Michel Kripalani is the senior games industry manager for Autodesk, overseeing aspects of Autodesk 3ds Max, Autodesk Maya and Autodesk MotionBuilder from the perspective of a game developer.
As a veteran of the videogame industry, founding Presto Studios in 1991 and developing titles as diverse as the Journeyman Project series, Myst 3: Exile and Whacked!. Michel joined Autodesk in 2004 to help focus the product development team on the needs of game developers, and works closely with game developers and publishers from Nintendo to Epic.
Gamasutra caught up with Michel (and PR Specialist Shannon McPhee) at the recent Autodesk Backstage Pass press summit held in Montreal to discuss Autodesk’s acquisition of Alias (Toronto-based developer of Maya), the future of the games industry, and the future of Autodesk itself.
Gamasutra: Autodesk’s attitude to what they do seems to be that they “make stories real.” What’s your take on that?
Michel Kripalani: Well, I think that at the core gameplay is king, but beyond gameplay, all real good games have a story. There’s two ways of looking at a story in games; there are the games that are more narrative driven and have a story that you’re being told or, in a lot of cases, there are games where players create their own story. The process of playing World of Warcraft, for example.
So with the Autodesk tools we are enabling creators to make games, and ultimately all of those games really are story based whether its stories that are being told to you or stories that you’ll tell afterwards.
GS: Both the 3ds Max and Motion Builder teams are based in Quebec. Are there particular benefits for being based there?
MK: I think there are definite benefits, I think that at this stage you have to remember that there’s a huge history of 3D creation tools that comes out of Montreal and Quebec, reaching out as far as Toronto. There’s a wealth of intellectual knowledge, the talent pool, that’s available in that particular region of the world. It’s second to none for that type of work. There are things such as government incentives that have created this atmosphere that go back many years and have helped to create this atmosphere, but the fact that there are so many people centrally located there that makes the location really powerful.
GS: There’s a huge games community in Quebec; do you find yourself working particularly closely with the likes of Ubisoft Montreal?
MK: Absolutely. There are actually a lot of companies that are located nearby and we communicate with all of them quite regularly. They assist us with our feature plans, we try to be very good about speaking to customers to find out what it is that they need in our future releases. We get a huge benefit for having such high quality developers right in our back yard.
GS: Does this include the Alias location in Toronto?
MK: It does, there are many developers; not that there are any of the scale of Ubisoft…
Shannon McPhee: We do have Rockstar, and Silicon Knights...
MK: That’s true!
SM: And Koei…
MK: Of course, Koei from Japan. The message there is that there are very high quality developers there that are doing excellent work, but Ubisoft’s studio in Montreal is probably one of the largest in the world.
GS: Speaking of Alias, how has the merger been working out?
MK: It’s been very strong; we’re very excited about it. If you look at the games pipelines around the world, there’s been a mix of Maya and Max games pipelines used, and there’s been a big battle backwards and forwards about which one is better. Now that we have all the information we can see that it’s essentially quite balanced.
The number of people using Max for development and the number of people using Maya for development is actually quite balanced around the world, and so rather than allowing the fighting and kicking and screaming to go on back and forth between the two applications our focus now is interoperability. And what we’re going to do is using FBX [Autodesk’s new universal file standard] and our other technologies we’re making it easier for developers to push data back and forth between programs.
The great thing about this now is that studios can choose between one, the other or both integrated, whatever balance they like, and if they have an artist that they want to hire now it almost doesn’t matter what package they use; they can hire the artist on the strength of their art and experience, and integrate them fully into their pipeline.
So, the merger has worked out as even better for developers than it has for Autodesk! It’s going to give them a lot more options to just focus on the creative work and not have to worry about which one is going to be the perfect tool for them to use.
GS: So you don’t see the product lines merging, even in the longer term?
MK: No, it wouldn’t be technically reasonable to do that; the code bases are substantially different at the core and that would be a monumental task that just wouldn’t make sense. The Max business was very healthy before the acquisition, as was the Maya business, and there’s no reason to think that would we would need to have one continue over the other or to merge them together.
They work very differently at the core; for the artist to work with them as a tool the thought processes in either package is a little bit different. So we’re going to keep them separate, but we’re definitely going to push their integration.
GS: You consider them different enough to keep them both running?
MK: Oh absolutely. They both have their huge strong features based on the way they’ve been created architecturally from the ground up.