Advice from Beyond - Dave Perry
|by Jamie McCormick
Back in May we noted that Havok software had been used in the film Matrix Reloaded. Here Jamie McCormick interviews Dave Perry, founder of the company who produced the game, Enter the Matrix. Originally from Belfast he moved to the UK and then to the US where he formed Shiny Entertainment. Here he offers some advice to wannabe developers and entrepreneurs.
JMC: Shiny has seen huge growth, from the creation of the hit Earthworm Jim, my first encounter with your work, to your latest game Enter The Matrix. Can I ask you how Shiny came about?
DP: After developing Disney's Aladdin game, I wanted to take more control and develop my own games, so I formed Shiny in 1993, and Earthworm Jim was our first game. Shiny's 10-year anniversary is coming up this October, actually. Enter The Matrix was a once-in-a-career opportunity to work with the Wachowskis, and we're very lucky to have played a part – back in 1999, we actually turned the Wachowski down the first time they offered the opportunity!
How did you get involved in games development, and what was the first project you worked on?
DP: My school in Belfast, Methodist College Belfast, received a big government grant for computers, and I was pretty much glued to the computers from there on out. I started writing games that were published in books and magazines. That's how you bought games back then – you had to buy books and type in the code yourself. I think the first game I had published was a driving game – a black square that avoided other black squares. They printed it, and I was excited, and then after a few more games, they sent me a check for 450 pounds! To me, that was a fortune! I published a few of my own books, then moved to London after getting my first real job offer.
How did you go about getting finance to set up Shiny?
DP: It was a combination of personal savings and bank loans. It also helped that the first people I hired were all friends, too.
Back then, what was the average cost of development, and how has this changed through the years?
DP: Back then, development costs were about a quarter of what they are now, because the games were so much simpler – the development teams were much smaller. Now, when you're developing complex games for multiple platforms, with licensors taking their cut, you just can't compare the two. That being said, there's even MORE opportunity now, with all the free tools available on the Internet, for people to make independent games very cheaply.
Who did you look to for help when you were initially setting up? Was it friends, business associates or did you have any help whatsoever from government agencies?
DP: When you're first starting out, you need to make friends with lawyers, accountants, bankers and businesspeople, and learn all that you can from them. There's always an expert willing to help you. I also took a lot of classes on things like payrolls, accounting, etc. You need a great lawyer and a great accountant – you can't go far without someone to help you with the nuts and bolts.
What was your first hurdle when you set up Shiny?
DP: Trying to explain my great game idea to a bank manager. “Erm, I have a great-paying job, but I want to leave so I can make a game about a worm. Not just any worm, you know, but a worm in a CYBERNETIC suit! So, can I please have a gigantic loan to get started?”
What advice can you give to companies who wish to set up now?
DP: If a developer has a few years of experience under his belt, plenty of friends in the industry, and a game concept that they think will really work, there's no reason they shouldn't try to make the jump. On the other hand, it's certainly easier to stay where you are, and maybe even get your game developed from inside a larger company. Many people I know that start companies, end up in pain.
But if you have the passion, you must prepare yourself as best you can – learn everything you can about running a business. I'm talking about things like payroll, insurance, rent, purchasing equipment, etc. Those are the things that are most likely to trip you up.
A lot of developers ask about issues such as digital rights, copyright and other legal issues in relation to development. What advice can you give to companies setting up in relation to the legal aspects of game development?
DP: Get an attorney to help you. There's always an expert out there to help you if you pay them.
How have development methods changed with the arrival of new technologies? How has development changed in the last ten years, comparing developing for the SNES and nowadays the likes of Gamecube, Xbox and Playstation 2?
DP: At the bottom level, the process itself hasn't changed much – you still have programmers, artists and designers. But since the hardware is so much better, the games are more complex, and the teams are larger. That introduces so many more variables into the mix, so now you're focused on the production side of things, to make sure the entire team is moving in the right direction.
For students who are currently studying development courses, what should they focus on to have a chance to be employed within a company such as yours?
DP: People starting out shouldn't wait for their development courses to teach them everything. They need to get started right now with the games-related projects and free tools available on the Internet. Work on a Quake mod, or design your own Counter-Strike map. That's how you'll really learn how a game is put together, and that's really the kinds of experience that game developers are looking for.
Looking to the future, can you recommend any specific fields that students entering into third level should focus on to be in with a chance of developing in four or five years time?
DP: Students must realize that today, most people in the gaming industry don't have formalized “game design certificates.” There are schools that do that nowadays, but it's pretty rare. So, they should try to get as much real-world experience as possible. For more on this, they can visit my Web site, www.dperry.com , where I list software to learn, how to get started on projects, etc.
You have been an ambassador for the industry, often a keynote speaker at events such as E3 or the GDC. Where do you see the industry going over the next years?
DP: I think the next big step is for games to better incorporate the human element - things like voice recognition technology and games that spark an emotional response from people (fear, excitement, relief) that you see in good movies. The other thing is having game characters display true AI. Game characters that form sentences themselves. Characters that think, watch, learn and respond. That will change the current experience.
Dave Perry, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. It's always a pleasure to hear advice from such a notable person within the industry, and I appreciate having the chance to talk to you.
Also check out www.shiny.com/
Author Bio: Jamie McCormick is the former editor of the Irish Games website IrishPlayer.com, as well as a freelance writer for a number of magazines and sites around the country. He is currently studying Marketing in Dublin Institute of Technology. Check out his other article for gamedevelopers.ie last May.