Interview With Adrian Crook, Relic Entertainment

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. Hi Adrian. Thanks for giving 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. 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. :) 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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?

Adrian Crook:

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. I warmly recommend readers to visit Relic Entertainment’s and Adrian Crook’s website. Thanks for the interview Adrian.

Adrian Crook: Thank you too! I read 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.

Interview with Jesse Smith, Firaxis Games

GameProducer.NET had the chance to talk with Jesse Smith, game producer at Firaxis Games, who have recently finished Civilization IV: Warlords – the newest game in the legendary Civilization game series.

GameProducer.NET: First of all, tell us little bit about yourself. Who are you, what games have you done and how did you ended up working at Firaxis?

Jesse Smith: My name is Jesse Smith and I am a Producer at Firaxis Games. In 1997 I decided that I wanted to get into video games, so I went to Firaxis and asked for a job. Firaxis told me that I needed some experience before I could work here; they helpfully suggested that I check out a Hunt Valley, Maryland based outsource QA facility called “Absolute Quality.” AQ hired me, and after three years I moved to San Francisco to help run AQ’s West Coast office. From there I was hired by the publishing company Activision, where I worked in production on a number of O2 sports games, including the Tony Hawk, Mat Hoffman, and Kelly Slater series. With this experience under my belt I reapplied at Firaxis, and this time I was hired. This was a great opportunity: not only did I get to work with some of the best in the industry, but I also got to move back to my home town. At Firaxis I’ve worked on Sid Meier’s Civilization III, Civ III: Conquests, and Civ IV; and I have just finished producing Civ IV: Warlords.

GameProducer.NET: Your merit list is impressive: you’ve been working on many AAA games. How did you find the time to involve in production of all those games?

Jesse Smith: The first half of my gaming career was in QA (quality assurance, a.k.a., playtesting). At Absolute Quality we saw a wide spectrum of titles come in for full testing or just safety-net testing at the end of the cycle. This exposed me to a lot of different types of games and a variety of testing roles, including management. The sheer number of titles we worked on during that period is almost unbelievable. Of course, once I started at Activision in 2001, I had more time to work on each product, and I was able to begin honing my production skills.

One of the amazing things about this business is how different the creation of each game is. The production cycles may be similar but because of rapidly developing technology the challenges you face change with each game you work on.

GameProducer.NET: You now work at Firaxis. Is Sid (Meier) nice guy to work with – in case you get to see him once in a while…

Jesse Smith: I can see Sid’s office from mine so I bump into him quite frequently. Sid is a genius and truly inspires those he works with. He is very hands-on with the projects and focuses a tremendous amount of effort on making sure the game is fun and exciting. When he is involved on a project you can feel the entire company humming with excitement. It isn’t often you get to work with a legend so it is an experience just to be a part of the team. And he’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with.

GameProducer.NET: You were finishing Civilization 4: Warlords. How are things going?

Jesse Smith: We just finished with Warlords last month and things went extremely well. The Civ IV team did a great job when designing and coding the main title to ensure that it could easily be expanded. This allowed us to come up with a solid vision for Warlords and execute it on time – even when our release date was moved up a few months.

GameProducer.NET: Can you tell us more about Civ4 production and schedules. How do you use timetables and deadlines? How do you schedule game production?

Jesse Smith: There really isn’t a specific science to the way we generate the schedules; they are mostly based on our previous experiences and knowledge of the product we are creating. There is one hard and fast rule, however: at Firaxis we do extensive prototyping before we begin production.

Due to the sheer scope of Civ IV we divided the prototyping into two phases. The first phase was Ancient to Medieval. The second phase was Renaissance to Modern. By the time we finished the first phase we were able to begin production on all of the early game’s assets while we continued to prototype the second half of the game. Once we finished prototyping the second half of the game we were then able to begin full production on the whole project.

During the prototype and production portions of the development cycle we typically set monthly milestones. They measure chunks of the total job and usually include tasks which demonstrate progress towards solving all of the challenges. Each milestone also includes a set number of assets which need to be completed. This allows us to make sure we remain on schedule. During late production and the polish phases our milestones are mostly driven by marketing requirements. Getting the product in the best shape possible for GDC, E3, press events, demos, previews, and reviews determine the final milestone dates.

GameProducer.NET: That sounds great. In busy times – perhaps before deadlines for events such as GDC or E3 – the workload might cause stress. How do you deal with stress in challenging times?

Jesse Smith: During the development of Civ IV I dealt with stress by working more hours. This wasn’t the optimal solution since it typically just generated more stress! I have since learned to deal with the stress of the project by going to the gym. We are fortunate enough to have one in our building so I can go down there for an hour any time I begin to overload. If I enter the gym with a problem I need to solve I usually have a solution by the time I finish working out. As a general rule, exercise helps tremendously when dealing with the pressures of a project.

GameProducer.NET: From stress to challenges: what have been the most challenging moments in Civ4 development?

Jesse Smith: One of the most challenging parts of Civ IV development was getting the community involved in the project 18 months prior to release! This required a lot of work on our part to ensure that we always had versions which were in good enough shape to be played by outsiders. We spent a lot of time testing versions, posting them, reviewing feedback, implementing changes, and retesting/posting versions. In the long run the effort was worth it because the feedback we received helped us make the game what it eventually became.

GameProducer.NET: How about the best moments? What have been best times in Civ4 production so far?

Jesse Smith: I would have to say one of the best moments for me was when we went gold. Almost the entire company was involved with Civ IV, and everyone was committed to seeing it succeed. We had pulled the schedule in a couple of weeks so everyone was crunching to make sure we hit the deadline. I remember burning the gold master discs and leaving the building to fly them to the duplicators when I heard over the intercom, “Elvis has left the building!” to a loud cheer from all of the employees.

GameProducer.NET: How would you describe the Civ4 production in one word?

Jesse Smith: Educational! Civ IV was the largest coordinated project Firaxis had developed at the time and involved a lot of people, many of whom were recent hires. We all learned a great deal from this project. I personally found the entire experience to be enlightening and enjoyed every stressful second of it!

GameProducer.NET: How’s game production job at Firaxis. Is it fun? And the pay is good?

Jesse Smith: Being a Producer at Firaxis is awesome! The job is extremely rewarding because of the incredible people you get to work with, the fun games you work on, and the responsibility the company gives you. Each producer is handed a project and a goal but given the freedom to lead the team in whatever way suits their style. Management is always there to provide insight and help if needed but otherwise they allow you to focus on the task at hand. I find it to be extremely rewarding and fun. The pay and benefits at Firaxis are outstanding.

GameProducer.NET: Responsibility comes hand to hand with leadership – one of the skills or qualities that game producers need to have. What leadership means to you, and what have you learned about leadership in Civ4 production?

Jesse Smith: The importance of leadership ability in a game producer cannot be overstated. Once you have a huge team working on a project everyone must understand the direction the project is heading and the role they play in getting the project there. A good leader listens to the team and watches the flow of the project and makes decisive decisions which keep everyone moving toward the final goal. Without good leadership the quality and timeliness of the product is at great risk.

While working at Activision as an Associate Producer I was managing managers. This was very different from what I am doing now as a Producer at Firaxis, which involves direct interaction with the actual content creators. Managing and motivating creative individuals requires a vastly different approach!

During the final six months of Civ IV I was the only Producer on the project and this was pretty overwhelming: it was my first triple-A title as a development producer, and I was working with the largest team the company had ever assembled! Finding myself becoming overwhelmed, I went to my bosses to ask for assistance, and they brought Barry Caudill, producer of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, onto the project as Senior Producer. This turned out to be an excellent decision for everybody. With Barry as my mentor I honed my game production skills, and I really came to understand what it means to produce games at a cutting-edge studio like Firaxis. In the end the project came out on time, under budget, and to rave reviews from the critics and audience alike!

Asking for help is never easy but it is an important part of being a leader. You always need to be willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of the game you are working on.

GameProducer.NET: Besides leadership, there are several elements that make a good game producer. How would you describe a professional game producer? What skills and knowledge he has? What kind of person he is?

Jesse Smith: Though the roles of development producer and publishing producer are very different from one another they both require someone who is a strong communicator. The Producer needs to be able to listen, manage, motivate, direct, and coordinate the efforts of a lot of different people simultaneously. They must be organized, analytical, and above all, solution-oriented. They need to be able to motivate people to do the best work possible. They must be able to clearly define a vision for the project, develop a plan to create it, and then execute it with decisiveness. It is also useful for a Producer to interact closely with marketing to make sure that everyone in that department understands what is cool about the game and what elements should be emphasized when selling the product.

In summary, a Producer must be able to manage and lead a project to successful completion.

GameProducer.NET: I often hear people saying they want to become game producers, but they just don’t know what to do. What would you suggest an aspiring game producer to do in order to get his dream job?

Jesse Smith: For someone who is just starting out I would suggest you get a job where you are in some level of project management. As you improve your skills with organizing projects, managing teams, and creating success you will develop the skills to be a producer. The first and perhaps hardest step is to get a job in the gaming industry.

In my case I started out as a tester – I loved breaking games! This position evolved into managing testers and eventually to leading entire projects. As I gained experience it became easier for me to lead projects more effectively. My experiences as a project leader honed my skills to allow me to be able to produce games.

I believe that the path from QA to production is a natural progression. If you really want to be in video games I recommend that you get a job as a tester and put your heart and soul into your work. Learn everything you can, ask for responsibility, demonstrate your willingness to take on new challenges and you may very well work your way up to production.

GameProducer.NET: Do you have any good book recommendations for game producers?

Jesse Smith: Recently I have read Game Production Handbook by Heather Chandler which I found to be very good. Game Design Theory and Practice 2nd Edition by Richard Rouse III is also an excellent read with a lot of useful information.

GameProducer.NET: Anything else you’d like to add? About production? Jobs? Games in general? Anything you’d like to share with other game producers?

Jesse Smith: Not that I can think of!

GameProducer.NET: In the end: what are your TOP 5 tips and hints that every game producer in the world should know?

Jesse Smith:

1. Know your team. Be aware of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, utilize their strengths and use training to reduce or eliminate a person’s weaknesses.
2. Triple Time. Always assume any complex task is going to take about three times as long as everyone believes it will take. You must plan for iteration!
3. Prototype! Make sure the designers have a clear idea what they want. Anytime you hear the words “I think” from a designer ask them to turn it into an “I know” by writing out or demonstrating exactly what they need and how it will fit into the game.
4. Do everything you can to make sure the game is the best it can be. From strict attention to details to asking for help; be sure to do whatever is necessary to accomplish your goals.
5. PLAY YOUR GAME! As a producer you have limited time so you can’t spend as much time playing the game as you might wish, but you must have a solid working knowledge of the game and how fun it is. This will become especially useful for demos and press events.

GameProducer.NET: Thanks for the interview!

Jesse Smith: Thank you for the opportunity!

Interview with Positech Games Producer Cliff Harris: Kudos Game Production

Cliff Harris has been working on companies such as Lionhead and Elixir and has found his own game development company Positech Games. Cliff has previously given us Democracy sales statistics and is now giving us some inside information regarding the production of his upcoming life simulation game Kudos. You are the producer/developer/designer and owner of Positech games. You mention in your bio that you started selling games at 1997 and worked as an IT support. How did you ended up making games?

Cliff Harris: I started coding games as an amatuer in 1981, but didn’t get very far. I was coding them properly in C++ from 97 onwards. The first game that I finished and that sold any copies was called Asteroid Miner, I think that was in 98. I was self-taught, partly from a cheap book called ‘C in plain english’ and a 2 week intensive C++ course when I was unemployed. I also went to evening classes in ‘advanced C programming’ and sent off for a cheap command line compiler on a floppy disk :D. You have worked for an UK game development company Elixir, doing Republic and Evil Genius. I remember pondering buying Republic and actually own a piece of copy of Evil Genius. How did you started working at Elixir, and how were you involved in the game production?

Cliff Harris: I mainly worked on a canned XBox game at Elixir, but I did some work on Republic. I did the camera collision detection, the code for the newspaper (not sure if that ended up being dropped), the sound engine, and some tools support for the famous infinite poly engine. I got the job through just sending them my CV, they were looking for people who had finished games and I had a bunch of shareware games under my belt at that stage. Elixir went bust and you moved to Lionhead doing AI for ‘The Movies’ game. At some point you quit and went fulltime – how did this happen?

Cliff Harris: Long story. I totally lost faith in the way big retail companies did things at that point. There were a lot of promises made during the last year I was there relating to promotions, future positions, bonuses etc, all to ensure I stayed on and helped get the movies out the door. Once the game was finished it was clear none of this was going to happen, we argued, and I left.. At the start of 2006 you have gone bit back to work for Maxis on a gameplay prototype for the Sims franchise. Are you still doing that?

Cliff Harris: No that was a short term gig, just a few months, 2 or 3 I think. That started practically the day I left Lionhead and led me nicely into working on my new games without any money worries. Plus it was great to be working for Maxis :D. After working years and years both in a big company and as a self-employed, how would you describe your experiences? What have been the pros and cons in both ways of doing games?

Cliff Harris: Pros of big company: You learn what artists, producers, marketers and animators all do on a big game project. You learn how to work on huge projects and to understand other peoples code. You get a regular salary and get to play great LAN games every lunchtime. You learn some great code techniques. Donuts.

Cons of big company: Pay isn’t as high as it should be. Pressured to work long hours. Working with very poor quality code in some cases. Internal office politics. Being told not to interact with the customers. lawyers. Donuts.

Pros of Indie: Set your own hours, work on your own game. work wherever you like, even in the park. Play games when you like, holiday when you like. Close connection with the customers, direct stake in the success of each game. No Donuts

Cons of Indie: No guaranteed money. Can be lonely work. Nobody to turn to for a second opinion. No regular LAN buddies for games. No Donuts From some of your comments, one might get the impression that you are a strong defender of indie games – and blaming big companies (in your own words) ‘vet the design’ or ‘do the design in a boardroom by a bunch of accountats’. You also have said that ‘If you are looking for innovation and new types of game, forget the likes of EA and Sony, look to 1 man companies’. Do you think that innovation (for big game houses) is dead, and that the time has come for indies?

Cliff Harris: Potentially it has. We have great tools now, you can buy a great 3d engine off the shelf, get sound and even art assets from online vendors, or get artists or coders to work for hire. There are multiple new 2D-friendly platforms like XBox, DS etc. This is a great time for indies to really innovate and do well.

In practice, not many of us are trying. If I see another match-3 game I’ll cry. It’s sad to see so many small developers behave exactly like the big companies we have supposedly escaped from.

One things true though, innovation is being totally squeezed out of big ‘triple A’ games. There is no toleration of risk unless your name is Molyneux or Wright, and even then there are big business pressures wanting everything to be safe and predictable. I hope innovation does come from indies, because I’ll die of old age before it comes from most big retail developers. Now to the present day: you have been working on a Kudos game. Looking your earlier games one can get the impression that you like making tycoon/simulation type of games. Can you briefly tell us what Kudos is about? What makes Kudos so special?

Cliff Harris: Kudos is a very hard game to describe. It’s like a 2D turn-based slightly RPGish version of the Sims. It’s another take on the concept of a ‘life sim’ game, pretending that the sims never happened. I’m hoping Kudos will really act as a kick in the groin to people who have got lazy with the Sims genre. There are so many different approaches to doing a life-sim game, and the only one people focus on is the 3D world with an avatar real-time one that the sims chose. I’m trying to make the ‘anti-sims’, its like that genre, but designed in an alternate universe where will wright wasn’t born.. On the Kudos website it says: “At the moment Kudos lets you learn guitar, drums, saxophone, bass or piano, buy a car, bike or motorbike write a song, skateboard to work, play chess, golf or football with friends, own a pet, watch 4 TV channels, do crosswords and sudoku, read classic novels, develop a scientific theory, start a drunken brawl, learn kung-fu, fight off muggers, treat your friends to an evening out, change your job, snub people you find boring, write a screenplay, join a gym, go bowling, join the bowling team, go ski-ing, have a snowball fight and I’m adding stuff every day…”. How many different elements are you going to add, and is it complex to design such a big set of skills and stuff? I bet it must be hard to balance the game, or is it?

Cliff Harris: That’s what I’m doing right now. It IS pretty hard, but I think game designers get a bit too obsessed with balance. If you are making Battlefield 2 or an RTS, then inbalance can ruin the game, but in a singleplayer game its not so vital. I am concentrating on the game being fun more than anything else. I don’t want people to play kudos like it a level-grind or a highscore-driven game. It’s like a life-sim toybox to play with.. I’ve added a lot more stuff since that list, but there comes a point where it will be too spaghetti like. Theres still lots of potential to add more design-wise though. Where did the idea of Kudos game came to you? And how did you ended up using name Kudos?

Cliff Harris: Kudos was inspired slightly by some code I did for the movies, partly by some of the ideas I had when I was thinking about the Maxis stuff, and partly by playing a game called Cute Knight, but really its been my ‘ultimate game idea’ for quite a while, a game with everything in the real world in it. Originally it was called Milo, after my deceased cat, and you had to play a guy called Milo. I think I changed it to kudos after I’d started using Kudos as a ‘resource’ in the game. For those who are eager to read more about Kudos, what can we do? Is there a newsletter or more information available somewhere?

Cliff Harris: All there is right now is the website, and the odd interview here and there, although I think PC Gamer UK will be covering it soon. There is a video of the game that is available at The demo will be made public in the future. I’ll be fleshing out the website at when I have a break in the development. I do have a newsletter but I don’t push it much, not nearly as much as I should. Thats on my todo list as well. is where to send an email if you want to join! The question that always has to be asked: When will Kudos be released?

Cliff Harris: Originally it was October, then that moved to September, and it might actully be August now. But It will probably be tweaked and added to for the rest of this year, providing it doesn’t bomb massively :D What have been the most fun, most difficult and most unique production issues you’ve encountered in Kudos development?

The art was Fun. I do most of the art myself, and I buy some stock photos too. poser 6 is cool! and making pretend book covers for all the books in the game was fun. The hardest bit is the design. It’s too easy to just make the game a default RPG, or a sims-clone, or even a Democracy-clone. I wanted to do what was best for the game, even if it was hard to see in advance how it would snap together. The design process has been much harder than the coding or the artwork. Where there is no clear precedent to copy, design is torturous. Im sure Katamari Damacy was a nightmare to design. There are just no ground rules. Is there anything else you’d like to add regarding Kudos?

Cliff Harris: Kudos has been designed from scratch without any direct attempt to fit a genre, just like Democracy. I like games like that. If you like them to, buy Kudos, because thats what encourage develoeprs to make games like that :D. The best non-indie example I know of is Giants. Before the final question: You have worked for big companies, released games and are now producing another game. What tips could you offer for those who like to be successful game developers and producers?

Cliff Harris: Work for a big game company, but dont make a career out of it. Accept the fact that you are there to learn everything you can in preperation for leaving. Put aside as much money as you can in your startup fund, so you feel safe and confident about it when you start your own company. Write a few simple games first, and try and sell them. In the end of these interviews I’ve always asked the question that I’m going to ask you too: what are your TOP 5 bits of wisdom every game producer out there should know?

[1] Coders really genuinely don’t know how long it will take to do task ‘X’. we arent lying or being devious. we really don’t know.

[2] Some coders, animators and artists really are worth 3 or 4 or 5 times as much as some others.

[3] Some coders,artists and animators are worth nothing. they can actually have a negative effect on a project. fire them.

[4] After 8 hours in one day, 99% of programmers will achieve nothing. making them work late is actually counterproductive.

[5] Every man-hour involved in the production of the game means you need to sell X more units to break even. Think about that every time you add a feature, add a new member to the team, or put back the schedule. The number of customers doesn’t automatically rise to cover your increased costs. Thanks for the interview.
Cliff Harris: Cheers for the support!

Interview with 3DRealms CEO Scott Miller – Prey Game & Production Insight

Scott Miller is the CEO of game development studio 3DRealms. interviewed him about game production and their upcoming game Prey. Prey has a serious dark story based on authentic Cherokee mythology. The PC and Xbox 360 demo are coming on June 22nd. Before going to any other questions, tell us little bit about yourself. How did you get into games industry?

Scott Miller: While living in Australia, began writing computer games in 1975 on a Wang 2000 and have since written over 100 games, large and small, up until 1990, with over 20 commercially released on disk magazines such as I.B.Magazette and Softdisk (Big Blue Disk). During the mid-80′s I wrote professionally for several national gaming magazines, including COMPUTE!, as well as writing a weekly syndicated column for four years for The Dallas Morning News (titled “Video Vision” the first two years, then renamed “Computer Fun” for another two years). In the early 80′s also co-authored (with George Broussard) a book on beating arcade games.

In 1990 I quit my day job to focus on Apogee full-time. (Apogee had been a part-time business since late 1987.) Immediately recruited several key developers to join me as shareware game developers, including id Software (before they were id) and Todd Replogle (author of the first three Duke Nukem games). Also at this time turned Apogee into a partnership by teaming up with long-time friend and game maker, George Broussard.

For further information, see: my bio You are the CEO of 3D Realms. What kind of job is that, and what’s your role in game development?

Scott Miller: It’s the best job you can imagine! All play all day! Okay, seriously… I generally handle all contact with our partners, including publishers, handling agreements, etc. I also handle a great deal of the marketing for our products, such as helping design retail boxes and advertisements. And, the best part of my work involves the creation of games, starting with story concepts, through design hooks, to final polishing. As a CEO, your role is different from a game producer. Can you describe us a typical work day for you?

Scott Miller: I really don’t know what a game producer does. This is one of those terms we borrowed from Hollywood, yet a game producer doesn’t do what a movie producer does. It’s a term that has different meanings at different publishers, and even within development studios. So, I rarely use it myself, as its meaning is too blurry to have any real value. It says on your website that Prey is developed by Humanhead and produced by 3DRealms, what exactly that means? What 3D Realms is doing Prey in production?

Scott Miller: Well, in this case we stay true to the Hollywood meaning of the word Producer. This means that we provide funding, and we oversee the project, and put together the right team to create the project (i.e. a developer and a publisher). In one of the game journal entries you mention that SpiritWalking is one of the key features of the game, what kind of feature is that?

Scott Miller: Spirit walking is a gameplay feature rooted to true Native American methology, where a shaman of sufficient power can astral project himself beyond his physical self. This feature is one of the reason we selected a Cherokee protagonist, as the rich mythology of Cherokee culture lends itself to many such inherently credible gameplay hooks. Prey production started at late 2001. When did 3D Realms started to work with Humanhead?

Scott Miller: Actually, Prey originally started within 3D Realms’ studio back in 1997, under the direction of Tom Hall, who soon left to help form Ion Storm, and then we brought in Paul Schuytema to replace him. We ceased worked on the project in 1999. We gave new life to the game in 2001 after buying back the publishing rights to Prey from Infogrames, and that’s when we decided to work with Human Head to bring the project to completion. Prey is done for both Xbox and PC, using enhanced Doom 3 engine. What kind of impact this multi-platform development has had in production?

Scott Miller: Very little. The game was developed on the PC, and then easily translated to the Xbox 360. Venom studio is handling the translation with a great deal of skill, and in fact they’ve given the game a whole new super slick interface on the Xbox. 3DRealms got praise from Remedy when they were doing their first cinematic action title Max Payne. Remedy said that it has been great to work with a publisher that gave no or little pressure about the deadlines. I heard the famous slogan “When it’s done” first time said by Remedy & 3D Realms. How do you approach this attitude nowadays? Do you have no deadlines at all? What it really means to you to publish a game “when it’s done”?

Scott Miller: Well, we have a simply philosophy that if you’re going to make a game, do it right. Another words, the game comes first. Most publishers do not see the value of this philosophy, and therefore the majority of their games are not hits. Also, since we retain ownership of our game brands, it is in our best interest to insure that our games are big hits, because not only do we like those fat royalty checks, we also like to see the valuation of our brands exceed 10′s of millions of dollars. In 2002 we (us and Remedy) sold the Max Payne brand for nearly $50 million, and that was after earning some $25 million in royalties. So, was it worth the 4.5 years to make Max Payne right? One of the key factors of 3D Realms game production is independency. Can you tell us what independent game development means for a company like 3D Realms?

Scott Miller: I sort of answered this in the previous question. By being independent, we can make sure our games are done right, and that rewards us far more completely than a dozen half-way done right games. Also, by being independent, we can chose projects to pursue that have the correct story, character and gameplay hooks to insure their success. This is as important as anything to us, because without getting this part right, even superb execution and endless financing cannot bring success. What do you think about indie (one or few person independent game companies) game development and production?

Scott Miller: This is exactly how my company got started, with me working along long nights in the 80′s, toiling in Turbo Pascal on an IBM PC with no hard drive. So, I always root for the small companies and independents. The trick is that they need to focus on smaller games, of course. The mobile market seems like a great market for indies, too. Have you played indie games, and if so – do you have any favourites?

Scott Miller: I really haven’t played many at all. I spend most of my game time playing games that generally compete within my market. You have written and spoken about the importance of intellectual properties (IPs). Can you tell us the 3 most important reasons why IPs are so important?

Scott Miller:
[1] If you own your own IP, you benefit from the growth in value from the IP.
[2] This in turns gives you clout in starting new projects.
[3] And sets you free from becoming a slave to publishers. Many people and parents out there want people to get a good job from some big trusted corporation… and leave playing games for the young kids. Have you ever considered getting a so-called ‘real’ job?

Scott Miller: Heh heh! I used to have a so-called real job, which I quit in 1990 to pursue Apogee full-time. But until I quit, I always had real day jobs, then worked 8 hours more at home making games and finding ways to sell them online. It took me five years of endless long nights before I had finally gotten to the point were I could quit and devote all my time to Apogee — a very scary decision at that time. But, I’m a risk-taker at heart, and I never want to live a life where I look back and think, “If only I’d tried…” In the end, I would like to ask for some hints and tips. Can you give your TOP 5 tips that you think every game developer or game producer should know?
Scott Miller:

  • Read: Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, and think about these concepts apply to game concepts and design. This is the best tip I can give anyone.
  • Most games are released too soon, before they are truly polished to perfection. This kills sales.
  • Never become married to your ideas. Kill your ego and be willing to accept good ideas from any person or source. Always let the best idea win.

That’s all! Big thanks to you Scott and 3D Realms for the interview. It’s great to to see busy professionals to answer questions from us indies. Good luck with the future projects.

Interview: Oblivion Game Producer Gavin Carter

Gavin Carter is a game producer at Bethesda Softworks – the company behind the The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. was lucky enough to get to interview him. Hi, first it would be great to hear something about yourself, and your background. How long have you been in games industry, and what have you been doing – besides the big titles such as Morrowind and Oblivion?

Gavin Carter: I started right here at Bethesda Softworks in the summer of 2001 as an intern. I did basic world-building tasks for Morrowind such as laying out the interiors of buildings and creating basic dungeons. The next summer I returned to intern again and did quest design on Tribunal. I did about half of the non-plotline quests in the expansion, including the quest where you bet on robot fighters and the quest where you take part in a play. After I graduated college in 2003, I got hired fulltime by Bethesda as an associate producer and have been here ever since. Then right to the point: what game producers do at Bethesda?

Gavin Carter: A game producer is responsible for making the development process go as smoothly as possible. They’re the ones tracking the game’s progress at every point, so they have to create and maintain the overall schedule and make sure it gets communicated to each developer. You have to make sure that everyone you’re responsible for has everything they need to keep moving on development. This includes everything from assigning tasks, to making sure their computer hardware remains up to par, to making sure an artist gets that troublesome animation over to the programmer when he has time to review it, etc. There are different strata of producers, as well. At Bethesda, we have dedicated producers for each project, as well as a producer to handle each area of our team – coding, design, and art. This is something people want to hear… can game producers participate in designing AAA titles? Or, do you just stick with the business issues, projection planning etc.?

Gavin Carter: Game producers participate quite a bit in the overall design. Again, this varies from company to company. Some companies use their producers as overall quality control types who can pass or fail an individual feature depending on their opinions. Other companies leave jobs like that up to the designers or particular team leads. Bethesda is somewhere in between those extremes, but because the job involves a lot of communication, a lot of meetings, and a lot of coordination of work between people, there are lots of opportunities to express your opinions on any particular issue. Is game production a fun job? What’s the pros and cons being a game producer in a big company?

Gavin Carter: It’s absolutely a fun job. The pros are obvious for the most part – you get to oversee the development of a new game. As a producer you have the opportunity to be involved in many different areas of the game. The cons are that there’s nothing very specific that you can point to in the game and say “I did that” like a piece of art or a cool feature. Also, scheduling sometimes feels like trying to climb a greased ladder. You’re constantly tweaking people’s schedules and rearranging things as the project goes along. What kind of skills do you need as a game producer?

Gavin Carter: Project management skills are really where the rubber meets the road for producers. Experience and knowledge of software like Microsoft Project and Excel for scheduling as well as bug and task-tracking packages like TestTrack Pro, Bugzilla, or JIRA come in extremely handy. Also a deep knowledge of how games are created, both from a coding standpoint and an art creation standpoint, is a necessity when planning out development. What kind of personality is required for being a game producer?

Gavin Carter: A good mediator with an even temperament goes a long way. You have to deal with a range of opinions each day from a range of people, and sometimes arguments can get very passionate. Many times people look to you as the producer to make the decision and set a direction, so it helps not to be a hothead about things and to carefully consider your options. Then some questions about your hit game Oblivion. Can you describe us a typical day in Oblivion production?

Gavin Carter: A typical day involved artists churning out new content, designers setting up their quests in the editor, and programmers squashing bugs and implementing new features. A typical day for me usually started with checking my email and making sure I had no loose threads left to resolve. Then I’d begin going over our TestTracker bug and task database, assigning the new bugs to specific programmers to look at and bugging people to finish up tasks that were due. Usually we do meetings in the afternoon, and then I’d finish off by double checking that the schedule document still conformed to what we had in tracker. Oblivion is out now. Is there still something left to do for a game producer, or are you already planning your next game?

Gavin Carter: Personally, I’ve moved on to another project that we’re working on internally. We have two producers still primarily involved with Oblivion – one oversees downloadable content and the other is mostly concerned with support issues, such as the patch and update. About a month ago, Oblivion was reported to have sold over 1.7 million and climbing. What does this mean to you as a game producer?

Gavin Carter: Nothing specifically other than the great feeling of having been a part of something that a whole lot of people seem to really enjoy. I’ve never been a part of anything like it before and the critical and commercial success makes all the hard work worthwhile. Oblivion was developed simultaneously for both Xbox 360 and PC. How did this affect on game production?

Gavin Carter: Multiple platforms always complicate things. It basically means you have to track the status of two (or more) different versions of the game all at once. The art and design sides were largely unaffected but on the programming side we had to dedicate about half of our resources to each platform to make sure they both kept moving forward. On other interviews you have mentioned Oblivion’s Radiant AI. Now as the game is out, have players noticed the system? What kind of feedback have you got? Did the system turn out as you and your team wanted it to be?

Gavin Carter: Players have commented quite a bit about how big of a difference the system makes over Morrowind’s static NPCs. The stories that you can read all over the internet on various forums have been great. I’ve read everything from people’s reaction to hearing cool unscripted conversations, to crazy stories of massive brawls breaking out in the middle of town, wiping out homes and stores alike. I think the system accomplished the goal of providing a varied and unique user experience, and we’ll certainly look into refining it in the future. How much control did you have over Oblivion? When producing AAA titles, the funding comes from different sources compared to indie game production. Does this mean limitations for the game producer?

Gavin Carter: As we are one of the few independent publisher and developer combinations left, we had absolute control over Oblivion at every point in the project. The best thing about working here is that the company administration trusts us enough to produce a fantastic product and they let us do what we think is best. It’s something so rare in the industry that most people think I’m lying when I say it, but it’s true. I imagine companies that are beholden to certain publishers have to deal with a lot more red tape and a lot more oversight, but I haven’t been in that situation myself. What was the best moment in Oblivion production?

Gavin Carter: The best moment without a doubt was when they announced that we had passed certification for the Xbox 360. This was basically the “It’s done” moment. When we got the call, I remember hearing the cheers radiate out across the office as people learned the news. Of course we knew we’d be supporting the game post-release, but it was a great feeling to hold one of those discs and know that years and years of our hard work was finally ready to make it into the public’s hands. Our readers are eager to learn games production, and one of the best ways to do it is to learn from those who are already producing games. Could you give us TOP 5 tips that you think every game producer should know?

Gavin Carter:
1. Play your game. This is the most important and seems obvious, but lots of producers tend to get stuck deep inside Excel docs or meetings and put off actually loading up the game and playing it. A lot of problems are caused when someone in power waits until the last minute to test out a new game feature, only to decide that they don’t like the implementation.

2. Play other people’s games. Always be on the lookout for new ideas, and how you can improve on the successes of others while avoiding their mistakes.

3. Communicate, negotiate, and delegate. Every project is a team effort, and how you work with and apply the people on your team can make the difference between success and failure.

4. Iterate. Doing something over isn’t a failure but a chance to improve.

5. Read everything. Never stop learning. Big thanks to you Gavin and Bethesda Softworks for the interview. Nice to see you can take time to answer questions from indies. Good luck with the future projects.

Gavin Carter: Thank you, it was my pleasure.