'Homefront' Lead Designer Uses 'Peggle' For Inspiration/Procrastination - Developer Pop Quiz #27


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.

Chris Cross, the lead designer behind THQ's now platinum-selling "Homefront" takes some time to answer our questions in this week's Developer Pop Quiz. He breaks down some of the lessons he's learned over the years since working on his first title, "WarCraft II," and offers a realistic perspective on the industry and making games.

Name: Chris Cross

Title: Lead Designer: Single Player

Company: Kaos Studios

Job Description: You want the official bullet points or the philosophical breakdown? Neither one can ever really cover what a Lead Designer does on a daily basis. Here are the things I find most important to strive for on a daily basis.

- Health of the design team

- Working, if not great, relationships with the other department leads

- Being the ol' dog on deck and telling the kids, "Yeah. I've seen this situation before. Hold your ground."

First title worked on:

As a Tester = Localized versions of "WarCraft II"

As a Lead Designer = "Small Soldiers: Squad Commander"

As the Lead Designer on a Franchise: "Medal of Honor" (1999 PSX)

Most recent title worked on: "Homefront"

What game has most influenced you, and why?

I'd say the arcade versions of "Battle Zone" and "Star Trek" from the early 80's. Both of them are arguably leaders in the FPS genre and really captured my imagination.

What are you playing right now?

Besides Homefront's Multiplayer? "CoD:BlOps" (360), "Battleheart" (iOS), "League of Legends" (PC)

What was your first break in the games industry?

I persistently contacted the hiring manager at Blizzard when I was starting out for a test job. He finally called me in for an interview.

What's the best advice you've ever gotten?

Wanna stay on top? You gotta stay hungry! - Coach from any American sports movie, i.e., "Rocky," "Rudy," "Raging Bull"

What they don't tell you is that even giving it 110%, going all the way, not quitting, wanting to win, etc. there is no happily ever after. Success is built on work. (That has to be a quote or a paraphrase from somewhere.)

Where do you look for inspiration?

I listen to particular music tracks, albums and playlists.

But mainly, when preparing for design writing, I tend to play other games. Most notably I like to play a puzzle game until I start to achieve a certain level of scores. I find that this helps organize my thoughts or helps me exercise the organizational part of my brain. Any puzzle game will do like "Columns" or "Big Money" or "Tetris." "Peggle" works for me as well. Just don't get sucked in and lose your afternoon. Limber up only!

What's the biggest lesson you've learned about game development?

The hard part is people. New features, gameplay modes, ideas and their implementation are just work. There's always more work than there is time and money. The one thing that's hard is inspiring people and keeping a coherent vision over time. This increases in difficulty as you add people to games. Take into account their personalities and all of a sudden you have a constantly shifting problem. The only way to cope is to have good to great communication skills. Listen for the real problems behind the current issue and try and solve the root causes. It takes patience and time to become a people person. I’m still not there yet.

What has been the low point of your career?

My last two years at the previous publisher I worked at. Not only was I dealing with management changes but there were considerable personal issues going on in my life. 'Nuff said.

What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?

Keeping a game accessible to new players but not losing the hardcore players is the hardest thing to do. It's different for every game.

What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?

I would say the iPhone/iOS/SDK combo. It opened up the developer pool again. Nice to see some indie houses make a splash.

Where do you see gaming in 5 years?

Brick and mortar game stores are going to have a hard time with digital distribution becoming widely accepted. This will affect developers and publishers.

Note: Brick and Mortar stores won't disappear altogether. There's just something nice and satisfying about being in a designated shopping space and leaving with something solid in your hands. Maybe there's a hunter/gatherer analogy there.