Game Masters: Behind the Talent

Join us for a two-week journey chronicling some of the video game industry's most celebrated game designers!

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Video games have come a long way in the last 20 years. As an increasingly recognised and celebrated artistic medium, games are now being debated and discussed as part of a wider cultural discourse, bringing a never-before-seen understanding of gaming's place in society and its relationship to other art forms.

Throughout its history, gaming has produced some truly inspiring creative minds who have helped shape the medium and open it up to an ever-diversifying audience. It is these talented creators that are the subject of a new exhibition celebrating video game culture taking place at the Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne, Victoria.

The ACMI's latest exhibition, Game Masters, will showcase the work of celebrated game designers from Australia and overseas through a combination of concept art, interviews, and more than 125 playable games from the arcade era through to new releases. Game Masters will profile a range of developers, stretching from the arcade era all the way to today's indie space, including Toru Iwatani (Pac-Man), Ed Logg (Asteroids), Tomohiro Nishikado (Space Invaders), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Child of Eden), Peter Molyneux (Populous, Fable series), Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy (Rock Band), Yu Suzuki (Hang On), Fumito Ueda (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus), Will Wright (SimCity), Jonathan Blow (Braid), Masaya Matsuura (PaRappa the Rapper), Marcus Persson (Minecraft), and ThatGameCompany (Flower, Journey).

Follow the links below to read our interviews with:
Tim Schafer
Warren Spector
Peter Molyneux
Tetsuya Mizuguchi

Game Masters will be officially opened in Melbourne this Wednesday, June 27, by Tim Schafer and Warren Spector, who will be participating in the ACMI's program of events over the first few days of the exhibition. Game Masters will run at the ACMI from June to October 2012.

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To coincide with Game Masters in Australia, GameSpot AU will be highlighting some of the exhibition's most iconic game designers through a two-week-long feature that will include video commentaries, Q&As, and more from the likes of Tim Schafer, Peter Molyneux, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Warren Spector, and more.

To experience Game Masters in person, or to find out more details about programming events, developer talks, panels, and workshops, visit the ACMI's official Game Masters exhibition site.

To start the Game Masters journey from the comfort of your armchair, click to the next page of GameSpot AU's feature!

Tim Schafer: "It's about creating personal games."

Our first featured Game Masters developer is legendary adventure game master Tim Schafer.

Schafer began his industry career as a tester at LucasArts on the early Indiana Jones games, before becoming a writer and programmer on The Secret of Monkey Island (1990). While at LucasArts, Schafer worked on adventure game classics such as Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (1993), Full Throttle (1995), and Grim Fandango (1998). He left in 2000 to found his own studio, Double Fine Productions, releasing Psychonauts (2005) thereafter.

In 2008, Schafer teamed up with comedian Jack Black for the well-received heavy-metal-inspired title Brütal Legend (2009), before shifting gears to work on smaller titles, including Costume Quest (2010), Stacking (2011), and Iron Brigade (2011). Double Fine's latest game, Double Fine Happy Action Theatre (2012), was released on the Kinect.

Earlier this year, Double Fine raised $3.3 million through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to create a new point-and-click adventure game. The studio is also working on a new side-scrolling adventure game called The Cave, due for release on XBLA, PSN, and PC in 2013.

Check out our interview with Tim Schafer after a few words from the man himself:

GameSpot AU: Tim, you've been making games for, like, a zillion years. What do you think the gaming industry needs right now to evolve?

Tim Schafer: Things like developers being able to control the prices of their games, and more of a focus on digital distribution. Artistically, I would like to see games tackle subject matter outside of the realm they normally do: so, for example, I'd love to see more games be about more varied emotional things that happen in people’s lives outside just action and combat.

GS AU: Is there room in the industry for individual creative visions, rather than those crafted by a team of developers? Can we have a games industry equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino or a David Lynch, creating games that are uniquely theirs?

TS: I think so. The sorts of games I make, even though they’re great collaborations with a lot of talented artists and brilliant people that I get to work with, I still try to make them unique. I think the word “auteur”--and maybe I’m misusing the term--can be applied to both an individual and a group. So for example, the team at Double Fine could be an auteur in that they making something that’s a personal or artistic expression that only Double Fine could make.

What I’d love to see more of in the industry is games that look like they can only be made by one development studio…you know, because they’re so unique and have the stamp of that particular studio and the people who created it.

There are some great artists and technicians and actors out there, and while they're all collaborating together, you know when you’re looking at a David Lynch film. It doesn’t sound very proletariat to say that an individual should be modified in that way, but I think if you ever stood in the middle of a house designed by Gaudi in Barcelona or watched a David Lynch film you’d see that there is an intense pleasure in being inside of the unique imagination of one creative individual. I think there’s something really special about that.

GS AU: What has become easier throughout the years as the gaming industry has grown?

TS: I think the fact that you slowly become a little more confident in your own ideas. I think when you do something creative it's natural to edit and censor yourself and be afraid to expose your vulnerable ideas to the public--they could be cruel and laugh and they might make fun of your ideas. I think as I get older I feel less afraid of coming out with anything that I feel I can. That’s a very liberating thing. Like when you’re the shy kid in school, you worry about what you wear but as you get older you stop caring. I think that’s true creatively too. Every year we learn a little more about working with other people. I think when you’re doing creative collaborations it’s critical to learn how to work well with other people so that you get the best of what your whole team has to offer.

It's also become a little easier to find out how you’re doing with your game. You can get a lot more feedback about your game because of the internet and because of focus testing. It was a little harder in the ‘90s when we were a lot more isolated and we just had to wait for magazine reviews to get printed…we didn’t have these resources that we have now.

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GS AU: Has anything become harder?

TS: I guess I feel it gets harder and harder to do original creative properties, at least in the mainstream. Games are getting more and more expensive, and I think people are getting more averse to risking their money. They want to place safer bets, like licenses and sequels. Luckily, I think the indie gaming community has stepped up and made a lot of creative games that have challenged that notion. Just like independent film has brought a lot more life to the film industry, I think that indie games are doing the same for the games industry.

GS AU: So you don't think the AAA space has opened up a little bit more to new ideas? Doesn't the popularity of some indie games in the mainstream space signal that things are changing and that people are welcoming new ideas?

TS: Whenever a game is successful, whether it's something like Limbo or Fez, it is a lot easier to get another game that looks just like it made the next year…but that’s not necessarily a good thing. It doesn’t mean that games that are creative are getting signed--it just means that games that look like previous successful hits will be made.

No matter how successful a creative game is, it doesn’t usually get abstracted into the thought that creative games sell.

GS AU: Where does the audience come into all this? How have audiences changed compared to audiences 20 years ago?

TS: I think that there are people who want games like they had when they were younger, when games were harder. I think people have sensed that games are getting easier, and I think that has brought new players…that has not necessarily been a bad thing because there’s a big diversity of players now.

There are some people who want games to be harder and others who want games to be easier, and I think the interesting thing is they’ve found ways to get organized and demand the thing they want. That was our experience with [Double Fine's] Kickstarter project: fans got together and said they wanted an adventure game.

GS AU: There was a lot of discussion after your Kickstarter success around usurping traditional business models and changing the balance in existing publisher/developer relationships. Were these valid points? What do you think the industry can learn from Double Fine's success on the crowdfunding platform?

TS: It shows that there are avenues people haven’t thought of for creative funding. Some things make more sense on a smaller scale, and others make sense on a bigger scale. For example, a big publisher may not want to fund a graphic adventure. That's cool. But for fans, they don't care about that stuff, they just want to play the game. With Double Fine's Kickstarter, the fans managed to get organised and fund it themselves. It's not taking anything away from the publishers. It's brought more people to the market to play games in fact, so [this model] actually benefits publishers in the end.

I'm also happy to see other Kickstarter game projects are getting funded. I hope it's going to continue because I have lots of other ideas for games that would work for Kickstarter.

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GS AU: If we move forward 20 years from now, what would you like the gaming industry to look like?

TS: I think it would be really great if games were really, really broad. I would like it if there was a game for everybody in the family--mum, dad, kids, middle-aged people, teenagers, etc. I also think it would be great if games were as emotionally-enriching as books are, and seen as something for the entire society and not just something purely for hardcore fans. I think games have something to offer everybody.

GS AU: Is it important for games to achieve mainstream recognition as an art form?

TS: Yes, mostly because I think it's a shame that people who have preconceived notions about what they are or what they can be are missing out on them.

Of course, there are practical considerations too: if games are considered art then they are treated a certain way by the government, and issues like censorship are handled differently. I would like games to be seen as having artistic merit for that reason. As for seeing games on the news only because of violence in gaming or something negative like that…well, that's changing. Twenty years is about enough time for that to change, right?

GS AU: Here's hoping! Final question: What do you see as the role of the modern video game developer? Philosophically speaking…

TS: I think the role of the modern game developer is to be brave, pursue new ideas, and follow inspiration to create games that are both entertaining as well as personal and meaningful.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's Game Master: Peter Molyneux!

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