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Q&A: Edge Of Reality Talks Nau State Of Mind

As developer Edge of Reality (Cipher Complex) announces that veteran Mark Nau (Spider-Man 2, 3) has been appointed as Creative Director, we caught up with him to discuss the state of development in Austin and Edge Of Reality's plans.
As developer Edge of Reality (Cipher Complex) announces that veteran Mark Nau (Spider-Man 2, 3) has been appointed as Creative Director, we caught up with him to discuss the state of development in Austin and Edge Of Reality's plans. Nau's first job was at Atari Coin-op in Milpitas, CA. He explains: "I was the only designer over on the consumer side (which had to use the name Tengen due to legal restrictions.) We were working on an original PC title that would have been a small squad-based RTS game, like Syndicate." From there on, Nau "...was the 4th employee hired to work at Treyarch, back when it was a start-up. I was the only designer in the company for a long while. Then I became lead designer as the projects got bigger." He then worked on all of Treyarch's products from Die By The Sword through Spider-Man 2 and finally, was creative director for Spider-Man 3, before coming on board at Edge Of Reality about 4 months ago. We quizzed Nau in further detail about his role and the company's projects, which encompass original IP title Cipher Complex and an as yet unconfirmed Sega and Marvel superhero game. Can you talk a bit about Edge of Reality's focus? Specifically, as I recall, the company only develops two games at a time, one with each studio, feeling that "anything more than that would jeopardize our focus, and therefore the quality of our studio." Yes, that is still the case. Edge of Reality is divided into two teams. Once you start to grow beyond a certain number of people, you lose the ability to stay agile. We're not trying to be huge, we're competing on our agility, running an efficient, lean operation. Two teams feels about the right size. We're talking about 100 people, working on two quality titles. At Treyarch, I went through the whole arc of growth. As Treyarch grew, it added more and more teams. Sometimes it was two, then three, then back to two again. It wasn't until the company took on Gray Matter with Call of Duty that we found we could handle three teams really well. Before then it seems like there were two quality teams and one working on a project that was doomed to never ship. What do you think of Austin as a place to work in the game biz? For me personally, I'm finding it to be fantastic. Truly you have everything you could want out here, and the only thing I'm really missing is the Pacific Ocean...Austin feels very much like a coastal city. It's big, but it also feels like a smaller city, which makes it easier to get involved with community stuff. Also housing and rent...no longer do you feel bad hearing about your senior level programmer not being able to afford to move out his parent's basement, which is something you sometimes got in the bay area. Do you feel that MMOs are even a little too predominant in the area? To some extent I suppose, what with Origin and also NCsoft is a really big player here in town. But you go in phases. I think it's healthy to have a bunch of different competitors here. It doesn't seem as if there is too much influence from the MMO developers. I mean, we're certainly not hurting for companies to make other games. In our hiring I know that there is a variety of interest in terms of gameplay, and we've seen some people with MMO experience, but I believe they are in the minority actually. Why isn't Edge of Reality going for Wii and DS games? Aren't big budget games a gigantic gamble? Certainly Wii and DS games is a direction to take, but honestly it's just not the way we chose to go. Because of the interest we have, and the opportunities that came along, we've gone along this path. For one of our projects we're working with Sega and Marvel, which of course is a big opportunity, and when that comes along, you ask yourselves if that is the direction you want to go. We asked ourselves this, and decided that yes it was. The other title is a 3D action adventure, and here with me of course we have a lot of experience in that area as well. It's not like we have been fighting an uphill battle. Is Edge of Reality keeping their IP when they sign Cipher Complex? You know, different publishers have different opinions on this, and really it will depend on whichever publisher we end up signing with. More than anything, you want a publisher that is interested in maintaining the brand over the long haul. You don't want to completely sign it away, but you also don't want to be a total mercenary who can walk away in the middle of the deal, I think something in the middle is ideal. What's the most ridiculous license-related request that you've ever had to remove or add something to a game? Well, certainly one of the silliest that ever came up was with Max Steel, which had Mattel coming out with a toy, and gave a deadline of six months to make a game that was ground based, sort of like James Bond with stealth action elements, but they also wanted all of these vehicles supported as well. We had to come back to them and just say, 'you know what guys, pick one.' If you could give three tips to people working with licensors, what would they be? Well, number one would be that when making a game around a license, especially a movie license, you need to remember that you are working with a hard deadline with the movie's release date. That deadline is not going to move. We as an industry are notorious for being optimistic about how long things take...I would encourage someone to be more realistic about how long it would take to do something, being aware that the end point does not move. Number two, would be to capture the spirit of the game. Of course, different people have different views, but they all get excited by the character. It's up to you to capture the spirit of that character, and bring them to life. My third tip, which I guess goes hand in hand with that second point, is expand on it. Don't just give me a regurgitation, a play by play retelling of the movie...make me feel as if I'm in control. Let me push the boundaries of the license with my own experiences, my own decisions. Are you looking at possibly doing downloadable games? You know, as an independent studio it's really hard to tell what our long term slate will be and how it works out....I know with our two projects we have now we may be locked up for a while. Of course, different opportunities can make you change or have different plans, but as an independent studio it's hard to predict where you are going to go.

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