Interview with GamesCathedral (2006)

In 2006, I held a unique position as both full time game designer for a new Tony Hawk game at Vicarious Visions, and community manager for the previous Tony Hawk game at Agora Games.

I was interviewed for German video game site Games Cathedral.

I stayed friends with Simon Ebel, the interviewer. He helped me to translate my most popular app, Tic Tac Toe Puzzle, into German!

Who are you?
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi! My name is Kenny Johnson, and I’m a gamer, designer, moderator, and community manager. Currently, I’m the Director of Community Management at Agora Games, though I was recently on the design team at Vicarious Visions. Gamers might know me best as AgoraKenny from the Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land and Downhill Jam forums.

You are from Agora Games.
Can you tell us something about your company?

Agora Games makes web communities that are fully integrated with games on the Nintendo DS, PSP, and PC. One of our most popular communities is for Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam DS – in addition to forums, we have functionality to share scores and art, participate in tournaments, play downloadable goals, and to work together toward community unlockables. Ultimately, we aim to give players a full experience with their games. The new sites we have live right now are for Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam DS and Marvel Ultimate Alliance PSP.

You worked on Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam.
But on which version did you work?
DS, GBA, Wii or all of them?

While I was on the design team at Vicarious Visions, I worked on Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam for the Nintendo DS. The Wii game was developed by another Activision studio, Toys for Bob, while the GBA game was developed by Visual Impact Productions. All three versions were developed separately, so the games are quite different – different locations, playable skaters, and so on. You might want to play them all to compare, though I’m a bit partial toward the Nintendo DS version haha.

What did you do exactly on Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam?

I got to do some interesting work as a designer at Vicarious Visions! My favorite task was the in game dialogue quips. When you select a skater, or race nearby an opponent, you’ll hear dialog that I wrote. On the character select screen for example, I made Tony Hawk say “Hi I’m Tony Hawk, Pro Skater!” – a fun joke for long time fans of the Tony Hawk franchise. I also enjoyed working with a team of writers, designers, and my producer to give life to our 80’s villain, Antonio Segul! Of course this is just a taste of what I worked on in the game. If you stop by the Downhill Jam community site, be sure to check out the downloadable goals – I made all of those!

Were there any problems during the development?

I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get the game running smoothly at 60 fps, given that the levels in Downhill Jam are huge, and fully textured. But the engineers at Vicarious Visions are brilliant – they made the game run flawlessly!

Do you play Downhill Jam at home?

Of course! I recently played Downhill Jam with AgoraPerry (fellow moderator for Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land and Downhill Jam) while camping outside Wal-Mart to get Nintendo Wii’s. You can read all about this on the Downhill Jam Community Blog. Also, Perry and I regularly play Head to Head matches with Jam community members during our Friday Night Fights – every Friday night, starting at 6 PM EST (11 PM GMT). Feel free to join us!

With which game you began to play?

I had played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 with friends way back in the day, but the first Tony game that I owned myself and really got into was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. I wasn’t very good at the time haha. When Agora Games offered me the opportunity to moderate Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land DS though, I took the time to learn the game and became a pro skater! One thing led to another and I ended up on the design team for the sequel – Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam for Nintendo DS.

Do you already own one or more next generation systems?

Yes, AgoraPerry and I recently bought Wii’s, and I own an Xbox 360. The PS3 looks great, but I’m going to wait until they have some good games, like the new Metal Gear Solid, before I buy the system!

What do you think about the possibilities the Wii gives to the developers?

I love the fact that Nintendo is willing to try new things, and reach out to new audiences with revolutionary systems like the Wii and even the Nintendo DS. Namely, since the Wii controller is so unusual, it forces developers to be creative in the way they design games. Some people argue that the Xbox 360 and PS3 are more powerful systems than the Wii, and they are if you look at sheer processing power. But the Wii (and the DS compared to the PSP) are still very powerful. Look at Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam DS – we have giant levels running smoothly at 60 fps. Nintendo has powerful hardware, and now they’re giving developers the opportunity to change the way we play!

Many gamers want to work in the game business.
How did you make it?

I would say luck, but luck is hard work. I wanted to make games since I was eight years old, and pursued all of the opportunities I had to get into the industry. The first big step for me was when I joined the team at Agora Studios (now Agora Games) to make the first full-conversion Half-Life 2 mod ever, Plan of Attack. I was on the art team, and became an active moderator of the Plan of Attack forums. Agora Studios at the time was shifting toward game development, and Plan of Attack helped us do this! We made a fully integrated web community for our game that tracked every bullet fired, across all servers. This project helped me to get on the moderation team for Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land DS, Agora Games’ first big web community project, and then ultimately this led to my work on the design team for Downhill Jam DS with Vicarious Visions.

Which are your favourite games of all times?

Bonk’s Revenge for the Turbo-Grafx 16 is my favorite game ever – hopefully this will soon be available on the Wii Virtual Console! I also love Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Genesis, CastleVania: Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation, and Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube.

Which aspects make them unique?

In my mind, all of these games are classics. You can tell that the developers put a lot of time and love into these projects, to make them perfect. Some games get old, but these are unique because I could see myself playing them again and again years down the line.

What’s your favourite console of all times?

Maybe it’s too soon to say this, but I absolutely love the Wii. For one thing, the Virtual Console allows me to play all of the classics I love from older systems, like the Turbo-Grafx 16!

Which games do you play these days?

Lately I’ve been playing Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam DS and Marvel Ultimate Alliance PSP – while tracking my stats online of course!

In Germany there are lively discussions about killer games like Counter Strike or Doom. What do you think about them?

First person shooters are great! Plan of Attack, the Half-Life 2 mod that I worked on with Agora Games, was a first person shooter – and interestingly enough, it too seemed to be a hit in Germany!

Do you work on any projects at the moment?

I’m very excited about the projects that Agora Games has lined up – unfortunately I can’t disclose what those are, but we’re working with big name publishers like Activision, Konami, and Nintendo!

Can you say something about these projects?

I’ll say that gamers will be in for a treat when these new games and community sites launch!

Do you have a favourite movie, a favourite song and a favourite book?

Lately I’ve been reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, and listening to the band Rise Against. These are my favorites at the moment. Let me know if there’s a good movie I should watch!

Do you want to say something to our readers?

Keep playing games! And look for new projects from Agora Games, Activision, Konami, and Nintendo in the near future!

Thanks for the interview.
We wish you good luck for the future!

Thank you!