Q&A: LucasArts President Darrell Rodriguez On 2010 And Beyond

Gamasutra talks with LucasArts president Darrell Rodriguez about his vision for the company, the rebuilding of its San Francisco dev teams -- and prospects for new Indiana Jones and lightsaber Natal/PS3 wand titles.
In 2008, Darrell Rodriguez left his job as EALA's COO and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to become the president of LucasArts. Since that time, there have been a lot of ups and downs at the company -- the cancellation of the overhyped next-gen Indiana Jones game; the success of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed; the rise of Lego-ization; the revival of Monkey Island under its original roof; and the quiet resumption of original IP development at the studio with the Xbox Live Arcade title Lucidity. Gamasutra recently got a chance to speak to Rodriguez about his vision for the company's San Francisco studio, the transformation the publisher is currently undergoing, and how different products and development teams fit into that overall strategy. What is your strategy for LucasArts moving forward, and how do you see the publisher? Things have changed over the years, and even more recently, you're getting back into XBLA. Darrell Rodriguez: Yeah. We've been working for the last year and a half that I've been here really investing in the internal studio, really building out processes, and infrastructure, and frameworks to make sure that the studio is right, to the point now where we're actually adding teams and building our internal capabilities. So, we will continue to do internal development, and we will also continue to do XBLA and other title opportunities as they come up. Is it your goal to continue to primarily work on Lucasfilm-licensed properties like Star Wars and Indiana Jones ? Or is that what you're going to do with big games, and then have XBLA be more original titles? What's the mix? DR: We're definitely going to continue to do Star Wars and potentially Indiana Jones. We're also looking at new IP. We recently had some new IP, and we will continue on in that vein in the future. Are you primarily or exclusively continuing to have your studio presence in San Francisco? You talk about adding teams -- are you thinking about expanding in other locations? DR: Yeah. We are primarily here in San Francisco, although we've got a team in Singapore as well. Singapore has been focusing on our handheld [games] over the last couple years, specifically on Clone Wars. They're working on other titles for us right now. And we're also moving them to next gen into the future. What happened with that current-gen Indiana Jones game that never launched, and how can you make sure that these kinds of things don't happen? What processes are you putting in place to make sure that everything works out with projects like that in the future? DR: We still believe in the Indiana Jones franchise. We did Lego Indiana Jones 1, we just released Lego Indiana Jones 2, and we'll continue to invest in the Indiana Jones franchise. To your question about processes, we are focused on a phased gate type of a process, where we understand a greater level of granularity as we go through the development phase, tying really closely in with publishing as well as finance, and looking at the financials as well as the game and the landscape of competition out there to make sure we're making correct decisions. Lightsaber Natal or PS3 wand? Do you think that that's a possibility? DR: You know, I think that motion control is brilliant. This is a personal opinion. Time had the top 10 innovations of the decade, and I think Natal was in there. We're definitely agnostic, related to platform. We service all platforms. I think that both of the technologies are brilliant, and we'll look for opportunities like that, whether it's partnership or internal development. Moving forward, there's a wide range between something like The Force Unleashed and Lego Indiana Jones, in terms of audience. Do you see yourselves trying to continue to cover all the bases, from kids up until hardcore, mature gamers with your releases? DR: I think that's the beautiful thing about Star Wars. It appeals to all ages. It appeals to all audiences. So, we're continue to give what our fans want, whether it's a kid-based title like Lego -- I shouldn't say that Lego is just kids-based. Grown-ups love it. I've played the Lego games myself and always have. I guess, yes, we will continue to make a broad offering of titles for our broad consumer base. And when it comes to The Force Unleashed 2, is that a fully internal title? DR: We do have some development partners on a handful of SKUs, but we are working on all the next gen titles here, or our next gen SKUs here. In general, licensed titles are hit and miss, and that probably has to do with things like time constraints, or difficulty working with the licensor. I guess what's good for you guys is you are the licensor, so that probably helps in the actual production process. Do you think that you have a certain advantage there, as part of the same company that controls the license? Does that give you an advantage? DR: Yeah. It's amazing, the opportunities here. We are all one company under one big roof, Lucasfilm, and there's a lot of collaboration and a lot of synergies here that we play off of. So, I don't know if there's a control. There's just a collaboration that goes back and forth. So, I guess that gives us a big advantage. I haven't really thought of it that way. It's a partnership, and we're all working towards what's best for the brand. We're fans. I'll keep coming back to that. You guys licensed out Monkey Island to Telltale. Is that a process that you think is going to be something you'll continue to do, license out things like Monkey Island for other people to work on if you're not interested in continuing that IP? DR: Well, we also do the Special Edition ourselves. That's true. DR: We did the Special Edition on XBLA and on iPhone, and it did tremendously well. And on PC, it's on Steam. It did tremendously well. We did that internally. We had a great partnership with Telltale, and we hope to do something in the future with them. They're phenomenal partners. They get it. Will we do stuff like that in the future? Yeah, I mean, I'll look at all opportunities. I'm a huge fan of the adventure genre, adventure games and also the classic LucasArts titles, and whatever way we can get out there for our rabid fanbase. Do you ever the possibility of bringing back any of the older IP or is it all moving forward for you? DR: That's what we did with Monkey Island, right? We brought it back and we reimagined Monkey Island with the Special Edition. We're working with Telltale on the Tales Of series. So, we kind of are bringing it back a little bit. Sure, but in general, but do you see your IP as an opportunity for you? How do you make those decisions? DR: Absolutely. If you look on Steam, we're doing a number of interesting bundles on Steam, and we'll continue to do that sort of thing because the fans want it. If you look at the blogs as well as all the emails and all the letters that we get, we're going to do what they want. You've worked with some obviously strong partners to bring some of the Star Wars game in recent years, like Krome. Do you hope to continue those relationships or are you staffing up to sort of bring back control of your products in-house? DR: We're doing both. So, we're definitely growing internally, like I mentioned. And we'll also have phenomenal partnerships. We've got a great partnership with BioWare on The Old Republic, one of the best partnerships that I've personally worked with. I love working with Ray on a personal level, Ray and Greg, and we'll continue to look for those opportunities. How closely do you work with BioWare? They have a very robust creative process that they're bringing to the project. Is it more approvals, or do you support them when they have questions about the lore, that kind of stuff? DR: We work with them very closely. We work with them very closely on marketing, on the voiceover, on content in the game. BioWare, yes, they are brilliant at what they do, and they've got a great team and a great process, but it's much more than approvals. There's a great back and forth and great communication. Unlike most MMOs, it's going to be a deeply story-driven one, so I would imagine that it's just a very important process to make sure that it stays consistent with the established parameters of the universe, right? DR: Yeah. And that's the beauty of the Star Wars universe, that it's infinite. We can look at different timeframes within the Star Wars universe, which is what the Old Republic was. Do you have people on site at BioWare Austin, or is it more of a conference call kind of situation? How does it work? DR: There's a lot of frequent flyer miles, back and forth between both teams. Honestly, BioWare's here today. They're here today. We're reviewing a lot of stuff. The game is looking phenomenal. I'm actually extremely pleased with how it's coming out. Looking at 2010, what kind of product mix do you have planned, and do you think that that's an indication? Not to imply that you haven't had what you wanted before, but I get the sense of a transformation, from what you've been saying. Do you see 2010 as the year of LucasArts being where you want it to be? DR: Absolutely. Like I said, we're scaling. We've been building the foundation over the last year. We're starting to scale again and grow for exciting projects into the future as well as The Force Unleashed 2, which is the one product that we've announced thus far and is something we're extremely excited about. You know, seeing the game come along, I truly believe The Force Unleashed 2 will be as a big of a hit if not bigger than Force Unleashed 1. There was recently a statement by John Riccitiello after he closed Pandemic, that having development studios in California is too expensive. Lucasfilm is a California institution, and LucasArts is, too. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think it's worth it to be here? DR: I think it's absolutely worth it to be here. Have you ever come out to the campus? I mean, it's an amazing campus, and I think that attracts a lot of talent. So, we will be wherever the talent is. We're also expanding in Singapore. Like I said, we've got a team there that's growing as well as all Lucasfilm is growing in Singapore. Yes, I think it's definitely viable to be in California.

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