10 Questions: Brink’s Director Richard Ham

Brink1

Developer profile: Richard Ham

Creative director: Splash Damage

Location: Bromley, Kent

Years in industry: 21

Twitter: @Rahdo

Facebook: facebook.com/splashdamage

History: Richard started out as a gameplay counsellor for Nintendo in 1990, before becoming Lead Designer at SCEA in 1996. Since then, Richard has headed up various studios such as Edge Of Reality and Lionhead, before joining Splash Damage in 2008.

1 Which past game has had the biggest affect on the way you make games today?

If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have said Fade To Black, which came out about a year before the first Tomb Raider, and provided the true blueprint for the 3D action adventure games we’re still playing today. But since you asked about how I make games today,
I have to admit it’s Enemy Territory Quake Wars, for PC. It was truly revolutionary and changed my opinion about what an online team game could be. It got me interested in working at Splash Damage, and made me want to push what it did farther with Brink.

 We’ve had motion control and 3D. What do you think is the next big thing for games?

Social gaming. Games that bring people together, get them to work together, get them to make new friendships. This is what games can aspire to, and should aspire to. Advancement in the art of game development doesn’t have to be about the next input gadget or gizmo,
or about how much memory you can squeeze onto a graphics card… it can be about enriching player’s lives by making real human connections.

What have been the high and low points of your career so far?

Other than working on Brink, I’d say the high point has been my first job as a game designer on Syphon Filter for the original PlayStation. For years I’d done testing at Nintendo, but getting into that position where they handed me Syphon Filter – the game turned out so well and that was such a personal reflection of what I wanted to see in games. Easily the low point was again on Syphon Filter. Towards the end of development, Metal Gear Solid had just come out, and we were like ‘oh my God! Every single thing we have in Syphon Filter has been done in Metal Gear!’ We had a plucky sidekick called Lian Zing who talked in your ear, and MGS had Mei Ling. They had a boss with a big gatling gun; so did we. MGS came out about six months before we were due to ship, and we were like: ‘we’re going to get destroyed!’

4 What matters more to you, review scores or sales?

Review scores, totally. Game sales is not my department. That’s up to marketing. But I firmly believe that I just want to make a game that I’m proud of, that everybody on the team is proud of, even if it’s not a big sales success. Even if it only gets played by 50,000 people. That’s 50,000 people whose lives you’ve touched in some small way, because they had fun playing your game.

5 If you had one golden rule of game design what would it be?

By far the most important thing I have learned is to listen to your team. I’ll have an idea for how something should work, but then the person who’s got to develop that is going to have their own ideas, and sometimes those ideas won’t agree with mine. But if you take those ideas with an open mind, you’ll make something stronger because it’s not just about one guy’s vision, it’s about everybody’s vision. Not only does it make the game better, it makes the team happier and makes it a better place to work.

6 If you could hire a star dev from another team, who would it be and why?

I wouldn’t want to poach that way.
My best hiring experiences have been getting young, hungry guys or girls
for whom it’s not about the money, it’s about passion. I look for people, who on their own initiative, have downloaded tools, made levels, put them online, solicited feedback, made them better. That’s the kind of person I want.

7 If you weren’t a games developer, what would you be doing instead?

I’d be a mailman. When I was at the University of Washington, when I wasn’t in class, I was riding around on my scooter with a satchel of mail, delivering it all over the uni district. I was in the best shape of my life. Delivering mail to sorority row wasn’t bad either. But then I got a reckless driving charge, and it wasn’t even my fault! I couldn’t drive any more so I had to leave the post office.

8 What’s your top tip for someone who wants a career in games?

Start making games. I cannot stress that enough. There’s nothing preventing you, right now, from stopping reading this and downloading level design tools and programming tutorials. If you do that, and if you’re good – and these are skills you can learn – you will get a job. Or, if you’re passionate and communicate well, particularly with written communication, you can get a job as a tester and you can work your way up the ranks. But even then, go home every night and make content. Splash Damage started when a bunch of passionate kids got together and made their own game, and here we
are – a very successful studio.

9 You’ve got unlimited resources. What sort of game do you make?

I’d be an unhappy guy if that’s what you gave me, because I think good design comes when you’re working within constraints; when your back is up against the wall. That’s when the design really happens, when you find creative solutions to problems. When you have situations where that’s not the case, you get games that take five to ten years to make and come out as a mish-mash.

10 What will it take for games to become a part of mainstream culture?

I’d say games have been accepted, because mainstream culture is skewing younger. My dad doesn’t play games, my grandma certainly doesn’t, but I play games, my wife plays, my brother plays. It’s a misnomer to say the mainstream culture doesn’t play games because they do. Games are an important element of modern society. Anybody who says they aren’t is old and tired. Like me.

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