[Laughs.] Okay, my name is Manuel Leal de Faria Chitas Correia. I am 28 years old. I am in Dublin, Ireland right now, and I think I stopped paying so much attention to games because I felt like I had been there before. I've saved the world so many times already and the universes and the genres don't seem to change.
Fantasy doesn't need to be all orcs and elves and sci-fi doesn't need to be all space marines killing aliens. So, there are a lot of games that I see that I just feel like I've just played before, sometimes are just sequels. There's some exceptions in indie games but they just -- I've been there before.
[Laughs.] And so you mentioned a narrowness in games in our emails that go back a little bit, stemming from some of the business models. You said they were "making games worse."
Yeah. I have been immersed in mobile games for the last two and a half years, and it was not a platform that I knew that well. So, as soon as I got into it I had to research.
I was asked to copy a lot of successful games and to understand why they were successful and I came to realize that in mobile, at least, the game doesn't matter. What really matters is how you keep people in, how you get your money via either ads or in-apps, and just trying to trick people into staying rather than just having this fun experience that they are curious about.
So you work in games?
You work in mobile. What do you do?
At the moment, I'm not. I just escaped from mobile and I don’t want to come back.
But I was involved in a lot of different games for mobile. Some were, like, puzzle games. I've had some physics-based puzzles, too. Platforming. Action. There was a management game. A war game.
So in those two years I saw a lot of different mobile games and they all did the same thing.
How did it become clear to you that those games were meant to keep people in the app or spending money rather than strictly just having fun? How was that objective conveyed to you?
[Laughs.] With real numbers. With analytics. So as soon as I got access to all the information about what people were doing in the games and how, and looking at it and trying to figure out how to keep them in, I suddenly noticed that they were not talking about the game or fun anymore. [Laughs.] They were just trying to keep people in and have them spend as much money as they could and those are not really design conversations.
What sort of conversations are they?
It's kind of hard to explain.
"Why are people leaving the game? We should give them something so they would stay."
Ah, a more complete example. Here. There was a moment where we had to choose our analytics platform and we interviewed a lot of different people related to that and they were pitching us their products. I had to listen to all of that, be in all the meetings, and I never heard about the games -- anything about the games. Just numbers.
I never heard anyone mention fun. It was just turning people into money.
Kind of like The Matrix scene where Morpheus is holding a battery. That's what I felt like I was watching.
But you also said you were thinking of maybe getting back more into games again.
Yes. But not mobile. At least, not what I describe as a mobile game. I'm becoming interested in games again, but not any freemium game. Not any game with social elements at all. I'm interested in getting lost in a game again because I miss that. There's been a lot of those that I didn't play or I wasn't interested at the time and now I am again.
Now I noticed that some of those types of games stopped happening and just came back, like some old-school RPGs. But I didn't notice they were missing, it's just that I wasn't looking at them anymore. So, good timing I guess.
You said in your email that because I have so many "high-profile" interviews that you're starting to get the feeling that what you have to say may not be relevant anymore.
And I'm not picking on you at all --
-- but I've noticed that so many people when they email me or when I talk to them about games, whether it be people who have conflicting thoughts about games or are re-thinking them or are losing interest or are thinking about maybe getting back into them.
But, I'm curious: Who is it you think is most qualified to give opinions on videogames?
That's a hard question.
Well, in my case I feel like I came from a very different background, of a country that has no game-development experience or industry, and I feel like there were a lot of people that were involved with games very early on and they may have had better preparation or education and they've been at it for a longer period and I always feel inferior to those people and those [who] have opinions that I think would be more valuable. So that's why I described my point of view as someone who has evolved in mobile and doesn't like it.
Have you ever run into the notion that you should have moved on from videogames by now or that you're too old for them?
I never felt too old for them, but I have felt like moving on. Yeah.
Have you ever run across pressure from anyone else or some sort of social expectation that, by now, certainly, Manuel should have put videogames down.
[Laughs.] Luckily, no.
My parents are very supportive, so that doesn't come from there. My girlfriend's very supportive as well. She likes games a lot and she works in games, too, so we speak the same language and there's no conflict there. And I'm basically surrounded by either people who play games or people who make games, so I think maybe my grandmother could have said something like that? But she doesn't. Because she doesn't really understand what I do.
I'm not sure my parents understand what I do, so I can relate.
What seems to be weird about the intersection of videogames and the Internet? Like, the way people talk about them, the types of people who talk about them. What seems strange to you?
I get the feeling that only the most passionate people are talking about it on the Internet. So that can change the way I perceive the reaction to a game that's come out. I think the people who are enjoying it are playing it instead of talking about it.
You just hear a lot of hate. And there's a lot of people who will never come across that information because they got the game in a store and they went home and played it and that's it.
So, I think only the people who really love and really hate games are talking about it online. I don't really trust the Internet for that reason.
[Laughs.] So two things come to mind. Do people in your circles out your way, do they live-tweet episodes of TV the first time they're on?
[Laughs.] Not with TV episodes, but there's a lot of live E3 tweeting.
And football. But I just turn that off.
It's become this cultural thing where some people can't just enjoy something, they have to let it be known that they’re enjoying something.
I've been seeing a lot of that with Mad Max, and I'm guilty of the same thing.
Well, and you also see a lot of having to let it be known that you really don't like a thing.
Yes. So, in my case, I usually recommend something I really like if I think it's really something that people will miss. So, even yesterday I remembered the game that I don't think a lot of people played, but it was great, which was called Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. I think it's one of the few steps forward in adventure games in the last 15 years and most people missed it.
This is kind of the problem with videogames in general, which is there is so much push on the next thing coming out. But look at something like LA Noire: Things that were so expensive and costly in many ways and there will be really gross mismanagement, and these stories will pop up about them, and then these games will come out, and it's almost like they get buried after review scores come out.
The next month you will not be hearing about LA Noire anymore.
Yes, that certainly happens. In that case for me I didn't play it at the time because I was in crunch and thought, "I'm not going to support this. I don't want to tell them that they should keep doing this with my wallet."
With LA Noire there was another thing: Rather than just the work conditions, which was important to me, basically a lot of people were just not mentioned in the credits. So, they set up another website just with the correct credits that I was looking for last week but it's gone.
How do you feel the game industry learns from its mistakes?
[Laughs.] Well, sometimes I don't think they realize the mistakes.
So I'm not sure that that happens. I don't know of any consequences of that LA Noire story.
Well, I don't think Brendan McNamara is working on that other game, The Whore of the Orient.
Oh, yeah. I haven't heard about that in years.
I think it's probably just another website that hasn't expired yet.
I don't know. Do you think there's more the games media could be doing to not just have games just disappear after they come out for these stories to be a bit more remembered or learned from. Like, we keep hearing "crunch is horrible, crunch is horrible," but what more do you think the games media could be doing to help improve the industry?
Oh, that's interesting. I hadn't ever really thought about it in those terms. Well, maybe visiting studios during development and talking to people while it's going on -- I know this sounds probably like I'm maybe being very naive, but I like hearing the people who are working on the game talking about the game. That doesn't happen very often.
So, usually, you'll have this studio head or project manager saying everything is great.
But that might not be, because I've seen that happen in studios where I was working and I didn't agree with what they were saying, but I couldn't talk. I don't think you hear from the people who are working on the game.
Why is it that way? Are people who work on games given media training even if you're told not to say anything? Are you directly told: Don't talk to anyone in the media? Why can't you talk?
No media training at all. For the most part, it’s like the media didn’t even exist other than for reviews. And for us, we’re always late so there’s no time to lose.
In the studios I worked in, the reasoning seemed to be that any distraction was bad, so talking to someone about the game goes out the window. I get it that In story-focused games you don’t want the plot to be out there, but I only worked in one of those.
That annoyed me a lot, because I was seeing really creative problem-solving that some people would enjoy reading about, but when I asked if I could write a devblog they refused. So I waited for the end of the project to ask if I could write a devblog and the same thing happened.
So, but speaking about games media: How much did sites, blogs, magazines, outlets, podcasts, and whatever impact what you were interested in when it came to videogames?
In the types of games I was interested in? I think I ended up consuming way more games-related media than games.
t depends on what I'm doing, but I listen to a lot of podcasts while working, and a lot of them happen to fall into games, just because of habit, and there are a few that I'm not sure why I keep listening to them. But I feel like I know the people who are talking, and it's almost like they're my friends. This sounds really sad as I'm thinking about it.
No it doesn't.
[Laughs.] But that means if I play one hour at home, then I listen to three hours during the day, there's a lot more podcast, a lot more gaming content going through my ears rather than through my eyes. [Laughs.]
Or your hands.
So, what do you notice, then, as far as trends and things that they will talk about or will not talk about? Of all the categories you've paid attention to.
I notice that not a lot of coverage goes to Kickstarter campaigns, and I completely understand why. But there are some things that I just didn't realize were happening that I could have backed. I understand that a lot of them are promises that might not happen.
There's also a lot of hype around big-budget games that I don't think is justified. I understand that a lot might be a result of a marketing campaign that is working well, but I've seen a lot of big AAA, open-world games that immediately look like something I have seen before with just a couple new things that I don't think are the second coming of videogame Christ.
But they are made to sound like it.
Do you have an example?
I didn't really want to point fingers.
You don't have to. That's not really what I'm asking for.
There is a company that is specializing in open-world action games that has been making a lot of really repetitive games in the last few years, which is --
Did they recently announce a new one?
Yes. They did. [Laughs.]
And there's also one specific brand of shooter that's been doing that. But I think they're trying to change. That's good.
What gives you the impression that they're trying to change?
I haven't played the games, but the themes that they are working on are different.
So, for a few years now there has been a really big focus on realism, which I'm not that interested in. But in stuff like -- I'm not sure if it's the latest or the previous Call of Duty, the one with the guy from House of Cards. The subject was a bit more futuristic and with a few more sci-fi elements in it that caught my eye. Not enough to play it, but at least I wasn't hearing a report on a war that was going on that I don't care about. It's just a chance to see new technology, new vehicles, new things that I don't know yet.
How do you define creativity in games?
Ah. Okay. [Laughs.] It's something that I think about a lot because my job is a game designer. So I need to know what that is. I struggled with this one for a long time, since a teacher once told me that it's not possible to have an original thought and I completely disagreed.
But now I do agree, and for me creativity is about combining what you know. So, it might be a mix of two things that haven't been mixed yet. So that's what I use to work. I don't think it's that easy to create a whole new genre of game just from thin air. But if you're under pressure, mixing two things that you know very well can work and has been working for me.
And I've taught in a couple of different creative disciplines and I would say and have said the same thing to students: There are no new ideas. But it's not meant as a challenge, which is I think the way many students hear that.
Which is like, "I'm going to show them how original I am!" And so what you end up with is unfocused gobbledegook. I think there's creativity, there's innovation, a word that's overused in games, but I think also just honesty about who you are and why you're making games. Even if the answer is something like, "I like noise," that's at least a point of view that's strong and specific and unique to the individual.
I agree. Well, in my case, in game-design terms, I would say that game mechanics are my vocabulary. So, that's what I use to talk and to express myself. That comes from seeing those things before. I don't consider this copying. It's not copying the entire game or anything like that, but you can use those things to make creative things that seem new. Sometimes it's just the theme.
I mean, Splatoon from Nintendo looks refreshing. And in terms of mechanics it's nothing new. But it's presented in a really different way that I think is really healthy.
Do you feel like we're seeing more honesty --
No, not really.
Do you think we're seeing less --
No, I think it's the same but there's a lot different ways and places you can hear about those things. Before the Internet, there was a game show on TV that I would watch and there were some game magazines that I would buy. Sometimes I was lucky and I could get some imported ones, which would tell me about games that I hadn't heard before. But now, there's just way more information everywhere.
So now people can pick a lot better.
That's also the reason why I keep listening to some of those gaming podcasts, because I get to the point where I know the people well enough that I don't take their words as fact. I know some reviews, I know where they come from and I know what kind of games that person likes. So I kind of expect them to either like or dislike this because of their own tastes.
So I know that I'm not into sports games. People would probably find it hard to convince me to play a sports game. But if someone that has similar tastes than me tells me I that I should try it, then maybe I will. So that's it. I feel like I know the people who are talking if I have been listening to them for a very long time, so their opinion matters more to me.
Is there a good variety of opinions and ideas about videogames online?
Yes, but sometimes you need to look for them. So, Twitter, for example is probably the biggest change there, so now I can directly follow the people who are working on the game and I can follow the development without any filters. But I would have to go there and follow them myself. I would probably not get that from a media website. So I think people, if they want, they can get better information.
When I really like a project or a team, I will probably follow them themselves rather than anything that's reporting on what they're doing.
Are there ways you don't feel included by videogames right now?
At this moment, yes.
Part is because of me and part is because of the way my life has led me to this specific moment. So right now, I don't have such a long commute that I can just count on that time to play. [Laughs.] I've been working long hours, So, that leaves me not a lot of time to play and some games just have extra blocks there, like mandatory logins or updates or sharing stuff in social networks, and I mention these because if I'm working that late, sometimes the only game that I can play is in my phone. And a lot of these are played with accessory things that I don't think make it any better.
So, at this point, I believe that there are games that I would rather be playing, but I don't have the time.
Do you feel like games are better now than when you were a kid? Do you think there's been any sort of shift in quality?
Quality might not be the best term. I think in some cases, some just haven't changed.
So, just for example, I played a lot of Pokémon Blue. When that was released, I caught everything you could get in that game. And I have very good memories about them. Sometimes I feel nostalgic about it and I might check one of the newer ones, and it just feels like the same game. The same core is there. It still works. It's still good. But I know how long that's going to take me to finish it, and I've done that before. So, I feel like someone that will start one of those games now might find a better game.
Now, I just find something too similar.
So, it's very hard to compare games now with games then because now I know a lot more about that type of game, I might have played some in the same franchise, and now I know more about how they're made and that loses some of the charm.
I've never asked a person who is ESL. Does the use of the word "franchise" in videogames seem odd to you at all?
No, not really. Even though my main language is Portuguese, we use the word "franchise" in that language, too.
Well, but how do you use the word "franchise" in Portuguese?
We usually use it to talk about a business. A shop, a restaurant chain.
But The Legend of Zelda is not Burger King.
I understand you're using the word because we used it first, but it always seemed weird to me and I don't know that you have to agree with me, but I hadn't thought about that in a while.
I usually use the word "series" instead of "franchise."
But is that because you're in the industry? Or did you use the word "series" before you worked in games?
I used the word "series" before I worked in games and I think that's because I was familiar with that word from movies and TV shows.
Do you find anything weird about the language that we use to describe games?
Yeah. The word "gameplay" is weird, especially in Portuguese. It's probably very hard to translate, but the word "gameplay" doesn't exist in Portuguese, so we use this translation that showed up, I think, in that game show I mentioned. Anyone who's not into games thinks it's a made up word. So, whenever I try to talk about it someone who doesn't know games, I try to avoid it.
What's the closest approximation you have for it in Portuguese?
So, you mean in English what I would be saying in Portuguese?
It would be something like "gameability." That's pretty much the closest I can get.
Because we don't talk about "bookread" or "musiclisten."
Yeah, yeah, just the term "gamer" is weird. I don't know what a "movier" or a "booker" is.
Well, there is "reader."
But a reader can be anyone, honestly, who is reading a book right now. Doesn't mean that they've always be reading books. Or you have a habit of it. Whereas I feel like I hear the word "gamer" and it refers very specifically to a subset of person now, when in reality I think it applies to everyone, if we're saying everyone plays games. Like, even going all the way back to ancient Egypt.
That's a word that's difficult for me to explain. I think that some people -- they don't want to give up the word acknowledge that it also kind of means something else right now.
But you live on the other side of the world from me. What does the word "gamer" seem to mean over there?
It's a word I don't use that much and I think recent years have given it a negative connotation. I think now it's associated with habits and some obsessions that I don't think I have, so even though I am surrounded by games I wouldn't call myself a gamer because I don't play them that much, I don't argue about them, I don't play them in any competitive way, and I don't have the latest generation of consoles.
A lot of people I talk to for this don't, but I don't know if that necessarily means anything. I think it means online you attract people who think similarly to you or completely opposite to you.
Do you have that perception? Or do you know a lot of people who don't own the current generation of consoles that you'd think would have.
Yes. Actually, I only know a couple people who have the latest generation of consoles, and one of them this week told me he was planning on selling it.
I think there were several things there. For example, in PlayStation and the lack of backwards compatibility. I still have a lot of PlayStation 3 stuff I want to play and I don't want to give that up to have the new one, which is more expensive. With some games that would also be on this one, I just don't -- if I have to give this one up to get the next one, then I just won't get the next one. I don't think there's enough exclusives that interest me there to do that swap.
Exclusives have kind of shifted to being the smaller titles. When I say "small," I don't mean the amount of work. I mean -- you know what I mean. But a lot of these smaller titles are also on PC. So, I'm honestly just struggling to see why do I need a PS4? Why do I need an Xbox One? I have an Xbox One, but the last time I used it was last year for an assignment.
And that's true of a lot of people I know who have Xbox Ones. They're not using it for assignments, but they haven't turned it on in a year.
I think the people that I know that upgraded to this next generation of consoles were the people who were most obsessed about the graphics.
How long can awesome graphics sustain --
Graphics are not what makes me want to play anymore unless they’re unusual. When there is a new style of graphics that makes me curious, like, Guacamelee for example. It's a refreshingly bright, Mexican-luchador theme like I have never played before. I didn't really know what the type of game it was when I saw it for the first time, but I was curious because it was something new.
Also that game is super-stylized.
Yes. It is. Yeah, I think the more realistic, the faster it is to get outdated or just weird, uncanny valley-looking.
I still think Wind Waker is one of the most gorgeous looking games ever made, and it was made, I think, over 10 years at this point.
We were talking earlier about the word "gamer." When you hear that word being used, what's something that comes to mind as missing from the full picture?
One thing that I have found from working in games and then looking at even board and card games is that people don't talk about the loneliness of just playing the game alone, at home. You finish the game and you have no one to celebrate with. I just got increasingly aware of that as I played and I don't think that most online games fix it that well.
Even though there's someone there, I think that just the human contact of looking at someone and having a reaction back is really important. I started feeling like I was spending too much time away from people, personally. And I don't hear a lot of people mentioning that.
Yeah, that's the one of the main things for me. Yeah. "You should play GTA5." Yeah, sure, but I don't want to shut off everyone so I can do that.
So what happened that made lose interest in videogames, then? Was it the loneliness?
The main thing was probably starting to work in the industry. I had to work long hours, sandwiched by a long commute, and after the initial rush I noticed I wasn’t spending any time with people anymore. I mean, I was surrounded by people all the time, but we weren’t interacting.
After spending all day sitting down and looking at a monitor, the last thing I wanted to do when I got back home was to do the same.
Do you feel like there are certain conversations you just can't have with other people who make videogames about videogames?
Sometimes I bring up the topic of board-game design and mechanics to other designers. I’ve found there’s a ton of interesting mechanics and player dynamics that we could bring into videogames, but most designers around here don’t seem to know about it or care.
It doesn’t stop me from starting a conversation, but if they don’t care it doesn’t go anywhere.
Why do you think this happens, though, that people can be so interested in videogames and then lose interest?
As people get older, priorities change. A couple of my more avid gamer friends got married and suddenly they didn’t care about games anymore. They even sold their gear to prove their devotion but now and then they ask me what’s going on in games and which console they should get. Again. So I think it’s a phase.
In my case, I look for escapism in games and I don’t get that if all of them look like other games I’ve played before, or take place in similar environments.
I guess it's true that games are no different than movies or books in the sense that you go through seasons of paying attention or being immersed in them. But how do videogames seem different or apart in the way that people lose interest in them?
I believe there’s a social aspect to games where people talk more about what they’ve played or are currently playing. I don’t really notice if a person stopped watching a movie or a TV show, but I can notice if any of my friends have taken a break from games.
That might also be a cultural thing, since you mentioned the TV show live-tweeting.
In the time you were losing interest in videogames, what did you do with that time instead?
I was making them! I was also discovering all the good things that have happened in board games over the last 15 years. They still gave me everything I craved from videogames, but they also gave me a whole range of social interaction I hadn’t realized I was missing.
To be honest, I found it hard to go back to videogames because the experience felt too linear, constrained and lonely.
Right. And going back to your point about loneliness, I think most people don't want to sit and ponder their mortality after saving an entire galaxy. But, well, not all games are about that. What are things smaller than galaxies you save or accomplish in videogames? Don't say saving princesses.
[Laughs.] It's not about saving all the time.
What is it about?
I have been more immersed in card and board games lately, and a lot of them are just about running something effectively or getting the most riches. Which I don't think it's that much better from saving something in a game.
It's saving money.
It's saving money, yeah. Some are refreshingly co-op, and it can be about saving each other.
I don't know. Do you know who Louis C.K. is?
He did that bit about texting -- I guess he did a couple. But he did one about sitting in his car deciding at a red light not to send 50 texts, "Hi." He makes this point that life's kind of an amazing thing where you can feel so alone in a moment and you realize you are connected to a lot of other people, and it helps you appreciate it way more without having to call attention to it.
I agree. Especially because I had to move away from my country to keep working in games. So I don't have a lot of people that close to me around me here.
I think in some ways, though, games can connect us even if it is in a way that we think it can't. In our case, it's skepticism or questioning about them. We're not on Twitch, we're not on a message board, we're not watching each other stream. I think games can connect us in some way.
I feel like the types of connection that games have historically offered have been different.
I agree. I find it much easier to talk to someone who has that in common with me. If I am talking to some of my school friends who just became bankers, it's like I am talking in a different language. Even if I'm talking in Portuguese!
Normally I end by asking if you feel videogames are less creative, but I can tell by what you've been saying that you don't think that.
No, I don't know. I just know that I am bombarded with so much information about so many new, different games that sometimes I can get jaded if it just seems like something I've seen before. Also, from being in game-development communities, I see a lot of people remaking the same things over and over again, sometimes it's just because they're learning, and sometimes it's just because they played something and think, "I can fix it." So they make it 90 percent the same and 10 percent different. But I think I'm just -- I’m bombarded with so much information about games that sometimes I feel like I don't need to play them.
There's some games that I know so much about that when they're released, that I feel like I've seen it already.
Some games can still surprise you. I remember the twist from Spec Ops: The Line surprising almost everybody. But that's probably very deliberate.
You talked about being jaded and now you're starting to get interested again. What makes you hopeful for videogames again?
One thing that's different for me is that for the first time I'm living with my girlfriend and now I'm looking at experiences we can share. So, there are some games that I might have overlooked at the time that could be a nice thing to do together. Which is something I didn't have before, so I didn't have that drive. That's one of the reasons.
Also, that drives me to maybe replay again some things that I really liked and that I want to show to her, but I know she's not going to play, so maybe I'll play them myself.
In another side of the spectrum, there are a lot of really weird small games that I am curious about.
Another part of it is also -- I've been feeling that I've been spending so much time connected to the Internet and being in chats and work -- my work is also on the Internet -- that turning off everything sounds really good. And playing on a console is a way to turn off my computer and just look at it hours later. So, it goes back to escapism, and I'm not sure if escapism with my girlfriend is still called escapism. [Laughs.] But we would both be going somewhere else for a while.