Dev Box Interview: IO Interactive’s Game Director Jeremy Petreman
It usually takes a small army to create the video games that we play, and, most of the time, all of the focus gets put on the game itself, and not on the people that came together to make it. Our Dev Box interview series takes a look at some of the unsung heroes that have committed their lives to entertaining all of us. In this week’s expanded Dev Box we are letting IO Interactive’s Game Director Jeremy Petreman provide us some insight into who he is as a gamer, and how he ended up working in the game’s industry.
Name: Jeremy Petreman
Title: Game Director, Mini Ninjas
Company: IO Interactive
First title worked on: Freedom Fighters, Level Designer
Most recent title worked on: Mini Ninjas
1. What game has most influenced you, and why?
I think that we had many influences going into the design, but I’m not sure if there was any one game in particular. Mini Ninjas is very much about exploration, and I personally love the exploration elements in games like the Zelda series, or Ico for example. The art director for our project — who co-designed the game with me — seems to have played every ninja game that has ever existed, so I would think that that wealth of gaming influenced him a lot.
2. What are you playing right now?
At the moment, I’m playing the Mini Ninjas demo on the PC, just because it’s completely surreal to do so. Also I’ve been playing a lot of smaller games on my ipod touch, such as I-Dig-it! and trying desperately to finish up Fallout 3 on my XBOX 360 (slacking on that one, I know). I’m also playing a certain unannounced game at work which I’m very excited about.
3. What was your first break in the games industry?
I worked on cut-scenes for a Playstation 1 game a very long time ago, but my first break was when I got a job for this crazy Danish company in Copenhagen, called IO Interactive — that was about nine years ago. I started as a graphic artist and was the first North American to come to their company; so maybe they hired me for the novelty factor, I don’t know. Shortly after that I started designing the first levels for what would become Freedom Fighters.
4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I think once someone pointed out to me that everyone, everywhere, doing every job on the planet, is just a person like you who is half falling back on their experience, and half making it up as they go along. What I think it means is that you shouldn’t stop yourself from doing something that you really want to do — everyone starts out wondering if they can pull it off.
5. Where do you look for inspiration?
It’s a difficult question, because we are so bombarded with all different types of media these days. I suppose that I get a lot of inspiration from reading, or films, or other games. I also worked very closely with our art director on Mini Ninjas, and was very inspired by the concept paintings that he did early on in the production. That always got me writing stories, which I think in turn, got him painting more.
6. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about game development?
Learning to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances - that is my experience of what game development is all about. It could be that the technology becomes outdated mid-way through a production, or your company gets sold, or someone else comes out with a game with the same name, or your publisher wants a critical feature added or removed — there’s always some insane challenge popping up out of nowhere that you have to roll with. It is the thing that makes it the most frustrating and greatest job around, for me at least.
7. Who do you think will come out on top this console generation?
I’m not sure what the top means anymore. The Wii has outstripped the others for console sales, but there are a lot of interesting games on all the platforms. Is the top platform the one that makes the most money, or the one with the best games? I guess it depends on what perspective you’re looking at it from. I like good games, which actually curses me to own more than one console at the moment.
8. What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
The current environment in the gaming industry isn’t always very friendly towards taking risks. Bringing out a completely new idea, with a decent production budget, is a hard sell for many developers at the moment. I guess a lot of people want to go with the safe bet, which is often a sequel or a licensed title. We were very lucky when we originally pitched the idea for Mini Ninjas, as Eidos believed in us very early on and took a chance.
9. What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
It may seem a little off-track to mention it, but I personally think the iPhone game development community is an exciting trend. I don’t think that it will surpass any of the established platforms, but I find it exciting in the sense that it brings the “small developer that can make it big” idea back onto the scene. It is important because there are a lot of people out there with great ideas, but who don’t have the power to put those ideas into motion. Any medium that lets on developer in a basement deliver their idea to a huge audience is pretty cool in my opinion.
10. Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
Everywhere! Many games these days have pushed the graphics to a very realistic level, so now I hope people relax on that cutting-edge-realism race a little bit and focus more on making it look good AND fun. In the very big budget arena, I hope that games keep pushing the envelope on storytelling, as I think there have been some very immersive games, like Bioshock for example, which I have really enjoyed recently and hope to see more of.