Game Design

Game Design
Developer Scott Foe Talks Contra, Mobile Games and Wanting Four-Player Skyrim

Marcel Helion | 19 Mar 2015 16:00
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Scott Foe

Scott Foe is the Chief Product Officer at Ignited Artists. He is a veteran game designer who specializes in multiplayer and mobile development, having worked at both Sega Networks and Nokia. He is best known for Reset Generation, which received a perfect 10 rating from Pocket Gamer and was named the Most Innovative Mobile Game of 2008. In 2014, he was named to the Pocket Gamer's Mobile Gaming Hall of Fame.

The Escapist: It's always interesting to see the difference that a designer's first game system had on one's designs. I've noticed that a lot of your games have very colorful and quirky themes. Do you think that growing up playing on the NES may have played a role in that?

Scott Foe: My first game system was actually the Atari, but I was thinking about just this same question a few days ago. I have a sort of dry way about me. Sometimes I read forums posting on articles or interviews that I've been mentioned in and I see what people are saying about me, so I was thinking to myself how your designs show what is in your heart. On the inside I'm like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh and I think that comes through in my designs. They are always bright, colorful, whimsical, and fun. I don't think you would ever guess that if you sat down at a table and shared a coffee with me. I don't think you would see that in a first impression. [This is all said in a completely unemotional, dead-pan voice. - Marcel]

The Escapist: You've mentioned that Contra multiplayer was a significant gaming milestone for you. What was it about that multiplayer gameplay that had such an effect on you?

Scott Foe: Up until Contra, it was my friends and I taking turns on the personal computer or taking turns with Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Contra is one of the first times I can remember sitting side-by-side with somebody and playing together. I'm a furious extrovert, I always loved having company, and the ability to actually sit there and partake in the experience with another human being for the first time was definitely something I'll never forget.

The Escapist: The Contra experience was a cooperative one, not a competitive one. Did that have any long-term ramifications on your design approach?

Scott Foe: I would have to say my very favorite play experiences tend to be modestly multiplayer games. If someone would go and make a four-player Skyrim, I think that would be right up my alley.

Reset Generation cover

The Escapist: Speaking of multiplayer games, your Reset Generation received a perfect 10 from Pocket Gamer. However, in the past you've mentioned how it was very challenging to develop the game within Nokia despite the fact that you had support from the highest levels in the corporation. What were some of the problems you had to deal with developing Reset Generation within Nokia?

Scott Foe: I first want to point out that I do not resent Nokia in the least and I had every opportunity there. It's the sort of experience that most people will not have in their lifetimes. They say it is better to be lucky than good, and I got very lucky at Nokia. With that said, every day somebody was trying to kill my project. A lot of that stemmed from the way in which Nokia's organizational infrastructure was arranged. There were three game studios: North America, which was in Vancouver, Europe, which was in Helsinki, and then San Francisco, which everyone knows is not actually in North America. Those three game studios were all peers and they were always fighting for resources.

Because I had the Hero products and the mandate to push the platform in every way possible, I always got the biggest projects, and so, what can you say? Envy is ugly and people would gun for me on a daily basis.

The Escapist: So it was more of a bureaucratic challenge rather than the sort of issue you see with the publishers, where they're trying to get you to simplify the gameplay or push the game towards the currently hot market.

Scott Foe: Nobody every pressured me on design considerations or complexities, ever. The biggest development problem we had was that because Reset Generation was a homage to gaming history, there were many, many, many meetings with the legal team where we had to review what was parodied and what might be considered an intellectual property infringement. To be clear, Nokia's biggest problem in the gaming space was simply that their organizational culture was a sourcing and logistics culture, their entire organization was geared around buying things as cheap as possible and putting them in as many storefronts as possible. They were not a gaming culture. They were not a user experience culture. If you had to pick just one point of failure, it was that. It was just not a gaming culture, not a game development culture. It was night-and-day different than any other gaming organization I'd ever worked with.

The Escapist: Speaking of working in difficult corporate cultures, it seems your experience of the Sega Dreamcast launch was considerably different than the experience of those who were working at Sega of America at the time.

Scott Foe: Sega Networks reported to Sega of Japan and I think there were many differences between the network side and the Sega of America side. That was during the dotcom heyday, and looking back, culturally we were very much like the different startups you found in SoMar and around at the time.

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