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The creator of Lemmings and GTA speaks candidly to TVG about his new development studio...
Eagle-eyed gamers, the ones possibly that have been around for a good few years; will know the name David Jones instantly. Think DMA, Grand Theft Auto, Lemmings, Blood Money, and Menace â?“ from the early days on the Amiga - the heydays of Pysgnosis - to more recently, Take2Games, he has been in the forefront of gaming. To others, it will only ring bells when some of the games he has been prominent with, and in many cases instrumental, are listed. With so few industry names, David Jones is one of the few, they say, with real vision that is listened to with more reverence than most.
We spoke with Dave about his past, present and future.
TVG: I, like many, do not know much about your current new company, which you head - Real Time Worlds - along with some other luminary people. Could you explain the vision for the company and the kind of time line you see for some kind of success? How many work at RTW and will you be programming and designing?
We have a desire to create games with strong online hooks. We feel that it is getting harder to innovate with single player gaming. The industry is some twenty-five years old now, and itâ??s hard to find games that really give you the sense of excitement, adventure and innovation, that we had in the early days. We feel strongly that online is a whole new world that will offer many exciting opportunities. The timeline for this is unknown, three years, five years, but it is happening. We want to build games that start to offer some of these new and fresh ideas. I will be designing in the new Company. We have a very strong team of 30+ people to create something new.
TVG: You are bringing in lots of expertise, including Tony Harman, credited with many top games â?“ Donkey King, Star Fox, plus others and Ian Hetherington, the real brains behind Psygnosis?
Tony and Ian are mainly on the business side. They have vast experience of gaming, publishing, demographics and business models. Online is not only new in terms of games design, but also in all the business areas. We needed a strong team to tackle these areas.
TVG: How do you feel the creation of games, their concept and actual originality, has changed over the last 10 years? We all know that developers have become more professional but do you see that as being to the detriment of originality? Is this a fault to do with publishers or are developers working to a formula?
Well safety is paramount to many developers and publishers. Developers make games the publishers want; publishers want games they feel they can sell. But, it is becoming harder to innovate. Itâ??s very hard to market an original game, as it needs to educate players on why it is special. Word of mouth from players works best for new great original games, but the investment in time and money to make something special is hard to come by. Making a great game is very hard, making one on time and budget is even harder! All of these problems limit the opportunities for developers to be able to excel. This will never change, but there will always be someone somewhere that gets the time, investment, and devotion, to make something special.
TVG: Continuing on this theme. Many believe that the individual expertise of programmers and artists has not developed with the pace of machines and technologies. Programmers possibly not getting every last inch from machines (understanding only what they need to) and artists generally playing safe.
Hmmmâ?¦..I donâ??t really agree with this. At the end of the day itâ??s the game mechanics that really count. There are companies that excel at technology and squeezing every bit of performance out of machines (Epic, Id) and they create great games. At the same time we have relatively low technology games that are best sellers (Football management, Pokemon, C&C, even GTA 1&2). We now see many different art styles in games (Zelda, Cell Shaded games, Parappa the Rapper, Rez). I think any gamers collection of games will include great games that are not pushing the edge of technology.
TVG: Are there still people within and possibly outside of the industry that still inspire you and if there was one person you would like to work with who would that be?
Hmmm-tricky one â?“ a smile appears on Daveâ??s face â?“ then a quizzical look.
Not a person in general, but Iâ??d like to work at some point with some of the good music video directors. I think they do an amazing job. Three minutes to create something thatâ??s a visual feast, that can have innovative technology, and has so much competition to think about. I feel that many videos are highly creative, and some have amazing graphic styles (Gorillaz being a prime example).
TVG: Over the last 5 years we have seen more and more machines appearing with the general feeling that they are all â??much of a muchnessâ??. Apart from the commercial aspect, and from a designerâ??s perspective, is there a machine you feel allows you to be more creative? (Surely a high end PC is the ultimate?)
The PC is always the ultimate due to its fluid nature. It has an excess of RAM, Large HD, Internet, etc. That being said itâ??s also a nightmare for compatibility. Consoles are becoming more similar though, and are now on a fairly easy to predict technology curve. The early days of excitement when number of colours, sprites, ROM size, then polygons, have taken a back seat. Now itâ??s all about their success in the market place. The PC has always had a soft spot in my heart (and many developers I guess) but the real commercial success leads developers to focus on consoles.
TVG: A growing percentage of games are now a homogenized mix of ideas - I.e. Lara Croft, Matrix, etc. - where you have exploring, action, thinking. Do you feel the days of the likes of Lemmings - original and different - have gone or do you feel it is all part of a big phase and this kind of game will make a comeback?
Advanced AI will see some new ideas coming forward, but this is maybe a few years away yet. Apart from that it comes back to online being the best untapped potential for seeing new genres of game. This has the potential to offer the excitement again that was around when every game was a new experience.
TVG: The games market has got bigger in terms of sales but with fewer games being released, fewer developers and fewer publishers. It now all revolves around big and huge advances. With your name and history and with any of your future games having huge marketing spend - surely you can't go wrong? (Itâ??s a closed shop?)
Oh, there is plenty of potential for it to go wrong. You can run out of time, ideas, money. Your publisher may run out of money. Your team may run out of drive. The marketing may send the wrong message. You may struggle to realize your true vision for the game. These have all happened in the past, and can just as easily happen in the future. Making a game is always a few years of blood, sweat and tears, no matter how much experience you have.
TVG: What would you envisage or even like to see as the next major advancement in the gaming industry? (Technical)
Apart from the usual advancements I would like to see decent local storage, low latency high bandwidth to every machine, voice recognition that works, and a maximum of two consoles in the market place.
TVG: There are fewer and fewer industry figures - aside from yourself, Peter Molyneux, Geoff Crammond and a few others. Can you place your finger on why this is? In any other industry weâ??d have celebrities galore but why not in ours?
Every game is a big team effort now. There is no single person that can take the credit. These names came from the past when this was not the case, when you could design and code most of the game yourself, when you did all your own PR work with the magazines. It just does not happen now, even studio names are becoming academic. All that matters is the game and itâ??s name.
TVG: How easy would it be to become a programmer or artist at RTW? What would be the min kind of CV, qualifications you would expect to see?
Itâ??s quite hard as we have a strong team with many years experience. Qualifications are always a strong start (Degree), but so is past work that can be presented and shows quality, attention to detail, and a strong interest over and above just getting a job. A strong performance at the interview also counts for a lot.
TVG: The question I always like to ask. If the game industry was at 1 when it began, where are we now?
I would say 5. We are still in the Stone Age.
In the 1980's Jones founded the seminal UK developer DMA Design, which created two of the most famous games franchises in the world - Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto (GTA). Critically acclaimed upon its release, GTA has became one of the most successful series of games in the world with the original and its sequels selling approximately 20 million copies across multiple platforms. The long-term success of the games has been based, not upon their notoriety or 'shock' value, but upon the solid and compelling gameplay, created in the original title, which allows players to interact with the game any way they wish -- and have the game respond to their actions -- a feature which is still unique today.
Hetherington founded Psygnosis, one of the UK's first videogames publishers, responsible for games such as Wipeout and Destruction Derby. In May 1993, the company was bought by Sony and Hetherington became the managing director of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, creators of the PlayStation development environment and was responsible for the portfolio of launch titles which helped the console achieve an 80% market share.
Together, Jones and Hetherington were responsible for the 'Lemmings' series of games. Lemmings achieved enormous international success, selling over 20 million copies across more than 20 different formats.
They are joined at Real Time Worlds by Commercial Director, Tony Harman, former director of development and acquisition for Nintendo of America. Harman was the Executive Producer of the 'Donkey Kong Country' franchise for Nintendo, which sold over ten million copies worldwide.