‘NBA Jam’ Inspired By ‘Settlers Of Catan’? – Developer Pop Quiz #7

Developer Pop Quiz is a weekly interview series in which we ask developers from around the industry the same 10 questions and post their responses.

Playing “NBA Jam” in the arcades in the early 1990s was an experience that most gamers have never forgotten, but one fan, Trey Smith, turned it into much more than just a memory. Going from playing the game in the arcades to helping create a revitalized version, Smith has helped put the “NBA Jam” name back on the map as the game’s Creative Director, and he’s answering our questions about video games in this week’s Developer Pop Quiz.

Name: Trey Smith
Title: Creative Director
Company: Electronic Arts
Job Description: Part Director, part Designer, part Producer
First title worked on: “Spider-Man” PS1/Dreamcast
Most recent title worked on: “NBA JAM”

What game has most influenced you, and why?
Honestly, I’d have to say the original “NBA JAM.” If it wasn’t for the work of Mark Turmell and his original team, I’m quite confident I would not be where I am today. Arcade Sports games have always been like a warm comfy blanket to me, and “NBA JAM” was the game that started them all. I’m always down for a game of “NBA JAM,” “NFL BLITZ,” and “MLB Slugfest.”

What are you playing right now?
Just finished “Bioshock 2″ and catching up on other games I’ve missed while I’ve been finishing up “JAM.” Had a good time with “LIMBO” and finally picked up “Trials HD,” which is awesome. “Call of Duty MW2,” “REZ HD,” “CATAN,” are always in heavy rotation. CANNOT WAIT to play “Portal 2″! The first one blew my mind as a gamer and even more so as a game developer.

What was your first break in the games industry?
Matt Morton, now a Producer at SONY Santa Monica, was a buddy of mine from college that hooked me up with a QA gig at Activision in Santa Monica. From there I met Chris Archer, now the Studio Head of Sony Online, who set me up with an interview for a Junior Producer position on the “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” team. And Larry LaPierre, now the GM of EA Black Box, brought my wife and I up to Vancouver to work at EA CANADA. I’ve had A TON of other breaks, but those were the big ones and I will forever be grateful for them.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Be confident, yet humble” – That was from Mr. LaPierre

Where do you look for inspiration?
Games. And not just video games. There are some brilliant card and board games out there that offer some really compelling experiences in a simple yet elegant way. I’m obsessed with “Settlers of Catan” and “Texas Hold’em” because I think they offer the perfect blend of luck and skill. When it comes time to look for art styles for my games I’m all over comic books and google images to feed my concept artists.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about game development?
It is absolutely a collaborative effort. It takes a great team to build a great game. I’ll be the first to admit that most of the good ideas that have made it into the games I’ve helped develop, haven’t come from me. They’ve come from the extremely talented and passionate guys and gals I’ve had around me. Most of the time, I’ll come up with the initial vision and pitch it to them, but it’s when everyone else chips in and adds their part that makes everything better. People are always more motivated to deliver their best when they are personally invested in the game they’re making, instead of being told what to make. In my experience, that’s how great games are made.

Who do you think will come out on top this console generation?
The gamers. There are more and more ways to get your gaming fix than ever and it’s extremely exciting to see. A lot of gamers bag on the “Farmvilles” and the “Angry Birds,” but a lot of the folks playing casual games now are someday going to graduate to sniping your ass in the next “HALO.” More gamers = more games.

What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
I think there are a number of problems we have with the way games are being developed today, but honestly, I think one of the biggest problems right now is the actions and attitude of some of the gamers out there. You know who they are. If they spent less time spewing ignorant hate on the boards and in online games, and more time rallying behind the great games they love and helping to build a thriving community that welcomes everyone that shows up to play with them – everybody wins. Nothing wrong with a little smack talk here and there, just wish gamers respected each other more. I just got back from PAX Prime down in Seattle. I am of the opinion that if the people of PAX ran the world, it would be a much better place. Costumes optional.

What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
Bringing Cooperative multiplayer into the mainstream. It’s one thing to play all by yourself, I will always love story driven shooters and RPG’s, but playing with your friends and family members is where it’s at. XBOX LIVE is my Facebook. Catching up with friends and family while playing some Domination or ripping through a co-op campaign is nothing short of awesome. My brother Casey and I are so busy with work and school, he’s in Arizona and I’m up in Vancouver, that if it wasn’t for online gaming we’d hardly ever talk to each other and that would suck.

Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
I think 5 years from now games are going to be even more immersive than they are now, across the board. Outside of playing games with friends and family, the main reason I play is to escape the stress and responsibilities of real life for awhile and just totally check out and drop into another world. Motion controls and 3D are examples of this but I think a lot of it has to do with how seamlessly gamers are going to interact within the game world. When I play games like “COD,” “Bioshock,” “Shadow of the Colossus,” “Mass Effect,” and “Portal” I’m there. I forget it’s a game and get lost. 5 years from now I hope to get lost even more.