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You're the director of the project. When this game was announced it was like "the Suda/Mikami thing." How much creative control do you have on the project? How much have you been able to bring your view to it?
MG: Honestly, I've had pretty much the same amount of creative control since the very beginning, since when I joined the project. Obviously probably that was not exposed to the media beforehand, so that's why you just happen to hear my name only now.
Well, it grabs the headlines to mention big names like that. But ultimately games in general -- not specifically this game -- often... there's a lot of people behind the scenes, doing the work that actually makes the game happen.
MG: Absolutely. Behind Shadows of the Damned it's just an entire team of people, and I have to say there's also a very interesting environment -- because, first off, it's a Japanese company, but it employs also a good number of foreign employees. They come in from every single country in the world; we have a sort of global melting pot.
So that influences, a lot, the style of the game because everybody brings a piece of their own culture. So the theme itself was able to actually come out with this kind of mix, and that's quite interesting I think.
From your perspective, is it more important to concentrate on the creative influences or the gameplay?
MG: Well, we start with gameplay because we're talking about a game, so the interactive aspect, and the challenging aspect, is the first thing you're going to be taking care of. But since this is a Grasshopper game, gameplay needs to be blended with something else. So we added naturally this layer of style and media references and different approach to content that makes, I think, a Grasshopper game a unique game.
It's interesting to see Grasshopper becoming something different than it was. Driven by the recognition the company had achieved, it's been able to grow tremendously since that time. Is it exciting?
MG: Yeah, I mean, as a company, Grasshopper is definitely growing. Like, we were 70 people just one year and a half ago, and now we're 140. So the growth rate is really impressive, but at the same time that brings like new challenges, from an organizational point of view, and from a creative point of view as well. So I'm not surprised that we're going to see some changes in the future, and we're going to see also some new challenges.
What's really important for us is really to bring the new in, to try and not repeat ourselves too much, and to be confident that you can bring, any time, fresh air in the video game business without necessarily becoming excessively niche. That's our goal.
Did the project start before EA signed it or after?
MG: I started on the project after EA signed it. The gestational period that this game was so long. I joined one year and a half ago, and basically there were some problems on the project from production point of view, and we had basically to redo the whole game from scratch. So I would say, ultimately, the actual production time of the game was about -- not considering assets, but coming out in terms of pure game design -- historically, it was about one year and a half, something like that.
How big of a team did you have working on this game?
MG: Well, I think at the peak we were about 40 people, no more than that. And average about 30 to 35 and then scaling down to 20. So it's not a huge team, considering it's, for Grasshopper, the first time we're going to be working on next gen consoles like PS3 and 360, and it's the first time we're using the Unreal Engine 3 for the game. So it's definitely not a big team, and that's also what we like about it. We try to work with less people but more motivated ones. Keeping things small allows it to be more in control of every single aspect.
You have a background at Ubisoft, which is sort of famous for having like humongous teams, right?
MG: Absolutely, yes.
Does that influence your philosophy?
MG: No, I mean I've always been like pro-smaller teams, I think. I started like in 1999 working on portable consoles. The 8-bit era -- I was working on Game Boy Color. At that time the team was 10 to 15 people, so I'm kind of used to that.
And of course I also worked with teams like about 160 people at the same time, so what you get is, basically, you lose control. It's difficult for the creative director to actually keep the vision together, because there's so many people involved, and so many producers, and... you know. So personally speaking, I still like working with small teams, I think.
When it comes to a game like this that has a very strong creative vision, I would imagine that you really want to make sure that you can keep that vision tightly controlled, right?
MG: Absolutely. That's a very good point, and I think it's absolutely necessary. At the same time, it's necessary to make the team involved in every single aspect of the game. So you need to be in control, and you need to be able to take decisions and to validate those decisions.
But at the same time if you don't involve the team, and if you don't get feedback, and especially be open to feedback, you're not going to get anywhere, I think. So as a leader, as a director, you need to be able to also to take criticism, and to take negative points and to be able to transform those negative points into positive points, and the team plays the fundamental role in that.
How much influence did EA have over the creative direction of the game?
MG: EA was really, really a great publisher to work with, I have to say, because they totally left us in complete creative control. They just helped us to refocus a little bit when we were going too much over the top in some portions of the game, and that was probably a little bit too much for normal markets. But on the creative side they 100 percent trust Grasshopper.