in that new genre are much higher in narration then they are in the fps world.

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Mary DeMarle Talks Deus Ex (DICE Europe 2017)

Here’s a chat I had with the absolutely delightful Mary DeMarle, narrative director of Eidos Montreal. She’ll be speaking at DICE Europe 2017 about maintaining motivation and innovation during long game development cycles. We talked about the challenges of reviving the Deus Ex franchise — bringing one of the most lauded IPs in PC gaming to a new audience more than a decade after the original release. Aside from talking to Mary DeMarle about Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, I had an excellent time enjoying her company. She was charming and fun. Yeah, yeah, I know you want to hear more about the game stuff, so here’s an excerpt from my interview with Mary DeMarle.

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Why Kazakus Will Be My New Favorite Hearthstone Card

I’ve just played a dozen or so games of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft with the “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan” expansion cards shuffled in the mix. Blizzard’s BlizzCon 2016 press room had one-on-one matches featuring paladin vs. priest brawls. As priest is my favorite way to play and I generally suck with paladin, I played all the games using the priestly Anduin Wrynn. As expected, I enjoyed the new cards introduced by “Mean Streets of Gadgetzan,” but one stood out — Kazakus.

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