‘Dead Space 2′ Creative Director Went From Neuroscience To Necromorphs – Developer Pop Quiz #20

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.

Amateur game development may have never payed off as well as it did for Wright Bagwell, the Creative Director at Visceral Games, developer of this week’s biggest release, “Dead Space 2.” The release of “Quake” overtook Bagwell’s life, forcing him to leave a promising career in neuroscience behind, setting him on a path that would eventually end up on the USG Ishimura.

Name: Wright Bagwell
Title: Creative Director
Company: Visceral Games
Job Description: I have the best job in the world! My job is to come up with new game concepts, get the development team excited about them, then direct the game at a high level throughout production. First and foremost, however, my job is to make sure it’s fun.
First title worked on: “X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse,” which was a commercial “Quake” mod.
Most recent title worked on: “Dead Space 2″

What game has most influenced you, and why?
It’s a tossup between “Planetfall” and “Half-Life.” The writing in “Planetfall” was exceptionally vivid and entertaining, and left an impression on me as a child about the importance of great character development and the emotional impact of what you do in games. “Half-Life” left a strong impression on me for a few reasons. First, it came out very early in my career as a game designer, right at the time I was most hungry to learn about game design. Second, because of the simple but very immersive means of storytelling.

What are you playing right now?
“Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood,” “The Dream Machine,” “Drop 7,” and I’m finally getting around to playing “Heavy Rain.”

What was your first break in the games industry?
I was in grad school working on my PhD in neuroscience when “Quake” came out. I was hopelessly hooked on it, and I started tinkering in “Worldcraft” one day to see if I could make a level for the game. I soon found myself pulling more all-nighters to make “Quake” maps than to cram for exams. A couple of my maps became fairly popular, and soon I started getting emails with offers to come make games. I did a little bit of contract work at home on a commercial “Quake” mod called “X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse,” but my real first break came when Cavedog called me and offered me a job working on a very ambitious new FPS called “Amen.” I took a leave of absence from grad school, thinking I may eventually return, but I’ve been making games for about 14 years now.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Pursue ideas that you’re passionate about. Your talent and time is wasted on ideas you don’t believe in.

Where do you look for inspiration?
I get most of my ideas from real life experiences. I’m a thrill junkie, and I find that there is no substitute for doing things that take me out of my comfort zone when I’m looking for ideas about how to put someone else into really thrilling situations. So much of creating thrill is about getting all the details right, and unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to know what the details are.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about game development?
Keep it simple. A good game designer needs to be able to distinguish between depth and complication in both gameplay and story writing. You want people to start having fun the moment they begin playing your game, so it’s important to not overwhelm people with complicated tutorials or complicated, irrelevant backstory.

What has been the low point of your career?
A few years ago, I worked on a few new games in a row that were all shelved for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to pour your creativity into something that you really believe in and then have to let it go. The upside is that my teams and I all learned a lot about what it takes to get new ideas off the ground, and it makes you a harsher critic of your own work.

What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
There’s no question that game designers need to become more effective storytellers, and that doesn’t mean we need more cut scenes in our games. For years, game designers have looked to Hollywood and tried to copy the formulas that filmmakers use for storytelling. That can work to some degree, but it’s imperative that we game designers perfect the craft of storytelling within games, while keeping players in control.

What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
Getting everyone online and connected at all times.

Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
I hope to see designers and artists focus on the quality, not quantity, of ideas that games are constructed from. The complexity of modern games is a big turnoff for people who are new to gaming, and we need to not intimidate people who pick up the controllers for the first time.