Although he was born in the Midwest, Rob now lives and works in Palo Alto, Crystal Dynamics' Silicon Valley base. His sales background means he has little to do with the games development side of the business and he has never been a gamesplayer - in fact, his great love is sport (he narrowly missed becoming a professional sportsman) and he is more likely to be found playing basketball than indulging in late-night hacking sessions. However, he's beginning to appreciate that there's more to playing games than just sitting goggle eyed in front of the TV.
Edge spoke to ROb in the palatial surroundings of London's Regent Hotel, where the palmy atmosphere of the hotel atrium conjured up images of Rob's California home. (Edge would like to thank the staff of the Regent Hotel - particularly PR manager Charlotte Lawson - for their hospitality and good humour.)
*a-z = Rob Dyer/Crystal Dynamic's
THERE SEEM TO BE A LOT OF HOLLYWOOD PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE GAMES BUSINESS IN THE US. IS THERE A DELIBERATE MOVE TO BRING THOSE TWO FIELDS TOGETHER?
On the technical side the company is very games oriented. Most of the people are games people, from EA and Sega, and Accolade and Virgin and you name it. Our focus is on program development (PD) there are 90 people in the building, and 70 of them are PD. I think it's because of Strauss and me, and the Hollywood connections we have, that we're so closely associated with Hollywood. If we can bring in some of the good aspects of Hollywood... You're seeing cost of spec development escalating, just like a movie, you're seeing production values for video and sound reaching Hollywood proportions all that kind of stuff is starting to come into the industry. I'm sure you're going to start seeing a funnel of people from LA up into Silicon Valley. It's already happening.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE STATE OF GAME DESIGN AT THE MOMENT?
I think there are some really innovative games coming out. What people are trying to do now is involve all your senses, to make games appealing to the eyes and the ears. I've seen some great games which are coming out, but this always happens at the beginning of a platform; as the platform matures, the games start to lack that intensity. Towards the end of the platform, licences become the norm. We try to stay away from licences - that's not what we want. A game has to have a compelling story, just like a movie does - you have to have something that's going to make the player play through it. Too many times people rely on the character to draw you into the game.
AS A FORMER DISNEY MAN, CAN YOU SEE MORE SCOPE FOR ANIMATORS PRODUCING DRAWN ANIMATION FOR GAMES, RATHER THAN 3D RENDERING AND FMV?
We have animators from Disney working for us. The reason animators have been so effective is because you can draw backgrounds and characters that become part of the game. I think that's what's important. The reason FMV has not been so important is that you haven't been able to make it part of the game. I think you're going to see alot more FMV, used better, and rather than just being `eye candy', it will be intregal to the game. We're trying to do that more, and make the video effect the gameplay. That's the magic that Hollywood can bring to videogames - if they can get the FMV involved in the gameplay. We tried to do it in The Horde, where it worked relatively well, and we're trying to do it in our upcoming games too.
HOW DID CRYSTAL DYNAMICS LURE SOMEONE AS INFLUENTIAL AS STRAUSS ZELNICK AWAY FROM HOLLYWOOD?
Strauss was looking for what the next great industry was going to be. The movie business is an 80-year-old industry; it's mature. So you're not going to see any hugh growth. And Strauss was shaving one morning and he said to his wife, `it's going to be videogames.' And it just happened that the same night he was going to the Academy Awards and he received a call from someone who said, `We're looking for a CEO for a company that does videogames. Do you know anybody?'.
AND HE SAID, `YOU'RE TALKING TO HIM'?.
That's exactly right. He went and met Judy Lang and Madeline Canepa, who were the founders of the company, from Sega, and Strauss really liked what he saw. I think what really turned him on was that he saw a company that didn't want to go backwards in technology, was very cutting edge and saw themselves being able to bring Hollywood influences that would appeal to gamers and enhance gameplay. He saw how big it could get and what would happen if it was done properly..
HOW DID THE COMPANY EVOLVE FROM THE NEW TECHNOLOGY GROUP?.
The New Technology Group was Dave Morse, who was one of the original inventors of 3DO. When he was talking to the venture capitalists, they gave him the opportunity to set up one software company, because he understood that, sure, you can make the hardware, but where the real money's made is in software. And so they went out and got Judy and Madeline and started up Crystal Dynamics. That was going to be the software company that would help to support the new technology..
THE RELATIONSHIPS SURROUNDING THE 3DO SEEM TO BE VERY COMPLEX....
It's very incestuous. There's a lot of tie-over, between EA, 3DO etc..
WHY ARE ALL THESE VISIONARY PEOPLE CLUSTERING AROUND 3DO?.
I think because it was new and offered an alternative to the Big Two, Sega and Nintendo. When something new comes out, there's a chance for a lot of risk and a lot of reward. I think one of the things Crystal Dynamics has to beat is that stigma that's always been attached to us that we're strictly 3DO company. The initial software has been 3DO, because we saw a chance to make a name by supporting a new platform. However, we will support Sony, and of course Sega, and we will support Nintendo. But it will always be at the 32bit level. Everything was 3DO in the beginning because that was the only 32bit technology around at the time. We have to have PC CD as well, but that's not our strength. It's too hard to throw all your eggs in one basket right now. Sure, it's one thing to take risks, but it's another thing to be suicidal. I saw Sega yesterday and we're going to support 32X and Saturn..
HAVE YOU MET WITH ANY RESISTANCE FROM HARDWARE MANUFACTURER'S AFTER HAVING BEEN SO CLOSELY ASSOCIATED WITH 3DO?.
No, I think they've been impressed with the quality of the games, and I think they understand that our goal is to support them and produce good software. I think the hardware manufacturers are smart enough to know that nobody can just pick one system and go with it. Nintendo used to put a gun to your head and say, `You will be ours or nobody's' It doesn't work that was any more, especially with CD. The entry cost is much lower now. It makes life much simpler..
HOW MUCH BACK SCRATCHING WAS INVOLVED WITH THE LAUNCH OF THE 3DO COMPANY?.
Our first title, Crash 'n Burn, was bundled with the machine. Panasonic said that without Crystal Dynamics, 3DO probably wouldn't have come out, because there was no other software to support it. Crash 'n Burn is a good game, but it's nowhere near what it could have been. We had it developed before the operating system was completed. The guys who worked on it did it in eight months to get it out. People look at it now and say it's so primitive; sure, it was. But you've got to understand that we were working without an operating system to do it on. We were guessing. So, back scratching? Oh, yeah. Since then, we have maintained a good relationship with 3DO. The success in Japan has done wonders for us. It's been very fristrating in the United States, though. I think if it can launch and do as well as in the UK as it has in Japan, then we'll have a successful platform..
HOW DISAPPOINTED ARE YOU WITH 3DO, COMMERCIALLY AND TECHNICALLY?.
Of course we're disappointed with what's happened in the US, I'd be lying to say otherwise. You're looking at, what? 30,000 machines? In the US market?.
THAT WOULDN'T BE TOO BAD A FIGURE IN THE UK....
Hey, if that was the UK i'd give it a standing ovation! Japan has been heartening - what is it, 150,000 units? The projection is half a million units. I think that's realistic in the UK? The way things look now, its going to be a good launch. Are we frustrated it's not going Europe-wide? Absolutely. I think that's a loss because give the other platforms an opportunity to get into the market that you're not in. If i were 3DO i'd say, `that's a loss!' Germany and France are big gaming markets. CD-i is selling there..
WITH PEOPLE SO SPEC HUNGRY, DO YOU THINK THAT 3DO HAS COME TOO LATE?.
In this part of thw world, yes. And Nintendo keep saying they've got something coming out, and Nintendo are king in the US, so people are kinda waiting to see what's going on happen. The same thing is happening with Sega. Sega and Nintendo are known qualities. Things went wrong at the launch, and Trip Hawkins as much as said so in Edge 10. We had a price that was a problem, we had distribution that was a problem, we had a marketing problem. Had we been able to have the price right and distribution right, the conversation would have been a lot different. It's easy to say in June that they made mistakes back in September. I think what they're trying to do, as they did in Japan, is try and correct those mistakes and move forward..
TYPED : 2TUFF.
28TH JULY 1994.