Interviews// Disney Boss, Graham Hopper

The consoles are out there. We’ve got several years to go...

Posted 20 Jul 2007 15:53 by
SPOnG: In the past Nintendo has been criticized for being ‘difficult’ when working with third-party publishers such as yourselves. Do you think things have improved over the last few years in this respect?

Graham Hopper: My impression of working with Nintendo is that it’s been smooth and easy and responsive. I have heard of that reputation, but I’ve never experienced it myself. So that’s good news!

SPOnG: So what about Microsoft and Sony’s E3 conferences this year – what did you think to those?

Graham Hopper: Well they took different approaches. Microsoft showed mainly product that was going to ship this year, and was heavy on the hardcore component [of its line-up].

Sony showed more product that was coming out a little later next year, so it was very hard to balance the two out really… I was surprised that neither of them spoke about expanding the market in the same way as Nintendo did.

SPOnG: A lot of the journalists I’m speaking to here are of the opinion that the conferences were a little bit ‘flat’ this year in comparison with past years.

Graham Hopper: Well, you know, there’s not a new console. The consoles are out there. We’ve got several years to go. Software is still relatively early in the cycle. That may be the reason for this – for the last few years now its all been about innovation at E3, but this year its far more about the games than about new hardware.

SPOnG: After Disney published Mizuguchi’s Lumines 2 and Every Extend Extra late last year, it changed my perception of the company quite a lot - you’re no longer just putting out family-friendly Disney-licensed games. Is this a deliberate strategy to appeal to hardcore gamers and seek out those types of development partnerships?

Graham Hopper: Well, what we are trying to do is to make interesting, innovative and great games. That’s what we’re trying to make. That’s what we’re trying to seek out from other companies we’re working with.

Disney stands for quality and creativity in every industry that we’re in. This is the same in games. It should not be viewed as ‘just for kids’ – Kingdom Hearts, for example, has a strong, core gamer fanbase and it has Disney characters in it. I think we can do a lot more with core gamers, by giving them content that they want.

Clearly some of our content won’t be right for them. It’s aimed at a much younger audience, and that’s fine. But we also have to serve up games for core gamers. Core gamers of all ages! There are core gamers who are nine years old and core gamers who are in their 40s – we aim to serve all of them.

SPOnG: Are there any plans to work with Mizuguchi and with Q Entertainment again in the future?

Graham Hopper: Yeah, we talk to Q on a regular basis about opportunities, but it’s not an exclusive arrangement we have with them. We’re always looking for great ideas.

SPOnG: And moving on to a different product – what does the future hold for Spectrobes?

Graham Hopper: Well, we are really pleased with the performance of Spectrobes. We’ve sold 800,000 units so far, which for a third-party DS title is big.

We’re so excited about it we’re launching Spectrobes 2 next year. It’s the kind of property where right now, even though we don’t have any particular plans for it, you can easily see it becoming a movie, a TV series, costumed characters in a theme park, a merchandise range and toys and so on around it. It has all the potential to become all of those things. But it’s never going to be any of those things if it doesn’t connect with a core gaming audience first. And the good news for us is that it has; hence the sequel – managed out of Tokyo again, developed by the same company who understand our focus on innovation and creativity. Those words again! [laughs]

SPOnG: Okay, lets talk a little more about Turok – this is really the game that we want to know more about – what stage is the version that you’re showing now?

Graham Hopper: Well we announced the launch date of February 2008, we’re showing a demo from the version the guys have now, which is not quite completed but it’s a good way along. Any concern that people have around some of the later iterations of the Turok franchise can be forgotten.

We have completely reinvented the franchise and the guys [at Propaganda] have completely taken it to a new level. It’s got a great story, great characters, great battle mechanics – stealth, action, loads of fun weapons – from bow and arrows to sniper guns. It’s just a fun and intense game to place.

Forget Jurassic Park – these dinosaurs are terrifying. When they get you and you’re fighting your way out of a dinosaur’s grasp then you really feel viscerally in the game. That’s the kind of immersive entertainment experience we want to bring to gamers.

SPOnG: And that’s coming out under the Touchstone brand. What’s the deal there?

Graham Hopper: Well, to do justice to Turok, we had to make the game in a certain kind of way that doesn’t suit the Disney brand. Therefore it’s going to go out under Touchstone. And that multi-brand approach that we have – with Disney and Touchstone – gives us the flexibility to do a variety of different titles and make sure that consumers know what they are going to get. Turok is a gripping, intense, first-person shooter, action game – it’s not really the kind of game that’s right for the Disney brand.

SPOnG: What were those concerns about later iterations of Turok?

Graham Hopper: Well some of the later ones were poor quality, basically. People generally think of the first two N64 titles when they think of Turok. Which is why we’ve started with a clean sheet, and the team at Propaganda have said “let’s go back to what the story is really about.” Go check out the latest demo downstairs and let me know what you think.

SPOnG: Can you tell us some more about the return of TRON – on Xbox Live Arcade later this summer?

Graham Hopper: Sure, well it’s the one thing everybody has been asking for! Most of the time when you are a publisher you have to think of the things that people are going to want and try to create the product for them.

TRON was one of those things with people coming to use and saying “hey, why aren’t you doing this” – so it’s nice to have a product which has been driven by consumers begging us to put it out there! So we have two versions of coming out on Live Arcade pretty soon.

SPOnG: You mentioned all your studios earlier, you have five studios now? What are they all currently working on?

Graham Hopper: Yes, five: Black Rock (previously Climax) are currently finishing off Moto GP 07 for THQ; and they are working on two undisclosed products for us, which we should hopefully announce early next year – we’re pretty excited about the two titles, they are one of the top racing team studios in the world.

Fall Line Studios – our exclusive Wii and DS studio – are really concentrating on innovation using the new controllers and music software. Check out Hannah Montana on DS and Wii in particular. I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. We’ve found that most ‘core’ gamers really like it.

Avalanche Studios – also in Salt Lake City – is our studio for Disney animated properties (working on Chicken Little, Meet The Robinsons and more, recently).

And then Propaganda on Turok and a separate and new project which is as yet unannounced.

SPOnG: Thanks for your time Graham, lets go check out some games!

Graham Hopper: Pleasure meeting you, thanks.
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