Interview with Kevin Abbott

We had the opportunity to talk with Kevin Abbott, Video Game Design Professor at Western Michigan University.

How long have you been teaching Video Game Design at Western Michigan University?

I first taught video game design in 2008, so it's been 3 years now.

If you could have worked at one video game company, which would it be and why?

I think it would come down to two companies for me - Valve and Naughty Dog. Both companies have a great design sense and a focus on writing and storytelling. They are also committed to creating high-quality work and have both been very influential on the growth of games in general.

Did you follow E3 this year?

I only followed it a little. I'm more and more impressed with what's capable with the Kinect, and less and less enamored with Nintendo's offerings. I also think that Sony's upcoming portable looks impressive but am wondering if it can succeed against smart phones. Dedicated portable gaming is in danger of becoming a niche market.

What would you recommend for someone trying to break into the video game industry?

Make some games to see if you really like it. A lot of people seem to like the idea of making games, but this is not the same as making games, which is honestly very hard work.

Get your hands on Unity or Unreal, get some people to work with you (because you can't make much of anything alone) and get started. Not only does this help you gain experience, but it will also look good to a company if you have actually designed and made some games.

How is Bronco Land coming along and how big is the team working on the game?

It's coming along quite well. We released the "tour" version in May, and we'll be releasing a downloadbale, non-web based version soon. We've begun working hard on the "game" version, and we're experimenting with a mobile version and with multiplayer elements as well. At the moment the total team is about 8.

What is one of the most challenging parts of working on this game? And what is most rewarding?

The most challenging is juggling all the elements and keeping multiple sub-projects moving forward simultaneously. I wear a lot of different hats and at times I'd like to give some of them away. The most rewarding is seeing my students create quality work, and also watching a product emerge that people enjoy interacting with.

What is your favorite part of working with Unity?

Ease of use, specially in the area of content management, and it's ability to publish painlessly to multiple platforms are my favorite features.

What are some of your best resources with working a a Unity project?

I'm a big fan of plugins. We use EZGUI extensively and it's been a great addition to Broncoland.

What game have you been playing most lately?

Borderlands! A great, classic feeling FPS with a unique visual style.

What do you suggest as ways to get ideas flowing for a potential video game?

Find out where and when you are creative and exploit it. For some great ideas come when taking a walk, or a shower, or early in the morning or late at night. I also do a lot of sketching and note taking; it can of like a diary, where I capture ideas. Also, try to work with ideas you are interested in. If you're not interested in submarines, for example it'll be hard to make a good game about them.

What makes or breaks a video game?

Poor controls! They will always compromise the play experience no matter how good everything else is.

What aspect of video games do you think people should put more focus into?

Personally I'd like to see more game created from more diverse cultural points of view. I'd be very interested to experience games designed by someone from Africa, or by someone from an inner city perspective, rather than a game designed as an interpretation of that perspective.

When did you first start getting interested in video games?

Well, I started playing before there were consoles. I still remember playing Space Invaders at the pizza place in Jension where I grew up. Later I had a Magnavox Odyssey and my friend had an Atari 2600, so I played a lot of Missle Command, Frogger, and Asteroids. I loved Defender in the arcade, too. Amazingly, I completely missed the Nintendo console revolution.

What is your definition of a game?

How about this, which developed out of my last game class... "A game is an interactive problem solving play experience, with defined rules and goals, that takes place in an invented reality."

Do you think video games are an art form?

Yes, without a doubt, though the very act of defining what is and isn't art is somewhat nebulous, which brings the entire idea into question... Like all other art forms, few games reach the level of art, but some games to achieve it. For me, the original Portal is art. Braid may also fall into that category, and Uncharted II as well.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Games may be even more fun to make than they are to play, but making them really is hard. If you like a serious, humbling challenge then making game might be for you.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us!