Anthony Kyne - podcast episode full transcript
For those of you who prefer to read, here's the podcast episode fully transcribed:
Game Production Interview: Anthony Kyne, Lead Producer at Mediatonic Games.
Liam Wickham: My name is Liam Wickham, and I'm the founder of game-production.com where we seek to enable games industry professionals to plan better, lead better, and stop the crunch culture through building a community of support, knowledge and training. Today, I'm delighted to introduce you to Anthony Kyne, a lead producer at Media tonic Games. They've made games such as Gears Pop, Murder by Numbers, and the upcoming Four Guys Ultimate Knockout, which looks awesome. Anthony has worked on titles such as Madden Championship Manager and the Sims. Unlike nearly every producer that I've met or stalked on LinkedIn before now, Anthony has worked in games as both the lead designer and senior programmer. This gives him a unique understanding of making games, which I'm looking forward to delving into. He was lead designer on Championship Manager Game back in 2009. We saw the franchise finally rise to become a viable alternative to Football Manager. Good evening, Anthony.
Anthony Kyne: Good evening. How's it going?
Liam Wickham: Yes. It's going well, how about you?
Anthony Kyne: Very good. Thanks. Very good.
Liam Wickham: So, you've had a busy day, I presume?
Anthony Kyne: Very busy. Yeah. My publisher at the moment is out in the US. So, I'm getting up in the morning sorting out everything that's coming in overnight and then as soon as the afternoon hits, they all want to have meetings with me for the afternoon. So, yeah, always busy. I have a morning of doing a lot of work and then straight into meetings after that in the afternoon.
Liam Wickham: I take it because you love it. You wouldn't have it any other way.
Anthony Kyne: Oh, not at all, I love a meeting. I'm sure we'll be talking about that.
Liam Wickham: Yeah, I imagine so. So, I like to do a little icebreaker at the beginning. So, I've given a brief summary of somebody else's life, but how would you give us the real potted history? And can you tell us what you're up to currently?
Anthony Kyne: What can I say, I went to school. I wasn't particularly very good at school but found the love of computers. Luckily, I think due to the fact that my grandfather was a bit of a geeky man himself, and he was one of the first people I knew that had a home computer. So, then I called Electron and persuaded my parents to buy me a BBC Micro, which was a really, really good computer, but horrible for somebody like myself who just wanted to play games. Yeah, sort of fell in love with that and I had reasonable skill at maths and was terrible at everything else. So, I sort of got into computer programming from about the age of like, nine, I was doing it with my grandfather and then with one of the guys at school, he's a really bright guy and went on to become a lawyer. Even at nine years old, he was clever. Me and him used to spend break times with the school computer, learning to do stuff, and then I went off to secondary school and I've gotten a Commodore Amiga, which was more of a gaming machine. By that time, I sort of lost the love of real gaming, it was more about the programming that I loved. So got a thing called AMOS, which was like a Unity of its day really where you could make games in it with basic. So, I did that I made a great little game called The Adventures of Grant Gibbon Morris, a guy I went to school with it, it was the first case of cyberbullying. In 1991 or whatever it was.
Liam Wickham: Congratulations. I'll look that up, see if you should be locked up.
Anthony Kyne: It's a neat little game where all the teachers are in the trees and you were Grant, a friend of mine called Sam did graphics and we threw bananas up at trees and knocked the teachers out. Then the final end of game boss was the headmaster and then I sold some of the disks on the playground for two or three quid I think so I did that.
Liam Wickham: You retired rich.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, there you go. Then I went through school thinking I quite like this computer programming and I'm not particularly good at anything else. I never really considered getting into games though. You know, I kept plugging away at making my own little ones at home because I really, really liked football. Turned out I wasn't very good at it compared to most people. I knew I was never going to play for Manchester United so I created a world where I could. That's what I wanted to do. Then finish school and was sort of hanging around like Anko, which was a big company at the time with a game called Kick Off. We're in Dartford and I managed to sort of get my foot in the door sort of grown up around here. There is a QA and stroke, a junior programmer really and then just work my way up the ladder in there and I would still be there if it wasn't for the fact that the owner of the company died and left me and Steve Screech who was the guy that made Kick Off originally, the company. Me and him went off and did Champion Management together and then we went our separate ways after that for about 14 years.
Liam Wickham: Since then, how come you've ended up where you are now?
Anthony Kyne: Well, I sort of jumped around a bit. So, after Championship Manager, I thought well I don't really want to do any sports games for a while. I'm a little bit in a niche. So I went off and did some children's games for a little bit P2, and that's when I really got into production. I thought, okay, that's a decent path. I reckon I can do this. So I had a quick go of that and got Peppa Pig out which was a really successful title on the Nintendo DS. Got Horrid Henry game out which is one of the best things I've ever played. So I did them games and then HB over in Canada came up and said oh, we want you to come over and we need someone with experience with Cricket and Rugby, that would know how to make any kind of game so I went over there and made a basketball game, two American football games and the golf game, I never got anywhere near a rugby game at all.
Liam Wickham: Ironic.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, I think I might have been employed three times to make cricket games but I've never finished one.
Liam Wickham: Okay, so we're skipping around places you've worked. But I'm really interested in the experience that I know you've got, but you should tell our beautiful listeners about because you're like I was saying at the beginning, you're quite unique to me in that you've been a senior programmer. You've been a lead designer and lead other designers, designed entire games. I'm really interested in how you managed to get through all of these different jobs and different areas of expertise and skill base and end up as a producer, and not as one of those.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, so I'd actually class myself as a computer programmer more so than anything else. But much like I am a guitar player only ever learn to play guitar after wanting to play song in a pub. I only got into computer programs because I want to make a game. When I started at Anko. Anko was a very strange setup compared to modern studios it was the boss, a group of programmers, a set of artists and some QA, and everyone just coded and did the art for the code. There were no producers, there was no designers and Steve Screecher were the sort of creative director there and programmer was running most things game direction wise, and I think I'm quite vocal and I was massively excited to be in games. I've always thought that if you're going to make games, don't just sit there and just do what you told like, you make the game. So, I think pretty much even as a teenager working there, I was given input on how we should do it. Just naturally I sort of rose to the top to me and Steve would sit together and basically bounce ideas off each other. There's no documentation, there's no producers, and there was no purples and so what happened at the end of each day, was that everyone would give me the code and I've merged by hand. So, at 5:30, if you want to give me the code, I'll stay at work till 6:30 merging everyone's code, and I put the codebase back on the server and everyone would download it again in the morning.
Liam Wickham: I don't understand why they don't do things like that these days.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and I will always great because no one could fire me because apparently, I was the only one that could do it. It wasn't even that hard. But what it did is it gave me a sort of background in making sure that I knew what everyone was doing so sort of that production style, like how project is built, and what everyone was doing, and sort of making sure everyone had enough work and stuff like that. I had to do that to make my life easier to merge code at the end of the day. So that was sort of my first step. But then when I sold, floodlit which we renamed Anko after taking it over to [inaudible 08:41] said to us, do you want to be a programmer? Do you want to be a designer, do you want to be a producer? So, I was like, I don't know what a producer does. I have no idea. I've never seen one before and I knew I didn't want to be a programmer that programmed what I was going to be told to do so in our case, I'll be a designer. It was a disaster really, because I'm really good at maths. I'm really bad at English. So, I had to write all these documents. But so, I learned on the job really and worked my way up there and I was there for seven years at the end of it. So, lead designer by the time I left.
Liam Wickham: What did design documents look like then?
Anthony Kyne: They look like huge, huge.
Liam Wickham: Like IBM manuals?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, they're like huge. I remember 50-page documents and they were like written and nobody was ever reading them, and it was like God, and I remember I used to complain all the time. This is not the way it should be done and everyone's looking at me like I was insane. Like, what are you talking about? You're just complaining this is how it's always done, and I was going but surely this is not making games. This is just boring, boy it felt like a sort of working at a full production plant where it was just everything was going down one by one by one and then a few of the production team went off to GDC and came back and they said, oh, we're going to do Agile this and I was going [inaudible 10:07] now we've got do and they came back with Agile now. So, this is what I was sort of telling you to do before, but apparently because I said it, I didn't have a name for it and it wasn't cool. So, then we started doing that, and I could see the benefits of that and then as I said, I saw lots of producers come and go there. I was like, yeah, I think I can do this better. Then when the option came up to go and do the small children's games as a producer, I thought I'll have a go at this and then see how good or bad I actually am and see if I've got the ability, the belief I think I have and I remember when I did become a producer. I've got quite a lot of messages from ex-producers saying you hate producers. Why did you become one?
Liam Wickham: Did you write? Were you a good producer, are you a good producer? Were you better than them?
Anthony Kyne: I believe so. Talking to people that I've worked with in the last 10 years as a producer, they always think I'm good unless they're just telling me that to my face. But yeah, like, I think I allow people to do their jobs and then they feel that they're actually making a game. I think that's the one thing that I think a lot of people sort of get distracted from now in producing.
Liam Wickham: Just looking at your LinkedIn profile. You expressed some opinions in there about your experience being useful and you're saying that it has a huge advantage, as you understand where people from different areas are coming from.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, so I think like, what you find in production is a lot of people come straight out of QA and it's like a natural path in the games industry where you go into QA, and you work. You work really hard, you do really well and then you become a producer. Then if you do really well, you'd come here to the studio, it sorts of goes in that linear path and what happens is a lot of people that are in production that come from QA would prefer to still be in QA. But the problem is that the industry doesn't allow itself to make you flourish in that department, which is really disappointing. You should be able to, I know a guy that was an extremely good QA, one of the best QAs I've ever seen, like he used to get in people's heads and stayed and talked to programmers just to get in their head. So, he knew how they'd screw something up and you go out and this guy didn't do it, and he broke it and it was superb. The only way out of that was for him to go up into production or design and then he got there, and he was no good at it. So, he ended up getting fired after that and he doesn't want to go back to QA. So, it's like, damn, what I found is coming from certain, like a different sort of route up is that I can call bullshit a little bit on programmers, which is great because as a programmer, as I said, I'm actually a programmer more than anything else. We are a lazy bunch of people, there's a reason we're computer programmers is like, if you write a piece of code that, like, does something, you then put a loop around it. So, it can do it a million times, rather than you have to do it by hand a million times. It's like, that's why you're into computer programming and, you know, we'll always have an explanation of why something can't be done. So, to be able to go well, it can be done and what about this and come up with, like, different ways of doing it. Having a conversation with a programmer that they don't have to simplify everything down to the most basic thing, gives them I think, a little bit more respect for you. Yeah and coming from design a background as well. You can always look at the troubles that people are going to have along the way that you can point out and see down the line. Saying that I have a huge problem that I'm useless art and I can't draw it. It's the one thing I could never do which was draw any art or anything. I don't see them problems at all and then that's why I always need a good artistic producer or good art lead wherever I am, because that really improves the project.
Liam Wickham: Okay, so let's look at those things you said, you mentioned about coders. My experience of coders is that they are born problem solvers. They would love a problem that they can be given the rest of their lives to go and solve, is a lot of coders like that. I guess you'd be able to call bullshit on that sort of thing as well, right? You can know how long things should take as well; I imagine.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, and like, what I think the other thing about coders is that they'll always look for the most fun technical way of solving something. So, you go, okay, we need to do this and this and they'll go, okay, well, it needs to be written in a completely new language that we've never looked at before. But it means we can do that, and you go, or you could just put an if statement around it, and then perhaps a bit hacky is like, no one cares. Like, nobody knows and like they always want to make the perfect piece of code in the perfect world. Where, as a programmer who's a game designer, I concentrate on what the game does more than what the code does. There's a certain architecture to the code that has to be right. So, you're not troubled with it for the rest of your time working on that product. But you need to be like focused on what the output to the user is not what the code looks like and that's what a lot of programmers unfortunately get bogged down in.
Liam Wickham: So, if we look at your design skills as well, your experience there as a lead designer, on Championship Manager, and others, Championship Manager, and onwards, you have held creative vision, haven't you? You've wanted that vision. You've wanted to direct that vision if you're a senior or exec producer.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, I would say from before that as well, most probably from the Player Manager days back at Anko. We helped him create a vision for that as well. [inaudible 16:03]. So, kick off 2002 Player Manager. 98 [inaudible 16:07].
Liam Wickham: And you made it pretty clear that you quite like being or you sort of climbed up to the top because you wanted to be able to make those decisions and you wanted to influence and you think that to be in the games industry, you'll know that you have a certain passion that you can contribute. Do you think that that's a natural trait for any producer?
Anthony Kyne: I think it should be a natural trait for anyone in the industry, because I don't understand why you would work in it. If you could earn more money being told what to do in banking or something else. It's like, we all want to make gains is like, we should all be willing to have an opinion on what we're making. Right? If I'm a programmer, and I want to see cool code, I can do that. Bloomberg, I don't get paid three times the money so like I want to be able to beat the game and go okay, I coded that this is really cool, and I had this influence on the game. I think that's.
Liam Wickham: So, if you if you want your name and title in the credits, you want to make sure that you've contributed to all areas. I'm wondering though, I mean, I've worked in places where there are very strong design and art directors on a single game and they would not take kindly to a producer coming in and saying, right, well, I'm the VP, I should be holding the creative vision here. They would expect that to come from them, or a creative director, not a producer. How would you deal with that? And what's your opinion about that?
Anthony Kyne: It is a thing that you come up against, but there are two, three, several things from that is that the person who owns the creative vision for that title should be the best person to hold the creative vision for that title. There is a big thing around the last 10 years where everyone's fighting to be creative. I know when I was a VR director at Imagination. There was all this stuff about oh, I'm a creative, I was like what does that mean? Like, I'm really creative in making sports games, primarily because I really love sports and I can see stuff I understand games, I understand sport, and it's like a really good melting pot for me to give my opinion. My dad is a carpenter. He's really creative at building sheds like that I'm not, yeah, and you know, x, y, and z, so everyone should have an opinion. The problem I've always had with designers is design isn't primarily a creative job. It's an architectural job, it's a mechanics-based job. This is the way I try to always run my teams is that you run in pods of five or six, seven, depending on the size of the feature.
The designer is the person who has the most background and knowledge about how mechanically it should work and the thought about how the knock-ons will affect the user. But that doesn't mean that the QA person cannot run with an idea or the programmer cannot run with the idea or an artist. You shouldn't be compartmentalized into you're not an ideas person, and I am an artist person and I think a lot of people get into game design because they fancy themselves as blue sky thinkers when it's a mechanical job. Well I think one of the big surprises for me when I got into design as well, it was like, oh, well, I don't just sit there and come up with ideas, I have to mechanically think about everything and it's a hard job. It's an extremely hard job, it is like way harder than programming. Because you're thinking like a programmer, but don't have the output to run tests against and then everyone hates you. Everyone thinks they can do your job better than you; the cleaner comes and he thinks he can do a better job than you. Everyone can do this job better than me.
It's like UI as well, I think design and UI are two jobs which get as much criticism of the exact only thing because everyone thinks they can do it better than me. Coming from a programming background and my team that I had, [inaudible 20:00] I remember I used to mention this quite a lot. I was always the persons then they're going, well, this is what we want, they will come up with a lot of cool ideas and then we try and design it out and you go, actually, you go, we don't need all this, you can actually get away with it if we just do X, Y, and Z, and it's a smoke and mirrors and done with it, see? And you'll go boom, boom, boom. Oh, yeah, cool, we can do that. Then where, as I said, if you've got programmers who are always looking for the coolest tech, and you've got designers who are always thinking out here, it's like, this can never be done, and then all these arguments start and there's always a simple route. That's what I found, that's always good in production, as well is I'm great at watching an argument between programmers and designers and I like to see them flourish for at least 10 minutes until I step in and go well let's have a listen. Okay, we can actually simplify this by doing that and getting to the result quicker.
Liam Wickham: So, I suppose I see you holding quite a kaleidoscope of roles when you describe yourself as a producer. If I compare that to a lot of other producers, right, who don't have that luxury of that background, if you will. When you look at other producers, whether its producers working for you or producers that you've seen elsewhere, what would you say is like the absolute bare minimum experience and skill set that a producer needs to have these days?
Anthony Kyne: I think bare minimum, the one thing I look for most is stability. Because if you can't deal with the people, there's no way out. Secondly then it's keeping calm and like going, okay, how do we do that? Because as soon as you start panicking, everyone else around you start panicking. You know, we make games for a living, no one's going to die. So, it's like, calm down, like relax, and like you've got to be personable and relaxed.
Liam Wickham: Yeah, okay. So those are I mean, anyone can have that as a character trait, or personality trait. But in terms of technical expertise, in terms of training, in terms of foundation knowledge, do you look around and despair a little bit and go, I wish people had more x, y and z?
Anthony Kyne: One of the things I look for massively when interviewing people is creativity within their approach. So, as we were saying earlier about creativity, like my Dad's got the creativity for building a shed. In the same way it's like a producer should not just be happy that he went on a course and he learned Agile and this, this and this. I always try and get out of people in an interview is, you know, if this happened, what would you do and they've always going to try and hit them notes that they think you want to hear about Agile boots for whatever, but I want to see like a way of their thinking. To make them think, how can I do this better? Because no process is ever perfect. So, you always should go into a place and go, how can I get this better? How can I improve this? How can I reduce the amount of meetings? How can I learn. Agile has got a huge amount of problems. You know, it's got loads and loads of things that will slow you down if you're not doing it right. So, it's always like, how do I go into a place and improve that sort of thing? So that's what I look for when we're interviewing people. I think that's, you know, if you're just a by the book, producer, you're normally going to hit your ceiling pretty quickly.
Liam Wickham: And that sounds like that would be a definition of a Project Manager. Rather than producer, right? By the numbers.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, by the numbers and that's the thing. I've worked in places where I am the producer, like when you're working on Madden, and an even Golf Club, the producer is the person that really holds that creative vision of making sure the right decisions are being made. As well as having a project manager, I've always been in charge of exactly how much of that Project Management we were doing, which has been lucky.
Liam Wickham: That's very interesting, too. There's a strong dream in this conversation of the producer as a leader. The producer as a senior member of the team. I suppose I'd be really interested and maybe you're not in position to tell me but I can ask someone else but what's it like working for you as a producer? What are you giving the producers underneath you? How do you sort of mentor them and train them?
Anthony Kyne: Well, yes, good question. One, it's fun. Because I've never in my 23 years of working in the games industry woken up and not wanting to go to work. So, I definitely don't want to make that situation for anyone else. So, try and have as much fun as possible. But I'm also the person that will stick up for them. Make sure nothing shitty comes in and always be there to help them out without being a micromanager. As a person, I might bring up my father again, but like he's a really good carpenter, I'm rubbish at carpentry because he can't keep his hands out of it. The reason I got into computers is because he would never clue about them. So, I could actually sit there and learn and I'm a big believer in letting people run away, like learn stuff, trying to be yourself. Then when you hit some problems, come and see me and I'll help you out. Like, I'll let people go for a few days without having to stick my nose in what they're doing. If they're not asking. Yeah, I'm a hands-off producer, really, in all disciplines.
Liam Wickham: But in the long-term growth of a producer who's just started with you, let's say a junior at work. Yeah, a junior producer. I mean, I know you're pretty senior now. So you probably don't deal directly with junior producers in terms of mentoring and training, but if they approached you and they said to you, now what's the three biggest bits of advice you could give me for becoming a successful producer in the future, you're going to maybe talk about personality etc and creativity. But what sort of hands down practical, go off and grind over there learn about this thing here. What sort of advice would you give them?
Anthony Kyne: Seeing that I trained myself. It's a hard question to answer really.
Liam Wickham: I'm sorry. Just to reassure you, I don't think there's a right or wrong answer. I think everyone, you know, is going to give a different answer here, right? Because there's no foundation is there? There's no set way of doing it.
Anthony Kyne: No, and that's the thing, I think, from my perspective, what I like to do is get my ducks in a row. So, I sort of know exactly what's going on at all times, without being too in depth. I don't try and overload myself. I try and keep my life simple. I simplify everything. That's what I always encourage people to do is simplify everything down so it's very edible chunks in front of you so you're not like overwhelmed and get that down. Make sure you've got a strong personality. So, you can go into certain meetings and you're not bullied out of certain situations. Which can rub people up the wrong way, but if you're personable about it, it normally goes okay. Sort of just get yourself always, like friendly with the lead programmers and the lead artists and stuff then guys will really help you out when you need sort of backing in certain situations, designers as well. But all your leads, make sure that those guys are on the same level with where you're going. Okay, what we're going to do here, get the sort of mission over to them of what you're trying to do and make sure they can help you out and sort of push in the same direction. But like, from a skill set point of view it's just, I think, be a strong personality, fully understand what's going on. Tools wise, that's one of the great things about production. I can run a whole project on a bit of paper, really, I don't need JIRA, I don't need anything else. I use them. But skill wise is like, I think it's definitely worth going on all the courses for Agile, waterfall, everything you can possibly go on. But don't take them as gospel. It always makes me laugh whenever you see a set of junior producers go off to an Agile course and coming back with [inaudible 28:18] all over the windows and stuff.
Liam Wickham: They're just closing on.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and it's like, all those things are good, but it doesn't mean it's right 100%. It means take certain things that you think will work in this team and every team that you work with will be different and every game is published different and every group of people you work with is different.
Liam Wickham: So, let's ask you a little bit about what you just said then about Agile. So, I was talking to Callum Godfrey a few days back on a podcast and he's got a lot of mobile gaming experience and he had a lot to say about Agile product management. Of course, in mobile gaming, there's a heavy emphasis on Agile software development type work and product methodology, etc. Whereas in PC console, it's more freeform really isn't it? It's like a more unwieldy beast and for different reasons. I'm wondering, why do you think it is that you can't, for example, turn up to your next triple A couple hundred people and say, right, we're all going to be doing Agile scrum. Let's go. Why doesn't that work? How would you explain that to somebody new?
Anthony Kyne: Well, it doesn't work because of the certain set dates and and then dates and greenlight meetings are in sort of concrete and you can't move them. The thing with the mobile development is that you've got very quick turnaround to release especially like a lot for free to plays. You need to get content out every two to four weeks. So, you need that sort of running system. Where what you have with console and don't get me wrong when you're starting out in a mobile game, I don't think it should be overly Agile either. Because what happens is you start to lose the confidence of the executive teams that you're dealing with if you're like to Agile and you go, we just don't worry, it's just done over another sprint. Where in console I think I sort of run a normal on a console stuff, a semi Agile system where we we have a milestone. We might have a couple of sprints within that milestone, it could be a three-month milestone, and I'm not a hard believer in two weeks sprints. It's another thing that winds me up me up is people that read it in a book once so they think that's what it should be. Like a sprint is something and this is why I really loved Agile and our first project was that a sprint is something that gives you a period of time to complete something and sort of like a contract between the team and the publisher or the team and the producer. So, in X amount of time, we will get this to you and within that team, everyone has bought in and can be creative in getting that to you in a way that's really cool and playable. So, you can do it in console like that. But you've always got to remember that you've got a deadline that you've got to hit in every X amount of months to free up the next chunk of money. That's sort of why you can't slip and you can't go, oh, well, it didn't quite meet the thing. Like to move a story, or an epic into complete, it needs to be everything. Everything's perfect. Otherwise, it doesn't go and it because of the next sprint. At certain points in console development, you've got to go, it's good enough now, like, boom, get to that and I don't think you can really do that with mobile, especially Free to Play you've got to be so spot on 100% in the little tweaks that you make, otherwise it could have massive dents on your KPIs.
Liam Wickham: When you're first starting a new game, and you're at the point of discovery. Working out what it should be and you're putting a little team together, etc. Would you use Agile tactics then?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah. So, what I try and always do in that situation is like, normally somebody will come to me and take the Golf Club for an example. We got told, okay, we're going to want to be the first golf game on PS4. We know EA aren't making one and I went, okay, cool. We want to make a golf game. Sweet. So, we've got a team together and we'd already been working on a little tank demo to see what the Unity engine could do and stuff. So, we went okay, we'll use that. The terrain generation and I set up a little tech team. I said, okay. I've got four weeks to a green light meeting. Let's see what we can do with this.
Liam Wickham: Tanks and gold clubs. I'm in.
Anthony Kyne: And see what we can do just to generate some golf courses because we weren't going to have any golf courses in the game because we had no license or anything like that, so it was cool. So, I went off and gave him a little fun four weeks to go away and play around with stuff and enjoy it. I mean, I was talking about programmers earlier. They love that sort of tech things like turn this tank sim into a golf game and let it be fun. In that time, then I went away and created a document with the design team of what the game should be sort of areas of the game. Like seven or eight features, what these features were, what they weren't, what the visual guide should be, what it wasn't going to be so that there can be no fire coming out the balls, it's going to be ultra-realistic, but x y & z and then we go back to the exec with a PowerPoint that says what the game is and what the game isn't, and a little cool tech demo that showed we can create golf courses with three clicks of a button. In four weeks, this has got some potential and then it's like, okay, nice. Okay, what can we do next? Well next, give us four weeks again, and we'll have the game plan. So, we had a baseball player from the baseball game I'd made before and the baseball player was hitting the golf ball around on one of January courses.
So, I set it up into four weeks sort of chunks of things that people thought was actually achievable. What happens a lot of time with two-week sprints is people can't see anything achievable. Especially when you have sprint plan and retrospectives and all that, you go, well, it's only actually eight days of development, if you're lucky. So, you might as well get pushed to a four-week sprint in the early stages of development. Then when you get further and further down the line, especially when you're doing updates and stuff, you go to a cadence of two week. That always seems more sensible.
Liam Wickham: So how do you as the guy in charge of that come to a decision during that month of when features aren't going well, when they are etc, and when to cut them? And how do you make those sorts of decisions? How would you advise others who are producers to make those sorts of decisions?
Anthony Kyne: I'm playing the game constantly. It's one of the other questions I always ask people, when I'm interviewing them, it's like, what will you do when everything's running perfectly? Because so many producers say, I'll have a meeting. It's like, don't ever meet and everything's running perfectly, like play the game.
Liam Wickham: Do you know what? I have to interrupt you there. I cannot believe the number of people on game teams generally, not just producers, who'd never play the game, or who don't really like it. But just never play it ever. You go well, you know that bit there. They go, don't know. Sorry. I haven't played it, what? You're a year in.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and that's what blows my mind. That's what I try and make sure that people do when they're on my teams is, they do play the game. They do enjoy what they're doing and they can see what we do and like, especially on the Golf Club, what we did once we got to a certain stage of development, we're still very early when we sell a baseball player hitting like, sideways and the ball is shooting off from the ground. But we had a Friday round a golf. Everyone in the team was playing and then we had leader boards and everyone had to get their code checked in by 11 o'clock on Friday morning. Then Friday afternoon, we'd sit down and we play the game. I'm a big believer in shame and I'm actually like, not doing myself any favors by saying that if I put it in a book, but like, it's the shame, like, if you're putting your work in, and it's the worst bit of work for the week, it's like, oh, my god, I can't let that happen again next week. One of my best mates, like he was a physics programmer on the golf game. He did something completely wrong that week and he got so much grief for the whole round from everyone shouting across the studio, that it wasn't working, because I know and then the next week, he was there Thursday night, and I remember driving past the studio, go to the grocery store. I went, why is his car still there. So, I went in and he says, I've just got a fix it so I can't have the shame of last week.
Liam Wickham: So, it works, but these days you call shame intrinsic motivation. So, a nice American phrase for it. But I think that's true as well. I remember we did the same thing at PlayStation Home; we did the same thing on a Friday and have demos in the morning and people playing it on the afternoon. It made a huge difference when we instigated that. But we were willing to make that sacrifice. You know, I've worked places before where we haven't had, for example, a weekly presentation demo of the game to the whole team. Then it gets introduced. Everybody starts going, oh, wow. Okay. That's what we're making and it does make a huge difference, doesn't it? It comes back to the very beginning of this chat. You don't want making a game to be a mechanical thing, where people are just going through the conveyor belt of, I have made another art asset and checked it in. You want it to be more than that for everybody in your team, right?
Anthony Kyne: Well, yeah, exactly. I always look, I basically break everything down into either music or football as an analogy. So, Bruce Springsteen like when he is making Born to Run. He's not got a load of musicians in there and said, play this note and then play this note and then play this note and then play this note is like, okay, this is my song. Let's go smash it, and then they go, and they just like, jam until they've got good solos and stuff and they work it and they feel the music when they're playing it and that's how you get what you want. That's sort of the way I look at making games because you've got a feel what you're making, if you can't, the user when they pick it up can feel it's a made by numbers type of game.
Liam Wickham: Yeah, a clone.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and that's, you know, what a lot of game studios fall into. It doesn't matter how much money you pile into a product if you haven't got the buy in from the team and the team aren't playing it. Then it feels like a made by numbers kind of game.
Liam Wickham: You were saying a little while ago, the producers might turn around to you or producers in the past turned around to you and said why are you producing, you hate producers. Back then, what did you hate? What was it the producers, you don't have to name anybody well, I'd love it if you did? But what did you particularly hate back then? What was it and or now? What was it that really wound you up? That that made you think production just isn't being done right.
Anthony Kyne: My thing that really wound me up, and I made the point and I actually got a warning for it was that somebody, one of the production team was criticizing one of the QA guys. I made the point that you could lock me and that QA guy in a room for half a day and we'd come out with a game. Where I could lock you guys up in there for 10 months and you still wouldn't have it. It's like, it was just a bunch of guys sort of felt they ran things that couldn't really make anything and I also felt that especially our production team had a belief that programmers were like magic wizards that made the box talk and so they whatever the programmers said was gospel and it was like, what are you doing? This is not true and like they go, no, like, we don't need designers. We don't need this. We are production, we can do and so many bad decisions were made. It wasn't until we got a new studio manager and I got promoted onto the top table, that we actually made a 9 out of 10 game, which was Championship Manager chain. So, that was a 9 out of 10 game, you know we had a really good, strong quality team that we were painting by numbers up until that point, and then we went okay, we can do this better. We still had; we would carrying a lot of people that we shouldn't have been carrying.
Liam Wickham: But what were the producers doing wrong during that time?
Anthony Kyne: Well, one that they hadn't done, they didn't have a concept of making the game I don't think and how to go about it in the way that I would have done anyway. I don't know, if I look back on it now, I had less experience but coming from a point where I was making a game from scratch as a programmer with a group of about 10 people, and then over a period of six years with 100 times the budget, these people weren't making games as good. It was blowing my mind and there was a lot of meetings that were just pointless. It was like, remember sitting in a meeting in the first 20 minutes of one meeting was constantly about what people did at the weekend. It's like, I don't care what you get at the weekend, we're trying to make this game. It was just general chitchat and it was like a meeting room has been booked for an hour and a half. So, we're going to definitely make sure we're in it for an hour and a half. Right? No real decisions were being made and that's I think, that's the other thing I think is a huge, huge thing that very few producers are very good at is that you should be the person that makes a decision and is not scared of making a decision. There's an extreme amount of talent in being able to get a game out the door that there's no way of really just like, sort of seeing it on a CV or anything. But it's like getting a game at the door. A lot of people get to the point where, when they're a game director or whatever the person with the buck stops at, they get scared and they go, we can't release yet. We'll just do a little bit more, just do a little bit more, just do a little bit more. I've seen so many people do it and money get thrown away. It's like, just release it.
Liam Wickham: They won't patch mate.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, exactly. Yes.
Liam Wickham: So again, we're back to this common point that you're making, which is really interesting, and I hadn't really thought about it exclusively before, but you're saying that at all levels of production from a junior producer onwards, there's going to become a point where you have to lead, you have to make a decision. You have even the most junior producer, right, who's been in charge of a smaller team. There's a point at which they have said, well, no, you're not going to do that. Or Yes, we need to do this and I think that's probably why the producers who survived that experience go on to become senior members of a game studio.
Anthony Kyne: You need to be the person that's not scared to make a decision. I think you most probably survive by making more right decisions than wrong decisions. That's why a lot of people don't make the decisions and they survive with a nice tasty career for most of their life because they've never made a wrong decision. You're going well, if you've not made any decisions, then it's like, but I'm always going to be the one that makes it like is going to have an opinion and make a decision. I could be wrong. I'm lucky that I haven't made huge ones in the past and normally, like, pretty, pretty good at feeling what the game is about. I think that's what I say about like holding a creative vision stuff in the past is that if I do hold the creative vision, and the plan, and I'm going to make a decision, I can make the right decision. If you've got a project manager, and you've got a group director, and they're both going well, one person's got to try and get it out on this date, and the other person doesn't care unless it's got x feature. There's two people pulling in different directions, and it never really works. It always has to be one person that decision lies with. That's why you've got your game directors or whatever they're called now, product directors and people like that, because they got to be that person that makes those decisions.
Liam Wickham: It seems to me a lot of the roles that have been created in the fledging gaming industry have been created to address the tensions that you're describing. Basically, they can see something being pulled in a direction, so they just create a role to try and balance it out. It's like creating pieces on a chessboard that weren't there before. It seems to be becoming more and more complex, not necessarily for the right reasons.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and I think the more cooks you put in the kitchen, the more complex. There's always going to be and that's the thing is like for every person who has a deciding vote, the more watered down your product becomes. Because, you know you're trying to give people their easy win. This was one thing I had to learn over a period of time was that you know, I had to bite my tongue sometimes. But I always hated that is I'll just give them the easy win there and then you're in the next one. We're making a game, we should all be making the right decisions all the time. I struggled with that and I still do. I'm very lucky that I've worked at particularly good places really. Especially as a producer. You know, HB, Media tonic, they're really nice companies to work for that let you like don't feel that you have to get your easy win out of the way. You know, you've been given a win today. Everyone's pushing in the same direction. So, it's quite handy in that respect. But yeah, it's like, the more people you have, the more it waters it down, in my opinion. I think if you've got one man's vision, one woman's vision, that person should be the person. They don't have to own everything, but everyone should be creative within the pillars of what's been set out. But that final decision needs to be made by somebody.
Liam Wickham: Yeah, okay and I think if you look at any kind of leadership training or modern leadership training, the death by committee thing is pretty much always spoken about as something you want to try and avoid. That strong leadership is something where you're kind of extolling the virtues of everybody on your team, but you're also the person they know they can trust that when the shit hits the fan, you go, I'm making a decision and not only that, I will back the fact that it was me who made this decision. I'm not going to stab you in the back with it. So, I imagine your style would lead if it's consistent to people trusting you quite a lot.
Anthony Kyne: Definitely, I think most of the people that I've ever worked with will always work for me again, and would always recommend me for jobs because of that, because I will always back them. I've never thrown anyone under the bus. You know, if I thought something wasn't going the right way, and they were making bad decisions, I would make sure that I got there first, to stop that from anyone else seeing it. Then if I make the decision that everyone else is not happy with, doesn't happen very often because normally, after discussion, you know, we come to a conclusion. I'm not the person who goes, oh, this is what it should be is like, I come to a decision and make the decision off of the back of a conversation with everyone. Then, I'll live with that. I've made that decision and I'm going to be the person that lives or dies by that I think is one of the biggest parts of the job.
Liam Wickham: Do you think that's where producers are accountable to communicate properly and especially at the senior level to communicate to the team what's going on?
Anthony Kyne: Definitely, I know from my personal experience saying when I was the lead designer, I was there and you're writing 50-page documents that you knew nobody was going to read. It's like you're sitting there and it's just like, I stayed there because I always wanted to make that game and I love making it. But the day to day of the office was like, half of what you were doing just felt like it was pointless. It's the reason I got into production was so I could stop pointlessness happening on development teams, you know. Do I succeed? Probably not a lot when you've got a team of 60, 70 people sometimes and publishers are asking for stuff that you know is not going to happen, but it takes a box to keep them happy. You know, a little bit it's like okay, you got to do it and sometimes you know, into the mode but I try and reduce it down. You know, I constantly look around the room and go, people are looking bored. Are they looking upset? Or agitated, it’s like okay, we've got to make sure that that's the case and they're doing something that they can really enjoy because people do it for a reason, they want to make games for a living.
Liam Wickham: I was going to say pick one game that you've worked on and tell us what you were responsible for and how you've picked the Golf Club, do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, so the Golf Club was as I said, we knew that the Tiger Woods game wasn't coming out on the PS4 and PS4 was just about to come out and everyone buys a golf game, I remember the head studio said. I said, let's make a golf game. So yeah, so then we went off and we decided we would try and make a game. I remember picking up the Tiger Woods game and I put it in the PlayStation. I don't think I got on the first tee for about 20 minutes because it was just so much going through with for TV and update downloads and everything else and it was like this is horrendous, I don't even want to play now. Then I played around and I've got a hole in one on the 18th hole in the first round. This is nothing like the golf I've played. We knew we didn't have any licenses. Originally, we said okay, we'll make it three click through from the main menu or auto generate a course and you play it. Yeah, we overachieved so quickly on the auto generating of golf courses that we started adding feature by feature to that and we had a little pod of people working on that. We just went okay now let's see if we can place bunkers, let's see if we can do this and by the end of it, at the end of the whole product, we had such a great course creator and then the ability to share cross platform. So, you could make one for the PS4 and it would come out on the Xbox or PC that people were making or Augusta, Pebble Beach and all these other famous golf courses that we didn't have the licenses for. But it didn't matter because people made them, we didn't.
So, we had all the licenses that were coming out plus my point of the game at the beginning was it should have been a game for the everyday golfers. You represent what we were doing out on the coast. So, I'm like one of the worst golfers in the world ever. But I do enjoy going out there, I say I enjoy the idea of going out there. Then I get out there and start throwing my clubs around. So, I say, we should be able to play the game with thought processes that go through your head, but without the skill needed to make the ball not curve into the woods every time you hit it. So that was always the mantra of the game and it'll be good to play on homestyle courses. There'll be one level for all, there's no difficulty levels, no options to turn certain things off and on. The difficulty was by choosing the course so if you choose really hard course that means you want a hard challenge if chosen. That was the way it was and then we got all these golf courses coming by the community blew up. EA released their game; I think it had eight courses and by that time we had 147,000 then they ran into the distance and we never released the golf game again and then the golf club got picked up by 2K. So 2K is releasing it now. I had a vision for what it would be, it was shared with the head of studio at the time, Jeremy, who was also a big golfer. He wanted to make a hard golf game as well.
So that was sort of shared. But what I did, I think the biggest thing that I added to that project was that a lot of people come on the project and oh my god, this is going to be an absolute shit show. What are we doing? Why are we doing this? And I got everyone bought into it until we were the cool project in the studio and everyone wanted to be on it and we were on a farm, there was a lot of laughs. There was some overtime as well. But as a team, we just really bonded and everyone knew what they were making. I got some really good people. I got people that were thought of as being average to become superstars as well because of the way that they were allowed to work, which is nice.
Liam Wickham: I think that's a wonderful thing to be able to look back on and recognize in any career, isn't it? Can you give me any examples of how you did that with anyone?
Anthony Kyne: Well, I think it's just the fact that it was our own project and it was self-published. I didn't need to please a publisher only had to please the head of studio's funding it with their money. He's of a similar, like mind to myself. He's the guy that wrote Emlyn Hughes software on the Commodore 64. So more old school than myself and he just wanted to see the game monthly and it getting better, and him to be able to give feedback on it. Like, we built something for him that he could play around with after a month and he was stuck in his office. He didn't move from his office for like, the whole time of development. They were building more stuff, only to come out and tell me what bugs he found. But he loved it. You know, and without him he had an amazing eye for art, which I don't have and without him our game would not have looked as good or without all the guys, Jim and Brian was amazing as well. That's what I'm saying is because there weren't any publishers or anything else, it meant that I could just get to the nitty gritty of making the game and letting people be creative at making the game.
So, it was like, okay, here's a group of you, you're on the course creator, you're doing that, let's say, three weeks. Let's try and get x, y and z in, see what we can do. Okay, do I need a tech document? No, don't worry about it, just smash it in and we'll see where we are. If we don't like it, we'll scrap it and just really quick, iterative fail fast development. So, we got rid of the design docs. We know we had a confluence page with a designer would sort of fill out what we sort of had discussed and we go, okay, we want this feature to be that, we want this feature to be this and then people just work together as a group. That was my point to a lot of the other producers at the time. I'll go that is scrum development. When you see people sitting around in a huddle, and working at a table.
Liam Wickham: That's scrum literally, yeah.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and it's not standing there in a room with 29 people going yesterday, I did this and today, I did this. Like there's nothing more boring and if I find something boring, I think I'm touching on ADD, I think most of time because of my attention cannot be held for more than five minutes. If I find it boring then it's normally cancelled, because everyone else must be finding it boring as well. That is scrum development. I think once people got into that and make it work as a team and they could feel, oh, I'm programming to do this. I'm not just doing what this tech design document told me I had to do. They became superstars because most people, the creative people, they weren't there to just try and please like their bosses and work through a document. That's, I think, one of the big problems with British education system, don't even get me started there. But it helps people work in a way that they work x, y and z and it doesn't give any hope to anybody outside of that. If it wasn't for me getting my shoe in the door, I'd be an Amazon shift worker now if I was lucky, you know, and I try and make sure that people with the same sign of skill sets as me gets the chance to show off them skills.
Liam Wickham: I can see why people would trust you and want to work with you again with that sort of attitude. So how much of your job was project management? What form did this take?
Anthony Kyne: I was the only project manager on the Golf Club games. So, I was a producer, project manager. We did have project managers, but I think I got rid of one to free up the budget. So, I'll get another programmer.
Liam Wickham: Very common. I find yeah.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah. As I said, because we didn't have the publisher syndrome, I didn't have to show off a load of burndown graphs constantly of how well we were doing. I just managed the team as simply as possible in JIRA and just said, okay, these are what we're doing. We don't need like; I don't believe in the healing power of graphs. I don't care where these things go. This is just a brief set of epics of what we've got to do. This is the backlog of where we are. We'll put some estimates and story points against it, and we add a cut line, and we constantly see we go, okay, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, we're mostly going to get to here and that's where it is. Then when other features come in, we go, okay, we are going to do this, is this more important than this? And then it was basically just me, the head of the studio and the COO would sit down monthly, and go, if we want these things, that means these things going to drop or we extend the time and the team the same way. It's like, okay, well, I'd like to see this extra feature in okay, we can fit that in, is it more important than this? Yeah, okay, we lose that and everyone had a good concept of this is what we're going to release with and do we want to give it extra time.
Liam Wickham: So that little triumvirate of people making those decisions? Does that work because of the closeness to the team? And the communications because I can imagine in some game companies and some game teams, there's no way a couple of people at the top really know what's going on, right?
Anthony Kyne: Well, yeah, like if you go over to EA and stuff, the people at the very top. But then my belief is that should they really be making any decisions then? It's like that the only decision they should make is more budget, more time or it's coming out. You know and then they have to rely on the people that have got their hands dirty really on making a decision on if it's good enough to put their name to it. That was what was very good at HB is that the COO was a really cool guy and could see that the game was good. Really solid but he wasn't getting himself involved in creative in any way. He's saying, this is the money we've got. We can continue doing it if we want to do it and the studio owner was like this game is really good. I'm really enjoying it. I'm playing it in my office all the time. Keep going and I want to add this feature and automate that.
Liam Wickham: Right, so two things there. Firstly, I take it because he's a good guy. It wasn't a big problem when the owner wants to add a feature, but it can be, right?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah. So that is an interesting one because he always had opinions and not all of them are right. You know, there was always an interesting conversation like, at the end of the day, my thought is always It was his money. If he really believed in it, he's going to get his way. I would always go about it and tell him that I was looking out for him and his money and the game and the team felt this and we all felt this. Should we do this and that, and he's a good guy, he listened and he said, yeah, okay and no 50/50. He would either go okay I'm listening to you or no, let's go with my decision. Okay, it's your money. But that doesn't mean you lose these things and as long as you can make them things clear, I think that's your job, really, at that point is to go. If you do this, it's going to cost you X, Y, and Z and if you can always make that argument clear. Then the decision is on them.
Liam Wickham: It's funny, isn't it? I think as a producer over the years, you've become a bit of philosopher around the concept of sacrifice and everything costs something. It's only finite as you approached the point of no return in terms of shipping it or in terms of just deciding to go live at some point, did tensions emerged then about how it should be another six months? No, we got to get out now or anything like that? How did you deal with that?
Anthony Kyne: No, I don't think there was a tension that we had to be out by a certain point. We've gone a little bit long and we did want to come out before anyone else announced that they were doing a golf game. So, there was that but we had our set of features. We dropped a couple of new extra things that we thought would be really good. Tension wise. No, like I'm presuming some heated discussions, as it normally is, but it's like this is what it is. What happens and then yeah, we did some overtime. We did quite a bit of overtime. I think it was about three, four months. We knew what the cost of that was going to be and everyone was happy with the cost of that.
Liam Wickham: I should have already asked you this really, but how big was the team?
Anthony Kyne: Team was about was around 30, I think.
Liam Wickham: Okay, so what's that about 4 or 5 pods?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, it would be about that. So, we had your course creator. We had the gameplay team. We had the server guys. Gameplays. Physics. Yes. The physics team was all by itself as well. So, yeah it was about 4 or 5.
Liam Wickham: I ask that because I'm just wondering, you know, with 30 people, I guess it's easier for me to envisage that you really could do you know, the way you told me about planning and scheduling etc. I can really see how that works. With far larger teams, I imagine it well, we know right there comes a point where planning is not that easy, where you have these kinds of disciplines running into each other, and methodologies running into each other. In sourcing and outsourcing and all this sort of thing. How much experience have you got with sort of the bigger teams and that kind of complex scheduling? And can you give an example to starting producers on what to expect when they hit that kind of next step up?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, so like you're always, especially when you get to like teams of 70 to 100, and stuff like that. It does get more complex, but as I said earlier, it's like I always try and simplify things down. So, it's always in edible bite sized chunks for my brain to understand. So, what I normally have is you have your pods, and you have like a sort of mini backlog for each of them set out and go. Okay, these are the things you can do and then you have sort of semi leaders within them. So, it might be a producer, it might be like a designer, it could be just a programmer, anyone I felt always had the most vocal, like, aspect of that feature. It was like, okay, we're going to do that you run it for the next X amount, a mini vision holder. Yeah and that would be the person that you go okay do that. You own it for the next X amount of time, go off and run with it over the next set of like months. We need to deliver this and this and this and by these times. Each week, I want to see whatever it is in the latest build, and play it. We will comment on it. But this is the date we've got to get it done by and I think, because it simplifies everything down. Like I'm never going to be the guy that gives out a task to everyone. I don't care if everyone's 100% flat out, 80% flat out. I don't care I'd rather people be 40% flat out, 40% not flat out and playing the game. You know, as long as while they're waiting for someone else, I don't care if one guy is sitting there doing something or not doing something? And he's going well, I'm going to pull in some more tasks from something else to keep myself looking busy, play the game, play the feature you're working on? Make sure it feels right. Feedback from it and so that makes planning a lot easier because you're not micromanaging exactly what people are doing. You just say, as a group make this for me in X amount of weeks.
Liam Wickham: How do you deal with dependencies?
Anthony Kyne: As in this feature is going to have a knock on with this feature?
Liam Wickham: Yeah, so I guess in this case, the cross-pod dependencies to invent a new term. So where one team's going to have an impact on another team, or one team is waiting for another team? Do you just deal with that in a nice, simple, simplistic fashion? Or have you got a system you can share?
Anthony Kyne: No, it's not really a system. It's normally what you'll do is I'll say to the guys, if there's something they're working on, say it's like an API or something, you just go set up like a little black box of emptiness that has got the outputs of random numbers for the time being that you can plug into. Then when they finish their work, it will plug in and work. Or you just say, well, if it's just not going to work, we go okay, park that there for a little bit, go off and do this as a group. Then once this stuff's done, we'll come back around and circle around and get it.
Liam Wickham: Let's say you're relying on an art team to supply a bunch of different pods. If that's how it works, would you rely upon a producer? A more junior producer than you to look after that particular aspect?
Anthony Kyne: It depends on previous experience with a producer, I'd always give them a few guys in it, and then see how well they do. But most of my pods always has an artist on it, always has a QA on it, always has a couple of programs on it. So as a group, they're making it. So, it should feel like a game jam team. So, they're working as a group together to do something. So, they should never be a dependency on a skill set. It should always be on a feature.
Liam Wickham: Okay, yeah and that makes sense with Agile and the way you perform teams and I like the use of the game jam. I was thinking about that earlier with some other things that you said. I think that that approach naturally leads itself to empowering the creativity that you spoke of at the beginning, right with people.
Anthony Kyne: A lot of people actually get a bit scared when I say that. Because they go oh, well, game jam never works because the game always falls apart, like really easily. You don't use the quickness of the game jam, you use the mental sort of how do you get into a game jam and go as a group, we're making this but you know, you've got six weeks to do something. So, you're going to do it right. You're not just going to rush out the door.
Liam Wickham: I think maybe back to what we were saying earlier, or maybe I was about personalities. I think there are a lot of people in the games industry who have picked it not just because you make games, but because they don't really want that kind of added responsibility. So, I think you probably do terrify a few people.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, and I think you know, I'm a believer in you got to take a jump off the deep end sometimes and you know, and find out you can do it, you know, and I'm never going to let anyone struggle. If somebody looks like they're struggling, we'll make sure that they won't do that. But I want people to try and show me all the things that they in their head would love to do, but haven't quite got the confidence because that's when they'll get confidence.
Liam Wickham: Yeah, that's where growth lies, isn't it? Yeah. So, can you tell me about a time when the planning failed? And you had to step in and sort things out? How did you do that?
Anthony Kyne: When the planning failed. I think I'll go to another project for that actually. I've done a couple of free to play games with the Major League Baseball guys over in the US. We massively underestimated how many people we would need to do it. They're a very demanding client. Major League Baseball, the gaming group. Really good top bunch of guys they are still great friends of mine. The main guy over there over in London, we normally meet up for a pint. But yeah, demanding of what they wanted. Their demands are on them because their bosses are putting a lot of pressure on them as well. Yeah, we went about we signed two games with them and we just didn't have enough to do the two games really. The plan I had set out at the beginning was just like, no, this isn't going to work. It was our first ever title in Unity as well. So, we were learning that. So, we made the Home Run Derby game, which is amazing. By the way, if you've got time download it. On the phone it looks amazing. But we had a sort of semi management game where you looked after one player's career and built him up through the thing, which I absolutely loved and played, but it looked horrendous. Yeah, sort of rushed out in the end just to meet a deadline. How do I fix it? I basically just begged and said, look, we're not going to get it done on time. We need more time. That was basically it.
Liam Wickham: That's one of the massive problems though, isn't it, of being given a lot of responsibility, and kind of inheriting it by just being promoted to a position where you're in charge for a game that you're given budgetary responsibilities, you're told to make things happen by a certain deadline. Almost inevitably, because its life, money gets cut, time gets cut. Remarkably, you don't normally get more money or more time. There is a kind of a grey area where you just have to sit there and go well, alright, we'll do our best today and see what happens. Do you think that's a natural part of making a big game? I think it's more about the big games or all the high-profile games.
Anthony Kyne: It's a strange one. So, I worked at a place called Asylum. Absolutely shocking place, a guy called Simon Bailey run it and refused to pay off his staff. They've made a Doctor Who game while I was working there for a few months, and they've done it in like six or seven months. Then he went off and I think they go and sign another game and go okay. We've done the last one in six months and we can do this one in six months. But we didn't, we did it in 12 months. It was just in six months actual time but you don't do double hours every day, sometimes we work 16-hour days. What was really good when I went to HB and now based in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia law means if you work over 40 hours a week, for every hour, you worked more, you got half an hour back until you got to 50 hours, I think and then you've got an hour for every hour back. That really puts the pressure on the company to make sure they budget correctly. Because what happens and it works fine as well because one of the things when we get to Golf Club is that we did a ton of overtime. We work till 10, 11 o'clock every night for three months. But it came at a cost and the fact that all of us were out for six weeks after that. We couldn't come back into work, which was great. So the company knew that, they go it's worth that cost and everybody that works on the game loved it as well because I don't mind putting in, in a Nova Scotia winter, when it's minus 30, for me to have the whole of June and July off, it's nice and sunny and I've got the beach. So, everyone else felt the same. So, it's like, if things are working like that, and you know, the cost, it's not too bad. I'm anti crunch, in the fact that I don't want people to think it's free work for people's passion. I think it's completely wrong.
Liam Wickham: Sacrifice again, isn't it?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah. But again, going back to the Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run is that you don't make Born to Run going in for a nine to five, you know, it's a passion that, you know, you go, okay, I want to get this thing right. I want to get this right and as a team bonding thing, it works really, really well as well. So, there's a fine line, it's making sure that people want to do it, making sure people are excited to do it, and making sure that you get reimbursed for doing it. You know, and the thing is, it's got to the point in the gaming industry now that crunches looked on so badly that if somebody's done five minutes extra, it's is I'm not crunching those five minutes.
Liam Wickham: Can I ask just if you're a new producer, and particularly looking at your experience? Do you have any top tips for how to form good relationships with your teams and particularly with discipline leads, if you may not have had the same background in design and code as you?
Anthony Kyne: One is, try not to be too chummy. It's a personable skill. It's funny, like I employed a lead programmer several years ago, so five or six years ago, and he was so desperate, it was his first chance of being a lead. He was so desperate to have everyone on the side. Everyone was just wound up by him because he was like, oh, yeah, I'm your friend. I'm your friend. It was really creepy and I had to have a word with him and said look, just be yourself man. But yeah, I'd say be yourself, make sure that you know you're bought into the game. Be nice to people ask, especially discipline leads, like their views and thoughts and things, make people feel included in the game. Once people feel included, and they feel that you're helping them out, they'll be on your side. You know, and that's one of my things I've always what is a producer, a producer, somebody who's like, holds the umbrella to all the shit that's coming down from above and has a like a big snowplough that plows all the risks out of the way. So, it's just like seeing what's coming down the road, make sure that everyone can just continue working and not be bothered by pointlessness.
Liam Wickham: How much of production is what you've just described, and how much of it needs to be at least a competent grasp of project management?
Anthony Kyne: Interesting, because maybe people would say I've not got any grasp of product management. I would say it. I don't know 50/50. 60/40, maybe it's strange because I don't think I'm a particularly good project manager. But then a lot of the studios I've gone to have all gone, wow, you know a lot about project management. I think, you know, my life is made easy. As I said, I'm a programmer. So, I'm a lazy man, I'm a lazy producer, I'm going to do things that is going to make my life easier. So, I can play the game more at all times. The best asset you can have as a producer, if you want to be really good is to see the amount of risk coming down the road and de risk it before it even becomes an issue that anyone's even seen it.
Liam Wickham: I'm so happy to hear you say that. I've written some stuff in recent issues because I thought that was the most important thing to write as an opener and game-production.com was like, you need to understand risks and issues, guys. You know, I know you're joking. You're calling yourself lazy, I would call it lean. I would say what you're actually describing is you want to reduce waste, right? You want to make sure that people are only doing what they actually have to do if people are working till midnight, because they want to because it's fun for them. It's given them something, you want to at least know that your producers have given them a bit of work, which is actually going to come out and is actually a sensible thing to be working on, right. I think that level of project management, I can totally understand that producers need. I've worked in places which have got separate project managers, which I didn't personally think worked very well. I think from, you know, going back to what you were saying about it being poor, it pulls people in different directions, doesn't it?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and that's the thing and what works very well for me now. I mean, I've got a producer working with me and she's more project manager based than myself. She's on the button, you can ask her about anything and she knows exactly what it is and what percentage it's through and it's great. Like she's completely bought into what I brought in and I think like she's amazing at the amount of stuff she's got in her head at the time and she can run it and then I do all the things that she doesn't want to do as much. I deal with a publisher and I stop all the issues so she can continue to project manage, and the team continue to work. I think that's working really well. But it's not worked well a lot of times I've worked. This is actually the best relationship I've had with a co producer.
Liam Wickham: Okay, interesting. So, just going back to the Golf Club briefly, just finishing a few questions there. What was the hardest part of making that game?
Anthony Kyne: The hardest part from a production point of view or from just a, this is a really hard game? I know actually, cross platform on Sony, Microsoft getting that meeting happening, because we're the first company to do it.
Liam Wickham: Were you? I have no idea.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah and I had to really set that up and like Microsoft were like, no, and then Sony went no and then I said one of them said yes, and the other said yes. I can't remember exactly what happened but yeah, it was coming like how we were going to show usernames across the thing because some people could be called the same name that weren't the same people. Stuff like that. So, it was like, we just go, I think it was the Golf Club user. If you were on a PS4 and the same if you were on Xbox Live. We've made another platform.
Liam Wickham: You've made me think now about QA because just because I've worked with both Sony and Microsoft QA teams being kind of shipped in at the end, to see if they can find more than 1000 bugs in your game. Do you have that kind of experience as well of working with external QA teams?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, done quite a bit with external QA teams as well. Yeah, that like I always one of my big things especially when I'm away working on a console game is to make sure there's enough in the budget to get a top compliance, QA team, because it's like, I know when I was at Team Six, they couldn't believe that we passed I think second submission and the only reason it had to submit a second time is because there was one bug that was stopping us. Then again, we only have to do like 8 or 9 and get these guys and you think it's going to be expensive, but in what it saves you, it's cheap.
Liam Wickham: I detected a healthy respect for QA when you were saying a few things earlier. Is that correct? Because I know you know, we all know right, that QA don't get the love they deserve.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, well, I always say this because I always say there's no bugs in anyone's games until we put QA on them. There is a vital part of the gaming process as anyone else and as I said earlier, it breaks my heart that people who are really, really good at it, feel they have to get out of it if they really want to, you know there's a set few jobs that you can earn a decent living out of it. But you can't just stay in QA and be good at QA like you could be good at being a programmer or good at being a designer.
Liam Wickham: Final question about the golf club, if I may, if you could have gone back and done one thing differently, what would it have been?
Anthony Kyne: Couldn't have done one thing differently on that game, it was perfect.
Liam Wickham: Good answer. Make it more perfect.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, it's like, I would have liked, from a production point of view, like, I think we got just right. Like, we chose the right decisions. We were you know, we wanted multiplayer. But instead of going down the route where we'd have to get a ton of QA and do all the like, Sony and Microsoft multiplayer stuff, we created an ability to record ghost balls. So you record the ghost ball, and it showed it like a second later, but it still looked like it was live. No one ever knew. But you weren't live and it was like Sony would go no, you can't do this and we'd go, you can and things like that. We were smart. I had a really, really good tech lead and he was very clever guy and we were smart
about how we went about and kind of things. We were really lean. We got so much out of the small budget that we had to be able to get like seven 8s out of 10s. So biggest mistake was leaving after Golf Club 2, because I thought it's run its course now and it seems like it's coming back.
Liam Wickham: Run its course. Good one. That's interesting. I wonder how much is a direct result of your approach to the pods and the creativeness that you foster in teams that you did manage to keep it lean, and you managed to keep it that people were coming up with these sort of really dynamic, interesting solutions to problems, right? That maybe if they had felt they were under the cosh, they wouldn't have even bothered thinking about.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, definitely like not to blow my own horn. But, like, the original budget and what the original idea for the game was, I said three clicks to golf course then you play it. Then the budget plus, I think half a million extra for the extra features that we went for in the end. We got a huge golf game that beat EA's Tiger Woods series, that basically buried it. So yeah, that was immense and it proved, justified, I felt justified in the way I managed to team because a lot of people thought that I was wrong at the time. Then that gave me huge amounts of confidence to go and do that in other places.
Liam Wickham: Why? Did they think you were wrong?
Anthony Kyne: Well, because I wasn't doing it by the book. You know, I got in and I cancelled all the daily stand ups like I always do. They go well, you got to have daily stand ups. Why? Well, because the book said.
Liam Wickham: Scrum of scrums. Were you able to do that with Championship Manager? Because of course that, you know, the reviews for that were like, this has come up with so many great new ideas and the way that this game is has been designed and carried out, it's a challenger to the bigger men and you know, it was seen as saving the franchise wasn't it?
Anthony Kyne: I think what we did for Championship Manager and some of the good decisions that were made that weren't part of my stuff was that we went from the very beginning built an extremely solid base game. That allowed us to do things that when we got to the point where I was the lead designer, the things that I wanted, like a free kick, set piece creator, training drills, things like that. They were a lot easier to do with the tech that we had, where our competitor Football Manager still to this day hasn't got it because I know that they struggle because the tech it wasn't built in a way that allowed them to do the same kinds of things. You know, every year I smile when I see Football Manager's latest feature list, and I got this one of mine from 2004. You know, and it's like, I think that's a good start, you know. A well thought out tech plan at the beginning of that project and then me getting there and having some ideas. You know, it was a group of us, it wasn't just me, it was the group of really big football fanatics and football management fans that were creative and wanting to push, you know, we did some cool stuff, you know, and I think that's what helped it. I don't know, it wasn't definitely the way that production was run because it was strangely poor. That's why I think it could have been even better. I think we would have hit that goal, maybe a game or two earlier if we've done it right.
Liam Wickham: Yeah so, it's kind of like you were fighting your own battles internally as the lead designer but not in a position to do much, more right?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, exactly. I used to go to bed with a headache. Dream I had a headache then I wake up with a headache. It was shocking.
Liam Wickham: And all you want to do is play football for Manchester United.
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, I did learn a great deal from the senior producer there though in the last year because he was so bad. I mean, this is an easy job. I can do it better than that guy. Yeah.
Liam Wickham: So, I really am fascinated what gave it away that it was so bad?
Anthony Kyne: Well, he was ultra-aggressive. I remember interviewing people with him and he was the most uncomfortable, he would just stare at them to see if they'd ramble. He sorts of semi chased me around the office once to have a go at me, because he'd been undermined in some way. He sorts of chased me around and was like he's going to have a bar fight with me, he as like mental. That guy that everybody hated it. It was just like; you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing. You're not making the team bond together. Yeah, I think he saw it as his chance to be king in the world. That was his problem and that's what you can't do because you're in charge of the project. You're not the boss of everyone. That's what people need to understand.
Liam Wickham: And you got to nurture them because there can be a lot of burnout when you're heading towards those midnights and you're a dying breed probably right?
Anthony Kyne: Yeah, I don't think you can get away with it anymore. I don't know what it's like, at some of the old school places, but like, I know, like Media tonic would just never allow that. It's what is one of the nicest things after me spending the year at Imagination doing stuff with Jaguar, Land rover it was great to get back to Media tonic and just like go this is so nice. Everyone is nice, everyone is lovely. It's a lovely place to work. You just don't get any of that sort of just, bullying. It's like, no one's really bullied, everyone's been given the chance to do the job and to impress and that's what you want.
Liam Wickham: With a minimum of politics and backstabbing.
Anthony Kyne: That's all you want.
Liam Wickham: Yeah, stay in the games industry, kids. Just make sure you choose the right place. I'm going to skip a lot of the feel of the rest of production questions and career advice. I think you've given a lot of career advice and there is one that I liked there, which is what are really bad recommendations that you could give producers like, what have you heard producers being told that you go no, no, you don't need to know that. What's really bad advice?
Anthony Kyne: I think the thing that I always laugh at, and I'm pointing out to young people not to do is if I see it's like, micromanaging, meeting, meeting, meeting. I've been to studios where you're sitting there you see the producer and what's happened. I think this is how it normally goes and they've got like an imposter syndrome about them, they've been put in charge of something, they're worried that they don't really know what's going on. Instead of just being relaxed, and calm and going, okay, I've got the people here in my lead that are trustworthy and can get the job done. Everyone has got a skill that they can get this job done. It's like we're going to panic and then you grab everyone to constantly get status updates at all points, until there's no status update, because nobody's done any work because they're constantly sitting there telling you the status updates. One of the most important things and this is a good thing about being a programmer is it takes a long time to sit down and get your head in the right mindset to code. Then when you're coding, you're in a flow and then if you stop that person from coding to get a status update, they then like for another hour or so you are losing chunks and chunks of games every time you do these. That I think is a big thing is let people sit there, get on with their work and keep their flow going.
Liam Wickham: I think it's huge. It almost kind of makes you think that producers should just be able to go to a place and get kind of like advice on the different personalities, the different departments and how people work. Like when and when not to, and how and how not to interrupt, etc. I think that you're quite right with the coders. I think that's a huge thing. I've known producers in the past I've had to stop who do exactly that. They're walking around desk by desk going, oh, hi, I've been asked to get an update from my senior producer. What are you up to? What you've been working on? How's it going? How many hours you've got left? Well, that's more hours than you had before. How many hours have you really got, but why is that going up? And it just winds up coders so much, doesn't it?
Anthony Kyne: One of the reasons I love story points is because you don't need that how many hours you've got left story points are only burnt once you've completed the story. It's like they're burnt now, so I don't have to go around and go, did you do eight points today? Doesn't make any sense. So, you know, so it gets rid of that and again another lean or lazy whichever one you want to choose way of doing things. It's like there's nothing worse than seeing a producer going around and saying update your tasks in JIRA.
Liam Wickham: I think we're going to brand lazy lean right now on this podcast. Anthony's style of lazy lean. I like that. Just going to write that down. Done. Right. Why would anyone want to be a producer? Do you think?
Anthony Kyne: Oh, it's a good question.
Liam Wickham: Let me interrupt your answer to say the reason I'm asking you this is if you look at people's first choice, or in the games industry have a job. No one says oh, you know what I'm 18, 16 whatever. I'd really like to be a games producer. That sounds like a great job. I say no one. But I think, hardly anybody thinks that way. They think I want to design a game; I want to be doing the art for a game, I want to be doing whatever, in the same way that they don't think about going into QA. They, you know, no one goes and says, I've done a degree in QA so I can join the game industry. I think with production, it's the same thing, right? This, I mean, there are no degrees in doing whatever for production. So, what's the appeal? Why would somebody sort of sacrifice other choices and become a producer? Or would you say, from your experience, don't bother go and get some experience around the games that you're doing other things first and then become one.
Anthony Kyne: I personally enjoy it more than any other job massively available in the games industry at the moment. I love it. I can go back to my days at Anko and program, produce and design all at the same time. That's what I want, but that job doesn't exist anymore. But like to be able to run with the game. Like, and be the person that everyone goes to go, how's this game doing? Is it running well? Who's in charge of it, make sure it's good, blah. I enjoy the pressure. I enjoy the fact that when the game comes out, you go, okay, I made that. Why wouldn't you choose it? I think you've got the most amount of fun if you are personable and like to be dealing with people that are going to put a bit of pressure on and you can protect your team. I mean, it's a bit like why would you be a football manager? And it's like, why would you take that pressure on dealing with the media and dealing with players and dealing with all the results in the crowd? Well, you know, sometimes you make a great game like the Golf Club, and it's like, all right, and then other times you make games really bad and yeah, man, that was me. But yeah, it's like you have a chance to do something and touch everything. Like if you improve the way the game is built from a methodology standpoint, and the game becomes better because of it. That's a huge, huge bonus, I think. Yeah, and the other thing is you only see people leaving with a smile on their face because they enjoy working with you, that's always good.
Liam Wickham: Thank you. Thank you. That's a lovely answer and so what's next for you? Is it the shed MMO for your dad and you to work together?
Anthony Kyne: That's a good thing. I don't know, really. Career wise, I'm quite happy at Media tonic, you know. I mean, a sort of lucky position that I don't need to strive for the stars. I just like making games, you know, I'm not out to be king of the world. So, I just want to keep making games and having fun really, and I get to do that.
Liam Wickham: Dare I ask and I don't have to record this bit. I can get rid of it if you don't want to talk about it, but you had mentioned a book.
Anthony Kyne: Well, I did. The thing is my book would be very, very lean in the fact that it's like the process. I don't even think it could be a book because like talking about all we have done is like. I take that job as a base and then I cut it back. It was always given the codename zone processes where it sorts of came about on the Golf Club properly. But it was keeping everyone in the zone and that was what it was all about, was making sure that people stayed in the zone. There weren’t any meetings outside of the call working hours, most people just stuck to it. I used to spend most of my time in the kitchen and then get status updates and everything from people when they were getting coffee. This is when they were already out of the zone. Yeah, but as soon as you put something in the calendar for someone and you go you got to meet in half an hour and then you a finish task and then go okay, I've got a meeting in half an hour and at that point start another one. Then that meeting goes on and then you finish that meeting, you have a lunch in 45 minutes, and then you start entering now though you've lost nearly a whole morning. Where if you just stand up by the coffee machine, you grab them and you go, okay, I was thinking this and thinking that they'll go, okay, yeah, then the whole meeting that they thought they were going to have in 10 minutes, sit back down, boom, they're at work. So, I was going to call it the Zone Process and sort of write a process around that. But I don't know if it's possible. As I said, it could be a pamphlet.
Liam Wickham: That's what's next for you. I'm quite personally gutted that there's no shed MMO.
Anthony Kyne: You can never tell. So, I'm always messing around in Unity in the evening. So, I've got a lot so like, over in Ireland, there's this little old card game called 25 that only old people really play and its sort of dying out. I started building that in Unity just to see if I could learn Unity and I thought, oh a card game would be nice and easy. Turns out card games are harder than first person shooter. Yeah, massively hard and real pain. But I'm doing that so I would really like to get that out at some point this year and go okay, there you go. I did one thing for Irish culture in 20, 25 games, so that would be my next thing if I can get out. Thank you very much for having me on. It's been a real pleasure talking to you and I hope to learn a lot more from your website.
Liam Wickham: Thanks for listening. As always, we really appreciate your thoughts and feedback about the show. You can reach out to us by visiting game-productions.com's podcast pages and leaving comments under each episode. We have a Facebook group and YouTube channel that you can find linked from the website. If you want to contribute or fancy a chat in the future. We'd love to hear from you.