With their latest title, Agents of Mayhem, finally out in the wild, Project Design Director and Executive Producer Anoop Shekar and Greg Donovan, finally had a moment to down tools, take a long deep breath and talk to us about the games that have shaped them as professionals in the gaming industry.
The pair have almost 40 years of industry experience between them, working on every major release from the company dating all the way back to classic gems like Summoner, Red Faction and Saints Row.
With all that behind them, we thought we’d sit the down side by side and see how much their taste in games have differed over the years.
1. What was the first game you remember playing?
Anoop: Probably Pac-Man at my local arcade – but I was exposed to a lot of games early on in life. I remember my parents bought an Atari 2600 for our family, even though I had no idea what it was. I just thought it was awesome that you could play a game on a TV and have it respond to what you were doing. I was fascinated by video games from as far back as I can remember, but never dreamt that you could make a career at them until much later in life.
Greg: The first video game I remember playing is Pong. Well, I have a very slight and hazy memory of playing it – I was very young. I’m pretty sure it was a table-top version, presumably in some restaurant that we used to go to. I also distinctly remember playing Space Invaders in a stand-up cabinet shortly thereafter. Then the flood gates opened and pretty soon the whole coin-op arcade craze came in a giant wave. Space-Invaders, Defender, Robotron – they all made a lasting impression on me and I think I would be embarrassed by the amount of money I fed into those machines.
We also had an Atari 2600. The first console game I remember is Combat (I think it shipped with the console). Like the arcade games, that and many others that followed would command hours of my youth.
2. What was the game that made you want to be a developer?
Anoop: I don’t know if there was one particular game. As I said, I had no idea that I could even get into the video game industry until I was in college. My brother broke in first and it really opened my eyes. Once I saw that I started looking at the games I was playing in a different light and learning about what made them work. That ended up putting me on the path into the industry.
That said, I was really blown away by Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I loved the NES/SNES versions of those franchises and I was awed by the fact that they were able translate these iconic 2D experiences in to 3D and maintain still their feel while at the same time broadening their horizons.
Greg: While I was in grade school, I used to draw black and white, 2D static images of game scenes. Usually these drawings were side-scrolling shooters, influenced by the likes of Defender, Lifeforce, Scramble, and Vanguard. So I suppose those games were the prime early influencers… or at least the first games that set me towards a career in game development insofar as those drawings were the first towards making my own game.
I wasn’t quite smart enough to realize there were real jobs to be had creating these wonderful experiences – for both arcade and early console games. It wasn’t until after college and some post-grad work that moved into the games industry.
3. What the game you wish you had made?
Anoop: I wish I had had the privilege of working on Half Life. After college, I took a break from video games while I focused on some other efforts. When I finally came back to them, Half Life had just released and I was blown away.
Never had I experienced such an immersive, interactive narrative – it was jaw-dropping, and became my major source of drive and inspiration when I got into development. I cannot count how many times I’ve played that game and I believe it still holds up today.
Greg: I really wish that I could have worked on Dark Souls. I’d played a bit Demon’s Souls when it came out, but the structure of the world and levels made it difficult for me. When Dark Souls came out, though, I put a lot more effort into it and I quickly fell in love. I’m not generally a gamer that thrives on challenge but something about the design of Dark Souls really speaks to me.
I wish I’d been involved in creating such an uncompromising vision for a game and actually following through with it. This was at a time when games tended to be much more forgiving and guided you through an experience. Dark Souls eschewed all of that and taught me that there is no correct answer or single way of doing things when it comes to design: your choices should depend on the kind of experience you’re trying to create.
4. What was the last game that made you rethink the medium?
Anoop: Agents of Mayhem, of course! As a developer, it would be irresponsible to not consider how the game you’re working on “fits” into the current zeitgeist. What are players expecting these days? Does your game meet those expectations? How does your game stack up through a variety of lenses: features, immersion, innovation?
To put it another way, every time I start to believe I understand how to help teams make games, some new expectation or innovation emerges and it’s necessary to stop and think about whether or not you game is, or should be, taking advantage of it.
Greg: Diablo 3. I didn’t really play too much when it first came out but I was aware of the negative reactions and the frustration of the player base. Despite setbacks though, it sold well. The developer could have easily moved on to the next thing, but they decided to keep going and improve the game – to redeem goodwill among their fans.
Over the course of the five years they’ve changed and added so much that it’s hard to believe. Blizzard’s commitment to the game made me think much more about what a game looks like when it’s released versus what it could be at the end of its life cycle.
5. What was the last game soundtrack you whistled in the shower?
Anoop: Regrettably, I’m not a game sound-track guy (apologies to all the audio-designers and composers out there!). While game soundtracks can be extremely iconic and sound design an integral part of executing against the player experience, I really to listen to game music outside of games!
Greg: I really love the music you hear whenever you finish a combat encounter in Persona 5. It’s got such a cool groove to it and I find myself humming it throughout the day. The Persona games have a lot of style and Persona 5 really takes it to the next level.
6. What was the last game you saw the end credits for?
Anoop: Agents of Mayhem! Developers (understandably) want to make sure their efforts are properly reflected in the game’s end credits. When you have hundreds of people working on a title, it takes many, many iterations before you’re able to get them exactly right – but it’s important.
Greg: I recently completed the main story for Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood. Before that, I hadn’t really played many MMOs. I’d tried a lot, but nothing ever stuck more than a few months. At this point, Final Fantasy XIV is probably my most played game of all time and I’ve come back to repeatedly since it’s relaunch.
I can’t point to any specific thing that works for me, but I think it does a great job of telling a compelling story, has engaging systems and makes great use the Final Fantasy universe – which I am very fond of.
7. What’s your favourite multiplayer game?
Anoop: I’ve had a blast playing LEGO games with my kids: Marvel Super Heroes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Harry Potter Collection. It’s been great to experience gaming with my kids now that they’re old enough to play and appreciate them.
Greg: Going back to the answer above, Final Fantasy XIV is probably my favourite multiplayer game. I’m not much of a competitive gamer and when I do play with other people, I prefer a co-op setting. Final Fantasy XIV does a great job of not only letting you play with friends but also making a fun and safe environment for playing with strangers too.
Read more in the My Life in Games series:
- Robotron 2084, Smash TV, Nex Machina pioneer Eugene Jarvis picks his favourite titles
- Prey lead designer Ricardo Bare picks his top titles
- The Witcher 3’s Konrad Tomaszkiewicz picks his favourite PlayStation titles
- Elite Dangerous’ creator David Braben on his favourite titles
- Tarsier Studios’ Dave Mervik picks his all-time favourite titles