Interview with Harvey Elliott – Chair of the Games Committe at BAFTA

Breakthrough Gaming got the chance to have an exclusive interview with Harvey Elliott in the run up to the 2015 BAFTA Games awards. Harvey has been chair of the games committee since 2009. Since then he has seen the BAFTA Games awards evolve considerably, by getting bigger and better.

Michael: So this is the 11th annual British academy games awards, you’ve been praising the innovation of video games for a while now. Do you think BAFTA games have achieved mainstream recognition to be held within the same prestige as film?

Harvey: Within our respective audiences, yes. I think that the BAFTA Games Awards are the premier awards for the games industry, and well respected and appreciated by developers, publishers and players around the world. That said I think there is still more work to do in building more awareness of games outside of our core audience, and across the public at large. By continuing to show what the games industry is doing, describing the scale of the reach of games and audiences, and highlighting some of the amazing talent that our industry fosters. I’m sure we can achieve the recognition the industry deserves.

Michael: 2014 was a very important year for gaming with the next gen consoles picking up steam. How do the nominations for this year differ from what BAFTA have had before?

Harvey: New consoles always bring a renewed energy and vigour to the market, and now that the new devices have had a little time to bed in, we are starting to see true next-gen experiences for players which push every aspect of the platform. And just as consoles are moving forward apace, we are seeing the mobile market move at an arguably even faster pace with increased performance and innovations happening with every release of hardware. What that means for the awards is that we are seeing a huge cross-section of games vying for the coveted BAFTA in every category and most importantly creativity being rewarded with nominations from every field of the industry.

Michael: What’s the process in deciding which games deserve a nomination?

Harvey: BAFTA is a professional academy. To be eligible to become a BAFTA Games member you need to be at the top of your profession, with many years experience in crafting and creating games. To decide who wins the awards, we ask our membership to review all of the entered titles against each category and from this we generate a short-list of titles for each. The BAFTA games committee, who oversee the BAFTA Games Awards, is comprised of elected and co-opted games practitioners. Each member of the committee must chair a BAFTA Games Awards jury – where we enlist around 10 games experts to review the short-listed titles and through a pretty healthy debate generate a list of nominated titles. Once we have the nominations for Best Game, we return the final nominated six to the membership to select a winner from, and in other categories the jury go on to determine a winner.

Michael: It must be a very difficult process?

Harvey: Yes it is! The hardest part is getting the right jury together for the awards, to ensure that we have a great representation of the expertise in the industry relevant to the category. Our jurors’ names are published on the night of the awards, and we need to ensure we maintain a consistently high standard in how these processes are run.

Michael: Some notable games I’ve noticed have not received nominations, such as a few Wii U titles for example Super Smash Bros and Bayonetta 2. Is there a reason why these games weren’t nominated because they have both received a lot of critical acclaim?  

Harvey: You’ve highlighted two excellent titles, but there are hundreds more that are often considered as being worthy of consideration. Because we only have six nominations per category it is often the case that these other great games just miss out on the awards by the narrowest of margins. A number of our awards are given in specific craft areas so to win one of these requires excellence in a specific field e.g. game design or audio excellence  so for these are looking out for stand out experiences using these specific areas.

Michael: What is your role in supporting these games?

Harvey: If a game misses out on a nomination, we hope that we can still find a way to showcase it to the public at large, either through master-classes hosted at the BAFTA headquarters where game developers come in and talk about their game and craft to a large audience, or by featuring it online, e.g. on BAFTA Guru.

Michael: Have there been any particular highlights during your time at BAFTA ?

Harvey:  When we moved the awards to Tobacco Dock last year was a particular highlight for me the change in venue brought a whole new level of energy to the experience, and gave us an opportunity to include the general public in the proceedings with the day-time event Inside Games this year we are partnering with Rezzed to take this even further and access for the public to the awards in the evening which gave everyone a real buzz. I’ve also loved launching BAFTA Young Games Designers, and seeing the program grow year on year with talent rising through the ranks from Young Games Designers, through Breakthrough Brits, and onto become nominees for the awards.

Michael: What I find that really distinguishes BAFTA games is that it’s very sophisticated and respectful in comparison to some award ceremonies stateside. How important is it for games to get this kind of credibility?

Harvey: Thanks for noticing! We are an entertainment industry, so clearly we have a lot of fun in making our games and want our players to love every moment they spend with our titles but it’s also important to recognise that making games is a career, and winning a BAFTA award is often a
pinnacle moment that needs celebrating and deserves respect. We just want to make sure that our audiences appreciate what it took for someone to get nominated and win an award so we strive for the right balance in our ceremony and events.

Michael: Has there been any consideration to bring BAFTA games to terrestrial audiences or do you think it’s more suited for being watched online?

Harvey: We do consider this from time-to-time and obviously if we were broadcast on a terrestrial channel we could potentially reach a bigger cross-section of the general public. However, with an online broadcast we aren’t constrained by fitting into a network’s schedule and we can focus on getting the ceremony right for our games audience. Personally, I think we are better suited to the online channels for the full ceremony, and that our audiences are more likely to want to access the awards in this way.

Harvey-Elliott

Harvey Elliott, Chair of the BAFTA Games Committee

Harvey: Overall I’m really proud of our awards program, and equally pleased with how the learning and events activity has built over the past few years to increase the engagement of BAFTA with the games industry and the public at large. There’s always more we can do and the committee challenges itself every year to raise the bar even further across our entire program but it’s great to use the awards each year to take stock of the past 12 months in games, before setting off against the next.

 

Breakthrough Gaming: Ryan Laley of Friendly Fire Games Interview

Find out more about the slippiest and slimiest game around in part two of Breakthrough Gaming’s interview with Ryan Laley. This time we discuss about Ryan’s latest game Blobb. You can donate to his Indiegogo campaign campaign to port Blobb to iOS devices by clicking here.

Blobb is available now for windows phones

Interview with Games Designer/Lecturer, Ryan Laley

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 17.59.38

Ryan Laley of Friendly Fire Games

 

In this day and age gaming has taken off into many directions. From primitive bleeps and bloops to thought-provoking titles that examine society’s troubles today. The scope of the video game industry today appears to be boundless.

In my pursuit of uncovering the creative output provided in games I recently sat down with Ryan Laley, a video games design lecturer at South Essex College along with immersing himself into creating games himself at Friendly Fire Studios.

We chatted about Ryan’s pursuit into the game industry, along with looking at some of the unique games of today as well as the trails and tribulations an average games designer has to put up with in creating the perfect game. Proving that games development is a very gruelling process.

Michael: What games inspired you to pursue a job in Games Development?

Ryan: All the early Mega Drive games such as Sonic the Hedgehog I was playing those quite a lot and early Playstation one classics. Final Fantasy’s and Metal Gear Solid’s all sorts really. I say the Mega Drive games were the ones that inspired me to go forward with it.

Michael: How attached did you get to the games that you played? Did it grow over time or did it just start?

Ryan: Basically it was strong from the start I was an avid gamer and more so than most that I wanted to try different types of games rather than just one particular type of genre or one particular brand. I like to try and step it up a game especially the one’s that a bit more kooky and weird and out there. I look for that rewarding gaming loop and interesting game mechanics that make it fun.

Michael: Have you got any examples of those weird “kooky games” you were talking about?

Ryan: Yeah a couple of big ones include Viva Piñata being an excellent game. Probably one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played. It’s all about gardening and attracting animals to your garden and it is a finally crafted game. I cannot wait if they announce a third one. I’ll probably lose it because I love that game to bits. For the smaller titles things you don’t really see most places such as Spelunky, Hot line Miami and Papers Please. Papers Please being a very weird game. You basically play as a border patrol agent, in the customs area checking people’s passports in this Eastern European city. It’s a brilliant game, great commentary on the political stance of immigration and things of that nature.

Michael: Yes I’m familiar with Papers Please I read about it in the Guardian.

Ryan: Yeah it’s a very interesting political piece as well as an awesome game as well.

Michael: So what big responsibilities do games designers face these days?

Ryan: Oh my God, All sorts. I think the main things they focus on and face are mostly financial. So you are looking at for big game companies, publishers and investors will throw a lot of money towards game developers to get games out at a certain pace and a certain time and depending on who’s funding that money expectations are sometimes off and a lot of game companies have suffered because of that and because the ever changing landscape of the games industry say the rise of mobile and free online gaming, it’s really hurt a lot of what we call B tier gaming studios

Michael: And of course the big companies have obtained the smaller ones with Microsoft recently buying Minecraft. What do you make of this?

Ryan: As for the indie studios it’s more in lines of can they actually get the money to fund development of the game or will they ever recoup there losses trying to break into a market that is ever growing makes it difficult for them especially if some of them use it as a part time hobby until they make some money out of it.

Michael: What skills do games designers have that people don’t usually associate them with having?

Ryan: Patience, perseverance and dedication. A lot of Games Developers work ridiculous hours with not much sleep in between especially as things get closer to deadlines or cutbacks and get pushed to put something out as soon as possible. People put in 16 hour’s a day just to get work done. I know for myself when I’m developing. It’s just an endless cycle of work. I think a lot of people glamorise games developers as these guys who wear a shirt and jeans and sit on beanbags all day making games now and then. But No, it’s a lot of hard work where people are put into dire circumstances and are pushed into jobs that they don’t necessarily want to do.

Michael: There is that initial appeal of learning about games and sounding like it could be a lot of fun but I take it is a lot tougher than it seems?

Ryan: Oh yeah. A couple of problems some people have is the nature of games development. People are hired for a project and then let go for that project, so working in a big studio for example coming in as a 3D modeller you’ll be working for six or seven months and then you’re let go and you have to find work again.

Michael: I think we can agree that video games are a fun habit but do you have any problems within the industry that you think should be resolved or addressed?

Ryan: We have a massive problem with gender inequality. The female work force is very small compared to the male side, which is a massive shame, and quite confusing with the split of games players being 50/50 playing games so as seeing that workforce is kind of a jarring aspect.

It is getting bigger so hopefully we’ll get to the point where it is a bit more equal along with adding a bit more interest in the games industry and it’s not just gender either in inequality we’re looking at just race as well. Hopefully we’ll see cultural diversity throughout the industry because that’s how we get those interesting game ideas that come from people with different backgrounds and experiences which provide a better insight into there lives and thoughts and ideas.

Michael: So what’s the ratio between male and female students at South Essex College?

Ryan: It’s still very small. It’s quite representative of the workforce in the industry about 95% of it is male! I think all we have right now is about six or seven female students across all our courses.

Michael: There have been a few influential games designers who apply video game logic in a real world context such as Jane McGonigal. What do you think of these games that attempt to solve real world problems?

Ryan: It’s very interesting and it’s the right step forward. Games are in this transitional period of getting out of the stereotypical geeky bedroom coda of a social shut-in and is now a more common practice from mainstream audiences. Similar to how films are today, slowly growing into this norm. There is potential for games being used for anything other than entertainment purposes it’s slowly growing.

We’ve seen a lot of it being used for education as well as scientific research as well such as this molecule game who gave it out to all these game players and made it gamified by recreating this protein molecule but it can’t match any other pre-existing molecule and within a few days a protein was found which could help cure a certain disease of some kind. That scientists would have taken forever to find because they didn’t have this idea of game players-who like puzzles and solving riddles things like that nature. It’s interesting to see it grow from just being entertainment purposes.

Michael: Do you encourage the teaching of these serious games?

Ryan: Oh yes. I think it’s important for people especially for those interested in games and games development to understand that games could be more than just the some of its parts. That it can have meaning and philosophical discussion and political discussion and can have an impact on society. As I was saying with Papers Please, that is a very interesting game to look at from a political standpoint about the use of communism and immigration. The game isn’t designed for you to have fun, it’s designed as this monotonous task that you have to be done over and over again too highlight the dreariness of this country and the war-torn state it’s currently in. It’s a very good game in the messages it sends and there are plenty of games like that out there that tackle very important themes. They’re the games that students going into games development should be looking at rather than making stuff explode and shooting zombies.

Michael: And finally what three games do you personally believe to be breakthrough games?

Ryan: Super Mario 64 it was a revolutionary step from a 2D game to a 3D game and before then no one knew how to do it until it came out with Mario 64 and showed the world how it’s done so they done quite well with that.

I’m going to say also Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time. Again for a very similar reason they took a 2D formulaic design and made it 3D and for the first time you had this fully realised 3D world that was interesting and the story, characters and dungeons from a 2D element and made it 3D and it was a great innovation for that world.

Lastly, I would say Half-Life on PC before Half-Life came out First Person Shooters were very much the Doom and Quake style layout where it was just run through corridors, blow stuff up get to the exit, next level. Rinse and repeat. Half-Life was the first to offer this narrative and thread for the whole entire game it was very much exploring how to traverse this landscape and solve the mystery of the narrative while experiencing the story being told around you it didn’t use cut scenes or any que cards.

Keep a look out for my second interview with Ryan where we explore the games he creates for his independent company Friendly Fire studios.