Published on August 24th, 2012 | by Vince Shuley1
The Victor Lucas Interview
Recently I wrote a feature for the Pique Newsmagazine titled “It’s just a game,” exploring gaming both locally and globally and just how much it has affected (and continues to shape) mainstream pop culture. The piece was a manifesto of sorts, given a vast amount of the readership were not core gamers, but the message was clear: gamers are slowly, but surely, taking over the world.
Living here in Whistler, Canada, I wanted to get an interview with the most qualified Canadian to talk about games. Victor Lucas is the executive producer and host of Reviews on the Run and The Electric Playground, two daily TV shows produced in Vancouver, the latter having screened since 1997. His shows now have network coverage in Canada, the US and Australia and feature all the latest movies, gadgets and most of all, video games. Lucas has been called by some as “the hardest working man in Canadian television,” a man who has helped steer the interactive entertainment medium into the mainstream, both in Canada and around the world.
After weeks of gentle badgering to his supervising producer for an interview (including competing with the cavalcade of E3) I managed to get Victor Lucas on the phone for a very exciting 33 minutes. The highlight of my still-young videogame journalism career was upon me – it’s not often you get to interview one of your biggest inspirations. Today, Awesome Games shares Vic’s wisdom with you.
When did your your career in games solidify?
VL: I was kind of going through a quarter life crisis in the mid 90s. Around 1994 and I was trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. I was a waiter and actor (mostly a waiter) and I didn’t want to be that. I wanted to change my life and one thing that had persisted since I was a child was my love, infatuation and curiosity for video games. I wrote a proposal for a television show that would profile video games and get into the culture of video games in the way that I would like to see it as an adult gamer. That was the Electric Playground. I went to my first E3 in ’95 and that really solidified that we were taking the right direction with the program. We were one of the only cameras that was down there initially, I think we were honestly the first one that travelled around to game developers wherever they were and put them in front of a camera.
I knew way back then that the people were going to be more interesting than the products that they were talking about. I think its really fascinating, the type of personality, the intelligence, the inventiveness; to build this stuff is unbelievable. These are some of the most intelligent, artistic people in the world and I knew they would be fascinating. The first episode we had Chris Taylor, one of the lead designers on Total Annihilation. He was so funny, so smart and so cool and I knew if we kept having awesome people like this on the program, we’re going to break through. This was going to be some thing that a lot of people are going to want to watch.
You are involved in writing, directing, producing and the hosting of your shows. How do you manage to multitask so many roles and is there a particular role that you prefer?
VL: I love all aspects of my job. I’m 17 years into this now I still can’t believe after that I get to do this for a living. I’m really, really grateful and I feel very, very fortunate. One of the thing’s I really love though- and I’m especially aware of it now because I’m so proud of the people that I work with – is to help put stuff together and watch other people contribute and make it better. To sit back and look at all the work that everybody does and believes in, to build something really cool. Our Canadian Video Game Awards that we launched a few years ago, I’m really proud of that and what everybody does to make that awesome.
How are Canadian developers getting recognised?
VL: Canada gets games, its certainly true in the development space. Something that I’m getting increasingly aware of as well is that some of the biggest names and the coverage of video games is coming from Canada and they have for a long time. I just think that Canada loves this stuff, we really understand it. The weather certainly plays a factor, Canadians are indoors a big chunk of the year and they need things to do and video games fit that bill. I think we have a curiosity and appetite for computer science and understanding what we can do with these cool technologies. I think its been a bunch of magic ingredients coming together to create a fantastic environment to make games. We’re number three in the world in terms of man power and out put in the video games sector (after US and Japan) but I think that has a lot to do with our overall population. I think if we were a larger country we would have even more studios and be producing (enough games) to be in the number one spot. I have no doubts about that. It’s a huge industry, and that’s not even counting all the indie studios that are starting to flourish, all the mobile and social games companies. I’m not trying to take anything away from the US and Japan, I love a lot of their games but I’m incredibly proud of our Canadian team and I think every Canadian should be.
In terms of an impact on a global scale, the culturally significant work that’s coming out of Canada that impacts the most people around the world is in video games. It’s not in our music, it’s not in our movies, it’s not in our TV shows. It’s from our video games. They’re being consumed by more people and they connect with more people than anything else that Canada culturally exports. We should be damn proud of that.
How has the rise of digital distribution affected the games industry as whole?
VL: It’s created an unbelievable turmoil in the sector. It’s come on fast and furious and as much as people in these big companies have tried to prepare for it, it’s been the more nimble developers and the more nimble companies that have won this stage of the battle, but kind of by accident. Like Valve, I’m sure they saw the future coming but I don’t think they recognised just how a powerful company they were going to be with Steam. They’re on their way (if they’re not already) to becoming the iTunes of video games with unbelievable amounts of green light power that they have at their disposal. All the other companies that were a little too late to jump on this, and this includes retailers, are struggling to keep up. It is changing so rapidly that its allowing developers to take control of their own destinies for the first time. The power is really shifting. That’s really what were staring down here, is this idea of exclusivity to a console or a disc based platform. I think a lot of people are shying away from that and taking steps in a completely different direction from that.
Over the course of your career has there been any significant turn-key moments for the future?
VL: I think the PSone launch was a watershed moments for video games. Sony was a good player getting into the games industry and bringing out a 32-bit CD ROM based system. Sony came out really strong. I think the Wii was a significant step forwards as was Xbox Live for Microsoft. Major artistic games that were pivotal and changing people’s perception of what video game is and what it can mean. I think the next massive evolutionary step was Grand Theft Auto III, when you had the sense that the city was alive all around you.
I think that’s the coolest thing about video games is that unlike the film industry, which takes 30-40 years before there’s a major shift, with video games every five years you can count on something shocking, something really cool. And every year there is something incremental, some new adaption of technology in the video game space that makes it exciting.
When did it become cool to be a nerd?
VL: That’s an awesome question. I think (films like) Lord of the Rings, Aliens and Terminator 2 were a big part of that. May be it was around the time of The Matrix came out in 1999.
My arguments from day one for pitching Electric Playground, when I would walk into broadcast outlets, I would say: here are the top 20 films of all time, notice anything significant about them? It was all peak stuff, every single one of them. All huge blockbuster movies with lots of visual effects. I said this is your audience, this is who you’re not to speaking to. This crowd is hungry for this stuff, they line up for it on the weekends, they do buy video games but they don’t have enough information about how this stuff comes out. I don ‘t think that has ever changed, I think our fascination with fantasy toys, games and flashy things has been a persistent part of human culture from the beginning.
As games approach realism and augmented reality, will classic, fun gameplay play a significant part?
VL: I think we’re looking at two sides of a coin here, two directions, two parallel paths. I think that the blockbuster, photo realistic, large studio model will exist but there will fewer games will be made in that way. Historically created video game content, the stuff that bridges a generation gap and harkens back to the days of us playing NES is going to continue, but the home for that is going to be primarily in mobile.
The other thing that’s going to happen is the off-the-shelf technologies, the tools and the cool incentives like the Unreal Engine being offered at a discounted price to smaller teams, a lot of those technologies that used to cost $100k a seat for a start up video game developer. Developers that have been on a smaller scale doing side-scrollers, shooters and arcade style games are going to reach now. They’re going to say that we can make a version of Gears of War that’s almost as good. A lot of these games are incredibly robust.
Thank you very much Vic, it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honour talking with you today.
VL: Awesome man. Thank you very much for thinking of me and reaching out.