Continuing Develop’s special series of interviews with some of the world’s largest and most celebrated independent developers, here is part two of our chat with Bo and Ulf Andersson, Grin’s founding brothers.
The Nordic region seems to have grown in prominence in recent times. What can other regions learn from it?
Bo: Our education system has been good for Scandinavia. About five years ago, the area started some initiatives for schools for gaming. But crucially, what happened was that the schools actually engaged with us game developers to help out with the courses. We were able to explain what studies were most helpful for us, and developers have even gone to teach classes.
That system is paying off. We are getting students from those courses that can work with us. Usually the sort of experience you need to be a game designer can only be obtained if you train yourself in your spare time; but that’s not quite the case anymore.
I think that’s something other countries could benefit from, because the industry is truly collaborating with the education system.
I would say that, for the partnership to work, it’s really important that the game developers to put their time in. It’s important that they’re actually there teaching, so that’s what we’ve been doing.
You say it started five years ago, to what extent are you seeing the benefits today?
Bo: We’re getting good recruits! That’s how Grin managed to grow in the way it has. About thirty per cent of our recent growth comes from these schools.
The schools have our engine now as well; they know a lot about it and they can go straight in from school to production.
How does the system work?
Bo: For about twenty weeks we have the students come in and take part in our project. On-site R&D stuff. That way they learn the ropes, the tools, and see games in production first-hand.
They also get a bit of a reality check as well. If they are not performing to the standard, they get kicked out.
Ulf: The system especially helps the smaller developers as well, the teams who could really do with a few more people working on their game.
Bo: And it also helps the students study the things that are right for them. I mean, working in the games industry is something a lot of people dream about doing.
What’s crazy is that when you ask many kids what they want to be in the games industry they always say “oh I want to be a game designer!” right?
Ulf: Horrific job! [laughs]
Bo: Of course they want to be game designers. But not a lot of people know that you usually become game designers by entering the industry as something else.
Ulf: You’ll need to know, uh, at least five of the ten fields if you want to be a really, really good game designer.
Bo: Yeah. People need to be educated the basics. It’s like training pupils in film school how to be like Stephen Spielberg. Not going to happen.
Perhaps that aspiration comes from the fact that games begin as ideas in people’s minds, and people want to reveal those ideas how they exactly see them.
Ulf: But it’s something that’s an illusion. The idea that the game designer is the one guy that comes up with all the cool stuff isn’t quite true. I know that there’s a couple of designers out there that keep thinking like that, but it’s really, really obnoxious.
Surely auteurism, in a creative process, can’t always be a bad thing?
Ulf: What would you rather use, one brain capacity or one hundred? To me, a game designer is often more of a filtering role. That person gathers ideas, sees how they merge and tries to tweak them.
The best skill you can have as a game designer is to be able to listen, instead of thinking that you’re the person with all the solutions.
Grin now has offices in several different countries – what’s the ultimate ambition of the company?
Bo, CEO: The ultimate ambition of the company is to deliver high-quality games. The means to do that is to create a team of well-educated, well-experienced and well-functioning teams.
What we did with the [recently acquired] Gothenburg and Barcelona studios is to start them up around a core team, and try them out in production to see how they did. Essentially build them into clones of our Stockholm team [laughs].
We also want to keep to our outlook on game IP. A big difference between us and a lot of other independents is that we don’t look at our own IP with more preference than someone else’s. Our goal is to always deliver a great experience in a game, whether that game is our property or someone else’s is not a big concern to us.
You recently licensed Nvidia PhysX for the upcoming Terminator Salvation. What’s your view on the ever-growing middleware scene?
Ulf: There are tremendous third-party products out there these days. Particularly in the areas of sound production, now that I think about it.
Put it this way. Five years ago, sound middleware was crap.
Now there’s a great deal of useful sound tools you can licence. I think it’s just one example of how well the middleware sector is progressing.
Grin’s been in the industry for ten years now. How has the middleware sector progressed in that time?
Ulf: Now that production’s become more complex, more and more publishers and developers are realising that middleware is essential.
Bo: Middleware has a big role in the future of game production as well.
Ulf: Yeah. More and more companies are using them. Which means the providers make more money out of them. Which means that more middleware companies have enough money to invest in refining their product…
Bo: Gamers play all kinds of games, right? The idea that a gamer only plays one type of game and that they don’t touch any others is absurd. So, we see middleware provide a great solution for the industry in that they are tools that can cross over genres.
Ulf: But there’s also the process where middleware sells itself by raising gamers’ expectations. Players see something like, for example, a new physics model, and they then expect those kinds of physics in all games.
Also, as consoles are getting more and more complex, having a whole-engine solution is very interesting because it’s probably already green-lighted with the publisher, and tested and everything is already done so you can just focus on making better games than just getting it out.
So by that rationale, you feel that gamers expect something like NaturalMotion’s Euphoria[dynamic animation tool popularised in GTAIV]in third-person sandbox titles?
Bo: When you run over someone with a car, you now expect those results.
In videogames, you mean…