Geek Speak: Jonathan Gallina, lead game designer for Propaganda Games
Jonathan Gallina is confident that Tron: Evolution will beat the odds. That is, though it’s the latest video game tied to a movie, he’s certain it won’t suck.
Gallina is a lead game designer for Vancouver-based Propaganda Games, which developed the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, and Windows PC versions of Tron: Evolution. The game will be released in North America on December 7, ahead of Tron: Legacy’s theatrical debut on December 17. Propaganda is a division of Disney Interactive Studios.
Born in Milan, Italy, Gallina previously worked at Electronic Arts’ EA Canada studio in Burnaby. The 34-year-old Mount Pleasant resident and Simon Fraser University graduate was involved with the FIFA video-game series for several years, starting as a tester on FIFA 2003 and then as a designer for FIFA 06, 07, 08, and 09.
On January 22, 2011, Gallina will deliver a talk at the Vancity Theatre on how game developers can avoid making lousy movie games. His presentation will be a part of the industry speaker day at Vancouver Film School’s fifth annual Game Design Expo.
The Georgia Straight reached Gallina by phone at the Propaganda office in downtown Vancouver.
Why should gamers be excited about Tron: Evolution?
For a number of reasons. I’m going to try and see if I can answer this from a non-fan standpoint. The tie-in to the movie, I think, plays a big component, mainly because it’s not a retelling of the movie and it’s not one of those ports from movie stories—you know, playing a character from a movie.
The biggest thing about this is the game was designed and assembled in such a way—both from a story and gameplay perspective—that it appeals both to fans that watched the movie, like the original in 1982 way back when, to somebody that was born in 1990 and picks up games and is not familiar with this sort of digital world that was invented many years before. I think we successfully managed to merge and bridge a gap in between the two age groups and interests.
How did you attempt to avoid making yet another crappy movie game?
That’s almost like what my entire talk is about in January. Sort of on a really high level, it’s developing a really close relationship with the theatrical group—basically the group responsible for the movie. Developing a good rapport, in terms of give and take, in that they provide information but they’re also willing to take information from you and vice versa. It’s not a “you do this, we do that” kind of situation. And sort of the ability to think early on what all the pitfalls of movie games are. Part of it is the time constraints.
As you probably know, when a movie comes out, more often than not games are released right after the movie. That’s because they’re often a retelling of the movie. For us, you could play our game and not have seen the first movie and not see the second one, and you can still have an enjoyable experience. The game itself needs to be designed in such a way—from start to finish, whether it’s story, gameplay, visual mechanics, audio—everything has to be self-contained and be able to stand on its own two legs. And then if there’s supporting things to it, all the better. I think we managed to do that.
What kinds of downloadable content can players look forward to?
Initially at launch, people who have purchased the game brand new will be able to download a couple of free DLC maps, specifically for the game grids for multiplayer. At the same time, you also get a character skin that looks like one of the characters from the movie. Once the movie is released, we’ll have a different round of DLC. But we haven’t announced the content for that yet.
How hard did Disney’s cancellation of the Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned game in October hit the studio?
Having been through this process at different game studios, it always hits hard. It always feels like it’s a part of your family moving to a different country. That’s what it feels like. You develop close ties with everybody you work with. At the same time, being a designer or a producer, being at the levels we’re at, you work the best you can. But obviously none of us are in control of any of the higher-up, corporate decisions that are being discussed.
I think that’s why the gaming community in Vancouver is so close, because there are so many game studios in the downtown core. It’s sort of like a huge family, so it’s not only felt internally, but through other studios. There’s a huge support network for everybody. As hard as the news is, we always know that there’s people you can talk to and places you can look for information, other places to look for work. It’s nice to have that support.
What kind of video game do you dream of making?
Oh, wow. That’s one of those aspirational, big life questions. I’m not a hard-core gamer, if you’re thinking Call of Duty and shooters, because I’m still a role-playing gamer in nature. On the console level, I like the notion of games that have impact in the world based on characters’ actions. That’s always been a big thing in games, where—it’s always a back-of-the-box thing—the actions you do dictate how people react to you.
It’s never done realistically, especially because of the difficulty, I guess. The number of permutations—there could be a lot of variables that have to be taken into account. But developing that breathing world based on how you play. So, making it really feel that the world is responding to how you are playing the game, as opposed to having the game tell you what you’re supposed to do.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.