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XBOX CTO S. Blackley Interview

/ Dec 1st, 2002 No Comments

As one of the Xbox concept founders, Seamus has been called on to play many roles in the Xbox project. Currently he is dedicating his time to the Xbox marketing launch efforts as Xbox Technology Officer, showcasing the power of Xbox to audiences throughout the world. Prior to his involvement in the launch, he was head of the Advanced Technology Group (ATG), and has been responsible for "making Xbox game creators heroes." ATG's mission is to enable game artists to bring their games to life without creative compromise. To attain that goal, ATG ensures that Xbox games achieve unprecedented quality and originality through proactive, worldwide support of Xbox programmers, artists, game designers, sound designers, musicians and producers. Gaming Illustrated was recently granted exclusive permission to sit down with Mr. Blackley in this exclusive interview.
Q.
Well you're breaking a lot of ground with what the XBox can do, my big interest is in the High Definition capability. Can you comment a little on that?
A.
Yeah, again, its something that's unique for XBox. The highest HDTV resolution level takes more memory to store than GameCube or PS2 have video memory total. There's absolutely no way for them to render at that resolution level if they wanted to. This is exciting for XBox not only because we're the only ones that can do it, but because it can do it so well. You've not really lived until you've played DOA3 on HiDef…it's just ridiculous. And again, this is where non-gamers are going to see something like this and get into gaming because we're broken barriers.
Q.
Now I've been told you're the guy that dreamed up the Xbox system.
A.
Well, I'm the guy that wrote the first memo and had that first spark, and then a whole bunch of other people came in and helped make my crappy idea and made it into a good one (laughing).
Q.
Now that things are winding down on the development side and now we're into launch, how exciting is all this for you?
A.
It's stunning, when I look around and I see everything that's going on, not just in the U.S. , but also worldwide, it's a little like a dream. I was talking with a couple of the guys in were in from the beginning with me and the attitude is like, "God, didn't they know this started as a joke?! Oh my Lord!".
Q.
(Laughing) Well, it seems that sometimes the best ideas come from wild and random places. Now that the foundation is in place, how far is XBox going to go?
A.
Well I think that now, it's in the hands of the guys that make the games, the hands of the developers. The thing we realized, which I am very, very proud of, is that the most important thing is getting the game developers the arsenal of tools they need to really take games to the next level. Fundamentally the idea was to really good – the main idea was to give the game developers the same tools that movie people have, from music to special effects. All those tools that have been developed over the last 20 years to communicate visually, sound, and story, for the first time you can combine all of that experience into this incredibly great thing we call gaming. Games are every bit as immersive and entertaining as film or television. Our mission is to just show that to the masses.
Q.
When developers are creating a game, they're always trying to add more value to the game through features, storyline, and the like. Creating that for an entirely new console platform couldn't have been that easy, how hard a sell was XBox to developers?
A.
It was a really easy sell actually. People said, "Why didn't you do this before?". The trick was just waiting for the technology to be right, and that's why it happened now. There's a reason Microsoft let us crazy guys to start this project, it's because the deep company philosophy is to enable people through technology. In this case, it's enabling creative people, and this is the first time in history that you can see from the games the technology that's in a place where creative people can create interactive experiences which are as good as television or film, without sacrificing gameplay. We developed the system in parallel, so that a game can look beautiful, have amazing sound effects, and also be a great game.
Q.
What's the most important aspect of any game then?
A.
Gameplay, it's the equivalent of story and self – a game is a story that you tell yourself. People always comment about the summer blockbuster hits, "Well the effects were great, but it wasn't a good movie because of the story." People say the same things about games. Look at Gran Turismo 3 on PS2, the replay mode is beautiful , but while it's doing those beautiful graphics in the gameplay mode, you can't actually have fun while you play the game. So as game developers we designed XBox so that wasn't the case. We designed it so games like DOA3 can be, arguably, the most beautiful fighting game of all time, and also be, literally, the best fighting game of all time, which every magazine is now saying. All this makes me very proud because it says, again, that this idea we had to let gaming people really "Rock 'N Roll" was the right one.
Q.
I have to agree with you about Gran Turismo, it seems all the fun is in what you "did" and not are "doing".
A.
Yep, unfortunately it's just driving around a track. There's a racing game coming out for XBox that has a whole bunch of interesting replay modes, called "Reckless" which you'll be seeing more of in the near future. I won't say too much, but the gameplay is the best part of the game, and the replays will blow you away.
Q.
What's been the biggest hurdle with XBox?
A.
The biggest hurdle has actually been the creative hurdle. The trick has been to help all the game developers who are used to all these crappy systems on the market. The art of game development in the past, for a long time now, has just been to "defeat the hardware" and get it to do something it's not really supposed to do. In fact, it's this that drew me originally into the game business, as I really enjoyed that challenge. Once you do that for a while, you realize that the creative challenge is much more exciting. I think that transforming the business from a technology industry into a creative industry, and make that happen has been the biggest challenge. Everyone wants to do that, but really making it happen is a huge challenge. For instance, helping XBox developers to really start to utilize the power of the XBox. Not from the standpoint of the PS2 , where everyone's forced to overtake technical challenges, it's the other way around. XBox has so much power that there's so many possibilities that you need to do a lot of art. You need to educate your artists on how to do pixel shading , and these different kinds of techniques. It's a big challenge for us, and it's a very exciting challenge for us, and the results so far have been awesome.

As one of the Xbox concept founders, Seamus has been called on to play many roles in the Xbox project. Currently he is dedicating his time to the Xbox marketing launch efforts as Xbox Technology Officer, showcasing the power of Xbox to audiences throughout the world. Prior to his involvement in the launch, he was head of the Advanced Technology Group (ATG), and has been responsible for "making Xbox game creators heroes." ATG's mission is to enable game artists to bring their games to life without creative compromise. To attain that goal, ATG ensures that Xbox games achieve unprecedented quality and originality through proactive, worldwide support of Xbox programmers, artists, game designers, sound designers, musicians and producers. Gaming Illustrated was recently granted exclusive permission to sit down with Mr. Blackley in this exclusive interview.

Q.

Well you're breaking a lot of ground with what the XBox can do, my big interest is in the High Definition capability. Can you comment a little on that?

A.

Yeah, again, its something that's unique for XBox. The highest HDTV resolution level takes more memory to store than GameCube or PS2 have video memory total. There's absolutely no way for them to render at that resolution level if they wanted to. This is exciting for XBox not only because we're the only ones that can do it, but because it can do it so well. You've not really lived until you've played DOA3 on HiDef…it's just ridiculous. And again, this is where non-gamers are going to see something like this and get into gaming because we're broken barriers.

Q.

Now I've been told you're the guy that dreamed up the Xbox system.

A.

Well, I'm the guy that wrote the first memo and had that first spark, and then a whole bunch of other people came in and helped make my crappy idea and made it into a good one (laughing).

Q.

Now that things are winding down on the development side and now we're into launch, how exciting is all this for you?

A.

It's stunning, when I look around and I see everything that's going on, not just in the U.S. , but also worldwide, it's a little like a dream. I was talking with a couple of the guys in were in from the beginning with me and the attitude is like, "God, didn't they know this started as a joke?! Oh my Lord!".

Q.

(Laughing) Well, it seems that sometimes the best ideas come from wild and random places. Now that the foundation is in place, how far is XBox going to go?

A.

Well I think that now, it's in the hands of the guys that make the games, the hands of the developers. The thing we realized, which I am very, very proud of, is that the most important thing is getting the game developers the arsenal of tools they need to really take games to the next level. Fundamentally the idea was to really good – the main idea was to give the game developers the same tools that movie people have, from music to special effects. All those tools that have been developed over the last 20 years to communicate visually, sound, and story, for the first time you can combine all of that experience into this incredibly great thing we call gaming. Games are every bit as immersive and entertaining as film or television. Our mission is to just show that to the masses.

Q.

When developers are creating a game, they're always trying to add more value to the game through features, storyline, and the like. Creating that for an entirely new console platform couldn't have been that easy, how hard a sell was XBox to developers?

A.

It was a really easy sell actually. People said, "Why didn't you do this before?". The trick was just waiting for the technology to be right, and that's why it happened now. There's a reason Microsoft let us crazy guys to start this project, it's because the deep company philosophy is to enable people through technology. In this case, it's enabling creative people, and this is the first time in history that you can see from the games the technology that's in a place where creative people can create interactive experiences which are as good as television or film, without sacrificing gameplay. We developed the system in parallel, so that a game can look beautiful, have amazing sound effects, and also be a great game.

Q.

What's the most important aspect of any game then?

A.

Gameplay, it's the equivalent of story and self – a game is a story that you tell yourself. People always comment about the summer blockbuster hits, "Well the effects were great, but it wasn't a good movie because of the story." People say the same things about games. Look at Gran Turismo 3 on PS2, the replay mode is beautiful , but while it's doing those beautiful graphics in the gameplay mode, you can't actually have fun while you play the game. So as game developers we designed XBox so that wasn't the case. We designed it so games like DOA3 can be, arguably, the most beautiful fighting game of all time, and also be, literally, the best fighting game of all time, which every magazine is now saying. All this makes me very proud because it says, again, that this idea we had to let gaming people really "Rock 'N Roll" was the right one.

Q.

I have to agree with you about Gran Turismo, it seems all the fun is in what you "did" and not are "doing".

A.

Yep, unfortunately it's just driving around a track. There's a racing game coming out for XBox that has a whole bunch of interesting replay modes, called "Reckless" which you'll be seeing more of in the near future. I won't say too much, but the gameplay is the best part of the game, and the replays will blow you away.

Q.

What's been the biggest hurdle with XBox?

A.

The biggest hurdle has actually been the creative hurdle. The trick has been to help all the game developers who are used to all these crappy systems on the market. The art of game development in the past, for a long time now, has just been to "defeat the hardware" and get it to do something it's not really supposed to do. In fact, it's this that drew me originally into the game business, as I really enjoyed that challenge. Once you do that for a while, you realize that the creative challenge is much more exciting. I think that transforming the business from a technology industry into a creative industry, and make that happen has been the biggest challenge. Everyone wants to do that, but really making it happen is a huge challenge. For instance, helping XBox developers to really start to utilize the power of the XBox. Not from the standpoint of the PS2 , where everyone's forced to overtake technical challenges, it's the other way around. XBox has so much power that there's so many possibilities that you need to do a lot of art. You need to educate your artists on how to do pixel shading , and these different kinds of techniques. It's a big challenge for us, and it's a very exciting challenge for us, and the results so far have been awesome.

Sean W. Gibson

Sean W. Gibson

Founder, Featured Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Sean Gibson has been the owner and Executive Editor of Gaming Illustrated for over eleven years. His roles include acting as CEO and President of Gaming Illustrated, LLC and also includes being a reviewer, previewer and interviewer. Sean's opinions on this site do not reflect those of his full-time employer.
Sean W. Gibson
Sean W. Gibson

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