informa
/
5 MIN READ
News

Interview: Harvey Smith Talks Thinking Big, Getting Small On iPhone

Gamasutra catches up with Arkane's Harvey Smith to talk about his work on the recently debuted KarmaStar for iPhone, his current "first-person game with depth" main project, and more.
Arkane Studios' Harvey Smith has a heritage in titles like Deus Ex and Blacksite: Area 51 in his time with Ion Storm and Midway, but at Austin GDC last year he revealed he was well into developing a strategy title for iPhone as a "side project." The result was card-based KarmaStar, published by Majesco, and part of Smith's work at the Austin office of the French-headquartered Arx Fatalis developer. Smith has been publically discussing the cultural transition from large-scale development to a small team on a small -- but deep -- small-platform title, explaining his strategy of always-on video conferencing to keep teams connected. Now, Gamasutra catches up with Smith to talk about KarmaStar, possibilities for genre depth on the iPhone platform, distributed development and more. What were your inspirations, strategy-wise? What card-based titles influenced you? This side project was an odd undertaking, since I didn't start out with any game template in mind. I think Uno is a classic, I like Munchkin, and once in a while I get hooked by a board game like Settlers of Catan. I played more Chron-X than Magic. But that's not how KarmaStar came about. It was more abstract and driven by the fact that I just wanted to make a little strategy game for the iPhone. If you leave video conferencing on all day, doesn't that feel a little weird? People could be watching you pick your nose or eat your lunch. Ha, yes. One of our animators works from home, with a vid-conf system in his office, so we're constantly joking with him about installing additional cameras in other parts of his house. (He's also the guy who made the System Shock 2 mod called Rebirth, so he's sensitive to cameras...) But in terms of leaving vid-conf on (nearly) all day from office to office, things like watching someone eat lunch is actually part of what makes it work. I can comment on my French co-worker's t-shirt or new haircut, or the poster on the wall behind him. It enables the mundane, human social interactions that help people become a team. This is a leading question, but as a designer do you feel that switching genres like this helps you get a fresh perspective? For me, it wasn't so much the (temporary) genre switch that gave me perspective. I feel like the small team size, the autonomy and the motive for making the game were much stronger influences in terms of giving me a fresh outlook. I personally could have cancelled the project at any moment. I could have scoped it in any way necessary. I was in control of when we took risks and when we cut features in order to stabilize and polish. And we were making the game because we thought it was cool to design strategy systems for a small game, and because I found it invigorating to engage in a creative project with more freedom. What were the main challenges of scaling your design small? Did you ever find yourself over-reaching your means, or the constraints of the platform? Supporting wifi multiplayer consumed a lot of our resources. For the last part of the project, Matthew Rosenfeld (our lead engineer) spent a lot of time fixing out-of-sync multiplayer bugs. To get the level of polish we wanted, we had to trim some wildcards and cut short some of the experimentation. If the game had been purely single-player, we could have invested more time in creating more cross-interaction between players. How do you think the distributed development model would work for a larger title, based on your experience so far? What would need to change? We're working on larger projects in much the same way. The article I did [for Edge Online] includes a bunch of tips learned from that work. I think the difference in scalability comes down to this: Wherever you've got a larger cluster of people, instead of an individual, you need someone on site with good organizational leadership skills. iPhone has massive opportunity but also massive competition. Things have been going for a while on the platform - how do you feel about entering it now? What do you think you learned from observing things up till now? It's been great to watch. Interesting games pop up all the time. I love Zen Bound. I keep waiting for flOw to come to iPhone. The first time you launch a game on a new platform, you learn a lot about the process. The App Store, pricing model, user reviews, the impact of timing all your initial press and materials "just to chart" initially, the later impact of updates...these are all interesting bits of information that publishers and developers are still assembling. You had some notably public issues with creative control with Midway. Does working on a smaller project like this address those issues for you personally? On a small game, it's more likely that the creative desires of the individual contributors translate to the screen. That's a joy. Even 10 years ago, a much smaller team could make an interesting game. Working on Deus Ex, in the map editor, on the story and on game systems, there was far less influence and approval process from outside the team than there is at some companies. It's not just size...even some large companies are organized in ways that give a development team the autonomy to enhance certain features and to cut others; to make personnel decisions not based on a departmental/silo approach but in a way that serves the specific goals of the game; and to break off from external tech or time dependencies when the time is right. What about genre and target concerns of the iPhone platform? Coming from a background of creating very deep and complicated games on PCs and consoles, how do you view the audience for iPhone? Are those differences appealing to you creatively? Every day with Arkane Studios, Raphael and I are working with teams of people on a project that is very complicated and that hopefully will be very satisfying to players with tastes like ours. This type of game is why I came to work here; it's a return to first-person games with depth, specifically at an independent company, where I believe it's possible to invest creatively. My favorite games of the last few years are Fallout 3 and BioShock, but the iPhone is another platform altogether. When I play games on my iPhone, I've got 10 minutes to kill. For that, I love games like Drop7, Primrose or KarmaStar.

Latest Jobs

Treyarch

Playa Vista, Los Angeles, CA, USA
2.03.23
Senior Physics Gameplay Engineer - Treyarch

High Moon Studios

Carlsbad, CA, USA
2.03.23
VFX Artist - High Moon Studios

Anne Arundel Community College

Arnold, MD, USA
1.30.23
Instructor/Assistant Professor, Game Art

Treyarch Vancouver

Vancouver, BC, Canada
2.02.23
Producer - Treyarch Vancouver
More Jobs   

CONNECT WITH US

Explore the
Subscribe to
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer Newsletter

@gamedevdotcom

Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Browse
Subscribe to

Game Developer Newsletter

Get daily Game Developer top stories every morning straight into your inbox

Subscribe
Follow us

@gamedevdotcom

Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more