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New Irrational Games Podcast

Gardimuer February 6, 2011 User blog:Gardimuer

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Irrational Games has released a new podcast in which Ken Levine and Shawn Elliott interview Randy Pitchford. Pitchford is president/CEO of Gearbox Software, which is currently developing Duke Nukem Forever. Below are some excerpts from the interview.

Listen to the whole podcast here: Irrational Interviews 6: Randy Pitchford

In this episode:

  • The pros and cons of being an independent game developing studio vs. selling to a parent company.
  • How the experience of making games and the tools of game making have evolved.
  • Making Borderlands.
  • Systemic vs. scripted game design.
  • Innovation in game design.
  • The difficulty of getting the customers' attention for a new game.
  • How "the next generation" of consoles may or may not be something to look forward to.
  • Marketing games to an audience with preconceived expectations and cynicism.
  • Game "franchises": can a studio cash in and remain successful?

Ken Levine discusses his reasons for selling his independent studio, Irrational Games, to Take-Two Interactive in 2005:

I sold my company in 2005, and to me it was the best thing I ever did, because (...) I remember always being at the end of a project and then my all consuming focus (...) was setting up the next project. And that's exactly, as a developer, the last place I want to be at the end of a project. And I think financially the place to be to generate value is in an independent company, but [speaking to Randy Pitchford] do you ever think about 'Hey I don't need this shit, I just wanna sell the company and not have to worry about x y and z'?

(...)

In either case, whether you're owned by somebody or whether you're an independent, you have to be successful. (...) I did an independent development thing for a long time, eight or nine years, and to me I found the business development part so draining. And I just did not enjoy it. I enjoyed it so little, that I'm so relieved to be done with it. But honestly, if a) Take-Two Interactive didn't know how to leverage us, or b) I didn't succeed- you know, if our games weren't successful here- I'd be telling a very different story.

—Ken Levine

Ken Levine's experience in the games industry:

I didn't build any levels in System Shock 2, but I manually built the scripted sequences and the narrative sequences myself in the engine, and there is a joy to knowing what you want to do and then executing it, which you don't really get to do at this level [as Creative Director]. You're mostly coming in to look at a much more unclear problem that needs to be resolved as a Creative Director, rather than like 'OK, I know what I have to build here, it's just a question of doing it.'

—Ken Levine

Making the BioShock Infinite Demo:

On the Demo I actually sat down in (...) a version of the editor and placed exactly where Booker said his lines and where Elizabeth said her lines, and got the timing exactly the way I wanted to get it, actually in a utility, myself. And that was really satisfying. I haven't really done anything like that, specifically that low level, in ten years. I've written the dialogue, but never placed it exactly where I want it to go.

—Ken Levine

On game franchises:

To the issue of cynicism, (...) the developer who does that 'well, this is a cash-in' thing- they don't last very long. People get wise to it very, very quickly, and it's not actually -from a real raw business model- it's not a good path to be on, from a publisher or a developer.

—Ken Levine

It get's complicated for us though, because there is not a publisher in the game that hasn't done it. So even the most successful publishers have some percentage of their business being milking and money grabs.

—Randy Pitchford

But are there great studios that have done it?

—Ken Levine

Studios- you're right that you can't repeat that formula and succeed; you'll go away. (...) We're all plugged into the industry, we're really close with it. We know that when we hear about the new BioShock and that it's from Irrational and Ken and his team, we know what that means, as the industry. But the guy out in the world has no idea.

(...)

When I played BioShock, I could feel the love in that game, and I can imagine that there wasn't anybody going home early on Fridays in the last push for that. And I think that any great thing in our industry has that commonality.

—Randy Pitchford

Absolutely. What I was trying to say when we were talking about cash-ins and stuff like that: If you're working on a cash-in you're just never going to make it great because you just don't give a shit.

—Ken Levine

You can feel it as a customer and a developer if there's heart in it or not. And sometimes it makes all the difference.

—Randy Pitchford

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