PS3 Attitude interviews a Dragonheart
After the recent news that Hideo Kojima will be keynoting at the upcoming GDC’09, we thought it might be an idea to have a keynote of our own. Kind of.
PS3 Attitude got the chance to sit down with Tom, a student working towards a qualification in computing, which may well lead to a job within the gaming industry.
With coffee in hand and some searching questions, perhaps we could find the meaning of life itself, if not the direction the industry could take in the future…
Thanks for taking the time to speak to PS3 Attitude. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
No problem, it’s a pleasure to speak about the subject of games, something that I feel really passionate about.
My name is Tom Nally, also known as Naz_Dragonheart over the PlayStation Network, and I’m a BSc Computing student at the University of Worcester. My course is orientated towards Game Development and I mostly work with level editor software and middleware such as the Unreal Engine. I also do some 3D modelling using 3D Studio Max.
I’m not going to use the tired old line of how many years I’ve labelled myself as a gamer but I will say I only ever really started to consider games for more than just face value after playing Final Fantasy VII back in the day. The world and the characters of that game were so well developed, I was – and still am – astounded by it, although it is massively eclipsed by many of today’s work.
What was your favourite game of 2008 and why?
Firstly, I think 2008 has probably been the first year that we’ve had a balanced level of quality throughout the year.
I feel as though I can’t say my favourite game of 2008 because it’s on another platform that I wouldn’t normally touch. Plus, it’s more like my favourite game series of the new generation. All I’ll say about it is that they took a relatively new gameplay mechanic, put their own spin on it and hit it out of the park.
That one aside, I have to say that it has to be LittleBigPlanet. It is hard for me to say that because, as a game, the gameplay is simple yet classic; jump and grab. However it’s community that really, dare I say, jumps and grabs me.
People have done such crazy and inventive things with it. I swear that these skillful people saw the developers levels and just thought, â€œWell, that’s a nice idea but it would have been better if you had done this.â€ And they go off and do it.
Much like in Portal, LBP uses its levels to just show you what is possible. It’s then up to you, as a level designer, to break that world. Later this Spring I’ll have some proper free time so I’ll be sat down, pad in hand, trying to build an awesome level or two.
What do you think has been the most important game for the PlayStation brand as a whole over the past 15 years and why?
It’s hard to pinpoint any specific game that has been pivotal in PlayStation’s development and I suppose that’s one of the PlayStation’s strengths; that it has not had to rely on a single game to build itself upon.
I believe that Final Fantasy VII was probably the most important game. It wasn’t just because it was incredibly popular back then, but that it remains to be popular today. It didn’t hurt that future Final Fantasy games were on Sony consoles.
One other game that you may snort and laugh at for being important to PlayStation is Crash Bandicoot. Sure, he has the most punch worthy face in the world, and he’s churned out some dud games recently. Back in the day, however, he really drove PS sales and his games were pretty solid. I suppose that’s down to Naughty Dog who, as a studio, have grown in strength and maturity along with the PlayStation family.
What games were on your Christmas wish list?
I’ve was lucky enough to be able to pick up the majority of the big Christmas releases in advance, such as LittleBigPlanet and Fallout 3 but there are still others I’d like to add to my collection.
Mirror’s Edge sits up high on my list. This is an unique, original concept for a game, oddly published by EA – “the sequel masters”. It is just one of the great new IPs to come out of this past year. Admittedly, it needs a bit of tweaking in areas; a more open world would be lovely, along with a bit more gameplay variety. But they’ll tidy that up in the sequel.
We all know that sequel’s coming.
Also up there on the list is Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, which is yet to make an appearance for us Europeans (and Australians of course) but I’m more than certain that when it finally arrives, the nostalgia of it will be too hard to resist. The addition of online play only adds to the brilliant package.
What game are you stoked about for 2009?
There are so many games to be excited about next year, Bioshock 2, new Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted 2, which collectively seems like it’s going to be 2006′s second coming -that was one of gaming’s best years to date . There really is a sense that there is going to be something for everyone, particularly come Christmas.
For myself, I’m not looking too far ahead right now and focusing on what’s going to come out of the winter months; Skate 2 and Street Fighter IV.
Skate 2 because it was such a breath of fresh air – a complete back-to-the-board reworking on the skateboarding genre (formerly known as the Tony Hawk genre) – that it forced Activision to stop the annual release of TH and prompted them to rework the genre, too.
I think that the games industry is big enough to support two skateboarding games in the same way it accommodates two football franchises. Skate gives you the freedom to do crazy tricks without understating the difficulty of pulling them off and that was the reason I was drawn into Tony Hawk’s 2 back in the day.
Street Fighter IV is going to be a really special game for me; I grew up on Street Fighter II. To see the game go back to the board, both in terms of mechanics as well as putting it back into the arcades in Japan, makes my heart sing. It’s the one game I feel I can truly be competitive on, without feeling bad about beating the other player(s) [ed - sounds like the gauntlet is truly thrown down].
I have no doubt that come February, I’ll be picking up where I left off with Ryu.
There are a couple other big games I need not mention too, but I mainly have one eye on I Am Alive. So little is known about this game as it was in the start for Jade Raymond’s previously project, Assassin’s Creed. It will be interesting to see how much they draw from the classic survival genre and what they’ll add to it. Definitely one to watch.
[ed - worth noting that Jade Raymond is no longer Producer on 'I Am Alive'.]
What do you hope to do within the industry – i.e. what would be your ideal job?
I would love to be a lead game designer or possibly even director or producer. Iâ€™d like to be in a position to be able to drive the quality and direction of a game rather than simply contributing to it. I think that the ideal position for any designer would be to hold a position like Hideo Kojima or Shigeru Miyamoto where they have complete creative control, but I’m realistic in my thinking about ever reaching that level of success.
I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of story work either, as I’ve done a lot of creative writing in the past. I reckon I could tell a good story or two but – of course – any story is only as good as they way its communicated through the gameplay.
What do you think the games industry as a whole is missing or needs to work on?
I think we need a new development model for games. Right now, the big titles have a two to three year development cycle and there is little chance that you are going to get the big pay-off you are looking for.
I think Capcom are helping to lead the way as they are looking at their classic games and thinking, â€œHey, let’s not mess too much with the pure mechanics of this game, but add some nice graphics to it, put some good extras into it and digitally release it.â€ That’s what happened with Bionic Commando and it sold like hot donuts. [ed - mmmmm... donuts...]
They can do all that on a 6-9 month cycle and it’s much cheaper in terms of development costs. The payoff is immediate, too. Hopefully, the success of Bionic Commando: Rearmed has helped other developers, particularly prolific companies like Sega, to take note and revive their classics that way.
There are several other ideologies common throughout the industry, but the main one that bothers me is more aimed at the perceived lack of maturity that is prevalent across the entire industry.
There are very few games that actually try to tackle and handle real-world issues, particularly â€œadult relationships.â€ Of course, I don’t mean just sex; I mean one person interacting with another.
It is always done in some over-the-top or humorous way and never tackled in a more careful, classy way. Either that or those cheap, tacky dating sims. The Sims â€œskiingâ€, GTA: San Andreas’ hot coffee mod and Leisure Suit Larry are prime examples of the over-simplification of the nature of relationships.
It’s crazy to think that we do not have a well established gay character in video game lore. We did have the gals from Fear Effect of course, but even that was a bit ambiguous. I would buy a game that could accurately simulate a working relationship between two people, regardless of orientation.
There are other issues of course, such as terrorism; I feel it is important for games, as an art, to tackle these issues in order to be considered more than just mindless â€œmurder simulatorsâ€. Moreover, as another method of intellectual interaction. Of course I still want the â€œmurder simulators,â€ it’s just that a little variety never hurt anyone. [ed - ow.]
What are your thoughts on games certification? There are many stories in the news about violent games and the impact they are having on young popular culture.
I think it’s a load of bull to be honest. I’m not going to be drawn into the blame game on video games because there’s too much blame directed at the games industry these days. There is a perception (or ignorance, if you prefer) that there are no adult gamers and, if there are, they are all playing Brain Training or playing with their kids.
I think that there is a lot of confusion between what the game ratings mean, particularly in the UK. We have two different governing bodies, the BBFC and PEGI. It’s a question of who do you trust when buying?
I feel that PEGI provide a more accurate ratings system because it provides a better explanation of what is in the box, making sure people are aware of drug references, violence, nudity and any other sorts of nasties that may scare kids.
As for the BBFC, it’s a bit odd for them to be rating games. They seem to carry a double-standard compared to other media. If you have blood and violence in a particular film, there’s a guarantee that if you try to pull off the same level of gore in a game, that game will get a higher rating than the ‘equivalent’ film.
You need only look at Carmaggedon as an example of the lack of knowledge at the BBFC. Simply by changing the pedestrians into aliens, zombies and robots, the game went from being banned to being ready for sale.
What do you think is the most important aspect of a game, i.e. graphics, audio, length, innovation, controls etc.?
I think, as far as graphics go, we’ve reached a point where we can say that you would actually have to try to make a game look truly awful and I’m glad we’ve reached this point. Hopefully, in a couple of years time, we can stop caring about pixels and frame rate and focus our critical eyes on something different.
I believe innovation will always be the key aspect in games. It’s great when you find a control method that works well, but sometimes you just have to mix it up, to keep it fresh.
Look at Resident Evil. They had been in the survival horror game for a long time and just when it was getting on, they amped up the action in Resi 4. By injecting new life into the series, they have elevated Resi 5 to being one of the most highly anticipated games of the series.
One of my greatest appreciations is for sound designers and composers, both past and present. My iPod is chock full of video game music There is nothing more fantastic than listening to some Final Fantasy on a commute. I find myself spending hours just trying to strike a balance between â€œregularâ€ music and that taken from video games.
Nobuo Uematsu completely sums up what it is to be composer for a video game. For 20 years, this man has been making music for games from the old 8 bit sound to huge orchestras pieces. In my eyes, or rather ears, there is no-one who does it better.
Where do you see games in 5 years?
It’s going to be all about the online. With any luck, the speed and technology of the Internet will cause a surge in online gaming. Will we be playing all our games on a stream basis or as digital downloads? Will offline game modes become extinct? For both, I hope not. I like nothing better than going down to Game, picking up a packaged game and then taking it home and getting lost in an incredible story. Without hearing some idiot shout expletives at me. [Ed - I hear you]
Community will be one of the big drivers of online gaming. We’re already seeing with the likes of LittleBigPlanet how well a community can work together, sharing and playing levels together. We’ll see this span out into broader areas, exploiting already established online communities.
We’ve already heard the guys at OverClocked Remixes providing a fantastic re-imagining of the original SFII soundtrack in SSFIITHDR. Future fan contributions may not be as significant as that, but maybe they could hold fan art contests with winners being used as loading screens, or members of fan sites being given exclusive beta access.
I also hope that we still have â€œThe Big Threeâ€ with us. Although I can see the advantages of a unified games platform, I feel that it would stunt creativity in certain areas. Would we have motion controllers if Sony was the only one out there? Would High Definition gaming be truly in our minds if it was only Microsoft? Would we even have online communities with only Nintendo? I wouldn’t want things any other way.
What one game would you love to have worked on and why?
The one game I would have loved to work on has to be Shadow of the Colossus. It is one of my all time favourite games and I would love to see the thought process that went into developing it.
It has an atmosphere like no other game with the exception of Team ICO‘s previous effort, Ico. The world is so empty, yet so vast, that it is intimidating. With Agro (your horse) as your only company, you really do build up a bond which only makes the quest harder.
The gameplay is something to marvel at, too. Being charged with bringing down 16 uniquely different colossi is certainly no easy task; each battle is dramatic and not once when you win against them do you feel as though you’ve done the right thing.
Shadow of Colossus showed the gaming world that you didn’t have to go crazy with scripting and, if done well, the story could be communicated in a few simple words and actions.
I would have loved to have been a part of developing this game, and I really feel I would have come out of it all the wiser for being a part of it.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Tom. No doubt we’ll be catching you online, especially come release day for SF4.
As always, if you want to throw in your two cents, feel free. Who knows, Tom might even answer some questions in the comments. No promises, mind.
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