Media Molecule: Academia shouldnâ??t be only way in

Media Molecule: Academia shouldnâ??t be only way in

By Rob Crossley

October 25th 2010 at 6:56PM

â??I hated the idea that the only way into the industry was through degree coursesâ??

Two prominent developers at Media Molecule believe that standard routes into game development shouldn’t be the only way creative people can make games.

In what may be a sign of the Sony studio’s output, creative director Mark Healey says he has an “obsession with making it possible for people to create games and get into the industry without going through the formal channels”.

Speaking in the newest issue of GamesTM, Healey revealed he circumvented the UK’s conveyor-belt nature of building new industry talent.

“I just taught myself,” he said, “and I hated the idea that the only way to get into the games industry was through various degree courses.”

The genuine value of academic routes into the UK games industry has long been a matter of dispute.

Many developers call for a more practical approach to teaching students, while academia representatives are calling for more assistance from the industry in order to make that happen.

Eidos life president Ian Livingstone recently made an appeal to developers to contribute towards an ambitious talent survey that hopes to show the UK Government the value of the national games industry as an employer.

Media Molecule, which was acquired by Sony for an undisclosed sum earlier in the year, enjoys a reputation for building games that inspire and encourage its users to be creative.

The developer’s breakthrough title, LittleBigPlanet, is based on the premise that users can build their own levels from scratch. The studio was praised for how this was done with a delicate balance between a comprehensive tools set and a simple approach to using them.

In what could be the embodiment of its Play-Create-Share ethos, the studio recently hired a game development first-timer after being impressed with his user-generated levels.

John Beech, now a level designer at the Sony-owned studio, was up until a year ago a self-employed builder – but one that could apply his architectural skills in LittleBigPlanet’s level editor.

“We’ve hired people from the community, people for whom LittleBigPlanet was their first chance to have a go at making games,” said Healey.
 
“John didn’t have a clue about how to make games but he got LittleBigPlanet, managed to alienate his girlfriend and was just making this stuff and really stood out in the community.”

Beech is, says Healey, not the only person who Media Molecule has hired from its community of users.

The developer’s art director Kareem Ettouney praised his studio for allowing people “to do the full development of games without needing all the development structure.”

“The freedom you have when it’s just you, [the game] and a few mates doing a project and realising it has a massive impact on creativity,” he said.

Likening the process to starting out in a band, he said LittleBigPlanet “allows people to break out of the kind of mould where you have the same ideas come up over and over again. It’s only this kind of freedom that will fuel new ideas, I think.

“Whenever a new band comes along, they don’t invent music, you know? They continue to riff on what’s around and build on it.”