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.
Imagine living three doors down from one of the guys credited for bringing the original "Mortal Kombat" to life, and then, years later, working on the reboot of that very franchise. Such is the story of the subject of this week's Developer Pop Quiz, NetherRealm Studio's Producer Hector Sanchez. Growing up and going to the same high school as John Tobias (and The Wachowski Brothers and Michelle Obama) had a profound affect on him as a gamer and throughout his career in the games industry. Also influenced by the passing of his brother and his work with the Developmentally Disabled, Sanchez has one of the most upbeat attitudes in the industry, and proof that people with virtually any kind of background could be making the games that you love.
Name: Hector Sanchez
Title: Producer (Art + Design)
Company: NetherRealm Studios - Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Job Description: Being a Producer allows you to get involved in many aspects of the game, from offering input on creative decisions to demonstrating the game to audiences around the world to taking out the trash on the weekends when the team is working full force on meeting a deadline. My primary objectives are to do anything and everything possible to make sure the Art Director and the Lead Designers have the space to do what they do best, which is create awesome content for gamers to enjoy.
First title worked on: I started out as a Gameplay Tester in 2005 on "NBA: Ballers REBOUND" for the PSP.
Most recent title worked on: "Mortal Kombat" (2011)
What game has most influenced you, and why?
This may sound strange, but if I really look back on it, I think the original "Mortal Kombat" in 1992 has been the most influential game for me. John Tobias (one of the co-creators) literally lived seven houses down from me when my family lived on the South Side of Chicago. He was a bit older and was known as a really talented artist. A few years later when the whole "Mortal Kombat" cultural phenomenon exploded, it really opened my eyes and gave me confidence that any kind of person from any kind of background can create something and have it reach an international level. I identified with it because it was a Latino kid from the neighborhood doing this really big thing. I actually wound up
going to same high school (Whitney Young Magnet High School) that John graduated from. The Wachowski Brothers and Michelle Obama also graduated from the same school. It's totally mind blowing to actually be working on "Mortal Kombat" 19 years later, but the inspiration I felt as a kid, seeing his name on all of the posters, still motivates me every day.
What are you playing right now?
I haven't had much time to play games over the last few months because we've been trying to finish "Mortal Kombat," but when I have had the chance, I've been playing "Sword and Sworcery" on the iPad which I think is just a tremendous artistic achievement. Those guys clearly had a vision and executed it well. As for more mainstream games, I've really enjoyed "Dead Space 2" and I have a soft spot in my heart for the "FIFA" franchise.
What was your first break in the games industry?
My first break in the industry was as a Quality Assurance tester back at Midway in 2005. After completing my service in the Air Force, I was going to school studying Special Education and working with Special Olympics. A friend asked me if I would be interested in a temporary job playing games, and I thought I'd give it a shot. Video games had always been a passion of mine and I thought it would be a nice change of pace from what I was currently doing. I wound up getting hired on full time and from there I was given an increasing amount of responsibility, year after year. Near the end of 2007 I transferred over to the "Mortal Kombat" team, whom I had worked with as a tester for a few titles, and worked as an Associate Producer for the development of "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe."
I'm pretty fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had over the last few years, and I still do volunteer work with the Special Olympics, so I'm enjoying the best of both worlds.
What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
"Integrity First. Service before self. Excellence in all you do." Those are the Air Force core values and still serve as a guiding philosophy for me to this day.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration, for me, comes from the time I've been blessed to spend with the Developmentally Disabled and their caretakers. I had a younger brother with Down Syndrome who I lost to Leukemia in 2007, and the strength that he exhibited during his chemotherapy and the later stages still provides me with courage to face any adversity I've had to deal with personally.
Make people smile. That's the lesson he taught me and that's what I try to do every day of my life, whether it be with games or a compliment on the street to a complete stranger.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned about game development?
It certainly takes a village to raise a child. The sheer number of people it takes to make a game is astounding, and when you factor in the differences in backgrounds and personalities, you really have to have an inviting and open personality and be ready to collaborate and listen.
What has been the low point of your career?
After the launch of "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe," Midway was going through what could be politically called "Financial Difficulties." Because of this, we could not support the game post-launch in the way we wanted to.
What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
I think some publishers are nervous about introducing new Intellectual Properties into the market, so we're falling into a cycle of looking to big franchises and sequels to proven games to be the core of what the market has to provide. But at the same time, this is inspiring Independent Developers to really push the envelope and provide something new in order to get noticed.
What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
The increased availability of Broadband Internet access has definitely turned the industry on its ear. It's made digital distribution possible, and digital distribution is huge.
Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
I think Game Development will spread to some of the developing economies around the world and we're in store for some major new developments. I firmly believe there is a kid in Brazil or Saudi Arabia with a great idea that's just waiting for access to the development tools so that he or she can show the world what they have imagined. I can't wait.