Fans of first-person shooters are spoiled severely rotten these days. With the amount of titles that are hitting stores like candy these past few months, we're like children who have an insatiable sweet tooth. Insomniac Games hopes to give us more than just cavities, as their latest title, Resistance 3 came out to huge fanfare. Long considered one of the genre's underdogs to Activision and Infinity Ward, their series franchise has always had merit and some pretty insane moments, yet hasn't had the massive worldwide sales of their competitive counterparts.
Fortunately, that has never stopped them or Senior Community Manager James Stevenson from aspiring for such lofty heights. The podcast host of Insomniac Games' Full Moon Show has been raising the company flag for the past five years and his passion is well documented in the gaming industry. Now that Resistance 3 is delivering a well-rounded shooter which possesses all the key ingredients that fans thrive on, James sits down with Complex Magazine to talk about the his start with Insomniac Games, if the PSN hack attacks affected Resistance 3's multiplayer process, and muse the future of gaming journalism with some interesting results. Enjoy!
Interview by Kevin L. Clark (@DLYDJ)
Complex: For the few noobs who aren't familiar with your gaming rep, can you explain how you first got involved with Insomniac Games?
James Stevenson: Oh, man! Way back before I was a part of Insomniac, actually, I wrote for a bunch of gaming websites and magazines. I did that for several years, writing for movies and tech magazines, and all sort of stuff. I was pretty familiar with CEO Ted Price and Marketing Director Ryan Schneider over here at Insomniac, along with some other folks, and I worked with them on creating stories about previous games. I would even give a lot of feedback on certain builds and I was a really big fan of Ratchet and Clank. So, at the time, they were also working on getting Resistance: Fall of Man out the door, and that's kind of how I got my foot in the door with them. Through the previous relationships I had, plus based on some of the other work I have done with them, and have been here ever since!
Complex: Sounds like a tale from one end of the spectrum to another?
JS: I think it's about the writing more so than that. I just stuck around, really. I'm kind of a little bit of a workaholic at times, so I was basically writing full-time, working at Best Buy full-time, and going to school full-time. I had absolutely zero free time and didn't sleep much, but it game me a lot of good experiences. Best Buy, in particular, was a good experience… I learned a lot there and it tied into a lot of the stuff I was learning at school. I was kind of on the frontline of retail, and I believe that understanding how retail works is definitely a big plus in the video game industry. Pretty much most of our sales at this point appear in the console stage, so knowing what it's like to work in a retail store, and experience some of those elements are really, really valuable.
Complex: We've been playing the beta for awhile now, and it's created a love/hate relationship within the ranks. We were hoping that we could get a patch to let us keep our level 22 ranking in the multiplayer. Is that possible?
JS: No. [Laughs] Nothing carries over. With the game out now, those who have been playing the beta before will have a fresh start. It will be good because everyone will be at the beginning, but there will also be no cap on how high of a level you achieve. So you'll really begin to unlock some surprises the more you work you way up the charts! Obviously, the folks playing the beta are going to have a leg up because they'll know a couple of the maps, but it's really, really a fresh start. There are ten new maps in the multiplayer that people are going to be checking out. It should be a really fun experience for everyone to jump into the waters, fresh, and work their way up through hard work. Plus, at this point, people will be racing to see who can get to level 60 first, and unlock some of the weapons for that stage. There's one weapon that we haven't even revealed yet at this point.
There's a lot of good stuff for players to check out. There's some really good maps that we haven't revealed yet! It'll be a fun time next week, just with rolling out the game, and competing in the single-player action. Leveling up again may be a bummer to some folks, but I hope that those people are having so much fun playing the game; playing the multiplayer that they're not going to mind having to go through the early levels one more time.
Let me say that screenshots are still important! There are a lot of magazines and places where you gonna need screenshots, advertisements, et cetera. But screenshots are minor, in terms of their importance, when compared to video.
Complex: Alright, alright… Understood. You also made a pretty interesting statement about the future of gaming journalism at this year's PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) panel discussion. Care to elaborate for those who were unable to attend?
JS: Honestly, I just think that videos have obviously become more and more important. I think that you see that. Remember when we did Resistance: Fall of Man? We didn't even have our own HD capture deck in the studio at the time. We couldn't capture HD and put in online five, six years ago. So people would have to come down from Sony with their capture deck, we'd schedule the days here and there, and then we'd capture a ton of gameplay footage. Or, it would work the opposite way — they would capture the footage from their headquarters and then send it to us to review. It was a hazardous situation! Sometimes we'd throw out all the footage or something within the coding was broken, which is obviously not the most efficient way to do it. Now, we have two full-time video editors on my team, and their sole job is to capture and edit video and screenshots.
Let me say that screenshots are still important! There are a lot of magazines and places where you gonna need screenshots, advertisements, et cetera. But screenshots are minor, in terms of their importance, when compared to video. I think whether it's a behind-the-scenes video, a developer's diary series, trailers, a gameplay reel — all those items are absolutely critical. We live in a video crazy world; you go on YouTube for three minutes, and you can learn about a new movie, game or TV show in a manner of moments. You know you want to watch videos; people don't necessarily want to see a picture, they want it in action. So, that why I think you see that medium growing and more and more people are creating videos, putting up gameplay guides, and things like that—online.
Complex: Now that more tablets and the iWhatevers have become mow commonplace — do those signal the death knell for gaming print publications?
JS: No, I don't think that print will ever fully die. I think that print consolidates. There's always going to be a demand for a printed magazine. Me, personally, a lot of my reading habits have switched over to tablet. I read Game Informer digitally now, I read The Economist digitally now, and I think EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly) is digital, as well. So, a lot of those magazines that I used to read in print, I'm happy to read their digital versions now. I think that with The Economist they have an audio version, too, so if I'm working out or riding in my car I can listen to it. Again, I don't think that print will ever fully die, but I definitely believe that if print magazines don't offer themselves digitally, then they run the risk of existence at their own peril.
Complex: So to continue to touch upon the future of gaming journalism — could you see something like a video gaming SportsCenter show hitting YouTube channels soon?
JS: Yeah, I mean I think we're obviously still a relatively young industry. I was at MLG Anaheim (Major League Gaming — Anaheim) a few weeks ago, and there was a huge crowd of people cheering and watching people play Starcraft, Halo, and Call of Duty. As long as there is a market for it the industry will grow as more people grow up with games. It's small at this point, because there are so many hardcore gamers, but they'll keep getting bigger. They just have to keep growing it as more gamers come out. There is already money being made with big corporate sponsors such as Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and others joining the mix. You can only imagine what MLG will be to the gaming industry and abroad in the next five, ten, fifteen years. I think that that is so interesting to see how all these things blend and continue to develop.
Complex: Did the PSN hacks by Anonymous harm Resistance 3's process or threaten to delay the game's release in any way?
JS: It didn't delay or harm Resistance 3's process. We lost the closed beta due to the hack because PSN was down. So, we moved some stuff around schedule-wise. It was an inconvenience, but it wasn't something that totally killed our movement by any means. Our team in North Carolina also had some issues, because they were the one's testing online gameplay, and things like that. Ultimately, there are things that exist outside of your control, and when that happens you make the best of it and work around it. I think we adjusted pretty well.
You can only imagine what MLG will be to the gaming industry and abroad in the next five, ten, fifteen years. I think that that is so interesting to see how all these things blend and continue to develop.
Complex: So, when the initial Resistance 3 beta dropped, what was your initial thought when you saw people playing, chatting, and delivering vicious sneak attacks?
JS: The closed beta seemed to go relatively well. It was very early code, so because it was premature, it had a few bugs and issues. My initial feedback was that the multiplayer performed pretty well and it was exciting to see people liking it. We kept updating it, which bummed you guys and I'm sure it did others, but the early response to our closed beta was good. Obviously, for those who know, we went public and immediately had some matchmaking issues, and had to shut it off for a few days. We had some server load issues that we took care of, but I feel like the community has been real supportive throughout the entire time. They were very understanding that what we presented was a beta. Truly, the best part is to experience seeing people really enjoying the gameplay itself, which has allowed us to get through some of the hiccups.
We recently announced the Beta Appreciation program for the players, so those who stuck around before the retail game launched got an extra skin and an extra taunt. Betas are supposed to be bumpy, but we definitely wanted to show our appreciation to the people for putting in the hours and dealing with various freezes and lag issues. The final game, as you can see for yourself, is a much better product and will be a much more stable experience. We'll continue to work on issues as they crop up and address them, so I expect Resistance 3to be every bit the experience Resistance 2 and Resistance: Fall of Man were.
Complex: The last question for you is a hypothetical one, James. If the Chimera were behind all the world's recent ills, from Hurricane Irene to the 2008 financial collapse to Lady Gaga's outfit from this year's VMAs — which one weapon would you use to revolt against the enemy and fight with?
JS: Ahhhh! That's tough just picking one weapon. [Laughs] Really hard. I like the Magnum a lot, but the rounds are hard to come by. They're super powerful and you can set up some interesting traps, but at the same token, you don't have a lot of shots. The Marksmen could be really interesting, too. You could at least have some range and you can set up a portable turret that watches you back when you're looking the other way. But if I had to only take one weapon with me into war, I'd probably take the Marksmen because it's the most versatile medium-to-long range, super-accurate weapon that you can have to fight evil with. Plus, having that secondary turret fire is really, really helpful.
Resistance 3 for the PlayStation 3 is currently on shelves now. Go cop it and join the fight!