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.
Saving my favorite DICE Europe 2016 interview for last, here’s my chat with Hilmar Petursson, CEO of CCP Games. Many gamers know CCP for the popular MMORPG EVE Online. More recently, the company has been a pioneer in VR gaming, with titles like Gunjack and EVE: Valkyrie. At a previous DICE talk, Hilmar Petursson spoke about the human brain as a gaming platform. At DICE Europe 2016, he’ll be speaking about how gaming can benefit humanity.
As you can tell from the topics he chooses to speak about, Hilmar Petursson thinks a bit differently from most people in game development and game publishing. This is why chatting with him was so much fun. He has a beautifully creative mind, but he’s also kind of out there. Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Hilmar Petursson.
I think we’re just beginning. How old would you say computer games are? Let’s say 30-years old. For the greater part of those three decades, the majority of games have been single-player. It’s one person playing against a device, not unlike solitaire. I am personally very interested in when you add a social dimension to it — when people are playing with other people. What we’ve learned through our work on EVE: Online is that once you start playing with other people, you’re part of a society. If you look at society as a computer game — at least the socio-economic aspects of society — it’s a fairly upstart endeavor. Money, debt obligation, and the concept of possession are really virtual phenomenon. They’re social constructs that we’ve trained ourselves to adhere to over thousands of years. They’re upheld mostly through paper, as well as our own understanding of rules and regulations. I believe that with computers, we will be able to elevate and accelerate those concepts quite a bit.
We’ve been inspired by a lot of what we’ve learned though EVE: Online. You could basically call it a society. I wouldn’t call it a country, because that’s a very specific thing, but it has all the expressions of a society. It has its own social economy. People value the things in that world. They have a similar relationship to their possessions in the virtual world as they do in the real world. Even though EVE: Online was one of the first games made like this, in many ways it can be improved upon a lot. It’s the first hint of what can be done with games. And then we see virtual reality and how we can really engage with the rest of the human senses. Then you can buy into the notion that not only do you belong to a virtual world in the abstract, but you can also buy into the notion that you are part of a virtual world in a concrete, physical sense. Even though you aren’t, so many of the body’s sense are engaged that you feel like you are. The illusion takes a step further.
I believe that with advances in both concepts — these vast, massive social worlds and economies — coupled with advances in the visual domain with technologies like virtual reality, we will be able to really bring about a virtual world where we have higher and deeper relations with each other. Physical reality is, in many ways, kind of primitive. We have to implement the atoms of the Earth to create clothing to express our personalities. It’s taking away resources that could be used for something else. Ninety percent of what we buy for our homes is out of them six months later as trash. We have all these very wasteful processes that we’ll be able to implement much more efficiently using technologies in computer games. In many ways, we’re trying to tell this to ourselves in science-fiction, whether it’s The Matrix or other works that discuss the virtualization of social interactions.
Please check out my full talk with Hilmar Petursson when you have a chance. He’s a wonderfully creative person that supports my theory that all Icelanders are at least a little bit crazy (see Guðmundsdóttir, Björk).
Here’s a chat I had with Henrique Olifiers, the cofounder of Bossa Studios. The company’s Worlds Adrift is one of the most ambitious online worlds ever conceived, combining the broad aspects of MMORPGs and sandbox videogames. Given DICE Europe 2016’s theme of “World Builders,” Henrique Olifiers was a perfect choice for the summit. His DICE Europe 2016 talk is titled, “A New Dawn for Simulated Worlds: the Making of Worlds Adrift.” During out conversation, he spoke about the evolution of online worlds from the earliest MUDs to what we have today. Here’s an excerpt.
As a game designer, I’ve always looked at what could be the perfect online experience. That was never something that was possible because of technology restrictions and game design paradigms that we have to deal with. If you look back at the history of online interactions, ever since the first MUDs — multiuser dungeons — came along, up to today where you have massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, World of Tanks, and so on, there was always this progression curve going upwards in terms of what you can achieve and how you could interact with your friends. All of a sudden, we seemed to have hit a wall in that the same tropes and same design mechanics have been repeated, essentially with a new coat of paint.
Some terms came up, such as “amusement park,” from the players. They feel like the worlds that they’re playing in are on rails and that the experience is very scripted. Which is a shame, because as a big fan of MMOs and online interactions on a large scale, I always expected this to go all the way — into virtual worlds where people are free to do what they want. And so, this is what I mean by a means to an end. For me, it’s about being able to show people that we don’t have to be restricted anymore. There’s technology today that’s available to us and that will allow us to continue that trajectory. This is how I see Worlds Adrift — being part of a puzzle, if you will, and part of the evolution of online interactions.
When you have a chance, please check out my full conversation with Bossa Studios’ Henrique Olifiers by clicking the link below.
Here’s a chat I had with Clive Downie, chief marketing offer at Unity Technologies. He’ll be speaking at DICE Europe 2016 on “VR and the Next Generation of Immersive Experiences.” In addition to touching on the topics he’ll be discussing at DICE Europe, Clive Downie told me about the three principles that fuel Unity Technologies and the latest on his Pokemon Go adventures. Here’s a clip from the interview.
One of the challenges in creating in a new space with all the dimensions is something called “The Bubblegum Phenomenon.” If you create a VR environment with a table in it, you can bet that someone will look under the table to see if there’s bubblegum there. Developers have to think about what happens when someone does something like that. This isn’t a problem they had when they created 3D environments experienced on a 2D screen.
Another challenge is story. How do you tell a story in a VR or AR space? How do you tell a story when people can look everywhere and people will want to interact with everything? What are the new rules for storytelling?
Then there’s the challenge of, “How much is enough?” You’re immersing people in a space they haven’t been in before. You have to teach them a whole new set of control conventions. You’re bombarding their synapses with new kinds of stimuli. What’s the optimum time session? How do you design with that time session in mind? You want to provide people with a wonderful and delightful new experience, but you want them to keep coming back without making them sick or completely overloading them.
We’re seeing all these challenges associated with a pioneer moment and exploration. It’s really exciting for us to see developers go through that and it’s really exciting for us to help them work through these challenges with our regular updates to Unity.
Be sure to check out my conversation with Clive Downie to learn more about his take on AR and VR, as well as why he’s a big fan of Pidgeotto and Rhyhorn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)”