SAN JOSE--Today at a Game Developers Conference session, Neil Young casually dropped a bombshell regarding his position in the Electronic Arts organization. Just before his presentation about the making of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the famed producer introduced himself to an enthusiastic crowd as "the new head of Maxis."
Although he mentioned Maxis several more times--once joking that it would be hard for him, a lover of simple gameplay, to fit in at the studio behind The Sims--Young did not clarify what his new position was. That came later, when a source at EA confirmed to GameSpot that Young was coming on board as Maxis' general manager. An Electronic Arts spokesperson also shed light the new role of Maxis' now former GM, Luc Barthelet. "Luc is now senior vice president, technology fellow at EA and will be canvassing the technology and media landscape to bring in the new learning and innovations that will advance us into the next generation."
The Young appointment is the latest shake-up at Maxis, the development studio cofounded by Will Wright in 1987 and bought by EA in 1997. Most recently, EA announced it was uprooting the studio from its home base in Walnut Creek, California, to relocate its staff to EA's headquarters in Redwood Shores. According to Maxis staffers present at the Young session, the transition is now well under way. "They're moving our stuff as we speak," said one such staffer.
Industry revelations aside, Young's session--officially titled "Entertainment First, Video Game Second," but unofficially called "Who the f#$* are you?"--was entertaining and informative. Stressing the importance of recognizing gamers' fantasies and trying to fulfill them, Young hammered home the importance of creating full-fledged entertainment over simple gameplay.
To emphasize his point, Young showed two clips. The first was of several minutes of regular Super Mario Bros. play. "Fun," he said, "but entertainment es muy macho." Then Young put on a hilarious machima short modeled after The Lord of the Rings--but starring Mario. After a dramatic introduction and some suspenseful buildup, Mario and Luigi attacked King Koopa, who had massed a Mordor-scale army of flying turtles and cannons. Koopa's forces then mounted a Helm's Deep-scale assault on Princess Daisy's castle, overrunning its defenses before the short ended in a rousing cliff-hanger.
While the Mario mini-epic drew mass applause, the audience was bowled over with laughter by another part of Young's presentation. While talking about bringing film elements into games, Young was interrupted by a recording of Andy Serkis as Gollum, who berated the audience for not going out and making better game. "You people are paid a fortune to make games! What the f*** are you waiting for?!" Serkis' voice screamed out at a chortling crowd.