“In ten years time you would probably be seeing yourself online on the game instead of the characters.”
What‘s more fun, inventing board games or making video games?
They‘re both equally interesting challenges. Before video games were available, I enjoyed the mechanics of board games and the personal interaction of board games. Video games have visual graphics and the technology to make the game more immersive, it‘s a different medium to entertain. It‘s like saying, “What‘s your favourite meal?” Because when you can‘t do something with the exclusion of everything, then it gives me a lovely choice between board games and video games and also interactive books.
When did you start writing game books? Could you please share with us as to what game books exactly are?
Game books are interactive books where the reader is the hero/heroine and where you roll the dice like a simple role playing game with strengths such as skill, stamina and luck. You are then given a quest usually in the world of monsters and magic. For instance in a book you may have a situation where the hero/heroine has to survive going to a dungeon for a prize and you compete with other characters in the book. So, it would say something like, ‘you are going down this corridor and the area is cold, mouldy and damp and you are walking long a tunnel and you arrive at a stone table and along the wall there are six tables one of which has your name on it, you either open the box and then turn to page 270 or you continue walking down the corridor‘, hence you have to make a choice. There are hundreds of ways of going through the book and only one correct way and if you don‘t choose the right way, you can fail. So perhaps if you don‘t find the key, you will not be able to open the door.
Are there any particular number of chances or lives that the reader has?
The reader has strengths like stamina and skill. So you have 20 stamina points and so there may be a situation where if you get hit then you lose 2 points and you can also find healing potions and increase your fighting strength. So when you come to a monster, then you have to fight the monster and he is really strong so that‘s when stamina is required. You then roll the dice again and if you score 5 or 12, you hit and reduce its stamina and he does the same to you and when his stamina goes to zero, he dies.
What is your role at the Computer Games Skills Forum.
I‘m the chairman of Skillset. Skillset is a Government agency for the films and television industry and more recently games in the UK which accredits universities to make sure that industry is equipping its students with the right ability. Because there were lot‘s of universities offering game studies courses, the forum was quite generous. The universities re-titled media studies to game studies and they really were offering the right courses. The accreditation, when we have assessments go to the universities. They have their work within themselves; they work with low cost development studios, with publishers and hardware manufacturers and see if they can persuade them in art and animation or computer programming. If they have the threshold that meets our requirements, then they get the accreditation scheme. I have been the chairman of this forum since its inception two years ago.
Some of the best practices that you have embraced at Eidos.
It‘s like a recipe that gets better over time. We acquire, we have a certain foundation of core competencies which improve and specialize over time. We specialize mainly in character based action games and adventure games like in our franchise of Lara Croft from Tomb Raider and Hitman, and we‘ve got expertise in that. How we try and link the whole studio networks together is we‘ve got a technology summit for exchanging data and engines and technology that can be used by all studios. So you take the best elements of technology from all of them and centralise the whole thing and make it in a library form, well documented so that all people can use it.
We also have a design summit with creative labs where new things can be tried to see what the world wants in the future, we try not to do things that have already been done earlier and try new things. I‘m very involved in the creative process and not so much in the technology. We also do a lot of market research and focus testing, look at what the competitors are doing, and try our new ideas and game concepts with consumer groups. We take a character and see if the gamers like it or the general public likes it and then we move onto the mechanics of the game and it just gets more specific from here to see what is liked.
Please elaborate on the computer gaming scenario over the years. How has it developed and what it was like 20 years ago, now and the future.
The market has become a lot bigger, more sophisticated and competitive and there is a lot of risk associated with getting into the market. Twenty years ago, two blokes in a garage could make a game for 20000 pounds in two months as it was running on very low tech machines. Now it takes a team of around a hundred people and budgets of 5- 10 million pounds to make one game. So publishing is becoming risky and more collective of titles. That‘s because if you get two or three of those wrong, then you are out of business. There is a whole process of working with financial partners, investors, doing pre-production work and getting publishers to buy so that if it doesn‘t go right then the production can be stopped.
Technology drives the experience. Twenty years ago gameplay was the driving force of many games. Technology is now at a stage where you are watching near broadcast video in real time. In ten years time you would probably be seeing yourself online on the game instead of the characters. So you would take a digital image of yourself and meeting friends. So instead of playing Lara Croft, you might be with Lara Croft, you might watch yourself going with Lara Croft and friends on an adventure. So you have a total Matrix style alter ego, meeting online with all your friends and bringing back the social element of gaming.
Fighting Fantasy titles
It was a generic title and there are different titles under it. At the moment there are 24. I‘ve written 13 of them. The first book was published in Aug 1982. Game books are interactive, they involve the reader and when it‘s your adventure you just can‘t stop. It also encourages creative writing, problem solving, there are puzzles that you need to work out and stimulate your imagination.
Comments on the creative industries in the UK
Britain is one of the most creative countries in the world. We are unique in many respects. Looking back in history, we‘ve had a tradition of art, literature and history and institutions as the BBC, the newspapers, Free Press and the like. It has a dynamic culture of a metropolis which infuses a dynamic exchange of ideas, cognitive creative thoughts. More recently, we‘ve been very good at computer games. What we are not so good at exploiting our creativity. Other countries seem to be noticing the talent we have here.