The Microsoft Lift London studio head gets the rapid-fire question treatment

FAQ: Lee Schuneman

[This feature was published in the April edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

Who are you and what do you do?
Lee Schuneman, studio head at Lift London, which is a new Microsoft team based in Soho.

What are you working on right now?
Right now Lift London is assembling an incredible team and prototyping lots of concepts – all with the aim to further ‘lift’ the reach of Xbox beyond the console in order to build an exciting future for connected entertainment across Europe and beyond.

What was the first video game or product that you ever worked on in the industry?
The first thing I worked on was as a game designer at Rare designing the levels for Donkey Kong Land 2 on the Game Boy. The level editor was running on a SGI machine; a little overkill for a Game Boy title.

What was the first video game you ever played, and did you enjoy it?
The first was probably something in the seaside arcades like Scramble, but the main one I remember the most – and that influenced me the most – was Manic Miner on the Spectrum. That’s the game that started me on my journey into the industry.

What was the most recent video game you ever played, and did you enjoy it?
I keep playing Ski Safari on iPad. This has been my ‘go to’ game before bed for quite a while now and, yes, I really like it.

What is your favourite game ever, why?
Probably Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I’ve had the good fortune to work directly with Miyamoto-san in the past and learned an incredible amount from his team at EAD.

The attention to detail and real focus on ‘feel’ of the mechanics continue to influence me, and Ocarina, in particular, is a masterclass in not just game design, but also in execution.

How many hours a week do you spend playing video games?
I am generally working around ten-to-12 hours a day, so finding game time is always a challenge. Probably only a few hours a week.

What area of the industry needs more ‘investment’ in your view?
We are a people-driven industry and the ongoing investment in young talent and female talent are the two areas where I feel that, as an industry, we can do more.

At Lift London, we are bringing into our studio the best raw, young, talented teams and giving them support to unleash their creativity and potential to build their own new businesses and gaming experiences. We’re also being very deliberate in hiring a mix of male and female staff.

What do you enjoy about the video games industry today?
The constant change. This industry evolves rapidly, whether it’s business models, distribution methods, game mechanics, art styles or content direction.

What disappoints you about the video games industry today?
Nothing. It continues to surprise me, to be honest. It’s always reinventing itself.

Of all the games you have worked on, which has been your favourite to work on?
I always enjoy the next one. Each new experience has something new to learn and I value what I’m about to learn from building something new.

What other video games developer do you most admire?
I’m constantly impressed by my own company, Microsoft, and its ‘challenge culture’ to always be better. Plus, I continue to be impressed by Nintendo’s focus on entertaining the players and their drive to create new experiences that delight.

What hobbies or interests do you have that are completely unrelated to games?
I’ve always been a big music fan – in particular, hip hop and electronic music. I do continue to go to gigs and have as many nights out as I can. My youth spent making beats and messing around with vinyl continues to this day.

My favourite album is probably King Tubby’s Meets Rockers Uptown. I was also given a Super 8 camera when I was 12 years old and made many short films and stop-motion animation.

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