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Since cofounding DMA Design in 1987, Dave Jones has created video games that have become massive franchises, including Lemmings, Grand Theft Auto, Crackdown, and APB: All Points Bulletin.
Few people have had such hits as Jones, who most recently founded Cloudgine, a cloud-based game engine company, and sold it to Epic Games earlier this year. But in a recent discussion, Jones confessed that it’s very hard to know whether the game you’re working on is going to be a hit or not.
“The hardest thing about craft is it’s very hard to know if you have something, especially when you’re so passionately invested in it,” Jones said in a fireside chat with Robert Purchese of Eurogamer at the Gamelab event in Barcelona. “You like to think every game you’re doing is a good idea, but it’s really still hard.”
The whole discussion covered Jones’s life in games, his hits and misses, his view of game design, and his experiences at companies, such as DMA Design, Rage Software, Realtime Worlds, Cloudgine, and Reagent Games. Grand Theft Auto has sold more than 300 million copies as a series, and yet, Jones doesn’t dwell on these kinds of hits because he gets bored with making the same game over and over.
Jones has been a pioneer of many of gaming’s most intense and controversial titles, and we thought his talk at Gamelab, where he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, was fascinating. He started making games like the indie title Menace in 1987, and he’s still making games 31 years later.
Here’s an edited transcript of Jones’s talk with Purchese.
Robert Purchese: How around were games when you were young?
Dave Jones: For me, they were a distraction when I was at school. Arcades were the thing.
Purchese: What were you supposed to be doing?
Jones: Well, I was supposed to get good results on my exams, which is what you’re meant to do in school. But when you’re waiting for the bus and there’s a Space Invaders machine or a Pac-Man or Defender’s just come out, those were capturing a lot of my time. I thought it was wasted time but looking back, maybe not.
Purchese: When you were growing up, did you always have a passion for games? What did your parents think of that?
Jones: I think they weren’t really sure of what this thing was, effectively, back then. I had a passion for programming, which started when I was at school. We were one of the first schools that had, for example, an Apple II. That came along to our school, and you could learn things like BASIC programming. That’s what helped me, the fact that for the first time ever, at school, you could learn a bit of programming — back in the ‘80s.
Purchese: At one point, you were an electronics engineer working for Timex, the watch company. What was your job?
Jones: I got my dream job, actually. I was really lucky because where I lived in Dundee, Timex was the manufacturer of Sinclair ZX80 and ZX81 computers. They were looking for apprentices in hardware engineering. I knew a little bit. I had built a ZX81 from a kit. Back then, you could save 20 pounds if you bought the computer as a kit and built it yourself. That got me my dream job, an apprentice at Timex, working on things like ZX micro-drives and tape drives and the actual machines.
Purchese: The job at Timex is important because one day, you were made redundant, right? You lost your job.
Jones: I actually chose to lose my job. I said I wanted to leave because the factory was having problems. They were offering redundancy packages. I wanted to go back to university after having that job and get an actual software engineering degree. I only had a hardware engineering one. I thought I would do that — use my redundancy money on this brand new Commodore Amiga….
Purchese: Which, I read somewhere, cost you 3,000 pounds in 1988.
Jones: That’s right. It was a lot of money back then. You had to import them from the U.S. They weren’t even selling them here. That’s one thing I argued with my parents about. I said it was an investment in my future, but really, I wanted to play the newest games on it.
Purchese: This is where things really start to happen, once you had the Amiga. Around this time, or maybe before, you’d fallen in with a group of people, a computer club in Dundee.
Jones: It was. Like most of these back then in the heyday of 8-bit and 16-bit — there were lots of computer clubs in the U.K., and I’m sure there were here as well. We’d get together and work on demos during the week, get together for a few hours and show off [what] we’d been doing from a programming perspective.
Purchese: With the help of some of these people, you created your first game, which was called CopperCom.
Jones: Terrible first name.
Purchese: Was it any good?
Jones: I liked it? It was basically just a classic arcade shoot-’em-up because that’s what I’d grown up [with]. We eventually renamed it Menace. For me, it was a great way to learn how to make a game — not to be too creative initially but just get out there. I was inspired by arcade games, so I tried to make a good quality arcade shoot-’em-up.
Purchese: And lo and behold, who should take note but the ‘80s powerhouse publisher at the time, Psygnosis. What was that like?
Jones: It was pretty surreal. They weren’t in Scotland as a publisher, so I had to drive about 300 or 400 miles to meet them one day, down to a computer show. I took a disc with the first demo on it. A typical story back then. I was probably 21 or 22. I went down there and showed it to them. They seemed to really like it. They were one of the few companies at the time that were starting to publish on the 16-bit machines, the Atari ST and the Amiga. It seemed like a good fit.
Purchese: So they signed you up then and there?
Jones: Pretty much so, yeah. There was no money involved. They did give me a two-megabyte RAM pack as an initial payment for the game.
Purchese: When the money did eventually come in, was that the point where your parents thought, “Oh, hold on a second?”
Jones: I don’t think so. Once again, I was still a student. I was doing this in my spare time while I was a student. It wasn’t really much money in those days, and I didn’t do it for that. I did it because I loved to make it. To try to make a living making games, that wasn’t my plan. At that point, it was still seen as a hobby. Eventually, I’d get my degree and get a real job. This was just a hobby thing.
Purchese: This is when DMA Design was born, right? With the catchy name of Direct Memory Access Design.
Jones: Yeah, it was a boring name. Straight from the Amiga hardware manual. Then, I changed the story about what the name stood for — to make it sound a bit cooler.
Purchese: Your office was apparently across the road from your father’s chip shop?
Jones: Yes, my father-in-law’s fish-and-chip shop, which is a big thing in Scotland. He had a small room above one of his places, and we hung out in there.
Purchese: Did you have deep-fried Mars bars there?
Jones: I remember when they were invented. I don’t like them myself.
Purchese: Now, DMA is very famous for two things. Not that you only ever made two things. But it’s important to remember now how relatively quick game development could be back then and how many different platforms for games there were. Is it strange thinking back to that now? It seems so hectic. People making handfuls of games a year and trying to get them on several platforms, was it a kind of a crazy time?
Jones: It wasn’t fun. Every platform was completely different. Every platform was assembler (requiring knowledge of the machine’s assembly code). Portability was not something you had. We had consoles being launched every month, virtually. Home systems in Japan, in the U.S., in the U.K. For Lemmings, there were more than 20 formats to port the game to, which was a ton of work and not core creative work. It was difficult.
Purchese: You mentioned Lemmings, the first of your very famous games, beyond Menace and Blood Money, the studio’s first games. It was about lots of little creatures that will walk off the edge of a cliff if you let them. How on earth did you come up with an idea like that?
Jones: Well, it was a luxury of doing it full-time. After Menace and Blood Money, I left college. I didn’t finish my degree, which wasn’t good. I dropped out because I loved making games, and it was going quite well. They gave me an honorary degree, so that worked out. I wouldn’t advise that strategy.
Being able to go at something full-time at that point, really doing something original, rather than the first two — like I say, they were really just learning game programming and making a couple of games inspired by arcade machines. OK, now let’s think of some new, different ideas. It came about from — there was an animation package on the Amiga called Deluxe Paint, and it was just a lovely little thing because you could do animation for the first time, which was a big thing back then.
Mike Dailly, one of the engineers at DMA at that time, had done a little animation of a playable character walking up a little hillside, and there was a little turret with a gun blasting him. It was just this cycling animation. It was mesmerizing, just watching on a repeat cycle. I looked at it one day and thought, ”What if you could make a game where you could control where he was going, so he wouldn’t walk into the cannon?” You could divert him. It came, literally, like that.
Purchese: When did you realize you were on to something? Or did you ever think you were?
Jones: No, to be honest, I don’t think with any game you make — the hardest thing about craft is it’s very hard to know if you have something, especially when you’re so passionately invested in it. You like to think every game you’re doing is a good idea, but it’s really still hard. Even back then, it was very different. That’s always the challenge. If you’re doing something different, you have nothing to measure against. I liked it. People I showed it to seemed to like it. But it’s always difficult to know if something is going to be a hit.
Purchese: When did you know, then? When was the moment you knew, “Oh, crap, this is doing well?”
Jones: We did a demo disc for Lemmings, which was quite unusual back then. Back in those days, magazines used to cover demos of games early on, so we did a demo disc, and that seemed to go down really well. But really, it wasn’t until the day it went on sale. Up until then, we’d sold — Menace and Blood Money maybe sold 10,000 or 20,000 copies over a year. I remember Psygnosis calling me on the day of launch. It was Valentine’s Day, 1991. Literally every hour, they would say, “It’s up to 50,000. It’s up to 60,000.” It did more than 100,000 on its first day.
Purchese: How old were you?
Jones: I was about 23.
Purchese: So, you’re 23. You haven’t finished your degree. But this game suddenly looks like a big success. What were you thinking when they were phoning you up about that?
Jones: It’s a bit of numb shock. You always want to create a game that’s a big success like that, but deep down, you wonder if it will always just be like the previous games. Obviously, it’s a mixture of sheer exhilaration and a reward for all the hard work that went into it. Until you’ve been through it, it’s hard to explain.
Purchese: Presumably, the success of Lemmings for you personally was life changing. You could have gone out and bought a Ferrari after that.
Jones: Yep. And I did. Twice. That was the thing to do in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You remember all those adverts with game programmers and pictures of Ferraris. John Carmack. It was the thing in the U.K. as well. But more important, it was life changing because then, we could do other games as well. Finally, it felt like a real company. You could make a living from this. We started to employ other people with good ideas.
Purchese: Lemmings had many different versions after this across many different platforms of the time. It was at this point, I suppose, that DMA kind of leveled up as a company. You moved offices. Before we get on to that — other big franchise you created — there was an odd interlude with Nintendo.
Jones: Yeah, we worked with Nintendo for a few years, which was great.
Purchese: You made [an] SNES game called Unirally, about unicycles.
Jones: Yeah, as you do.
Purchese: And Pixar took you to court?
Jones: Yep, as they do. It was hard in those days. We greenlit a unicycle character, and they had a unicycle short film. I think it was called Red’s Dream. They just used it as a demonstration of a rendering technology. When you put them side by side, they were quite similar, but I think it’s because it’s quite hard to create a unicycle that looks different from another unicycle. Especially, when you animate it. They got upset. They felt that it was too close to their unicycle. For someone who’s young — Lemmings was just our fourth or fifth game — getting these legal letters from a company like Pixar was, “Oh my God, what’s happening?”
Purchese: Nintendo pulled the game from sale.
Jones: Yeah, yeah, which was a shame. It was a fun game, working on that one. There were some nice design concepts, simple things like stunts giving you speed. It was a very good co-op game. It was one of the first co-op games we worked on. Unfortunately, it would have been more costly to fight it. It actually made copies of the game very rare. I don’t have one. I’m struggling to find one. I think they go for quite a lot of money.
Purchese: Anyway, zipping forward a bit, in 1995, your team started work on something else. Something you originally called Race and Chase, apparently? Now, I’ve read that you didn’t really like racing games at the time.
Jones: That’s right. They were all pretty much the same. There was no innovation in that area of games. I loved driving. I loved the idea of a driving game. But not just — it’s hard to innovate in pure racing. If I was going to do a car game, a driving game, I wanted to do something a little bit different.
Purchese: In order to get you on board with this idea, your team came up with — they decided to flip this game, the perspective of this game, so you weren’t looking at the horizon as a driver. You were looking straight down. They set it in the city, and, of course, this is the top-down perspective of Grand Theft Auto. That convinced you?
Jones: Yeah. I liked the “zoom as you vroom,” as we called it. When you went faster, it just gave you this nice perspective. You could see more. You had more time to react. You could take in what was happening around you on a larger scale. It felt like there was something there.
Purchese: What was the initial pitch for this game?
Jones: Well, actually, it was — initially, I was more interested in the simulation of the city. If we’re going to make a city, let’s make it a believable city. Let’s make it react to the player’s actions. And then, because it was Race and Chase, you could either play the police or play the bad guys. The idea was chase down the bad guys as the police or try to escape if you want to play the bad side. That’s initially where it started off.
Purchese: But over the course of development, it started to become more about being the bad guy, the crooks.
Jones: Nobody liked playing the good guys. It was quite a boring game that way. Everybody wanted to just get in the car, steal a car, go crazy. What they really wanted was to see how the city would react to the crazier stuff that they did. It was actually quite a fun thing from a design perspective. It was very iterative design. The fact that, for the first time in a driving game, you could get out of the car. In old racing games, you couldn’t get out of a car and get into another car. That was quite new.
As soon as they got into the car, people thought, “Well, it’s somebody else’s car. Should the alarm go off in the car?” So, we coded that. That was pretty cool. Then, you started driving, and people thought, “If you’re driving this fast, you might run over somebody. We should add that.” OK, we’ll add that. “But, if you run someone over and they’re injured, an ambulance should come and pick them up.” OK, I think we can make that happen. We added AI, so an ambulance would pick them up. “But, if the ambulance picks them up, what if I get out of my car, and I can steal the ambulance?” OK, we can make that happen. “If I’m in the ambulance, I want to switch on the sirens. Other cars should get out of my way now.”
Everything was about — I want everything to react to what I’m doing and recognize it. That’s how it snowballed.
Purchese: And then, of course guns come in, things like that. I don’t know what it was like here in Spain, but in Britain, the newspapers were going crazy. “What’s this violent game where you can run people over?” They’re still doing it. I read that you kind of engineered this by hiring a person called Max Clifford, who was a kind of notorious PR guru in the U.K. You guys hired him to stir up the newspapers?
Jones: Yeah, but it wasn’t specifically us as in DMA. It was actually the publisher at the time, a new company called BMG Music. This is when all the music companies wanted to get into publishing games because they saw that all the young people were playing games. They wanted to get into it. They were actually a lot of fun to work with. They were a music company, and they were quite used to dealing with PR and having to handle that side as it went off the rails. Music with swearing in it. They’d been through all of this with music, really.
They said we should just embrace it. “This is like what happened with music when people started to use lyrics that weren’t just aimed at children. We just put warnings on it. Do what you want to do, whatever you want in the game.” We really weren’t doing it for the sake of that, though. It was really just — we only did things that, when people were playing the game, they said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this?” It was never about shock. It was just about that gameplay stuff that was really cool, having all these complementing things happening.
We were just going on free rein, and they said, “Well, we think it’s cool to talk about it, and we believe that by bringing in somebody like this, it’s actually a great PR and marketing message to get the game noticed.”
Purchese: So, he pulled some strings at newspapers….
Jones: He was very smart. He literally laid out weeks of planning. “I’ll say this. This will happen. This guy in the House of Lords will make a statement. We have our agent, and you’ll get on breakfast morning TV. This will be said.” And everything he said, down to the day, happened.
Purchese: That’s how easy it is to drive the news. So, of course, the game is Grand Theft Auto, probably the most famous video game series in the world. Did you have any inkling back then of the size of thing you’d created, the potential popularity of it?
Jones: No. Once again, we were doing something different, something we weren’t quite sure of. You know, we were actually brought in to make 3D games. There were some at BMG that wanted to kill the game, pretty far into it. Literally, three months from launch. There were 3D games coming out like Driver. Even internally, there was a big debate between the European arm of the publisher and the U.S. arm. The U.S. were very much about graphics. The Europeans and myself had to fight to keep it alive. Literally, three months before it came, it could have been killed. There’s no such thing in our industry as knowing exactly what’s going to happen.
Purchese: When did you know Grand Theft Auto was big?
Jones: The fact that it stayed in the top-10 charts, the first one, for 12 months solid.
Purchese: Like Whitney Houston.
Jones: People just seemed to love it. It would not go out of the charts. It just stayed in the top 10. Review after review, everybody saw past the fact that we were using the processing power more for making a game that was about involvement in the game, empowering AI and everything around it, rather than making it look great. The reviewers caught on to that. “You’d better look past the fact that it’s [a top-down] 2D thing. When you get into the game, it’s so much fun.”
Purchese: I can still remember some of those songs on the radio. The one about big and hairy?
Jones: They found the women scary because they were so big and hairy. We had to write all the music for that game as well. We couldn’t afford licenses. We had different radio stations. It goes back, again, if I get in a 1950s pickup truck, I expect the radio to be tuned to that kind of music, intuitively. We went all out on different radio stations, depending on the look of every car. Different DJs, presenters on the radio stations. We wrote all the music ourselves — every kind of music in every kind of car. It was a real labor of love.
Purchese: It’s remarkable, really, because after this — the success must have been an order of magnitude higher than Lemmings even. But after this point, you started to kind of distance yourself a bit. There’s a string of acquisitions. Gremlin Interactive comes in [to buy DMA Design]. Eventually, DMA ends up in Take-Two’s hands — under the Rockstar label. It’s amazing now to think that those foundations of Grand Theft Auto are still there in the series now, though. They’re the pillars on which the whole series is made. The radio stations, getting in and out of cars, all that stuff. Why did you step back?
Jones: Well, I get bored quickly. For me, it’s all about new ideas and pushing the boundaries. After two or three versions of the game, I’m chomping at the bit to do something new. At that point, GTA was so big that I knew it was going to be the focus of the studio from now until eternity, which it still is, in Edinburgh. I wanted to take some time and think about how else I could innovate, what I could go away and do. I enjoy doing what I do, which is trying to be creative from the ground up.
Purchese: You went on to create a new studio called Realtime Worlds. For a few years, Realtime Worlds existed but wasn’t really on the radar. Then, Microsoft comes along. What happened there?
Jones: Open-world gaming, after GTA, became a big thing. A lot of publishers were looking for an open-world game. I had a chat with them. They had the Xbox 360 coming along after the launch of Xbox, and they wanted to look at an open-world game. At that point, I didn’t want to do another GTA, but I did want to do a platforming game. It felt like that was something I’d never done before. I had the idea of mixing an open world city with a platforming aspect. That’s where Crackdown was born.
Purchese: Did Crackdown change much from that initial idea?
Jones: I think it did. I think the treatment of it did. But the core idea, probably not a lot. It really was — I loved RPGs, so I liked the idea of progression, and I love platformers. For it was taking a few simple ideas and mixing them up in a slightly different way than games had done before. Those core ideas were always there.
Purchese: Crackdown wasn’t necessarily the hit that GTA and Lemmings were. But it was a bit of a left-field game. Microsoft picked it up, and it was one of the first demos….
Jones: Of Halo, yeah.
Purchese: I remember that being a very strong part of it. But it was fantastic, an absolutely brilliant game. How did the reaction to that — how did you react to the reaction, I suppose? Did you expect it? What happened there?
Jones: Once again, don’t expect anything. We’d done a few games even up to that point that had been fairly small games. Body Harvest, Space Station Silicon Valley. It’s just trying out different things. The thing that resonated with Crackdown — Crackdown was rough around the edges. It felt kind of like a prototype. If you look back today, it’s kind of how an early-access game should be.
I felt it did a few things right, things that resonated with people. People loved the verticality, being able to go up into the city, and they did like the platforming aspects. I think things like agility orbs created a collection mechanism that drew people up.
Purchese: It was Assassin’s Creed before Assassin’s Creed.
Jones: Yeah, those kinds of things. There were a few things that really resonated with people. It wasn’t a huge team. We didn’t have a lot of time with it. We did a good introduction to the series, but there was a lot more we could have done.
Purchese: After Crackdown, you went really big. You had this idea for, effectively, GTA Online, but many years earlier, APB. In fact, I remember you had 100-player battles in that game.
Purchese: Before [PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] or Fortnite. Maybe you created something….
Jones: Unfortunately, you had no cloud at the time, so it was expensive to run that.
Purchese: A lot has been written about why APB didn’t work out. After five years in development, it came out, and it kind of fizzled. And then, it was closed. When you look back on it now, how do you feel about what happened?
Jones: It was a difficult time [in] the industry, in terms of — there were a lot of expensive things you had to do then to launch a game. What I do think is, things have changed since then for the better. Like I said, at that point, we had to do things like have our own data centers to run the game — physically buy servers and put them in a data center. That changed literally overnight when Amazon brought in the cloud, effectively. Wish we had that back then.
And then, things like, we still had to put the game in a box and sell it. We had a distribution deal with EA. That sets an expectation about triple-A in a box because you have to charge $60 for it. Early access would have been great for that game. You could play with it. There were all these things that were bubbling under but weren’t there yet.
I never have any regrets about trying different things because we have to take risks in our industry. There are always things that might not work, but for me, that should never be a reason why we shouldn’t always be pushing new ideas. GTA could have not worked. Lemmings could have not worked. It’s a shame that one didn’t work. We were early in terms of technology and the cost to run that game. But there are still some good ideas. There were 100 players. There was amazing customization, which a lot of games still haven’t matched. There’s a lot of interesting things in there that I hope will surface in other games.
Purchese: Realtime Worlds closed once that petered out. And then, after that, you seemed to drop off the radar for a few years. Did you move away at all? You seemed to set up a few companies around that time. What was that period of time like?
Jones: I was taking some time off, but also, you can’t just sit down and come up with an idea in three or four months. It’s always about — technology was changing. The transformation to a lot of cloud tech was interesting to me. It’s great if you can apply new technologies to a game. That always helps. A new idea plus new technology gives it a lift and a bit of potential. So, it was about looking at what new technologies were coming up that we could double down on, that might enable us to come up with some new ideas for [games].
Purchese: There was a mobile-game company called nWay?
Jones: Mobile was interesting. I wanted to get my hands on it and try something out, just to understand that space.
Purchese: Then, there was Reagent Games and Cloudgine, which we’ll come back to in a minute. And through that, inadvertently, we saw you once again, and you were involved with Crackdown 3. That must have been surreal.
Jones: It was great, actually. I didn’t get a chance to be involved in the sequel, and then, Microsoft once again said — they had a big cloud platform, and obviously, I’d worked on Crackdown, so it felt that was a good combination there to try something new again with cloud technology and Crackdown. It was a natural fit.
Purchese: And now, bringing us up to the present, you’re now with Epic.
Jones: Yes, Epic acquired Cloudgine last year. They have an interest in technology, as you know, so I’m working on some new stuff with Epic.
Purchese: What do you do now? Are you working on Fortnite?
Jones: It’s kind of new for me. I’m looking at some cloud technologies. I’m actually looking at esports, believe it or not. I’m interested — from a technology and a creative aspect — in the broadcasting of games. We’ve all seen the rise of streaming games and what’s happening there. I think that’s a new way to get your games noticed. It’s a new way that a lot of players are finding out about new games.
I’m really interested from a creative aspect about what we can do in the field of streaming or esports, building tools within your game that make it an amazing viewing experience. Not just a playing experience. I like the technology challenge and the opportunities that exist in that space.
Audience: You mentioned you like RPGs, but you’ve never made one. Have you ever thought about that?
Jones: They’re hard to make, I’ve found [laughs]. I’d love to. I do enjoy playing them. I just think that a couple of companies — I grew up on games like Dark Age of Camelot and World of Warcraft. It’s a difficult one. You have to go deep for many, many years. Maybe with things like early access, different ways to try things out now. It would be a daunting aspect to just launch a brand new RPG without having some of the new ways of testing the market. Maybe. I’ll never say never. But for me, that’s a scary game challenge to go into. I’d love to try it at some point.
Audience: You talked about how in some ways APB was just too early. Are there any cases in your career where you feel like something went wrong, and you could go back and fix it if you could do it again?
Jones: Nothing that I think we could have fixed at the time. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of timing — what technologies are available, what models are available. I tend not to try to think that way. I just like to think that if things go wrong, we learn from them, and we just keep pushing forward. Of all the games we’ve done — probably not doing a unicycle-based game. Steer clear of any issues around that.
I really enjoyed working with Nintendo, and I’d have loved to do another project with them. I felt that the chance to work with them, from a design perspective, was great. I learned a lot. I’d have loved to spend more time working on projects with them. But unfortunately, GTA just took over everything at that time. I felt like that relationship ended a bit early, and I’d love to have been working a bit more with them going forward. That’s probably the only thing.
Purchese: Has that tainted your enjoyment of Pixar films?
Jones: No. They’re one of the best creative companies in the world, right? If there’s one company that could consistently create hit after hit — that’s really hard. Those guys are awesome. So, I’ll take one on the chin.
Audience: I know we have some students here that might be listening. Is there anything important you think they should take into account as they start out in video games?
Jones: When I started — even now, when we’re looking for people, I would say pick one area of the whole game ecosystem that you’re really interested in, and go deep and passionate in that one area. There are so many opportunities in gaming now, and teams are so big, that to me, it’s important to find people who double down on one thing and become experts in that one thing.
Back when I was starting, 30 years ago, you could do everything yourself, but obviously, those days are gone now. For me, showing that passion in one single area, becoming an expert in one area that you love, is the way to go.
Audience: Another company has taken over APB and brought it over to a new engine. What did you think of that?
Jones: It’s brave. I can understand why. I think people see it and say, “Oh, there’s a 100-player game.” You can make that into a battle royale game. It’s got all the ingredients there. It’s got some nice customization and everything. But working with old code bases — I think that’s built on Unreal Engine 3 — it’s a big challenge. I don’t know. Maybe they understand how difficult it is to take something and turn it into something else. I can see why, at a high level, they might think that way. I’d love if they could do something with it. But I think it’s going to be really challenging.
Audience: What do you see in the future of the industry around things like games as a service and virtual reality?
Jones: I think I can sum it up. In games, to me, the thing that always holds us back is technology. All the machines keep getting faster and faster, but I look at games and still feel like we’re in the Stone Age as far as what we can achieve with the amount of power, raw horsepower, we have in a box just now. That’s why I was looking at the cloud. When we connect many machines together and start to leverage cloud CPUs, we can start to make really dynamic worlds.
I still think, right now, the worlds we create aren’t that dynamic. We’re experts at smoke and mirrors, making things more dynamic than they are, more realistic than they are. But that always falls down at some point. A classic example I use is AI. In a lot of games, you’ll try to have a conversation with a character, and it’s like a radial control menu with five options. You know there’s a limited set of responses. It’s just a tree.
I’d love to be able to sit down with a game and, on the back end, have something like Alexa or Google AI and just chat with the game. The technology is there now. Chat systems are pretty good at recognizing what you’re saying. You don’t have to train them anymore. I think a lot is going to happen with things that are happening outside of gaming — AI, physics, streaming — as they come into the gaming ecosystem. Those will really shake things up.
Traditionally, as game developers, we’ve always been afraid of using external technologies. We have that not-invented-here syndrome. But I think it’s impossible, when billions of dollars have been invested in a lot of really smart stuff out there in the world, for that not to find its way into gaming.
Audience: We’re in an era of remakes and remasters. Have you ever considered remaking Grand Theft Auto or any of your older games?
Jones: I don’t think you need to. No. That’s not what gets me up in the morning. There are new genres to be created. Personally, as a designer, that’s always our goal. What’s next and new that nobody has thought of before? Using technology, using something fresh and new — it’s kind of what happened with the whole battle royale thing. It became a new thing in itself. It was actually quite a simple mechanic, but it resonated so well. The real excitement is about what’s next. What’s the next melding of ideas that hasn’t come before, that we can execute in a certain way that becomes the next big thing? For me, it’s always about looking forward and creating something very new.
Disclosure: The organizers of Gamelab paid my way to Barcelona. Our coverage remains objective.
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