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Media Consumption: Raven Software's Dan Vondrak

For this week’s Media Consumption, a column that looks at the media and art diets of our favorite industry personalities, we spoke to Dan Vondrak from Raven Software, project lead on the recently released Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.
For this week’s Media Consumption, a column that looks at the media and art diets of our favorite industry personalities, we spoke to Dan Vondrak from Raven Software, project lead on the recently released Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance has been awesome,” he enthuses. “All the sweet trailers and commercials marketing put together show off the game perfectly - I can’t believe the buzz around the game. We set out to make the biggest and greatest Marvel game ever and luckily the reviews so far say we’ve done it.” Not that there wasn’t an awareness of the fact that great responsibility comes with the great power of being able to make a Marvel title of this magnitude, notes Vondrak. “It was a huge responsibility to make sure each of these super famous characters played like the hardcore fans expected them to, and also make sure they appeal to the mass market. We loved it and would love to work with all these Super Heroes again.” Raven won’t be returning to the Marvel license any time in the near future, though, he adds, hinting at big things already in pre-production at the studio right now. “I wish I could tell you what we were working on next,” he muses. “It’s something we’ve been asking for, for a long time. I still can’t believe we got it.” We caught up with Vondrak to ask about the delicious morsels that have made up his media diet lately. Sounds: "Rock mostly, whether it’s the classic 60’s and 70’s, some sweet 80’s hair bands, grunge or the latest stuff – all rock is good. Van Halen’s 5150 was the first album I could ever listen all the way through and enjoy all the songs on it. Pearl Jam’s 10 and Vs. just have great songs. You can hear the feeling in Vedder’s voice - he gets into the songs. The last few albums have been a bit too toned down for me. I love Audioslave; glad the Rage Against The Machine guys hooked up with a great singer like Chris Cornell. I was a fan of Soundgarden first, and I got hooked on Rage later. Some of those Rage songs are so memorable with the repeated riffs; great stuff. Tenacious D has some great stuff, it’s funny, but the music is good too." Moving Pictures: "Top Gun, isn’t it everyone’s favorite movie? Seriously: Superman 1, X-Men 1 and 2, Team America, 40 Year Old Virgin, Boondock Saints - there’s too many to pick from. The comedies I love because they are smart and funny. They have their low brow moments, which are great, but there’s some intelligent wise ass moments which make the movies. With the action films, I love it when the good guy wins and the bad guys lose. I don’t care for films where too many of the good guys die and the bad guy never really gets what’s coming. I want my heroes to always triumph and always be able to do the impossible and defeat the bad guy. It’s pretty much like Rocky, which I love too – he gets beat down, but always comes back to win. Growing up, we had a big laser disc player in the early 80’s and we had like 5 movies: Superman, The Hobbit, Patton, Tora Tora Tora - my Dad had us watch lots of WWII movies. The very last movie I saw and enjoyed, hate to say it, was Superman Returns. I love how faithful it was to the first two movies." Words: "I like Tom Clancy, and intelligent thrillers like The Da Vinci Code. I just finished Wicked by Gregory Maguire – it’s a cool little story about the Wicked Witch of the West. Basically, the author took what we know of her from The Wizard of Oz and made up a whole life and it puts a very cool twist on what really happened in the movie. My mother-in-law was reading it, she mentioned it and it seemed like a cool premise. I like it when the stories involve 'What If?' type stuff, or take a different slant on popular stories. Like the Elseworld comics; one of those was about “What if Superman landed in Gotham City instead of Kansas?” – that was an awesome story. He eventually becomes Batman only with Superman’s powers. I like the Star Wars books too; my favorites are the Timothy Zahn series. I loved those first 3 especially. They felt like they could be Episodes 7, 8 and 9 to me." Games: "My all time favorites are Wasteland, Wings of Fury, Fallout and God of War. Wasteland had simple graphics but felt totally immersive. I loved reading every sentence on the screen or in the paragraph manual. That’s what a lot of these games have in common, they make you feel like you’re in their world. I love RTS games; Company of Heroes is our current obsession here at work. Lately, I’ve also really enjoyed Guitar Hero, Devil May Cry 3, and World of Warcraft. I grew up with the Atari and an Apple IIgs computer. The games back then were either super simple, or really hard. Like, the old GoldBox Dungeons & Dragons games required some serious effort, mapping out the levels on graph paper, teleporters that would spin you around and totally lose your bearing. Or the old text games: ‘A man runs by you into the north door – what door do you proceed through?’. Then you’ve got Pac-Man, Arkanoid, Space Invaders – all simple games, that were really repetitive, but you loved playing them. The simple games influence us all the time. If you look at some of the best selling games, they tend to be really simple at their core. Diablo, GTA – the main ideas are relatively simple and somewhat repetitive, but they development teams did a great job of packaging them and making the player feel good about the core ideas. It’s amazing what people will do to see a score go up by 10 points, or a weapon get a big shiny +1 to it, or hear one more ding of a gold coin being picked up. The hard games make you realize how great a sense of accomplishment can be. There will always be hardcore gamers out there and if you can give them some tough goals to strive for, they will spend endless nights trying to achieve it. And, as silly as it sounds, you feel great when you can tell your brothers or friends, ‘I beat level 99’ or ‘I got all 100 coins on hard’!"

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