In­die La­bels

In E270, we touched on what ‘in­die’ means to­day. Here, we in­vite five in­dus­try lu­mi­nar­ies to dig deeper

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Five in­dus­try lu­mi­nar­ies dis­cuss the mean­ing of in­de­pen­dence in to­day’s game-mak­ing land­scape

More di­verse, more cre­ative and more ad­ven­tur­ous than tra­di­tional game-mak­ing, in­die devel­op­ment is fre­quently held up as the so­lu­tion to the in­dus­try’s prob­lems. But is that re­ally the case? As the bound­aries blur – as self-owned stu­dios find fi­nan­cial suc­cess and grow ex­po­nen­tially, tiny teams make enor­mous games, and big pub­lish­ers form more small teams – what does the word ‘in­die’ even mean any more? As if to make that point, the five peo­ple as­sem­bled here have wildly vary­ing job de­scrip­tions. Mike Bithell made Thomas Was Alone by him­self. Nathan Vella’s Capy em­ploys two dozen peo­ple, while David Braben’s Fron­tier is mak­ing Elite: Dan­ger­ous with a team of 250. EA and Popcap alum­nus Gior­dano Con­testa­bile is a VP at Tilt­ing Point, which pro­vides sup­port to mo­bile game de­vel­op­ers. Siob­han Reddy, mean­while, is stu­dio direc­tor at Me­dia Mol­e­cule, mak­ing games that em­body what we used to call the in­die spirit, de­spite be­ing a Sony sub­sidiary.

Each of you rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent as­pect of the in­dus­try. How many of you still con­sider your­selves ‘in­die’?

David Braben Does that make me not in­die? The grief I got when I said Fron­tier was in­die…

Mike Bithell I’m so done with the word. I’ve ac­tu­ally been in the pub and stood up for you in that de­bate. Peo­ple have no sense of his­tory, that’s all. In­die just means cool, right? That’s all peo­ple mean when they say ‘in­die’.

Siob­han Reddy I ac­tu­ally don’t un­der­stand what it means. I un­der­stand ‘in­de­pen­dently owned’; I un­der­stand ‘in­de­pen­dent spirit’. I get that… When there’s a style more ar­tis­ti­cally free than an­other, made from an in­de­pen­dently free place, then I think that’s in­de­pen­dent. It gets into, ‘What type of game maker are you? Are you in­die and cool? Or are you triple-A and the devil?’ We sit in a weird world at Me­dia Mol­e­cule where we’ve never been in­de­pen­dent fi­nan­cially, but does that mean we’re not cool?

MB You made Lit­tleBigPlanet; you’re cool. Th­ese days it means what you want it to mean. I think a few peo­ple used it with beau­ti­ful, punk games, and then a bunch of mar­ket­ing de­part­ments no­ticed they were get­ting more cov­er­age, and then it be­came a thing that got twisted.

Nathan Vella It’s not as though there’s some kind of ab­so­lute re­quire­ment for defin­ing a style. We don’t get re­ally an­gry at peo­ple when they call their mu­sic hip-hop; we don’t know what it means and we don’t care what it means. I’ve lis­tened to that genre of mu­sic for a mil­lion years, but I still have no idea what that means. I just as­so­ciate the name with this mas­sive bub­ble… You can’t avoid [the mar­ket­ing side] at all, you can’t.

Gior­dano Con­testa­bile It is a good mar­ket­ing tool, some­thing that gets you cer­tain cred with cer­tain pub­li­ca­tions.

Is there an in­de­pen­dent spirit that goes be­yond mar­ket­ing?

DB I think the in­die spirit [is] mak­ing a game for your­self, mak­ing a game for you to be proud of. To me, the an­tithe­sis of in­de­pen­dence is fo­cus tests. I’m not say­ing they’re a bad thing, and if you’re writ­ing a game for an au­di­ence that isn’t rep­re­sented on the team, you need that sort of thing, but it can lead to, ‘One guy couldn’t [com­plete] it; let’s make it a bit eas­ier.’ It means you don’t know what you’re do­ing in the first place. MB But it’s use­ful for telling you how well you’re achiev­ing the thing you are smugly try­ing to achieve be­cause you’re in­de­pen­dent. I’m not chang­ing my game be­cause of how they’re play­ing, but it’s in­form­ing me how well I’m achiev­ing the ob­jec­tives I have set out. If I’m try­ing to make a frus­trat­ing game and ev­ery­one leaves with a mas­sive grin on their face, then I will tweak that to achieve my goal bet­ter.

DB When some­one has worked a lot on a game, you get close to it and think, ‘This is too easy, I’m go­ing to make it harder,’ and it’s a real prob­lem with in­die games. Fo­cus tests can also be ex­tremely valu­able [to avoid that].

GC I think it’s im­por­tant to ex­pose your game to peo­ple out­side of the devel­op­ment team. You need some­one to tell you your baby is ugly, whether that’s a fo­cus group, a friend or fam­ily.

Player feed­back has never been more pow­er­ful. Mi­crosoft’s rethought its en­tire Xbox One of­fer­ing be­cause of it, ev­ery big game is fo­cus tested, and Kick­starter lets play­ers in­vest di­rectly in a game. But what hap­pens to the cre­ator’s vi­sion? GC With­out speak­ing ill of Mi­crosoft, their [re­cent] busi­ness

de­ci­sions were kind of com­mon sense, and the au­di­ence high­lighted that they were com­mon sense. There was a prob­lem to start with. That’s busi­ness, but cre­ative is dif­fer­ent; on the cre­ative side, I think it’s your choice whether you get the player to tell you what to do or not. A strong cre­ative mind usu­ally doesn’t do that.

DB I think our de­sign dis­cus­sion forum is great. It’s re­ally friendly and peo­ple sug­gest changes. It doesn’t mean that it’s a vot­ing sys­tem, it’s just to make sure all the is­sues are cov­ered. I think you can still have that sort of ap­proach, [es­pe­cially with Kick­starter] where you have a self-se­lect­ing group. We said, ‘Hey, this is what we want to make. This is how we’re go­ing to make it. Are you in or out?’ MB And they’ve lit­er­ally bought in. DB That is a change… We sort of have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure that we de­liver some­thing that’s as close to the vi­sion that we put for­ward at the start as we can.

SR We tend to stay within the team at first to get to a point where the team is happy mak­ing what they’re mak­ing. Then it starts spread­ing out. Through­out Tear­away and LBP we would do… not so much ‘fo­cus test­ing’, but get­ting to know the au­di­ence. I like the test­ing, but I don’t think you need to lis­ten to all of it, and ac­tu­ally I want us to re­serve the right to say, ‘Thank you, but we just re­ally like that. And you might not like it, but we love it, so we’re go­ing to keep it like that.’ Hope­fully some­body, some­where will agree with us.

NV I think mak­ing the game to ap­pease ev­ery­one is the fast track to a com­plete bomb. [Graphic de­signer] Ti­bor Kal­man said, ba­si­cally, ‘When you make some­thing no one hates, no one loves it’. When I first read that, I was a univer­sity stu­dent think­ing, ‘Fuck ev­ery­body. I want to make what I want to make.’ The more I have thought about it, the more I be­lieve [that]. We’ve never done the same genre [twice], never done a se­quel. I think it’s im­por­tant for us to make things that are not go­ing to ap­pease ev­ery­one.

SR I think that’s what is re­ally strong – there is a Capy style, which comes from the per­son­al­ity within that group of peo­ple work­ing on it. It’s the same with Mol­e­cule; it’s the col­lab­o­ra­tion of ev­ery­body com­ing to­gether. [We shouldn’t] start wa­ter­ing that down with un­known peo­ple out­side. We have a great re­la­tion­ship with Sony in that we’re never forced to take cre­ative de­ci­sions. I think that would be the death of that re­la­tion­ship.

Are smaller and larger de­vel­op­ers very much dif­fer­ent to­day in terms of what they’re try­ing to achieve?

NV I have a friend who works very high up in the COD fran­chise. We sit on his pa­tio, drink beers and talk about what devel­op­ment means. He’s talk­ing about it on a $10 bil­lion fran­chise, which is the most con­sis­tently vil­lainised of any game that has ever ex­isted, and I’m talk­ing about it from a small stu­dio having never worked any­where else in games at all. And most of our prob­lems and pas­sions are com­pletely aligned.

MB I think most stuff is unan­i­mous. I’ve heard triple-A devs moan­ing about pre­ten­tious in­die games, and I’ve heard in­die devs moan­ing about COD, and nei­ther of those groups have ever met each other. I don’t buy into this ar­gu­ment that indies are in any way more cre­ative or ide­al­is­tic. I worked at Blitz, and I poured just as much love into Wii games as I did into Thomas Was Alone. It didn’t mat­ter what I was work­ing on. I’ve seen ex­actly the same amount of pas­sion on both sides of the fence. I bet the COD de­sign­ers who stay late ev­ery night do so be­cause they be­lieve in it.

NV [Tre­yarch de­sign direc­tor David] Vonderhaar works harder than any­body, and he gets death threats in the mail.

GC I used to get those for Be­jew­eled! When I was at EA, I met peo­ple from the Madden and FIFA teams. You think of those as mas­sive, im­per­sonal fran­chises, but then you meet the team and the game is ab­so­lutely the ex­pres­sion of the team.

SR I had the same ex­pe­ri­ence en­coun­ter­ing peo­ple who worked on Madden. I’m not into sport at all, but th­ese peo­ple were so into it; they loved the sport and they loved the rules and they ex­press it in just the same way that I love the games I love mak­ing.

While in­ter­ests and in­vest­ment are sim­i­lar among the cre­ative peo­ple in the in­dus­try, how do you think games are per­ceived out­side of that bub­ble?

DB There was this piece in The Sun re­cently, ‘Games Are Worse For You Than Heroin’, or some such headline. I re­mem­ber get­ting quite an­gry about it. I had hoped we’d seen the end of ar­ti­cles like that, and hope­fully it just re­flects worse on the pa­per that’s printed it than [it does on] gamers.

SR I think the main­stream press moves re­ally quickly to fo­cus on the neg­a­tive. We have so many skills, and yet one of the things that we can’t crack is be­ing able to fig­ure out how to talk to peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand what games are.

DB There’s a set of peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand games. The games they’ve seen are from 20, 30 years ago. They re­mem­ber them as rep­e­ti­tious, ir­ri­tat­ing, an­noy­ingly dif­fi­cult to play and that’s it. That’s cer­tainly true of a lot of politi­cians. Th­ese peo­ple don’t ap­pre­ci­ate how big our in­dus­try is, how im­por­tant it is. The bonkers headline ‘PS3Play­ing Dad Kills Baby’ – I mean, for pity’s sake! Maybe more than half the pop­u­la­tion plays games reg­u­larly. You wouldn’t call it out as, ‘Toast­erUs­ing Dad Kills Baby’.

MB I look at a lot of this stuff and I think, ‘This is just be­cause a lot of old peo­ple don’t know what videogames are’. But then Barack Obama was the first pres­i­dent who was a kid when videogames ex­isted. I look at that and think, ‘Maybe this is the shift’. You start to see stand-up comics in­cor­po­rat­ing a videogame bit into their act, or you see games men­tioned in a TV drama. We’re seep­ing in be­cause the old peo­ple are dy­ing.

NV The flip side of that, though, is that it still has the ‘toys for boys’ men­tal­ity at­tached to it. The end re­sult is ex­actly the same for out­siders as it is with the older gen­er­a­tion. That, I think, falls a lot on what Siob­han was say­ing about how we do a poor job of show­ing the breadth of it. I try to ex­plain Su­per­broth­ers: Sword &

Sworcery or Su­per Time Force to some­one and I start by say­ing, ‘Have you played Mario?’ I hear my­self and I want to punch my­self in the face, be­cause the sec­ond I do that, the as­so­ci­a­tion is ‘toy’, and im­me­di­ately the cul­tural value seeps out.

GC One rea­son why the press can latch on to this kind of stuff is that we are the only in­dus­try where most of the mar­ket­ing is about killing peo­ple. We’re the only one. That’s the most vis­i­ble part, and it makes it very easy for them to do those hatchet jobs.

SR It’s hard. We have Tear­away, which is charm­ing and lovely, but there is still killing. We found it re­ally tricky to come up with game­play as im­me­di­ate as press­ing X and some­thing [goes away]. GC Look at The Sims. The prob­lem is that the in­ter­ac­tions of The Sims are ap­prox­i­ma­tions of a rom­com, and that’s not as im­me­di­ate as press X to kill, which is an ap­prox­i­ma­tion of killing. It’s hard to make a fine and com­pelling game that doesn’t in­volve press X to kill, and in­stead in­volves feel­ings and re­la­tion­ships.

MB This is what I’ve found with Vol­ume. It has no ‘kill’ but­ton and it ru­ins it.

SR In terms of gen­res and story and ex­pe­ri­ence, I still think there is so much out there. I would love to see a lot of the games that are onto their fifth se­quel just not con­tinue and for those teams to try some­thing new. Not be­cause I think those games are bad, but be­cause I would love to find a way for us all to be in­spired to in­vent a bunch more gen­res. A lot of it can all just look the same from the out­side, even when it’s not the same at all when you get into it.

It wasn’t so long ago that peo­ple were say­ing all games are the same. A few years on, we have in­cred­i­ble va­ri­ety from hun­dreds of stu­dios.

DB Well, we were very limited by shelf space in Game. It was hard to get more than one fac­ing in a shop and it cost a lot of money, so it wouldn’t stock games that were more than a few months old. Now we have in­fi­nite shelf space.

MB If you keep things small… With my new game, I need to sell 15,000 copies to get my money back, and it’s go­ing to be in­cred­i­bly hard to not sell 15,000 copies. This is the ridicu­lous­ness of it.

DB But some­times it’s hard to sell that kind of num­ber. You typ­i­cally sell a tiny amount just to friends and fam­ily, or you sell re­ally big if you cap­ture peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion. Most of our games have re­cently done more than four mil­lion down­loads. Once you get that rolling, the word of mouth car­ries it for­ward.

Will cur­rently niche gen­res – games about so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, say – ever rise to take on the cur­rent block­busters?

GC If you look at the bil­lion-dol­lar fran­chises, it’s shoot­ers, GTA or sports, and all the mar­ket you see will stay around for those.

MB That ex­cites me, be­cause it’s so wrong. It’s true that’s how things are right now, but if you look at any other me­dia – books, TV, film – we don’t live in a uni­verse that’s just ac­tion movies, or where all the books [are thrillers]. That means the op­por­tu­nity’s

there. The idea of a Seth Ro­gen videogame? There’s an au­di­ence that wants that.

DB Per­son­ally, I wouldn’t care if COD didn’t ex­ist, be­cause the in­dus­try would be so much fresher with­out it. I’m not here to crit­i­cise any in­di­vid­u­als. But it has be­come, for me, very stale.

SR They’re get­ting to the point where they’ve fi­nessed some­thing so well… When I was go­ing through an FPS phase, I dis­cov­ered how good it was. I was like, ‘I un­der­stand why this is the one.’ It’s the one be­cause it’s ac­tu­ally the best; I found it the most en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence to play. And the same with play­ing GTA – it’s just so well fi­nessed. They all started some­where and then they stuck with it un­til they were on to their n-teenth it­er­a­tion.

DB The ad­van­tage for [stu­dios like th­ese] is they always have some­thing to point at that is re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to the one they’re about to make to jus­tify the bud­get. With GTAV, they used the sales of GTAIV, and said, ‘It’ll be bet­ter.’

MB The old guard are kind of los­ing a cer­tain amount of rel­e­vance in terms of the triple-A stuff. We have got a resur­gence in peo­ple do­ing the things they want to be do­ing, and we also have this new gen­er­a­tion of the [devs be­hind the] in­die hits of the last ten years set­ting up stu­dios, grow­ing up.

DB There’s also a miss­ing piece of tech that will make a big dif­fer­ence to us, which is speech [recog­ni­tion and gen­er­a­tion]. We’re get­ting ever closer tech­ni­cally. Killing some­thing is a very easy in­ter­ac­tion; so­cial in­ter­ac­tions are way harder. The Last Of Us did a very good job with per­for­mance cap­ture and ac­tors de­liv­er­ing it, but then you’ve got a nar­row story that isn’t very in­ter­ac­tive. [It’s] a long way off, but it will come.

NV I think the flip side of it is the tech­no­log­i­cal com­po­nent, but then there’s also the pure craft com­po­nent. The Last Of Us is an in­ter­est­ing one. Usu­ally, you need a good story, you hire some­one from Hol­ly­wood and they write the same garbage into a game. But you ask Neil [Druck­mann, Naughty Dog cre­ative direc­tor] and he writes what, in my opin­ion, is one of the bet­ter scripts for a videogame of all time. I think the way you solve the nar­ra­tive prob­lem in games is to ei­ther find good game writ­ers and give them more power, or just get rid of the nar­ra­tive en­tirely.

Is there re­ally a nar­ra­tive prob­lem in games?

MB We are one of the only medi­ums that doesn’t have the writer show up first. A pro­ducer may say, ‘We need a Bat­man movie,’ but the writer is the first cre­ative on the project. The screen­play hap­pens first, same with TV and ev­ery­thing. We de­cide we need a level in the Ama­zon, a level in the mil­i­tary base and then we then hire a writer to ex­plain why that is hap­pen­ing.

DB There is an­other point to it, though. We’re not re­ally just a sto­ry­telling medium. I know some of the games we do are ways of telling sto­ries, which is great. But you’re also [an ex­plorer] in the world. [Take] As­sas­sin’s Creed. You’re sim­u­lat­ing a guy climb­ing around, and you’re think­ing, ‘I bet I can get up the top of that.’

NV To me, that still counts as nar­ra­tive, and that’s still very im­por­tant. You talk to Pa­trice [Désilets, As­sas­sin’s Creed cre­ator] about that game, and the thing he talks about be­fore any­thing else is what he wants the player to feel, what they want to achieve. MB It’s sim­u­la­tion with nar­ra­tive ob­jec­tive as well. That’s the story that’s been con­structed. It feels emer­gent and it is. I’m sure there’s stuff I do in

AC that no one ever in­tended me to do, but it’s still a writ­ten [de­sign].

NV That’s ac­tu­ally very much in line with my point. If you go out and hire a Hol­ly­wood writer, you lose that abil­ity [for play­er­driven nar­ra­tive], be­cause they have no con­cept of this en­tire other space ex­ist­ing. Be­low has no text at all; you don’t get told any type of story. You find it all your­self. That’s some­thing you can do in a videogame. But the nar­ra­tive for Be­low is longer than any we’ve ever writ­ten.

SR You can’t just come and get some­one to write it for you. Our scripts are always writ­ten by who­ever cares. But in some ways, we could prob­a­bly get rid of the text and di­a­logue a lot of the time. What we’ve tried to do is guide some­one through an ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s always been dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out how to do words, and how to bring the writer to the team. I ac­tu­ally re­ally like our process in a way, be­cause it does re­flect how we make it – noth­ing works in a lin­ear fash­ion. MB On smaller pro­jects, the writer is of­ten the de­signer. I can think of two or three de­sign­ers, my­self in­cluded, who have had to learn to write be­cause they were the peo­ple who had to write. This is why in­die games are always cel­e­brated for their sto­ries; I don’t think in­die writ­ers, or the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for writ­ing in in­die games, are usu­ally any bet­ter. Of­ten a lot of us are worse than the triple-A equiv­a­lents. If the story wasn’t work­ing, I could just change it. I could make some­thing more co­he­sive. I’m not that

“I’m not that good, but be­cause I had the free­dom to lead the ex­pe­ri­ence, I cre­ate the il­lu­sion of be­ing a much bet­ter writer”

good, but be­cause I had the free­dom to lead the ex­pe­ri­ence, I cre­ate the il­lu­sion of be­ing a much bet­ter writer.

SR [As de­vel­op­ers] we have to build a bunch of things, fig­ure out a bunch of things and always in our mind we have to keep an idea of what the world is, what the story is and what the player’s jour­ney will be. I think that works pretty well in the way that we do it, but I think we could get bet­ter at it. When I think about hir­ing a Hol­ly­wood writer… When we look out­side the in­dus­try to solve the prob­lems, [you find] no­body works in ex­actly the same way, or works in the way where we do, from gran­u­lar choices to high lev­els, to delet­ing ev­ery­thing and start­ing again. Very few pro­cesses have ex­actly that many dif­fer­ent brains all work­ing to­gether, where a new idea one day can shift ev­ery­thing. It’s a very dif­fer­ent process. One of the rea­sons for why it’s never go­ing to be a com­pletely black-and-white an­swer of how we im­prove writ­ing in games is be­cause ev­ery team will have their own tweak.

MB It’s the end re­sult that mat­ters; there are mul­ti­ple routes to the best so­lu­tion.

GC One thing I’d like to change is that in ev­ery dis­cus­sion like this, we end up com­par­ing our­selves to the movie in­dus­try. I’d like the in­dus­try to lose its in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex to the movie in­dus­try. We now reach the same amount of peo­ple and we are a big­ger busi­ness. Peo­ple now have as much emo­tional at­tach­ment to games as they have to movies. Yes, there might be prob­lems, and, yes, the writ­ing might not be of the same level yet, but the fact is that peo­ple love games. We have bil­lions of peo­ple who love games, and we know which are im­por­tant. I don’t think we’re do­ing such a bad job. We should be a bit more as­sertive and say, ‘This is a craft that is as im­por­tant as movies’. Shigeru Miyamoto says he wor­ries about vir­tual re­al­ity, that the point of gam­ing is to bring peo­ple to­gether, not to iso­late them. Can wear­able tech, whether it’s smart­phones or VR head­sets, ever be a main­stream phe­nom­e­non? SR I’m re­ally ex­cited about be­ing able to work with Mor­pheus. Even if it is a fan­girl sci-fi future dream, it’s just a re­ally cool thing to wit­ness as a hu­man be­ing, to be com­pletely im­mersed. I don’t yet know what the long­form game should be. I know there’s a leap between it now and get­ting it in to ev­ery­body’s liv­ing room and that may take a bit of time; it will take games and I’m ac­tu­ally re­ally hop­ing that this is a way to bring in new ex­pe­ri­ences, new ideas, new things.

MB The Miyamoto thing is in­ter­est­ing, but I think that’s spe­cific to how Miyamoto de­signs and plays videogames. I don’t play videogames to share a room with peo­ple. I play videogames to sit and pre­tend to be Al­taïr, to jump from rooftop to rooftop, and my girl­friend oc­ca­sion­ally watches. I think Sony’s so­lu­tion – putting the VR pic­ture on the TV at the same time – is in­cred­i­bly smart. That makes it much more so­cially ac­cept­able to me. I think [the con­cept of] wear­ables in your own home is in­ter­est­ing, but it’s go­ing to take a lot to con­vince me that this is mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, stuff you want to take on the go with you.

DB It’s also to do with so­cial ac­cept­abil­ity. When smart­phones were first around, peo­ple were seen as [be­ing] geeky to start fid­dling with one. Nowa­days, peo­ple don’t bat an eye­lid.

GC But then it also crosses this thresh­old. The rea­son why it be­comes big is be­cause it’s cool and looks good. Cur­rently all that [wear­able] stuff makes you look like a dork. They need to be able to make it in a way that makes you look good.

SR It would have to get to the point smart­phones did. They en­hanced our lives im­mea­sur­ably in terms of be­ing able to get in touch with our friends, not get lost, do our work, blah blah blah. Any­thing that’s wear­able has to be some­thing that ac­tu­ally fits in with all of what we’re do­ing right now. The only thing I can imag­ine peo­ple get­ting used to is a watch, be­cause we’re al­ready used to it. How does the in­dus­try tackle the ‘boys’ toys’ prob­lem that Nathan men­tioned? Is it a mat­ter of greater di­ver­sity? SR We’ve started to get a lot of young women ap­ply to Me­dia

“There’s a whole lot we can give back that will just show peo­ple that you can be any­body and make games”

Mol­e­cule. Not a lot, but a lot in com­par­i­son to be­fore. I’ve been won­der­ing whether or not that’s be­cause they know that there are women in the com­pany, and if that’s true, all it means is that stu­dios need to prop­erly ex­pose the di­ver­sity that ex­ists within those stu­dios.

DB There are sev­eral things there. I think we have a lot of women [at Fron­tier] as well. I’ve been in com­puter sci­ence lec­tures at uni­ver­si­ties where there’s not one sin­gle fe­male face. That’s the group we’re choos­ing from. It’s a sys­temic thing. SR It goes right back to pri­mary school. Right back to the toy shop. DB One of the things that frus­trates me is the way that IT has been taught in schools. It’s very off-putting, par­tic­u­larly for girls. It’s very hard not to [sound] sex­ist, but women are so much bet­ter than men at a lot of things; one of them is view­ing some­thing as a means to an end, not as a means in it­self. Women are more in­clined to say of a car, ‘Where can I drive in it?’ It’s more prac­ti­cal, and com­put­ers aren’t any dif­fer­ent. What I would love to see in ed­u­ca­tion is not teach­ing pro­gram­ming for pro­gram­ming’s sake, but to solve a prob­lem.

MB The folder on my com­puter for Thomas Was Alone was called Teach­ing My­self Unity. I didn’t sit down [time af­ter time] be­cause I wanted to learn Unity [for its own sake]; the ob­jec­tive was to make a game.

SR I’ve been re­ally happy to see so many peo­ple join­ing in as par­ents at cod­ing clubs within schools and that kind of thing. There’s a whole lot we can give back that will just show peo­ple that you can be any­body and make games. It even takes an ef­fort in our stu­dio with women want­ing to make things.

DB It ap­plies to [all of] STEM ac­tu­ally. The ten­dency is to get things that are boy-fo­cused. It’s hard, but you’ve got to stop it. It’s not that we set out to be dis­crim­i­na­tory. It’s just the way that our cul­ture is, to some ex­tent.

MB I hear a lot of indies talk­ing about how we’re so much bet­ter than triple-A in terms of di­ver­sity, and how we’re do­ing a bet­ter job at cap­tur­ing this stuff. I think we are to an ex­tent, but if you look at what the fi­nan­cially suc­cess­ful in­die games are, there’s still a lot of het­ero­sex­ual white men mak­ing those games and at the top of those com­pa­nies do­ing that stuff. I refuse to be­lieve that’s ac­tu­ally a mer­i­toc­racy. I think [indies] might be in­her­it­ing some of the in­dus­try’s is­sues and that’s a risk.

SR We have this au­di­ence – it’s young kids, older kids, peo­ple of all the gen­ders, all sex­u­al­i­ties, all na­tion­al­i­ties, the whole thing. I want to make things that are in­clu­sive for peo­ple, but we have to re­mem­ber to do it. Ev­ery­thing is so much richer for do­ing it. I would like us all to sort of make love not war, and find a way to get over some of the po­lar­i­sa­tion there is now. I don’t think that it’s nec­es­sar­ily that bad. There are some re­ally ter­ri­ble sto­ries out there to do with our lack of di­ver­sity and, yes, ac­tu­ally there have been real prob­lems with sex­ism, ho­mo­pho­bia and those is­sues. But I think we’re a re­ally smart in­dus­try full of smart peo­ple; it’s time to move on and close those chap­ters. There are so many won­der­ful peo­ple. I would love to see us have an in­dus­try-wide epiphany.

Gior­dano Con­testa­bile

Vice pres­i­dent, prod­uct man­age­ment at Turn­ing Point

Siob­han Reddy

Stu­dio direc­tor, Me­dia Mol­e­cule

Mike Bithell

Solo de­vel­oper

David Braben

Founder and CEO, Fron­tier De­vel­op­ments

Nathan Vella

Co-founder and pres­i­dent, Capy­bara Games

Sack­boy would not ex­ist to­day with­out Sony’s dol­lar, but his games cap­ture a spirit that tends be called in­die

“I try to ex­plain Sword & Sworcery and I start by say­ing, ‘Have you played Mario?’ I hear my­self and I want to punch my­self in the face”

ThomasWasAlone won a BAFTA for its nar­ra­tion. Bithell says work­ing on writ­ing along­side de­sign im­proved his game’s story

Tear­away’s quirky charm could eas­ily have been pol­ished out, but Me­dia Mol­e­cule knows when to re­ject fo­cus test feed­back

Capy’s Su­perTime Force is bold, brash and loud, but also in­tri­cately sys­temic and seeped in ’80s cul­ture and NES-era homage

GTAV demon­strates what’s pos­si­ble with it­er­a­tion – and how bud­gets con­tinue to grow at the high­est end of devel­op­ment

Wear­able tech and VR of­fer new ways to in­ter­act with games, but it will take experimental suc­cess sto­ries to pop­u­larise them

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