Train2Game interview: Ian Livingstone OBE on Make Something Unreal Live, Fighting Fantasy and game design

Ian Livingstone OBE is Life President of Eidos, co-founder of Games Workshop, co-author of the popular Fighting Fantasy novels and one of the most respected figures in the UK games industry.

He also judged the Train2Game and Epic Games Make Something Unreal Live contest, which saw Commando Kiwi and their Warlock of Firetop Mountain game named winners.

We sat down with Livingstone at Develop Conference, where the games industry legend discussed Make Something Unreal Live, the changing games industry and what it takes to be successful in it, his upcoming brand new Fighting Fantasy novel and more.

You were involved with Train2Game and Epic Games Make Something Unreal Live contest at The Gadget Show earlier this year, can you explain what your role was for those who weren’t there?

My involvement was to be supplier of the intellectual property, Steve Jackson and I allowing the whole initiative to use our intellectual property in terms of Fighting Fantasy. The development teams were able to use whichever titles they wanted – they used Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Deathtrap Dungeon, The Citadel of Chaos and Armies of Death – and imagine them in any way they wished to create a brand new game using Unreal Technology.

The winners of Make Something Unreal Live were Commando Kiwi with Warlock of Firetop Mountain, how is the game coming along ahead of its upcoming release?

The other part of our function was to help judge the final which was held at Gadget Show Live in Birmingham. That was really good because it was so close with deciding what game would be the winner, but in the end we decided on Warlock of Firetop Mountain because we felt that they’d achieved the most in an original way, a fun way, a very creative way and mostly importantly, something that’s a really fun game to play.

The team since then have been working hard, it’s incredible what they’ve been able to achieve effectively as a virtual team, only having met for one week to work together. Student teams with a lot of ambition, a lot of drive, a lot of creativity. I’m really looking forward to seeing the final game, and I’m sure it’ll be a very proud moment for them when they finally see Warlock of Firetop Mountain on the iStore.

The games are running using the Unreal Engine on an iPad which is a feat in itself, looking very good for what are mobile games.

Yes, it just shows their ability to develop fantastic content using a great piece of technology which is the Unreal Development Kit.

The future of iOS and mobile looks very bright, with analysts claiming it’ll overtake console gaming, or even make it obsolete. What are your thoughts on the issue?

Undoubtedly the smartphone is going to be the largest – or shall we say the biggest number in terms of being the most available platform – but that doesn’t mean for one second that Triple A console gaming is going to disappear, they’re going to live together.

And whilst the platforms of the consoles might change with their technology ended up embedded in a smart TV, or their business model might move from a premium to a freemium model, people will always want a very rich, cinematic, very visual gaming experience. Whilst at other times they’ll be happy to play games on their smartphones or social networks like Facebook, I think most core gamers will want that very rich, visual experience.

So, one is not going to be at the expense of the other; sometimes you want a big gaming experience, sometimes you just want a snack and some light entertainment like watching an indie film or watching a Hollywood movie.

You mentioned blockbuster games; many nowadays seem to focus on style over substance. But what do you think game designers can learn or adapt from old-school RPGs and board games?

You’ve got to create a strong storyline, a great narrative, have a great a great emotional engagement. But above all, with a game, the gameplay has to be fantastic because people will always buy a game which has great gameplay and poor graphics over something which has great graphics and poor gameplay. So when people ask what are the three most important things in a game? I will say gameplay, gameplay, gameplay.

You have a new Fighting Fantasy book on the way; firstly, can you tell us a bit about it, please? And secondly, why is now the right time for a new entry in the series?

Well, August 2012 is the 30th anniversary of Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and it just seems like yesterday when Steve Jackson and I saw it first appear on shelves at book shops around the country. Fighting Fantasy really touched a nerve at the time; pre-digital, the very first interactive entertainment albeit in book form, it resonated with a very wide population resulting in nearly 17 million copies of the series sold, translated to 28 languages.

I always wanted to celebrate the 30th anniversary, especially when nowadays so many people who grew up with those books, who are now in their late 30s or early 40s, and as soon as you mention Fighting Fantasy they sort of revert to childhood and have such fond memories. For me that’s very gratifying and almost humbling that people liked what Steve and I did way back when, and it’s still as relevant today as it was back then.

So I decided to write a new one and the title is Blood of the Zombies. It’s also going to be available on iOS and Android, so hopefully it’ll appeal to ten year olds of today and ten year olds of the 1980s.

How do you go about the process of writing a Fighting Fantasy book?

It’s a very complicated process! It’s a nightmare in parts; it’s like writing several books at once, because you have to keep track of several different parts of the branching narrative. So, it’s effectively writing a computer programme, a flowchart where you allocate numbers as the path branches, and keep track of all the items you can find and the inventory and make sure everything balances in combat, making sure the monsters, there aren’t too many of them or they aren’t too hard to overcome.

So there’s a lot of balancing required, but at the same time it has to be story driven. So, it’s part book, part game, part puzzle, but hopefully Blood of the Zombies will resonate with today’s audiences and will be a worth inclusion in the series

Back to game development if there’s one piece of advice you could give those aspiring to break into the industry, what would it be?

Be true to yourself, do something that you want to do, make something original, be creative, express yourself in your own way and hopefully you’ll find an audience that appreciates what you do. If you spend your life copying other people, I suspect that will never lead to monetary success and nor will it satisfy your soul. So, be true to yourself, that’s the most important thing you can do.

Thanks for your time.

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Train2Game News: The three most important things in a game are “gameplay, gameplay, gameplay” – Ian Livingstone

Gameplay, gameplay and gameplay are the three most important things for a video game to have.

That’s the view of games industry legend and co-author of the Fighting Fantasy series Ian Livingstone OBE who was speaking to The Train2Game Blog at Develop Conference 2012.

“You’ve got to create a strong storyline, a great narrative, have a great a great emotional engagement.” said Livingstone.

“But above all, with a game, the gameplay has to be fantastic because people will always buy a game which has great gameplay and poor graphics over something which has great graphics and poor gameplay.” he continued, emphasising the important of gameplay over graphics.

“So when people ask what are the three most important things in a game? I will say gameplay, gameplay, gameplay.”

Livingstone also suggested that being original and creative are key factors in becoming a successful game developer.

“Be true to yourself, do something that you want to do, make something original, be creative, express yourself in your own way and hopefully you’ll find an audience that appreciates what you’do.” he said.

“If you spend your life copying other people, I suspect that will never lead to monetary success and nor will it satisfy your soul. So, be true to yourself, that’s the most important thing you can do.” the Fighting Fantasy author added.

Ian Livingstone was one of a number of industry figures who aided in mentoring Train2Game students taking part in Make Something Unreal Live last April. The Games Workshop co-founder said he was “delighted” to be part of the initiative, which saw teams creating games based on Fighting Fantasy novels.

The full interview with Ian Livingstone, covering everything from Fighting Fantasy, to game design and Make Something Unreal Live will be published later today.

In the meantime, there’s more Ian Livingstone news here on The Train2Game Blog, while you can also catch up with last week’s Develop Conference coverage.

Do you agree with Livingstone that gameplay is by far the most important thing in making a good game?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or here on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: Valve on free-to-play – “It’s making a new, different thing for talented folks to explore”

Free-to-play is as good thing for game developers and consumers, because it allows both to try out a wider variety of things. That’s the view of Valve Director of Business Development Jason Holtman

“The neat thing about our industry now is you’re going to have all of those things happen and customers will have, not choices among them as if, like, I’m a free-to-play player and therefore I don’t play games like Counter-Strike and Skyrim and Minecraft. That’s not true.” he told Eurogamer in an interview at Develop Conference 2012.

“Everybody plays all of those. People play their RPGs. They play social games. They play F2P games. That’s what’s exciting about it. They don’t have to replace each other. It’s making a new, different thing for talented folks to explore.” Holtman added.

The huge interview is definitely worth reading, giving readers a massive insight into the business behind Steam and life at Valve.  Read it over on Eurogamer.

There’s more on the growing trend of free-to-play here on The Train2Game Blog, while be sure to keep reading for the latest news from Valve.

What are your thoughts on free-to-play? Do you agree with Valve in it offers more avenues for exploration?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: “We want to be on the bleeding edge of technology and that means having to invent it” – Epic Games

Epic Games invent technology in order to maintain their place as one of the cutting edge names in game development.

That’s what Epic Games Vice President Mark Rein told Sports Interactive boss Miles Jacobson in a developer dialogues session at Develop Conference 2012.

“We want to be on the bleeding edge of technology and that means having to invent it” said Rein, who enthusiastically pointed out that in order to improve as a company, Epic are always hiring.

Of course, Epic recently revealed the potential future of gaming by showcasing an Unreal Engine 4 tech demo. But while Epic Games want to be number one when it comes to video games technology, their UDK modding tools allow developers of all abilities to create games, and Rein said this was always part of Epic’s plans.

“We always intended to make modding tools clean and easy enough for anyone to use.” he said.

Epic Games partnered with Train2Game earlier this year for Make Something Unreal Live, which saw winning team Commando Kiwi walk away with a fully licensed Unreal Engine for iPhone and iPad.

There’s more news from Develop Conference right here on The Train2Game Blog, while be sure to keep reading for the latest from Epic Games.

What are your thoughts on Rein’s comments?  Is inventing technology necessarily to be at the cutting edge of it?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: “Don’t expect to sit around.” after completing production of your first game

Finishing development of your very first video game may be an incredibly satisfying experience, but don’t expect that to bring instant success or to be the end of your work either.

That’s one of key themes to come out of a ‘Directions to take after your first game’ session at Develop Conference 2012.

“You build it, you’re happy with it, and you think you’ve crossed the finish line.” said Sean Murray of Hello Games, creators of Joe Danger, before going on to add that feedback from players about almost everything – including in the case of Joe Danger , custom soundtracks not working propely – will keep you busy.

Supermono’s Tak Fung agreed, stating its important for indie developers to keep working even after the game has shipped.

“Don’t expect it to be glorious Vegas gambling.” he said, pointing out the importance of getting knowledge of your game out there through PR and marketing. “Don’t expect to sit around.” he added.

Keep reading The Train2Game Blog for the latest news from Develop Conference.

What are your thoughts on the advice from the indie developers on what do you after your first game? Have you planned that far ahead?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: “Mostly everything successful is a sequel nowadays.” says Dishonored director

Dishonored looks like it might be on its way to becoming a success when it’s released later this year, but Zenimax visual design director Viktor Antonov believes that it’s now extremely rare for this to happen for a new IP.

He made the remarks while presenting ‘Creating Dunwall’ a session on visual development for Dishonored at Develop Conference 2012.

“Rarely in life in as a developer do you get to start a brand new IP. Mostly everything successful is a sequel nowadays.” said Antonov, who gave the audience a huge insight into the three year pre-production for Dishonored.

Arkane Studios built the visual style of Dunwall by beginning with the Great Plague of 1665, deciding to base the city on London, due to it being both familiar and exotic to those in the United States and in continental Europe. Edinburgh has also influenced design of Dunwall, with the studio taking trips to both cities.

“It’s important to go to the location you want to develop” added Antonov, who was director and concept artist for Half-Life 2.

There’s much more about Dishonored in developer videos with commentary, which you can watch right here on The Train2Game Blog.

Keep reading The Train2Game Blog for the latest news from Develop Conference.

What are your thoughts on Antonov’s comments about success? Is it really only sequels that are big successes now? Or is there still room for new IP?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on The Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: ‘Remain focused’ – Sony on pitching ideas to publishers

Game developers need to be absolutely focused when pitching ideas to publishers, or there’s a high chance the game won’t be signed at all.

That’s according to Sony Computer Entertainment executive producer Pete Smith, who made the comments while presenting his Pitching to Publishers session at Develop Conference 2012.

“You need to know what your games actually about” said Smith. “If you won’t have focus for your game then that’s a serious problem.”

Smith demonstrated the difference between a focus and an unfocused pitch by showing videos of two development teams discussing their game ideas. The first was from Evolution as they pitched Motorstorm in a clear and concise way, with each member of the team using the same key words to describe the idea. Motorstorm went on to sell millions.

A second clip showed a development team attempting to pitch EyeToy Lemmings, but some of the team weren’t even able to say what the game was. The game wasn’t signed and Smith pointed out that the studio doesn’t exist anymore.

“Be able to pitch in one sentence,” the Sony executive producer added, before going onto say a good game idea should attempt to be relevant, distinctive and innovative, and that Sony are happy to work with studios of all sizes.

Keep reading The Train2Game Blog for the latest news from Develop Conference.

What are your thoughts on the advice from Sony? What would you consider when pitching ideas?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: “Playing board games is fantastic training for game designers” – Creative Assembly lead designer

Shogun 2 Total War

Game designers should play board games in to help improve their skills. That’s the view of The Creative Assembly lead designer James Russell, who was speaking about making the mechanics of Total War and game design at Develop Conference 2012.

“Playing board games is fantastic training for game designers,” he said. “Everything a player does is raw gameplay.”

It formed part of a wide ranging session in which the Total War lead designer discussed subjects ranging from the key game design pillars of Shogun 2: Total War, to how, ultimately every single video game is based around player choices.

“Gameplay is all about choices and trade-offs. Games present players with interesting decisions with pros and cons.” said Russell, adding that weak gameplay is generally down to weak design choices.

The session concluded with The Creative Assembly man showing off pre-Alpha footage of Rome 2: Total War for only the second time. The game is scheduled for release towards the end of 2013.

Keep reading The Train2Game Blog for the latest news from Develop Conference, while there’s more from The Creative Assembly here. That includes information about their recently released Shogun 2 map editor.

How important do you feel board games are for game designers? Are you a board game player?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: Free-to-play games take four years to reach peak revenue

Free-to-play titles take four years before they reach their peak revenue from players. That’s what Managing Director of Reloaded – the studio behind APB Reloaded – Michael Boniface told the audience during his presentation at Develop Conference 2012.

The session, From Triple A To Free-To-Play examined the failures of Realtime World’s APB and what Reloaded did to bring the urban combat MMO back as a free-to-play game.  Boniface emphasised that “the most important thing for free-to-play is to be fun,” revealing how the development team regularly consult the community about aspects of APB Reloaded, which launched in December 2011.

And while blockbuster console titles make most of their revenue through day one sales, free-to-play games don’t maximise their revenue until four years after launch, said Boniface, as he discussed future plans for the MMO.

Free-to-play has has arguably been a success for APB Reloaded, with a user base of 647,000 players, compared with the 140,000 players achieved by the original, boxed version of APB Reloaded in 2010.

The Reloaded Managing Director described the process of going from triple A to free-to-play as the “most exciting, stressful, heartbreaking, rewarding experience of my life.”

Keep reading The Train2Game Blog for the latest news from Develop Conference, while there’s more on free-to-play here.

What are your thoughts on the idea a free-to-play title takes four years to reach peak revenue?

Leave your comments on The Train2Game Blog, or here on The Train2Game forum.

Train2Game News: “If you want to be successful, do something different” – Ian Livingstone

To thrive in the games industry, you need to be a little different and preferably own your own IP. That’s according to Eidos Life President Ian Livingstone who was delivering his keynote at Develop Conference 2012.

“If you want to be successful, do something different, follow your heart” he said during his visionary session ‘From Dungeons to Downing Street – A Life in Games.’

The industry veteran discussed everything from founding Games Workshop, to Fighting Fantasy, to Tomb Raider. He also emphasised the importance for developers to control their own intellectual property.

“If you want real value, you need to create and own your own IP.” said Livingstone, later adding “If you can create your own IP, then do so.”

The games industry legend also told the audience how the three most important things in a game for him are gameplay, gameplay and gameplay. And as previously reported by The Train2Game Blog, Ian Livingstone believes “There’s never been a better time to run your own gig.”

Ian Livingstone was one of a number of industry figures who aided in mentoring Train2Game students taking part in Make Something Unreal Live earlier this year. The Games Workshop co-founder said he was “delighted” to be part of the initiative.

The Train2Game Blog will publish an interview with Ian Livingstone in the near future, but in the meantime, there’s more from the Eidos Life President here.

What are your thoughts on Livingstone’s comments? Do you agree that doing something different and owning your own IP are key to success?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum