Features & News

Interview: Doctor Mike Reddy

April 12, 2010, Author: Andy Corrigan

If you’ve been reading our site recently, you’ll know that games don’t have a great reputation with those in the general media. However, one of those willing to stand up and be heard defending our cherished hobby is one Doctor Mike Reddy, who also has more than a helping hand in guiding the future wave of British games developers.

Thankfully, Dr Mike took time out of his schedule to answer a few questions on the industry.

Q. First of all, thank you for your time. What can we call you? Doc? Mike? Redders?! Would you prefer us to refer to your full title?

“Doctor Mike is fine. Sounds a bit affected, but stems from there being too many Mikes at XLeague, including Mike Bembeneck the inimitable commentator. So, Paul Vale, one of the regular hosts, suggested the doctor bit and it stuck. Calling me Redders, etc is likely to be the last thing you say… Having Ginger hair and the name Reddy led to a strong aversion to nicknames at school.”

Q. So for those out there who are unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us about what you do?

“Well, I get paid to play games basically. It’s not quite as simple as that, of course, and it’s less glamorous than it sounds: a bit like eating burgers in an abertoire. I teach programmers how to make computer games and game players how to program.”

Q. I’d wager that some of our readers would know you best from appearances on the ill-fated gaming channel X-League.TV and their show ‘Games Night’. What’s your take on where the channel fell down?

“Underfunding. The programmes Portland did produce under the XLeague.tv brand; The Match, Games Night, etc, were really good, but Pulse had to repeat them ad nausium because there wasn’t enough content for the channel. That fuelled disillusion in the viewers/players. So, viewing figures didn’t justify ad revenue. A vicious cycle.”

Q. You’ve had a few other TV appearances over the years, is it something you enjoy away from your career as a lecturer?

“Very much, although I do a lot more Radio now. I’d love a parallel career in Gaming TV. If DIY, Home Improvement, Cooking and Antiques can all carve a niche in mainstream Media, so can Gaming. Retro Roadshow anyone? I hear they’re thinking of bringing back GamesMaster. Maybe I could replace Dominick Diamond? Or, God forbid, Patrick Moore!”

Q. Why do you think it is that games related television has failed to hold its own since the days of Gamesmaster?

“Up till now games were seen as being for kids. Even now it’s hard to accept as a legitimate hobby. Too many parents seeing them as sinister. Now every ad break has a game advertised. There’s revenue to support Games TV. Just no-one’s quite got the formula right. I have my own ideas, but the time has definitely come for failure to be a thing of the past. Having said all that, the Internet has rendered TV almost obsolete. Using both is what excited me about XLeague.tv, but maybe they were just too early?”

Q. While researching a recent article, I noticed a thread by you on Alan Titchmarsh’s official forums complaining about his ‘debate’ on the day of the Video Game Bafta’s. What is your take on that whole situation?

“I was absolutely furious, and complained to ITV and the producers of Alan’s programme. I’ve yet to get any response! The patronising tone of the presenter and the other two guests, implying that underage access to games was justification for banning their existence was utterly ludicrous. However, it’s just the same old scaremongering as happened with videos, comics and even the 19th century novel.”

Q. Do you think that as a broadcaster, ITV should have taken a greater responsibility to check the information their ‘talent’ are putting on air?

“Quite simply, yes. The BBC, when I work for them, has a clear remit on balance, even for their externally commissioned programming. ITV’s position was “Oh this wasn’t made by US! We only paid for it…”

Sure, he looks friendly here, just don't call him 'Redders'...

Q. Is there a future for games on TV? Charlie Brookers Gameswipe proved to me that it could work?

“I’m a big fan of Brooker, but I don’t agree that Gameswipe was the way to go. Charlie has admitted itself it was really only a one-off extension of Screenwipe, playing on the tropes of gaming. For example, the programme explains various game types, such as FPS. This is fine for non-gamers, but many felt a bit let down. My take would be to take a more Gadget Show style approach; so maybe I could be the John Bentley or Jason Bradbury of Games TV!”

Q. Our very own Bryony has recently just put together an editorial about how in her MA, in a required piece on the role of Archaeology in popular culture, she wasn’t able to write it solely on video games. Her lecturer didn’t feel that it would be taken seriously next to TV and Movie references. What is your opinion of that?

“One of THE major advantages of Games Degrees is the supportive and sympathetic community that can be found for people wanting to debate and discuss Games as a serious art form. Remember how Film Studies was considered a “Mickey Mouse” degree? I do. Now we have an International Film Schools based in our university.”

Q. Is it just a matter of time before games are respected academically next to Movies and Television, or do you feel that they’ll always be treated with a certain disdain in that respect?

“Just wait a few years and the anti-game generation will be retired or dead! I was really lucky, being born in the 60’s because I “got” computer games before they had even started. I made my own computer from scratch at the age of 12. Not bragging. It’s just what you had to do then! So I was around for Pong and the like at the very beginning. It was clear to me that they were going to be big. Others weren’t so open to a Game Filled Future and did (and still do) see them as mere things for kids. Comics had the same problem, but now we have respectable Graphic Novels.”

Q. Can games be art?

“Some. The same way some Films can be artistic, whilst some are just fun. “Can Art be a Game?” is a more interesting question for me. Some of my ex-students are pushing this boundary. Very exciting times!”

Q. As someone helping to guide  the next generation of games designers, where do you stand on the upcoming motion controller war between the big three? Gimmick or genuine future of the industry?

“Yes.” 🙂

Q. Have any of your students gone on to work on any big games or franchises over the years?

“We’ve been very lucky with graduates going to EA, Sega, Blitz, Frontier in the UK, as well as some starting up for themselves or going to Canada. Pretty good for a course started in 2004! I say “lucky” deliberately because the ones who succeed the most bring their determination, their capacity for hard work, with them. We just guide and focus their skills in a creative environment.”

Q. Which would you say you favour? The work of independent developers or the big corporations?

“Indies every time. The smaller budgets and tighter schedules lead to greater creativity. That’s why I’m a big on supporting, and running the UK heats, of the Global Game Jam and mentoring at the X48 game camp each year.

The former, started by the IGDA’s Susan Gold but based on the previous Nordic Game Jam, gives students, lecturers and professionals 46 hours to develop games from scratch. It runs at the end of January, with this year seeing nearly a thousand games submitted; a threefold increase on last year. All the games are available at http://www.globalgamejam.org

X48, sponsored by Microsoft and using XNA exclusively, gives students even less time, with games being improvised in 26 hours. While less polished, and a much smaller event, nearly 100 games are free at http://www.x48gamecamp.com/

Q. What was your favourite game of 2009, and which games are you particularly looking forward to this year?

“Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box for 2009. For 2010, Shenmue 3? I’m still hopeful. Failing that, The Last Guardian as I’m a big fan of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.”

Q. Is there anything you’d like to plug before we end the interview?

“Two things: 1) Pay for your games. Every time. 2) Make games yourself. Even if only a Card or Board Game. 3) Remember that Maths is important!”