Thursday, 28 February 2013

Meet Leon Willett

This week on F5 Quicksave!

We received a lot of praise for Hoodwink’s soundtrack and all that credit should go to one person, Mr. Leon Willett.

Leon isn't a newbie to composing music for games; in fact he was nominated for several awards and even bagged some. His work on Dreamfall received universal praise and Mike Kendrick from The Gateway said; 

"Leon Willett has done for Dreamfall what John Williams and Danny Elfman have given to Hollywood"

You can find out a lot about Leon's work through his website but I wanted to learn more about the man behind the music. So I sent him a few questions which he gladly took the time to answer.

What is your favourite game and is there a specific genre you favour?

As a composer I favour the adventure genre. I’m passionate about this kind of games, and the focus on plot can afford the opportunity to compose some quite meaningful music.

As a player, I like very geeky games that require a lot of thought and planning. I’m not into causal gaming. For instance, I was in a WoW arena team for a while. On weekends, I like to play large online battles with Shacktac.

Hoodwink Main Theme

Which game score/soundtrack were you most impressed by, or the one you found most memorable?

I always liked Giacchino’s old “Medal of Honor” scores. In fact, I liked them so much that I soon got into composing for games after I heard them. In those days symphonic scores were still a rarity, so I found them special. I wanted to do that too!

Who is your all-time favourite composer?

I’m torn between John Williams and Joel McNeely.

What is your favourite musical instrument and why?

I think it’s easy to tire of any instrument if you hear it too much, so I can’t really pick one.  This is why I like the symphony orchestra as a medium; almost limitless colours and textures.

What are you listening to these days?

This might sound bizarre but I don’t listen to music very often. If I do put something on, I prefer spoken word. I’m a fan of Marc Maron’s show, WTF; or I might put on some stand-up comedy albums.

What are your thoughts on dubstep?

I love it! A breath of fresh air; the biggest thing to happen in dance music in the 2000s, in my opinion.

What are you currently working on?

I’m pitching to a couple of games, and will make an announcement if/when I’m commissioned to write a new score.

What do you like to do when you aren't composing?

I like a trip to comedy club, playing video games, or a long walk. Sometimes I like to pick up an old classical score and read it like a book, really taking it in. I also like chess puzzles. I do the one in the paper every day.

Will you be working on Hoodwink Episode 2?

Yes, I’m set to begin work on the score quite soon.

Picture sourced from
What was it like working on Hoodwink with E1 studio?

Great! I love the plot, characters and look of the game. It was a really nice opportunity to go out on a limb and compose a 40’s big-band jazz score. It was pretty special, and very enjoyable.

Have you eaten any Malaysian dishes before?

Sure, one of my favourite restaurants is Malaysian. I like the sate (satay) dishes.

Thank you for your time Leon and I can’t wait to get swept away by your next master piece. And to anyone reading this, I recommend you to listen to his other compositions and share them with your friends.

They are bound to fall in love with it.

Until next time gamers. 

Monday, 18 February 2013

Meet the developers: Johann Lim

Welcome back!

It’s been a while since I have written about someone from E1 Studio, so this week I will be introducing you to Johann Lim (That’s pronounce “Yohan”), a grammar Nazi and more importantly, one of our gameplay designers.
Too bad girls, this dish is hitched. You should settle for a Subway Teriyaki instead.
It was tough interviewing Johann, we had too much in common and our focus kept going off tangent. Ben and Jason, the guys from our mobile division- Touchy Interactive, were sitting nearby and constantly butting in too.

Here’s an example of how the interview went-

Yours Truly: Which college did you go to?
Johann: I studied at the Imperial College of London. The “College of nerds, geeks and doctors” 

However at the mention of “Imperial”- the Star Wars spell was invoked and Johann, Ben, Jason and I trailed off into a conversation about Palpatine’s elite guards.

Moving forward…  

After college he worked in IT and even joined a friend to start a company doing GPS stuff. Too bad for him (although fortunate for us) that GPS thing didn’t work out. However at that junction,  Johann got the call of theatre!

Naturally I asked him if his time working in theatre had given him an edge in game design


My time in theatre was crucial in the "unlocking" or "releasing" of my creative side. You can't imagine how "stick up the arse" I used to be in my younger days. Furthermore, the many trainings in performing for theatre helped with the different aspects of creativity, teamwork, self-motivation and project-based work (ie working with a deadline).

A great example is improv. 

On one level, it's great for impulsive, intuitive, immediate idea exploration - you just have to do / say something to contribute RIGHT NOW. You have little time or space to be shy / embarrassed about what comes out of your mouth, or expressed by your body. On another level, it's great for teamwork - you're all working together to create an interesting scene. Additionally, there's a rule where you cannot negate what someone else has done / said - so you're always working together based on the immediate reality.

Theatre in general is a good example. The scale of the production is big, and there are so many moving parts and so many people doing different things. It's not unlike a games development company. And there's practically no way one person can handle everything (sure sure there are exceptions, but you're not the exception sorry!) so you have to trust people to do what they have to. And if they let you down, then just pick yourselves up, learn useful stuff from the experience and move on.”

So theater had thought Johann a few things about being a game designer. But love for the stage alone doesn’t cut it.

You need to love GAMES.

I asked him how long has he been into gaming and- Oh my, what a surprise! Johann has always been interested in gaming! Just like the rest of us.

However it’s possible he started earlier than most of us here in the studio. His older brothers were the culprits that got him hooked. They would play “Wizardry” on the old Apple II e, and Johann would watch in wonder as they progressed down wire frame corridors and read text that popped up at every turn.
So what was Johann’s all-time favorite game?

“. ... this... is an impossible question” said he.

“There are many games I love for many reasons. Nothing stands out above the rest in every situation. I'll list some and why I love them, how's that?

Here’s Johann & Shern. 
Just smile for the camera guys and I promise to go away
Stratego  - introduced me to strategy games

Ultima 4-6 - introduced me to really deep and meaningful RPGs

Company of Heroes - one of the best implemented RTSes

X-Com (the old one, haven't played much of the new one yet)- one of the best tactical action games ever

Star Control 2 (now The Ur-Quan Masters 2)- one of the best all-round experience games ever ever

Super Contra (SNES) - introduced me to 2P co-op and made it so seamless

Half-Life - made FPS’s a story-telling engine, awesome

Puerto Rico (board game) - beautiful level of complexity without overdoing it

Dungeon Lords (board game) - brilliant implementation of the PC game (Dungeon Keeper) and great fun

Magic the Gathering (card game) - the depth, complexity and creativity of design is astounding; and it keeps getting better!

Populous - playing god is kinda fun

I'm sure there are more, just can't think of them right now.”

It’s always a nice to share so many things in common with different people but it’s even nicer to find a place where you get to work with these people. Johann, like me, thought game development was completely absent in this part of the world, until he played Company of Heroes with Shern Chong from the studio. After an insightful discussion on the CoH’s mechanics, E1 Studio was plus one designer.

I guess one lesson you can learn from Johann’s story is that you never know what the future holds for you and that you can go down different paths at every turn and still find yourself heading in the right direction.
With that in mind, I was curious to know what Johann’s thoughts on were on the direction video games were heading.
More Magic: The Gathering

“We're on the path to more interesting games. By interesting I mean more exploration in how they're played and how they play. Genres like RTS, FPS, Action, Adventure, point-and-click - all become harder and harder to label as more and more people get into developing games and really pushing the boundaries. There'll be more depth in games, and, over time, better stories told. Fewer "blockbusters" and more indies.

Someone said that "games are the new media" - I think it's too early to say that, but hell it's interesting times for games. It's something that the consumer interacts with, and that is a whole new level of complexity that we're very slowly trying to figure out. This is the Age of Games, and it'll be a century or two before we ‘get it’ ”

So to wrap things up I asked Johann what was a vital characteristic requirement for any game designer?

“Designers always need to seek out new experiences. They enrich your life and you need to draw inspiration from them if you are going to build a game”

In other words, people aspiring to be game designers should get off their butts and do other things besides playing computer games.

I guess it also helps a lot to have some skills in programming like Johann.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Lunch Anyone?

Ahh, the lunch break.

It’s the time everyone craves for, especially after a few hours of good honest hard work. And how it’s spent largely depends on the individual or the company culture.

As for myself, I pop open my lunch box and munch on a dry muesli bar, all the while trying to convince myself that it tastes good and imagining my bad cholesterol levels dropping with each bite. After that I kinda hover about the studio, interrupting others who are busy getting their game on.

That’s right. As lunch time draws near the E1 crew gets together and play all sorts of games.

You got your “Magic: The Gathering” card game players.

Then there’s the board game enthusiast, the current choice is “7 Wonders”

And then there’s the “Street Fighter 4” troupe, ready with their controllers and button mashing away.   
What kind of geekery is this?  Magic The Gathering!? Burn it with fire!!
Das is Street Fighter!  Bring your own controller please otherwise it’s the keyboard for ya! *gasp*
Oooo 7 Wonders, the board game.
“Can I join you guys?” no response……
I’m guessing this isn’t standard practice in most offices but such activities are encouraged here. Probably has something to do with us being a game developer but who can say for sure?

The important thing is the guys are having fun together and probably learning a thing or two about teamwork.

But before you know it, an hour’s gone by and the session is wrapped up. Still the guys are happy, they banter about the highlights of their game or the blunders they made. I can even imagine some of us planning our next move or which fighter to choose in the next match. These thoughts linger as we sit back comfortably at our desks and gradually shift our attention to our tasks.

But there’s still a chance to settle scores! After wrapping up for the day, rematches are often called for and the battles resume.

As for me, I bid the gang adieu and make my way home. 

Skyrim awaits me there.