After its stunning debut at E3, Child of Eden instantly became one of my most eagerly anticipated titles for 2011 for a number of reasons. It marks Q Entertainment’s first game incorporating motion control as well as Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s game directorial debut.
This title also features games journalism veteran James Mielke's first role as a producer for Q Entertainment. In this interview (conducted via email), James speaks candidly on a number of topics, including his new responsibilities at Q? Entertainment, the return of EGM, the state of Japanese gaming, and motion control.
Davin Loh: As a producer, can you elaborate a little on your responsibilities on Child of Eden?
James Mielke: As this is formally my first official experience on the development side of the industry, my contribution lies more in the strategic planning and promotion of the game. When you see Child of Eden on a magazine cover, or revealed at E3 and Tokyo Game Show, you can be sure I had a hand in what was happening there. Naturally everything regarding the game is a collaboration with a great many people at both Q and at our publisher, Ubi Soft, but these are the areas where my participation is the strongest.
When I first joined Q, however, I spent a lot of time with Mizuguchi-san going over the Child of Eden design and offering my feedback on what I felt would benefit the game, and what the gamers would be expecting. I’m able to offer a lot of insights not usually available to a Japanese development team at the early stages, as I bring a critical, editorial perspective to the company.
DL: Your attendance at this year’s E3 is your first on the other side of the fence. Is the grass truly greener, or simply a different shade?
JM: It’s just different. It’s still a lot of work, but I will admit it’s a relief to not have to run around to tons of demos and 15-minute appointments and write them all up at the end of the day. It’s a fun experience to be able to attend E3 with Miz and company. Child of Eden is his first major game in quite a few years, and the response to the game at E3 (and then TGS) was great, so it’s nice to bask in the glow, even if I’m only a small part of it.
At E3 I helped Miz with the interviews, of which we did about 45 sessions in 3 days, and of course many more at Tokyo Game Show. Those were pretty exhausting, especially because most people showed up with the same handful of questions. It was a little tough to give unique answers when the questions were largely the same, but we did our best to make it worth everyone’s time.
I found it ironic that I was suddenly shifting to the PR watchdog role, but having been on the other side of the fence for over a decade I knew what the media would ask, and was able to help Miz prepare for what was coming. Q Entertainment has always been media-friendly, but I think one of the most positive elements I’ve been able to bring to Q was in helping them become even more so.
DL: As the final Editor-in-Chief of the Ziff-Davis era of EGM, how do you feel about its resurrection and the future of print video game coverage?
JM: I think it’s great. EGM has always been the most reliable brand in the relatively short lifespan of ‘games media,’ and it was a shame to see it go. I’m able to say now that I knew the end was coming when I first took over as EIC, but it was still a bit like nursing a loved one to death. It was hard on the entire staff. Still, we did our best every month to put together something exciting and interesting. Sometimes we achieved this, and at other times it was harder.
So when Steve Harris consulted me about bringing the brand back, I was very excited. During our discussions he had asked me if I was interested in continuing my editorial relationship with EGM, but I had already long since committed to joining Q Entertainment. So while I wasn’t able to continue my role as an editor, I was eager to see where they’d take the magazine. So far I think the new staff has done a great job with it, and they even put Child of Eden on the cover, so it’s a win-win in my book. I just hope EGM gets the support it deserves, both internally and externally. It will really need it to compete in this era of digital publishing.
DL: Your former colleague Jeff Green has been quoted as saying a return to editorial is not entirely out of the question. Has that door firmly shut for you, or could you ever see yourself behind the EIC desk of Famitsu?
JM: Well, if it meant being able to provide for my family and put food on the table, I would never turn my nose up at a legitimate job opportunity, but if I ever left the development side of the game industry, I would probably just leave gaming altogether. I don’t feel as if returning to editorial would be a step back for me. I think I’d approach it with even greater insights than before, although the dangers of being overly sympathetic to the developers would surely be present. But since it was never my career goal to write about video games, it’s not something I would ever go out of my way to return to.
I’d just as soon take my creative impulses and try to apply them to film or the music industry, or perhaps go back to being a freelance illustrator in New York City. There are so many things to do in this life that I think, generally speaking, I’ve done about as much as I can in the editorial field. Sure, I have a few more stories in me that still want to be written, and I continue to be as strongly opinionated –for better or worse—about hot topics in the industry as anyone, but to try and make a full-time career of it again might not be the best fit for me.
DL: Japanese game development in general has largely fallen stagnant while Western development has advanced by leaps in bounds by comparison. An exception to this trend is Metal Gear Solid 4, which was met with critical and financial global success, largely in part to the efforts of then assistant producer Ryan Payton. Do you feel that Japanese games need more of this foreign input, such as your own involvement, or are more drastic measures needed to reinvigorate the Japanese gaming scene?
JM: I think the rumors of Japanese game development’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. People tend to look at the hardcore Japanese games’ declining sales as evidence of this, while overlooking the fact that Nintendo has become more dominant than ever, and the last time I checked, Nintendo is still a Japanese game developer.
What people like Ryan, Ben Judd (of Capcom Japan), myself, and others bring to our respective companies really depends on what our respective companies let us bring. Some publishers may only want the translation abilities of a Westerner, while others want the insights of “Why don’t more Western gamers like these sorts of games” or “What should we do in this instance to improve the accessibility of our ideas and designs, while retaining the things that make us unique?”
I don’t think any drastic measures are needed to ‘save’ the Japanese game industry. I think what’s happening is that publishers and developers just have to realize that they’re making games for the world, not just Japan. That’s the big thing right there. Honda doesn’t make cars specifically for Japan (well, they do make specifically smaller cars for Japan, but that’s not what I’m talking about), they make them for the world. That’s what Japanese developers need to do. Yes, there needs to be a real rethink on “what kind of game are we making” and “who are we making this game for.” But it’s not a cut and dry case of “Japanese developers have to make Western games.” If we did that, we’d end up making a bunch of lousy first-person shooters with a military theme and that would bring about the death of Japanese game development faster than anything.
I could go on for days about what Japanese developers do right and wrong, but I think the greatest, simplest thing that Japanese developers need to do is play more games. Not just Dragon Quest or Monster Hunter, but Western MMOs, Western shooters, Western RPGs. Most Western game developers were influenced by something Japanese at some point, whether it was Mario or Zelda or something. And they took those inspirations and improved on them, while Japan is content to simply repeat the formula. One general exception to this rule, in my opinion, is Capcom. Their sequels to their games are usually quite superior to the previous game.
Anyway, while I respect Keiji Inafune and Hideo Kojima a lot, I don’t think their constant mantra of “Japanese gaming is dead” really needs to be repeated. The weak will perish, but those who are able to identify and adapt to the global market will survive, and hopefully thrive.
DL: Kinect is, as of yet, a largely unproven technology, yet Q Entertainment has placed a huge vote of confidence in Microsoft’s motion control with CoE. Is motion control the definitive version of the game? How do you feel about motion control in general? Has the Wii completely monopolized and saturated that market, or is there still room for innovation and expansion?
JM: Personally, I think that both play styles of CoE offer unique enough experiences to validate both. People who simply want a pure, button-tapping, Rez-style experience will undoubtedly gravitate towards the classic controller configuration. People who want to experience something ‘out of body’ will probably fire up the Kinect version. The Kinect version is definitely the best way to show off the game. It’s a system-seller, so to speak, because it’s simple enough for anyone to play, but the ensuing onscreen results are spectacular. So it’s a good showcase game for the technology. I don’t think the Wii has a monopoly on the motion control market by any means. If anything, they pioneered motion control into existence, and now that it’s here, it’s here to stay. The only difference is that now everyone will soon have access to it.
DL: Game development is not an industry known as the most family friendly, with mandatory overtime and poor working conditions a not uncommon phenomenon. Now that you are a husband and father, how has your perspective on the industry changed?
JM: Well, I always knew that the game development field would be demanding, especially in Japan. I was prepared for that, coming over, though, so it hasn’t exactly taken me by surprise. When I was younger, and well before I ever entered the gaming field, I used to work three jobs to make ends meet, so long hours are nothing new to me. At least now the hours devoted are totally rewarding. Fortunately, Q is a very flexible and accommodating company. The majority of my work has been not only in supporting Child of Eden, but working in parallel to Mizuguchi-san, creating new IPs and original game designs. Q Entertainment has simultaneously given me near carte blanche to create new concepts, while handing me a lot of responsibility to take on a lot of the creative tasks for the future. My workload will be increasing very soon, now that a lot of the pre-production stuff is out of the way, but hopefully you’ll be hearing about some of these new things very soon.
That said, my perspective hasn’t really changed much. I knew what I was getting into Regardless of whatever my workload is, I always make time for my wife and daughter. That’s what gets me through the day.
Follow James Mielke on Twitter @jamesmielke and Q Entertainment @Q_Entertainment. You can also learn more about Child of Eden at: