Do games encourage violence?
This boils down to how impressionable someone is. Film has the same challenges. Take ‘SAW III,’ a very violent and graphic film but I can recognize it’s a story at the end of the day. Gaming is the same. Yes there is interactivity with the characters, which some argue make gaming more realistic than film and hence can prey on impressionable minds. There are age limits adhered to by the games industry through the ESRB. If there is a game that is too graphic and violent, then the ESRB won’t classify it, hence effectively banning the game from sale in this territory.
This recently happened with ‘Manhunt 2.’ If a game gets an 18 rating then shops and more critically parents should adhere to this. Parents must take a closer interest into what their children are playing. Younger minds are more impressionable and can be influenced by a game or a film, and that’s why there is an 18 age rating to protect them. The ‘SIMs’ the biggest selling game of all time. Gaming is not about violence; its about entertainment.
What other challenges would someone in film considering working in gaming face?
There are many exciting challenges that gaming brings to film industry professionals. We have mentioned the advance in CG and VFX capabilities. I would add bringing their knowledge and experience to tapping into people's emotions. Can a game make you cry? Not yet but its coming.
Gaming's big challenge is to create emotionally believable characters, easy in film as the viewer immerses into a linear experience and the director can play with emotions at whim. Gaming in real time in open worlds with the audience in control has more challenges. Game characters need to be emotionally believable but many are becoming increasingly anthropomorphic, leading developers into the barren land of 'Uncanny Valley' – where characters look real, without the matching subtleties of behavior. But photo-realism does not mean believability.
Gaming mustn't fall into the 'more polygon' trap and create great looking characters but they move like zombies with no intelligence or perception of reality. Motion fidelity has to be better than modeling. UCAP, (Universal Motion Capture), has helped the industry achieve both motion and modeling fidelity but video games now face new problems unique to interactive real time graphics. Video games have to create the illusion of interactive life. To connect with a character, audiences must believe what characters: Do; Think; and Feel. This takes gaming beyond the Uncanny Valley.
Awareness, Animation plus AI are critical to the suspension of disbelief. The challenge for interactive video games is how characters ingame respond to new unpredictable inputs; for example, if a character in a game stands next to an exploding bomb and does not react realistically, this breaks the suspension of disbelief.
Gaming also has the challenge of how to relate the audience to the character through how they interact with the games controller. Controllers need to possess a personality.
Many companies say they are struggling to recruit. Some even say there is a talent crisis, what’s your view?
No. When the likes of companies like Pixar, Dreamworks and EA recruit talent from Europe for America that highlights the quality of our talent pool. Lets be clear, in the world today, Europe has the finest talent pool to select from. We have three of the finest art/animation schools in the world in Gobelins, Supinfocom and FilmAkademie. Yes there are some real challenges for recruiters but nothing that isn’t easy to overcome with creativity in attracting talent. Why am I so confident? EA’s UK Studio has recruited 350 permanent staff and 400 contractors in the past two years.
720 of which came from direct recruitment, not through recruitment agencies. But recruitment is not easy for EA, we have our own brand challenges including the perception of churning out sequels, been seen as a large corporate borg of a company and of course, following the ‘EA spouse,’ episode, issues surrounding work/life balance. Yes, the experienced talent pool is shrinking and all companies in entertainment are fighting for talent, including games, film, TV, toys, mobile and IT. With candidates now demanding to work on the best films and games, that means they are happy to relocate their lives and are globally mobile.
Can gaming produce realistic environments and worlds?
The first CG worlds, seen in movies such as ‘Star Trek 2’ and ‘Tron,’ were awe-inspiring. Today, gaming successfully creates visually stunning worlds but it is no longer enough for environments just to look stunning – they must behave realistically, and be fully responsive to character and user input.
Crysis ensures that every part of nature that can respond, does respond. It includes simulated foliage and ricocheting bullets, dynamically generated ocean waves, volume rendered clouds, a dynamic HDR sky, and dozens of additional real-time graphical elements. Gaming is just scratching the surface of interactive film-like effects.
The challenge for gaming is creating real time dynamic effects in worlds and placing interactive environments at the control of the gamer. Gamers demand natural forces at their control and environments that respond.
In film, costs are always a concern, how is this reflected in games?
Costs are a huge concern. Yes. We are faced with a real 'ticking time bomb' in the Entertainment Industry, with wage spiral inflationary pressures building. With the experienced talent pool shrinking, people have learnt their salary bargaining power and now when moving jobs command several offers, which they negotiate to get the best deal.
The industry has to be mature in the salaries it pays otherwise we won't have learnt the lessons from the dot.com crash. Game team sizes had ballooned in the past but now the key is we maintain smaller game teams, to encourage a cohesive team to be creative together.
Despite Next Gen demands, replicating the film industry model of a flexible workforce with some contractors and outsourcing some work out to other companies, allows teams to be more creative and dynamic. I remember a couple of years back the headlines were all about the games industry being dominated by two or three super developers.
Fast forward to today and the return of the cottage industry of bedroom programmers emerges with possibilities of developing small, accessible casual games for XBox Live, Playstation network, online gaming sites, even for mobile phones. Games could be developed in three month cycles with teams of five or less. That's phenomenally exciting for creativity in games and game development costs.
Is retention of staff a big thing in gaming?
The biggest challenge facing games companies today is workers are not as loyal as they have been in the past. I remember the day when no one would leave a game team when a project was near completion. That's not the case today. Companies have to work daily to recruit their existing staff to stay with them. Leaders have to ask themselves if their staff are challenged, if they are well remunerated, if they have a good work/life balance, if their staff work on world class games, if they can work towards promotion, if they receive enough training and development and whether their ideas are listened to. If not then they are prey to a head-hunter and will lose their staff.
‘Crunch’ and work life balance are huge issues in gaming, is crunch inevitable?
The ‘EA spouse’ episode was a painful wake up call to not only EA but the games industry. Any industry with a project deadline, be it film, game, IT, even school course work, will face higher working hours at the end of the project. Our job is to ensure that crunch is reduced by an effective preproduction process by locking down game design at the start of development and then ensuring project schedulers can distribute work equitably over a projects. We also have to recognise that games teams are perfectionists and want to add new cool content right up until the last minute. Crunch will always be a challenge for gaming, it is getting better but peaked hours at the end of a project are inevitable.
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