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High Moon Shining: Inside Sierra's San Diego Outpost
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High Moon Shining: Inside Sierra's San Diego Outpost

September 21, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 11 Next

Does the fact that everyone came on board for original IP create dissent in the ranks when you have to move over to a license?

CU: No, it's not like that at all. The original plan even with Sammy was to move up to doing multiple projects with multiple teams. The idea was to have a healthy mix of original IP and IP that other people created that we reinterpret. Everyone here is a fan of certain things, and we all have [licenses] that we love.

PO: Yeah. There are original visions and there are licensed visions, but the execution is down to the artistry of the creators. Years ago, studios took a big risk on David Lynch with Dune, and he failed spectacularly with a movie that has brilliance in places, but was a colossal failure.

Then you go to another guy who has just as bizarre a background and give him an even more popular property, and it's the most successful film franchise of the last 20 years. That's Spider-Man. Sam Raimi was able to contain it and express it in a way that the audience was willing to accept, instead of taking something that was brilliant and making it crazier and more absurd. As a studio, we're built for doing original properties. We don't have the brilliance of David Lynch or Sam Raimi, but it's the same challenge for us to be handed a licensed property and say, "Now make it great."

Do you see [energy and passion] in licensed games yourselves? I can definitely see the attempt, but I haven't seen a whole lot of that.

PO: The thing you have to understand about licensed games is that for the most part, they're done under the gun with a shifting set of targets and an immovable ship date. I think the Harry Potter games and some of the Lord of the Rings games were strong, and I can pick a couple of Bond games that were OK. But let's not kid ourselves; licensed properties are notorious for having poor quality.

What tools do you guys use here in the design department?

CU: The usual round of tools the designers use are Maya, Studio Max, the Unreal 3 toolset with physics, and custom tools that are part of Unreal. We have the designers broken into two categories: technical designers and game designers.

Are you more about iteration than preproduction?

CU: I hate to categorize a method. I think that there are times in every project's development when you're doing a lot of iteration, and times that you aren't. Every developer probably goes through the same thing -- there's times when they're iterating like crazy, and times where they're locking it down in production.

Iteration is great for testing out ideas, but it's also very time consuming. But maybe you have more money now that you're under Vivendi!

CU: You do it when it's appropriate and in the best interests of the project.

PO: We have more money, but we're no more eager to waste it. Iteration without a goal in mind is running water into the tub with the drain open.

What do you consider recent successes in terms of advancing the medium?

CU: Guitar Hero opened [the rhythm genre] up to a wider audience, and it really captured an experience with the controller, game balance, and the sound. My hat's off to those guys, because they did what I would love to see in some modern game experiences: it's a great five-minute experience that can be repeated over and over again, but you don't have to spend four hours trying to get acclimated to the game. You can come back to it anytime and have an equally strong experience. I'm looking forward to that experience being taken online.

PO: Guitar Hero along with select titles on the Wii and DS have been the first games in a long time that really were encouraging and grew our market. I'd say Nintendogs really advanced the state of the art, and like Guitar Hero, it's a title that drew upon existing titles in the marketplace. It's nothing new, but the pieces came together in a charming package that was put in the market with confidence that the audience would find it.

CU: One of the most significant games has to be Brain Age. Even Guitar Hero and Nintendogs went to the same core audience, whereas Brain Age appealed to different [ages and demographics] that otherwise wouldn't play games. That kind of creativity and accessibility are really the most significant things that I've seen happening.

High Moon's Chris Ulm recognizes the significance of Brain Age

So you're very interested in the mass media aspect?

PO: Not for its own sake. I'm not interested in broader markets as much as I'm interested in different markets, because there are so many game companies competing for that same 14-24-year-old guy that it's just a madhouse. You spend so much money and time on a game that has six weeks to make it or break it on the shelves, and I'd like to be able to speak to a different audience that is going to be receptive to a product that allows me to grow as a creator and also be receptive to a product that is going to make my publisher interested because there is money to be made there.

If we can get out to a broader market, it's going to be wonderful for everybody. We can sell more games and drop unit cost, and then games become more socially acceptable and they move more firmly into the fabric of our society, and then maybe we will get those next-gen experiences.

CU: It's necessary, because if we don't nurture the business and allow it to have a larger audience, then we'll spend more and more money applying to the same, diminishing group, and eventually, we will bore them. Imagine if all movies were action movies or comedies. People keep going to movies for variety, and we don't have near as much variety in the games industry.

PO: We've seen things fail. Chris and I were in comic books before video games, and comic books did exactly what video games are in danger of doing, which was overspecializing and overdependence upon a single diminishing and increasingly jaded and disinterested consumer base.

CU: Pretty soon, the stores go away, there's not as many outlets for it, and you don't have nearly the vibrancy and variety of projects that are out there.

Article Start Previous Page 6 of 11 Next

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