The Podcast: Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann And Media Molecule’s Siobhan Reddy Join Talking Games With Reggie And Harold!

It’s really “The Last of Us” – for Reggie and Harold. That’s because the two wrap up their seven-episode fundraising podcast. But it’s with an awesome PlayStation Special! Please donate now to help underserved communities now! First, Naughty Dog’s game director Neil Druckmann speaks about the making of and release of The Last of Us Part II. Then, Media Molecule’s studio director Siobhan Reddy speaks about the creation of Dreams and LittleBigPlanet.

It’s been a busy, enlightening time of creativity for Talking Games With Reggie And Harold and the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s fundraising initiative to mentor students in underserved areas, including homeless shelters. And we’re going out with our best episode yet.

Reggie and Harold could not have done this show without the awesome people from the New York Videogame Critics Circle who donated so much of their time to make it happen. 

Talking Games With Reggie And Harold is produced and edited by Annie Pei. It’s written by Harold Goldberg. Annie Nguyen is our project manager. John Azzilonna is our designer. Whitney Meers and Imad Khan help with social media. Our music was written by Emmy and Grammy winner Anton Sanko. Anton’s upcoming movies include “The Boy Behind The Door” and “The Passage.”

Have a healthy and safe summer, and remember to vote for change when Fall comes around. Take care, everyone!

Transcript:

Reggie  00:10

Welcome to the last episode of talking games with Reggie and Harold we hope you’ve been staying well and safe since you last heard from us. During the past seven weeks, we’ve done our best to entertain you during this terrible time of COVID-19. We’ve talked with game legends like Phil Spencer, and homeless shelter social workers, like Henry Love. We’ve told you some inside stories from our experiences in the video game industry. Most importantly, we told you about the New York Video Game Critic Circle’s very important mission to bring games and journalism mentoring to underserved communities, like students in homeless shelters. Harold, should we do another season? What do you think?

Harold  00:57

Well, maybe Reggie first We’d like to see our GoFundMe go higher. If that happens, we would know that you, the fans, like what we’re doing with the podcast.

Reggie  01:10

You know, that’s right, Harold. Yes, our goal is to entertain, but also to inform you about our nonprofit work. If all of the tens of thousands of fans of this podcast gave just $10 we could fund our work for years. For right now, we simply want to hit that GoFundMe threshold of $15,000

Harold  01:31

So please go to NYGameCritics.com/Reggie Reggie and click the GoFundMe link. Want us to do a season two? That’s what you should do. donations will help us help students in homeless shelters and other underserved communities. And donating will help us make our decision about recording potential season two.

Reggie  01:51

Our first guest is Neil Druckmann. The hard working game director and co writer for Naughty Dog’s blockbuster hit The Last of Us Part II It’s been Sony’s fastest selling PlayStation 4 game, selling more than 4 million copies in just three days. But there’s also a petition signed by thousands to change the story. So it’s been a divisive release. Harold, who just wrote about the game for Vulture begins our interview.

Harold  02:33

Neil, welcome to the program and congrats, the big success of The Last of Us Part II. It’s It’s It’s a great game. We want to start by asking how you got your start in the world of games. And I know you began as a student at Carnegie Mellon University, Emily, but did your love of games begin prior to that?

Neil  02:55

Oh, man, yeah. First of all, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to talk with you guys. As far back as I can remember, I’ve played video games. So I was lucky. I grew up in Israel and my brother was into video games, which means like we had a PC at home where I played a lot of adventure games. So a lot of the old Sierra games like Space Quest and King’s Quest, and leisure suit, Larry. So I actually learned a lot of English playing those games. And then when I first moved to the US, in 1989, I stayed at a cousin’s house that had a Nintendo Entertainment System, and a stack of games that I’ve never played, and I didn’t know anything about any of them and my brother and I just spent hours going from each each cartridge, and I got to tell the story to Miyamoto one one time at E3 but like we’re going from cartridge to cartridge to cartridge and we play this one game that was a ton of fun. Skipped it, went through all the other games went back to this one game, and played it non stop and it was the original Super Mario Bros. and I knew nothing about it was just the best game. And ever since then, I’ve been like a console fan and like a Nintendo fanatic played and beaten every mainline Mario game since.

Reggie  04:03

Well, I’m sure you’re telling that story to Mr. Miyamoto must have made him smile. So that’s, that’s great. I want to add my congratulations, Neil to you and the team for, you know, the strong sales behind The Last of Us Part II. It’s it’s just phenomenal to watch. In other interviews you’ve done, you’ve talked about game development as an iterative process where the team is written and developed and produced parts of a storyline, and then that content is scrapped and redone with a different thruster or outcome. It sounds like it’s like shooting a movie. While the script is being created in real time. It sounds incredibly challenging. Would you talk a little bit about that?

Neil  04:46

Sure. We always start with a strong idea. And the way I’ve worked at least is I like to have an alpha of the whole thing. So I could have like, some semblance of beginning, middle and end but then you have to remain open and flexible. Because finding gameplay is often like this magical dark art, which is like no matter how much you plan it, you don’t know what it’s like until you get something like someone holding the controller and moving through a space and seeing whether the mechanics work. And often that will dictate what kind of experience you could tell. And that will dictate what kind of story you can tell, which means based on certain presumptions will have been wrong. Like, for example, what the first Last of Us, the original story was, like Ellie didn’t engage in combat and kill anybody all the way until the end of the game. And we just felt like that didn’t work with the kind of story we’re trying with the kind of experience we wanted, where you want it to rely on her. And the way to make that work in gameplay was to make her engage in the combat space, which meant we had to change the story. So sometimes story will change gameplay, sometimes gameplay will change story. And often these things kind of feed into each other and it’s like this organic process all the way to the end.

Harold  05:56

Neil. I think the first conversation we had It was you and me sitting against the wall on the floor and it E# or some other convention.

Neil  06:07

I think it was PSX

Harold  06:09

Was it PSX? Yeah. So that I really enjoyed that. And I remember we talked a little bit about violence as kind of an ancient trope in the earliest literature. And now in Last of Us Part II by walking a mile in other characters shoes, we see their reasons for violence. And, you know, some players are done with this, some people will feel sad, some understand and empathize. Some reviewers say employing extreme violence as a way to sell games. So how do you see this? Let’s talk a little bit about this. Go back and talk about violence in literature in popular culture again.

Neil  06:52

It’s such a broad topic and it’s hard to first of all right everybody’s got their own taste. Everybody’s got their own limits of how they want to get with art or with storytelling or with visuals of violence, if someone if it’s too much for someone, they’re not wrong. And likewise, I think violence is prevalent with who we are as people, and it’s all around us. So I think it’s valid to explore it and its implications on how we live and what it means to us. And I think depending on the tone of what you’re creating like it just because it’s on my mind, whether it’s like Mario jumping on a Goomba or Ellie slitting someone’s throat, right? Those are both versions of violence, but obviously they mean very different things in those realities with the Last of Us specifically is we with us was Part II specifically as we wanted to explore violence through perspective, is that when you feel righteous, it has one meaning and often that means you might be dehumanizing someone else in order to make yourself feel right in committing horrible acts. But then when you flip it and you walk in someone else’s shoes and you see that same violence from the other side, it gives You a different perspective. And the game doesn’t try to judge you and say this is right, this is wrong and just saying, These are the consequences of it. What do you make of it is up to you.

Reggie  08:08

Let me pick up on the violence piece. Because for me, as I played the game, the most prevailing aspect was empathy. Empathy for Joel before he’s murdered empathy for both Ellie and Abby as they go through their revenge. Talk a little bit about that in terms of empathy as the prevailing element, not so much the violence.

Neil  08:32

Well, there’s again, this this magical quality to games, and we saw this in the first game where you play most of the stories, Joel, and then there’s a part where you we made you play as Ellie, and you see people when they get to that part, what they say is like, oh, my God, I’m Ellie. They don’t say like, Oh, I’m playing as Ellie. Oh, look what Ellie is doing. They say I am Ellie. And they change how they play. And I don’t know what the chemical thing that’s going on in their brain. But there’s something about once they inhabit that character and they swing the camera around. They’re looking at the world through that character’s eyes. We wanted to double down on that idea and say, what if you played half a game, like this violent conflict, and you saw it all one from Ellie’s perspective, and she’s righteous in her way, and she’s committing these acts against these group of people. And then you play a second half of the game, that’s about redemption, about someone that has already committed revenge, and then trying to redeem themselves of having committed as horrible acts. But then seeing the person you played before is the villain of that story. There’s a conflict that starts happening in your mind and like, sometimes you’re resisting what the character is doing. And it just for myself, I find that it just makes you ask kind of interesting questions about the morality of this tale where what character is doing because like, they’re both right, and they’re both wrong. And they’re both heroes, and they’re both villains. And it’s just messy in the way that a lot of conflict in our world is. And we were just trying to capture that through a video game.

Harold  09:53

What was the original inspiration for the game and then also you discuss the making of these two games was a pandemic and massive protests, something you and Naughty Dog thought would happen in real life.

Neil  10:11

I don’t think anyone could have predicted the current state that we’re in. I sure didn’t. As far as the early inspiration, I’m always a little hesitant to like talk in specifics about it because I, there was like some real world events that were horrific that inspired me I don’t want to trivialize them by comparing them to a game about a zombie infection. So maybe with that caveat away, I could then like just talk about certain feelings, which like, in early 2000, I saw a pretty horrific video on the news. I’m from Israel. And in this video, there are like a couple of Israelis that were horribly lynched and killed on video that created this feeling of anger, of frustration of kind of violent thoughts in my mind, and then years later, I kind of looked back at that I’m like, and I was just like kind of fascinated with like, oh man, how easily a mind can tip into that kind of state? You know, I’ve lived a pretty comfortable, privileged life all things considered. And you know, I had those thoughts. And then it’s like, I have like some like connection through nationality. But that’s about it. What would happen if like, that actually happened to someone that was close to me, someone I really loved and cared about? How far could I go? And then like, reflecting on those thoughts was like, could we create that same experience for a player? Could we get you to play something and make you feel angry and frustrated, and hateful, and even disgusted with a character for a long period of time, and then put you in the shoes of that same character? Can we bring you back from that? That was kind of the philosophical challenge of this gameplay experience that we wanted to do.

Reggie  11:50

That’s fantastic. One of the comments that I recall, Neil, prior to the launch of the game, you made some public statements, essentially something to the point that some players might actually not like The Last of Us Part II, what was the purpose of those statements? What were you trying to manage? In, in making that statement?

Neil  12:11

I was just trying to express some of my maybe fears. And you know, with the first game, there are no expectations, right? It’s like no one knew Joel and Ellie. So they’re, they’re coming in fresh, and therefore, like, they’re just kind of digesting it as they go. With the second game coming seven years later, there’s now all these expectations and people think they understand these characters in and out. And they have certain expectations for the kind of journey they might go on or what a video game sequel looks like. And I knew we were not doing the kind of traditional safe sequel, and I know how much people love Joel, and how much a lot of them are going to be disappointed with his fate in the beginning, even though we felt like that was the right decision for this story and what we wanted to say and just knowing that there’s some people that just love our work so much that are going to be disappointed or upset. was kind of like, sad for me. And I was I was fearful of what that might reaction would be. So it was just on my mind so much. I just wanted to express that in the moment.

Reggie  13:11

Do you think it worked in terms of, you know, trying to manage some of those expectations because you go back to the first game, and people hail the ending of that first game in terms of, you know, framing it as almost the perfect ending for a video game.

Neil  13:24

I guess it’s your thing is like people just hold some of the first game in such high regard and it became sacred, and one of our philosophies was like, in making a sequel, nothing is sacred. We’re not doing anything for fanservice. We’re a slave to the story of what the story is trying to say. As far as trying to manage people? It’s impossible to know at this point because of the leaks. The leaks, kind of like threw everything out the window as far as how we wanted people to go into the experience fresh now, all the reactions are kind of mixed with that. I don’t know how to decouple that from the conversation about the game.

Harold  13:57

There’s one more serious question. And then we’ll move into slightly later things. But by many accounts, this is one of the great games and the sales are brisk. Most reviews are very positive bordering on editorial ecstasy. You’ve been dogged by people trying to review bombed the game and people saying really ugly, bigoted things. How do you deal?

Neil  14:22

I’m still learning. I think you have to create some separation to say, okay, we’ve we’ve made this game we believe in this game. We’re proud of this game. Now. It’s out there. And it’s like, whatever reaction people have, whether they like it or not, that’s fair. And that’s their reaction and you don’t fight that. The other thing with the more hateful stuff, the more vile stuff that’s a little harder. And it’s especially harder when I see it happening to team members, or weirdly cast members that play a particular character in the game. Like, we have an actor that she’s been getting really awful vile stuff, because of a fictional character she’s playing in the game, which I just have a hard time wrapping my mind around that. I, the thing I try to do is just ignore it as much as I can when things escalate to being serious. There’s certain security protocols that we take and I forwarded to the proper authorities. And then you just try to focus on the positives and focus on distracting yourself with other stuff. But it’s just kind of the reality. And so I’m working on the HBO Show with Craig Mazin with the Chernobyl and I’ve had a lot of conversation with him about this stuff. And he kind of like articulated pretty well, which is like, people have to be get educated. This is kind of the cost of when you’re doing something big, and you might disappoint fans, there’s a cost to it now, which is like, you’re going to get a certain level of hate a certain level of vitriol that you just have to deal with. There’s no other way to make it go away.

Harold  15:45

Yeah, I dealt with some authorities myself when my story gave. You know, you mentioned the actors, which did such a great job and you told me that some of the actors interests in real life, murder into the game like Ashley’s and Troy’s in. Can you tell me a little bit more about those? And indeed any of your interests and up in the game?

Neil  16:09

Yeah. So in the game Ellie has like a love for space. And that comes from Ashley, like commerce is just chat with Ashley and I know how much she’s obsessed with space. And with Joel, the fact that Joel plays guitar and sings that’s because Troy started out Troy Baker who plays Joel started as a musician, and plays guitar and sings and that kind of worked its way into the story. The fact that Ellie is into comic books and there are video games in the game is that’s for me, like I you know, I grew up on that stuff. And when I think about skipping school and going to the local arcade, that’s what Ellie and Riley do the DLC. And it’s not just me, like I know a bunch of members of the team like putting themselves into it. There’s like pictures of their pets and like the environment, like you’re trying to infuse as much of your own personality in it. And that’s a way to get more invested. And a way to make it more honest because you’re talking about things that you’re familiar with.

Reggie  16:59

That’s wonderful. You know, the, I’m sure with the game launched, you and the team are taking a well deserved breather. But I’m sure at some point probably sometime soon you’re going to start working on other games now for PS5. And I won’t ask you what franchise, you know, I know what it’s like to be put on the spot. But the question is

Neil  17:20

You’renot going to Geoff Keighley me?

Reggie  17:21

I’m not going to Geoff Keighley you. You know, in a different interview. I they were talking about, you know, pulling a Reggie, which means not answering a question, I guess. But the the question I was going to ask is, what’s the aspect of PS5 development that you’re most looking forward to as you create that next great adventure.

Neil  17:41

It’s funny at the end of a generation, you always feel the constraints, like you always feel like you’re just pushing against a bunch of walls and finding little cracks where you can take things a little further, whether it’s like memory or CPU or hard drive speed, and it’s just when you start a new generation there’s it’s a double edged sword because on one hand, you have to build new tech for the new hardware, and that that can be an uphill battle. But on the other hand, also you feel this freedom of like, oh my God, we could breathe again like we don’t we we can like break away from these constraints, not you’re finding new constraints. But one of the things that we’re excited by is the solid state hard drive and what it means for almost seamless loading. Because we do so much work on our end to once you start the adventure and never see a load screen. And there’s so much work that happens behind the scenes of how we design the levels, how we chop them up, and it’s all invisible to the player. You never see any of that work. And now knowing that we’re going to be able to load things more quickly. It just means that the designers don’t have to be asked constraints and how they lay things out how we think about things when we load new characters. So I’m excited to see what doors that opens for us. You’re right that we do have to take a break though, before we kind of jump into that.

Reggie  18:51

Neil, I understand you’ve got a bit of a surprise for us and for the listeners to this podcast specifically for the donors, an items we’ll be able to auction and use the proceeds to help in our mentoring activity in New York City.

Neil  19:05

Yeah, so we’re giving you guys gladly signed PlayStation, a Last of Us PlayStation to help your great cause. And it’s an honor to do so.

Reggie  19:13

Well, thank you so much. And you know, I’ve really enjoyed this time, I’ve enjoyed playing the game. And I think you and the team are doing just some some fantastic work. So all the best,.

Neil  19:25

I’ve enjoyed being a meme with you. Are you familiar with our meme that we’re together?

Reggie  19:28

I’ve not seen our meme. So you’ll have to tell me about this.

Neil  19:31

So one, in an interview in the past, I said for lots of us, too. We try not to use the word fun, because we’re off to so many different kinds of experiences. And the idea was like, maybe I didn’t articulate it well, was to say, not everything needs to be like fun and positive and like, make you happy, because we’re off to different kinds of feelings. And there’s like an interview with you where you say, we only care about fun. And it’s like showing like the difference between like Naughty Dog and Nintendo and it’s got our faces and like our quotes.

Reggie  19:59

Oh, that’s funny. I’ll have to go back and find it. Maybe I’ll I’ll use it in driving some of the promotional activity for this podcast. But I remember that that statement, we use that in the opening of a Nintendo Direct for an E3 a couple years ago.

Neil  20:12

Cool. Well, thanks, guys. It’s been an honor to talk to you.

Harold  20:15

Yeah, same here. Neil. Thank you so much for taking the time once again. And I hope you get that well deserved rest.

Harold  20:33

Reggie, I’m so glad Neil had the time to come on the podcast to talk about the last of us part two at a time when he in the studio are, excuse the expression, at the top of their game.

Reggie  20:44

I’m really excited for the eBay charity auction as well. Neil will sign a special Last of Us Part II PlayStation 4 pro bundle. Donors will get to bid first. That’s right before we let anyone else get in on the action. We’ll have a reserved for this one, but I’m sure bidding will be heavy. Donate now and get ahead of the croud.

Harold  21:07

Reggie, Sony has always been of great help to the circles nonprofit work, and The Last of Us Part II PlayStation 4 Pro bundle signed by Neil who really help our charity efforts. Mythical Games has also helped. Let’s talk about Blankos mythical upcoming game that allows you to make money while playing. You can register your account at Blankos.com for the chance to be part of an upcoming beta. Blankos Block Party allows you to build the world you want and gives you complete ownership of what you create. Also, you can collect and play with limited edition Blankos digital vinyl toys, they’re really cool and designed by top artists, including John Paul Kaiser and James Grohmann. Just as mythical games made sponsoring donation to the podcast. We hope you yourself can donate at NYGameCritics.com/Reggie. Every $10 or more really helps us mentor underserved students. And also Reggie, you and I both know Mark Mayer. Mark is our Critics Circle board treasurer. MSK, Mark’s law firm, has been in existence since 1908, helping to shape the legal landscape. They’ve helped us work with underserved communities, pretty much since we became a nonprofit. Mark’s a great guy who works in the field of video game law. I got to know him after NPR featured my book on Morning Edition. Mark got in touch and asked me to be an expert witness. Well, that didn’t work out. But he’s been kind enough to help out with our nonprofit ever since and even flew in from LA for the New York Game Awards to see you get your Legend Award last year Reggie.

Reggie  22:57

You know, Mark is indeed a great guy. I enjoyed meeting him. At the New York Game Awards and working with him on the board for the circle. And now we have a fascinating interview with Siobhan Reddy from Media Molecule in the UK. Siobhan is a studio director for the team that created LittleBigPlanet and launched Dreams with such care. Their characters and environments feel alive and wonderfully quirky, like the best animated films, and just as importantly, Media Molecule has empowered and enabled huge communities to create and share content within these games. And now, here’s our talk with Siobhan Reddy.

Reggie  23:48

Siobhan, welcome to talking games with Reggie and Harold. We’re just so thrilled to have you with us. What up to to get started and to help our audience understand you and a little bit of your background. Tell us your origin story. You know, how did you get your start in the world of video games and how did you get to Media Molecule. You know, to me, the studio is so special, with its unique focus both on creation as well as storytelling. So tell us a little bit about yourself.

Siobhan  24:18

Well, firstly, I just want to say thank you so much for having me on the show today. It’s just a real honor and privilege. So thank you. When I was a little girl, I always loved storytelling and playing dress up and you know, I loved playing games, but I you know, play board games played loads of games in outside just have really vivid imagination. I come from a big family of one and five. So we were always playing something together, whether it was on the computer or outside or whatever. And as I grew older, I became very interested in like theater and film, and then punk rock and I started making like these little fanzines, you know that you’d make them and sort of sticky tape them and photocopy and then go sell them in a record shop. The next sort of thing that I got into is like making short films. And I love doing that I’ve worked really hard to get into film school. But when I finished school, I actually didn’t take my place. I in film school, I got a job. And I was working at this pretty cool web design company that was doing sort of just interesting stuff. And it was the first thing that was in the late 90s. So that was a sort of first thing that kind of showed me the idea of technology trying to do something very artistic on the web at that point. And then I moved over to the UK and a friend of mine suggested that I sort of try games because they’re sort of talking about this like intersection of film and web and theater and fashion and all of this stuff. And he suggested to me that I give games a shot and at first I have to say I wasn’t it didn’t feel like it was exactly the right thing for me, but I played Resident Evil and Resident Evil basically was the thing that made me go, oh yeah, this is totally, this is my jam like, it made me feel things and I just loved it. So that was the game that got me into games. I then got a break at a London studio called perfect entertainment as hired by Lucy Black, who’s still one of my best friends now, I worked there for a period and then I actually was lucky enough to get a job at Criterion down in Guilford, who was sort of just going through the big change, like they obviously made RenderWare, which was sort of rendering, etc, sort of middleware software, and they needed the game studio. They wanted it to sort of move into console and really show off what RenderWare could do. Fiona Sperry had taken over as the head of studio, I joined as an assistant producer or associate producer for her and she was basically my mentor for the next seven years. Learned absolutely loads from her she’s and I was lucky enough to work on Burnout 3, which is one of my definite career highlights. mean what a game and what a team and worked on burnout, revenge. And then, you know, Guilford where we all live is pretty small. My boyfriend Barry had worked at Bullfrog with Mark and Alex, they were all friends. And we just always used to hang out. And it got to the point where I was pretty much done with Criterion and I wanted something new. I wanted to do something arty. And they were always doing the arty games, you know, like they were at Lionhead doing like arty weird things. And I was making arcade games, which I loved. But I was like, I just want I want to do something more weird. And so I was actually going to leave the industry and sort of runaway to the theater. That was kind of one thought that I’d had at a Christmas party. They told me their plans to set up MM And we’re like, can you come and join us? And I was like, Yes.

Harold  27:44

Well, that’s great. Well, how did I mean a little bit planet is just such fun for everyone for young to old. In so how did this series come about? And what have been the highlights of the series thus far for you in particular?

Siobhan  28:01

So I mean, the very first sort of conversations about it were actually after Alex and Mark and Dave had gone to see Howl’s Moving Castle, and they got super inspired by that. And Dave had been making this little physics prototype, when they sort of showed me probably in around January 2006. We were looking at it and it was like a, the genesis of LBP is completely there. It’s tactile, it’s physical. It’s weird because that project, the thing that I think about in those first eight months, when we were getting to greenlight was the constraints just all helped each other so much, starting from that sort of prototype of the physics and it being tactile then immediately lent itself to craft because craft explains physics, so well, you know, like sponge moves like sponge string behaves like string, you know, we all you can see your brain just shortcuts it because we all just know how that feels, and Sackboy as well as a collaboration of a bunch of people. So it was weird. When I look back on those eight months. We definitely Did debate a lot and we had a lot of, you know, robust discussions, one may say, but it was a really brilliant time of like trying stuff out jamming like that Media Molecule ethos of jamming around an idea and sort of just allowing the idea to develop really came from there and I think it really came from Bullfrog. bullfrog has a lot to answer for in terms of that kind of culture of like ideas and trying them out and trying to have fun with what you’re making, like my highlights of LBP like a like LittleBigPlanet one was just an incredible the whole experience you know, like it was our first game as a studio. It was our first play create share project it there’s just so many firsts, you know, and we about time we are so often you know, Will people create, do you believe people will create and we would just be like, yes, we do. You know, and I think that side of it that that is probably the big highlight for me is like actually seeing the impact positive impacts that that community had that that project had on the LittleBigPlanet community, having seen it grow and the community grow with it is just a really beautiful thing. So yeah, it’s once you’ve made a game that does that, and sort of is about creativity, it’s pretty hard to go back because it’s such a, it’s just a really sort of lovely cycle of making the tool sharing with people seeing what they create, and what they can then go on to be.

Reggie  30:26

I want to talk about some of the characters in that series. And the type of thought that the team put into it the backstory, the iterations with the characters, in particular with Sackboy you know, were there any inspirations, any Nintendo inspirations as the characters were being created?

Siobhan  30:44

I mean, here’s Nintendo. I’ve never heard of this Nintendo. You know, I think we say with Sackboy was very much started with this little physics prototype, which is just a little yellow rectangle and obviously, we are big, big fans of you know, that Nintendo company, and all of their beautiful games. But Dave started off with this gorgeous demo that just showed the physicality of the character. If you look that up, it’s available on YouTube, it really shows you can see all of LittleBigPlanet in that it looks completely different. It’s, you know, if you, but you can see it, and I think where that comes from is this desire to make sure that the character felt great, or had that sort of feeling of reaction and interest, like, it’s kind of interesting to tinker with it before you go play with it, because it’s sort of able to like move a ball in a funny way or sort of dangle and some style. So yeah, and that was definitely that was sort of the starting point. And then it became a thing of like creating a silhouette, you know, finding an iconic silhouette, that actually allowed us to be able to make a blank enough that it could be anybody and you could really put your imprint on it. And so we like the idea of it being like a Hessian doll. Because that could be something you could, you know, put some sparkly, sparkly wig on or some sunglasses and immediately it would have character. It was one of those ideas that came together. And as it did, you could see the different sketches and there was just like, wow, like, once Sackboy arrived. The very last thing that was done was the pinching of the, of the arms and the limbs. Because at one point it was more sort of solid. And those pinches just sort of gave it I always remember those pinches because there was this moment where it was like just this tiny last little thing and it’s done and that was.

Harold  32:35

That topped it off. That’s great. You know, she bought i think you know that. We’ve been using LittleBigPlanet three in our Bronx mentoring classes for over three years now. And in what’s unique is that students start with a social justice oriented poem. Then do a pitch can create levels about bullying, depression, homophobia and poverty. Using these generally cute characters so along those lines of what what work has Media Molecule done in the UK community with students and underserved students?

Siobhan  33:11

So definitely am with LittleBigPlanet we did a lot of education, this with Dreams started out actually working with a couple of institutions and a couple of different programs or we’ve been trying to do is figure out how to teach Dreams is is is much more much more than LBP in terms of what it offers. So in fact, one of the challenges has been learning how to teach people and how to break that down into lessons. So what we’ve started with is one of our designers been actually doing like after school club, we have a couple of things that we’ll be ready to announce shortly. We’ve been working with. We recently did a thing with the Girl Guides, which was which was really good to do. And we’ve been sort of getting codes out to various code clubs, but that’s definitely there’s definitely more to more to come and more to talk about on that is a huge area of interest for us education. But I think the we really saw with LBP that the hunger was there because it gave people a real way to break it down simply.

Reggie  34:14

Siobhan, you brought up Dreams, the game is beautiful striking. It’s got the amazing music, the wry humor, to me all of the things that make it so iconic for Media Molecule. Initially, the game was put out there was a bit of a demo, the game was delayed. Can you tell us about that development process in creating Dreams? And it seemed to me with the delay that the game became just so much more polished? And I’d love to get your perspective on that.

Siobhan  34:46

Yeah. So I mean, when we first pitched Dreams, we pitched the vision of building this like, you know, a tool that would allow people to create games in a way that kept them in a flow, state and performance. was the key word that we kept using a bit like playing an instrument, you could lose yourself in it, you could move through the move through everything. And now, I’m pretty sure that Shu and Michael Denny knew that that was a very ambitious. And I think they realized that more than we did actually, to get those areas, right, and to get those areas, right, and then working with each other. And to really achieve that fluid state between the two, you know, moving from animation to audio back to sculpting that just took iteration. And we, you know, occasionally would underestimate the time that would be needed to be able to get that to really work through that. And then it was things like, how do we teach it like, how do we actually teach tutorials? What do they you know, what do they even look like? And we had to go through various iterations of those. And so it just we started with one tool with the sculpting tool. We then branched out and then over those years, we we honed it. I love that we did the early access. The early access was a great way of is pushing it out into the world. And we needed that to then be able to do the next step, which was really learn from the community what they wanted, how they responded to, to the tools. So that was excellent. And then this year was the Blu-Ray. And then that was a different audience again. And the thing that we’ve learned there is now how do we help them be more of a community in the game? You know, a lot of our initiatives that we’re doing at the moment like DreamCon, which is our first in game conference or convention, which is happening next week, things like that have given us a really, we’re really sort of putting a lot of effort into how do we make it feel like a real community in the game because it’s an amazingly vibrant community. I definitely say it’s definitely been the most challenging and exciting project I’ve ever worked on seeing what the community build is so incredibly rewarding. The question is like it I could probably talk to you about that for like a week. It’s such a, there’s so much in there of like, you know, all of the various escapades you know, sort of that cycle of like starting somewhere and trying to find those overlaps so that we could achieve that fluidity and then teaching and then learning learning so much learning.

Harold  37:17

Well, you along those lines, so their story and Dreams has a touching, occasionally heart wrenching story about a jazz musician and individuality at all costs, versus being giving member of a community. So can you tell me how that storyline came about and why the studio chose that direction?

Siobhan  37:43

And it really probably is a story about all of us, the way we tend to make our stories is in a big jam. Initially, the three themes were actually going to be three different games. We just started to get really interesting in the idea of kind of bringing them together and really leaning into the fact that it was a surreal dream, like, kind of leaning into dreams, if you like, wrote a bit like art sometimes, like, you know, when you’re making something or you’re making a project, it’s very easy to, you know, not see the wood for the trees, and it’s very easy to, you know, get upset with your collaborators. And it’s very easy then to walk or, you know, to, to not try and resolve things. And I love that story is actually about trying to find that resolution and to look deeper inside himself to, you know, to rely on his friends to lean on his friends, because it can be hard to lean on your friends. And it’s, but it’s important. That was kind of the story of you know, we’ve been collaborating together now for 15 years. So we definitely have had our moments together, but like, you know, we love each other. And so when I play out stream, I have these moments where I’m like, this is a story about all of us and none of us at the same time,

Reggie  39:01

You know, you you brought up your contributor community you know you’ve had this with a little bit planet, obviously you have it now with with dreams, you actually give out awards to your community. Can you tell us about the awards and some of the content from some of the winners that you’ve you’ve honored this way?

Siobhan  39:20

Yeah, so we ran the first MPs earlier this year, and they will be an annual thing. What I’ve loved to actually see is sort of Abby sort of developing these sort of beats throughout the year for our community to work towards and so the MPs are the sort of divided into about 20 different categories, obviously, like best game, but there’s also you know, best community helper. Also, you know, there’s it would you would try to really get a large coverage best streamer best, you know, just really get a coverage of all the different types of people because Dreams is an ecosystem. The games and Dreams that are being built are just phenomenal and the MPs gave a Rise to one of the games I’m going to talk about Pig Detective is one of my favorites because the story of it’s just so great. It’s a couple of German couple never made games before. They decided to make games in Dreams. And they’ve come up with this IP pig detective. They’re now getting ready to announce Pig Detective 3. And it’s just turned into for them a IP. Basically, they’ve developed their characters, every single one of the games becomes more advanced. They’re now working with a whole lot of different community members from across the globe. They’ve fought they’re basically formed a little team and I just really love that. I love sort of seeing that. And then we have like people, so Mackenzie, one of our creators, he is a person who sort of works on his own. And it’s fantastic to see that as well to see somebody who’s, you know, to see that spectrum of people forming teams, but also they’re sort of one person band who occasionally sort of pops up. He’s just kind of got got it all and So yeah, that was great. And it was a great moment for the team. We all got dressed up and we pretended verted award ceremony and we loved it. We had a great day. This was fabulous. And yeah.

Harold  41:12

It was really cool. I watched, it reminded me, some of the older folks will remember Monty Python.

Siobhan  41:26

I’m not sure if that’s what he was aiming for, but like we’ll take it.

Harold  41:34

For the, for the for the PS5, how do you feel about Sackboy being created by another development house?

Siobhan  41:43

So, I mean, we the last LittleBigPlanet that we worked on was there’ll be kind of two, we handed it over at that point. So we didn’t work on LittleBigPlanet 3 or any of the LittleBigPlanet Vita titles. And so we’re sort of used to seeing sort of Sackboy to go on It’s like he’s gone off to university and, you know, gives us a call on weekends. But yeah, it’s you know, we’re very proud of the fact that we’ve created something that that sort of lives on what I’ve actually also loved is seeing the LittleBigPlanet community developing Dreams as well. Like there’s, you know, so often I’ll be looking at the profile of somebody or play something like that super cool. Go look at the who made it and then discover that there’s somebody from the LBP community and it’s like, that’s amazing what to say. And what’s amazing about it is what how this skill would have evolved. So you see this sort of real evolution of like and yeah, so it’s the two of still have a very strong relationship.

Reggie  42:42

You know, you’re you’re doing such wonderful things now with with Dreams and I’m sure that the studio has their hands full with that. But being part of the the Sony family, I’m sure you’ve had peaks at the PS5 technology and what that system can do. Is there anything based on what you’ve seen technically, that really excites you about the PS5 and what the possibilities might be?

Siobhan  43:08

I mean, I think for us the exciting thing, is that it it is it exists, and we know that our community is going to get really into it and excited by it. Yeah, we’re not ready to kind of announce what we’re gonna do with it yet. And I can’t give away the secret.

Reggie  43:23

You’re not gonna break news for me? I’m so disappointed.

Siobhan  43:26

I can’t give away the secrets. But yeah, we’ve got we’ve got ideas we’ve got, you know, we’ve got thoughts.

Reggie  43:32

That’s fantastic. You know, this has been, this has been a really fun conversation, love getting to know you love getting to know your work. And really, I think the focus that you and your team has had on enabling players to create and to share and to, to have that level of passion has been just so wonderful to see. So thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thank you for spending some time with us.

Siobhan  44:01

Thank you very much for having me. That was a real pleasure.

Harold  44:15

Reggie I can’t wait to see what magic Siobhan and Media Molecule come up with for the PS5. Whatever it is, it’ll bring back the childlike sense of wonder again from Mr. Miyamoto’s games. Reggie, our questions today come from Isaiah Soto, a high school student who took our course in the fall, he wrote a brave story about how a Call of Duty game affected him and his family. And he’s a regular contributor, NYGameCritics.com.

Isaiah  44:48

My name is Isaiah Soto, and I’m from the Lower East Side video games critic circle. Our first question from Zach Hartsman. His question is what do video games mean to you and what have you learned from them?

Reggie  44:59

So, thanks for that question. Before it was a game company executive. I was a video game fan just like you. I played games on Coleco and Atari systems, I played coin operated games. The very first system I personally owned was a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. And I still have that original system, and a library of over 80 games. I played games on just about every console and handheld system since the early 90s. So I’ve always had a passion for this form of entertainment. And I believe that came through in my role at Nintendo. It certainly helped me be successful there. I learned from people in the industry, like my friends, Mr. Iwata and Mr. Miyamoto, and I believe you can learn real skills from video games, and I was set to talk about that, at this year South by Southwest Conference before it was canceled. I believe you can learn skills like strategic and critical thinking, communication, creativity, quick decision making and relentlessness all from video games. And if we do a second season of this podcast, Harold, maybe I could go into more detail on the specific games where players can learn these skills. Thanks for the question.

Isaiah  46:17

And here’s my question, Reggie. What is one thing you miss most about working with the tendo? And when somebody was getting your job, what would you tell them?

Reggie  46:25

So I certainly miss the people the most. My team at Nintendo was close knit and we created magic. And I miss all of those daily interactions. I still get to talk with former teammates, but I missed the daily work of solving problems and putting smiles on people’s faces. Somebody already got my job. You know, I gave it to Doug Bowser along with the keys to the Nintendo castle. So I’ll broaden the question to advise on getting a job within the gaming industry overall. My counsel is simple. Get Smart. On the business challenges, Every company has different challenges as they look to create their own unique opportunity in this massive industry, search the online resources where companies post open positions, connect with people in the industry. LinkedIn is a great tool for this. And recognize that working for a gaming company doesn’t mean that you get to play games all day. It really is hard work.

Harold  47:27

Reggie. This is the last episode of our podcast series. And I want to say what a great pleasure it’s been to work with you every week on this project. You’ve been gracious to give us so much of your time during the past two months and not be half of everyone at the New York Video Game Critics Circle, especially the students we mentor. Thank you so much,

Reggie  47:50

Harold, thank you for your partnership on this podcast. I’ve learned a lot from you, and from the amazing guests that we’ve had. The entire team working to produce the show is first rate, and I’d be honored to work with them on more episodes, but we do this as a fundraising effort. So if you want to hear more episodes, please donate at NYGameCritics.com/Reggie. And no amount is too small. And if we hit our target, we’ll think hard about more talking games with Reggie and Harold episodes. In the meantime, make your voices heard. Engage with your community, drive awareness and accountability for the projects you believe in. And come November. Use your vote to drive positive change.

Harold  48:38

Reggie and I could not have done this show without the awesome people for the New York Video Game Critics Circle who donated so much of their time to make it happen. Talking games with Reggie and Harold is produced and edited by Annie Pei. It’s written by me. Annie Nguyen is our project manager. John Azzilonna is our designer. Whitney Meers and Imad Khan help with social media. Music was written by Emmy Grammy winner Anton Sanko. Anton’s upcoming movies include The Boy Behind the Door and The Passage, folks have a healthy and safe summer and remember to vote for change when Fall comes around. Take care everyone.

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