EA's Guildford-based Bright Light studio has a focus on creating games for kids and families, so it was only right that studio VP and GM Harvey Elliott was on hand at the recent Shine Week - a seven day festival to celebrate creative talent among young people. We caught up with him to discuss Boom Blox, potential sequels on other platforms and if we'll ever see any games based on the classic Bullfrog IP EA owns.
VideoGamer.com: The Boom Blox games have obviously both been very successful, but it must be nice to see so many kids getting involved creatively?
Harvey Elliott: Yeah, I mean it really is. It's quite interesting, because this is quite a young age group, so these are between 10 and 11. We've been going for about 45 minutes or so and they've already created some levels. Within 10 minutes one group had made a chair out of the blox. I never thought about building furniture from the Boom Blox - that's really, really cool. As we go round a little bit further you see some of the challenges people have put in. They've really thought about it; they haven't just gone for a pretty pile of bricks. "This one's about knocking this gem on the floor, so I'll wedge it in behind these boxes". It's great. We test games a lot with kids during development, but we don't often see them play with the finished product. Actually seeing the finished game in the hands of people is pretty cool.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think it's possible that we could see Boom Blox on other formats?
HE: Yeah, I wouldn't rule anything out, never say never. Why I think Boom Blox has really worked is that it captured the spirit of the Wii. It's about the motion control, it's about throwing a ball or throwing an object. I can't imagine that on other devices at the moment. There's something very physical about it. Right now I'm really proud that it's stayed focused on the Wii and I think it's the right thing. Who knows for the future.
VideoGamer.com: The big thing from E3 was obviously Project Natal and Sony's motion controller. How do you feel about Natal? We're you pleased to see it?
HE: It looks awesome. I just think it looks lovely. I was really impressed by what they had to show and I'm positive we'll be making games for it. Anything like that where you can broaden your audience or the way people access games, I think is perfect. We'd love to see stuff on it. Whether it's this [Boom Blox], I don't know.
VideoGamer.com: Could you imagine that Boom Blox could work on Natal?
HE: Yes, I could imagine games like this playing on Natal. But I also think that Boom Blox really captured the essence of the Wii, and I think it works for the Wii, it's designed for the Wii. I think for Natal there are things out there that would do the same job that Boom Blox did for the Wii, that we could do for Natal.
VideoGamer.com: The Wii really started something for motion controls. It seemed to bring a lot of people into the hobby of gaming. Do you think motion controls will have a big part in gaming's future?
HE: I think where motion controls really work is making games more accessible. I would never have imagined my mum playing a bowling game, she's in her late 60s. I couldn't imagine her bowling, I couldn't imagine her doing exercise in front of the TV, I couldn't imagine her knocking down a tower of things with a control pad. The Wii and the motion control makes it accessible. I think that's what motion control does - it makes games more accessible to people. I don't think they replace typical control devices or typical interfaces, but they do definitely augment them. The right games work on the right platforms. They're definitely here to stay and they're definitely cool, and through the accessibility they're bringing more people into gaming.
VideoGamer.com: Loads of people love the Wii and the kind of titles we've been talking about, but you get quite a lot of moaning amongst hardcore gamers who are concerned about the rise of motion controls. Do you have any sympathy for them?
HE: I think what they've got to look at as gamers is, are they getting the best experience they can get? Whatever their chosen platform is, if they're using an Xbox 360 with a control pad, rather than a Wii MotionPlus and a Wii controller. As long as they're getting the right experience for what they want to do, they shouldn't be worried. When people shortcut or cheat the system, and say "well now this will run on this motion controller because it's out," and that loses something from the game, they have every right to say, "hang on, don't forget us".
VideoGamer.com: So if motion control becomes something that's almost shoed in...
HE: I don't think it should be a bolt on. It's got to be thought about. What I love about Boom Blox is that it was thought about. Day one was, how do we build a great game for this, the Wii Remote? And that's what made the game. I think when you go "well, here's the game we've got. How do we make it wave something or waggle something?", then you're doing a disservice to gamers.
VideoGamer.com: We've only just seen Boom Blox, but are we likely to see a third game in the series?
HE: Again, I wouldn't say never. I really wouldn't. We've really enjoyed making it. This one does have a lot of new features over the last one. I'd want there to be a step again. I want to make sure that what we do steps it up again. The thing I want to do is watch the online community. We've actually connected to online - you can create your levels, you download them, you play them and upload your own. I want to see what happens there and then we'll make some decisions.
VideoGamer.com: Do you have ideas that could be used?
HE: Yeah, there are thousands of ideas that didn't make each of the games. I'm not worried about the ideas, I just want to make sure we make something special.
VideoGamer.com: Lots of the Bright Light guys were part of Bullfrog back in the day, right? Is there a feeling amongst the team that you'd like to see some of those old IP return? Theme Park, Syndicate, that kind of stuff?
HE: Absolutely. I can't tell you what it was, but I was hired into EA to rebirth one of the franchises. This was almost six and a half years ago. Very quickly we realised that there's something very fundamental in each of those games that makes them so special. I'd only ever want to do that if we could genuinely do something amazing with those products and those franchises. They capture something each of them. They're of a time, of a generation. There's a lot of work to faithfully recreate that in a way that we're all going to be proud of it. You played Bullfrog games, I played a shed load of them. If I'm making a new one of those it's got to be special to stand up there. It's definitely something we talk about all the time.
VideoGamer.com: So for people crossing their fingers, is there hope we'll see some of those games again some day?
HE: I'd always put hope out, yes. There's hope that one day we're going to bring back one of those classic IP and everyone's just going to be blown away by it.
VideoGamer.com: Thanks for your time Harvey.