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Archive Interview with Jason Kay, CompuNotes #92 (by Doug Reed), August 18, 1997

ProfileEdit

Legacy of Kain is a cutting edge RPG game due out soon for the PC and
Playstation!

1) Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the game
business.

[Kay, Jason] Like most Activision employees, I have a bit of an
unusual background. I was attending USC Law, where I focused on
computer issues. I was working part-time at a law firm, although I
wasn't really that interested in practicing law. So I was at the
Sundance Film Festival (in Park City, UT), and there was a sign
posted: Associate Producers wanted for Interactive Entertainment
project, with Activision's phone number attached. So I immediately
faxed in my resume, since I had been a huge Pitfall fan, as well as
hardcore Infocom junkie and was thrilled to see that Activision was
back.

A few weeks later, I got a call from Howard Marks, who is the EVP of
Activision Studios, and he grilled me on the phone for an hour about
the kind of games that I played--why I liked them, why I hated them,
Did I finish Myst? How long did it take? That kind of stuff.

After a series of interviews, I was hired to work as an AP in the
studio and have since been promoted to a producer in our Business
Development division, which handles production of our 3rd party
products. In addition to Kain, I am working a next-generation World
War II flight simulator with Parsoft Interactive code-named Dogfight.

2) When it comes to computer/video games you hear a lot about the
programmers but almost nothing about anyone else. What does a computer
game producer do?

[Kay, Jason] I have three primary responsibilities at Activision. The
first is that I work with the Director of Acquisitions as he reviews
the games that are submitted to us from third parties. We discuss
technical red flags on the projects, projected delivery date, and work
with marketing to evaluate how we think that the game will do in the
marketplace. If all of these issues are satisfied and the corporate
management agrees with our analysis, we move forward with the
developer to acquire the title. I then work with legal affairs in the
contract negotiation to make sure that the milestones are correct.

After the title is acquired, my second responsibility is to manage the
budget and the schedule to be sure that milestones are met by the
developers and that we are on track for code release.

Finally, I act as point person with the other divisions in the
company, including Marketing and Quality Assurance, to review and
approve advertising copy, promotional materials, sales information for
the game. With QA, I work with the QA Project lead to assess open bugs
and provide play balancing feedback to the developer.

3) What other "support" personnel are involved in creating a game?

[Kay, Jason] In Business development, we run a fairly closed shop
because most of the code work is done by our external developers. In
addition to myself, we have a production coordinator for the
department, who tracks the game code and game assets (sounds, art
files) and a localizations Associate Producer who works with our
foreign offices to do fully localized versions of the games in the
appropriate languages.

For our internally produced projects, the teams are much larger and
usually include: a Director, who oversees the creative direction of
the game, game designers, level layout personnel, the art team, a
composer to do the music, an audio engineer to do the sound effects
and mix, and oftentimes a few support staff.

4) In order of priority, what do you think are the most important
aspects that comprise a good game?

[Kay, Jason] Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay :). Seriously, for me,
gameplay comes first, and then the next most important aspect is the
quality of the art, and then the quality of the sound and music.

5) What are some ways to get involved in creating and publishing
computer/video games?

[Kay, Jason] That depends on your skill set. If you are a talented C++
programmer, there are usually great entry-level positions at the major
companies. Programmers often start in these positions and then move up
to leading their own project within a few years.

For artists, we often look at quality designs sent to us in
portfolios, even if the person has never done a game before. However,
we usually do expect them to have three-d experience with tools like
3D Studio Max, Alias, LightWave 3D or SoftImage before we hire them. I
would encourage any artist interested in the game business to become
proficient in at least one of these art packages before seeking out a
job. Training can be had from the more traditional schools, such as
the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, or through extension
classes. A good way to get involved with these tools is to attend user
groups for the products, which are often free or very low cost.

The best way for game designers to get involved is either by of course
playing a large number of both computer games and paper games. A lot
of good designers have started off at traditional paper game
publishing shops, such as Avalon Hill or White Wolf, and then moved
into computer games design. Another viable option is to start out in
the quality assurance (aka) test at company like Activision and work
your way.

6) What is Legacy of Kain about?

[Kay, Jason] In Kain, you play a brash nobleman who is set upon by a
group of brigands and murdered. You are resurrected as a vampire by
the Necromancer, Motanious, and you set out to find your killers and
avenge your own death. Along the way, you become embroiled in a quest
to save your ailing world, and you must suck blood, cast spells, and
fight a huge host of enemies to survive.

7) What do you think the future holds for video/computer games?

[Kay, Jason] The future of games clearly seems to be 3D, as it gives
the player some many more options in the world. In particular, high-
end 3D chipsets such as 3dFx allow for simulator type products (Flight
Sims, etc.) to exceed realism levels that $1 million dedicated systems
achieved only a few years ago.

The other big event in gaming is also online multiplayer games that
allow for large numbers of players to exist in the same world, such as
Ultima Online.

8) Much has been said about whether consoles or PCs make the better
gaming machine. Give us your spin.

[Kay, Jason] Ultimately, I enjoy the PC as game machine more because
of its expandability, but the PC as a gaming machine is sorely lacking
in the social arena. Since PCs are small screen and typically
relegated to a desk, there is never quite the same fun of playing PC
games solo as compared to getting three friends over in front of a big
screen TV and sitting on the couch. I think, however, that online
multiplayer games such as Quake and Diablo have really helped the PC
move ahead in this area.

9) Will Legacy of Kain be released for the PC? If not, why?

[Kay, Jason] Kain PC is currently under development by Crystal
Dynamics, with Activision again assuming the distribution
responsibilities. In addition to all of the features that made the PSX
version great, we used the additional RAM on the PC to accelerate load
times and offer an enhanced 640x480x16 bits per pixel viewing mode
(the PSX version was 320x240x16bpp). The lighting effects look great,
and the assets are nearing completion, so we plan to really focus on
making it as fast as possible before it is code released, which are
planning for the early fall.
―CompuNotes[1]

CreditsEdit

Thanks to Doug Reed (writer), Jason Kay (contributor), CompuNotes (publisher), Koos van den Hout (archivist), and bbs.idefix.net (archive).

ReferencesEdit

  1. CompuNotes-92.txt at bbs.idefix.net

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