Friday, February 08, 2008

The Adam Sessler Interview

Sorry, Morgan Webb not included - Late last week I spoke with G4TV’s Adam Sessler. As usual when we talk I found him to be very funny, direct and blurting out big words that I didn’t understand. While he treaded lightly on some topics, he gave me his take on casual gaming, gave even more love to Cooper Lawrence and managed to use the phrase “Orwellian” in proper context – all in one interview.
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TT: Last time we talked was at E3 and you were pretty excited about the holiday releases. Which games blew you away and which ones were you trading in the next day?
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AS: On the whole most of them did blow me away and actually I was more surprised by the ones that surprised me that I didn’t expect to. Obviously, for everyone, the most amazing was BioShock. I didn’t expect anything as unique and rich as the game actually turned out to be. I’ve come back to play it I don’t know how many times because there’s enough of a unique sensation that you start to miss it. I just want to get back into the game and get back to Rapture.
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I think the biggest surprise for me was Assassin’s Creed, I never thought that the game wasn’t going to be good but I didn’t think it would be so unique. The combat system itself is deceptively simple but it builds up into something really visceral and satisfying, something that I haven’t used in that kind of melee combat in I don’t know how long.
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I’m trying to think of stuff that really didn’t blow me away, I think the biggest one was Crysis. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the game but outside of the basic graphical wow factor it didn’t have any kind of innovation on the level some of the other shooters that we saw coming out at the later part of last year. It just didn’t hold my attention the same way.
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TT: Casual gaming seems to be the next big thing, what about it makes it so attractive to developers and do you think hardcore gamers can embrace it or just consider casual gamers noobs?
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AS: There are some hardcore gamers who are going to get on a soap box with what I call the “Red Hot Chili Pepper” factor. You don’t want to share it for fear that it will dilute the quality. I don’t believe that whatsoever, even though I do think the Chili Peppers started to suck once everyone started liking them. I think casual games do have a place and a large part of their appeal is based on the fact that its not as much of an investment on your time. If you don’t have the kind of schedule or mental commitment to really put yourself into a game that you have to learn, get better at, and is going to last a long period of time, you can still get a lot of satisfaction by playing games like Calling All Cars or Geometry Wars. These types of games are immediately satisfying and isn’t something that you have to grow into, but still have a fairly addictive quality. I do think there are a large group of hardcore gamers who are more than happy to pick these up. They probably want ones that show a little more pop and creativity because just as with any other entertainment medium, for all of these good ones you’ll get games not as well thought out, or easy copies of existing games. When you look at the release of Rez HD, that’s definitely going to get people to look at an area on PSN or Xbox Live Arcade to look at other games because every gamer worth his salt knows you should be playing Rez.
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TT: Despite being a multi-billion dollar industry, gaming gets about as much respect as Britney Spears' parenting. What does the industry have to do to be viewed with the same regard as the big three of movies, TV and film?
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AS: I think the game industry just has to wait around until all of the heads of the predominant newspapers and news channels die and young people take their place. After watching the Bioware/Mass Effect thing, and you probably caught some of my more thoughtful words on the subject, it was really just a hopeless thing. They are playing to an audience that is older and seems to live off of a sense of fear and anxiety on things they don’t understand and games fall into that perfectly. I’ve always used this analogy – in the early 1950’s Dr. Wertham wrote the book Seduction of the Innocent which made the exact same claims about comic books that they’re making about video games today. We look at that as an anachronistic piece of pop psychology on how silly we were back then. Fortunately it’s just a matter of time until you get people to really see gaming for what it is.
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TT: The alleged ouster of longtime Gamespot writer Jeff Gerstmann for his negative review of Kane and Lynch has brought up the very serious topic of ethics in gaming journalism. What are the short and long term effects on every reviewer’s credibility?
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AS: It’s an interesting question because the entire situation kind of kept me up at night, it took me aback. I for one don’t believe that there are enough facts to really come to the conclusion that everyone sort of jumped to initially. I’ve been doing this for so long, I find accusations that someone is on the take to be very, very severe, even though its been said rather whimsically on the internet. I don’t believe there are people like that. It would have to be a very certain minded mercenary to take money, and most people come into this job doing it out of a sense of enthusiasm. I don’t really see that corrupting influence really coming down the pike. Granted people who have reviews run a business but they also run the risk of compromising all that the business built itself up to be by allowing that to happen. Call me an idealist but I don’t think this is widespread. When it does become a problem is on the internet, which sometimes gives a voice to those we never wanted to hear from. The way in which suppositions about guilt and the way in which everything is black or white is so prevalent in online discussions and many blogs, that a situation like that never gets the sober minded treatment that it probably should. It really can hurt careers, it can hurt reputations, it can hurt legitimate businesses. It’s one of those things that on X-Play I’d like to try and get in front of those conversations before they get so out of control by people who aren’t really in a position to be passing judgments.
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I do think there is an error to CNET’s claim that they are not allowed to discuss these situations of internal procedures and their employees out of a respect for privacy. Many companies have that, and granted they had something of a public persona in Jeff Gerstmann, but if that is their policy it seems like they’re using that to hide behind what seems like such an odious crime – it’s just not fair. Legitimate reporting, legitimate investigation would have had to acknowledge that that was a fact and not just jump to conclusions.
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TT: On a recent episode of X-Play you took Fox News word vomiter Cooper Lawrence to task for her sight unseen take on the sex scene from Mass Effect, something even Jack Thompson has been quoted as saying he had no problem with, and you used big words like "demagogue" and "simpleton". While I have no clue what those words mean, do you feel the frequent backlash gaming receives from people with no gaming experience makes it akin to rock and roll in the 50's or rap in the 80's?

AS: Completely. It’s a new language and all they know is that young people seem to be deriving something from it that they don’t understand it and it scares them. Any kind of influence that isn’t under the control or comprehension of the powers that be becomes demonized, it’s a way to retain their power. It may be an Orwellian, political, way of looking at it but its coming out of the same source – its unknown and its worrisome. That’s why 30 years from now I believe we’re all going to look back and have a good chuckle. Unfortunately because we have a 24-hour news cycle and it was a slow news day, Fox was looking for some filler and their philosophy is – “if it gets the old people worried, we’re going to put it on the air.” That kind of cynical treatment of video games is just obnoxious. They used to say rock music was going to make you have orgies and as much as I like to think that’s what it did, I have a feeling it didn’t. I know for a fact it didn’t do it for me.
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TT: There have been some sizable studio mergers/acquisitions/hostile takeovers recently. Do you see this becoming a continuing trend and is this good or bad news for gamers?
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AS: I think it will be a trend, smaller studios are going to have a harder time competing and in order to survive they’re going to need to join forces with a larger organization. In terms of whether or not it’s a good thing, I don’t 100% know. I think for some smaller studios they’d get all the marketing muscle and the promotion and the funding that could really help turn their profits into what it should be. But at the same time, with these large mergers, sometimes it gives you a little bit of pause. Big companies are usually involved in franchises tied to comic books and movies, stuff that looks on paper as the easy sell, but really don’t end up being the best product.
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With big mergers there are a lot of unique IP’s of great value that could really turn into the next Assassin’s Creed but maybe get lost in the shuffle because on paper it doesn’t have those marketable qualities.

TT: This year E3 will again be journalists only. Is this the best thing for E3, or has it lost its luster because of other conventions (GDC, CES, etc.), the Christmas Eve-like excitement the fanboys brought and the sad disappearance of the booth babes?

AS: There’s two different Adam’s. There’s the Adam that’s there for the television production side, who loves crowds and all the flashing lights and nuttiness that makes for a beautiful backdrop. I think there’s going to be more of that this year than last because everybody will be under one roof. On the other side is another Adam, the journalist and reporter who really was absolutely fed up 2 years ago because it was so unmanageable. It wasn’t allowing me to do my job and at the same time game companies were hurt in the process. There was a point a couple of years ago when you had the PS3 launching and the Wii launching and you think, “look at all the millions of dollars spent on all these other things, it might have served them better to dump a couple of million back into their marketing budget to try and tell people about their products so they’d buy it, rather than just doing it so we as press wander into their booth”.
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TT: What about the booth babes? You have to be disappointed by that. Last year I only saw one, at the Eidos booth for Conan.
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AS: You know I have a thing about booth babes and I got this from Cliff Bleszinski who said this to me years ago. When you travel to France and you go see the Eiffel Tower you make sure you take your picture next to it. Why? Because you want to document it since you are rarely next to the Eiffel Tower. So what does it mean when you have to wait in line to get yourself photographed next to a beautiful woman?
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TT: Point taken. And for the record, I only took a picture OF the booth babe, I didn’t take it with her. Alright Adam, lets look into your G4TV crystal ball, and don't say you don't have one because I know they issue it to you. Do you ever see a day when gamers are buying a WiiStation 360? You know, a 1 console world?
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AS: I don’t think its feasible. I’ll get on a soapbox on this one because I completely know where Dennis Dyak and Jaffe are coming from on this (Silicon Knights boss Dennis Dyak and game designer David Jaffe have previously stated in separate interviews that they believe a one console world will happen). On one level if everyone had that base taken care of, all the money you’d spend on R+D just to build the base technology could be put into the creative manipulation of the game and into all of the fun parts that really affect the game play and not how it looks and how it balances. At the same time it would remove a level of competition that probably is far more responsible for some of the great games we see and what resulted in what was so cool at the end of 2007. Both have benefits but both have severe deficits as well.
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TT: Last year was a redonkulously big year for the gaming biz but this is 2008. What will be the huge titles on each console this year and what are the sleepers?
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AS: I think there’ll be more big games this year than last year, or at least it comes across to me that way because they’re not all happening in a one month period. I know the last time I did an interview with you I was just complaining about the November smash up. There are so many games that are going to be big. For the PlayStation 3, the buzz at the beginning of this year has been high for Turok. That game might make people sit up and take notice. On the 360 Ninja Gaiden 2 is probably going to be a big hit but I think we’re going to see something big we don’t even know about yet. The only one I wonder about is the Wii. They’ll have played Zelda, Mario and Smash Bros. but what are we going to get later in the year that’s going to blow people away.
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For some sleepers, we just had Prototype on the show and I’m a huge, huge fan of that game. I think the concept behind it is really very cool. The other one, also from Sierra, is Brutal Legend. The kind of buzz Shafer (Tim Shafer created Pscyhonauts and was a longtime LucasArts employee) has swimming around this game is pretty stunning and when you know the creative guy behind it, you can’t wait to get your hands on it. There are so many others out there that when every time I start looking at the roster I start just drool. I’m looking forward to Too Human as well.
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TT: The people want to know - What games are you playing right now?
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AS: I just finished up playing Turok but can’t tell you what I thought because I haven’t reviewed it yet. I enjoy playing No More Heroes, I love that game. That game has more crazy ideas that actually work than any game I’ve seen in a long time. That’s about it right now. Of course because of my job, most days I don’t even play games, I just go home and stare at the wall because I need something that isn’t interactive.
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coloradojoemail@yahoo.com

4 comments:

Eli the Mad (Beer) Man said...

GREAT interview with Adam! I've got more to talk about, but just wanted to throw that out there. You can interview man! It takes skill to come up with clever, interesting questions - something I cannot do. Great stuff! More later. Busier than a 1-armed paper hanger. ;)

FrostyMelon said...

Good read.

Bioshock - GREAT game. I need to get back around to finishing it up.

Eli the Mad (Beer) Man said...

Hahaha... I'm with ya, Frosty. GREAT game. Great story, great immersion, great world. I want more of it. Plus, I'm right at the end too, just need to finish 'er off.

More coming. It's been an insanely busy week.

Hey Terry... how was the trip to Denver?

Terry "coloradojoe" Terrones said...

The trip got moved to March, I mentioned that in a post