Greg Broadmore had never made a video game before, but that didn’t stop him from creating a groundbreaking augmented reality game on the Magic Leap One Creator Edition. It took seven years of conception and two solid years of development with a team of 50 people, but Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders debuted last fall on the Magic Leap platform.
It turned out to be one of my favorite 10 games of 2018, but sadly, very few people have played it. That’s because the Magic Leap One Creator Edition costs $2,300.
It sounds so crazy that Broadmore, who worked on the special effects for The Lord of the Rings movies, dedicated so much time on this AR game. But he and the founders of Weta Workshop — Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger — were taken with the vision of Rony Abovitz, who wanted to create a new generation of technology capable of “spatial computing,” where animated objects can be overlaid on reality.
Broadmore didn’t know how to build video games or run a game studio. He didn’t know what kind of platform Magic Leap would create. But he said, “F*** it,” and just did it. He talked about this process at the DICE Summit, the elite game event in Las Vegas. I caught up with him afterward.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I liked your talk. You have to be patient about something to work on it for seven years.
Greg Broadmore: [Laughs] I’m nothing if not patient.
GamesBeat: You went in without a lot of the usual experience of somebody taking on a game project.
Broadmore: I think about that a lot because people — it holds a lot of people back, the thought that you haven’t done something before, and you don’t know how to do it. People will tell you that you need experts to do that, or you should go and study to do that. You can compare yourself against the world’s best people who’ve done something. Those sorts of thoughts hold a lot of people back. They hold me back for a second as well, but then, I think, “That’s ridiculous. I’m going to be dead one day.”
I love doing stuff. The best way to do something you haven’t done before is just to throw yourself into it and do it, find out the hard way. That’s the fun of it in the first place, to me. If I knew how to do it, it wouldn’t be interesting. I find that when I’ve done something a number of times, when I’m what I suppose people would call a master at a certain discipline, I’m bored of it at that point. I’m not the person who wants to go around in a loop on the same thing. I want to find a new challenge. I wanted to make a video game my whole life. I didn’t let anything stop me.
GamesBeat: How quickly would you have learned the distinction between a game director and a game designer and an executive producer?
Broadmore: Exactly. I didn’t. I said at the start that I would direct this game, so I was the game director. I didn’t even know those two words go together. I just thought, game director, that’s what I’ll do. I think on my contract it says “lead game designer.” At the start, I was doing game design but only of a sort. I realized very quickly that I needed someone to focus on the game mechanics and the game loop. You just realize these things.
Also, I listened to my team. I hired smart people, and I listened to them when they said we should do X, and we should do Y. “It’s good to have someone focus on this.” The most important thing is to listen to your friends and the people around you and the people you work with. Then, you just pick the right way through all that guidance. That’s key. I didn’t force my way through it thinking that I knew the right thing exactly. I drive forward with a goal but then just listen.
GamesBeat: Were there a lot of game veterans that came in?
Broadmore: We had a real mixture. I had never made a game before, but, of course, I lived and breathed games my whole life. I thought about them deeply as long as I can remember. Other artists, like my lead artist Steve Lambert — he’s an amazing artist, but he’d never worked on a game before technically. He’s just utterly brilliant. He’s a machine. He’s one of the most hard-working people. Of course, he’ll be able to do it. He might grind away at the edges a while like me, but he’ll figure it out.
Then, we also had really brilliant people I hired on. Jimmy Beard, who’s a game designer from Australia and New Zealand. James Everett was another game designer I hired. I hired Mike Keith, who’s our technical director for the studio. He goes back to the GameCube days and before. He worked on Rogue Squadron. I had a bunch of people who knew what they were doing. I listened to those people.
GamesBeat: Did you find New Zealand had most of the people you needed?
Broadmore: Most of our crew are from New Zealand, but we had to cast the net wide, yeah. We needed such a wide array of skills. Finding them all in New Zealand, with such a small game industry there — I think I mentioned in my talk that there are 5 million people in New Zealand. Even the film industry, as amazing and influential as it is, is not that big.
GamesBeat: How big did your team get, then?
Broadmore: We have 55 people on, something like that.
GamesBeat: That’s fairly small for a game like this.
Broadmore: I think we did pretty good for it, yeah.
GamesBeat: Is that part of why it stretched out to seven years, or was it for other reasons?
Broadmore: No. The seven years is — to be brutally frank, the first five years aren’t making a game, really. The game actually was crystallized in my mind, at a high level, right from the start. But really, you’re just trying different things and experimenting. We were working with the Magic Leap SDK teams and hardware teams, trying the latest builds.
For instance, the big benchtop I talked about, which is this colossal machine back in Florida, the original bit of light-field tech they developed — it’s this huge thing, and you have a tiny little field of view. You put your head into a very specific place and look through. You couldn’t move, but you would see a bit of a virtual light field. The first displays on that were really simple things. They’d have markers and then focus at different depths.
The first thing I did was, let’s chop out images of ray guns and put them at different depths. One step better than putting little crosses. But then, when we came back a few months later, we managed to get our very first Unity build of Invaders working. It was super primitive. You had a very simple 6DOF controller, and if you brought the controller up high enough, you could see the ray gun in the field of view. You would see the robots walking at you from the top of their heads to their nipples, about, and you’d shoot at them.
It was a miraculous thing. You stick your head into this giant machine and see the future. There’s our game on the other side over there. Of course, I couldn’t turn my head around and look anywhere. But that’s what our development was like for the longest time. There’s a new bit of kit, so let’s bash something into it and see what happens. We’ll learn from that and the hardware teams will learn from that. That ping-pong process shaped the platform and shaped the game.
In the last two years, it started to focus in more. But it honestly probably wasn’t until the last six months that we beat it into the shape of a game.