IO's Forest Large on Hitman and game production - GDC Podcast ep. 18

Forest Swartout Large is executive producer at IO Interactive working on the Hitman franchise. We talk design philosophies behind the stealthy Hitman series, burnout and work-life balance, and what makes for an effective video game producer.

On GDC Podcast episode 18 we welcome the fantastic Forest Swartout Large, executive producer on the Hitman series at IO Interactive.

We spoke with her about what makes for an effective producer, work-life balance, and wild anecdotes about working on Hitman in the time of COVID.

Listen now on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify

What makes for an effective producer

“I’m going to say listening. I mean you also have to be asking the right questions or surrounding yourself with people who’ll prompt with the right questions. I mean I used to think that a good producer was someone who always had the answers, who could always anticipate the questions and be ready with the answers.

"And ideally if a pivot needed to happen or a change needed to happen, that change was already in progress. I used to think that. But I think it’s actually much more about paying attention, watching deeply, listening deeply, and trust. I was also very fortunate to be surrounded by extremely excellent people. We could push each other, we could be honest with each other.”

“…I think the secret is listening, observing. And of course, what is observation when you’re all working from home? How do you observe? So I was pretty annoying on [Microsoft] Teams, just poking people from big questions to just ‘how are you?’ I think also because I have the gift and luxury of having shipped a lot of games and having worked with a lot of different teams, different style teams, different IPs, I have a pretty strong gut feeling just on experience. And I’m also just willing to trust my intuition.”

Managing work-life balance in herself and her team

“Some people want to work [Denmark’s] strict 37.5 hour work week. Some people like to work a little more. But work-life balance is something I had an intense focus on [for Hitman 3] and I was really protective of everyone else and just really direct when I saw people were working too late or trying to work on weekends. It was always a 1-to-1 conversation. ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘How can we help you?’

“And to be honest, I really fought for other people to not work too much, and I didn’t succeed myself to stick to a 37.5 hour work week. It’s also…I love working so much. It’s my jam, making a game with these amazing people! But for me it’s really about how people are watching me and I’m trying to set a good example. It’s also about sustainability and working in a sustainable way. The short answer to your question is…I’m working on it! I think it’s going to be a life-long thing and I’m constantly learning and I’m fast to call it out in other people, but I’m also happy when other people call it out in me.”

COVID lockdowns and social distancing almost led to "robot" voice acting in Hitman 3

“It was crazy (laughs). I mean…We had hard and fast commitments. I had mentally prepared myself and I was trying to mentally prepare everyone else for shipping the game with robot voices because of all the logistics [of voice acting]: getting the actors in the studio, getting voice directors in the studio, engineers, mocap. Yeah…

“I was like, ‘guys…Google Translate!’ (laughs). It was a terrible idea, and I was shut down, thankfully…But what are you gonna do? I mean we were independently producing and publishing this and there was a fixed amount of money.”

GDC Podcast music by Mike Meehan

Listen now on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify

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