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.
Say what you will about Sony, but over the last few years it's undeniable that they have consistently delivered with their "God of War" franchise. Most gamers are familiar with the work of Sony's Santa Monica Studios, who work on the console versions of the game, but Sony's talented Ready at Dawn Studios oversee the portable versions of the title. Now that their latest, "God of War: Ghost of Sparta," is out, this week's Developer Pop Quiz features answers by the game's designer, Michael Deneen, where he offers us some insight into his career, how he got started, and what he thinks about the video games industry.
Name: Michael Deneen
Title: Game Designer
Company: Ready At Dawn Studios
Job Description: At Ready At Dawn, a designer's day is a marriage of creative and technical tasks that changes based on the stage of the game development process. Early on, I work with the team to conceptualize and document high-level game structure; from there I'll take sections of the world and create maps both on paper and in a 3D modeling program. I then use our toolset to implement and prototype puzzles, enemy encounters, and anything that the player can interact with in a level. I tune, rework, and bug fix all of these areas with the artists and programmers until the game is complete.
First title worked on: "Goldeneye: Rogue Agent"
Most recent title worked on: "God of War: Ghost of Sparta"
What game has most influenced you, and why?
"Uncharted 2"'s perfect execution of an immersive action-adventure experience has been highly influential recently. Older games I look to are "Half-Life 2," "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night," "Super Mario World," "Street Fighter II," NES "Duck Tales," "Killer 7," the "Tomb Raider" series, and "Resident Evil 4."
What are you playing right now?
I recently downloaded "Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light" on PSN and am really enjoying their intuitive, yet challenging puzzles. I also have been going back to "Final Fantasy Tactics" on PSP when I have free time. It is still hard to find an RPG/Strategy game that is as well-crafted as that.
What was your first break in the games industry?
Getting a job in the Quality Assurance Department for Electronic Arts six years ago was my break. I made developers cry at 3am in the morning by finding crash bugs. I am now the one that cries.
What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
Don't call the Bay Area 'Frisco' to a native Northern Californian.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Books, film, music, and everyday living are all sources of inspiration. While a part of my job is to play all of the games on the market so I have a working knowledge of gamers' preferences, if I study just the games we'll all be making the same game, and what's the point of that?
What's the biggest lesson you've learned about game development?
Not cutting sub-par prototyped content before it gets to the art phase will severely affect the quality of the finished product. Wasting developers time on systems and level layouts that aren't inherently fun or at least promising is akin to polishing a piece of poop. No matter how shiny, it's still poop.
Who do you think will come out on top this console generation?
While I'm obviously partial to the PS3, all of the consoles have their strengths and weaknesses. It's the gamers that are really coming out on top with the variety available.
What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
There are two that stick out as big concerns... one is filler content that exists solely to lengthen the gaming experience. Unlike other mediums, we've come to associate quality with quantity in single-player games and our thinking on this needs to change. Otherwise, we'll continue to get 40 hour games that have 10 hours of highly produced, relevant content.
The other problem is passive starts to story-based games. In the first hour I don't want 25 minutes of movies. We're PLAYING games dammit, let's DO something spectacular and world-changing and show players something they’ve never seen before so they want to continue playing past that first hour.
What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
Steam has done a lot of good for the industry in the last 10 years. It popularized digital downloads and took some power away from the publisher and back to the developer. Because of them, online content delivery is widely available and will continue to grow to the point where we'll never have to enter a physical game store. If that turns out not to be true, then I hope a "sticker-peeler-offer" gets invented.
Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
As far as software, multiplayer will become the primary component of every game. Also, as we're already seeing, the shelf life of a single title will increase dramatically with downloadable content.
As far as hardware, the portable systems should catch up with their home console counterparts in terms of their capabilities and always stay connected to home devices. The availability of quality content will not have any bounds.