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Desert Island Games: Ignition Entertainment's Ed Bradley

In Gamasutra's latest Desert Island Games, Ignition Entertainment's Mercury studio manager and publishing acquisitions manager Ed Bradley gives us a run-down of his top five titles, including launch-era Everquest, X-Com: UFO Defense, and
For this week’s Desert Island Games, a column that looks at the top five games of some of our favorite industry personalities, we speak to former Ignition Entertainment studio manager for the Mercury series and current Ignition publishing acquisitions manager Ed Bradley. After 2005’s Archer Mclean’s Mercury and 2006’s Mercury Meltdown, both for PSP, the Banbury based studio began work on an enhanced port of the latter for the Wii. The title was released mid-June this year, but by then the team had already moved on, mostly to work with the nearby Rebellion Developments. Bradley decided to stay on with Ignition, though he took the chance to move “out of development and into the publishing side”, where he currently works with acquisitions. Bradley hints that although “Ignition have been quiet for a few months”, the company will be “announcing quite a few things soon enough”. “We’ve got everything from small console titles to big AAA next gen efforts,” he explains, “so the next 12 months should be really interesting for us.” We spoke to Bradley recently, and asked him about his desert island, all-time, top five most memorable games – in no order, of course. Everquest (Verant Interactive, 1999): The number one game – the one that has been the most important to me over all, would have to be the first Everquest. Since it was not released in the UK, we had to import copies to play. I think it was released in March ’99 and I started playing in July, so pretty much right from the beginning. People had greater tolerance for latency in those days – even though all the servers were located in the US it was perfectly playable, and to be honest, we had three of us sharing a 33.3Kbps modem, and it was still playable. That was in the early days, when the game was still in a very basic state. I ended up playing and playing until early 2003, so that’s a good four years of playing. By the end, everyone had switched to broadband. That was the dawn of online gaming for me, and I think if you look at things like World of Warcraft, they wouldn’t exist with Everquest to break that genre open to the masses. The first time I saw that game, I was watching someone else play it, rather than playing it myself. I was watching them walking around one of the cities, and I thought, ‘Oh, fair enough’, because it was a bit basic, even for then. But then they went out of the city, and showed me that there was a whole world out there, and that all of the other characters you could see moving around were other players from all around the world. That just fired the imagination for me at that point. I knew I had to get a copy of the game and explore this world for myself. I ended up being completely hooked for four years. I hadn’t really played anything like it before, but by any yardstick, those were pretty shallow games [in terms of gameplay]. They are a rich experience, though – they really are about the multiplayer aspects and community. It was a more naïve time, especially in the UK, because there were none of the spoiler sites, and all of that. It was just us and our imaginations trying to grope around in these buggy virtual worlds, and there was a real mystique to it, which is sort of what captured us initially. I made some friends in those days that I have still got as well, so there was that aspect as well. X-Com: UFO Defense (Williams, 1981): This next game is another PC game, which is surprising , because I’ve always been a console gamer, since the days of the Sega Mega Drive, really. It would be X-Com: Enemy Unknown, though it was called UFO: Enemy Unknown here in the UK. That game was... I don’t think I’ve ever played anything as addictive. I don’t know what it did that it did so correctly, but it was the first that I’d sat down to play a game and quite literally lost 10 hours without thinking about it. I’m still a fan of the turn-based genre, and that’s probably what started it off. Great sound, great presentation. It was great – back in the 256 color VGA days, it had some great bitmap art in it. The way it really took the UFO idea and played with it; the idea of capturing UFOs and using them for your own technology, and all the layers of conspiracy theory built into it, though it still kept a light touch. It didn’t get too moody about it. It was a great, fun game. It was a long, deep game as well. I always enjoy games where you get to the end of them and you think back to how the game started and you can’t really believe you’re playing the same thing. That game definitely had that for me. That was one of the first PC games I’d played, to be honest – I had a very crummy 486 that wasn’t really good enough to play Doom on, so I ended up playing that, and I never regretted it. You’d get attached to these little guys who had become veterans of long campaigns, and felt sad when some of them died, because you’d spent quite a while with those little guys. Like all great games of its time, it also had a couple of great bugs that could screw up your save spot if you weren’t careful. You couldn’t really avoid it. I think I’m still saving four or five copies for each game I play, even on the PlayStation memory card where you can’t afford the space. Old habits die hard. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo, 1996): It was the first Mario game I played. I was a late convert to Nintendo, and the N64 was the first Nintendo machine I owned. For a couple of years, game designers were really grappling with the whole 3D thing, and trying to sort out how a 3D game should actually play, and Mario 64 came along and everyone was just like, ‘It was so obvious! Why hadn’t we figured this out before?’ – it was the way all the camera movements worked in relation to the screen. You pushed forward and you ran into the screen. I think it was the first game that ever did that, and now, of course, almost every game does it. On top of the fact that it really cracked the problems of 3D game design, it was a brilliant game on every level. It introduced me to the charm of Mario’s world, and it was just hundreds of hours of fabulous gameplay. I can’t really fault it even now. Just running around in the garden – it was structured and paced so well. Just after you finished exploring one world it would unlock another for you and it really felt like you were achieving something when you drained the moat and got access to more areas. In some of the worlds you would just sit there playing with the game world, not really trying to get any of the stars, or do any of the other goals: ‘I’ll just slide around on a penguin for a couple of hours’. Great fun. It’s how to layer multiple challenges and goals into one set of game level content. It’s a master class in game design, as far as I’m concerned. You can accuse a lot of people of ripping it off afterwards, but you also can’t really blame them for it. Wipeout (Psygnosis Limited, 1995): I don’t feel it would be right to not pick something from the PlayStation era – I mean, I nearly failed my degree because of the PlayStation. I certainly ate very poorly due to spending all my money on one as soon as it came out. I think the quintessential PlayStation era title is Wipeout, and I’m certainly a big fan of the series still. Yeah, you could accuse it of being slightly derivative of things that had come before, but that first Wipeout - the way that it was presented, the experience, the fact that you could have a game of this intensity and graphical quality in your lounge room was great. It captured the zeitgeist, if you want to use a fairly pretentious term. It hit a real sweet spot, but it was also a really great game. I know they improved it – it was a launch title, so it was always going to have rough edges and a certain rough charm, and it’s probably still the toughest of the series. A lot of people complained about how unforgiving it was, but if I had to pick one title that persuaded me to go into gaming, it was the first Wipeout. At that particular time I was studying computer animation, and there were various different industries I could have gone into with the qualification – a lot of my contemporaries from university work in film special effects. Very few of us ended up going into games, but owning that PlayStation in final year of university really convinced me to going to gaming. It made living room gaming an acceptable mass market pastime, which it had never been before. The previous generation of consoles – the SNES and the Mega Drive – were still very much seen as children’s or teenager’s items. I’m not going to sit here and pontificate for hours about what particular elements it was about the PlayStation experience, because a lot of waffle has been talked about it, but on a personal level just being able to play game of the quality and size of Wipeout was what made the industry appeal to me. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998): I’ve had fun with the current generation of machines, but I haven’t played anything that I’d really call a nailed-on classic as yet. I think I’ll pick another N64 title, because people criticize Nintendo, for not having many titles, and the N64 in particular was really badly supported. People say, ‘There were only 10 games available’, to which I’d reply, ‘Yeah, but six of them were the six best games ever made’. I think I’d have to pick Zelda: Ocarina of Time. That was an absolute masterpiece of game design from top to bottom. I got that game and I did nothing else for two weeks – absolutely nothing else. It absolutely gripped me. It was the first game I’d played where the music was woven into the gameplay in such an essential way, with the ocarina being a little mini-game in itself. I remember being so pleased with myself when I memorised the tunes, and I didn’t need to look at the help screen anymore. Going back and forwards in time... Miyamoto’s games are always great at showing you things you can’t reach and peaking your curiosity. Suddenly, you go forward in time, you become big Link, and you go ‘Ahh, I can finally reach that ledge I couldn’t reach, 25 hours previous’. It absolutely captivated me. I found all the dungeons well designed; satisfying. I loved all the bosses – some of them were great. I’ll never forget fighting the two hands of the bongo drums, and having to use the Lens of Truth to see the weak spot. [The Water Temple] absolutely infuriated me, but it didn’t feel like a waste of time, because I was in that sweet spot of frustration where I felt there were things I hadn’t tried yet. Eventually you end up getting the upgraded long shot, and I managed to crack it without resorting to spoilers. I recall it being tough, but I solved it in the end. Always cling onto the happy memories, not the sad one. Because it was the first Zelda game I’d played, it introduced me to the vocab and the characters and the background. I spent ages wondering why the main character wasn’t called Zelda though, because I hadn’t been introduced to any of that before. An absolutely wonderful game. I still love it now, and I made my step-son play on the GameCube when it came out with Wind Waker as a special edition pack. I didn’t finish Wind Waker - to be honest, I couldn’t actually get onto the machine after I’d introduced my son to Ocarina. Anyone who has played that time would put it into their top five games of all time, and if they didn’t, I’d want to know why.

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