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Media Consumption: IR Gurus' Ben Board (Heatseeker)

Our latest Media Consumption column talks to Ben Board, producer on Melbourne, Australia-based studio IR Gurus' flight combat title Heatseeker, as he picks art from the Smashing Pumpkins through Brain Training to.... Play School?

Alistair Wallis, Blogger

July 31, 2007

9 Min Read

For this edition of Media Consumption, a column that looks at the media and art diets of our favourite industry personalities, we spoke to Ben Board, producer on Melbourne based studio IR Gurus’ Wii, PSP and PS2 flight combat title Heatseeker. The game, jointly developed by Codemasters, was released at the end of March for PAL territories and at the beginning of May in the US. Board, whose previous work includes credits as a programmer for companies like Bullfrog and EA, and as lead quest scripter for Lionhead’s Fable, moved out to Australia to take on the role as the title’s producer. “We had the whole thing done and dusted in less than a year with a really small team, so it was never going to be a big thing,” he notes. “I’m really proud of what we did with that game. Seriously proud, even though it wasn’t on the world radar, I’m really happy with it.” Heatseeker received wildly varying reviews – from 87% in the UK’s Official Nintendo Magazine, to just 40% on 1Up, though Board comments that he “pretty much” expected the reception to be like that. “If you read those reviews,” he says, “across that spread there were people who ‘got it’, and there were people who didn’t. The people who got it realized that we were trying to make a game that was deliberately shallow – you pick it up, you shoot people down, you have fun, there’s big explosions and then you put it down and your life is unchanged by the experience. That’s fine by me.” “The people who whinged most about it were some of the more highbrow games people who compared us to Ace Combat, and at no point did we say we were trying to out-Ace Combat Ace Combat. We weren’t ever trying to compare ourselves to Ace Combat - they’ve got teams of 8,000 people all sitting in come hangar in Japan preparing all these complex FMVs and all these storylines about death and loss and the horrors of war, and we just wanted to blow stuff up. We just wanted you to fly around very fast and blow up things and shoot down 200 things in the space of 15 minutes,” he laughs. However, he adds that he feels the reviews were fair and generally positive in their discussion of the actual game content. “The complaints tended to be about how the game was structured,” he says, “and that’s fine – I just hope people were able to read the reviews and say, ‘Well, that sounds like the kind of game I want to play’.” We spoke to Board recently, and asked about the vacuum packed snacks in his media diet, though he did throw out a quick caveat before we started: “I’ve got an eight week old baby and a two year old son, so my entertainment time is limited to approximately zero minutes.” Sounds: "Music-wise, on my iPod today is the new Smashing Pumpkins album [Zeitgeist], ELO’s greatest hits – I think you caught me on a funny day – and Augie March. I just bought a CD from the BBC from their yearly folk awards; it’s a CD of the nominees, and that’s pretty cool. I play mandolin, and guitar and things, and my wife got me into folk music about five or ten years ago, and we’ve both been getting more and more into it. There’s some fantastic artists on there. I’ve always been a fan of acoustic music. We live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, and there are some great acoustic bands around here, on the extraordinarily rare and infrequent occasions that we are able to go and see someone, maybe at a lunchtime residency on a Sunday afternoon. I really enjoy fiddle groups and things like that. Actually I’m considering learning the banjo. Seriously. I think the new Smashing Pumpkins CD is fantastic. I’ve only listened to it a couple of times, but I’m really, really impressed. I was a little worried, but as far as I’m concerned if it has Jimmy Chamberlain on the sticks I’m a happy man. I didn’t read any of the reviews, but I don’t really care – there are few bands in the world that I would go out and buy the new album by, but they’re one of them. I don’t claim to be unique and special in that sense. Oh, and the new Björk album as well: Volta. I somewhat prefer her album before, Medúla, which I thought was just utter genius, and I think she’s incredible. It’s a similar set of themes in some ways, but slightly less wacky. She’s just the most bonkers woman on the face of the planet, and that really works for me." Moving Pictures: "We tend to watch DVDs quite a lot really, though cinema trips are extremely rare. That said, I took a couple of mates to see Transformers the other night, and that was worth having my wife take the time to look after the children. I really enjoyed that – it was absolute bullshit, but in a good way. I can’t even remember the last thing I saw at the cinema before that. I used to go the cinema all the time… We tend to watch mini series and stuff on DVD. We’ve got Carnivàle on the go at the moment, which is fantastic. We’ve just finished season seven of West Wing, which is beyond good. We also bought a hard disc DVD recorder, so we’ve been watching a lot of stuff from TV, like the new series of Doctor Who on the ABC, which is really good. I loved the old stuff when I back in the UK, and I wasn’t sure about bringing it all back, but it’s really, really good. Oh, and also Play School. We watch a hell of a lot of Playschool, and we have two Play School DVDs that my son watches every night over dinner. I can sing you all the songs, I know all the words, I can play half the things on the guitar. We’ve got to the point now where we actually look forward to particular moments in these episodes where the presenters forget their lines or have particular facial expressions that we really like. I mean, I used to be like that with Top Gun - I used to know every single frame of that, and I could tell you what was about to happen. I can almost play the whole movie back in my head, and I really am getting to that stage now with those four episodes of Play School. If it’s not that, it’s Bob the Builder, or Trotro [“the little donkey with a head full of ideas”]. But we leave the DVD recorder going, and Play School is on twice a day everyday from Monday to Friday, and we stick them on occasionally when my son is having his dinner and watch them making things out of other things. But, if I do say so myself, it really is quite good. There’s Noni Hazlehurst, and she is just a legend – we really like Noni. Some of the DVD content is from about 15 years ago, though you wouldn’t know it, but the way you can tell is when you flick on today’s Play School, and it’s the same dude, but he’s got grey hair. I mean, the sets are exactly the same, and the songs are literally exactly the same. So, yeah. Most of the things I watch on TV are…Play School. And, uh, Carnivàle is good too." Words: "I try and read quite a lot, at least on my train journey. I try and keep just one book on the go at one time, but I’m not doing a very good job of that at the moment. I’ve got a few books I’m reading on photography, I’ve been reading Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards, which is a really good book about seeing in order to help you draw – it’s a bit of a classic. I’ve also been reading an amazing book which I would definitely like to see mentioned in this column which is a book called The Art of Project Management by Scott Berkun, which is phenomenally good. Oh, and I’m reading the flash card version of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - like the playing card edition." Games: "This is probably one area that I’m most sensitive about, because I’m not really playing much at all. I just don’t get the time, though my DS has been getting a good deal of attention. I’ve been playing a hell of a lot of Pro Evo Soccer on the DS, which is just great. I love that game, and I’ve absolutely run the life out of it now. I haven’t lost a game in a number of seasons, and I’ve got the world’s greatest players sitting on the bench. It’s got some really dumb flaws, but I just can’t get enough of it. It just matches my time really well: I just pick it up, have a go for 15 minutes and then put it down again. Although, it’s amazing how easily those 15 minutes can turn into an hour, and with a baby in the other arm too. When I went to GDC I bought a few DS games – I’ve got the Brain Training ones, and Cooking Mama, which is quite good fun. I’m still playing Wii Sports, and I still haven’t finished Zelda on the Wii. I’m getting to the point where I think I’m going to have to give up with it. I don’t think you can get that much done in an hour or something. It’s not like with the football game where I can hit pause and come back and know exactly where I’m up to with a glance at the screen after two hours. You have to remember what you’re doing and what you’re on the way to do, what items you’ve picked up and, oh, you just picked up a key, so you have to find a door, blah, blah, blah. You have to have a structure in your mind, and I just can’t do that right now. So, I tend to go with driving games, and these low-attention-span kind of games. TOCA 3 on the PlayStation 2, and I’ve been fiddling around with Project Gotham Racing 3 on the 360 at work. That’s about it, really. I’m not spending anywhere near as much time as I’d like to."

About the Author(s)

Alistair Wallis


Alistair Wallis is an Australian based freelance journalist, and games industry enthusiast. He is a regular contributor to Gamasutra.

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