Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Alexis Mavropoulos

Alexis Mavropoulos
Audio Designer
Codemasters

Notable games Alexis has been involved with: LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, LEGO Dimensions, DiRT 4

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Believe it or not, this is actually the first time I’ve done a “Leave Luck to Being Rescued” with a fellow Codies employee. Alexis is one of our newest members of the audio team and he’s fairly new to the industry, after dabbling in other audio roles and a brief stint in QA over at Tt Games. We chat a bit about the audio department, QA, his Master’s degree and working at Codemasters.

Brad: After completing your BSc what made you decide to study for your master’s degree? After all, you’re one of only 2 audio designers in the department to have studied for this qualification.

Alexis: It was a combination of different reasons really. After completing my BSc in Music Technology, I decided to postpone my academic studies for the time being to see what I could do in the ‘real world’, solely with my degree. I thought this would also be a good opportunity for me to test the water and evaluate if I wanted to further pursue an academic path.

During this period, I decided to move to London and full heartedly go for it, in pursuit of what would be the start of my audio career. Upon arrival, I was fortunate enough to secure an assistant sound engineer position at ‘The Limehouse’, a high-end music recording studio.  Combined with other jobs outside of audio such as bar-tending, I worked as an assistant for a number of months to follow. This period was a great learning opportunity for me not only in terms of audio, but also life in general and it will always be cherished. For various reasons, however, I gradually began to feel less passionate about the whole situation I was in and slowly lost interest and motivation. The main reason is that I felt that I wasn’t really reaching my full potential and that I had a lot more to offer, especially creatively. This is when a master’s increasingly started to make more and more sense. Furthermore, I generally felt a bit lost in a sea of other graduates who had general music tech degrees like me. I didn’t really feel qualified enough in order to competently work in a world filled with rapidly evolving technologies, where sound can be created and applied in so many new and exciting ways. This made me seriously consider a master’s degree even more, so long story short; I decided to take the plunge.

 

Brad: When did you decide to get into the games industry? Were you open to other audio professions or did you always plan on getting into sound for games?

Alexis: I’ve always enjoyed playing video games and really liked how a good piece of music or memorable sound effects were often present in games. Growing up, I had no idea about how the whole implementation side of things worked, or that it is someone’s actual job to create sound effects and music in order to make them work in-game. It was just one of those cases where I remember thinking to myself “How do they put the sounds in the game? How do they make them change like that depending on what you do?”, but never really investigated it further. I certainly didn’t picture myself working in the industry back in those times.

Years later, when I was already in London making my first professional steps in audio, I found out a bit more about video game sound design. I got really intrigued by it and as I learned more and more about it, I started to seriously consider it as a potential career path. Up until now, game audio was still a bit of a mystery to me compared to other areas such as post production, where everything is linear based. I knew that I was capable of producing audio content that would potentially suit a game, but I was lacking a lot of the technical knowledge in implementation and other areas that you need to posses, in order to pursue a career in it.

In one of my MSc modules, I started learning about Fmod and Wwise and different game engines like Unity and how you could implement audio and I became hooked! I was even designing my own levels, trying to make little mini games that I would add audio to. There was something about game audio that I just found fascinating. The fact that sound was dynamically evolving in real-time blew my mind and it opened up a whole new world for me. From that point on, I started learning as much as I could about game audio through my course and my own personal endeavours and put all my efforts into one day getting into the games industry as a sound designer.

Naturally, I was also open to other audio related opportunities in order to build up my portfolio and CV and did quite a bit of freelance work on different media related projects before I landed my first official game audio job.

Brad: How did you find the transition from QA into an audio role?

Alexis: The transition was pretty smooth to be honest. Obviously, going from working on small projects that needed sound to being an audio designer for a major title like Dirt 4, there was a steep learning curve in the beginning-especially in terms of implementation. However, I was already familiar with a lot of key concepts surrounding game audio, so it didn’t take me very long to adjust to the project.

Brad: Did the experience you gained while in QA help prepare you for your current role or do you find there is little overlap?

Alexis: My prior QA experience definitely helped a lot in this also. Working in QA was very useful as I was introduced to many aspects of game development such as bug fixing, JIRA workflows, dev menus and platform specific testing, which is still a big part of my job today. Also, working with audio bugs and testing games early on in development gave me a great insight of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’.

Brad: How difficult did you find it to land your first game audio job? Did you apply for many jobs beforehand?

Alexis: It’s a known fact that breaking into game audio, especially in a junior position, can be quite difficult. I most definitely didn’t find it easy but, in retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected either. I’d say perseverance combined with constantly developing yourself is a key factor more than anything in landing your first job. And, yes, I did apply to quite a few places.

Brad: Did you tailor your portfolio and CV to suit the jobs you were applying for?

Alexis: I didn’t really feel the need to tailor my CV each time apart from certain minor adjustments here and there that would potentially suit a role better. As for my portfolio, I basically tried to have what I thought was my best work combined into a single, game audio specific show reel. I’m not saying this is the best way to do things-this is simply how I did it.

Brad: Before working at Codies did you already have an interest in racing games? If yes what are some memorable racing games that you grew up playing? Do you think it is important to be interested in the genre of games you are developing or is this something you get into once in that role?

Alexis: I had an interest in racing games, although I definitely wouldn’t call myself a ‘petrol head’ or anything like that. I generally enjoyed a well made, fun racing game. Some memorable racing titles (of varying style) for me growing up were Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, F-Zero X, Collin McCrae Rally, Star Wars Episode 1: Racer and a few of the Need for Speed games.

I wouldn’t say it’s essential to be fully interested in the genre of games you are developing, but it definitely helps. In my case, I found myself getting a lot more interested in racing games after I actually started working on one as a developer. I guess you get so involved with what you are creating that you naturally grow fond of it. Also, when new titles of the same genre come out from other companies you want to compare them to your game, so you’ll spend some time playing the competitor’s games as well.

Brad: I agree with this, I found that myself when working on various games. I also think it helps to be able to really get into what you’re working on. Before working on F1 I never watched F1 races but now I find myself watching a lot of content and following various stats and reading a bunch of F1 articles on a regular basis.

What’s a typical day like for a junior audio designer at Codemasters? Is it what you were expecting?

Alexis: A typical day would normally involve getting to work in the morning, grabbing some coffee and then having an audio department daily meeting or ‘scrum’. During these meetings we all gather round and mainly discuss our work progress, any issues we may have and our thoughts and ideas concerning the development of the game. After our meeting is over, I’ll go work on whatever sound design or implementation task I have assigned to me for the rest of the day. Depending on how far into the development cycle we are, work will shift more and more towards problem solving and bug fixing and less towards the creation and implementation of new features.

Working at Codies, I was fortunate enough to be quickly trusted to work on major areas of the game like front end, ambiences, reflections, reverbs and various environmental assets. I also helped other members of the team with bits and bobs of work whenever I could. To be honest, as a junior, I was expecting to probably do more tedious, dogsbody work, but that hasn’t been the case and I am really thankful for that.

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Brad: Ok, well it’s time for you to go on a recording trip.

Unfortunately while off on location the Evo X you were in breaks down with you inside, with no idea where you are you head for a derelict tower block. Obviously this was used as a games warehouse, so heading on over to a box you remove the layer of dust off of the games on show. They just so happen to be your 5 favourite games and 1 soundtrack, what are they?

Alexis: What a series of coincidences! Most of my favourite games are old so I guess the derelict tower block scenario works just fine…

Top 5 (in no particular order) would have to be:

1) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2)

I’m a big fan of the MGS series but ‘Sons of Liberty’ stands out a bit more than the rest for me. That moment in the tanker incident intro where Solid Snake jumps off the bridge in the rain accompanied by that amazing Harry Gregson-Williams piece…epic! Electronic music nerd fact: This piece of music was also sampled by Burial in his track ‘Archangel’.

2) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (PS2)

If you were, or still are, a skater and you’re currently in your 20s-30s, chances are you most probably played a THPS game growing up. I chose 3 as it has the best selection of music, levels and pro skaters.

3) HλLF-LIFE2 (PC)

Great gameplay, smart level design and memorable sound effects.  The gravity gun was definitely one of my favourite features.

4) Portal (PC)

Need I say more? Such a brilliant game concept!

5) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64)

Although a few people I’ve spoken to aren’t a fan of this game compared to other Zelda games, it is by far my favourite. I’m a big fan of the dark, eerie theme that the game has throughout both visually and sonically.

Soundtrack – Deus Ex

Very synthy! The ‘UNATCO Headquarters’ theme is an amazing piece of music!

About the choices

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty 

Developer – Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Platform – PlayStation 2
Release – 8th March 2002

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

Developer – Neversoft
Platform – PlayStation 2
Release – 30th November 2001

HλLF-LIFE2

Developer – Valve Corporation
Platform – PC
Release – 16th November 2004

Portal

Developer – Valve Corporation
Platform – PC
Release – 18th October 2007

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Developer – Nintendo EAD
Platform – N64
Release – 26th October 2000

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Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Darren Wall

Darren Wall
Founder and editor-in-chief of Read-Only Memory

Notable books Darren has been involved with: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis:
Collected Works, Sensible Software 1986–1999

http://readonlymemory.vg/

You can follow ROM’s activities on Kickstarter here

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Brad: Growing up, were you a SEGA or Nintendo kid?

Darren: I actually owned both a Mega Drive and a Super Nintendo (yup, I know… a spoilt kid!) but the Mega Drive hit me at the right time and as a result, my allegiance was always with Sega. I vividly recall firing up the Mega Drive for the first time and playing The Revenge of Shinobi. It was unlike anything I’d seen before.

Brad: My first console was a Master System but I actually became a Nintendo kid after getting a NES shortly after although I always dipped into the world of SEGA thanks to the early Sonic games on both the Master System and Mega Drive.

So what was the catalyst for forming ROM and what made you guys choose to first write about Sensible Software and then the Mega Drive?

Darren: I started Read-Only Memory because I thought there was a dire lack of in-depth, high quality history books on the videogame industry. I wanted to make definitive, exhaustive documents on great publishers, developers and games makers. Coming from a graphic design background, I also wanted the books to challenge what we’ve come to expect from videogame-related editorial design, aiming to make them look as timeless as possible.

Brad: Well it looks like a lot of people agree with you based on the Kickstarter success, I remember when I first saw the project I had to back it because there really is a lack of books like this. Last year I got Hyrule Historia which was pretty impressive so I was pretty blown away your book arrived. You really have put a lot of effort into it which can only be a good thing when you start looking for backers for a new project. Speaking of which, are there any plans to use Kickstarter to fund a third book any time soon?

Darren: Thanks so much! We certainly wouldn’t rule out Kickstarter in the future. Right now I’m keen to do our next publication without crowd funding and see how that goes. It will be very weird to just release a finished book one day – I’ve become so used to working on these books in public!

Brad: Do you already have ideas for your next project then and can you talk about it or is it still too early? On that note will there be any plans to cover other SEGA consoles or even a SNES Collected works?

Darren: We have several books in the pipeline, but frustratingly, there’s nothing I can reveal just yet!

Brad: What is your favourite aspect of collected works? Was there a particular piece of art or an interview you were really happy with?

Darren: Personally, I’m really happy with the way we presented the in-game pixel art. The book catalogues sprites and game backgrounds in a way not unlike a zoological catalogue – each character or level is given a ‘figure number’ and the section is followed by a legend, detailing the names of each figure (including regional variations). The actual amount of work involved in creating this section was pretty eye-watering – we enlisted the help of several screen capture gurus to aid us! I recall the Bare Knuckle/Street of Rage spread took about 3 days to put together in total… I’m not sure I could put myself through it again!

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Brad: While on a research trip for a Sonic Collected works book you happen to fly to a floating Island, Angel Island to be precise. Unfortunately the plane takes quite a bit of damage during the landing so you find yourself stranded. After finding some shelter in a cave (er… a mystic cave in fact) you find boxes full of Mega Drive games. The floor looks unstable so you decide to grab 5 of them and run for it.

What 5 games have you selected and can you tell me your reasons why?

1)  ToeJam and Earl

I love videogames that feel closely connected to their creator’s sense of humour. Treasure’s games always had this charm, as if the developers were crying with laughter throughout production. ToeJam and Earl is just such a title – the loving attention to detail suggests that developers Greg Johnson and Mark Voorsanger had a whale of a time creating it.

2)  Star Control

A distant spacebound cousin of Street Fighter II. The game’s melee mode allowed two players to pit hugely varied craft against one another in a deep-space arena with only a planet and a few asteroids for company. Anybody who has managed to vanquish a friend’s mighty Ur-Quan Dreadnought with a weedy Shofixti Scout will know of this game’s giddy highs

3)  Sub-Terrania

An often-overlooked late-era Mega Drive shooter, essentially a 16-bit reimagining of Thrust in the Turrican universe. The joy of Sub-Terrania was in mastering the controls; flying at high speed throughout the game’s atmospheric caves and perfectly arcing your gunfire into unsuspecting enemies.

4)  Rolling Thunder 2

I came to this finely-tuned cover-based shooter only a few years ago and devoured it in a single sitting. The thing that kept me playing was the thoughtful pace of play. If you try to tackle a Rolling Thunder game like Gunstar Heroes you’ll be out of action in seconds – the game forces you to take things carefully.

5) The Super Shinobi / The Revenge of Shinobi

This was the game that forever endeared me to the Mega Drive. In creating the book we discovered this title was intended to be a showcase for the graphical and audio capabilities of the console. The game fulfilled its brief delivered one of the best action platforming experiences of all-time.

Brad: From out of the shadows steps a mysterious figure brandishing a katana, you only have time to grab one game before making a run for it. Which game would you choose to save?

Darren: The Revenge of Shinobi without a doubt. It was the first console game I owned and I distinctly remember the awe I felt when presented with a perfect facsimile of the Sega arcade experience on my 14″ bedroom TV.

About the choices

ToeJam and Earl

Developer – Johnson Voorsanger Productions
Publisher – Sega
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1991

Star Control

Developer – Toys for Bob
Publisher – Accolade
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1991

Sub-Terrania

Developer – Zyrinx
Publisher – Scavenger, Inc.
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1994

Rolling Thunder 2

Developer – Namco
Publisher – Namco
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1991

The Super Shinobi / The Revenge of Shinobi

Developer – Sega
Publisher – Sega
Platform – Sega Mega Drive
Release – 1990

Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Malin Arvidsson

Malin Arvidsson
Senior Sound Designer
Bigpoint

Notable games Malin has been involved with: LittleBigPlanet, Mirror’s Edge, Buzz! TV Quizz, Wonderbook: Book of Spells, Wonderbook: Book of Potions

www.thesoundofmalin.com

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For the first time I interview a freelance sound designer, however part way through our interview Malin applied for and accepted a job offer from Bigpoint. So let’s see both the benefits and downsides to working freelance and why she decided to take on a permanent contract.

Brad: First of all how did you start off in the industry, you weren’t always freelance were you?

Malin: Well, I kind of started in the games industry by accident in a sense. I was studying sound engineering in Sweden, but more for music, and during that time I decided I wanted to work in film, preferably animation. So when we did a 6 week work experience as part of our course, I asked one of my teachers where I can find film companies in London, and he suggested Pinewood studios. So I searched for Pinewood studios on the internet and came across Richard Joseph’s company, Audio Interactive, which was a company based in Pinewood that did sound for games, and I thought, wow, that sounds awesome! I called Richard up to ask if I could join him for 6 weeks and he welcomed me. We got along really well so when I was made redundant from my TV job in Sweden a year and a half later, he asked me to come over to work for him. We both ended up joining Elixir Studios a year later and worked together for 5 years in total until Elixir closed down in 2005. And that’s when I started freelancing 🙂

Brad: How long have you been freelance and what are the main advantages and disadvantages compared to having a permanent contract?

Malin: I’ve been freelancing for almost 9 years now! I’d say the good things are that you get to meet a lot of people, you get to work on a lot of different types of games, learn a lot of different tools and different ways of doing things and you can decide how much holiday you want 😉 I know a lot of people worry when they don’t know what will come up next, and I do admit that I do that too, but at the same time it’s also exciting not knowing what will come next.

The main downside in my opinion is that you’re rarely involved in the initial planning of the game. You’re not there from the start so can’t be as involved in the design and how the sound should work in the game. And you don’t have as much influence on what equipment you’ll have. And unfortunately, a lot of the time you have to sit on headphones instead of speakers. And I guess it’s not great having to worry about having work or not.

Brad: Obviously working on racing games at Codies has been the highlight of your career, but what other games have you really enjoyed working on?

Malin: He he, yes of course! 🙂

Hmmm, I’ve enjoyed most of the games I’ve worked on in one way or another, either because of the game, because of the people or for other reasons. And of course there have always been frustrations with each game too. I think it’s never 100% either way. I loved working on Mirror’s Edge because it’s a great game and a very talented bunch of people working in the audio team at DICE. I’ve also really enjoyed doing all the games I’ve done at Sony because of the friendship and atmosphere they have there. And even though it was a really long time ago now, I still look back at my time at Elixir as really enjoyable, especially working on Evil Genius as it was a really fun game to work on with lots of humour.

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Brad: Are there any jobs you wouldn’t take on either because you don’t want to work on a certain type of game or because you don’t want to specialise in a particular task?

Malin: I’m prepared to do most jobs, although there are certain jobs I prefer to do 😉 I prefer doing sound design and implementation to dialogue. I prefer doing any games where I can use my creativity a lot, like fantasy and magic games, especially things like creatures that don’t exist in real life. And I can’t say I’m a gun or engine person, I’d rather leave that to people who’re better at it than me 😉

Brad: And how about relocating? You were born in Sweden so what brought you to the UK and are there any places you would really like to live and work?

Malin: Originally I only had a 2 months contract when I came to London so I just came with a backpack even though my aim was to stay for 2 years. My contract kept extending and then I was employed by Elixir and I started dating a guy and my stay here just became longer and longer and now I’ve been here for 14 years!

As I love travelling and love trying to live in new places I would consider a lot of places to live and work. Initially I wanted to stay in London for 2 years, Paris for 2 years, Spain for 2 years and then move back to Sweden, but I guess you can never predict what will happen next. That’s what makes life more exciting 😉 I’m still open to moving to new places, but now I’m more prepared to move for a good job than going to a place just because I want to live there. For example, I wouldn’t be too keen to live in the US, but I would love to work for Naughty dog so I would be prepared to live there because of that. Of course there are places I wouldn’t move to. Funnily enough I’m more prepared to move to another country than moving within the UK as I think if I’m going to move I might as well try a new country. I guess being single makes it a lot easier to relocate though.

Brad: What advice would you give to a graduate who is thinking about working freelance in the games industry?

Malin: I think as a graduate, if you can get a job in-house that’s probably a better start so you can get some experience first. But otherwise, the key thing is networking. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to get a job through an agency, all the jobs I’ve had has been through contacts or through the vgm list. Go to network events like the audio track in Brighton and GDC in San Francisco if you can afford it, and go to any meet up you hear of. Join email lists, linked in groups etc. And don’t give up! It’s a tough industry; there are more people than jobs. It’s the people who don’t give up who make it. And don’t be arrogant. If you think you know everything that’s when you stop learning. This is a fast moving industry so there are constantly new things to learn.

(Malin accepts a job at Bigpoint)

Brad: What made you decide to take on a permanent contract instead of freelance work?

Malin: I loved freelancing for the 9 years I did it! I learnt so much from working with different people, different tools, on different styles of games and even moving to different places. But I guess I got to a point in my career where I felt like I’d learnt what I needed to learn from freelancing. The downside with freelance work is that you don’t often get to work on a project from beginning to end, you’re rarely involved from the beginning so many of the decisions have usually been made by the time you start in terms of style, tools etc. Another downside when working in house as a freelancer is that they’re rarely prepared to invest in your equipment as you’re only there temporarily, so often you get to work on headphones in a noisy room and don’t necessarily have the best tools, plug ins etc. And you don’t always get to choose the jobs you do as you need to keep the work coming in. If you turn a job down, they’re not likely to ask you again even if it’s for something more interesting.

So when this job came up, and it seemed like a good company, a good location and an interesting project, I thought maybe now it’s time to move forward and develop other skills. Be more of a decision maker rather than follow other people’s ideas. And I guess it does also feel nice to not to have to worry about finding your next project constantly 🙂

Brad: Right Malin, I’m going to ship you off to a desert island.

Let’s say on your way back to London by boat (why not?) a storm hits and you end up washing ashore on a strange land. Your only refuge is an abandoned Ikea building so you build yourself a bed from flat pack materials. You find some meatballs to eat and start routing around the warehouse where you find shelves stacked full of games, clearly somebody had used this place for shelter in the past.

The roof in this section starts to crack so you only have time to grab 5 games and 1 soundtrack, one of the games can be a special edition if you like. What were your choices?

Malin: Brrrr, I’d prefer to get stuck on a desert island somewhere warm 😉 and right, now I might offend some people by saying, I’m not originally a gamer. So only started playing games after working in the games industry for 7 years (so I guess I started playing games about 7 years ago) so I don’t really know many of the old games.

Sorry, I still haven’t played a huge amount of games tbh so I guess the selection I have to choose from is fairly small 😉

Hmmm, well I think I’d have to go for:

1)  Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)

Tomb Raider as then I won’t feel alone with being stuck in the middle of nowhere. And because I love the game too.

I’d grab two Naughty dog games:

2)  Uncharted 3 (PlayStation 3)

Uncharted 3 was the first game that really hooked me and was the first game I played from start to finish.

3)  The Last of Us (PlayStation 3)

After Uncharted 3 I just wanted to play anything from Naughty Dog!

4)  LittleBigPlanet (PlayStation 3)

Little Big Planet I think I love most for the sackboy expressions. And it makes me laugh and scream when I play it, hehe.

5) Pain (PlayStation 3)

Pain as it makes me laugh 🙂

Soundtrack – Diggs NightCrawler

Hmmm, one soundtrack is hard to choose. Different ones are good for different reasons. One I was very impressed by was when Dead space 1 first came out, but I’m not sure I’d want to be on my own with that game as I would shit myself (sorry) Maybe for a music soundtrack I would choose Diggs Nightcrawler. Even if I worked on the sound for it, I just love Jim’s music on it and it would keep me happy 🙂

Brad: I know you love the cold but if you now have to burn all your games for heat which one would you save until last?

Malin: Hehe, hmmm, I think it would have to be tombraider. I think as a game I probably think Uncharted is better, but I guess I just associate better with Lara Croft being a woman 😉 so I feel more attached to that.

About the choices

Tomb Raider

Developer – Crystal Dynamics
Publisher – Square Enix
Platform – Xbox 360
Release – 5th March 2013

Uncharted 3

Developer – Naughty Dog
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform – PlayStation 3
Release (EU) – 2nd November 2011

The Last of Us

Developer – Naughty Dog
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform – PlayStation 3
Release – 14th June 2013 

LittleBigPlanet

Developer – Media Molecule
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform – PlayStation 3
Release (EU) – 5th November 2008 

Pain

Developer – Idol Minds
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform – PlayStation 3
Release (EU) – 20th March 2008

Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Vincent Diamante

Vincent Diamante
Audio Director
thatgamecompany

Notable games Vincent has been involved with:
Cloud, Flower, Skullgirls, Castlevania: Order of Shadows

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One of my favourite things about this generation is the great indie games we are getting to experience on consoles. Recently I have been particularly fond of games such as The Unfinished Swan, Thomas Was Alone and Journey but the first few games to really grip me were flOw and Flower, both of which were developed by thatgamecompany.

thatgamecompany really shine when it comes to telling a story simply by engaging the player with great music, visuals and gameplay. Vincent Diamante has been kind enough to suffer the fate of leaving luck to being rescued but before I send him away to survive he’s going to talk a little bit about the award winning game that is Flower, his time in education and what games make him tick.

Brad: Flower is a fantastic game but explaining the concept to somebody cannot do it justice. The game takes the player on an incredibly emotional journey simply by allowing the player to guide petals through the world; this is thanks to the soundtrack and level design working perfectly together.

As the composer of Flower’s soundtrack how did you approach the difficult task of creating the score? Did you start work based on concept art and game flow alone or were some of the levels partly fleshed out?

Vincent: Well, I started Flower really early. I began writing music even before there were any core game mechanics, art, or levels were defined. Granted, pretty much all those early tracks didn’t make it in the game, but they had an influence on everyone when it came to searching for all the different aspects that comprised the game. Back then, there were a lot of really rough mechanics prototypes that we were experimenting with. These were really rough pieces with mostly programmer art that I’d do music and sound effects for.  Back then, I think a lot of the influence came from the shape of the controls and the really low-level decisions being made with your hands while playing the game. That continued to be a huge part of the music and sound all the way to the end.

Brad: Typically, with many games it feels as though the sound design is created to complement the visuals so it’s refreshing to see that the audio and score actually had an impact on the overall game design. Were there any instances during development where you thought something didn’t quite work from a visual point-of-view and it was subsequently changed to better suit the soundtrack or vice-versa?

Vincent: There were some subtle changes here and there to better match the audio, but nothing too drastic. There were, however, a few places where the match of visual and aural originally struck the rest of the dev team as: not right. The most notable example of this is probably the exit from the canyon and the entrance of the wind level’s third music. I felt very strongly about the sound there and had to really stand my ground to keep it the way it was. From there, the guys decided to humor me a bit and work around what I was giving them, I guess! The audio and music there in the retail copy is the same as the first pass there, save mixing and mastering.

Now that I think of it, I believe that was the first time in the process I was really obstinate about my position on the overall game, and I got to really elucidate that with the audio. I’m glad they let me do that, even though my relationship was technically just as a contractor at that time rather than as an employee…

Brad: I know you had a hand in the level design and layout of the flowers throughout the game. Do you feel this was an important part of allowing the score to gel with the level design?

Vincent: When it came to level design, well, it was less about the big level design and more about flower design.  The arrangement, shape, size, and density of flower groups, lines and areas were really important because of their direct impact on the sound effects, which were designed to be an extra musical layer on top of the rest of the score.  Because of that… yeah. The flower arrangement in the levels was incredibly important to the success of the score.

Brad: Interacting with flowers to trigger audible feedback to complement the soundtrack is a nice touch. What other games stand out to you as doing something particularly interesting or unique with audio?

Vincent: I was a huge fan of X-Wing and TIE Fighter back in the day. Besides getting me really into the whole modding and level design thing (thanks to a program called TIE Mission Builder), I was hugely enamored with the interactive score and all the fast splicing of MIDI that was happening on the fly. Can’t ignore the NanaOn-Sha games; I really loved Vib Ribbon when it came out. I was just gobsmacked by the music for Vagrant Story, and I always do a close-listening of the extremely subtle interactive score for the game’s playable title sequence. More recently, I’ve been pushing Diamond Trust of London for Nintendo DS on guys; besides being a really neat electronic board game about blood diamonds, it has a looping/branching type interactive score that responds to the board game state. Oh, Rez… can’t forget about that! Loved the fact that the sound effects of the enemies and the player were an integral part of the musical score.

Brad: I know you’re a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and you’ve worked in other industries but did game modding and level design help you decide that you eventually wanted to work in the games industry or was it just more of a hobby at that point?

Vincent: Game modding was part of it. I did have fun messing with TIE Mission Builder, doing 3D Studio Max stuff in high school, messing with Pascal… things like that. I actually knew that I wanted to work in the game industry ever since the beginning: playing games on my cousin’s Commodore 64 back as a 6 year old brat. I’m pretty stubborn.

Brad: So I guess the stepping stone into the games industry then began at University with projects such as Cloud? How did you get involved with the game and did you feel like you were part of something special during its development?

Vincent: Cloud was definitely a major part of it.  Prior to that, I got some repute for writing, having co-founded a website called insertcredit.com, which was rather well-regarded as an enthusiast/New Games Journalism type site with a crazy writing staff. (I guess my niche back then was hardcore vehicle simulation, fighting games, and visual novels.)  As a games maker, I was part of a team at USC that just got a game called Dyadin into the IGF student showcase. Most of that team continued on the Cloud project that came afterward, though that game had a very different development structure, with Jenova as a clear creative director compared to Dyadin which was much more design by committee.  Dyadin definitely got some positive press, but the contrast of Cloud to both games in the IGF and in the mainstream really caught guys by surprise.

I think we had a feeling that this game would get a good response, though we weren’t quite sure just how much. As the sound dude, I was asked early on to create music to set the tone for both the game itself as well as inspiration for the fledgling design. It was a really interesting position to be in, though it made immediate sense to me as someone who fiercely believed in music NOT being a post-production process in games.

Brad: How important was it for you to network with other graduates during your time at University?

Vincent: The networking was pretty important. I just started working as Audio Director over at thatgamecompany, which means I’m back to working with Jenova and others who’ve come from USC.  Of course, it’s not just the networking within that grad program. While I was an interactive media student, I provided music for some senior animation thesis projects from CalArts students; that experience was probably a factor in me getting hired on that Skullgirls team which didn’t have any USC connections but more than a few CalArts guys who happened to also be connected with that website I helped build. 🙂

Skullgirls_01

Brad: Well you definitely keep yourself busy, especially being audio director at thatgamecompany and on Skullgirls. It’s probably fair to say then, that you can tire yourself out and have some pretty vivid dreams such as this one…

On returning home after a day at work you look out of your window and to your astonishment you see a lush green meadow and a series of windmills. You close your eyes and upon opening them your apartment has disappeared and so you begin walking towards the only visible landmark, a derelict skyscraper. Once inside you find the building has been used as a warehouse to store a rather large games collection, as the building begins to creak you manage to grab 5 games. As you run for the exit you notice a pylon has crashed through and damaged a wall, peering through you find a game soundtrack on the floor.

You set up camp next to a windmill that is powering a generator and you decide to have a look through your haul of games. What did you manage to grab?

Vincent: Haha… all right… let’s see…

1)  Garouden: Fist or Twist (PlayStation 2)

This is one of my favorite fighting games ever. The concept of hitstun is very different in this game compared to other fighting games; here it’s a variable that changes over the course of the match as opposed to simply a function of the attack landed, and this changes the story and drama of the fight in a wonderful way.  For me, at least!  Not a popular game among the mainstream or hardcore fighting game guys, but I absolutely love it.

2)  Star Wars: TIE Fighter (PC)

I mentioned this as being my first real foray into video game modding and level editing. Back in the day, I just ROCKED at this game, and I kept on giving myself ever more ridiculous challenges to survive. (Ex: In a TIE Fighter, dogfighting escort shuttles in a mine field with both lasers and concussion missiles…) I could probably play this game forever.

3)  Sid Meier’s CPU Bach (3DO)

Less a game and more a wacky piece of music software, this 3DO game tries to compose music in the style of JS Bach… and it sometimes succeeds… in places. 🙂  It’s not a bad version of a young music student trying to employ high baroque composition techniques…

4)  Puyo Puyo!! 20th Anniversary (Nintendo DS)

Probably my favorite competitive action puzzle game series. They finally got the online multiplayer thing going, so nowadays I actually have a challenge fighting against some very good competition over in Japan.  Or at least I did when I had the time to open up my DS…

5) Radiant Silvergun (Sega Saturn)

This shooter is not only my favorite scrolling shooter, but it also has my favorite video game soundtrack.  It’s pretty short when it comes to the actual music (the official CD soundtrack release actually has the soundtrack twice… once in original ST-V/Saturn mix and again in a slightly upgraded synth arrangement) but it’s a near perfect combination of clever and elegant.

Soundtrack – Vagrant Story OST (Hitoshi Sakimoto)

As for the soundtrack… hrm…!  I already mentioned my favorite soundtrack above… and number 2 would be another Hitoshi Sakimoto score in Vagrant Story… hrm… (man, maybe I should have put that game above, considering the legs of the core game loop there…)

Brad: I tell you what I’ll do; generally I allow the castaway to select a special edition of one of the games. I’ll give you the Radiant Silvergun soundtrack along with the game, which means you can also take with you the Vagrant Story OST.

Vincent: I didn’t mention one of my other favorite fighting games, and that game happens to have a brilliant soundtrack as well.

Honourable Mention) Radiant Silvergun (Sega Saturn)

Asuka 120% Limited for Saturn is my favorite 2D fighting game, and the soundtrack by Keishi Yonao is just ridiculously good fun. The best release of the soundtrack, most of which was actually written in the early 90s, even though the game continued getting updated releases all the way to 2000, comes from the Tilde Game Music Collection Vol. 3 – Asuka 120%. Just great fun to listen to.

Brad: You have certainly chose a varied selection with a mix of fighting, flight simulation, puzzle… and I’ve never played any of these choices, probably due to most of them being released in Japan!

Unfortunately, being exposed to the elements in an open field a large gust of wind rushes in your makeshift camp. Your games are caught up in the wind but you manage to reach out and grab one of them. Which game did you decide to save?

Vincent: Hrm… Radiant Silvergun? Probably that. For me, playing that game is along the lines of revisiting a Scriabin or Beethoven Sonata. I can play it for fun as well as furthering mastery of the game…

So I say, but then I just end up watching superplay videos locally or on Youtube showing the true masters what it’s like to really turn in a virtuoso performance in that game. When you play that game smoothly, it’s a thing of beauty…

Brad: There certainly are some masters out there. I always find with games I like, when checking an online leader board there is always somebody with a ridiculously large high score. It makes you wonder how many hours they have to plough into studying and practicing the game to get that good at it!

Thanks for taking the time to talk about what you do and what games you love. I can’t wait to see what’s next for thatgamecompany.

Vincent: This was fun!  Thank you!

About the choices

Garouden: Fist or Twist

Developer – Opus / ESP Software
Platform – PlayStation 2
Release (JP) – 15th March 2007

Star Wars: TIE Fighter

Developer – Totally Games
Publisher – LucasArts
Platform – PC
Release – July 1994

Sid Meier’s CPU Bach 

Developer – MicroProse
Platform – 3DO
Release – 1994

Puyo Puyo!! 20th Anniversary 

Developer – Sonic Team
Publisher – Sega
Platform – Nintendo DS
Release (JP) – 14th July 2011

Radiant Silvergun 

Developer – Treasure
Publisher – Sega
Platform – Sega Saturn
Release (JP) – 23rd July 1998

Asuka 120% Limited 

Developer – Fill-in-Café / Success
Publisher – FamilySoft / Kodansha
Platform – Sega Saturn
Release (JP) – 1994

Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Jon Holmes

Jon Holmes
Audio Engineer
Rare

Notable games Jon has been involved with:
All Points Bulletin (Realtime Worlds)
DiRT 3, DiRT: Showdown, F1 2012, GRID 2 (Codemasters)

rustybucket

Brad: A two part question first of all.

Can you tell me a bit about your educational background? And did you always plan on being a programmer, or more specifically an audio programmer in the games industry or were there other industries you considered?

Jon: My education was pretty standard for most Scottish kids – I began at nursery, where I learned how to make friends, play games with others and generally be a functioning member of society. In primary and secondary school I performed above average in the subjects I enjoyed (Art, Computing, Music) and sucked at the ones I didn’t enjoy (Maths!). I was quite a creative child, so I spent a lot of time drawing and making things. My family also had a big impact on my education, mostly with how I approached learning. My dad is quite analytical and I think that rubbed off onto me. After school I graduated from The University of Abertay Dundee with a 2:1 BScHons in Computer Games Technology.

Did I always plan on being a programmer? Not at all. Up until the age of 10 I wanted to be a comic book artist for DC comics (I love Batman). Then at the age of 14 or 15 I started learning the guitar. I got quite good at it, and thought I could make a living as a session guitarist. At ~17 it was pretty obvious I couldn’t compete with the guys who’d been playing a lot longer than me, so I chose a profession in game programming.

It’s funny that I took so long to decide to be a programmer, because I started programming at a very early age. Games were always a part of our family, and my older brother programmed a little in AMOS on the Amiga. We had games like “The shoot-em-up Construction Kit” that I played with before I could even ride a bike. I became a bit of a Deluxe Paint ninja and made loads of little visual programs in AMOS. I then progressed to stuff like Macromedia Director, Adobe Flash and Visual Basic until finally getting stuck into C++ at University. For most of my teenage years I much preferred the creative aspects games. I loved animating (something I picked up from my brother) and I loved writing music (something I picked up from my dad) and seeing it all come together as one product was a very good feeling. The programming was simply a means to an end.

However, in 3rd year of Uni I started programming shaders in DirectX. This was really hard, and I barely understood it to begin with. The coursework forced me to really dig deep into how it all worked, and I found that I really enjoyed it. I think this was the real turning point for me. Almost like a switch went off in my brain and I became someone else. Programming was enjoyable, I understood it, I liked investigating new things and I felt I was good at it.

You’ll notice, apart from some music references, that I haven’t mentioned much about audio yet. That’s because I wanted to do almost anything apart from audio programming; I didn’t want to be stuck in a niche position. Ironically, being niche has probably been the best thing that’s happened to me. My first attempt at audio programming was in uni. I did it in a few group projects because no one else would do it. Fortunately my audio programming got me noticed during the Dare To Be Digital competition in Dundee. Realtime Worlds hired me as an audio programmer off the back of DTBD and since then I’ve been very happy doing audio programming (I still suck at maths though).

Brad: That’s interesting that Maths isn’t one of your strong points, generally people think that to be a programmer you have to be really good at Maths.

How different is audio coding from other disciplines in the games industry? Do you feel as if you have to take a different approach to your work and does knowledge of music and audio in general help you?

Jon: Even though Maths isn’t my strong point it’s still important for a programmer. I’m now comfortable enough with basic calculus and trigonometry, but when you get into serious digital signal processing it can get pretty challenging. I just keep sticking at these things until I understand them.

Audio programming is easily comparable to other types of game programming. You’ve got high level coding, which is similar to gameplay programming. This would include stuff like hooking up triggers and logic for controlling the sound. Then there’s more architectural audio programming where you structure how the sub systems talk to each other, and making sure the code is as optimised as possible. Techniques here could be applied to almost any system that needs to run fast (graphics/AI/physics etc.). Finally you’ve got the signal processing aspect, which is where the maths comes in handy. The approaches would be similar to a rendering programmer writing shaders; relatively small bits of code but quite algorithmically complicated. Brian Schmidt gives a great comprehensive breakdown of these three types of audio programmers in his article here:

http://www.gameaudio101.com/Game-Audio-Programming.php

All of these areas of audio programming benefit from having knowledge of sound and music. Understanding the needs of your sound designers makes them more effective, and always results in better sounding games. I’ve found having a creative passion helps to push you technically; you won’t instantly dismiss something if it’s too hard, because you know it’ll sound amazing if you get it right!

Brad: I’m sure this also works the other way around right? I guess it’s always helpful for designers to have a basic understanding of what you do; the limitations of code and how difficult something will be for you to implement.

Before we get on to the unfortunate business of leaving you stranded on an island for the foreseeable future I have one more question. Are there any games that have been so technically impressive that you have found yourself analysing them and wondering how they were coded?

Jon: Totally – I find when you both have an understanding of each other’s work then quality and productivity improves.

One game I’m still really impressed with is Uncharted 2. The way the sound reacts to the environment, especially in the multi-player, is inspirational. I spent ages walking around trying to find flaws in their occlusion and reverb, but at the time it seemed perfect.

As soon as I hear something that sounds too good to be true I stop and try to break it. I try to think of ways the developers could have implemented it – completely dissecting the feature. Then I go through as many edge cases I can come up with, hoping the system falls over. More often than not it does, but Uncharted’s environmental processing is great.

I hear GRID2 sounds amazing too…

(You can leave that last bit out if you like!).

Brad: No, the GRID 2 comment is staying!

I know you can’t say what you are currently working on but I presume its Banjo-Threeie, it’s also an N64 exclusive for the hardcore fans that still own the console! To promote the game a real life Rusty Bucket ship will set sale with the Rare devs onboard. Unfortunately the hull plating will be breeched by a series of rocks along an island.

Luckily, being a boat full of games industry folk there were plenty of games on board. Your priority (other than surviving) is obviously to grab some games. You manage to grab a haul of your favorite games, jump into the ocean and find a bit of driftwood.

So you’ve grabbed 5 games (one of which happens to be a collector’s edition) and 1 game soundtrack. What were your choices?

Jon: Your ship wrecking stories keep getting better and better!

Brad: Yeah, I find keeping the scenarios quite realistic works well.

Jon: My games would be (in no particular order):

1)  Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (PC)

The campaign is great and the sound is what I’d expect from a Warhammer 40k game.

2)  Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

Don’t care much for the single player, but the multi-player is great for unwinding after a long day of holding onto driftwood.

3)  Counter-Strike: Source (PC)

Probably the most addictive game I’ve ever played. I would lose whole weekends to this when I was at uni.

4)  Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (Xbox 360)

I’m determined to get the high score on “Pacifism”.

5) Batman: Arkham Asylum Collector’s Edition (Xbox 360)

Both of the new Batman games are fantastic, but the Batarang from the Arkham Asylum collector’s edition would come in handy while I’m stranded.

Soundtrack – Command & Conquer

Game soundtrack is easy – I’d take the original Command & Conquer soundtrack. All I need to do to re-live the 90’s is listen to that. “We’re going to have to act if we want to live in a different world”.

Brad: You have chosen some time consuming games there and I like your thinking with the Arkham Asylum collector’s edition, so all round good choices!

As I’m sure you are aware your scenario only gets worse when on the island. While strolling along the beach you come across the Rusty Bucket shipwreck, naturally you investigate. To your horror you see the remains a bird, suddenly a bear chases you away. You both reach the base camp and the bear starts slashing away at anything in his path. As he nears your prized games collection you reach out to grab them but only one can be saved.

So Jon, which game do you save?

Jon: Assuming I survive the encounter with the bear then I’d pick Counterstrike – I’m still not bored of playing ‘office’ and ‘dust 2’ after all these years. Perhaps the bear could play with me?

Brad: I like your thinking. I’m sure you do survive and with the backing of Microsoft I think the funding for a rescue helicopter will be secured in a few years.

Thanks for taking part Jon!

Jon: You’re most welcome 🙂

About the choices

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

Developer – Relic Entertainment
Publisher – THQ
Platform – PC
Release – 20th February 2009

Halo 4

Developer – 343 Industries
Publisher – Microsoft Studios
Platform – Xbox 360
Release – 6th November 2012

Counter-Strike: Source

Developer – Valve Corporation
Publisher – Valve Corporation
Platform – PC
Release – 1st November 2004

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

Developer – Bizarre Creations
Publisher – Activision
Platform – Xbox 360 – XBLA
Release (EU) – 30th July 2008

Batman: Arkham Asylum Collector’s Edition

Developer – Rocksteady Studios
Publisher – Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform – Xbox 360
Release – 28th August 2009

Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Nick Turner

Nick Turner
Product Manager, Northern Europe
Deep Silver

Notable games Nick has been involved with:
The Dead Island series, The Sacred series, Ride to Hell, Metro: Last Light, Saints Row 4STEINHARDT SHOT 2Brad: On the surface you appear to have one of the coolest jobs in the games industry. You have made several appearances in MCV and you’re always driving around in a rather cool, custom-made Dead Island pickup truck. What do you actually do on a day-to-day basis though or does a lot of it involve slaying Zombies?

Nick: Ha-ha, yes it is cool! I’m very lucky to have a job that involves something I’m passionate about. My day-to-day job is hugely varied and that’s what I love about it, no two days are the same. My day usually starts with a strong cup of tea then I go through the overnight emails from Japan, Australia and all our other partners. At some point in the day the subject of zombie slaying will always come up! We are currently working on Dead Island Riptide among other titles so it’s all hands on deck.

The Riptide truck is a project that I’m really proud of. I’m very protective over the truck, maybe a little too much! It was really good fun to do something like this but more importantly it’s helped us build up the Dead Island brand. We’ve been taking it to various events around the UK and even into Europe.

STEINHARDT SHOT 1

Brad: How did you end up getting the job? You’ve working in different industries in the past so had you always planned on working in the games industry or did it “just happen”?

Nick: I’ve actually worked in the games industry since I was 17. I left school and started to work at a toyshop. I worked in the ‘VR’ department. Basically I was a shop assistant that looked after the video games department. We used to get this rep come round once a month and tell us about the new games. He worked for a company called Bizarre Love Triangle, which was a marketing company for Infogrames, Interplay and Virgin. I got the details off of him and applied for a job. They took me on in telemarketing. From there I went on to work for a games distributor. Then I returned to retail and worked as a supervisor for GAME Ltd. From there I went on to sales and became an Account Manager at Vivendi Universal.

After that I had a break for a while and worked on an IT desk at the council. It didn’t feel right though and really wasn’t me, and I didn’t feel challenged. I was there for quite a while but missed the industry massively. I applied for a job at Koch Media (Deep Silver) and it just so happened that my CV landed with them at just the right time. The rest as they say is history. As of July this year i would have been there 5 years.

Brad: So not really the traditional route of University and maybe a couple of years in QA before getting a job in a specific department. Do you think then, that getting into the games industry is in part about who you know not just what you know?

Nick: I left school with average grades. Too much time was spent playing Street Fighter and not enough time studying! Ironically my distractions paid off and when I was offered a job that involved me talking about games I jumped at it. I’ve learnt a lot from having great bosses and colleagues.

The games industry is so fast moving that more often than not you will end crossing paths with the same person you’ve worked at previously, in a new company. It’s not all about who you know but it can defiantly help you out. A recommendation or shining reference from someone respected in the industry does go far, but it’s not free and you have to earn that by working hard.

Brad: Well I’m also sure you have spent too much time playing Dead Island and unfortunately for you its about to end badly. Because of your great work with the Riptide truck, Deep Silver have asked you to take it one step further and help set up an actual island. Think Jurassic park only with Zombies and the Riptide truck.

Unfortunately a Zombie outbreak occurs and you find yourself the soul survivor on the island. You find a vault complete with games and consoles but as you start collecting your haul Zombies bust in. You only manage to grab 5 of your favourite games and one soundtrack. One of the games also happens to be a collector’s edition. While fighting off Zombies to escape you lob a grenade, destroying the vault. What games did you manage to come away with and why?

Nick: Hmm, good question! Well I’m going to presume that the island has Wi-Fi…

Brad: Yeah you can have Wi-Fi but you can’t use it to call for help!

1)  Battlefield 3 (Xbox 360)

I’m a huge fan of the series and it’s one of the few online games that I don’t constantly get killed by young kids every time I spawn.

2)  Grand Theft Auto IV: The Complete Edition (Xbox 360)

This game has always been in my top 5. Its replay value is huge and you can loose yourself for hours with mindless violence!

3)  Dead Island (Xbox 360)

Purely down the fact it has so many hours of single player missions to play through in addition to the online. Not only that but what better way than to get tips on zombie squishing!

4)  Far Cry 3 (Xbox 360)

I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. For the similar reasons to GTA I guess, replay value and complete open world survival!

5) Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)

You can never get bored of smoking around a track in a high-end motor!

Soundtrack – Wipeout: The Music

Soundtrack is a hard one, Wipeout maybe! The original PS1 wipeout.

Brad: All good things must come to an end. You recklessly drive the pickup truck around the island one day while looking for a new base camp. The truck flips over and sets on fire. You only have time to grab one of your chosen games. Which one do you save?

Nick: I would save Dead Island, as it’s my baby. It also makes sense to save that as I can pick up some survival tips from it.

Brad: Ha-ha, well I can see you are very fond of Dead Island; I’m looking forward to playing Riptide at some point. Thanks for taking part in Leave Luck to Being Rescued.

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About the choices

Battlefield 3

Developer – DICE
Publisher – EA
Platform – Xbox 360
Release (EU) – 28th October 2011

Grand Theft Auto IV

Developer – Rockstar North
Publisher – Rockstar Games
Platform – Xbox 360
Release (EU) – 29th April 2008

Dead Island

Developer – Techland
Publisher – Deep Silver
Platform – Xbox 360
Release (EU) – 9th September 2011

Far Cry 3

Developer – Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher – Ubisoft
Platform – Xbox 360
Release (EU) – 30th November 2012

Forza 4

Developer – Turn 10 Studios
Publisher – Microsoft Studios
Platform – Xbox 360
Release (EU) – 14th October 2011

Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Christiaan Jones

Christiaan Jones
Content Designer
The Creative Assembly

Notable games Christiaan has been involved with:
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Operation Flashpoint: Red River and F1 Race Stars

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Christiaan LARPing as Vincent Le Blanc (deceased)

Brad: Hello Christiaan.

Thanks for taking part in “Leave luck to being rescued” which bears no resemblance to any music based top 5 interviews!

Now, I have previously worked with you through a development cycle so I already know a few things about you. I know you enjoy LARPing, so I’ve set up a very believable scenario to explain how you get stuck on an island with nothing but a few of your favorite games. I also know that your real name isn’t Christiaan, although I can’t remember the story behind this. So why don’t you start by telling me a bit about your LARPing hobby (do you have a good photo I can attach to the post).

Christiaan: Hi Brad!
Firstly, thanks again for trapping me on an island (I think…) and I’ll quickly try to clear up the name confusion; Third child of 4, grandparents wanted family names, I drew the short straw and got them but to save all the arguing everyone calls me Christiaan (family names being Alan-Michael and Harold)! Luckily my last name is Jones so that keeps me humble 😉

I’ve been LARPing on and off since I was about 18 in a few different systems around the UK (Live Action Roleplaying, for the uninitiated, is a mix of cosplay, theatre, a kind of martial art and basically pretending to live in a fantasy-based MMORPG), which are all different sizes and have a different feel or emphasis depending on where you go. I’ve been in many forests and fields, camps and “towns” and even a 2 mile long chalk cave system (it was very dark and cold, but GREAT for atmosphere)!

In the system I currently play in called The Lorien Trust (or L.T.) there’s a good mix of fighting and roleplaying and I try to attend all four of their main events, two of which are in May and two in August. Each main event lasts around three days over a long/bank holiday weekend and you can spend your time trading, crafting, fighting, casting spells, performing rituals (basically uber-majicks) researching about the world, chatting, eating and drinking (there is lots of this!) or pretty much anything else you can imagine doing!

There’s stalls for food or selling kit like weapons and armour and the roughly 2000+ players per event (not including vendors, referees and other hangers on) arrange themselves into one of the many nations, groups and guilds all with their own lands, customs and identities and act on the various storylines or plots, some of which have been going continuously for 10 years or more!

I could go into a LOT more detail, but 1) I’d be here forever and 2) this is less about LARP and more about gaming: Next question please! ;D

Brad: Wow, I didn’t realize how much was involved. I imagined about 40 people in a field shouting a bit and pretending to attack each other!

Alright, so let’s talk about games. I presume you were a gamer from a young age? What was your first console (or PC)? When did you decide to pursue a career in games development and what is your background?

Christiaan: It ‘IS’ one of (if not the) the biggest systems in the country, and most other systems tend to be around the 40+ mark it’s true 🙂

Yeah, I started pretty young with an Apple 2 we used to borrow from the local primary school I went to for a week during the summer holiday to play Oregon Trail and Kings Quest 1 on. The first games machine we actually owned was the good old NES (in the end my parents bought two for us to share!) and I spent many long hours with my brothers in front of it back in the early 90s.

Deciding to go into the games industry was a bit of an accident really. I’d finished secondary school (having done A levels in English Literature, Philosophy and Media Studies) and I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do next! Looking through some university brochures I saw a course in Games Design from Lincoln University. Thinking about it at the time, I’d always been designing one thing or another when I was a kid playing with my brothers: turn-based rules for a LEGO strategy game (with real-time sections for shooting the cannons!), new quests for the Hero Quest board game or even digital stuff using RPG Maker 95 and various MOD tools for Quake and Quake 2. I’d never considered it as an actual job and Lincoln were offering one of the first courses on it in the country so I guess I was lucky to get in on the academic ground floor!

Brad: Ah yes, the NES, I spent countless hours playing Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda on mine and it still works!

Looks like you were always going to end up in some sort of design / games related career then.

Now Christiaan, a shocking turn of events occurs when The Lorien Trust decide to do something a bit different and organize a special LARPing event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You decided to go LARPing as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and in your excitement you climbed down a sewer to hide; suddenly a great rush of water knocks you unconscious and sweeps you away. You awake to find yourself at the foot of a ladder and suddenly another rush of water picks up, carrying with it a load of games. You only get chance to grab 5 of them, one of which can be a collector’s edition (explain why you chose this) along with one complete game soundtrack (this can be from something other than the 5 games you select). With your new haul in hand you climb the ladder and reach the surface, only to find yourself on a desert island and stumble across consoles, TVs and a power supply. What 5 games did you grab and why?

Christiaan: Certainly one of my strangest adventures I think (also, I’d have probably been dressed as Donatello, but that’s neither here nor there really).

So, on to my choices. I’d like to start with the Game soundtrack if I may and that would be the original World of Warcraft (WoW) soundtrack. I’ve chosen not to include WoW in my main list for two reasons: firstly, because I won’t have internet connection and the servers have to close some day and secondly because it somewhat bias’ the list and there’s SO many other games I’d like to include!

So my choices (in no particular order) are:

1)  Diablo 3 Collector’s Edition (PC)

OK bit of a cheat this one as by taking the collector’s edition of Diablo 3 I get Diablo and Diablo 2 plus all the expansions already saved on the USB stick but my choice is still valid (plus I’m a sucker for an art book, especially those done by Blizzard)! Actually one of the first great games I played on the PC, the Diablo series is probably the best hack-and-slash RPG out there, despite some… odd choices for the third instalment. The story is great without being overly complicated and the replay value is frankly, HUGE. Randomly generated dungeons and item drops, unique creatures (in the later instalments) and simple but addictive gameplay make this a series I constantly come back to (even today I have both Diablo and Diablo 2 installed on my PC). The way the characters interact with the world too by breaking open barrels and opening chests and sarcophagi made you feel like you could have an impact on the actual environment and made the huge AOE attacks all the more satisfying! Special mentions goes to the dark tone, the gore, the story and best of all: sounds design. Those town and cathedral tracks from Diablo or the haunting desert theme in Diablo 2 make me feel I’m right back there, seeing them for the first time not to mention the death sound effect when you kill goatmen is still one of the most visceral and satisfying sounds ever! 😀

Brad: What a great choice, selecting a collector’s edition with the previous 2 games included and giving you a massive amount of content!

2)  The Elder Scrolls V, Skyrim (Xbox 360)

I think the best quote to describe Skyrim is paraphrasing Douglas Adams: “Skyrim, is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Skyrim”. The fact is though, that there’s just so much to do in it and that’s only with one playthrough. The main quest is suitably long and epic and feels like a real challenge, spanning not even a quarter of the map. You can play for 60-100 hours without even exploring all of the over world, let alone many of the dungeons, tombs, houses, coves, caves, shrines, underground cities etc. The combat is really satisfying rewarding skill and timing, the stealth is a tactical challenge and the magic makes you feel really powerful but is balanced by being tough to use against a variety of creatures (who, thankfully, don’t level up with you so you can be killed by a skeever). If nothing else, I’ll be playing this game for a long time, island or no island! Also Dragons.

Brad: Again, another great choice. I have probably spent about 100 hours in that world and that on just one playthrough so I’m sure you’ll be able to sink plenty of hours into this.

3)  Terraria (PC)

An Indie title to add variety, but not placed here without good reason! I got into Terraria fairly early on in its life (when it first arrived on Steam actually) and I loved its 8-bit style and huge depth. Like minecraft only much simpler, Terraria was like when you go exploring as a kid out into the unknown. Most of the time you’d come back with nothing but sometimes you’d stumble across a place you’d never been or a cool dell or something you’d walked past many times before but never noticed. That feeling of adventure and exploration and finding “new” places always excited me and Terraria feeds directly into those memories. Taming the land to my whim was another favourite pastime of mine (sadly only in-game!) and building towers and fortresses to strike out into the Corruption, Jungle or the Dungeon made me feel like i made real progress in a changing the environment, something you don’t often see in games. The amount of tweaks and updates the developers made after release added even more depth (sometimes literally!) to the experience and I still go back to old worlds and characters I’ve created just to “rediscover” what I built in other playthroughs, even months apart. Almost the definition of epic replayability.

4)  Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (PC)

 Yes I know, another Blizzard title, but this really is the game that made me fall in love with these guys in the first place. Epic storytelling and fantastic FMVs set the scene for an epic game where, even though you’re playing an RTS, you always feel like the story is centered around you, and the character you’re playing. The way the game shifts gear through the Orc, Human, Scourge and Night Elf storylines and gets you to experience their sides of the story as well as try out the unit combinations and racial quirks is almost flawlessly executed. The little in-game scenes between characters really give the title life and the gameplay balancing (which to Blizzards credit is STILL ongoing today) mean the game feels easy to pick-up and difficult to master, like all great games should! While I didn’t play online multiplayer as much as I could have done, LAN sessions with my friends at uni and hours playing against the computer opponents on the sprawling maps are still some of the best times I had with an RTS. Also, Arthas is awesome.

5) Starflight (Mega Drive) 

A quite obscure title to finish on perhaps and my only “retro” game on this list. There were many different games I could have picked for this last choice: JRPGs and fighting games, old RTSs and point-and-click adventures but Starflight was just a really cool experience and pipped many of them to the post. Not because it has amazing graphics or massive amounts of replay value but because it was a well-crafted, pulpy, sci-fi adventure and it managed to get SO much detail onto such a tiny console. After assembling your crew the universe was pretty much your oyster and you could fight or negotiate with aliens, explore new star systems and planets, and then send your rover to the surface to search ruins, capture animals, mine minerals- basically all the things Mass Effect did, but about 16 years earlier! There’s no character interaction or back stories for your crew but it was all about the universe out there; a macro rather than micro story. Sorely deserves a good remake!

Soundtrack – World of Warcraft (WoW)

Not only is it well-composed, superbly executed and has a wonderful variety of tracks, but it’ll always remind me of the great times I’ve had on that game, ever since I first started playing on the European Beta way back in 2004.

Well, there are my choices! I hope you enjoyed them and they made sense. Cheers!

Brad: Months later a helicopter comes in to rescue you, in typical Resident Evil style a mysterious figure in the distance shoots the chopper down with a rocket launcher. As the burning debris falls you are only able to grab one of them.

Which game did you save?

Christiaan: haha yeah, that is a good ending (curse you Tyrant/Mr. X!) Ooo you bastard; an even tougher call to make now though! I’m torn between Terraria and Diablo 3 but…

I think Diablo 3 has the edge! Oddly, it was the first one to jump into my mind when I read the rest were going to be destroyed. Thinking about it, it’s not only because it contains an art book and Diablo 1 and 2, but I think longevity and nostalgia-wise it’s just a much fonder experience to me than the others. Also the Tristram theme will soothe my soul on the loss of the other titles 😦

About the choices

Diablo 3 Collector’s Edition

Developer – Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher – Blizzard Entertainment
Platform – PC
Release – 15th May 2012

The Elder Scrolls V, Skyrim

Developer – Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher – Bethesda Softworks
Platform – Xbox 360
Release – 11th November 2011

Terraria

Developer – Re-Logic
Platform – PC (Steam)
Release – 16th May 2011

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

Developer – Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher – Blizzard Entertainment
Platform – PC
Release (EU) – 5th July 2002

Starflight

Developer – Binary Systems, Electronic Arts
Publisher – Electronic Arts
Platform – Genesis (Mega Drive)
Release – 15th May 1991