Have you been able to implement any of the concepts that you're thinking of in there, or is that future for you?
NJ: Well, I can't go into any details about that. What we have done recently is that we've developed our own internal incubation team, which is dedicated to working on all ideas for new games and also for sequels of existing games. We're doing a lot of experimenting with a lot of different things, and they're both new things and existing things in there.
Is that a core team of creatives? Do they stay as that core team, or do they go off, once they center an idea, and form the core of the production team?
NJ: Actually, I think, at the end of the day, a game developer is about a man with a mission; a man that is saying basically, "This is what I want to do."
The vision, for instance, on Kane & Lynch 2 was very, very strong. The game director had a very, very clear vision about YouTube aesthetics, about the visual style, about the grittiness, about the extreme experience; at the end of the day, the final product is what he set out to do.
I think the goal of our incubation department is to make sure that we test different ideas, find the right ideas, and get that one person to leave the incubation team and work on that project to see it to the finish because it's very important to have ownership from start to finish.
There are a lot of different ways of working, and I find that, if you talk to different people, there are different processes at different studios, different approaches.
NJ: I think capturing the core essence of the creativity is always a challenge, and making sure that funnels through everything in the game when it actually goes into full production. And if you don't have very strong marketeers -- people that are pioneers at showing the direction in the game -- it very, very seldom comes out in a good way. So it is about making sure that everybody understands the vision of the game.
How long does someone work developing idea before you launch into production?
NJ: That's very, very different from project to project. With Mini Ninjas, it was one drawing from one guy, and, when I saw that drawing, and people saw it and we talked about it, it was so simple, and just captured the essence of it.
For other projects, you need to iterate on it; it starts in some area and moves more and more into a different area, and then you end up with something that people really, really like. So you can't put a sort of recipe for creativity like that.
Yeah, but a lot of people try, I think.
NJ: (Laughs) Yeah. I don't think it can be done.
Do you do a lot of gameplay prototyping on projects before you enter production? Do you spend a lot of time experimenting?
NJ: Yes. We have different milestones and different gauge processes, and I think it very much depends on what type of project it is. For some projects, it's very important to get the core mechanics right very early; for others, it's getting the visual style right or getting the technology to create the foundation for this right.
It very much depends on the product, but we are seeing a bigger and bigger focus on gameplay in the studio. A lot of prototyping goes into place to make sure the fun factor is actually there before we enter into full production because, once you start full production, you sort of extrapolate on what you have. So getting the foundation right is something that we invest more and more time in.
I think there's a trend towards having the start-up phase to be longer and longer and then having the production sort of bigger, bigger, but shrink down in size; so we actually do a very intense sprint, and that's also where outsourcing really comes into play.
In GDC and such, you definitely hear a lot more discussion about extending pre-production and the benefits it has. I think, personally, just as a gamer, you can perceive when you play a game if they spent time polishing the fundamental core gameplay before they moved to production. You can just feel it.
NJ: Yeah, but it is still where all the ingredients come together in one big stew and you stir the pot -- it is really a challenge to see if everything fits well together. Sometimes it really does, and sometimes you just need to do different tricks on different areas to make sure they blend well together.
Last year, Eidos and Square Enix merged, and it's been a year as a global organization. Has that changed anything about the way things work for you?
NJ: I think we're part of a bigger group now, and we're part of a really strong group that has a lot more presence. We're really proud to be part of that group. It's really understanding the full scope of the world now because, I think, before the merger, we were very focused on Europe and the U.S. only; now we grasp the full world a lot more.
I think the corporation is working really well. We are getting people to understand each other, and they're sharing experiences and exchanging knowhow. I think that the bonds are starting to get really strong, and we're really glad that the Square Enix guys joined when we merged together.