Hello World: Moving From Journalism To Development And Beyond
[10.25.12] - Brian Davis
[Next Level Games programmer Brian Davis interviews former journalist and current game producer James Mielke to talk shop about working in the industry, switching career paths, and more.]
In this new developer interview, video game programmer Brian Davis and producer James Mielke talk shop about game development, working in the press, and, of course, their favorite video game consoles.
James Mielke began his career in the industry working as a journalist for publications like Gamespot, EGM, 1UP.com, and more. He later moved on to Q-Entertainment to become a co-producer on Child of Eden (360, PS3), and producer of Lumines Electronic Symphony (PSVita). Currently at Q-Games in Kyoto, Japan, James is producer of the PixelJunk series.
Much like the previous "Hello World" interview, this one-on-one chat explores what it's like to work in the industry, what makes developers tick, and why the industry is so exciting.
Brian: Hi James. Thanks for taking the time to chat -- please introduce yourself.
James: Hello, I'm James Mielke, a one-time former games journalist and editor-in-chief of Electronic Gaming Monthly and 1UP.com, among others. Now I'm a video game producer in Japan, formerly of Q Entertainment, but have moved on to another game developer with a similar name (but is not at all related), Q-Games, in Kyoto.
Brian: Your latest game,Lumines Electronic Symphony,was released for PlayStation Vita recently. What was it like seeing your first game, Child of Eden, in the store, on the shelves?
James: When I was in the publishing business there was nothing more satisfying than seeing the digital files you worked on all month on your computer arrive on your desk in printed form. You could really savor the quality of the product you worked so hard on. The same goes for receiving boxed copy of a game you pour two years of your life into. Although we play it to death, testing and tweaking in front of our HDTVs and debug units, there's something special about peeling the shrink-wrap off the game, looking at the pristine disc, the disc art, the instruction manual (if there is one), and putting that sucker in your Xbox or PlayStation, or whatever unit you're playing on.
Seeing Child of Eden in a game box in our office, at home, on a store shelf was a wonderful experience. But getting Lumines Electronic Symphony was even more interesting, because the Vita cases are different, the Vita was a brand-new console, and because I put so much effort into the rebranding of Lumines. So to see the logo, the art, the secret inner cover of the North American version; it was all pretty amazing. That's probably one reason why I'm not too excited about an all-digital future. I like tangible things.
Child of Eden
Brian: Since you've moved away from EGM and 1UP, people now review your game, how does that feel to be on the other side of the 'page'?
James: So far, so good. I think the experience heavily depends on whether your game is getting praised or slammed. Since both of the games I have worked on since moving to Japan have gotten pretty stellar reviews I'd say it's very satisfying.
That said, having been there on the other side, I can really tell when someone hasn't bothered to really play or really understand what a certain game mechanic was designed for. I'm not saying every decision we make on the dev side is right, but one review of Lumines, for example, from a well-known publication, really felt 'mailed in.' Like the guy just figured 'Oh, it's another Lumines, just another puzzle game, blah blah.'He totally missed the very clear point of a specific mechanic that, if he had gotten deeper into the game beyond the first three skins, probably would have seen exactly why we designed something the way we did. And I know it's not so obscure because plenty of other publications could see and appreciate it. So yeah, lazy journalism. It's unfortunate.
Brian: You're well known for your journalism background at EGM, 1UP and GMR, how did you get your start writing about video games?
James: By accident. I had written, literally, two fan reviews just for fun for a website called Animeplaystation.com back in 1997 or so, one for some Ultraman game, and the other for Bushido Blade 2. Joe Fielder from Gamespot saw the Bushido Blade review and sent me an e-mail to start writing for Gamespot, and that was pretty much it. I had absolutely zero master plan of entering the game industry. I was a freelance illustrator in New York at the time, and was running my own bar in the East Village. Between Gamespot, and eventually the guys at EGM, they talked me into joining Ziff-Davis Media [Ed. Note: The former parent company of 1UP, EGM, GFW Magazine, and more]. So, whatever I've done to the game industry, I blame Joe.
Brian: During the Dreamcast days, I met a film student named Ryan O'Donnell, who eventually worked with you on the 1UP Show. Is that right?
James: Ryan is a force of nature. His vision for the 1UP Show, in collaboration of course with other key crew members, like Jane Pinckard and Matt Chandronait, really helped distance 1UP from its competition by producing memorable video content that tied in with our editorial work. I know it was great stuff based on how many people still reference it long after the show ended and the team disbanded. It's heartening to hear that kind of feedback. I actually met someone in Kyoto who was visiting from Sweden, of all places, who told me about how much he missed the stuff we did at 1UP. That was rewarding.