Dev Box: Ninjatown’s Producer Katy Smith

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: Katy M. Smith
Title: Producer
What you do: I facilitate communication between the different departments, create and monitor milestones for the game, and make sure there is a clear vision for the product. I also order pizza during crunches.
Most recent game worked on: Ninjatown

1. What game has most influenced you, and why?
It’s really hard for me to pick one game that had an influence on me. “Super Mario 3″ demonstrated that you can always improve game design. I remember thinking that no game could possibly be better than “Super Mario Bros.,” but “Mario 3″ was able to make very subtle changes to the game design that made huge improvements over the first game. I don’t think there was a single platformer created after “Mario 3″ that didn’t study that game. “Grim Fandango” showed me that good writing and humor can work in games. The game is such an odd concept of Mexican folklore combined with this really witty writing style; it was fantastic. That was one of the first games I remember people sitting around and watching me play because they wanted to know more about the story. “Silent Hill 2″ really affected me on a psychological level. I’m a psychology buff, so to see the main character’s “inner demons” come out as literal demons that the player had to fight was a really cool experience.

2. What are you playing right now?
I’ve spent most of my free time this past week playing the new “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion to “World of Warcraft.” I’ve also been playing “Rock Band 2″ for the 360, “Wii Fit,” and dabbling in board games like “Ticket to Ride,” etc.

3. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about game development?
It is important to view a game as a living creature. It will evolve and change as development goes on. You can do your best to try to plan everything out before a line of code is written or one image is drawn, but there is no way that you will be able to figure out all of the different variables to perfection ahead of time. Concepts that you once thought were water-tight start springing leaks because of one detail you forgot to take into account. If you don’t take iterative and evolving game development into account during the pre-production phase, all of those tiny details will come back to bite you.

4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
You’re only as smart as your last mistake. I think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously, and take time to sit back and breathe now and then.

5. What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
Because games cost so much time and money to make, I think there’s a big risk in greenlighting any project. This leads to a lot of the same type of game. Nobody wants to make a flop, so innovation goes out the door to make way for safe bets. I think the blame here lies on the publishers, developers, and gamers. The publishers need to take more risks. That next WWII FPS is only going to appeal to the same market the last WWII FPS did. The developers need to push to make the games they make better. Add a new feature or content and see how the gamers react, they might love it! The gamers don’t get off the hook, either. We need to say “hey! I will play something different!” If you look at games like “Portal” or “Mirror’s Edge,” I think those are good examples of the industry going in the right direction. I think we’ll eventually get there, but the path less travelled can be scary.

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

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