Dev Box: MySims Kingdom’s Lead Designer Hunter Howe

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 feature takes a look at some of the unsung heroes that have committed their lives to entertaining all of us, and gives them a chance to answer some of our burning questions.

Name: Hunter Howe
Title: Lead Designer
Most recent game worked on: MySims Kingdom

1. What game has most influenced you, and why?

Hard question to answer! Nonetheless, I’ll have to go with “Final Fantasy IV” back on the SNES. Not only was it a game that really showed the legitimacy of videogames as a means for storytelling, it proved to me that game characters could be as compelling, charming, and memorable as counterparts in other media – even if they were simple, early 16-bit generation sprites. Seeing 5 little guys nod at each other in unison before journeying into the center of the moon had never felt so epic! I just remember being so psyched to be adventuring with such cool characters.

Anyway, despite “MySims Kingdom” being a very different game in a million ways, I hope we were able to recreate some of that feeling. As a player, I love spending my gameplay time hanging out with a bunch of characters that are engaging, iconic, and, ultimately, memorable.

2. What are you playing right now?

I just finished stat-grinding in “Disgaea 3” and have launched into playing “Fallout 3” – which is fantastic. I was a huge fan of the first 2 “Fallout” games, and I think they did a great job of updating it. On this “Disgaea” side, I’m a huge fan of everything NIS releases. They just become instant buys for me due to their humor, character design, and ridiculously hardcore stat-heavy gameplay systems.

3. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about game development?

If you want the player to appreciate and notice nuance, it needs to be either in-your-face or supported by the UI. I’m not saying I don’t believe in putting tons of little touches in a game – I just mean that there’s a trap that lies in counting on “emergent design” – the player may not appreciate it as much as you do as a designer!

4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

Well, I got a lot of encouragement early on in my career to bounce my ideas off others as often as possible, and that has always worked out really well for me. I have the blessing of working with some incredibly talented fellow designers, so it’s easy for me to avoid the pitfall of “designing in a vacuum.” To my last point, one of the biggest traps for a designer is to design something that only they themselves deeply appreciate. Keeping your audience in mind while not diluting the experience is one of the hardest things a designer has to do.

5. What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?

Like any other industry, we make “safe bets” in the games industry regularly. We count on tried-and-true formulas to make games, while we should be focusing simply on making something fun! The good news is that some really innovative games are coming out these days – we just need to keep remembering to make good choices as designers to give players fresh and exciting experiences. Even though “MySims Kingdom” has “Sims” in the name, we tried very hard to push what it means to be a “Sims game” and do something totally new and fresh. I’m really happy with how that risk turned out.

Let us know what you think, and check back every week for more developer’s thoughts.

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