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Exclusive Interview: Adam Parsons (Part 2 of 2)
by Chris Hawke

This is Part 2 of our interview with Adam Parsons. Make sure not to miss the first part.

We conclude our interview with the ex-Codemasters man by asking him about his personal experiences, the life of a developer, and his thoughts on the future of gaming consoles.

Adam Parsons was Executive Producer at Codemasters' Action Studio for over twelve years. Before leaving the company at the beginning of August for new horizons, Adam was kind enough to give Gamer's Guide to an exclusive interview about everything gaming; the industry as a whole, his personal challenges, and some tantalising hints about his next project.

If there were one thing, process, person, or trend you could remove from games development altogether, what would that be, and for what reason?

Actually, that is very difficult. I’m torn between inaccurate estimates, excessive crunch, and test. If everything worked and there were never any bugs, ever, I’d probably remove test (on the basis that it all worked). If everyone estimated with 100% accuracy, that would make my job much easier.

The reality though is I would remove excessive crunch. There is no reason for excessive crunch. Some crunch, yes, in moderation, as we all want to improve and iterate, and this can take longer than estimated. After all, estimates are just that! Planning a project in a non-realistic time scale, with a similarly unrealistic quality expectation, is just ludicrous.

Developers are the talent; they produce the goods. It is not just one man or woman leading any discipline; it is the whole team that delivers a successful title. Of course, I’m aware that budgets have to be met, but we should all be treated fairly for the work we do, and if something needs to be improved beyond expectation, adequate time should be given to it, or realistic reward for crunch time. My heart goes out to developers such as Kaos Studios who endured crunch, and who were rewarded with closure of the studio.

Is the current climate encouraging or discouraging developers from taking risks?

For the indies and start-ups that don’t often have that much to lose, that results in some great titles. Joe Danger, for instance; four talented guys, just focussed on a fun game without interference. And it shows.

For bigger publisher/developers, the title has to be turned into a franchise, and not become a one-hit wonder, so the pressure to take risks is immense. Relying on tried and tested formulas can result in franchise fatigue and ultimately the demise of a developer/publisher. Look at Black Rock Studio and Bizarre Creations; two established and experienced studios producing some outstanding games. Both took a risk on refreshing the racing genre, and both closed.

But our industry is all about high-risk and high-reward, and we'll will continue to invest in new IPs even though it’s a challenge; consumer appetite for new stories and experiences needs to be satisfied.

When could we see a 'PlayStation 4' or 'Xbox 720' announcement? What sort of innovations will they bring?

The consoles are feeling their age now, so late 2012 or early 2013 feels about the right time for the industry to prepare for the transition.

I have a wish list more than inside information regarding innovations. They’ll be two parts; innovation and catch-up.

For the catch-up, built-in Kinect and or controller motion support, and all the relevant network services, such as cloud storage, social connection and platform connectivity.

Scalability to adopt new services and social integration will be key, but far simpler to retroactively fit via software/firmware, so I don’t see that as much of an innovation, more as forward planning.

Other innovation will take the form of access anywhere, any time. Apple is already starting to lead the way with iCloud and Wi-Fi syncing, but what I would like to see is a totally connected game. Eve Online has ambitions with Dust 514, but to be able to be part of a Call of Duty campaign on your iPhone, commanding units strategically, and then to be able to take part of the campaign in another way via a PC browser, with alerts being sent through social channels on your progress is something I haven’t seen accomplished on a large scale yet. With the obvious move towards digital distribution, it’s fairly safe to assume that larger storage, 3D features, faster processors, lower power consumption, the integration of entertainment services and streaming and any new interfaces will all be almost certain additions.

I’m just waiting for the iHolo so I can play the Minority Report on my iPad 3.

What is the daily life of a developer like? Is it a relaxed and creative environment, or a tense and panicked slog?

It’s mixed depending on the phase of the project, and each phase itself has its stressful points. The closing phase of the project is the most stressful, but never panicked, and often the most exciting with hundreds of issues to solve on a daily basis which really tests your endurance and mettle.

With monthly milestones, there’s always the pressure of delivering something playable to assess and appease the great gaming gods above, but that’s half the fun, and it’s definitely a creative environment to work in.

What sort of game would you love to make?

That old chestnut. I’ve always loved comic books and novels, and I often finish a novel and think 'now, that would make an awesome game'. 2000 AD has had some great stories, such as Flesh and ABC Warriors. The IPs are owned by Rebellion, so I hope they can do those some justice one day.

I do have a game concept that is probably only fundable by the largest publisher for the next Xbox or PlayStation, together with planned advances in wireless technology. It's one I would love to talk about, and it certainly hasn’t been done yet because of its complexity and reliance on technology. I would love to think it’s a game-changer, but at the same time it's hugely risky.

Oh, and I’d want enough time to make it without being driven to killing people.

How did you start in the industry, and if you were doing it again, would you take a different route?

I left a company in a senior position to join the games industry, and had also managed production teams in the design and print business before going into games. Of course, in games, this means squat. So I started as a production artist. After six months, Codemasters offered me a Lead Artist role on my first PlayStation 1 game, TOCA World Touring Cars; it was a baptism of fire, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pressure and scale of delivering the art for the game.

After many years and projects, I really wanted to positively affect more than just the art vision for a game. I moved into production so I could work with all disciplines and produce the full experience. I love art and photography, but being part of a much broader picture is more appealing, and I wouldn't go back on that. Moving into production, most producers seem to have Quality Assurance or engineering backgrounds. Very few artists I know have moved into production, mainly - I guess - because the attraction of producing stunning visuals is too much to give up.

Having been part of the main dev team, I can clearly remember the issues the team went through, so I try to avoid the issues that plagued me as an artist and support the team as much as possible during the making of a game.

In hindsight, I would have moved into games earlier, as the industry I was in before was stagnant and it was more of a case of creating a portfolio faster than one of gaining more relevant skills.

Do you think there is a certain market or genre which is being over-saturated?

There’s a danger of lack of innovation in every genre which truly offers players more. I see a long list of game mechanics, and designers using it as a pick-'n'-mix of game features. There’s a game I know that very clearly and unashamedly ‘borrowed’ a mechanic from another game, and didn’t really cover it up. That's not a problem, but it isn't helping the industry to break new ground. You could argue that some shooters are using formulas from other games to help support their sales and appeal. But if gamers continue to buy them, why stop?

Personally, I want to see designers pushing the envelope a bit more. Portal is a great example of off-the-wall thinking, and it’s become pretty popular too. That’s something I love about Valve and their design process, and why others should take a page out of their book.

In terms of saturation, the shooter market is a pretty tough place to be in right now, and as a learned friend of mine once quoted, we "let them duke it out". There’s still a place for the right games in niche markets, but it has to have that mass market appeal as well as something truly fresh and relevant. Innovation is ridiculously hard to deliver.

What sort of games would you like to see more of?

Classic platform games. You know, I loved Manic Miner and Monty Mole from the 8-bit days. Gamers have been spoilt today with checkpoint saves, infinite lives, and magic healing after 30 seconds. In Manic Miner, you had three lives, and gained more after 10,000 points. And, you had to be exact on when to jump, or lose a precious life. That’s why I love Limbo, it's a great example of less being more; innovative in its execution and great fun to play. This is why I love hearing from players who've finished Red River on hardcore, as it’s that unforgiving, without any safety measures.

Would you rather make a million-selling game that doesn't take the industry anywhere new, or develop a niche, but revolutionary, game?

I’d develop a niche, but revolutionary, game...

...that sold millions.

Our immense thanks goes to Adam Parsons for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak to us. For more interviews and all the latest, make sure to follow our Twitter account for all our updates.

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- Chris Hawke

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