Posts Tagged ‘Gaming’

The challenges of creating a quality title: Sega’s Ethan Einhorn discusses his move from PR to the production team

December 14, 2009

Sega producer Ethan Einhorn showing the platform of some of his most recent work, the iPhone. Conway photo

A young boy grew up in Chicago during the video game boom of the mid-eighties.

He would spend his time chatting with his friends in the schoolyard about how to get to the minus worlds or how to save the fair princess Zelda from the evil Gannon.

Now a grown man, he works for one of the biggest video game developers in the world. If you had told him this 20 years ago, he would have never believed it.

Ethan Einhorn has gone from a film student, to a freelance editor at Electronic Gaming Monthly and associate editor of GameNow, to a member of Sega’s PR team. Now he is a producer of digital media for the company.

“After a few years in public relations, I wanted to get closer to the games themselves and I requested a shift to the production department and I moved over to work on a lot of Sega’s classic IPs. From there I have worked on Sonic games, Super Monkey Ball games, Golden Axe games and a few vintage collections.”

A producer at a company like Sega manages development teams and the expectations of others within the company, he said.

“I make sure that the game is hitting its qualitative level and that we’re all very happy with the game. If we’re behind in one way or another from a development standpoint, or if we are not quite hitting the quality bar we want to, it is my job to work with the teams to fix that.”

The first game he worked on as a producer was Charlotte’s Web for the Gameboy Advanced and Nintendo DS. It wasn’t exactly a game he would purchase for himself, but it is he is proud of.

You get a real sense of pride and ownership in anything you end up contributing to creating, he said.

“After I had finished working on it, I was very proud of what I was able to get worked into the game.”

Chris Sharpley worked for several different companies including Sega before becoming the instructor of the Video Game Arts and Design at Holland College in Charlottetown.

It’s always important for anyone working on a game to give their best effort, Sharpley said.

“On the one hand, you feel you should be putting some extra effort in when working for a big name company like Sega. But on the other hand, they are an employer like everyone else, so it is best to do the best job you can whether it is a big name or a small developer.”

Einhorn’s proudest moment (thus far) was his work on the iPhone port of Super Monkey Ball.

“We had a very limited production cycle but put out a real high-quality game. The controls are a little challenging at first but once you’ve mastered them, the game is hard to put down.”

Einhorn has come a long way since picking up his first controller on the Odyssey 2, from the video game crash to the rise of the Nintendo Entertainment System, to the 16-bit war, to today’s three-way dance between Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, he’s seen it all.

Once a sixth grader exchaning strategies with his friends, he is now a grown man who has turned his childhood passion into a carrer.

“We have found at Sega that a surprising number of people who are playing games are in their 30s, so I think an entire generation starting with my generation you can call lifetime gamers.”

He is happy to work for a place responsible for some of the experiences he enjoyed as a child.

“If I could go back in time and tell my pre-teen self and say that I was working for Sega, I would have been very excited.”

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Public relations in the gaming industry

Public relations in the gaming industry

December 14, 2009

Sega producer Ethan Einhorn showing the platform of some of his most recent work, the iPhone. Conway photo

How do gaming related magazines and websites gain access to exclusive information and access to the hottest titles? It’s all a matter of PR.

Ethan Einhorn is a producer of Digital Media for Sega of America, but before that he was a member of the company’s PR team.

Few people can discuss the relationship between the gaming press and game publishers within the industry as well as Einhorn, as he has worked on both sides of the spectrum. Prior to his work at Sega, he was a freelance editor for Electronic Gaming Monthly and an associate editor for GameNow.

It was a comfortable transition shifting to PR after being an editor, said Einhorn.

“When it comes to getting the review copies of games, the exclusive interviews, the cheats, etc, it was matter of dealing with the publisher’s PR teams.”

The managing editor of Gampro magazine, Mike Weigand, has also had his fair share of dealing with public relations.

The use of information provided by the PR teams of different publishers are used in a variety of ways, he said.

“For product descriptions on Gampro.com and for background on any articles or features that we may be doing on a game we primarily obtain press releases from the companies, be it via a press email blast or the company’s press or FTP site.”

Einhorn says he enjoys promoting a company that has brands loved by people all over the world.

“We have a company heritage that people have always responded very well to, so that is definitely helpful to make sure that your getting press for the titles you are working on.”

The first game he worked on as a member of the PR team was the company’s first Sonic game released for a non-Sega console, Sonic Heroes.

“It’s a different level of work that you do when you’re working on a game from a marketing standpoint. It’s generally pre-release/post-release support and not actually working on the game itself.”

His regular duties were tied to managing the visibility of Sega’s Japanese games.

“Anything coming from Sega of Japan, I was deeply involved in promoting. That included working with enthusiast magazines and websites like EGM and IGN. Getting them assets for the game and giving them press releases .

“Securing exclusive interviews, exclusive hands-on experiences and just trying to think outside of the box of how to approach and engage consumers.”

To give an example of how PR is used in the gaming industry, Einhorn recalled the promotion behind the game, Shining Force Neo.

“Enthusiast magazines like Playstation Magazine for example, were given an exclusive prequel comic to the game written by comic book authour Paul Chadwick. Things like that add value to the consumer and get them excited about the game.”

Has the time spent in public relations influenced his current position on the production staff?

“It gives one a much better understanding of the importance of marketing and helps me to work closely with the marketing team.”

It helps especially when it comes to working on a title for a system like the iPhone, he said.

“Understanding how to make games as visible in iPhone space as possible, when there is a lot of clutter is crucial. Up to 30 games a day get released on the iPhone, so it is really helpful to have a producer who is paying careful attention to how other games are marketed. I can make sure that my games are marketed well.”

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A parents guide to video game ratings

December 4, 2009

The holiday shopping season has begun and many shoppers are already flocking to the stores. Some cheerful Christmas music is playing in the background.

Is it Jingle Bell Rock today? Or are they going to loop Silver Bells for a few more hours?

Customers are scurrying from aisle to aisle, franticly trying to get everything on their lists before the end of November (because you have got to beat the rush). Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of it all, a mother has stumbled into the electronics department. She sees a copy of Modern Warfare 2, she knows if junior doesn’t see it under the tree, he would be ever so disappointed. She picks it up, pays for it and walks away happy. But after she sees the violent content her young son will be exposed to, she will not be a satisfied customer.

This could be you. But it doesn’t have to be this way. These kinds of situations can be avoided rather easily through simple observations.

Like movies and television shows, video games have ratings. The good folks over at the Entertainment Software and Rating Board have provided and easy-to-understand rating system.

The ratings are as follows: EC- Early Childhood. These are games, which are appropriate for very young children who are in the three to five age group.

Next comes E-Everyone. These are games are the safest and most common family friendly titles on the market. They are usually aimed at people who are six and up.

This may sound confusing at first but there is also an E10 rating. This rating means the game is aimed at those who are 10 and up but there isn’t usually a whole lot of difference between this and the regular E rating. There might be a higher level of difficulty and maybe some stuff that younger children don’t understand but other than that there isn’t really much difference between the two. Think of E as G and E10 as PG.

T for teen is where you’re beginning to wander into adult territory. These games would have the same level of sex, swearing, violence, and blood as a PG-13 movie. These games are intended for players who are 13 or older.

Then there is M for mature. This is the most important rating for parents to look out for. Games with the mature rating are the ones that are only recommended for older players (ages 17 and over). These titles have all of the graphic violence, heavy swearing and sexual content that most parents don’t want their children to see. If you do not want to exposure your child to this level of content, then don’t purchase an M rated title. Plain and simple.

All of these ratings appear twice on the cover of every game that is released. Once on the front and again on the back. I recommend reading the rating on the back of the box, since it will have a short list of reason as to why the game has that rating.

I hope this has been helpful for anyone who doesn’t know anything about games but is thinking of buying games as Christmas presents. If you follow the ratings, you should be able to find a safer title your youngster can enjoy. If you feel your child can handle the mature content of certain titles, then more power to you. But if are you absolutely opposed to exposing the little ones to certain content and you still purchase an M rated game with all of the information you can access, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

Gaming journalists explain the process of reporting on their favorite past time

December 4, 2009

Sega producer Ethan Einhorn showing the platform of some of his most recent work, the iPhone. Conway photo

Electronic Gaming Monthly had a frat house like atmosphere, with plenty of late nights and crazy humour. Contributors would throw ninja stars at cardboard standees of their favourite characters and were always up for some bowling in the hallway.

Just ask Ethan Einhorn.

He is now a Digital Media Producer for one of the biggest video game developers in the world, but would you believe his career in the gaming industry began as a freelance editor for EGM?

It was an incredibly fun place to learn.

“I was actually working at a local television  station because I was a film major and one of the guys I was working with saw that I had a poster for EGM in my house. He told me that he used to work for the company as an archivist. He kept in touch with those guys and asked if I could talk with them because they had an opening.”

It seemed as though everything was falling into place for Einhorn. It did, but not in the way he expected.

“Turns out, I didn’t get the opening, but I did get a freelance gig that I took very seriously.”

He devoted a year to getting as many opportunites as possible to write for the magazine. Eventually, his hard work paid off with a full time position.

He didn’t have journalism training but rather his focus in college was on screen writing.

“I was furiously reading video game magazines at the time, so I really understood the language of game editors and how to clearly communicate with readers.

“That kind of knowledge was critical, because when you are given the chance to do freelance work, they are looking very carefully at your writing style and if  it matches the expectations of the magazine you will get more jobs. If it doesn’t, you will not.”

The process was challenging to get the hang of at first, but as time progressed it became easier to master, he said.

“Eventually I could do quickly and easily reviews that would take me a much longer time to compose when I started out.

“Didn’t get paid much. I had to take a second job at a game store to be able to support myself, but it was well worth it. Working full time for the magazine was certainly a livable wage, but it took me a year to get it.”

Even though people have the conception that working at a game magazine is all about fun and games, there is actually a lot of effort put into every issue, Einhorn said.

“Most people think when you’re an editor at a gaming magazine you’re just sitting around playing games all day. The reality is you’re taking the games home with you so you can play them there. The time spent in the office is entirely spent on editorial. Getting information from developers, deciding what the news stories and layout are going to be.

“It is a tremendous amount of work, but there are few things more gratifying than going somewhere out of state, going into the Walgreens and picking up a magazine that has your words in it.”

Over the past few years, gaming journalism has expanded beyond the format of print magazines. With the growing popularity of the Internet, video game journalists can now report the news as it happens on various websites.

Destin Legarie of Screwattck.com, is the host of the site’s news show, Hard News.

He may not consider himself a journalist, but he does his fair share of reporting. For each story on Hard News, Legarie said he browes the web, going over countless different websites looking for the best stories of the day.

“Once I find three, I’ll run with them after reading the articles I have found and those articles sources etc.”

Sometimes he’ll get news tips from viewers and investigate those as much as possible before running those stories, he said

“Looking up the person’s name, the facts they’ve given me, etc. Aside from those methods, we do get a lot of the same press releases that all the gaming blogs get and occasionally I will use information  from those.”

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Sega producer teaches students ins-outs of industry

December 3, 2009

Sega producer Ethan Einhorn showing the platform of some of his most recent work, the iPhone. Conway photo

Prince Edward Island is the best place to visit when heading out to see a game developer, says Sega of America’s digital content producer.

Ethan Einhorn spoke to students of both the Video Game Arts and Design and Interactive Media programs at Holland College’s Charlottetown Centre on Oct. 8.

He praised the students.

“They had a lot of great questions. They are clearly focused on wanting to understand what major publishers are looking for in games.”

The presentation was made possible through Video Game Art and Design instructor Chris Sharpley, once a co-worker of Einhorn’s.

Before becoming an instructor at Holland College, Sharpley was a game artist who worked for several different developers, including Sega.

While working at Other Ocean in Charlottetown, he did some of the design work for the iPhone version of Super Monkey Ball,  a popular Sega property and a game produced by Einhorn.

Of all of the producers he has worked with, Einhorn was one of his favourites, Sharpley said.

“He was probably the most easygoing and easy to get along with and I’ve never had any problems with him.”

Sharpley saw the presentation as a possible source of inspiration.

“Hopefully the students aspire to follow their dreams like he did and if you put the hard work in you can work anywhere you like.”

The students enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Einhorn individually after the lecture, Sharpley said.

“Afterwards, he must have spent twice as long casually chatting with students, just as he did during the presentation.”

During the presentation, the students learned about the role of a producer in a game’s devlopment and a little bit of Einhorn’s background before he worked for Sega, said Sharpley.

If the presentation demonstrated one thing, it was even though P.E.I. is a small part of Canada, it is still possible to be employed with a full-time job, Sharpley says.

“You could work on top international brands, dealing with people in San Francisco and Tokyo and see your work releashed globally and appreciated by millions of people.

Einhorn said he wished he had the same opportunities growing up that the students of the Holland College Video Game Arts and Design program have.

“I wish there were schools like this available when I was a student myself, but there was really no such thing as video game programs that long ago.”

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Program challenges students to excel in gaming industry

April 17, 2009

  marshall-darcy1

Video Game Art and Desgin student Darcy Fisher helps classmate Marshall Harrington with his latest project. Conway photo. 

  I-phone game development is a growing industry in P.E.I. and students at Holland College are taking full advantage.

Video Game Art and Design is a two-year course, which gives students the chance to get a feel for the video game industry by taking part in the development of games for the I-phone, said student Marshall Harrington.

 “The Video Game Art and Design program gives a broad coverage of the different sides of the gaming industry.”

Harrington said one of his best strengths is modeling 3D environments such as interiors and exteriors.

“It means creating the area where the game takes place.”

The program challenges students everytime there is a new assignment and there is always a motivation to work as hard as we can, he said.

“The program instructor has experience in the industry and has a pretty blunt opinion when it comes to criticizing our work. So it helps motivate us to try harder.”

Marshall is currently working on art for an I-Phone game, which is a collaboration between Holland College students, he said.

“Holland students will create the art for the game and then send the art to students from UPEI who will program the game.”

The game is a tribute to a Super Nintendo title called On the Ball, which Marshall said is just simple fun stuff.

“The player tilts the I-Phone to roll the ball around brick textures.”

Not only do students work on developing games but they also develop their own personal work to show to potential employers.

“They are stuff like still renders and character animations. This is your own work and is not part of a game and would be part of your portfolio.”

Darcy Fisher, who is a classmate of Marshall’s, said his strength is in creating concept art.

“It is pretty much all hand drawn and I also scan my drawings and use Photoshop to colour them.”

Fisher said he had been drawing for as long he can remember and had always been a fan of video games and after learning about the program. It seemed like the right fit for him.

He said he inserts his original artwork in the background layer, then he draws a layer of an outline of what he did .

“Then I add a layer for all the different colours, depending on what I am drawing now.”

He said as an artist, he has gotten into the habit of taking his sketchbook with him whereever he goes.

“I take my sketchbook book everywhere and draw different things. Anything that pops into my head. I also do a lot of fan art of some of my favourite games as well.”

Fisher is currently working on a retro themed gamed, much like Harrington’s project.

It is based on the game Geometry Wars, he said.

“The game is pretty basic. You’re a spaceship at the bottom of the screen shooting at whatever enemies come up on the screen and getting different power ups.”

Even if the game is simple, it still a game, which players will enjoy playing, said Fisher.

“The artstyle of game will have the characters in neon colours. Even if the game is simple there is still a lot going on and it catches the eye and draws in your attention.”

The program has helped Fisher improve his skills as an artist and has motivated him to go beyond just drawing for the fun of it.

“Ever since I have started, I have been trying to make my drawings the best they can be before I try to break into the gaming industry.”

Fisher credits the model drawing portion of the course as being helpful towards sharpening his skills as an artist.

“We draw stuffed animals such as crows and dragonflys, and take the pictures and put them on a 3D surface. Life drawing also helps us learn proportions.”

After graduating from the program, Fisher would like to work for one of the developers in P.E.I. or at least somewhere in the Maritimes for the next five years or so, taking any job he could get in the industry.

“I would take anything at first. With a lot of people competing to break into the industry, you can’t be picky. You need experience before breaking into one of the bigger companies.”

Harrington said he would really like to be a digital artist.

“A digital artist who works with 3D mostly, maybe some animation but mainly a digital artist.”

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