Life As A Game Designer
Harry Ravenswood (Lead Designer, Kuju Entertainment) gives expert video advice on: What has been your favourite console over the years?; Do you play games in your spare time or are you sick of them?; What does the future hold for videogames? and more...
Who in the industry inspires you?
Anyone with strong creative vision inspires me in this industry. In the game industry, you're talking about people like Will Wright, Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima. All those guys have been in the industry long enough that they've got a maturity to what they do. They're adventurous and ambitious in what they try. I think that's a nice guiding light to be looking at when you're considering your own gaming career.
What's your favourite game?
It's very hard to choose one game as my favourite. There are hundreds of different games, lots of different genres, but if I had to pick one, I would have to say Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. If I had made that game I would have retired! It's perfect, for me anyway. It's brilliantly executed in terms of level design and visually stunning for its time. The game is probably dated now, but it combines story telling with game play in a simple but very effective way, I think. At the end of it, you feel like you've been taken on a really great journey.
What has been your favourite console over the years?
The console that got me into gaming was not really a console, actually; it was a computer, the Omega. It was what got me excited about games, what me and my best mate used to talk about on the weekends and go around to each other's place and play new games together. That's something I look on with nostalgia. With the current crop of consoles, I cannot buy them all, and I'm really focusing on games that I buy for them, rather than saying, “Well I love X-Box and nothing else.” Actually, all the consoles are great and they all have different exclusive titles that I like.
Which was the most enjoyable game you've worked on and why?
Aside from the game I'm working on right now, which I can't really talk about, the first or the most enjoyable game that I have made was the first game I made as a lead. It was just a small game; it was for the knocker engage, but it was a core tight little team with a good vibe. It was the first time that I actually realised that the buck stopped with me and I had to make a game, and it was exciting and great, and also scary at the same time. In the end it was really very satisfying to be able to point to the game at the end and say, "Wow, I went from a year ago not knowing how the industry even works, to making my first game with a great team."
Which games have inspired you to work in the industry?
The classic old Omega games were the ones I played to death, with my mate, and we played anything, honestly. Smash TV, old arcade ports and then Civilisation which came on the Omega as well. That game absorbed literally days of your life. I used to play a lot of Starcraft, again with my best mate, and we'd hook that up and get pretty nerdy with each other. We'd take on 8 opponents and all that sort of stuff. Anything and everything has inspired me, but I guess the old Omega games were what got me excited about the whole industry.
Do you play games in your spare time or are you sick of them?
I still play games in my spare time and I am not sick of them. I actually find that maybe I'll overanalyse some parts of the game when I'm playing it, but it usually doesn't bother me at all. Just sometimes you see something and go, "Oh, that's a nice a touch" or "That's something I should think about when I got back to the office next week." Working in the games industry hasn't spoiled playing games. I was scared actually, when I first started, that I might spoil it for myself. You hear about writers who, when they are struggling to write, find it tough to read other peoples work. But no, entering the games industry wasn't a problem at all.
What does the future hold for videogames?
The video games industry is in a really interesting place right now, I think. Without sounding condescending, I think it's maturing as an industry. I think it's going to be going from strength to strength now. The games industry is starting to realise that it needs to engage with an audience outside of the traditional hardcore. You're seeing technical innovation coming along, and you're seeing more rigorous approaches to what is it were making. These are not Mickey Mouse things were doing now, these are legitimate cultural artefacts and pieces of entertainment that people are paying a lot of money for. I think, as an industry, gaming is growing up, and there is going to be some really cool stuff. People will start seeing a diversification in the sorts of games that are being made, which is exciting and should happen in the future.
Are there any games you wish you'd been involved in?
There are plenty of games I would love to have been involved in. If I'd made Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, I would have retired at the end of that, or maybe I would have gone on because I would have been inspired to have even more cool things, better ideas. That game was certainly something I would have loved to have been involved with. Some of the early Omega games would have been a laugh to have been involved in. It looks like the games industry was pretty grungy, people just throwing things together, and that would have been cool to have been part of as well. For example, something like System Shock, the very first System Shock on PC, scared the pants off me and sometimes, and I would have loved to have made a game that did that, knowing that it did that to people, too. You can always spot games that you'd like to have been involved in and the key is to start making one for yourself.
How can I convince others around me that gaming is a valid form of entertainment?
I'm going to sound like a geek and ask whether anyone has to be convinced anymore that gaming is a valid form of entertainment? I guess some people have still got a pretty blinkered idea about what games can do. I think you should just throw a controller in their hand and introduce them to some of the better examples of games, rather than the ones that make the tabloids. Let's face it: there are some fairly crummy games out there as well. Carefully select a good game for them, sit them down and see if you can get them to actually play for an hour or two. I think they'll be hooked.
How does it feel when a game gets a bad review?
Its pretty gutting and very deflating when a game gets a bad review. It's usually a culmination of at least a couple years work. For whatever reason, you may be hoping against hope that people will like the game, but you probably know in your heart that it's not actually going to deserve a great review, but you're still hoping that it will. It happens, and you knew it was going to happen, but it's still disappointing because you feel that there was still merit in the game. Often a single review will sink it and it's a shame, but it's a reality. We're producing games for people to buy and need to make sure that they're of a good quality. Bad reviews for games are deflating, but inevitable.
How does it feel when a game gets a good review?
I feel vindicated when a game gets a good review. It's fantastic; it's an exciting time. You feel proud of the work that you've done and you feel proud of the gaming team. You feel confident and you're ready to make another game. You're really glad that the things you were trying to communicate to the audience, to the players, worked. No-one sets out to make a bad game, so it's just about getting that across. When it's worked, when you get a good review, it's great.
What do you say to people who think games are just for kids?
To people who say games are for kids I'd say: Put down the Daily Mail and pick up the controller. It's a really blinkered view and I think it will be increasing the one that will fall by the way side. Games are increasing in maturity and the audience is widening. Saying games are just for kids is the same thing as saying films are just for kids: it's not the case because there's a wide variety of genres. Games can cater to huge hugely varied audience now and will do so increasingly, so I think you won't hear that statement much in the future.
Do advances in technology liberate game design or confine it?
Advances in technology liberate game design, as long as you're not too scared to embrace them. We're seeing at the moment, over the next generation of consoles, this huge boom in realistic games - the style to mimic the real world. There's certainly a place for that and certainly satisfaction in playing a game like that, but if that's all that is done with that technology, then we're missing a trick. I think things like the Wii are showing that there are different ways of approaching game play and it doesn't have to look realistic. Gaming is not about making it look as good as a Hollywood blockbuster; it's about finding new ways of playing games. The Wii controller is a paradigm shifter. Any sort of game designer worth their salt would be leaping at the opportunity to get their hands on it and try out new things. Technology advances just gives us new toys to play with in gaming, as long as we're not too shy to use them.