Train2Game interview: We Sing Rock Senior Producer Kevin Leathers

Train2Game recently caught up with We Sing Rock Senior Producer Kevin Leathers at a special event in central London. The We Sing series is one of the most successful on the Nintendo Wii, with We Sing Rock the latest in the in franchise.

In an in-depth interview, Leathers told us about what goes into developing a We Sing title. He discusses his take on the future of party games, hinted at We Sing development for the Nintendo Wii U and told us about life at Wired Productions. He also provides advice to Train2Game students about how to get into the industry.

Read it here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game Scribd page.

First of all, what does your role as Senior Producer of We Sing Rock involves?

As senior producer of We Sing Rock I manage all the different aspects of the game: gameplay, music licensing and so forth and make sure everything all comes together to make a great game.

How does the development of process of We Sing Rock begin?

The main thing we start off with is the music. With We Sing Rock for example, we had a nice list of what we wanted to look for concerned with rock, which songs we thought best reflected each decades of rock.  We have songs from the 60s onwards and then we take it from there. We go to the music labels themselves, talk to them, negotiate then see what songs we can get for our final playlist and build a game around it.

Tell us a bit about the backend of We Sing Rock. How does the game know when players are singing on or off key?

We have a specific game engine built in which analyses the vocals that go in to the song and tests what pitch is actually being sung at the time, and then it calculates the score based off of that. It’s quite a complex process but they’ve managed to get it down to a nice, simple process so it’s easy.

How successful have the We Sing games been since they came about?

We Sing games are…not to sound big headed… probably one of the most popular games on the Wii at the moment. There were a fair few singing games out when We Sing and We Sing Encore first came to the market, but we’ve now emerged as the dominant force on the Wii. They’re very popular at the moment, very popular in Europe and in the Australian markets as well, so we’re very proud with how far it has come.  We Sing Rock itself is the 7th version of We Sing and we’re very proud of how it’s come along.

What do you see as the the future of singing, entertainment and other “casual” games?

Casual games can be a very unfair label. I think party games are quite important for consoles. While it’s fun to play single player games – your RPGs, shooters, things like that – you do need something else every so often that everyone else can join into and this is what we try and do with our We Sing and We Dance range of games. They’re games that everyone can play – everyone can pick up a Wii remote and start singing – and it’s just nice and easy and fun. That’s the main thing at the end of the day; it’s got to be fun.

For the future of the games it’s making sure you keep that fun aspect otherwise you’re complicating things far too much. It has to be so your gran can go up, pick up a Wii remote then starting singing along to her favourite Elvis Presley tune. That’s the main thing we strive for with the We Sing games and what we’ll do with the future versions of the games as well.

There are a lot of tracks in We Sing Rock, how do you go about selecting them?

Going about selecting them is usually a case of shouting at each other!  [Laughs] We go through a process where we obviously narrow down exactly what the game is going to be about: in this case it’s rock. Then we see the best examples of that across the difference subgenres of rock – nu-metal or the 80s style hair metal – and we try and get good examples of that. I mean we have things like White Snake which is a good example of 80s rock, and then we have some modern stuff like My Chemical Romance and 30 Seconds to Mars. So we try and go through a process where we list out what songs we believe would fit well into this kind of product, and then we take it from there and start negotiating with the music labels.

Will there be any additional content for We Sing Rock in future?

We’ve experimented with DLC in the past before. Unfortunately due to the technical limitations of the Wii it’s very difficult to do DLC to the high quality we believe it should be. We have experimented with it before and the results have been less that successful to be honest. So rather than diminish the quality of the overall product, we want to keep the high quality as much as possible. At the moment DLC isn’t on the cards.

So what do you think are the technical limitations of the Nintendo Wii and could the Wii U solve them?

I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but obviously the Wii U is a much more powerful machine and we’re hoping there are quite a few changes between the Wii and Wii U that’ll help with many of the functions of it. Fingers crossed! Especially with the tablet controller design as well, that could prove for some very interesting gameplay designs later on.

Tell us a bit about Wired Productions.

Nordic Games – which is the publisher of the We Sing series – they call us to do the production for their games. Generally they’ll want us to have a look at the market and see what would work and we usually just take it from there. We have brainstorming sessions, we’ll see what the market is lacking at the moment. When made We Sing, there wasn’t anything similar to it at the time on consoles so we went straight ahead with it.  Day-to-day stuff is just working through and making sure we can make the best product possible.

A little about you now, how did you get started in the games industry?

Many years ago! I actually started with the people I’m working with at the moment. I used to work for a publisher called Digital Jesters who used to do a lot of PC games, especially the original Trackmania when it first came along. Since then I’ve worked my way through the industry  with the same great team of people and we’ve now got to a point where we’re making products we’re incredibly proud of rather than just publishing them.

What advice would you give to those looking to get into the games industry?

My best advice is don’t try and look for a quick fix, it’s the same as any other industry in that you have to really work at it.  And even if you have to work on stuff you don’t really want to, at the end of the day you’ve really got to work at it otherwise you’ll just find it too hard.  The best advice I can give is get as much information as you can about what you want to do in the industry because there’s loads of different sectors to it. Get as much information and then go and try from there to see what you can do.

And finally, is there anything you’d like to add about We Sing Rock, and when is it due for release?

We Sing Rock, rocks obviously! Unfortunately I can’t announce the release date but it will be soon but everyone should play it, it’s great. Everyone will have a song they want to rock out too.

Thanks for your time Kevin.

We Sing Rock is scheduled for release on Nintendo Wii in the near future.

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