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Directing video games: an excerpt from our interview

Below is an excerpt from our interview with video games director John Dower, and his collaborator at VideoGamesConsulting.com, Martin Korda. To read the full interview, which includes John's advice on breaking into the video games sector, the similarities and differences between traditional media and video games and more besides, click here (full members only).

Since first arriving in the 1970s, video game production has become an ever-more profitable industry, a fact recently underlined by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 hitting the billion dollar sales mark a day quicker than James Cameron's Avatar managed.

Although not traditionally a world in which directors have operated, D-UK member John Dower has become something of a pioneer through his work on XBOX Kinect project Milo & Kate, a highly original game in which the player interacts with and assists a 10-year old boy.

From there, John recently became involved with VideoGameConsulting.com, in a role that will see him offer his expertise to video games producers. Intrigued by this new project, D-UK caught up with John and his partner at VGC, to find out more about the company and John's role within it, and how attitudes to directors are changing in the video game world.

Martin, can you tell me a little about what VideoGameConsulting does?

Martin KordaMartin (pictured, left): VideoGameConsulting.com provides a variety of consultancy and scriptwriting services to video game developers and publishers. From a consultancy standpoint we work with companies to help identify their products’ strengths and weaknesses, while generally helping them improve and strengthen their product, whether it be in terms of the layout and flow of each level/mission, the quality, believability and challenge of the artificial intelligence, product differentiation, marketing strategies, story, character development and empathy etc. We work with developers and publishers in a variety of ways, often parachuting into projects at key junctures to offer feedback and an unbiased informed perspective on the product’s progress.

As well as advising games companies on how to improve their products, we also offer professional scriptwriting services. These range from the writing of an entire game script to brainstorming story ideas and character arcs with developers. In November 2011, we partnered with film, TV and video game director John Dower to further bolster this side of the business and add further expertise and experience to our portfolio.

Please both explain what your roles are at VGC. Can you talk us through an average day?

Martin One of the best parts of my job as Managing Director of VideoGameConsulting.com is the variety it brings. A typical day could consist of meeting with new or existing clients to discuss their consultancy and/or scriptwriting needs, evaluating a product either alone or in conjunction with several of our other evaluators then compiling detailed assessment reports based on our findings, meeting with design teams to discuss their products and identify areas of improvement, writing scripts, story treatments, character bios and dialogue for games, brainstorming story and character development ideas with developers, and rehearsing scenes with directors and actors.

John: Every day is different, but the common thread is working with games developers to help add value to both character and story in games. This is true whether it is a so-called “triple A” (AAA) game - the equivalent to a blockbuster movie, an iPhone game or working on test scenes for something early on in development. My days are therefore spent in team meetings, working with games designers, writers and other creative leads and preparing motion capture shoots and voice sessions.

Do you see attitudes towards directors changing in the industry? Are they becoming more accepted?

Martin: The change is happening, but slowly. One of the key challenges faced is finding a common language between game developers and TV/movie directors. Creating a game and creating a movie are two very different processes, but there are enough similarities between the two to allow for effective convergence. For decades, story and characters were seen as very much secondary to gameplay. Thankfully, that attitude is gradually changing. Helping directors and developers understand where each side is coming from and offering advice for how they can better work together are two of the areas John and I can help with.

John: Slowly. I believe things will look very different in a decade or so, when the industries have become more symbiotic...