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Creative Minds: Joe McDonagh

Feature: Life outside the Biosphere...

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For you what were the best features of Republic? What did you take from the experience that helped you subsequently?

McDonagh: Having never played the game, I can't tell you. But I can tell you what we set out to achieve, most of which I still believe to be important. We wanted a world that had real morality, unconstrained by the monochromatic ideas that plague most games. Bioshock mines this vein which pleases me no end. It's time games grew up and stopped treating gamers like dribbling idiots incapable of understanding anything other than moral absolutes. We wanted it to be free-roaming and non linear. Post GTA, this is now de rigueur in games. Bioshock bought into this idea, albeit to a lesser degree. We wanted to use the technology to simulate an entire country; I believe that you should always be looking for ways to use the technology to do something new and extraordinary.

How did you feel when Elixir closed and what happened to you between then and you joining Irrational?

McDonagh: I was really sad. I invested four years of my life into Elixir. I was one of the owners. I had a lot of great friends there but I also felt the kind of relief you feel when a suffering elderly relative slips away in the night.

I jacked it all in a year before the end and went traveling. I went to Australia to follow the Ashes in 2001. I fell in love with it and decided I wanted to live there. I ended up working for a company called BigWorld in Canberra. I was there for about 18 months. I needed a break from game design.

The last game I'd worked on, Alpha, was canned in the most brutal and sudden fashion and it took a lot out of me so I worked as a business guy, which I found surprisingly fun. I then became friends with Jon Chey who's half of Irrational (Ken Levine being the other). They'd just finished Tribes Vengeance and were about to finish Freedom Force Vs Third Reich and SWAT IV. Ken needed someone to help him do the deals so I came on board. I've now come full circle and I'm back to design again. I guess I've still got unfinished business.

So what does it take to be a creative person in this industry? Do you think anything's changed since you started it all?

McDonagh: I would say that a good game designer should have a combination of different talents. You need a good analytical mind to understand what works and what doesn't. You need clarity of thought and expression. You need to be a leader. You need to really know your shit when it comes to games and I don't just mean Gears of War and Halo. I mean nerdy RPGs, table top wargames, chess - anything that you can play. I read this transcript from GDC at the end of which the presenter admitted to not 'having time to play that many games anymore.' I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The first Creative Minds interview, with ex-Rare man Martin Hollis, can be found here

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