Interview With A Guerrilla : 2003-09-29
I've just arrived in Amsterdam, pulled my luggage off the bike and stored it in the offices of Guerrilla Games. Martin de Ronde, Communications Director has agreed to give me a couple of hours of his time for an interview. We adjourn to a brassiere with an airy view of the city situated above a department store just around the corner from the office.
Tim: So Martin let's start by hearing a little bit about yourself, how did you get into games?
Martin: Well I had been studying Economics and English Literature. On completion of my studies I made a conscious decision to get into the games industry. I applied for a job at Bullfrog as I wanted to get involved with something that I enjoyed and I took the position of Level Designer. This I did enjoy very much, but I also wanted to explore other areas of the industry and put other skills I possessed to use. I started working for a publisher and although I learnt a lot about this side of the business it didn't quench my thirst for being involved in content development. So now I'm back in the content development side of the industry with Guerrilla Games, formerly Lost Boys.
Tim: What is your main role now at Guerrilla?
Martin: I take a role in the High Level Concept stage of development and the day to day running of the developer business.
Tim: What do you first consider during conceptualisation?
Martin: I always think it is important to look at a game in terms of the mass market before anything else. At the end of the day, although we all enjoy making games we are in it for the money and if a game is to be successful it needs to sell across as many territories and platforms as possible. The game must first of all appeal to the US market and this has a strong bearing on the overall style and genre of game that we must make.
Tim: Do you feel that the game suffers as a consequence of appeasing to the publisher's perception of the market place?
Martin: Not really, it's a balance of good marketing and creative design. It is so important to have the publisher and developer working closely together on the overall plan to make a successful return on our investments.
Tim: Is it important to you that you are creating original titles?
Martin: Not so much. We have been concentrating on satisfying demand and pushing the envelope of a genre so that each game fits the market place and leads the way in its respective game style. If we do create original games then they will be hidden under the veil of a license, it's too much of a risk to the investor to go for a completely original title with no previous presence in the marketplace.
Tim: What kind of games did you grow up with or enjoy the most?
Martin: I really liked the family games that were being made, especially games like Bubble Bobble, but of course I'm very interested in current genres now.
Tim: Which qualities of Dutch culture, if any, do you think are present in games being made today?
Martin: Dutch culture like many countries now has so many influences from all parts of the world that it is difficult to say. (After some thought) Actually there is something different about the way we work. We have a very rigid, diligent approach to the production process. In the US a developer often focuses on the overall look of a game, bombarding us with a lot of big visual effects. The Dutch tend to spend more time focusing on smaller details until they are very polished.
Tim: That's interesting. Why do you think this is a particularly Dutch trait?
Martin: Well if you look back at Dutch culture of the past it is steeped in a history of sober thinking. It goes back as far as the sobriety found in both the protestant and catholic religions, particularly the protestant. This had a long lasting effect on the attitudes of people in this country. The Dutch family unit became a world-renowned institution in sobriety and harmonious living, this rubbed off on everything, including the making of games. Games of this time were very simple and sober in design and construction, very representative of the last 30 years at least, but not anymore. The Dutch are heavily influenced by Anglo Saxon cultures now.
Tim: What is the most played video game in Holland then?
Martin: GTA Vice City.
Tim: So who has the greatest influence on the direction of games today?
Martin: The US publishers. It is not likely to change either.
Tim: Do you think there is any hope for the generation of non-US original games for the future?
Martin: Very little, it is only likely to change if the US market changes in some way. For example if Europe becomes fashionable to US consumers, then perhaps a US publisher will recognise this and perhaps then they will allow original ideas to be Eurocentric.
Tim: What do you feel is the best way forward for games where culture is concerned?
Martin: Culture should change to become more generic so we can sell more units.
Tim: That doesn't sound very conducive to creative diversity to me. Ido you think this a common desire of the industry now?
Martin: Well I heard that Chris Deering at Sony said; the mother lead households of the Dutch and Germanic families prevent kids playing console games in favour of their children doing something more 'healthy' and as a result Sony have more trouble selling console units in these countries.
Tim: (Smile) thinking "I can just see acolytes of Sony out in idyllic rural settings doing there best to convert mothers at their front gates." Are there any other issues that you are facing as a developer at the moment?
Martin: Well we have been doing a very good job with Killzone, touted as Halo for the PS2 right now. (We look at a few screenshots and some front page coverage), but staying in Amsterdam is making it very difficult to keep up with the heavy demand for quality content, simply because the labour market for games is very difficult to source in The Netherlands. But we are always on the look out for new ideas and approaches through our R&D lab, looking for ways to make games cheaper to produce, but keeping the content high in quality.
We ended the interview here, Martin had another meeting to go to and I was expected in Utrecht.
Martin: Will you do some sightseeing in Amsterdam before you go?
Tim: Not much, just enough time to capture a few bits of video footage for a report I will do later, then I'm off.
Martin: I look forward to what you find out about game culture and from other developers along your journey, keep me posted.
In conclusion Martin had given me a valuable insight into Dutch culture and how this had a bearing on many aspects of the design and production phase of game development. I have to say I deplore the idea of averaging out world culture in order to sell more units, for me it's our diversity that makes games interesting in the first place, especially now that I'm out looking for strong differences in game culture. However, there is much truth in what Martin says, you only have to look at the shelves across the globe to see that we are all converging rather than diverging.
It was certainly fascinating to talk to a Dutch developer in this way, and for me up until recently when TIGA was formed, it was fairly rare to talk to developers outside tradeshows anyway. I'm looking forward to more of the same from the other countries I visit, but I fear I will have less time for this type of interview as I continue. We shall see.