Teut Weidemann believe he has proof that the future of the game industry will show an even larger trend toward tablets and mobile. “Tablet will eat into notebook, PC and console market share while Smartphones eat into handheld market share. The game industry needs to adapt fast.”
25 years ago Teut Weidemann decided to turn his gaming hobby into a career. He insists he’s still having fun with his work, saying, “That’s not too bad, is it?” When thinking back , the time in Weidemann’s career that brought him the most satisfaction was in 2000 when a publisher wanted to buy not just his product development, but the entire company. At the time, they had proven they could develop high-end PC games, and they pitched only online games, the right track to be fit for the future. This was before Facebook or free-to-play. The company’s gleaming potential led to the buyout offer.
Currently, he is consulting for Ubisoft‘s online games. He enjoys the philosophy of Ubisoft, where mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn rather than a reason to be fired, something he found a pleasant surprise. “When mistakes and the learning process are a natural part of the company, you can be much bolder, more daring, and gutsy with what you do,” Weidemann said. “And, as direct as I am, I do this day by day.”
Free-to-Play: A Double-Edged Sword
Weidemann consults on all free-to-play Ubisoft games. He has extensive input during the creation process in the areas of online mechanics and monetization. His focus on online games since 1997 and his previous experiences with Bigpoint and Nadirim (Kabam) have assisted his present role. A deep understanding of why online games work so well, as well as playing them daily himself, is key to succeeding in his work.
Free-to-play is something Weidemann has strong opinions about. He loves that it allows players to enjoy a game and deeply test it before committing to it. On the other hand, he hates companies who use the F2P business model, but put monetization over game play. He insists, “Those companies will fail in the long run and vanish, luckily!”
Gaming is Required
Weidemann tell us that in his career, it is essential to own all game platforms and to learn from their games and systems, emphasizing that he cannot afford to miss one. He owns both the PS4 and Xbox One, and so far prefers the PS4 because he likes their simple interface, digital store, and the Japanese games such as Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) that Sony always publishes. His favorite platforms to play on are PC and iPad: the PC because it offers the largest variety of online games, and iPad because he can play in locations other than his desk. These days he is playing World of Tanks and Ni No Kuni, saying it is a wonderful JRPG with tactical combat and art by the Ghibli Studio.
Torsten Oppermann is the founder and CEO of indigo pearl brand communications, a consulting business focused on building successful game brands. He is also co-founder and CEO of indigo pearl games financing (IPGF), a joint venture with a private placement firm that manages a portfolio of game-related investments. For IPGF, Torsten screens target companies, provides management services and oversees the distribution of funds.
Torsten is excited to connect with friends old and new and meet great developers while enjoying Singapore. His enthusiasm for the game business is evident: “I started in 1988 working on Germany’s first gaming magazine, simply for the love of games. It is a creative and fun industry that continues to evolve and amaze me; first from the perspective as a publisher and now as an enthusiast and consultant.”
Peaks and Valleys
I enjoy turning products into brands, turning ideas into businesses
Torsten’s most satisfying memory was experiencing the launch of Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive. For every triumphant or epic experience, there are challenges. As the financial market crashed along with the tech boom of late 90s San Francisco, so too did Torsten’s hope of reaching profitability in a massive publishing business. Noting that timing is everything, he simply couldn’t survive such an impossible uphill battle.
These days, Torsten supports the geniuses behind the games: “I enjoy turning products into brands, turning ideas into businesses, starting new businesses and helping start ups get in shape.” Relishing all aspects of the industry, he also participates on a small scale as an angel and frequently advises companies he close to as a board member.
Torsten’s consulting business with his 20 people team effectively drives PR, Brand Partnerships and Social Media to promote titles on a global basis. The business allowed him to help companies from the ground floor as he did in 2006 with E-sports (today BigPoint), but also well-known companies such as CCP, Disney, Nexon, Warner and UbiSoft or Symantec, where indigo pearl develops and executues PR-Campaigns, Social Media actions, Brand Partnerships, etc.
While he misses working on the creative side of the industry, Torsten enjoys running his business and helping others do the same. He maintains that Asia is noteworthy for its heritage in games; Japan was at the heart of the console industry, Korea originated MMO gaming. The future for the region is bright because great content is now coming from China and other Asian countries such as Vietnam. Should regional developers wish to grow beyond their borders, Torsten and indigo pearl are poised to help them to find the right partners.
Dan Vargas is the current Art Director for Ubisoft’s Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth. In addition to his work on Battle for Earth, he has also designed some of the worlds in Assassin’s Creed III as a Senior Artist. In addition to Marvel’s Avengers, Vargas has years of experience working with other Marvel characters. Prior to working for Ubisoft, he was a Technical Artist at Next Level Games where he worked on games such as Captain America: Super Soldier (which was loosely based on the film, Captain America: The First Avenger) and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (which was inspired by the first Spider-Man film trilogy). Vargas was also an Artist for Electronic Arts’ Black Box and a Motion Capture Operator for Electronic Arts Canada. And for close to two years, he brought his years of experience to the classroom for the Vancouver Film as the Instructor of Visual Design Principles for the Game Design Program.
Gamesauce: Growing up, were there any videogames, movies, or comic books that inspired you to pursue art for a career?
Dan Vargas: In school, I had always been a doodler; whether it was textbooks, notebooks or napkins – in high school, a friend of mine showed me his newly-minted Uncanny X-Men #213. I was blown away. Shortly after that, I started collecting for myself and was really inspired by [Marc] Silvestri’s run on the X-Men. I then started to copy pages from comics. So while I still draw inspiration from movies and games, it was comics that led me to draw.
You’ve worked on multiple comic-book-based videogames. Are there any superhero characters that you’d like to center a game around?
If I had to make it around 1 hero… I would choose Daredevil, for a gritty mature, story-based adventure/action game, maybe around Gang Wars or a lead up to Shadowlands. Otherwise, I would love to do the New Mutants in some kind of co-op action or RPG. There are just a lot of cool things you could do with that combo of characters and they all have interesting stories with interesting themes.
We took a moment to look at your artwork on your blog. Given your experience working with superhero games, have you ever considered creating your own comic book?
I have seriously considered this, but I don’t feel I have all the skill needed to pull it off. I must say, having the opportunity to meet and talk with some of the artists from ‘Artist Alley’ at both SDCC and NYCC has been extremely humbling. There are some seriously skilled artists out there constantly working their craft! I do have a couple ideas percolating but for the amount of hours needed to pull off a book. I just wouldn’t be able to balance all the other things on my plate, but it could make for a nice sabbatical.
You’ve been working in the gaming industry for over a decade. What are some of the ways you feel it’s changed over this time?
On the whole, our industry and our products have gained a lot more visibility and respect, both commercially and culturally. While the industry has matured, it has also become a lot broader and complex. Education options are much greater, offering higher quality instruction. The products are reaching new levels of awesomeness. The tools are becoming a lot more user friendly and accessible. However, because technology is at the heart of our business, we are inherently subject to constant change; some of the development processes are and will always be evolving, seeking to be more efficient and produce higher fidelity.
Some of the development processes are and will always be evolving, seeking to be more efficient and produce higher fidelity.
At the same time, the business itself seems in flux, especially the last few years. Genres blending into ‘biz’ models cropping up to corner people’s preferences. Accessibility to ‘games’ as a whole seems to have dramatically increased with smart phones and tablets. The good side being that independents have a much greater chance of producing and selling something…even sustaining themselves over a period of several projects! And we seem to be getting more of a global exposure to games, bringing some interesting and new perspectives and designs. Just look at some of the more ‘bleeding edge’ games – many, if not most, are coming from indies!
Gaming media has grown as well. There are a lot more sites offering broader and more objective coverage to general media, game developer interests and specific game community sites. It does mean that consumers are more savvy but this, too, serves us towards making better games, in the end.
You taught for almost two years at the Vancouver Film School, the same institution you learned animation from. Based on your experience, what are some of the skills and professional behaviors you feel schools should teach those who want to go into the videogame industry?
Apart from the skills needed for specific positions (Artists, Programmers, Audio, Designers, Production), I think it is good to have exposure to other specialties, in the very least teaching the dependencies between each. I think game design is especially important because different game ‘genres’ greatly change the dynamics of all the different specialties.
Another important aspect that I think would be useful is communication skill, not only developing individually, but especially in a larger group context. For this, I feel, an understanding of organizational culture could be greatly beneficial.
Specific to Artists, I believe it is still very important to have a good base in of the traditional arts. I feel it is essential to sustain hobbies that either tap-in to art culture or employ a specific skill; sculpting, needlepoint, film…anything really.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is based on the Secret Invasion storyline. What were some elements of the story that you wanted to keep in the videogame? Were there any aspects of the game that you just knew wouldn’t work in a videogame?
We stuck to the SI story line as much as possible; even taking directly from the comic for our campaign mode cut scenes! I think the most important premise was that 2 versions of every character could exist; of course some being Skrulls and others being the ‘real deal’. As for challenging elements to incorporate, well, we could potentially do anything in game to a certain fidelity as long as we stay within budget …but we had to focus on the elements that made the game fun and compromise appropriately to ensure we delivered on time. That being said, highly reactive environments and large scale destruction of Manhattan, Baxter Building, the Peak, Hellicarrier or the Avengers old base in the Savage land would have been COOL.
A big part of any videogame is the game play itself. How did the different game modes (Co-op, Versus, Arcade, etc.) influence how you designed characters and levels?
For this particular game, the various modes are played in the same context, so we didn’t need to alter the levels or characters to a work for a specific mode – keeping a consistency across the assets.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth is going to be available on Xbox 360 and Wii U. Given that these are such distinct platforms, how do you keep the different versions of this game consistent while taking advantage of each system’s unique attributes?
Fortunately, we have a team of dedicated and talented graphics programmers. They did a great job of helping us achieve parity in the overall look and feel. The biggest challenge was on the design side; re-mapping actions to two sets of controls while keeping the gameplay balanced was tricky and required a lot of play-testing to get it right.
The biggest challenge was on the design side; re-mapping actions to two sets of controls while keeping the gameplay balanced was tricky and required a lot of play-testing to get it right.
The majority of the characters that are in Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth have had dozens of different stylized outfits. How was each character’s look decided? On this note, were there any comic book artists that you wanted to pay tribute to in the game?
Almost too many; by focusing on the Secret Invasion series we did ourselves a favor, narrowing down the possibilities. Francis Leinil Yu penciled the whole series so it was quite natural to look at his art as a guide. As for me, I personally like Ramos, Madureira, Skottie Young, and Bachalo. Also the Udon Crew concept work for Street Fighter was inspirational. Of course, we had a fairly clear approval process with Marvel Games HQ and we were in constant communication with them which helped us ‘stay on target’.
How has your experience of working on Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth differed from working on previous games? How has becoming an Art Director changed your understanding of how games are made?
B4E is a lot of ‘firsts for me’: the first Kinect game I have worked on, it’s also the first fighting game that I have done, also the first exposure to Gamebryo. There is always something to figure out with new process or a different game genre; from tech restrictions to design parameters and asset creation. Also, since this was my first kick at the ‘art director can’, I was exposed to a lot more aspects of production that I would previously not concern myself with, let alone, be responsible for.
Stepping into the AD role was an eye opener. When you’ve been in development long enough, you inherently gain an understanding of the process. I have also had the good fortune to work with many talented artists, leads and ADs on previous projects, and I have been able to tap into their collective knowledge, so, I don’t know that I have changed my understanding, but I am certainly more keenly aware of the dependencies within the asset creation process, more mindful of game design implications and more conscious of overall player/user experience. Perhaps the only thing that has or will change will be my understanding of my role.
Without violating any confidentiality agreements, what are some projects you are working on that fans can look out forward?
Vargas: Hmm, well, er… the answer, sadly, will have to wait till we can roll out more info.
Alex Hutchinson is a current Creative Director of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed III. Prior to this, Hutchinson was a Creative Director of the Electronic Arts’ game, Army of Two: The 40th Day, a Lead Designer for Spore, Sims 2, and was a Co-Lead Designer on The Urbz: Sims in the City. From 2001 to 2003, he was a Designer and Design Director at the Australian company, Torus Games, where he worked on games such as The Invincible Iron Man. In addition to making videogames, Hutchinson has also written for industry publications such as Edge, Games, PC Zone, PlayNation, The Official PS2 Magazine, and others. He has also spoken about games at industry conferences such as D.I.C.E. Summit, GDC, E3, and others. Finally, Hutchinson has a BA in Archaeology and Classics, and a Masters of English and Writing; both from the University of Melbourne.
Gamesauce: You have probably met hundreds, if not thousands of people who wanted to get into the videogame industry. How did you first begin your career in this field?
Alex Hutchinson: I began as a writer in Australia, contributing articles to websites, magazines, whoever would run them, trying to focus on games and game issues. I figured if I couldn’t make them, I could at least write about them and learn something in the process. Then I was lucky enough that ‘designer’ became a more common job, and I started applying anywhere and everywhere, and was lucky enough to be given a shot at a small company in Australia.
You earned two degrees from the University of Melbourne. Neither your BA nor MA are in subjects specifically associated with videogame development, such as computer programming or graphic design. How do you feel your education has helped you in your career? Would you recommend a college education for anyone who wants to get into the videogame industry?
Remember there was no such thing as a degree in videogame development when I went to university! That said, I think that traditional courses that focus on art theory and production are perfect for aspiring artists, and general computer science degrees are perfect for aspiring game programmers; you can learn the specific tools and skills later. Start with a strong, practical base in the discipline you want. Writing was a huge help for me, in terms of learning structure, format, and having to produce and finish work. And bizarrely the degree in classical studies finally became useful on Assassin’s Creed!
Before discussing Assassin’s Creed III, I want to ask you about some of your previous games. You were a Level Designer on The Invincible Iron Man. What are some comic book superheroes that you would love to design a game around?
I think the trick would be to find a character whose core fantasy and abilities mapped to game mechanics cleanly: there are so many good ones, but I’d like to get out of the more popular guys. Maybe a Lobo game. Or DC’s the Demon. Or Jonah Hex [in] a weird Western game.
It has been over four years since Spore was released. What are some of things you learned about both creating videogames and the business of videogames while working on Spore?
I learned that trying to be truly original is incredibly difficult!
It was a huge project, and very ambitious, and I learned nobody will attempt something like it again. We set out to make this huge toy that played with creation and creativity, and I think in terms of the creation tools and the sharing, we made an amazing game. We didn’t get to where we wanted on the game part, but I’m immensely proud of the game. I learned that if there’s a gameplay clarity problem in an early concept, then this will translate most probably to a gameplay mechanics problem you can’t iterate your way out of, so fix it on paper first. And I learned that trying to be truly original is incredibly difficult!
Army of Two: The 40th Day was the first game you were the Creative Director on. Did that position change the way you approached game development or selecting who you worked with?
Yeah, that was my first shot at the job. It was a new challenge because you move from designing mechanics and working almost solely with mission designers, or story and systems designers, to working with whole other departments that aren’t necessarily your strong suit. So there were departments, like animation or engineering, where I felt comfortable talking to the leads and directors, as I’d been more closely associated with them before on gameplay teams or wherever, and then there were departments, like sound, where it really wasn’t my strong suit. I had to learn a lot more about how they worked and what was important to them, and how I could talk to them in a way that would help them improve the overall game experience.
In terms of approach, it also meant I had to give more room to leads even in areas where I’d been doing that job before. So the lead design position, which was my old job, I had to learn to leave it in their capable hands and not interfere!
You are now the Creative Director for Assassin’s Creed 3. What were some of the aspects of the previous installments that drew you to this franchise?
But in a nutshell: people and the opportunity to try and make something amazing are the only things that attract me to projects these days!
It’s an amazing franchise. I love the focus on history, I love the desire to create a consistent and cohesive universe, and I love the talented people who work on it. It was a joy to come onto the franchise, followed by several years of incredibly hard work, but I’m very satisfied with the game we made. But in a nutshell: people and the opportunity to try and make something amazing are the only things that attract me to projects these days!
Assassin’s Creed 3 is set in North America between 1753 and 1783. What were some of the archives, materials, and people consulted to bring such a high level of historical accuracy to this game? Was there one historical figure or moment from this time period you really wanted to include in the game?
We have historical advisors on call with different specialties, from revolutionary historians to cultural advisors. We gather huge amounts of references from paintings and drawings and maps from the period; we read all kinds of books and websites to gather facts; we watch movies and read historical novels to find exciting fantasies. All that takes about six months [and] while we’re simultaneously trying to draw the big picture of the game we’re trying to make, we essentially force the core team through a crash course in whatever historical setting we chose. And we included as much historical detail as possible, from Ben Franklin and George Washington to Valley Forge and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Is anyone at Ubisoft hoping for a History professor or teacher to use Assassin’s Creed III in an American History course?
It would be very rewarding if a course used it as an example of the look and feel and everyday life of the period (minus the assassin, of course). We spent so much time and money trying to get it right, that I think it’s the closest interactive recreation of this period yet made.
GS: One aspect of the game that I am looking forward to is the naval portion of it. What were some of the challenges you encountered when creating a system to replicate 18th century naval combat?
The biggest one was just how slow it is in real life versus how slow we could make the ships turn before it stopped being fun in a game context. I think we nailed the overall feeling though, giving you the emotion of these epic vessels, without compromising on the reality too much. The water the guys created is also a technical marvel; we can literally scale up or down the Beaufort levels to simulate everything from calm seas to raging storms. It’s incredible.
There were some recent articles reporting that you were concerned about the future of AAA games. How would you like to see the gaming industry develop? Do you feel there is something missing that game developers should try to better include in their games?
No, I just think the industry is evolving, the same way it has for decades: popularity for certain experiences rise and fall, tastes change, the business model changes, the platforms change. I’ve been doing this long enough now to have seen several console transitions pass by, several predictions of the end of the industry fail to materialize, and several versions of ‘the future of the industry’ crash and burn. Quality is the only reliable indicator of the chance to succeed, and content is king as it always has been. AAA quality will be around forever, but the platforms will continue to change.
When Ubisoft first announced the Rayman: Raving Rabbids for the Wii in 2006, no-one would have foreseen the birth of a massive party game franchise. Being with the Ubisoft Paris team since Raving Rabbids 2, game designer Antione Henry tells Gamesauce about his team’s lucky break to get an extra year of development for their newest title Raving Rabbids: Travel in Time and how that extra year gave his team a chance to reinvent their own party game franchise.