Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Adam Sessler Interview

After hanging out with Morgan Webb, I had a conversation with her “X-Play” co-host Adam Sessler. Adam is a TV vet, having been on the mound covering games for 9 years. Its always hard to tell what a person is really like when watching them on TV but I found Adam to be easy going, self-deprecating, witty and in need of therapy for his gaming addiction. Adam talks just like he does on the show, with the same inflection, cadence and level of excitement. I found this very interesting. We talked about the new E3, how those quick 2-minute reviews are made and the Fall releases.
TT: I’m going to start with the same question I asked your partner…but in reverse. What’s it like working with Morgan Webb?
AS: Its great. She knows TV, she’s a good friend, she knows games. Half the time the conversations you see us have on camera would be the very same ones we’d have off camera. Its that comfortable of a relationship. I find that she has many an interesting thing to say, and that I have many an interesting thing to say. It works out well.
TT: Morgan told me you knew each other before you worked together.
AS: We were both at TechTV, she was on the “Screen Saver” show and I was doing “Extended Play”. When we were creating “X-Play”, we were looking for someone else to do it with me and Morgan was the obvious choice.
TT: Tell me about this E3, what do you think of the new format?
AS: There’s two sides to me. There’s the side of me that’s actually on television, in television production, and then there’s the side of me that’s the games writer. The writer in me loves it because you can move around and get your hands on a game without having to wait for people. It used to be really hard to maneuver, be able to see things and was really chaotic and there was this sense of exhaustion because of the noise. Here you feel like you’re seeing the game more. If there’s a drawback as a journalist, what the old E3 did provide by having everything in one place was even if you didn’t have games that were on your beat, you left with a nice comprehensive view of where the game industry was going in the next year. I think now because everything is so segmented at the hotels, if its not something you’ve been given to cover, its segmented a lot of our knowledge. The TV guy in me, because I’m here a lot more at the hanger and not at the hotels as much, doesn’t see as much of the noise, the crowd, the pomp and circumstance which makes for really, really good television. Not that we don’t have that now because there are so many good games that we’re covering, but it added a level of energy that I know affected me a lot and just made it kind of exciting.
TT: I’ve found that I’ll miss a lot of things because I just don’t have the time.
AS: Exactly and that kind of sucks. But even at the regular E3, someone would say “Did you see that game?” and then it was over and you couldn’t see it because of the crowds.
TT: How do you get into games?
AS: The Atari was pretty ubiquitous back in 1982. Of course I didn’t have one so I had to make friends with people I didn’t like so I could play the games at their houses. Then I got a Nintendo system with Super Mario Bros. and I got to choose my own friends. That was really cool. I always played games when I was young but when I went to college I fancied myself a writer and had to do serious things which precluded me from playing games. Then I moved to San Francisco and I was not doing anything with games. I was in banking, which I don’t recommend to anybody. But I was doing some comedy stuff with friends on public access, and then through a chain of friends a gentleman named Trent Morris, who was helping to put together a show called Game Spot TV for the brand new ZDTV, called me up and said “Hey, would mind trying out for this?” I did and got the gig. And I’ll concede right now, I was not the biggest gamer in the world when that happened. But its very easy when someone says, “Now you have to play a lot of games all the time right now and talk about them on TV” and then you do. That was nine years ago and I just had an anniversary, my first show that aired was on July 4th 1998.
TT: So it wasn’t anything that you really had planned?
AS: No, I just kind of went to the audition and assumed I wasn’t going to get it. I think because I didn’t care, the audition went well. I’m very glad it did.
TT: How much of your job is writing and how much of it is TV production?
AS: It vacillates from time to time, I love doing a lot of writing. I always try to review as many games as I can. Sometimes I have to temper that, knowing that with my time schedule, I may not have enough focus time to play some of the more involving games. I write a lot for the show, not as much as when I’m working on other projects but there are points in time when I write a lot, and points in time when its not as much.
TT: Who chooses whose doing what game? Is there a lot of arm wrestling going on for favorite titles?
AS: Yes. More or less the person who sees it coming down the pike and speaks the loudest the earliest usually gets it. Granted if I really want something I’ll sort of reach in from above and pull it out. Assuming Morgan doesn’t want it.
TT: The game reviews you guys do on “X-Play” are quick and informative. How do you condense a game into such a short amount of time?
AS: I’m glad you asked that because for many aspects of the game industry it would be good to know. The game comes out, we get the game, and we prefer to have one of our staff play the game, but that isn’t always how it goes, so we have a whole secondary staff out there that plays the game and does the written review of that game. That review then comes back to us, with the game, and then we have a producer who works to take the information, after we’ve edited it and put in our feelings about it as well, and we attach the footage. We want to get footage that is representative of both the pros and cons that are in the game. It takes us a little longer than some people realize because we’re a little more meticulous about showing the right parts of the game to what we’re saying about it. We don’t want to show the opening levels because those are not usually indicative of how the game is to be played. We want to show the variety of the game and if there are flaws we want to get the flaws by legitimately by capturing them and showing them when we’re saying it. The same thing applies when there is something awesome in the game, we want to get to that. So by the time replay the game we have an eye of what its going to look like on-camera. Then its all edited down and I put the voice track in there and then its done.
I feel that its essential that if we’re saying it, we’re going to show it and I think that’s what really helped developed the integrity and the respect that the various shows have gotten over the years. You’re not just going to take our word on it, we’re going to demonstrate if there is an issue or a benefit to the game.
TT: How long does it take in hours to create a 2-minute review?
AS: If you’re playing a game through you could be looking at about 20+ hours but it differs from game to game. A puzzle game? Very short, you might be talking about four hours because you’re not going to get that much variety so you can quickly capture what the game is all about. But one of the things we’ve been talking out is, ‘How are we going to do Mass Effect?’ Here’s this game of immense variety and complexity - that could take 30 hours, so it is on a per game basis. On average? I’d say 12-15 hours.
TT: What games are you personally playing right now?
AS: “Ninja Gaiden Sigma”, before that I was re-playing the regular “Resident Evil 4” on my Wii but not the Wii version. Its been such an awful, awful drought. Finally Sigma came out and I realized that I’d gotten better. Or the games got easier, I don’t know which yet. I want to think better.
TT: What games are you looking forward to?
AS: I’m looking forward to so much. My wife called after watching the show yesterday and inquired if maybe she should just leave the house for the entire month of November. This all of a sudden gives me a great sense of panic because there’s so many games coming out and so many that I want to play. Not just because of the show but because I personally want to play them. Every single big game – “Uncharted”, “Heavenly Sword”, “Folklore”, obviously “Halo 3” and “Mass Effect”. “Mass Effect” I wish they would push into next year because that thing is just going to upend the apple cart. “Super Mario Galaxy” I have got to play, “Super Smash Bros.”, “Call of Duty 4” and “GTA 4”. I want to play “Bioshock”, I have to play “Bioshock”. Its really overwhelming. These are all things I care about but maybe I’ll feel like I’ll hurt the games feelings if I play one and not others. I’ve done that before where I’ve got three games I really want to play and I’m so lost I just go back to an old game and play it. I don’t want to have to make the decision of which one I want to play first.
TT: I know you’re running out of time so lets wrap things up. Do you have a preference when it comes to consoles?
AS: On the whole because I have all of them, it comes down to the game. Over the past year I have leaned more heavily on the Xbox 360. Having said that I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore. I am very impressed with the first party games coming out of Sony. I think they are very well made, I think they offer something interesting. I just like those games. I still very much like the first party games coming out of Microsoft and for the Wii but soon there will really be enough original content coming out among the three consoles that I really don’t have a favorite. But when it comes to consoles at the moment, I probably defer a little bit more to the 360 because of Achievement Points. I have enough racked up. (How many?) I’m not going to say, its not as high as people think.


Anonymous said...

It seems like everybody feels the same coming out of E3. That it was good that the invitees were reduced but bad that things were so spread out. I have heard early rumors that they may move E3 to Vegas because it is perfectly built to accomodate the problems better then the la/santa monica area.

Terry "coloradojoe" Terrones said...

Adam pretty much echoed the feelings of every journalist there - nice to get hands on time without fighting people off, crappy that it wasn't centralized. In a recent E3 feedback questionnare the ESA sent to attendees earlier this week, they asked about different sites. Santa Monica, LA, San Diego and San Francisco were on a list but I don't remember seeing Vegas. Although that would be cool.

Eli the Mad (Beer) Man said...

Funny you should be talking about this. GameDaily Biz just broke this story: