Industry Vet to Young Devs: You Might Never Be AAA

 Pages 1 2 3 NEXT
 

Industry Vet to Young Devs: You Might Never Be AAA

image

Longtime game developer Dave Ellis says that young designers should accept the fact that they may never work on a AAA title like Halo.

"You don't always get to work on original games. In fact, you might never get to work on original games," Ellis, senior game designer at Vicious Cycle Software, told attendees at the East Coast Game Conference. But up and coming developers shouldn't let that discourage them, however, because just because you're not working on the next blockbuster smash, that doesn't mean you're not using your mojo.

"It's fun and creative, just in a different way," he said.

Vicious Cycle works on licensed games for movies and TV shows like Despicable Me and Dora the Explorer, which are frequently overlooked by the larger gaming community, but which still sell quite well. Turning out a quality licensed game requires a particular set of creative skills, explained Ellis, starting with perhaps the most obvious: Finding a game genre that fits with the source material. Barney and Friends wouldn't make for a really great fighting game, explained Ellis, and the less said about Shrek Kart, the better. (Personally, I'm going to have to disagree on this point. I would play the hell out of Barney Kombat.)

Many developers of licensed games fall back on ye olde 2d platformer, but Ellis says that with another valuable skill - the ability to find the story within the story - a clever designer can rise above the usual formula. In the movie Despicable Me, the main character Gru builds a rocket as part of his plan to steal the moon. In the movie, the construction of the rocket is short montage, but Vicious Cycle decided to make that the entire point of Despicable Me - The Game. In the game, Gru must break into different facilities, complete flying levels, dodge traps, and solve puzzles in order to collect the bits and pieces he needs to build his rocket. Expanding on the source material in this way not only makes for a more engaging play experience, says Ellis, but it also "enhances the license by expanding the universe and gives the player something they haven't seen before."

Licensed games typically have a much shorter development cycle than AAA titles, which is both good and bad. On the good side, a faster cycle means you can ship more games. On the bad side, you might find yourself having to create games practically overnight. Ellis and his team had just three months - total - to make the videogame tie-in for the Yogi Bear movie. "I didn't even know they were making a movie until we got asked to make the game," chuckles Ellis, who was a little amazed that they manged to make a game out of stealing pic-a-nic baskets and getting yelled at by a park ranger.

Ellis wanted attendees to leave with this final thought: Working on licensed games may not be as glamorous as working on a game that has its own line of t-shirts, but it can still be a very rewarding living. A character Ellis created for a Ben 10 game even got made into an action figure. "That was so cool," he said.

Very cool indeed, Dave. Now get to work on that Barney fighting game.

[Note: There has apparently been some confusion regarding Ellis' message. His reference to an "original" game means "new IP," not "creative and new."]

Permalink

I don't see why Halo is classed as an original AAA title. It was just a first person shooter that was pretty good. The fact that it got popular doesn't mean it was original.

There will be plenty of original things to come in the future, as there are original things coming out every day on the app store - to name one place.

Also, when you really get to thinking about it - no one has had a truly original idea in centuries.

I'm just rambling, that was fun :D

JEllery:
I don't see why Halo is classed as an original AAA title. It was just a first person shooter that was pretty good. The fact that it got popular doesn't mean it was original.

There will be plenty of original things to come in the future, as there are original things coming out every day on the app store - to name one place.

Also, when you really get to thinking about it - no one has had a truly original idea in centuries.

I'm just rambling, that was fun :D

Original in the sense that it wasn't based on anything. It was a brand new IP.

Straight off the first quote this guy has lost my entire attention. Never is a very strong word, particularly in an ever-evolving industry such as this one.

My favorite GBA game is a licensed Astro Boy game, so I'm inclined to agree. It truly mastered a "story within a story" with branching endings and time travel based level select.

To be fair, in addition to copious use of the butt guns, that Astroboy game allows you to travel through time and confuse the heck out of everybody when you do things that would not be possible without being a time traveler.

This is also why my most recent underrated treasure is Radiant Historia

I was skeptical of this at first, but then I read more, and I don't see this as trying to discourage young developers, but instead to not scoff at licensed games, just because they aren't original. Hmm, interesting.

I'm not sure if he doesn't know what hes trying to say or it's just poorly worded, what he seems to be saying it not everyone will be working on a triple A title... fairly obvious.

As for originality, the block busters are always playing it safe, they don't want to throw away a good money stamping formula, do something of your own if you want original... but that is always a scarce money market.

I think the problems with licensed games are
1. Not enough time to make it
2. Not the biggest budget to make a game
3. Not enough freedom to do what you want with the license ( if it's a movie game the plot has to expand upon the movie but can't be unrelated tongue movie with it's own story)

Am I alone in thinking that "Barney and Friends" would make for the most awesome fighting game ever?

Just think of the the fuzzy purple dinosaur on the ground bleeding beneath the horned hooves of his opponent and the console screams out "FINISH HIM!"

I think Dora the Explorer would work quite well in the survival horror genre.

When did we go from "Everyone is special" to "You'll never fulfil your dreams".

A little spirit crushing, isn't it?

Susan Arendt:

JEllery:
I don't see why Halo is classed as an original AAA title. It was just a first person shooter that was pretty good. The fact that it got popular doesn't mean it was original.

There will be plenty of original things to come in the future, as there are original things coming out every day on the app store - to name one place.

Also, when you really get to thinking about it - no one has had a truly original idea in centuries.

I'm just rambling, that was fun :D

Original in the sense that it wasn't based on anything. It was a brand new IP.

Ah, true, you're right. I withdraw that part of my comment :)

The_root_of_all_evil:
When did we go from "Everyone is special" to "You'll never fulfil your dreams".

A little spirit crushing, isn't it?

Agreed
image

Downer speech is a Downer

Taunta:
I was skeptical of this at first, but then I read more, and I don't see this as trying to discourage young developers, but instead to not scoff at licensed games, just because they aren't original. Hmm, interesting.

Yeah, that's what I mainly got from this. Something like "No job is beneath you" or something, taking any opportunity you can get to be creative or something.

Still, not the most cheerful news. Not like I expected to work in a AAA studio, but still, I can dream can't I?

While not exactly cheery and happy news, my first immediate thought was "Is might never grammatically correct?"

Seriously, shouldn't it be 'may never'?

I'm in complete agreement with this guy. Sure we might all think of ourselves as the next great designers, but realisticall, it's thousands of people scrambling for a handful of jobs.
The speech may be a downer, but 'tis something that may happen.

FalloutJack to Industry Vet: "Pull the other one!"

A veteran of the industry says originality may never come to younger developers in one sentence, and then harps about Halo in another. Uhhhh...Halo really isn't that unique or special. It has an immense popularity, but it's JUST ANOTHER HUMANS VERSUS ALIENS GAME! Sheesh, give us a break here. The last thing we need is for some guy to be delivering his mopey anecdotes to his peers. Here's a clue for you: If humanity were to quit imagining and lose all creativity or desire to grow and learn, IT DIES!

That's just about every job in entertainment though. Unless you're ridiculously talented or well-connected right out of college, you'll be doing smaller jobs that might not be very impressive. I managed to get a decent film animation position right out of school, but largely because of an internship at the same studio. I'm expecting plenty of "lowly" gigs from here on out though, at least until I'm more experienced/talented. Doesn't mean I won't still shoot for the big dogs.

As someone who is studying to become a developer, I know exactly what he means... and I haven't even started working on actually making any games myself.

I don't expect to make any awesome, original, never-before-seen games. I intend to make the best damn games that I can, but with all the ideas that have been done before now and up till I actually get into the business itself, I doubt I or anyone I work with in the future could create a totally original game.

Can't win don't try. Got it.

"Industry Vet to Young Devs: You Might Never Be Original"
directly followed by:
"Longtime game developer Dave Ellis says that young designers should accept the fact that they may never work on a AAA title like Halo."
Wait...what? AAA titles are often some of the least original, because big studios don't like taking risks on untested concepts. Indy games are often some of the most original, and it's not as hard to get a job in that field (as long as you're willing to live on ramen for a while =P).

HankMan:

The_root_of_all_evil:
When did we go from "Everyone is special" to "You'll never fulfil your dreams".

A little spirit crushing, isn't it?

Agreed
image

Downer speech is a Downer

+1. I'm glad I'm not trying to get into the video game industry right now, what with the huge influx of qualified students taking that path already. I think I'd blow my brains out if I worked my ass off for four years just to get hired by the studio working on the video game adaptation of Hop.

I don't see why it would matter if you're working on an AAA title or something else, as long as you get to work with what you want to do. Games.

Yes it may be a bit of a downer speech, but it is soemthing that people need to understand. If you're going to go to the industry, know the risks. In another thread some studio or something said that they only hire .4% of applicants. It doesn't mean people shouldn't follow their dream, but like every job, people need to understand the consequences. And with this one, the reality of possibly never rising above doing whatever someone else tells you is a possibility, even if you somehow manage to get into the industry in the first place.

Yes it sucks, but I thank this guy for giving it straight.

Wenseph:
I don't see why it would matter if you're working on an AAA title or something else, as long as you get to work with what you want to do. Games.

Maybe. But how many POS games could you stand to help develop before you would starting wanting to do something, you know...good? Personally I'd rather go indie. But in that case you'd need some start-up funding.

Ehh... I find that ideas imported into other mediums tend to become... less. Especially movies to games. I'm not saying not to take the universe and do something with it (star wars did ridiculously well, ST:O looks cool, Avatar could have had a good thing) but converting pre-existing property into a game? I take issue with that. It doesn't help the industry. It makes the whole thing stagnate. If you want to do that, go into TV so you can do spinoff series and come up with some game concepts or find someone who can. It's really easy.

Hack n' slash. Four characters (emphasis on the chemistry). Uses Cyborg implants to give heightened abilities.

Character 1: Female. Tech gives sword and increased agility (DPS). Name: Samantha Hawking. Character: intelligent, if a bit agressive. Role: Brains

Character 2: Male. Tech gives sniper rifle and temporary cloak (Ranged Support). Name: Sun Tao-Ming (huzzah for google). Character: Fairly quiet, a bit no-mercy. Role: Tactical. (Optional romantic sub-plot with character 4)

Character 3: Male. Tech gives AOE abilities, plasma weapons (Control). Name: Rich Jameson. Character: Moral, hates conflict (dark and troubled past). Role: Party mediator.

Character 4: Female. Tech gives increased endurance, repair abilities (Tank/Healing Support). Name: Catherine Lakan (google ftw). Character: Cynical, saracastic, fairly hardened. Role: Brawn/Medic.

Premise: The year is 2143 (bungie rule, try to find it). Humans are colonizing their fourteenth planet when the three local sentient species (one stand-alone (eight limbs, say, but bone inside flesh) and a race that shares its mind with a symbiote (six-fingered grey-purple humanoids with a ban on pointy ears that are slightly taller than humans), the symbiote looks like a long lump along their spine and outside looks like a red worm with teeth), revolt, taking over human technology which involves vehicles that resemble modern mining equipment only even bigger and hovers. The tanks, dump trucks and exo-suits are all yellow. Cyborg tech that is visible is gleaming white. The characters fight on humanity's side but will likely switch back and forth over the course of the game. Unlike Pokahonatavatar, which I'm realizing this is staring to look like, the natives are not without guilt. Fighting the humans, their goal is to eventually take their technology and wipe out the humans on other worlds for holy glory. Also, they have a medieval society and tech, let's say.

There. Done. Now you come up with something. I DARE YOU.

It's been said here many times but truly, what a terrible thing to say to aspiring developers who look up to guys like this.

That's life.

I mean, what do you think he should be telling people? If you work hard, you'll always succeed at exactly what you thought you were going to do going in?

This guy's telling people that there are other avenues to success than the obvious, shiny famous one. That's something that more people should be taught, frankly. By simple statistics, most people don't get to be the super-famous ones. If you think that the only measure of success is working on AAA titles, or being a Hollywood actor or a New York Times Bestseller author, you are statistically likely to be a very disappointed person. If you think that a measure of success is making a fun game that people like playing, or being a good actor or writing a good book, then you are much more likely to be happy with your success.

The_root_of_all_evil:
When did we go from "Everyone is special" to "You'll never fulfil your dreams".

A little spirit crushing, isn't it?

I don't think it's "You'll never fulfill your dreams".
I think it's "Be realistic".

For example: I'm a radio producer. I went to school to learn how to write copy, how to produce a commercial and imaging for the radio, and how to voice it. I can do accents, funny voices, I write creative commercials, and I produce things in creative ways...occationally. Most of the time, that's not what happens. I write the same schlock that ever retarded client thinks they want (Really? You have "friendly and knowledgeable staff"? Wow! Nobody has ever said that before!), I voice things with the same 'radio voice' voice, and I produce things with voice over a music bed.

Some people don't want fancy or creative. They want 'finished'.

But also, there is room, when the situation arises, to be creative within the confines of a given job. This happens far more then 'go ahead and write/produce/voice what you want', and it's just as challenging and freeing. The guy wants a commercial for a concert, but how I arrange my voice, my effects, the music, and how I read it makes it my own. I can phone it in, or I can fill the boundaries of my job with every ounce of creativity it allows.

That's the reality of working in a media industry like that: You won't always be working on Halo.
I'm not working on Virgin Radio, or Z103 imaging.

But I can make what work I do have my own, creative piece.
Even when there are boundaries.

If that's discouraging to anyone, then they are in the wrong industry.

FalloutJack:
FalloutJack to Industry Vet: "Pull the other one!"

A veteran of the industry says originality may never come to younger developers in one sentence, and then harps about Halo in another. Uhhhh...Halo really isn't that unique or special. It has an immense popularity, but it's JUST ANOTHER HUMANS VERSUS ALIENS GAME! Sheesh, give us a break here. The last thing we need is for some guy to be delivering his mopey anecdotes to his peers. Here's a clue for you: If humanity were to quit imagining and lose all creativity or desire to grow and learn, IT DIES!

neurohazzard:
"Industry Vet to Young Devs: You Might Never Be Original"
directly followed by:
"Longtime game developer Dave Ellis says that young designers should accept the fact that they may never work on a AAA title like Halo."
Wait...what? AAA titles are often some of the least original, because big studios don't like taking risks on untested concepts. Indy games are often some of the most original, and it's not as hard to get a job in that field (as long as you're willing to live on ramen for a while =P).

You missed the point. He doesn't mean "original" as in "No one's ever thought of this idea before", he means "original" as in it's its own IP. Which is why he goes on to talk about follow-up games for movies.

Xzi:
+1. I'm glad I'm not trying to get into the video game industry right now, what with the huge influx of qualified students taking that path already. I think I'd blow my brains out if I worked my ass off for four years just to get hired by the studio working on the video game adaptation of Hop.

That's his entire point though. If you work your ass off for four years, you should be glad to be hired by any studio that pays well, even if you aren't working on the new blockbuster IP. Not everyone is going to sit down with a keyboard and be the next J.K Rowling.

Jumplion:

Taunta:
I was skeptical of this at first, but then I read more, and I don't see this as trying to discourage young developers, but instead to not scoff at licensed games, just because they aren't original. Hmm, interesting.

Yeah, that's what I mainly got from this. Something like "No job is beneath you" or something, taking any opportunity you can get to be creative or something.

Still, not the most cheerful news. Not like I expected to work in a AAA studio, but still, I can dream can't I?

Sure you can. But there's a difference between "dreaming" and "expecting". If you dream too high, fine, but if you expect too high, then you're setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

*cough*indie*cough*

Taunta:

FalloutJack:
FalloutJack to Industry Vet: "Pull the other one!"

A veteran of the industry says originality may never come to younger developers in one sentence, and then harps about Halo in another. Uhhhh...Halo really isn't that unique or special. It has an immense popularity, but it's JUST ANOTHER HUMANS VERSUS ALIENS GAME! Sheesh, give us a break here. The last thing we need is for some guy to be delivering his mopey anecdotes to his peers. Here's a clue for you: If humanity were to quit imagining and lose all creativity or desire to grow and learn, IT DIES!

neurohazzard:
"Industry Vet to Young Devs: You Might Never Be Original"
directly followed by:
"Longtime game developer Dave Ellis says that young designers should accept the fact that they may never work on a AAA title like Halo."
Wait...what? AAA titles are often some of the least original, because big studios don't like taking risks on untested concepts. Indy games are often some of the most original, and it's not as hard to get a job in that field (as long as you're willing to live on ramen for a while =P).

You missed the point. He doesn't mean "original" as in "No one's ever thought of this idea before", he means "original" as in it's its own IP. Which is why he goes on to talk about follow-up games for movies.

Xzi:
+1. I'm glad I'm not trying to get into the video game industry right now, what with the huge influx of qualified students taking that path already. I think I'd blow my brains out if I worked my ass off for four years just to get hired by the studio working on the video game adaptation of Hop.

That's his entire point though. If you work your ass off for four years, you should be glad to be hired by any studio that pays well, even if you aren't working on the new blockbuster IP. Not everyone is going to sit down with a keyboard and be the next J.K Rowling.

Jumplion:

Taunta:
I was skeptical of this at first, but then I read more, and I don't see this as trying to discourage young developers, but instead to not scoff at licensed games, just because they aren't original. Hmm, interesting.

Yeah, that's what I mainly got from this. Something like "No job is beneath you" or something, taking any opportunity you can get to be creative or something.

Still, not the most cheerful news. Not like I expected to work in a AAA studio, but still, I can dream can't I?

Sure you can. But there's a difference between "dreaming" and "expecting". If you dream too high, fine, but if you expect too high, then you're setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

Very well said. Glad someone actually read the entire story. :)

Taunta:
Sure you can. But there's a difference between "dreaming" and "expecting". If you dream too high, fine, but if you expect too high, then you're setting yourself up for failure and disappointment.

Oh believe me, most every day I think "You're not special, you're not unique, you're probably end up in a standard dead-end job. Do something that will make you special, unique, and go for it." I try to push myself by being both realistic and idealistic.

I do want to get into the entertainment industry, primarily film and/or video games at the moment. Specifically into that, I do enjoy animating and that is a very flexible field from what I understand. I doubt I'll be directing the next "Toy Story" any time soon, but dammit I'll climb that opportunity ladder with one hand if I have to.

Baby Tea:

If that's discouraging to anyone, then they are in the wrong industry.

You can hardly blame them when from playgroup(kindergarten) they are told they are special. Especially when they watch programmes designed to make you think you have a chance of being the next great thing.

For someone to come out and tell you "Yeah, you probably will have a shitty job, but you can make it YOUR shitty job" seems a little the other way.

For instance: Media Molecule, Mojang, Bay12, Novio... I bet they were told similar as well.

Um... lol?
"Licensed" doesn't really spell "original" and you can easily start your own little project if you have the know-how.
Just cause it ain't "triple A" doesn't mean it doesn't count.
In fact I think most game designers worth their salt have some original games under their belt already just for the experience.

 Pages 1 2 3 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here