10 questions with Quantum Conundrum and Portal’s Kim Swift

Kim Swift

1 What game that you’ve played in the past has had the biggest effect on the way you make games today?

I’d say that would have to be Zelda: A Link To The Past, mainly because that was the one game that I played that made me want to make games in the first place. Without that game I wouldn’t be involved in this industry at all.

2 We’ve had motion control, 3D, cameras… what do you think will be the next big innovation in games?

I don’t really know! As far as hardware goes I can’t really say what’s going to be the next big innovation. I think that as an industry we’re in a really interesting place, because there are small games, huge games and there isn’t a whole lot in-between – so I honestly have no predictions for the future. I think downloadable games are a great testing ground for new IPs and interesting ideas – and that’s what I’m most excited about.

Portal 13 What have been the high and low points of your career so far?

Portal was an amazing high. It was [the first project I worked on] in the industry [when I came] out of school, and the amount of amazing reception that we got from the game was staggering – I still can’t believe it. I try not to think about [whether a game could be a massive hit], mainly because I think it makes it less fun to make. I actually have fun making games, and if you’re too worried about the implications of a game, it’ll stop being fun.

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

Honestly, sales. Because that will determine whether I can make another game or not. I don’t think people really understand that – like any other industry – games are highly affected by sales. If a game is really great and no one buys it, the chances of that game ever getting a sequel or that particular designer ever making a game gets slimmer and slimmer. That’s one thing I want to say to gaming audiences as a whole: if you are a big fan of a particular game or designer, buy it! It’s going to mean you’re going to see [more like it] in the marketplace later on.

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

Make sure it’s fun! Make sure you have fun making the game, and make sure players have fun playing it. The only real way to see if people are having fun is to playtest and watch people play. [Humour is another factor, but] there are games out there that are amazing that aren’t humorous. Humour is something that I gravitate to as a whole because I think it makes [things] more fun for me to make. So I’m kind of selfish in that way; I just prefer making humorous games.

6 If you were to sign a star dev from another team, who would it be and why?

I’ve always loved Shigeru Miyamoto and would love to work with him one day – or at least talk to him!

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

I’d actually be a pastry chef! I’m a really, really good cook and this might actually happen in the future – I really want to own a restaurant one day!

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

Make games! If you’re looking to put your résumé together, the only thing people are going to look at is what games you’ve made. So if you aren’t already making games – and if you want to be in the industry – make games. Make mods, go to school [to learn about] it, do whatever you can to get [involved with] as many games as possible!

The original concept of Portal came from student projects. All of us on the Portal team were students at DigiPen Institute Of Technology in Washington, and every year we were tasked with making a game. So for our senior year we made a game called Narbacular Drop – which had the basic premise of going in one portal and coming out the other, and vice versa. Valve saw it, thought it was a really interesting concept and hired us a few weeks later to work there and develop it.

9 You’ve got an unlimited team, unlimited time and an unlimited budget. What game do you make?

If I had the option, I’d make a puzzle game, because I think they’re really fun. I’ve always wanted to make a music game – I have a couple of ideas that might be kind of fun. However even if I had an unlimited team size I’d still have a smaller team, because I like it that way, where everybody can have a say on the project and I’m not big dictator – everyone gets a chance to say what they want.

10 What do you think it will take for games to be accepted as part of mainstream culture?

I think it’s just [a case of] time. As gamers grow up and have their own kids, it becomes something that’s more socially acceptable. It’s like when rock ’n’ roll first came out it was like, “Oh man, Elvis is the devil!”, but now rock ’n’ roll is part of American culture – so it’s just time!