Mike Rouse (Sony/Ubisoft/Microsoft) – Interview

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We love all our interviewees, this is fact. But every now and then we’ll have someone on who really blows us away. Mike Rouse’s work is phenomenal. One of Sony’s brightest talents he went on to help The Getaway (PS2) win a BAFTA in one of his first jobs. Stellar work at Ubisoft and Microsoft followed so he’s quite a story to tell. Don’t believe us? You will after this.

 

How did you first get the opportunity to enter the video game industry?

Gaming has always been a part of my life ever since my father brought home a Magnavox Odyssey in the early 80s. It wasn’t until I was in secondary school though when I decided this would be my career path. I had a difficult journey to take though to get into the industry. I am very, very Dyslexic, I also developed severe Asthma when I moved back to the UK from South Africa and spent most of secondary school on life support and in hospital.

But throughout all that my gaming supported me, whether it was helping my reading with the RPGs I played or keeping my spirits up playing R-Type on my Master System. I did not get the grades I needed to take me down the route I wanted in gaming, but I was good at sport and art. I knew that if I could get one college qualification, I could get onto an IT course. So, I took a sports qualification and aced it. Then I joined an IT course that ran work placements, I looked for jobs where I could use my art skills. I found a newspaper that needed a secretary and general dogs’ body. During the week I answered phones and then on the weekends, I worked for free in the graphics department. Quite quickly I was offered a full-time job doing digital manipulation and graphics. I then built up my portfolio with an eye on going to University and taking a course that would get me into games.

Two years later and I was accepted onto the first 3D Computer Animation course in the UK. I worked very hard until Sony PlayStation visited looking to run their first intern program. I applied, got in, worked 7 days a week on anything they would give me, and ultimately was offered a job as a junior artist a year before my degree was up. I quite University and went to work at Sony on a game that would become The Getaway.

 

Do you remember the first ever game you worked on and how do you reflect back on it now?

My first game was as an intern at Sony’s Team Soho as a character artist on This is Football 2002. It was an amazing time; the industry was transitioning into true 3D and at Sony we were building a generation of games that would define modern gaming. Development teams also saw a huge jump in size. Teams on PS1 were generally 10 -15 people, we were now suddenly going to teams of 50+ people and it caught most of us in the industry off guard. Planning was the biggest transition we needed to make and very few studios got it right in the early days of the Gen6 consoles.

 

 

You mentioned it earlier, The Getaway was a hugely successful title. What was your exact role on this game and were they heavily inspired form the classic GTA games?

I was one of two car artists on The Getaway, we were also the champions of adding in open-world content like the tank to the city. As for inspiration, there is always an element of “standing on the shoulders of giants” in the games industry. But as a direct influence, no I don’t think so. Our game director drew inspiration from films rather than games and so from that perspective Uncharted has more in common with The Getaway than GTA. Personally, I was influenced by Street Fighter II. Games like Doom and Street Fighter II helped to define a genre, and this is what we were doing.

For me, SFII was a super-polished masterpiece with amazing attention to detail, and it was this attention to detail that I wanted to bring to the cars. My vehicle partner and I set out to make the cars in the getaway the most authentic ever seen in a game.

 

Do you think there is room for a new Getaway game or even a remake/remaster of the first two?

I think a reboot is possible, although one of the hallmarks of the game may not be present. As far as I know The Getaway is the most authentic recreation of a city in a video game. Small shops you could drive past in the game are still trading in London today. This drive to make an authentic world for a story to unfold in is costly and takes a huge amount of time. Also, licencing is a bigger thing in games now than it was in the early 2000s. And so, if there is a remake then I think it would be in a city that was along the same lines as Watch Dogs or New York in Spiderman. More inspired by, rather than recreation.

AAA games are big and complex. The Getaway did things that no other game had done, full body and facial mo-cap that played out in real-time, streaming tech that removed loading in the city and between environments, real-time destruction of licensed cars, no in-game HUD and a huge story that put real actors into the middle of a game.

The Getaway came along at a time where in the industry we had never made or planned for games this big, and so tech and a lack of experience made predicting an end date difficult. For the team though, we were less conscious of a delay. Sony was investing in a showcase piece, a game that showed players and developers what was possible on the PS2, and so these games are usually given the space they need to be successful.

 

 

Do you think you would get along with Mark Hammond in real life and would you trust him as your personal driver?

No, the guy sleeps in a suit and has a gun on his bedside table. If Charlie’s gang hadn’t have taken his kid, then child services would have 🙂 And as a personal driver, his ability to hit the non-physic base objects and ram up against hard collision volumes would have frustrated me (ha ha! – Ed).

 

You have won two BAFTA awards for both The Getaway and your stellar work on the iconic SingStar series. How did it feel to receive such big accolades, and which of the two awards are you most proud of?

The BAFTAs is a great institution and it’s great to see them recognise excellence and creativity in the games industry. These awards are always the result of great people working together and for teams to be recognised at this level is amazing. And whilst I’m immensely proud of these awards, I think for any team the real reward is when people like what we spent years making. And I think The Getaway’s BAFTA for technical achievement is my favourite.

 

Where do you keep your BAFTA awards in your house and is it true you were also nominated for two other games?

Unfortunately, Sony gets to keep the awards. Although when I left Sony, I was gifted The Getaway BAFTA Award certificate, which hangs in my games room. When Phil Harrison left, he was given the SingStar and EyeToy BAFTA awards. Now I was the Development Director at Sony when I left and Phil was Head of Worldwide Studios, so maybe it’s a rank thing 🙂

SingStar had five nominations as far as I can remember, and The Book of Spells was nominated for Game Innovation.

 

 

You seem to have had quite a big hand in very innovative titles and concepts within the gaming industry, such as the aforementioned Book of Spells and SingStar. How did these amazing opportunities arise and where do you feel the future of AR and VR may take us in the future?

I think this is the question on everyone’s lips at the moment. I’ve spent time in both mediums, Wonderbook and HoloLens for AR and we created a VR experience similar to Red Matter with my own indie Studio. I’m convinced we inspired them 🙂

I’ve been lucky to work with big studios who can afford to be the pioneers in these new technologies and so I think it’s been more about being in the right place at the right time when it comes to my work on AR and VR.

Personally, I see AR as being a great productivity tool. I think the Book of Spells is still the biggest AR entertainment experience out there and to be honest it was exceptionally hard to create fun at that scale with this medium. Whereas VR is fantastic for immersive entertainment. For both these mediums, it’s going to come down to the barrier to entry. The experiences are still magical on these devices and many of the games have moved beyond enjoyable tech demos. With the release of systems like the Oculus Quest, we are definitely seeing the death of tethered VR and with it, an explosion of new adopters as the barrier to entry lessens. I have no doubt that my son and daughter will grow up with AR and VR being part of their daily lives.

 

You have worked at Sony, Ubisoft and Microsoft, how do you reflect on your time working with such well respected companies and do you have a personal favourite place of work so far in your career?

I love getting to work on the bleeding edge of games development, and with talented people who inspire me every day. I spent 12 years at Sony and moved from junior artist to development director, creating some ground-breaking games and experiences. I’m very proud of the PSN Trophy system, I came up with the direction for this system feature and worked with Phil Harrison to sell this into PlayStation HQ. And now millions of people on every PlayStation system from PS3 enjoy collecting trophies. It’s crazy to think that something I thought up on the train home from work is being used every day across the globe.

With Microsoft I founded and built a new Microsoft Games studio as the studio director. And I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with Ubisoft on For Honor, it was a real passion project for me.

I think though my first Studio will always be my favourite. Like a great retro video game, there is so much nostalgia tied up in it.

 

You are also a huge advocate and lover of retro gaming. Have you always been interested in the classic games and why do you personally feel retro gaming has become so popular mainstream?

I love retro gaming and this is simply because I’ve grown up with these games. I had a console from every generation growing up. A lot of the games I buy now are just games that I could not afford when I was younger. And I think this is impart where some of the resurgences in retro games come from. For younger generations though I struggle to see where the appeal comes from. I’ve played Streets of Rage 2 with my daughter since she was 4. It’s one of her most favourite games, but she’s shown no real interest in the other 2000+ games I have in my collection. She’d rather play DQ Builders 2 or Stardew Valley.

 

Can you tell our readers a bit more about your gaming YouTube channel and what do you usually cover in our videos?

For the longest time I’ve been collecting and enjoying classic retro games by myself. Developers are not generally into retro gaming and there are no collectors around where I live. And so, I set up my channel to meet other retro gamers and to learn more about retro gaming from them and share my thoughts perspective on gaming. I cover everything from gaming history to new games released for old consoles or new consoles for old games, to talking about my collection and my favourite pieces. The best bit though is the comments section, I’ve made so many new friends here and love learning about their collections and retro gaming hobby. I have definitely carried my inspiration from Street Fighter II over to my channel as well, and I’ve tried to create a very polished experience for people watching my retro stuff.

 

 

Which classic game and console would you class as your personal favourite and can you explain why?

Choosing a console is easy. It’s the tower of power (hooray! – Ed), the Sega Mega Drive MK1, Mega CD MK1 and the 32X. It’s not the best console but I just love how it looks. The Mega CD is also my first console that I saved up for and bought at launch.

Choosing a game is impossible, that’s why I have over 2000. Every day I go into my games room and pick out a game, look at the cover and just remember how great it was. Some games bring back great memories, others are just great.

 

Can you reveal what future games or projects you are working on?

I think every game developer wishes they could do this. We work for years in secret, unable to tell anyone what we are creating. When all we want to do is shout it from the rooftops. But secrecy can be very important, especially in the AAA gaming business. All I can say is that I’m still in AAA, working with amazing people, who just want to make games that you’ll love.

 

What advice would you give anyone looking to get into video game developing?

I think it depends on what you would like to do. If you just want to make your own games, then grab some friends, download Unity and off you go. If you want to get into AAA dev, then try to stay away from University game courses. In today’s industry, we want talented artists, coders, writers, and musicians. University game courses can dilute these skills. Game courses can be good if you want to get into design, but make sure you pick one that focuses on this. If university is not an option then start teaching yourself, there are plenty of resources out there. And if you can come with a strong portfolio demonstrating your work, there will be an opportunity for you.

Lastly, start making connections in the games industry, reach out on LinkedIn, attend trade shows, go to game jams. Our industry is desperate for talent, there are plenty of opportunities if you are willing to put yourself out there and persevere.

 

 

You are a huge Zelda fan like me. Which is your personal favourite Zelda game of all time and can you try to explain why Zelda means so much to you?

It’s always been hard for me to choose a favourite. The formula is so consistent in Zelda that it feels like I’m just going on a new adventure with an old friend. That was until Breath of the Wild came out. This game blew me away, and not just me. This game has become a point of reference for game developers around the world. I love this game so much that I think it may be my best game ever! Maybe.

The thing I love about Zelda is that it is just about the adventure. The game at times is so pure that I forget about control systems and game mechanics, graphics and SFX. It’s just me, Link and the Master Sword.

 

If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would choose and why?

Nathan Drake. I’d love to go on one of his adventures, and after a few drinks, I’m sure we would find ourselves on the wrong end of a car chase through an old city with a stolen artefact sliding across the dashboard.

 

Adrian

 

 

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