You could be Criterion’s longest-serving team member. What was it that brought you here?
I joined Criterion in November 1996, officially as a Junior Artist on a motorcycle game called Redline Racer. Before Criterion I was working at a small multimedia company in Cwmbran in Wales, doing some programming and interactive kiosk systems. I actually spent a lot of time making 3D models of virtual kitchen cabinets to be sold as clip-art!
But you had loftier ambitions than kitchen cabinet clip-art?
My real ambition was to work as an animator in feature films, but I always loved games. I studied art, music and computer science at school, but unfortunately there were no university courses in game development at the time. At school they told me that I might as well try to get an office job or work in a supermarket.
So you didn’t get to Criterion via the usual university route.
I knew someone who had come to Criterion so I knew it was up-and-coming and willing to take a chance on people. I was 18 or 19 when I got that first job. After Redline Racer I worked on Sub Culture, Deep Fighter, Airblade and did a few bits on Burnout and Burnout 2.
By the time Burnout 3: Takedown came along we realised that having an artist work with designers to help them envision their ideas was a good thing. Prototyping gameplay back then was slow, but ‘previsualising’ or ‘pre-vis’ was a good way of showing what an idea would look like when it was in the game, and that’s what I got involved in. My first job was to figure out how Burnout 3’s intro screens and HUD messages should look, and also what crashes should look like.
That was a pretty big deal wasn’t it? To go from Burnout 2’s bump-n-slide crashes to Burnout 3’s big, trademark crashes?
A big part of it was analysing the kind of crashes that were in Burnout and Burnout 2, and working out how they could be more exciting and happen more often. We looked at what Hollywood was doing. If they wanted a car crash they didn’t just rely on physics. They’d fire an air-ram under the car at the right moment to pop it in the air. So we looked at those movie techniques to get more exciting crashes into the game. Then we threw in explosions and 20-car pile-ups, and two player Crash modes… Other people have done cool crashes since, but maybe not in the volume that we delivered!
Your next big job was Art Director on Burnout Revenge 360…
That was exciting because it was our first run at a full-on HD game that used that next generation of console power. After that I realised that I liked working with designers and engineers as well as artists so that’s when I became a Producer, running the crash team on Burnout Paradise.
The challenge there was to create crashes that matched player’s expectations of a Criterion game that used the power of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Until then we’d had one type of crash – throw the car down the road – but in Burnout Paradise we added the slo-mo head-on crashes.
I worked with the team on the Year of Paradise project, when we added motorbikes to Paradise, the new cars and Big Surf Island – I was Island Pete in Crash TV if anyone remembers that. It was great to take the fans on that journey, expanding on the game we’d made. That was awesome. My career highlight. It was the closest we’ve got to our fans and it gave us a chance to add some of the crazy stuff we didn’t think of when we made the original game, which is something you don’t usually get the chance to do!
After that I worked on the user interfaces for Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, and I got the chance to direct Framestore on the game’s big reveal video. The great thing about working at Criterion and EA has been that I’ve worked with an incredible range of people.
Yes, after Hot Pursuit I got the chance to move to our Maxis studio in the USA, where I learned about making a completely different type of game, like The Sims 4 and Sim City Social. I was working on player feedback again and I discovered that what I’d learned in Burnout, telling the player when they were doing good stuff or bad stuff, carried over surprisingly well.
What was different about working at Maxis?
Well, what was the SAME was that they were also an incredibly passionate group of smart people who loved making games. Working on a Facebook game was a completely different experience though. You launch your game and you’ve got 20 million players on day one! And the bond between the Sims team and the fan community was amazing.
You transferred back to Criterion in 2013 so what have you been doing since?
Well, I’ve been working on a couple of super-secret things that I can’t talk about yet. But we’ll have something amazing to reveal soon…!