An Interview with Don McClure from Digital Element
By Kevin Manne
[NUON-Dome] - Today we’re happy to have the opportunity to talk with Don McClure, President of Digital Element, Inc and producer of both the OEM and upcoming versions of The Next Tetris for NUON. Thanks for joining us today, Don.
[Don McClure] – Thanks for having me, Kevin. It’s a pleasure to be here.
[N-D] – Let us know a little about yourself – how you got involved with video games and what other projects you’ve had a hand in.
[DM] – Well, Kevin, I’ve actually been lucky in that I’ve done a little bit of everything. I started as a tester at SSI working on the old Dungeons and Dragons “Gold Box” Games – Pool of Radiance for the Mac, Curse of the Azure Bonds for the PC and C64. I ended up being mentored by some of the industry greats like Mike Mancuso and Graeme Bayless.
I then worked as an interactive writer/ designer for the Darksun Series. I actually got a chance to lead the first year of design for one of the first Massively Multiplayer RPG’s – Darksun On-line.
I went to Dynamix and worked on Red Baron 2, MissionForce: Cyberstorm, A10 Silent Thunder and a host of Sierra games as an Associate Producer / Designer. My first Director/Producer role was for Uprising for the PC. It’s a Quake/RTS hybrid product by Cyclone Studios.
Daniel Lucas from Blue Planet Software approached me with the offer of producing Tetris and other family games. I was very interested in making games that crossed gender and age boundaries, so I jumped at the chance.
When I founded Digital Element last year, it was a natural that I kept doing Tetris titles for VM Labs, as I already had some experience developing for the system and had been working with Tetris for years.
[N-D] – What are the goals of Digital Element on the NUON platform? How did you become involved with NUON development?
[DM] – Digital Element wants to make games that really take advantage of the DVD-game hybrid. We’re considering a section for Tetris, which is very similar to the additional features you might find on a movie DVD.
[N-D] – The general consensus on the OEM version of The Next Tetris (the one you get for free with the Toshiba SD2300) is that it’s visually disappointing and could make better use of the NUON processor. What are your thoughts on this and can you provide any insight into what developing this version of TNT was like?
[DM] – I came into The Next Tetris in the middle of the project. It was clear we needed several months to redevelop the game. Those were several months we just didn’t have. We learned a lot over the course of making that product and I’m glad we’re discussing getting the chance to incorporate what we now know into a new version of Tetris.
To VM Labs’ credit, people like Scott Hunter really went the extra mile to get us up to speed on how to use the processors correctly. They personally went in and looked at AnimaTek’s code – which helped a lot. Blue Planet Software was providing the design and the management, and AnimaTek International the programming.
[N-D] – We know there’s a retail version of The Next Tetris in the works. Will it be improved over the OEM version and what, if any, improvements will be made to gameplay, graphics and sound? What about the sorely missed 2-player option?
[DM] – When the framerate bumps up, you’ll see gameplay improve dramatically. I think you’ll also see much improved graphics, which get away from a [direct port from] the PSX and really make forays into the kind of high-end CG you expect to see on a DVD player. With sound, we are still working with VM Labs to secure music that fully utilizes what the Nuon is capable of. There will be 2-player.
[N-D] – Any plans for Internet-play in TNT or other future projects on NUON? What about memory card support?
[DM] – We would love to support memory cards and look into Internet play. I think with this version we will choose our battles and make sure we make a beautiful product the implementation of which fits into a real schedule.
[N-D] – What do you think of NUON? What has it been like producing a game on this hardware?
[DM] – The system itself is the most logical set-top box in the world. In integrates perfectly into a home entertainment system and is very easy for new users to get into. Just taking a look at some of the racing games as well as Tempest; you can see the kind of power you’re working with. I think developers are just scratching the surface both in terms of making an immersive game and making original titles that work for the Nuon that would not work for other platforms. Those games are out there and all we need to do is figure them out.
[N-D] – Do you plan on having anything on display at E3 this year?
[DM] – Unfortunately, no. It’s premature to be showing our labor of love off just yet.
[N-D] – Looking past the retail version of TNT, what are Digital Element’s future plans for NUON?
[DM] – We are designing an original title for the system that is uniquely Nuon. For us, that means highlighting the fact that it’s a DVD player, the fact that many of our users are brand new to computer gaming, and that fully utilizes the immersive sound and video possibilities. I’m keeping the curtain closed as to what that title might look like.
[N-D] – Anything you’d like to say to NUON-Dome readers, in closing?
[DM] – Well, I’d like to thank anyone that’s made it this far through the interview for their attention. We’re happy to be working with VM Labs to try to bring a newer version of Tetris to the Nuon.
[N-D] – I’d like to just say thanks again for taking time to answer some questions and letting us have some insight into TNT and NUON development.
[DM] – Thank you, Kevin. I look forward in providing an update once there’s more to say.
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