GameProducer.Net had a chance to talk with Adrian Crook (he is the one more in the left in that above image), game producer at Relic Entertainment. Relic has stunning games in their portfolio, for example: Homeworld, Company of Heroes and The Outfit. In this interview Adrian is sharing lots of insight about the production of The Outfit.
GameProducer.net: Hi Adrian. Thanks for giving GameProducer.net a chance to have an interview with you. First it would be nice to hear about your background. Can you tell us little bit about your career in the gaming industry?
Adrian Crook: Sure. In January of 1995 I was a 19 year old bartender at a Vancouver restaurant. A month later, I started in the QA department of EA Canada. I spent about a year in QA before I got on as a Producer on Reboot, a PS1 game that took about 2.5 years to complete and sold terribly. Afterward, I had an idea for a snowmobile racing game. So the core team from Reboot – me, Tristan Brett (great artist and former roommate) and Tom Heath (UK-based programmer) – developed a really great prototype and sold EA executives on doing it. A year later, we finished the game – Sled Storm (PS1) – and it went on to sell over 1 million units.
At that point, I’d been at EA for nearly five years and wanted to started my own business. So in 1999, me and a couple partners founded a company called Moderngroove Entertainment. We raised $3M in funding, took the company public on the NASDAQ and published a PS2 lifestyle product called Moderngroove: Ministry of Sound Edition. In 2001, the tech wreck happened and with it went my paper millionaire status. Moderngroove was the university schooling I never had – it even cost me about the same as an Ivy League education!
Since then, I’ve done a lot… consulting here and there (with the most interesting gig being working with a behavioural psychologist to turn his research into a game), producing games and original IP for Decode Entertainment, a TV production company, and producing advertising at McCann Erickson (3rd largest ad conglomerate in the world). One of the IPs I co-developed at Decode will air this year as a 22 episode TV series called Urban Vermin – becoming the only product I’ve ever earned royalties from!
But for the last three years I’ve been a Producer at Relic Entertainment, a THQ company located in Vancouver, BC. In that time, I’ve shipped The Outfit, a squad-based third person action/strategy game for the Xbox 360. Now I’m working on new concept development for Relic, putting my experience with original IP to use to ensure Relic has exciting new games in the pipe.
GameProducer.net: Why did you choose a career in gaming? What would you be if you were not a game producer?
Adrian Crook: When I was growing up, I thought I would be a cop like my dad. I also thought I’d be a writer. Or, depending on which movie I had just watched, I thought I’d be Indiana Jones or a Top Gun fighter pilot. Realistically though, if I wasn’t a game producer I would probably be doing something in interactive – i.e. web stuff. With the web, you can put something out there relatively quickly and iterate on it based on consumer feedback. I really like that. With games, you spend 2+ years developing something and if it isn’t absolutely perfect out of the gate, it dies on the shelf a couple of weeks later. I don’t like that so much. :)
GameProducer.net: You have worked for several companies, including 5 years at industry leader Electronic Arts, and are now working at Relic Entertainment. How is it like to be a game producer in big companies?
Adrian Crook: At a big company, it’s easier to get stuff done but it takes longer to do it. I remember at Moderngroove our PS2 dev kits blew up over the holiday period of 2000. Due to our ubermicro status with Sony, we couldn’t get replacements for over a month. THQ would have had those replacements much faster. But when it comes to getting a new project off the ground, at a smaller company it is obviously faster to do so than getting a project through the greenlight process at a larger company.
But speaking of Relic specifically, it’s great. Relic is a fantastic blend of small and big company – i.e. the flexibility of small with the stability of big.
GameProducer.net: Can you describe your “typical work day as a game producer” at Relic?
Adrian Crook: The lack of a “typical” day is probably what I like best about being a producer! It’s always different. Most days you’re trying to remove “blockers” – i.e. things that are preventing team members from making progress. Other duties include facilitating design decisions, pushing forward recruiting, making tradeoffs with your lead programmer, feeding assets to the marketing machine, talking to press, risk managing the schedule with your APs, playing the product, presenting to execs, and so on. Very engaging and fast-paced.
GameProducer.net: You were given the 2006 Canadian New Media Award, “Producer of the Year”. How do you feel about that and what does this award mean to you?
Adrian Crook: Individual awards are an odd thing in a team-driven business like ours. It’s really nice to be recognized because anyone who knows me also knows that I’m usually the last person to take credit for something! So it was a surprise to get the award.
GameProducer.net: You produced Relic Entertainment’s first console title: The Outfit. What were your responsibilities in that project?
Adrian Crook: As the Producer on a project at Relic, the leads and production team report to you. That doesn’t mean you become a power hungry meglomaniac, but it does mean that you’re ultimately responsible for ensuring the product meets the company’s goals. On a daily basis, I worked with the team, Relic management and THQ to ensure the project was coming in on time and on budget – which it did. To do that, I made decisions about the relative importance of certain features, the contents of trade show and press demos, the staffing and assignment of the team, the tradeoff between build and buy or internal development vs outsourcing, the design of the game, and so on. The team on The Outfit was around 100 people, so a big part of my job was also ensuring that everyone knew the plan.
GameProducer.net: The Outfit delivers explosive third person WWII combat through an epic, story driven campaign, complete with the freedom of total destruction. Total destruction is something that’s not seen in many games – how did you guys at Relic manage to make it happen, and were you happy with how it turned out?
Adrian Crook: The destruction aspect was very fun. Yup, I’m happy with how it turned out. As for how we made it happen, well we had to use a very complex destructible building system that ultimately stole memory from a lot of areas, as well as building many discrete destructible objects – so that everything you hit would blow up. The artists and programmers did a great job with destruction.
GameProducer.net: Did you – as a producer – get to design anything in the game? Did you give any ideas that ended up in the final game?
Adrian Crook: As a Producer, you have a hand in a lot of things. It’s tough to list out all the design areas I played a role in. The achievement/rewards system and the Destruction-on-Demand system (i.e. parachuting in items) were areas that I spent a bit more time on though. As much as I’m a creative guy who loves games, I realized that I had a great design team, led by Jeff Brown (ex-lead designer on Oddworld games), who were more than capable. On most days, the best thing I could do was stand back and provide feedback here and there.
GameProducer.net: What was the greatest lesson you learned from The Outfit production?
Adrian Crook: When you begin work on a project that’s already underway, always examine the inherited decisions and fight to change anything that you think will hurt the project. Although I did that on The Outfit, I could have done more of it.
GameProducer.net: What was the best experience in The Outfit production? Finishing the game must have been one great milestone, but were there some other situations that you remember?
Adrian Crook: The Outfit had to be one of the riskiest projects ever. It was a new engine, new team, original IP, launch window title and Relic’s first console project. For those reasons, every aspect of it is memorable. Every time we made progress despite the odds it was an incredible rush. Some big ones were our E3 demo, Leipzig demo, and the first time the game ran at 30fps. Incredibly, they happened in that order.
GameProducer.net: Here’s a question that aspiring game producers want answered: What would you recommend an enthuastic hobbyist gamer do to help them get job in the gaming industry? What should they do to become game producers?
Adrian Crook: I get asked this question all the time. You could go to a game school like Vancouver Film School, or work on a mod, or get a job in the production, QA or Balance departments of a developer or publisher. Or all of the above. Either way, you need to demonstrate a love of games and solid communication and organizational skills. Then you need to get noticed somehow… so taking any game industry job to start is a good thing. If you’re an awesome performer and vocal about your career goals, then you’ll likely end up where you want to be.
GameProducer.net: How would you describe a “great game producer”? What qualities and skills you need to become a great game producer? What kind of personality makes a great game producer?
Adrian Crook: I think you need to be a good listener and a confident, clear communicator – as well as possessing solid analytical skills, patience and follow-through (for those 2+ year long projects!), and integrity. You also need to be able to work in “interrupt mode”… meaning finding a way to get your work done in those tiny gaps of time where a teammate doesn’t need you. If you can’t do that, you’ll forever be working overtime to catch up.
GameProducer.net: The gaming industry is getting bigger and bigger. What’s your take on the future of gaming? How is the industry changing and what will happen in the next years to come?
Adrian Crook: The future of gaming is a lot more diverse and exciting than it is today. Big budget games have become so complex that they’ve left a lot of people behind, creating huge emerging markets for casual games on platforms like the web, XBLA, Wii, and mobile. Business models are also changing, with MMO models such as “free-to-play, pay-for-items” enabling real freedom of choice for the consumer, not a monthly subscription that ties you down. I’m very excited about where the industry headed, but I’m even more excited to be a gamer.
GameProducer.net: Then in the end I’d like to ask you to tell us your TOP 5 hints for game producers out there. What are the 5 tips that every game producer in the world should need to know?
1) All you have is your reputation. Don’t burn bridges, don’t stab backs, treat everyone with the respect you’d want for yourself.
2) Push decisions down to the lowest possible level. Trust and empower the team to own their areas of the project.
3) Make sure your bottom line is well understood by the team. I.e. “At the very least, we need feature x to do y”.
4) Have fun. If you’re not laughing, you’re in the wrong line of work. If you need to be the court jester to bring some levity to your team, do it.
5) Play games and read books. And if you’re like me and don’t have a photographic memory, take notes on each and discuss whenever possible.
Adrian Crook: Thank you too! I read GameProducer.net all the time, so thanks for the chance to participate!
The opinions expressed by Adrian Crook are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, plans or positions of Relic or THQ.