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DAVID BRABEN INTERVIEW
December 13, 2009, 2:46 am
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David Braben is an industry legend. The UK designer has been involved in videogames since the early 80’s, putting his name to some of the most influential games ever made; most notably Elite and one of the first ever solid 3D games, Zarch.

With this in mind, Braben is the ideal candidate for our ongoing ‘Getting to know…’ series of interviews, in which TVGB attempts to reveal the people behind the games we play. Here we chat the Frontier Developments boss on his highs and lows, his top 3 industry changing titles and his greatest influences.

That VideoGame Blog (TVGB): You’ve been in videogame design and development for over 25 years now. After all this time, what factor above all others motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

David Braben: I still enjoy what I do. All the time it seems there is something new, interesting or exciting around the corner, both in technology and in the opportunities they offer. I suppose it still all feels new; Frontier has grown consistently since it was formed, and so each year feels very different to the last, in terms of the complexities of running such a company, but also the sort of things we are doing, and the sorts of things the industry is doing.

My dog also needs to be taken for a walk. 😉

TVGB: Are you the same person you were when you first started out?

David Braben: I think so. In many respects, it only feels like a little while since Elite came out. I’d like to say I was older and wiser – but I’m probably just older.

TVGB: From a personal perspective, what is the proudest achievement of your career?

David Braben: I’d like to think I haven’t done it yet!

Clearly I was very proud of Elite – and in terms of life-changing achievements, i.e. comparing the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ – you don’t get much bigger than that, for which both Ian Bell and I were very lucky. A big element of it was clearly being in the right place at the right time, but I think even so, it is an achievement to be proud of, as there were a lot of ‘nay-sayers’ at that time too, and what we were doing was seriously unconventional for the time, but we persisted nevertheless.

TVGB: The lowest point of your career?

David Braben: I think the dreadful premature release of the First Encounters game, and the subsequent lawsuit with Gametek/Take Two (which I eventually won).

[First Encounters – a sequel to the seminal Elite – was released too early and full of bugs. Critical response was scathing, with the general conception being that the game was unfinished. The early release of the game led Braben to launch a lawsuit against publishers Gametek, which was eventually settled out of court – Ed]

It was a very bad time, particularly as you cannot talk publicly about such things while a lawsuit is in progress, and people jumped to all sorts of mistaken conclusions.

TVGB: As the industry expands and videogame design courses multiply in Universities around the world, more and more people are looking to establish themselves in the industry. But what are the downsides of the dream job?

David Braben: The industry is very competitive, and can lead to long hours at times. Having said that, I’m still glad to be a part of it.

TVGB: What single mistake have you learned the most from?

David Braben: Trusting Gametek.

TVGB: What would you say are the three games that have changed the industry most in the last 25 years, and why?

David Braben: Elite, RollerCoaster Tycoon, and GTA, each for different reasons.

I include Elite, as in the years following its release it changed the way game publishers looked at what might be successful – I think a lot of the innovative game ideas that followed, from Populous to GTA, would have fallen on stoney ground, or at least would have required a lot more persuasion to get published.

RollerCoaster Tycoon is included as it also changed the consensus within the industry. It was a game that was also very hard to get published – because it was 2D isometric, when the received wisdom said ‘all successful game are 3D’ – paving the way for a great many other ‘tycoon’ style games.

Grand Theft Auto I think was the first game sold to a broad audience. Dave Jones employed Max Clifford to court controversy, not within the narrow gaming arena, but within the mass media, and they got it. A side effect has been to very much skew the opinions of that same mass media of games in general, something we are only just recovering from, but there is little doubt it changed the industry.

TVGB: Is there a particular game that has influenced you and your work more than any other?

David Braben: Probably not one game, but many games have influenced me at different times.

TVGB: Is there a game you particularly admire that you wish you had worked on?

David Braben: Peter Molyneux’s Populous, as it stood apart from the other games at the time. Will Wright’s The Sims, too. I loved the purity of Eugene Jarvis’s Defender way back at the start of my career. The beautifully planned Zelda: Ocarina of Time from Shigeru Miyamoto. Many more besides.

TVGB: Is there a particular developer/designer or team whose work you respect most? Someone you, if the opportunity would arise, would work with in a heartbeat?

David Braben: Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo have probably had the most consistent success at bringing novel ideas to fruition – something that is really hard to do, and deserves a great deal of respect.

TVGB: What kind of an industry change are you looking forward to and rooting for the most?

David Braben: Richness of experience – through gameplay, story/world, novelty – however it is achieved it is vital we work at achieving it.

TVGB: If you had to choose between critical or commercial success, which would it be?

David Braben: My heart says ‘critical success’ – but practically speaking commercial success is vital in order to keep driving things forwards. In truth, both are very important, and in fact usually go hand in hand to some degree at least – piracy being a big factor that might greatly reduce any corresponding commercial success. My head says ‘commercial success’ – as this implies some degree of critical success too.

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MARTIN DE RONDE INTERVIEW
October 13, 2009, 4:48 am
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Martin de Ronde is an industry veteran, with over 10 years experience in games development and PR. During his career, De Ronde has been involved with a massive variety of games, from AAA hits like Killzone to TV games, MMO apps and casual titles. Now, as director of OneBigGame, de Ronde runs a charity organisation publishing games created entirely for the benefit of disadvantaged children around the world.

With such a long and storied history TVGB thought de Ronde would be the ideal candidate for our ‘Getting to know…’ feature, in which we attempt to reveal the people behind the games we play. Here we chat about his top 3 industry changing titles, why Kick Off 2: Extra-Time is the world’s best game ever, and spending 3 years on a title that turns out to be shit.

That VideoGame Blog: What’s your primary motivation? What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning?

Martin de Ronde: The unexpected. The uncharted. The untried.

TVGB: Are you the same person you were when you first started out?

Martin de Ronde: Not even close. Life is a lesson, you’ll learn it when you’re through.

TVGB: From a personal perspective, what is the proudest achievement of your career?

Martin de Ronde: A very recent one: seeing Chime become a reality as the first game out of OneBigGame. Seeing that logo of ours on that wonderful game by Zoe Mode made me very proud.

TVGB: The lowest point of your career?

Martin de Ronde: Having to let go 10 people at Lost Boys Games (the precursor to Guerrilla Games).

TVGB: As the industry expands and videogame design courses multiply in Universities around the world, more and more people are looking to establish themselves in the industry. But what are the downsides of the dream job?

Martin de Ronde: Realize that you might be working on a game for 3 to 4 years in a row, which can get quite depressing, especially if the game ultimately turns out to be a pile of shit. That feels like 3 years of your life wasted. Also, making a game with a large team often means having to work on very small aspects of the game, you will sometimes find it hard to see yourself as an important contributor to the success, which again can be a bit offputting.

TVGB: What single mistake have you learned the most from?

Martin de Ronde: Doing too many things at the same time in the early stages of Guerrilla Games, cost a lot. Same thing happened with OneBigGame’s first phase. Too many things to do, leads to many things getting done in an average way.

TVGB: What would you say are the three games that have changed the industry most in the last 25 years, and why?

Martin de Ronde: So many influential games that kick-started genres: Street Fighter 2, Doom, Ultima Online etc. But if I had to choose 3, I would choose 3 games that came out at almost exactly the same time: Half Life 1, Metal Gear Solid PS1 and Ocarina of Time. These 3 marked the end of an era in 1998, perfecting the genre of the story driven action adventure games (each in their own unique way) and laying the foundation for it to become the most dominant genre of all over the next decade. And so they started a new era at the same time. They showed the true ‘interactive movie’ potential the movie industry was after in the early 90s. They paved the way for countless story driven first and third person action adventure games afterwards, but also paved the way for the death of innovation in game mechanics, in truly new genres. A paradigm shift.

I never again experienced that feeling of uncharted territories, truly new experiences than when I was walking the plains of Hyrule for the first time, when that train took me to the testing facility and when I had to switch the ps controller. Unforgettable for me personally, but I think these 3 are underestimated in what an influence they had on generations of action adventure games creators for years to come.

TVGB: Is there a particular game that has influenced you and your work more than any other?

Martin de Ronde: Mario 64. I keep coming back to it time and time again when I want to explain something to somebody that has something to do with games. Forget textbooks about videogame design, production etc. This is it. Play and analyze and you will slowly understand some of the secrets of game mechanic creation, balancing, game structure, progress, rewards etc.

TVGB: Is there a game you particularly admire that you wish you had worked on?

Martin de Ronde: Kick Off 2: Extra Time. My personal favorite and the WORLD’S BEST GAME EVER. Sandbox gameplay in a football game. Innovation in game mechanics. True multi-player fun. I must have clocked more hours on that game than any other. Close to modern times’ WoW addiction levels. Despite its brilliance, the game had so many shortcomings still, I would have loved to work on that game to improve it even further. As a combined tester, designer and producer. And finally marketing guy, letting the world know this is the best game ever. Period.

TVGB: Is there a particular developer/designer or team whose work you respect most? Someone you, if the opportunity would arise, would work with in a heartbeat? Why?

Martin de Ronde: Miyamoto-san. Obvious choice, but not because of his games (I am actually not such a big fan of some of his games) but the structure of his designs and his ability to translate imagination into practical solutions, which I think is the secret of his success. Would love to experience his work methodology.

TVGB: What kind of an industry change are you looking forward to and rooting for the most?

Martin de Ronde: A utopian smaller industry, the industry as it was round the middle of the 90s. Too many non-discerning consumers right now, who do justice to their name. They consume rather than contemplate and consider their choices. I don’t like mindless players. I like passionate gamers. Gamers that truly enjoy the games that are coming out, look forward to them and are grateful for the wonderful experiences. Also, fewer games, with less content. More compact game experiences.

TVGB: If you had to choose between critical or commercial success, which would it be?

Martin de Ronde: Critical, in a heartbeat. I am getting the same kick out of doing stuff for OneBigGame (which is non-profit) as I was getting out of my Guerrilla games work.

TVGB: What question would you like to ask our next interviewee?

Martin de Ronde: What is the most under-exploited genre or type of game in the industry at this moment, both in terms of commercial potential as well as in terms of potential for innovation, renovation, re-invention?

If you are interested in OneBigGame and their fantastic mission, you can find more details on the project over at the OneBigGame website.



ACE TEAM INTERVIEW
July 20, 2009, 2:31 pm
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At risk of getting all “we told you so,” we’ve long been fans of Zeno Clash here a TVGB. Developed by ACE Team, an independent studio founded by three brothers from Chile, Zeno Clash challenged our expectations not just of indie titles, but of the medium itself. We’re not the only ones to think so either, with Zeno Clash picking up numerous critical plaudits upon release earlier this year.

As ACE Team get to work on crafting a Zeno Clash sequel — as well as bringing the original to consoles — we took the opportunity to quiz co-founder Andres Bordeu on the development of the game, its reception, and the future of the twisted little world he helped create.
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RHIANNA PRATCHETT INTERVIEW
June 28, 2009, 7:09 am
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rhianna

Rhianna Pratchett is the award-winning writing talent behind such titles as Mirror’s Edge, Heavenly Sword, and the Overlord series. As three new Overlord games hit shelves across the world, Rhianna took some time out to talk to TVGB about the writing process, being the daughter of famous fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett, “terrible” voice acting, and kicking people’s balls through their spine. Seriously.

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F.E.A.R. 2′S DAVE MATTHEWS INTERVIEW
April 5, 2009, 8:24 pm
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fear

Monolith’s Dave Matthews, the Primary Art Lead for F.E.A.R 2: Project Origin, is an enthusiastic man. He has been talking shop to journalists for the past 7 hours, and despite the daunting prospect of having to do it all over again the following day in France, is showing no signs of weariness. Animated, engaging and passionate about his work, Matthews is clearly excited about F.E.A.R 2’s release.

He has a right to be. The sequel to 2005’s critically and commercially successful F.E.A.R. is one of the year’s most anticipated shooters. Promising to improve on every aspect of the original is no small task, but it’s something that Matthews and the rest of the team at Monolith may just have pulled off. We sat down with him to discuss some of the decisions behind the game, its influences and some strange stuff about dead birds…

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