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I'm sure those things are true,
and they do make the game look really good, but how do you think that
gamers, when they make a decision about what game to buy -- psychology-wise
-- do you think technology matters, or do you think it's the theme?
How do you take that into account when you're working on the game?
AI: Technology is important, but we're not selling a tech demo. Definitely what TimeShift is all about is the universe, the experience, and the look and feel of this universe. The goal was to bring the player into this universe, and to leave him there and to experience all the twists of the story and let him interact with the environment and with the universe. It's definitely much more than a tech thing. That's why we spent so much time on tweaking the gameplay, balancing the gameplay, making sure the shooting mechanics are what they should be, as well as the time-control mechanics what they should be.
Did all the creative direction come out of your office in Saint Petersburg, or was it your office in New Jersey, or also from the publisher?
AI: We got a lot of creative direction from our publisher. We're really fortunate enough to work with one of the best creative people in the industry. But Saber as a team matured a lot through the course of the years, and I believe we were able to add a few significant improvements to the overall look and feel and the gameplay experience of the game.
I believe it was a great collaboration effort across all three locales -- Los Angeles, New York, and Russia. The people traveling across all three places... we have a lot of guys coming from Los Angeles to our Russian office, and we would bring the best from Russia into the U.S. to New York, so that the people would get familiar with U.S. sensibilities, and with U.S. perception of things in general. It was really important.
There are some big Russian and other big Eastern European developers. Sort of up-and-coming, I guess, to an extent, at least in terms of the American market and the broader international market. What do you think that culturally, from a game development perspective... what do Russian developers bring, and is there something you say is quintessentially Russian, or interesting about the way games are developed or conceived of, in Eastern Europe?
AI: (laughs) That's a good question. I believe Russia is great when it comes to finding top-notch developers in terms of programming skills and artistic skills. I believe it takes a lot to make a game produced and developed in Russia to comport to Western sensibilities, so it was really important that we had the U.S. designers and minds behind the game. Matthew Karch, my partner, is the lead designer on the game, and the vision that he is bringing to the mix as well as the vibe they're getting from Vivendi was really instrumental in getting the game where it needed to be, in terms of look and feel and design, and just how the game plays.
What's challenging about developing the game in Russia is that you want to try all the small companies in Russia. We're trying to do something, but it's not really working out, at least not yet. Let's say that you have money and a great game idea in the U.S. All you have to do is just put out an ad and eventually people with experience will come to you.
Not in Russia. In Russia, you can't find people like designers and producers. They simply don't exist, because there are no triple-A titles coming out of Russia. It's simply a challenge. You have to bring these people in, and you have to train them so that they become triple-A developers. It's much more than programming, because you have to have people with production skills and with designer skills. It's really hard to come by those in Russia.
Is that because the gaming culture in Russia is different? Obviously a lot of people come into the game industry because they love games. What do you think affects that?
AI: There are a lot of people who love games in Russia. But there are not a lot of console games done in Russia, as well as there are no consoles which are sold in Russia. If you want to find people to develop a game for consoles, obviously you want to find people who understand consoles, at least from gameplay perspective, as users. You simply can't find those, because you can't go out and buy a PlayStation 3. Well, that has changed as of about six months ago, but it's obviously nothing compared to what you can get in the U.S. It's really hard to find those people.
There's no established game industry,
in the U.S. sense. In other words, there are some local publishers and
some local developers, but they're working on really small PC titles,
and it's PC-only development. It's basically teams of 10 to 20 people,
which is nothing compared to what you need to have if you want to produce
a triple-A game on three SKUs. You need to have a team of at least 80
people, all of whom are experienced and have at least some titles under
their belts. You simply can't form this team in Russia, unless you stay
in business for a long time so that you can bring in people, train people
within the team so that they grow mature and fill those leadership roles.