This is freaking long and I'm too lazy to bold, maybe later (plus I haven't read it all myself yet). Here's the source where you can listen to it instead of reading.
<Jonathan> Hello, and welcome to episode one of Leet Speak. Im Jonathan Windle and Ill be speaking with Jeffrey Kalles. He was formally an Associate Producer with Nintendo of America,
<Jonathan> And now working for a company called Mobeliss.
<Jonathan> Mobliss, two syllables.
<Jeff> Sure, Im still learning myself.
<Jonathan> Yes, and hes going to talk with us today about his time spent at Nintendo, along with other things.
<Jeff> Sure, whatever I can legally tell you.
<Jonathan> So, starting at the beginning, what made you decide that you wanted to work for Nintendo?
<Jeff> Oh boy. Boy, that was a long time ago, so I guess a little background is in order. I started at Nintendo eleven and a half years ago, so I was just out of High School, doing some pre-reqs at a local community college, trying to get those out of the way cheaply so that I could go to a four year school, and a friend of the family was working at Nintendo and I said Boy, that sounds a lot more fun then that little retail job Im working at the local mall. So I found out all of the hiring information and, you know, my weekends were spent renting games from the local video store and playing them all night anyway, so lets see if we can turn it into at least a part-time job. Next thing you know, Im at Nintendo and it turns into a career.
<Jeff> *Police sirens in the background* I may have said something inappropriate already that the sirens are coming after me! The Nintendo Cops.
<Jonathan> Yes. So how old, exactly, were you when you started?
<Jeff> I was nineteen.
<Jonathan> You were nineteen. What were you studying to do in college? What was your goal?
<Jeff> Well, ultimately, I wasnt sure; something creative. I was leaning a little bit towards Advertising, but I was just doing community college, just trying to get all of the standard pre-reqs out of the way. Financially it was cheaper to get all of the English , Humanities, and all that stuff done first before, say, going to a UW or a Western.
<Jonathan> Sure, it still is. Did you expect to stay there so long?
<Jeff> At Nintendo? No, not really. Having only worked menial retail jobs before then, a real, actual corporate environment was a bit of a shock to the system. I started out on the Game Play Line as a Game Play Counselor. Kind of fell into the career. Opportunities kept presenting themselves, and I kept trying for them, and the next thing you know, Im working my way up the corporate ladder.
<Jonathan> If youre comfortable with me asking, how much money were you making when you left versus when you started?
<Jeff> Wow. I started not very much, it was seven-something and hour.
<Jonathan> So just above minimum wage?
<Jeff> Yeah, just above minimum wage although at the time, it was a couple bucks more then minimum wage. Youve got to remember, eleven and a half years ago. It was over eleven and a half years, the percentage increase, and you guys with the math can do it, it was about 150% increase from that wage. Eventually you stopped counting hours and it becomes a salary, I think it broke down hourly a little above 150% increase over the eleven and a half years. That included four title changes. Five promotions, four title changes, somewhere in there.
<Jonathan> What was your first job there at Nintendo?
<Jeff> It was the Game Play Counseling. Back then, they differentiated between, lets say, people that helped you hook up your system, and do Nintendo Power subscriptions versus the just help with game play questions, and I was solely game play questions, because I didnt want to deal with all that other stuff. I wanted to be able to just deal with the gamers, and back then it was a toll-free call to a 206 area code. I think it was 206-885-PLAY, if I remember correctly, going back in the memory archives. So yeah, I basically just sat on the phone and had a huge database of, basically, every game that had come out, plus, when I started, they had a four-week training class on the eight most popular games. So you spent a week on two games, basically. I trained on A Link to the Past, Links Awakening, the original Zelda, Seventh Saga, Young Merlin, Secret of Mana, and I think those were the core ones, they were called prompt calls. Those were the ones that you heard my name when you called up, and said For this game, press this number, those were called the prompt calls. So, I trained on those, and in order to progress, you had to take tests on, like, the top twenty games, just like a written one and a half page tests.
<Jonathan> They test you on their own games?
<Jeff> On your knowledge. Yes. Well, yeah, it was to see, I mean, yeah, you want to be able to answer all of the questions from the database, even if you havent played a game, you could answer like you had. But, at the same time, that was my job. So I had to play games and take tests on them, so, that was a piece of real work.
<Jonathan> So, youve held four titles at Nintendo?
<Jeff> Sometimes within the same department, you move up the ladder, like they have different levels of game play counselors, like level one, level two, level three.
<Jonathan> But youre basically doing the same thing.
<Jeff> Youre basically doing the same thing. So if you wanted to follow my career arch, it was game play counseling, to Q&A, or product testing, from product testing to product coordinator in our development group, and then product coordinator to Associate Producer.
<Jonathan> Can you sort of just take us briefly through a highlight of what you were doing in each one of those titles?
<Jonathan> Obviously we start off with
<Jeff> The game play counselor and answering phones, that was basically it. Although you have the opportunity to do a lot of different projects in other departments, which is how I ended up in Q&A, or product testing as Nintendo calls it, although the rest of the industry calls it Q&A. They were just starting up because of Donkey Kong Country, it was really one of the first titles that Nintendo of America produced, it was North American development driven, rare from England. So, they started up a company and they were, as more games were coming out, whether it was a rare title or other companies, theyd borrow people from the call center to do Product Testing, so I ended up in Product Testing, testing everything from James Bond on the Game Boy, Ken Griffey Jr.s Winning Run on the Super NES, Donkey Kong Country 3 on the Super NES. Highlights Goldeneye. Goldeneye is the only game I tested and didnt get bored of. I actually did a 36 hour shift once, it was five hours on, half hour lunch, five hours on, half hour lunch, and we basically went until we collapsed because we were trying to reach a ship date. What else? Diddy Kong Racing, I hit Bomberman 64 on the N64 Im all over the place.
<Jonathan> So you came in right when the N64 was kinda going
<Jeff> It was a little before the N64, at the very end of the Super NES is when I started to test. I did a couple Game Boy games, and then all through the N64 life-cycle, and I got into Software Development right before the Game Cube launched, about a year and a half out. I think it was about a year out. I dont know, see, when youre behind the closed doors, you dont pay attention to retail release dates because youre working on products sometimes three, four months to a year down the road. The first thing, before I got hired full-time in Dev, I was still in test and I helped someone with Quest for Camelot on the Colored GameBoys, when we launched Colored GameBoy games, which is actually a pretty good game if you get past the first title, or the first puzzle, which is the only thing we left in from the original developer, whos name was Titus. So those of you that are familiar with Video Game History will realize that Titus is renowned for making some of the worst games in video game history. So, obviously, the one puzzle we leave in is the worst puzzle of the game and its the first one you come to, so everyone stops playing. After that, I spent the majority of my time working on Eternal Darkness for Game Cube. I helped name a lot of Pokemon in Pokemon Gold and Silver, which is kind of, sort of Development, but outside is a whole different little arena, the Pokemon group.
<Jonathan> They have a special club, or something?
<Jeff> Well, yeah. They kind of underwent different management groups.
<Jonathan> Those Pokemon people wear the black hats.
<Jeff> Ive got some good stories about the Pokemon group. Theyre very protective of their property is what Ill say. Its published by Nintendo, but not of Nintendo, its definitely Game Freaks, which is the original Japanese Developers. Its their game, and they let you know it. Then I dabbled all over the place from a lot of the stuff that was done by Nintendo Software Technologies, which was one of the Developers across the street from Nintendo of America directly. Wave Race, though I got involved with them after Wave Race for the Game Cube, 1080 Avalanche, dont hold it against me, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and some other stuff. I also worked on some Disney Games that were developed by Capcom with a Disney property but published by Nintendo; so you want to talk complicated, that was a headache. Geist was probably the last one I spent a bit of time with, although I cant really say I headed up development.
<Jonathan> Have you ever been to Nintendos Japanese Headquarters?
<Jonathan> What was that like?
<Jeff> It looks like a hospital. Its very white and sterile, and all the floors look the same. Apparently, except for the top floor, where Mr. Yamauchis offices were, at the time. Although I didnt get the chance to get up there.
<Jonathan> He needs a little style up there?
<Jeff> I dont know, I just heard that its pretty lush up there, but I dont know how much time he spent there. They had a building that was an old Kyoto for a long time, and then during my time away they switched building and I went to the new building which is the one theyre at now. Its very different, everyone there is super friendly. I love NCL, if I ever let my emotions bleed through in my answers about directing development, it has nothing to do with the actual people, I love the people from NCL. They are some of the most talented people, and its fun to work with them and learn from them. But in terms of physical location; beautiful city. Kyotos gorgeous. The orginal capital of Japan was in Kyoto, so they have a ton of really cool old temples and things like that so they were very hospitable hosts.
<Jonathan> How influential do you think Nintendo of America is over Nintendo as a company?
<Jeff> Minimal. Which is apart of the reason I left. They used to have a lot more,
<Jonathan> So it started off great
<Jeff> But to be honest, my understanding is that Donkey Kong Country was the first time that Nintendo of America, as a subsidiary, shown actual profitability, was no longer a real drain, and wasnt costing NCL any money. When I say NCL, thats what I mean, Nintendo Corporation Limited. I forget sometimes that people dont know the acronyms Im used to. Once that started happening, as each hardware launch progressed, 64 to Game Cube, NCL exerted more and more control and more and more authority over what we were allowed to do, what was approved, what wasnt approved. So as the North American market became more important, the bottom line of the company, NCL asserted more control. Whether that was the right course of action or the wrong course of action, it was stifling at times.
<Jonathan> Have you ever been frustrated by a decision handed down some the Japanese Headquarters?
<Jeff> Yeah, sometimes.
<Jonathan> Can you give any instances?
<Jeff> Yeah. I was working on a game that was pretty much centered on North American audiences; theres no secret that theres a big difference in the type of games the two audiences like, Western vs. Eastern, and this game was really aimed at a Western market, but NCL came in, changed the direction of the game pretty drastically so that it would appeal more to both markets so they could release it in both markets so it would have the broadest range of acceptability, but then they ended up not releasing it in Japan. So all that wasted effort so not only does it not do well in the US, because its too changed, its been changed too much, but they dont even bother to release it in the East, so it really didnt give that game the shot that it deserved if we had kept it centered on Western Development.
<Jonathan> In specific, can you mention the title?
<Jeff> I dont want to for fear of legal reprisal. Even though Im away, I cant do it.
<Jonathan> Okay, thats fair.
<Jeff> I cant say too much or else they will come after me. We heard the sirens earlier.
<Jonathan> Yes. Did Nintendo encourage you, ever, to play other companys systems?
<Jeff> All the time.
<Jonathan> As an Employee?
<Jeff> Yes. In fact, in the Development group, specifically, I had one of each system at my desk, and we had a library that was accessible by everyone that was in the Development group of basically every game, at least all of the key hot titles, but every game for PC, Playstation One, Two, X-Box, Dreamcast, yeah.
<Jonathan> So they gave you company time for it?
<Jeff> Yeah, it depended. If it justified the project you were on, you could play at your desk. Or if it was a hot topic issue that you needed to play something at your desk just to be educated on, then yeah. But, you know everyone whos down there are gamers anyway, and I have one of each system at home, so I was playing stuff at home, too. Lets say if I am working on a racing game, I need to know what are the other racing games doing, so if I need to play Project Gotham or Burnout or whatever, I need to have the ability to do so. It was a lot of fun; Id go to EB and buy $400-$500 worth of games a week and charge it to the company. It was nice, because a lot of games Id get a chance to play that I didnt necessarily want to buy, I had access to, so that was a big perk that I am missing.
<Jonathan> Describe your office there as Associate Producer.
<Jeff> Only Managers or above get actual offices, so I had, I guess, a cubical, but we didnt have cubical walls. The Treehouse, which is also Product Development at Nintendo, its also known as the Treehouse, is a pretty open room, but its a room in the middle of the building with limited access to it. So not everyone in the company could just walk through the room, but everyone in the room pretty much just had desks and they were all kind of facing each other in these quad formations. I just had a l-shaped desk and it faced into the room with everyone else. If anyone has ever watched a development or behind the scenes at a Devleopment studio type of video on the net, you know exactly toys all over the desks and little doodads and pictures and stuff. That was pretty much it. We had a few offices set up for some of the managers and we had one play room that people would go in and throw down some Smash Brothers every day at lunch.
<Jonathan> So it was pretty open. You could see everyone else?
<Jeff> Yeah, it was open, you could see everyone, the only wall we had was really to section off the video editing guy because our department had a lot of what we call marketing support, which is the guys doing the footage for the commercials, the screenshots and the manuals in the back of the box, which if its a game Im working on, Im actually helping and/or taking screenshots myself was (Ive got to remember to talk about it in past tense. Its still so new!) so in order to block out a little bit of the sound when they were doing sound editing, they would have the walls up, but for the most part, we share the same space of localization. It was all very fun and sometimes the topics got a little adult oriented because we were closed off in our own little space, but it was a lot of fun and everyone was friends, and I can honestly say that most of them are still very good friends and I still socialize with them outside of work.
<Jonathan> You have publicly showed disinterest in your boss. Describe your boss to us.
<Jeff> Ive got to be careful here because really, I dont want to burn any bridges. This industry is very small and you find that you know somebody who knew somebody no matter which company you go to. Odds are, our paths will cross again. Lets just say that I think NOA could have positioned themselves better if they had stronger leadership when it came to development. I think there are things that the Development group at NOA does very well; educating the rest of the departments, educating our marketing group on what the key aspects of what the games are, THE marketing group, not our marketing group anymore. Thats what the management seemed to think that the priorities lay, were mostly with managing information in marketing support, not so much promoting positive development, and acquiring new titles and taking risks. There just wasnt that pushback to NCL to say, you know what, this is the right fit for us, we should move forward with it. Some of that might be due to flaws in management style and project management, but for whatever reason, thats the particular direction it seems to be heading. The fact that I had a few Dilbert moments with him didnt help either. You know, handing him a report and him telling me its not enough pages before reading it was not conducive to a good work environment.
<Jonathan> What was your favorite game you worked on as Associate Producer?
<Jeff> Eternal Darkness, without a doubt. Even though that was officially before I became Associate Producer. But that was the most fun. Im a little disappointed in the way the project wrapped up, in terms of politics, but the developer was very creative, Silicon Knights, out of St. Catherines, just outside of Toronto, great group, extremely talented people. Im very excited to see Too Human, which is their next project on X-Box, or X-Box 360, I should say. First of all, for Nintendo to do a title like that was really exciting, and to have a title like that; mature story line, sophisticated dialogue, and it was mature because that was the audience it was intended. It wasnt mature because youre offin hookers, or shootin cops, or whatever, or too much swearing. It wasnt in your face for shock value, it was for subject matter, and when you care about a game like that, its just a lot of fun to work on.
<Jonathan> What was the most challenging game as Associate Producer?
<Jeff> Anything coming out of NST. Because really you werent involved in design,
<Jonathan> NST being
<Jeff> Nintendo Software Technologies. The North American, wholly owned subsidiary development house. You werent every really involved in development, you were just kind of information broker. They were taking all of their development direction from NCL, even though the games were meant for the North American market, and even when suggestions or design issues were addressed to them, for whatever reason, politics became a bigger game then the game itself, and it was just very frustrating and they were never fun to work on. Although I will say Mario vs. Donkey Kong turned out to be a great little GameBoy game. Overall, it was just kind of hair-pulling.
<Jonathan> Has working around video games as a profession destroyed your normal everyday gaming experience?
<Jeff> I do play them a lot less then I used to, but with that being said, there are few key titles I play a lot in my spare time. Initially, not so, I could play them at my desk, when I was on taking phone calls. I got to the point where I could answer most of the questions. In fact, if told me which game you were calling about, nine times out of ten, I could tell you what question you were going to ask before you asked it, because it was always the same questions for the same games. I was basically brain dead and would just play on my game. As I moved into testing, I would probably play a little less, though since youre playing one game, day after day, months on end, you do branch out. Now Im just as bad as anybody. Ive got my WoW account with my four-million alts, and the big game for me, I play a lot of NCAA Football. I dont know what it is, that game just pulls me in every year, so I usually end up playing at least six or seven complete seasons. Burnout 3, I commute to work now on the bus, and thats actually allowed me more time. I bring my PSP and my DS with me, and play games on those. So I still play games.
<Jonathan> What advice would you have for people who want to start working for Nintendo, or would you even recommend people try to work for Nintendo?
<Jeff> Well, at this point, Id say if you have an in at any video game company, take it, if thats the industry you want to be in. Its a lot harder now then it was, I think theres a lot more I dont know if its a lot more people trying to get in, or people are seeing it as a much more viable career opportunity. I think right now, actually, the best way to go is to take one of these programs getting offered by one of the schools. It gives you a lot more credibility. And theres someone who wants to get in right now. When I did it, I just kind of went through a temp agency, and just kind of strolled in. It wasnt as big a deal now. Obviously, the entry level Q/A positions, which seems to be where if you want to get at least into production or design, that seems to be where a lot of people go. Otherwise, with art, definitely go to the programs to take some schooling. Just because a company is not advertising a particular position that you want, dont be afraid to contact them and just send in your resume, and just give them a call every couple of weeks, and just say hey, I wanna know where youre at, just be persistent. Theres not particular magic yellow brick road that leads to the Wizard. Its just perseverance. It is a little bit who you know, attend some of these conferences, attend the Penny Arcade Expo, and get to meet people that are representing their games and exchange business cards.
<Jonathan> What, precisely, made you want to leave Nintendo? If you can pinpoint it on one key thing.
<Jeff> The inability to truly be involved in the development of games. The job had changed from what it was, and I was no longer being active in Development. I was no longer providing level feedback, balance feedback, script feedback, design ideas. I was taking information from point A and emailing it to point B, and it stopped being fun.
<Jonathan> Just processing information. How did you learn about Mobliss?
<Jeff> Actually, a couple friends had left Nintendo previously, for whatever reasons, and they had latched onto Mobliss. Mobliss, one of their Vice Presidents of publishing, actually used to run Enix America. So hes had a video game background. Except he pronounces it Ehnix, so that must be the correct pronunciation, because he worked there. I still want to call it Inix. This was before the Square-Inix (Im going to say it just to spite him) acquisition. So they had a really good head on their shoulders, in terms of what video games are about, and its an industry thats growing so quickly. If you look at a lot of leaders on the console side, its people that got in early. Its people that got in with Nintendo of America 20 years ago. All the Vice Presidents and Co-Presidents, and CEOs, its all these guys that were the garage gamers. Thats kind of where the mobile gaming industry is right now, so Im like, wow, lets get in early now, and then when those cell phones, I mean, the hardwares cycle is basically every 18 months. So every year and a half youre looking at a new generation of hardware. Theyre right about GameBoy Color type now, and pretty soon theyll be GameBoy Advanced, DS, and the PSP-type abilities not too far down the road, and I just want to be apart of that ride.
<Jonathan> You were also looking at a job in Orlando. What company were you looking at there?
<Jeff> Well lets think about this now, why I dont want to say well, I guess I could say. The big evil EA Corporation has got their big studio down there, Tiburon. It helped that in space. The company that did Geist, I have a lot of admiration for the Developer, and I think that no matter what they do in the future, theyre going to have some great product, but they were also down there. So I had made a lot of friends down there. Tiburon was looking for some Producers, and I was talking to them. Things went really well its just that Im a Seattle boy. Ive traveled quite a bit, so I know what Id be missing if I left, and I dont feel like this is the only part of the world Ive seen, so Im afraid to leave it, but I really love the Seattle area. So it would have been very hard to leave. The stars didnt line up quite right to make it the perfect move, which is okay; Im not sure going from one giant corporate entity to another would have been the best move, although I would have been working on titles and games that they do that I would have been pretty excited to work on. Again, theyre on that yearly Dev cycle, I dont know how much influence I would have had on improvements.
<Jonathan> So youre happy working for a smaller company now.
<Jeff> I am, its really exciting. Im meeting a ton of smaller developers I never would have met before, and theres a ton of good people, and theres some really sophisticated games on the cell phone that I really was not aware of. Yeah, predominately its casual market type stuff, but theres something to be said about where the game design is going on those.
<Jonathan> What was the first videogame you owned as a child?
<Jeff> Aside from the little LED football handhelds? I had one of those little Pac Man table top arcade tops, the pseudo arcade boxes that were shrunk down to fit on your table?
<Jonathan> I had one of those, too.
<Jeff> Yes. That was the first one I consciously remember, although we had a commodore 64, and I remember playing Omega something, it was like this Asteroid rip-off, and a game called Jump Man, which is ironic because that was Marios first name. It was like this little clown on a unicycle that caught balloons on his head. And then I messed around in Basic and tried to write some of my own goofy little if-then statement games. I think at one point, I tried to re-type a whole choose your own adventure into Basic.
<Jonathan> What is your favorite game genre and game in that genre?
<Jeff> I really enjoy RPGs with a little more love towards the action-adventure type RPGs. I would have to say, though its a little more Action-adventure then RPG, Links Awakening on the GameBoy is probably my all-time favorite game. I think it was the best, most complete story/fun Zelda game yet.
<Jonathan> The one where you can steal stuff and get called a thief throughout the rest of the game.
<Jeff> Yes, that is the one. I just thought, in terms of intuitive game play and the puzzle designs, I thought it was the most fun to play.
<Jonathan> What are some of the other game genres you enjoy and the games in them?
<Jeff> You know, Im a stickler. I love the old classic adventure games that no one makes anymore. The Lucas Arts and the Sierra Online stuff; thats probably where I really fell in love with the adventure games. I was playing Kings Quest III on my old Tandy HX, and thats really where my true gaming passion ignited. The problem is every time they released a new adventure game, they havent done very well, commercially, although Im crossing my fingers that the new Salmon Max is gonna be good. It gets cancelled, it gets picked back up, I keep watching that one avidly.
<Jonathan> Do you prefer console gaming or computer gaming?
<Jeff> I am one of those that are either or. Theres something to be said about curling up on your couch with a controller, and I think console gaming is probably a little better for the action RPGs just because the controller is so much better suited for that action element, but Ive lost many hours of sleep to WoW, and the whole, basically, fill-in-the-blank quest games that Sierra released and all of those first person shooters. Although, I hate to admit, I havent played through Doom 3 or Half-Life 2 yet, but I just have to pick my moments. I do enjoy a good FPS. I was a Counter-Strike-aholic for a long time.
<Jonathan> What is your favorite gaming console?
<Jeff> In terms of just gaming, GameBoy Micro. I got my little Micro, I love it. I think thats the coolest revision of hardware theyve done yet. In terms of gaming and they types of games on it, youve got a little bit of everything and you can take it where ever you go. I cant tell you how many hours Ive lost to Fire Emblem. In terms of sleekness, I love my PSP, but its a portable media player, its not a gaming machine. I copy my TiVo shows to it, I watch it on the commute. I own one game for it, and thats since it came out. Im perfectly happy with the purchase, but its
<Jonathan> What game is that?
<Jeff> Burnout. I love the Burnout games. Im not a big racing fan, but if Im gonna play a racing game, its the Burnout series.
<Jonathan> Quickly, if you can, how many consoles do you own?
<Jeff> Ive got the Dreamcast, had a PSOne, no longer with me, PS2, X-Box, a couple Game Cubes, Super NES, of course, GameBoy, DS, Ive even got a backlit original GameBoy from Japan, and the PSP. So pretty much everything except the 360. Most of those, I didnt pick up until they were out about a year and a half. I usually wait until the first price drop because by then the library of games is good enough that theres something I must play.
<Jonathan> Right, you can pretty much find something that you wanna play. What are some of the other geeky toys you pride yourself in having?
<Jeff> Oh my goodness. I am a big fan of Digital Video Recording, DVRs, so Ive got my Tivo Series 2 with it hooked into the Tivo To Go, with the expanded hard drive. Ive got the Cable 1, which I hate, but its the only one that does HiDef right now. I really want the stand alone Tivo Hi Def series to come out. I even bought a caption card for the computer just to see if I could and hook that up. Im really a big DVR
<Jonathan> Multi-media guy.
<Jeff> Yeah, Multi-media. I need to set up my own Multi-Media PC here soon, thats my next big project. Im a bit of an AV geek.
<Jonathan> What are some of the games you are playing at the moment?
<Jeff> At the moment? Lets see, NCAA Football, I still pop it in, 06. I think Im only on my 5th season, and the problem is Ill watch a game over the weekend and be like oh, I should play. I was playing World of Warcraft; I go through these weird cycles where Ill play it really hardcore for like a month, two months, then I take a month off. I was playing on the Dark Iron server for a while, and I got tired of being ganked. Those Penny Arcade gankin server, as I call it. Burnout, still playing Burnout 3: Revenge, and Legends, Fire Emblem. I think thats pretty much all Im playing. Oh, Puzzle Pirates. I got back into Puzzle Pirates. Thats another one, I stopped playing it for a while and then I started playing it again; its just addictive as anything. I love a good Puzzle game sometimes.
<Jonathan> Whats the last game youve played, like today?
<Jeff> I didnt play anything today, but last night I stayed up late playing Puzzle Pirates when I shouldnt have. I was very tired.
<Jonathan> If you can explain some of the discrepancies between the American releases of game systems and games versus the Japanese releases in Nintendo.
<Jeff> Do you have any specific examples, or just in general?
<Jonathan> No, just in general. What are some of the interesting things youd find that they changed between the two releases?
<Jeff> Well, you know, its just different sensibilities, different target audiences. Most of thats done in localization, and being in the same group that localization was in, I got kind of a good peek inside. Titles, dialogue, whats humorous to one side may not be humorous to the other. I think the Mario RPGs are a great example of that; if anyone can speak or read fluent Japanese, youll see that a lot of times the jokes, although they try to maintain the same attitude and flavor, are changed very much for the new version. Nintendos translators and writers do get a lot of leeway to change that; in fact the new DS Mario game, Mario RPG game, its not out yet, but theres a whole section in there with leet speak. I dont know if Im even gonna be able to talk about that, maybe I shouldnt. But I mean, no one in Japan would understand it, not unless they happen to throw down on an FPS multi-player game with the US audience.
<Jonathan> Maybe in the Korean market.
<Jeff> Yeah, the Korean market might understand leet speak. In fact, thats probably their second highest spoken language behind Korean. Do they speak leet speak in lineage? They probably have their own little acronyms. Before I joined Nintendo, back in the old NES days, there was a lot more of that, changing for political sensibilities. Theres not so much that, now. Violence is a weird thing. For example; gun violence, no big deal over there. Knife violence, huge deal. Yeah, you cant show people holding knives to other peoples throats and stuff; thats a big deal over there. So we had to be careful with that in some games with knives.
<Jonathan> But you can hold a gun to someones head.
<Jeff> Holding a gun to someones head wasnt a big deal to them. They were still sensitive to it, but it wasnt like a big red flag. So, there are those.
<Jonathan> Any differences between the console releases themselves, or are they pretty much the same hardware?
<Jeff> Its pretty much the same hardware. The hardware is constantly undergoing revision to make it cheaper, so as parts become consolidated, or its easier to fit all these chips onto one chip, thats happening throughout the life-cycle. So if the life-cycle is separated by a period of months, its possible that the insides of the machine, because its cheaper to manufacture, might be different.
<Jonathan> Whats the most strange peripheral youve seen for a Nintendo System?
<Jeff> That actually made it to market, or that got pitched?
<Jeff> Back when the N64 was out, that was before you could link your systems together and play multi-player on separate TVs and stuff like that, someone invented, well, I dont know if they invented, but they made this weird kind of cardboard box with mirrors so that, basically, you could sit one system at one table with one television and youd place this cardboard box over the
<Jonathan> So that it would split screen the TV
<Jeff> --television so that the mirrors would reflect each of the four quadrants of the television to eachit was crazy! I mean this thing was gargantuan.
<Jonathan> And youd have to make it for different sized TVs.
<Jeff> Yeah, basically. So all youd see if your little fourth of the screen that was being reflected on a little mirror that you would watch your TV. It was a lot of creative engineering, I just didnt see a market for it. That came across my desk. That was very fun.
<Jonathan> Are there any third party peripherals or Nintendo peripherals that have been released in Japan that havent been released here that you would like to see released in the US market?
<Jeff> Samba De Amigo. No, that was released over here, its just boy, I dont know, I think the US market has kinda gotten a little more sophisticated where youre seeing a lot more peripherals released over here, and you have a lot more smaller companies willing to release the dance mats, or whatever. Nothing comes to mind; its not like the old days where there was really just two separate markets, its almost a worldwide market now. Except for Europe who gets everything six months late, which Im sure they hate. Itd be fun to see some of the weird Japanese arcade games come over here, either in arcade format or a goofy peripheral format like the walk-the-dog arcade game. I dont know if youve ever seen that
<Jonathan> Im not familiar with it.
<Jeff> Its basically a plastic dog with a leash, and the game controller is just this leash you hold. You steer the dog around its objectives by tugging on the leash and yanking it in different directions. So its kind of fun.
<Jonathan> That would be an interesting mod for Nintendogs.
<Jeff> I think in a section of Geist theres a point you play the dog trainer, and the dog pulls on you and the controller fights you and rumbles and pulls on you. So theres a little bit like that, they try to incorporate that, but its not the same as having a plastic dog to yank on.
<Jonathan> Heres a personal question for me, actually
<Jeff> No, Im married, Jonathan, Im sorry.
<Jonathan> Nintendo publishes a game called Wario Ware.
<Jonathan> If I were a parent, I wouldnt let my kid anywhere near this game. Do you have any comments
<Jeff> Because why? Because it promotes Attention Deficit Disorder?
<Jeff> I dont know if it promotes it
<Jonathan> Has Nintendo done any studies about what it does to
<Jeff> Attention span? You know, I dont think so. If anything, I find I pay closer attention to it then other games because if you blink, you lose. So it constantly has my attention. Sometimes the subject matter might be a little, you know, like the nose picking, or the sniffing up the snot
<Jonathan> What is Nintendos obsession with snot?
<Jeff> Well, its not so much Nintendo, its another one of those cultural things. Its really funny over in Japan for some reason. Like the little kid in the Zelda Wind Waker with the snotty nose; body functions are different to different people and for some reason that one is really funny. Although there is a little universal appeal to a nose pick.
<Jonathan> The Game Cube has not been a very large player in the US market compared to other US market consoles.
<Jonathan> How do you think Nintendo plans to fix this in their next generation console?
<Jeff> Good question. I
<Jonathan> You dont know.
<Jeff> I dont know! I can kind of, based on what I saw while I was there in the marketing message that was sent out; going after gamers, or people that arent gamers, going after the casual market, going after the yahoo spades player so the console is not so daunting, an apart of that is the new controller design. Its all going to come down to the game content. Whether that works in the long run; they keep preaching this message that they arent ignoring the hardcore gamer, there must be a lot of them out there if the PS2 is selling millions and the Grand Theft Autos are selling millions of copies. Theres a lot of hardcore gamers out there, so you dont want to ignore that audience completely. It is true that the segment of audience, although the industry is growing, the people that are buying games are just buying games, multiple systems. Its not really reaching people who have never owned systems before. Thats what theyre going after, theyve decided Sony, Microsoft, were not going to play your game, were not going to play the one-ups-man, were just going to go in a completely new direction. I dont know if its going to sink or swim, even if things go abysmally wrong, Nintendo is strong enough and has enough capitol that I think they can survive on their own without being beholden anybody. Good luck to them.
<Jonathan> Do you have any comments about the recent X-Box 360 release, more specifically, the problems theyve been having?
<Jeff> Oh, the loYoure going to have that on any run on new product, it doesnt matter what you have. I think the fact that its such a wired customer base, and that all the consumers are hardcore gamers, first of all, and they all talk to each other and go to the same websites and the same forums, that one problem seems like ten problems, because of the publicity they get. I dont know what their actual percentage run of bad software is or whatever its funny to make fun of and ill laugh with the best of them and say haha, Microsoft blue screen of death, no matter what product you release! Its not going to hurt them in the long run
<Jonathan> Isnt that fun though?
<Jeff> It is fun, well, its always fun to make fun of the top dog, the guy with the most money, everyone wants to pull you down. Its fun, but I dont think its a big deal. The ones who are hurt the most are the people that bought their system and want to play it on day one and have to wait three days to get Fed-exd to a repair center then Fed-exd back to them.
<Jonathan> I was first introduced to you at PAX 05.
<Jonathan> What is your connection with Penny Arcade?
<Jeff> An old high school friend of mine was their boss at the Spokane Circuit City, where they started out. They were working at Circuit City in Spokane, and they started Penny Arcade, and this friend of mine knew that me and another guy, that I was also high school friends with, were working at Nintendo at the time and he sent a link, and said hey, check these guys out, theyre really funny. This was year one comics. So he sent me a link and I followed them; being in the industry I thought they were very funny. Jerry moved out to the west side of the state first, and when they were in town, I just sent them an email and said hey, we have this mutual friend; I work at Nintendo, would you guys like a tour? So they came in for a tour, and we just started talking and hanging out, and at first it was all about video games stuff, but as things grew, me and my wife would have dinner with Mike and Kara, although not as often as Id like, and just got to know them and wed just see each other
<Jonathan> And it grew from there.
<Jeff> Yeah, grew from there.
<Jonathan> What has been your role at PAX, other then a panelist?
<Jeff> Mostly just a panelist, although I like to think I helped not give them the idea, but inspire them a little bit because at E3 every year, wed have an end of the E3 dinner, that was kind of my tradition with them. The Friday night after the last day of the show, Id take the Penny Arcade crew out to dinner and wed just talk about the show, because most of the time I dont get to see the show, so Id get information out of them; what was cool, what was hot out on the floor because I was locked in meetings or demos all day. One day they asked me what do you do all day? and I said well, mostly I listen to bad game ideas. So immediately they started pitching to me every bad game idea theyve ever thought of, and the ideas got worse as we drank more, but they thought that would be a lot of fun to do that in some sort of larger atmosphere. Robert joined them, their business manager, and hes really been, I think, a Godsend for them. Theyve come a long way since I first met them thanks to Roberts passion for growing them as a Corporation and not just a great source of entertainment, so when they started PAX, they said hey, we want one of our panels to be this.
<Jonathan> And the Pitch Your Game Idea panels
<Jeff> And the Pitch Your Game Idea grew and, again, theyve got so many industry contacts now, they hardly even need me, but its just fun to be involved and its just to know all of those guys personally its just a blast, theyre just such good people.
<Jonathan> You have said the PAX 05 Pitch Your Game Idea panel didnt go quite the way you wanted.
<Jeff> No, it went a little long, and people took it too seriously. The problem is, once you take your idea in a public forum, its no longer your idea. So please dont say something that you really want to become a real game. It was always meant to be lighthearted and fun, kind of an American Idol, but even less serious where I play the Simon role and totally make fun of you, you know, while you get a little bit of insight of what it takes to get an idea of what things were looking for to get an idea off the ground from just an idea, because everyones got an idea. I have a million ideas for videogames, but even within your own companies, you arent always going to get it done. Well make some changes and hopefully it will be more fun next year.
<Jonathan> As you just mentioned, you do play quite the hard ass up there, so Im gonna turn the tables and you pitch your game idea to me.
<Jeff> Pitch my game idea? No! I want to hold onto mine! I want to get it made! If I publicly announce it, then youve got the rights! I heard the legal thing at the beginning, you can disseminate my information whatever way you want! I dont want to do that! See, with me, I always think about core game play concepts, Im not thinking story, which is a lot times what youre getting in a pitch your game idea is story and the details. With me, Ive got a couple key game play mechanics Id love to see expressed, and then Ill wrap a game around it. Whether well ever see them done, I dont know. Maybe someone else will do them. But yup, sorry, you arent gonna get that out of me.
<Jonathan> Are you involved in any other quasi-famous organizations that we should know about?
<Jonathan> Other then Penny Arcade.
<Jeff> I dont think so, I mean, beside hob-knobbing with Nintendo people that get some press time or screen time on electric playground, or G4, or whatever you want to call it. Not so much. The videogame industry is interesting I wish they promoted celebrity-ism a little more in videogames and people that helped create the games got a little more press, because right now its all the publishers that get all the credit, with a few pseudo-celebrities.
<Jonathan> Well, it used to be that way.
<Jeff> A little bit, you know, youve got your Miyamotos, and you got your Will Wrights, and you know, some of the people deserve it, and then youve got some people that, I dont want to mention any names because who knows, I might want to work with them in the future, but seem to get more screen time then create game time, I dont know if that makes sense.
<Jonathan> Alright, down to the good stuff.
<Jonathan> I understand that you have played with the Nintendo Revolution in its current developed state, yes?
<Jeff> Not exactly. The demonstration that was given to the journalists before the Tokyo game show, the ones that got hands on, I was able to play those demos.
<Jeff> There you go, I can say that.
<Jonathan> So it was a very limited
<Jeff> Liberal exposure, but aside from a journalist, yes, Ive touched the Revolution controller and maneuvered it. This is a grey area, so I want to be very careful with my answers here. I dont want to get sued.
<Jonathan> Sure. Does the development system look kind of like the system weve seen on the websites, or is there anything special about it?
<Jeff> Well, dev systems are just boxes. Theres nothing exciting about dev systems; theyre just boxes with hardware, prototype hardware usually, until you get closer to the launch. Aside from prototype controllers, what it looks like isnt going to make a big deal, because most of the time, its just a workstation. Its just a PC workstation that youve got under your desk at home, its not the only difference is instead of the front, instead of having a USB port, its got a controller interface port. I know its exciting to people who dont know, but yeah, thats all it is. Just a box. Its really boring.
<Jonathan> Microsoft and Sony have taken a very strong stance about modification to their hardware, whereas Nintendo really hasnt. Theyve taken a strong stance on the piracy issue of their games, but not really on modifying their consoles. Do you think theyre going to start cracking down on this in the new Revolution release?
<Jeff> I dont know if theyll crackI mean, they definitely dont want to promote it, because its proprietary stuff and they want you buy a system, you play their games, and if youre modifying it, youre not really playing their games anymore. Youre doing other things with it. Im not apart of the game design group, or Nintendo Technology, no, what are they called NTD, Nintendo Technology Development. Theres a little sub-group in there that a bunch of old SGI guys help with the architecture and things like that that will work on the design. Im sure theyll try to prohibit it as much as possible, but its I dont think they like to bring attention to it.
<Jonathan> Well, Sony has actually gone out and actually sued a guy that was modifying consoles; theyve sought out people doing this.
<Jeff> Well, the difference was though that those consoles could also be used as DVD players, or CD players, and Nintendo designed the proprietary disk format so they wouldnt have to deal with those headaches. So even if you do mod the system, unless youre uploading it directly through some modified Ethernet connection, or burning your own 8cm disks, which is a little harder then just going out and buying a spindle of CDs
<Jonathan> No its not.
<Jeff> Well, for the common consumer, who just knows to go to Staples, or Office Max, not all of us go to liksing , or sang, or whatever they are and download our spindles. Part of it, I think, is just the mind set of if we dont talk about it, it doesnt get publicity. No harm, no foul.
<Jonathan> It has been said that the Nintendo Revolution will have access to the older release titles via a virtual console type thing.
<Jeff> Yes, it has been said that.
<Jonathan> Can you elaborate on that anymore?
<Jeff> My understanding is basically the same stuff youve heard at E3 or in the press releases, so this isnt going to be any new information, is that it is fully, 100% backwards compatible. There may be one or two titles that dont work with it, I dont know, Im not privy to that.
<Jonathan> But like, is it strictly online, download
<Jeff> You know, Im not sure how it will work. Im not sure if theyll release it on media. I know it has the capacity to download it through the Nintendo Network, however they end up framing it, whether its part of the Nintendo Wi-Fi thing theyre doing with the DS or whatever. Basically, however the media ends up on there, youll be able to play any old school NES game and Super NES game, and N64, or whatever you want. Again, its capable, its going to come down to execution and to be honest, Im not sure if thats been decided yet.
<Jonathan> One of my all-time favorite RPGs is Chrono Trigger.
<Jeff> Ah yes. I love that one also.
<Jonathan> Do you think that Nintendos relations with Square-Enix are good enough to see this title to the Revolution?
<Jeff> As a backwards compatible title? Boy, Id sure hope so. That would be fun.
<Jonathan> This is actually a selling point for me.
<Jeff> That would be fun. Thats the thing. I know that, and Im pretty sure Ive read in the press (look at this, Im getting my information from the press), that the licensing titles will also be available. Whether that extends to companies that are either no longer with us, or have been absorbed into other entities, I dont know. Id love to see a Chrono Trigger on the Id love to replay it. I thought about modding my PSP to put it on there.
<Jonathan> Well they have the Playstation release of it, but you have to load through every time you change a screen because of how they have their emulator set up on the games. Its basically the ROMs, and then it loads the screen as you change its not playable.
<Jeff> Its entirely doable, its gonna come down to the politics. The relationship is better and the fact that were getting one of the last games I was working on before I left was the Final Fantasy II, over here, IV over there, re-release on the GameBoy. So the relationships are pretty good, so I wouldnt be surprised.
<Jonathan> In the past, the multi-player experience with Nintendos game systems have been, pretty much, very personal. You have to be in the same room as the person. Do you think theyre going to push more strongly for multi-player in the Revolution release?
<Jeff> I think so, I think theyre finally realizing its a viable market, its a viable thing to do. The Wi-fi connection, I think, is showing that. Mario Kart on DS is a blast. It hadnt released yet when I left, but, heres a little insight, everyday everyone was playing Smash Brothers, as a group they were playing Smash Brothers, everyday at lunch, since it had come out, and that didnt stop until we started to get builds of the Mario Kart in the Development Group. Once we started to get Mario Kart, everyday at lunch people would start to bust out their DSs and play Mario Kart instead, so that says something about the staying power and the fun-ability of it. The fun-ability boy, Im just making up all sorts of words here. The fun playability of it. So, the fact is that Nintendo recognized it and used it as the flagship title to launch the Wi-fi connection, and once they work all the bugs out and you can play without slow down or whatever. I havent had the chance to jump on and try it out. I think youll see a lot more support for it, and youll see that extended onto the console.
<Jonathan> In comparison to todays consoles, how good are the graphics on the Revolution? Are they like significantly better then todays, say, X-Box or Playstation 2, or is it really not that big of a jump?
<Jeff> Let me say this; it will be an improvement over current generation, itll be, I think, on par with up-coming generations, so I guess its kind of now, since the 360s launched. The emphasis, though, is not on the graphics. With that being said, I have not seen final graphics running. I dont have any particular keen insight into what final graphics will look like on the system.
<Jonathan> But they are pushing for better?
<Jeff> Its going to come down to ease of development, because thats really what they want to do, is tap into, maybe, a lot of these Developers that cant do games anymore because maybe the budgets are too high and the teams too big. Its ease of development, whether increase graphic performance limits that, theyll tweak that or whatever. I dont think anyone will be disappointed by their graphics.
<Jonathan> Nintendo has sort of generally taken the stance of system specs dont matter, especially with this new release. Do you agree with this philosophy?
<Jeff> The old company man in me, yes, because it does come down to games, to be honest with you. I could care less what the 360s processing power is. Now, if those specs help enable quality games, then yes, Im for the specs, Im for good specs. Does it have built in Ethernet? Can I plug it into my home network? Yeah, that stuff does matter to me as a gamer. But really, as I mentioned before, I dont buy a system when it launches, usually, unless it has a must have title. Its gonna come down to games and how well those specs enable a Developer to make a paticular game. Who knows.
<Jonathan> How many different configurations of the Nintendo Revolution controller have you had a chance to use?
<Jeff> I didnt get a chance to use any of the so-called shell extensions that they have talked about. Basically the demos that you heard about, so
<Jonathan> The Nunchaku.
<Jeff> Yeah, I did get the chance to mess with the Nunchaku design.
<Jonathan> Can you describe maybe, or elaborate, on how Developers might take advantage of the new controller interface?
<Jeff> Theyre really only going to be limited by what their imagination can do, and basically the talents of whoever their game designers are. Its going to be really hard, I think, for designers to wrap their heads around it, much like when you saw the move from 2D to 3D, a lot of people just didnt get it. They couldnt make a game in 3D. Youre going to get the same thing now, youre going to get guys who try to make a game using these really cool control configs. I think youre going to see a lot of first person shooters because the controller lends itself very well to it. I think its probably the most intuitive first person control created.
<Jonathan> Can you sort of describe how that might work?
<Jeff> Youre using one to look; imagine using a gun and a flashlight. Its pretty much like that in real life. Youre holding one to look, even though its not dark and youre not literally lighting the thing so youre using one controller to look, and then youre using another one to aim and shoot. People that I know had tons of trouble with dual-analog picked it up and were doing very well very quickly, in that particular genre of games. So its going to lend itself very to that. Unfortunately, I think that means youre going to see a lot of them. Hopefully not. But really, there are so many different features that it can be utilized for. Itll be interesting to see where the creative minds take it.
<Jonathan> Is there anything in particular you look forward to Developers using the new interface for?
<Jeff> For me? Who knows if anyone will even do it or not, I dont know what their plan is, and I dont know now big their support is for the Revolution, but Id love, theoretically itd be possible, to run down the field as a wide receiver and position your hands one way while looking over your shoulder while running another direction. Basically doing multiple actions all with the same character with it still feeling natural. That would be so cool, to be running down the field and look over your shoulder while still running down the correct position and guide the ball into your hands. Thats a lot of work for a Developer and it just adds so many more factors to the coding and the design and the art and the animations that I dont know if anyone will ever be able to do it.
<Jonathan> The Nintendo DS and the Revolution; its kind of obvious that theyre going to have some sort of Wi-fi synergy going on, even though that hasnt been publicly announced yet. It only makes sense. Do you think that its going to be backwards compatible with current Game Cube games that use the GameBoy advanced and SP?
<Jeff> Oh, like the old connectivity link cable?
<Jonathan> Right do you think youll be able to do that with the DS on current games?
<Jeff> I dont know. There might be some technical limitation that Im not privy to, that youre able to do that, but I dont see why not. Nintendo has always been about pushing the boundaries and exploring new ways to experience games, and what if one of the ways to experience the game is to use the DS somehow in combination, I think theyre probably exploring it; whether its commercially viable or it makes sense financially, I dont know. But, thatd be cool.
<Jonathan> Yeah. Out of the three next generation releases, which one are you most looking forward to?
<Jeff> Good question. You know, to be honest, I dont have strong feelings towards any of them at this point. Im anxious for the 360 to get some decent games and must have titles, because right now, I think their two best titles are multi-platform games. King Kong and Call of Duty, theyre multi-platform, so theres nothing unique to the system. Once they get some unique games. You know I'd keep my eye on gears of war and stuff like that but... And the PS3, who knows what to believe.
<Jonathan> Yeah, they keep spitting out things every two seconds.
<Jeff> Well, yanno, what was the quote some guy was talking about how you could control missiles and it was national security issues with the chip. Im amused by it
<Jonathan> Well their most recent thing was that they were going to advertise 120 frames per second!
<Jeff> Yes, faster then the eye can see. What good is that?
<Jonathan> Thats faster then any TV supports!
<Jeff> Exactly. Lets build support for televisions that dont exist. Of course, theyll probably launch in conjunction with a new line of Sony Vegas. Yeah, I dont have any strong I mean, the Revolution, just because I want to see what NCL, I want to see what EAD, I want to see what these are all Development groups within NCL I want to see what unique games theyre really tapping into the hardware with.
<Jonathan> And that brings us to our next question. What about the Revolution do you really look forward to seeing happen?
<Jeff> Im very interested to see if the controller is actually going to take games in a new direction, or if its still going to be the same old stuff.
<Jonathan> It seems kind of interesting to me because the controller is so different then what other developers are going by, I just see it being a complete bitch to cross platform games for this.
<Jeff> Theyve announced The Shell, this extension, The Shell, that basically you plug the remote control doohickey into a controller. I imagined it, I havent seen it, but I always picture it like the VMU in the Dreamcast kind of thing; you kind of slide it in. So I think, depending on how easy it is, or if its packed in, or how many consumers have this shell, youll see the same old ports across all three. Its going to be the unique, exclusive titles that are really different, and I just dont know how many third parties are going to jump on board. Knowing that, Im confidant that all the stuff coming out of NCL is probably going to be either wacky/crazy/out of control with a ton of fun, or literally revolutionary, in terms of game play. Well just have to see.
<Jonathan> I can see Wario Motion, or something.
<Jeff> Yeah, Wario Ware yeah, Motion-something. Super motion mega games.
<Jonathan> Whats your general outlook for the gaming industry? Where do you think everythings headed?
<Jeff> Not that Im an expert or anything, Im not one of these financial advisors who has to determine whos stock to buy. I think the hardcore market is going to continue to get hardcore, I think youre going to see more complicated games, because the core gaming public that buys the majority of the games keeps demanding more sophisticated, more features. I think youre gonna see those. I think theres going to be Developers and Publishers willing to do that but then youre going to see this weird off-shoot, whether its even going to be part of the core videogame industry or not, youre going to start seeing the group starting to bring in more casual games. The casual games market is growing, its huge. The PC portal sites, the Pop Caps, the Wild Tangents, theyre growing. Their growing fast and doing very well. Theres an audience for that; theres a group of consumers who just want to sit down and play something where they dont have to read an instruction book, where they dont have to put a template over their keyboard to understand what controls theyre hitting. I think youre gonna kind of see it diverge a little bit. Hopefully, because then that means there will be even more market share for mobile phone applications.
<Jonathan> What are some of the things that really annoy or bother you about game Developers? Key things.
<Jeff> Each Developer is so unique and different, I can honestly say Ive never worked with a well, most external developers Ive worked with Ive had great relationships with. Its when the politics and the financials become more important then the vision of the game, its when this person said this, versus what do we need to do to make this level better? Some of its just the industry, some of it the business is about making money, as much as games are a passion to you and me and anybody else, and were in it for fun, its really about making money. And if the developer is more worried about where their next milestone payment is coming from, or the fact that they have to produce thirty pieces of PR artwork for the exclusive magazine cover, it takes away from making the game. Sometimes you just get so caught up in the monotony of the minutia that you loose sight in the vision of the game, and that really bothers me.
<Jonathan> Which gaming company do you respect the most and why?
<Jeff> I have a ton of respect for EA, and I know most people view them as an evil empire, and I do, too, I see that, but in terms of a business model, and the fact that yeah, they do put out some maybe sub-par games every once in a while, but pretty consistently, the games that they do in their genres are the top games in those genres. And the do them in yearly cycles, which is amazing to me. So I admire them for their ability to turn over a franchise on a release cycle and still maintain a fairly high quality. Yeah, they drop a pass every once in a while, and theyll flub, but youve got to remember this is the same publisher that brought us The Sims, so they obviously allowed Will Wright to have his own world, and whether thats just because hes Will Wright, or whatever, they do. They are the same group that brought us Battlefield. Theyre still allowing enough fresh development to happen that theyre able to latch on of course once they launch the franchise, the milk it for everything its worth, sometimes to the detriment of the franchise, but I have a lot of admiration for them to do that. In terms of creativity, I really like Namco right now. I dont know why I really enjoyed Baten Kaitos, and Tales of Symphonia, and Im looking forward to the follow-ups of those.
<Jonathan> Which game companies do you hate?
<Jeff> I dont know that I hate any of them I never really had the chance to work with Microsoft directly, or first party directly. I hear theyre interesting to work with although theyre getting some good people in place there. Aside from my frustrations with NST I worked with Buena Vista Games on some stuff, and they were great. I worked with Capcom and they were very responsive.
<Jonathan> Was it a 2D fighter?
<Jeff> It wasnt a 2D fighter. It was an interesting game. SquareSoft was very good. I worked with Namco a little bit, even before so yeah, Ive never had a real bad instance, although Im sure they exist.
<Jonathan> What is Mobliss role in the gaming industry? What are they trying to do?
<Jeff> A couple things. You know, the mobile phone space is kind of wild west frontier right now, no one has really leapt up and taken charge of it. You dont see a lot of front runners, though there are some names some people probably are familiar with. Its a fine line between making quality games that appeal to a broad market, you know, the hardcore gamer that maybe doesnt have their DS on them, or their PSP on them, while still appealing to a broad range of you know, the licenses. The crazy thing is that the way it works, is the carriers kind of hold all the power on whats on their, what they call, game decks. So when you turn on your phone and look up games, and bring up a list of games, all of that is controlled by the carriers, by the Verizons, by the Sprints, by the Cingulars, and basically, there is only one guy at each company that controls all of that, and he doesnt have time to evaluate whats a good game. So all he really cares about is placement. Unless its got a license, its not gonna be there, which we all know, licensed games are usually not the best substance for which to make games. Its kind of at the same place the Game Boy is, a little bit, where its really hard, unless your name is Nintendo, to get an original property out there. Mobliss is really trying to release some original property, and then when it does have a licensed property, theres a lot of emphasis on lets make it a good game first that just happens to have this license.
<Jonathan> What exactly do you do at Mobliss?
<Jeff> Look for possible cool licenses to acquire, talk to different developers to use their technology, and/or, if they have solid game ideas, evaluate the game play concepts, look for new opportunities, look for strategic partnerships, a lot of phone calls, wining and dining, and just networking, looking for the next big opportunity.
<Jonathan> You get to decide whats fun?
<Jeff> Sometimes. There was a great group of people there before me and they were really good about evaluating new talent and new games. Its all apart of what I used to do at Nintendo before my responsibilities shifted, is look at new games and missions, look at interactive demos; what we used to call proof of game play stuff, and evaluate and see how much viability there is in turning it into a full-fledged title.
<Jonathan> As you mentioned in the beginning of all this; cell phone architecture can change rapidly from manufacturer to manufacturer, and they get updated every 18 months or whatever. How do you think cell phone gaming is going to conquer this, because you kind of have to develop per platform, per generation.
<Jeff> Yeah, it is absolutely crazy. There are two standard languages. Theres a Java based, called J2ME, which, if you make a few key reference builds, you can usually hit the most popular handsets, and then Brew, Verizon uses and it and then a few others. So if you focus on those two languages, and those few key reference builds, you can cover most your applications. I think it kind of helps that people are kind of forced into upgrades every couple of years, when they change their service, although Im not a big fan of how locked in the service plan is, but it does force everyone to upgrade their phones, so youre not dealing with a lot of older term phones, you can phase out development fairly quickly on that. I think, eventually, there will be a standardization, I dont know how many years from now it is, five, ten years maybe, but eventually there will be more standardization as eventually hardware reaches its this is as far as were going to push it. Itll reach that point, eventually.
<Jonathan> What games do you enjoy on your cell phone now?
<Jeff> Right now? Uh Im playing
<Jonathan> Come on, youve got to play some.
<Jeff> Theres a really cool little tactical strategy game Im playing called Black Ops, you pick your units and their equipment, and infiltrates, all mission-based. Its really a lot of fun. Ive got a Texas Hold em game that Ill bust out when Ive got just five minutes to kill, Ill play a couple of hands of Texas Hold em. Ive also got this really silly, goofy game, when you first hear the title, youre gonna roll your eyes, but its actually a lot of fun. Its Brady Bunch Kung-Fu. Its a street fighting game with the Brady Bunch characters. See, I told you, I could actually hear you roll your eyes at that point! But its got really cool animations, and fun little characters, and for those of us that are in our late twenties, early thirties who kind of grew up with the Brady Bunch stuff, mostly reruns, I didnt see it when it ran the first time but watched it every morning on TBS or whatever. Its a fun throw back.
<Jonathan> When choosing colors in a game, or for your player, which color do you normally choose?
<Jeff> Im a blue guy. I like blues and greens. Probably because of my Seahawks love. I love the Seattle Seahawks, I always keep pickin blues and greens.
<Jonathan> What gaming handle or screen name do you most commonly use?
<Jeff> Oh, no! I am going to get so many X-Box Live invites! I either go by Knight Vulture, k-n-i-g-h-t vulture, or Vulture. One of the two, those have been around for a while.
<Jonathan> What has been the most memorable moment in your life thus far?
<Jeff> When I proposed to my wife. I gotta say that, that was the moment that will always stand out in my mind. Its very sentimental, Ill cry now. Moment of silence okay, Im done.
<Jonathan> Presuming there is an afterlife, what would you like that to be like?
<Jeff> Hugh Heffners place? Scantily clad women and smoking jackets, and gambling thatd be fun. Can you just imagine like an after hours social dinner club as the afterlife? I can deal with that.
<Jeff> Everyones got a little tumbler of scotch and a cigar, watching lingerie clad models walk by, of both sexes for the woman, thats fine, I dont care. I dont have to sit in that room. Its the afterlife.
<Jonathan> Well, this is your personal afterlife. Who was the most influential person growing up to you?
<Jeff> My old man, Ive got to say my dad. This is not a therapy session, so Im not going to get into details, but yeah, I learned from him how to behave myself, and I also learned from how sometimes not to behave myself in certain situations. In terms of just influence, Id have to say him.
<Jonathan> What was your favorite cartoon growing up?
<Jeff> Every late twenties/thirties child has this Transformers/GI Joe fixation, Im no different. Did you see the recent Family Guy where Sound Wave made a cameo? I laughed harder at that moment then any yeah, I still, GI Joe, Transformers.
<Jonathan> Cat person or dog person?
<Jeff> I have both. I have two cats and a dog.
<Jonathan> But theyre not listening right now, so you can tell us your favorite.
<Jeff> Theres something about affectionate cats that just curl up in your lap and purr, and they dont require much maintenance, except clean up and feed them every once in a while. Not like dogs, dogs are constant attention. I love my dog to death, but you cant leave her for a day.
<Jonathan> Favorite movie?
<Jeff> This is going to sound really weird. Its a toss up, its a tie, between Fight Club and The Little Mermaid. Those are my two favorite movies of all time.
<Jonathan> Were getting clapping in the audience.
<Jeff> Yeah. The Little Mermaid I have a very deep affection for, and I still think its the best collection of songs ever put in a Disney movie. Fight Club I just thought was a I went in expecting something totally different and came out gong wow, this is such a different experience then what I expected.
<Jonathan> Favorite TV series.
<Jeff> Of all-time?
<Jonathan> Of all-time.
<Jeff> Oh boy, Quantum Leap. Im such a geek. Yes, I was addicted to Quantum Leap. I had them all on VHS, that I taped myself.
<Jonathan> Have you started to Tivo the reruns?
<Jeff> No, because I already have them all on VHS.
<Jonathan> Oh, okay.
<Jeff> Although some of the tapes have probably gone bad since I first recorded it. Yeah, I got addicted in High School, about the second season, and then Ive seen them all. Im like, you know, the Star Trek guy can name the name of the episode and the guest stars? Im kind of like that with Quantum Leap, a little bit. I can usually name the title if you tell me the premise. But yeah, that was my favorite show.
<Jonathan> Now are you ever caught humming the Quantum Leap theme song?
<Jeff> Not so much, but I did buy the official soundtrack you know, I was hardcore. I bought every novel, because they did all of the sub-novelizations, not as many as the Star Trek universe guys, but theres a good fifteen or twenty of them.
<Jonathan> Favorite food.
<Jeff> I love a good medium rare steak. Thats probably my all-time favorite food. Although I have an extreme sweet tooth and anything drizzled in caramel sauce also has a fond place in my heart.
<Jonathan> Okay, youre always wearing a ball cap of some sort.
<Jeff> I am, Im sorry
<Jonathan> Whats with the hat?
<Jeff> Im lazy. I have very straight, thick hair, no one can see it even though Im demonstrating it for the people here, and it doesnt like to do a lot, so if Im not careful with it, I end up looking like one of the Beatles, and not the attractive ones. Its mostly convenience. I get out of the shower and I just throw on a baseball cap and its comfortable and it keeps me warm.
<Jonathan> Final question: What other profession would you have liked to explore if you didnt get into the game industry?
<Jeff> Teaching. Ive though about it before, Ive thought about going to school and getting my teaching certificate.
<Jonathan> Teaching what in specific?
<Jeff> I dont know, Im not sure, I think Id really enjoy high school, and History, Ive loved History. Im not an expert in it, but Ill find myself flipping channels and wind up watching the History Channel for a couple hours that I dont have to spare, just because. I especially really enjoy the American Revolution, especially the part after the war is over, and the founding of the country that doesnt really get so much publicity, like the John Adams presidency and that sort of stuff if interesting to me. So, thats what Id probably do.
<Jonathan> Well, thank you for speaking with us
<Jeff> No problem, this was a lot of fun.
<Jonathan> Maybe in a year or two well have to do this again
<Jeff> Play catch up.
<Jonathan> See where cell phones are going.
<Jeff> Yeah, no problem, and we can always touch bases, I dont know if you guys make it out to E3, or at the next Penny Arcade Expo at the very least, and maybe we can do a behind the scenes with the panelists or something