Relevant Games might be the new kid on the block, having just celebrated the company’s first year this past June. With a team made up entirely of veterans from some of the most successful names in game development (such as Ubisoft and EA), and experience with more than one of the most recognizable franchises in the industry (Gears of War, Ratchet and Clank, Rainbow Six), it is not surprising that Relevant is off to a terrific start. Their first title, Scrap Squad, was released for Google Play and iOS earlier this year. As Relevant ties the ribbon on the bow of their newest release, GIZORAMA caught up with Creative Director Randy Greenback to talk about games that matter, obese poultry, and insightful allegories (not necessarily in that order).
Mariah Beckman: First off, it’s really great to get a chance to talk to you about Relevant Games! Thanks for giving GIZORAMA the opportunity to ask you a few questions.
So, who are you and what do you, personally, do at Relevant?
Randy Greenback: My name is Randy Greenback and I am Sr. Creative Director for Relevant Games. Day to day I oversee the creative vision for all our titles and work with our chosen developers during development to realize them. Depending on what stage of development we’re in and how many projects we have running; I might be pitching concepts to our team internally, designing levels for an upcoming game, tweaking stats and balancing gameplay across a campaign, giving advice to students on breaking into the industry, answering interview questions like these, or just goofing around while checking out what our competition is up to.
Being a relatively small company, all of us work together and there is definitely some bleed-over between all of our roles. Some days I may write a blog post to help Mike Tata (our Head of Publishing and Marketing) out, he may give feedback on one of the missions I’ve been working on so I can polish it up, and Josh Mills may take a break from running the studio and help me out designing the UI for a title. It’s great to know you can dive in and do what you do, but still be able to call on your teammates to help out with anything when you feel overwhelmed. We’re a cross-functional group and I like it that way.
I can’t speak for everyone at GIZORAMA, but I’ve found that a person’s musical taste says a lot about them. I love nerdcore artist MC Chris, rapper Childish Gambino, and anything from the 90’s with a key-tar, for example. Who’s on your playlist right now?
RG: Nice! I like MC Chris as well. For me though, I love underground hip-hop with a passion. You can usually find me listening to MC Sole, Sage Francis, Brzowski, James P. Honey, Themselves, B. Dolan, Ceschi or chilling out with Egadz. I’ve been known to dabble in Punk as well, with standard faves there being the Ramones, Rancid, Bad Brains or The Clash. Newer groups like Prayers for Atheists or Kettle Rebellion round out the list.
Back to business. You have a lot of talent pooled in the Relevant team. Can you tell us a little about the projects your team has worked on in the past? How has this shaped Relevant’s vision or mission?
RG: Definitely! We have an eclectic background for sure, with all of us having worked on lots of different IPs and in a myriad of game genres. I’ve been involved on well over 40 games in my 20 years in the industry, Mike and Josh have a ton of experience as well. Titles we’ve worked on range from Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Savage Skies, C&C Generals: Zero Hour, Rainbow Six: Lockdown, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Gears of War, America’s Army, Sacred 2, Serious Sam HD, Anarchy Online, Breach & Clear, Resistance 3, and no less than three Ratchet & Clank titles to round things out. The list could go on and on, but those are definitely some of the highlights.
As far as how it’s shaped our vision, we’ve had key takeaways from every project cycle we’ve been through over the years. When developing a game there is a lot of research that takes place, sometimes it’s fun and other times it can be eye-opening. With many of the Clancy titles that Josh and I worked on, some of the gameplay was based on real-world situations. We learned pretty quickly that you could make serious things into compelling experiences, and sometimes players would even learn a thing or two while they were immersed in gameplay. When you see this happen a few times, it’s a natural step to start seeing how games can be used for good, to get players thinking about issues in the world while still being entertaining. Down the road we’ll have some very ‘relevant’ games that will draw from our pooled experiences, interests, and causes we’ve taken up personally.
You’ve said that you aim to make fun, fast-paced games about modern, real-world topics that affect the player? Can you elaborate on this somewhat?
RG: Sure… There are many complex social issues in the world that affect all of us in one way or another, and your everyday gamer simply doesn’t have the time to focus on all of them. It’s hard to stay informed and up-to-date with our busier lives. We believe that through playful satire and insightful allegory you can reach people that may not know about the subjects you want to invoke thought about. I think the only way to do that is not to be preachy, or “teach-y”, you can’t have an agenda, instead you need to be smart about it, to bake a subject into the core of the gameplay and what players are doing in the moment to moment. Covertly, not overtly. That way, each pass through the core game loop they might scoop up a bit of what you’ve put there. Eventually those bits turn into clumps, clumps into mounds, and mounds can be molded into forms. It’s at that moment that a player starts to make connection to reality. It’s the build up to the tipping point. Once there, our job is done and it’s up to them to do something with what they’ve taken away.
We hope once the correlations to the real-world aspects are made, that they do some research, form their own opinions, start discussions with others, and maybe recommend the game. We’re not saying we have this down pat, there is definitely an art to it, but we’re refining our methods and with each game are targeting ways in which we can improve on what we are aiming to do, help prove that games can be more meaningful. We’re just getting started, and we’re definitely planning to ramp up on the controversy scale for the subjects we will tackle.
Your first release has hit the ground running, garnering a lot of really positive feedback in it’s early release. Tell us a little about Scrap Squad, if you would.
RG: We’re incredibly proud of Scrap Squad and what it has achieved already, after getting featured by Apple we have tons players enjoying it. We’re listening to player feedback on the game, both positive and negative, and are looking to grow the game in the coming months. It’s a fun, frenetic arcade-style puzzle sorting game that’s layered with powerups, upgrades, random events and robots. In Scrap Squad the player is a ne’er-do-well Evil Genius who unfortunately happens to have a landfill built over his evil lair. The evil genius has dreams of world domination (don’t they all?) and hatches a plan to build robots out of available scrap that will help him sort through his only available resource (mountains of junk) to fund his plans to take over the world. It’s that simple really… A story of a man and his ReBots on a quest to rule the world with an iron fist, but first he must recycle and save it.
The player earns money each play, and also hopefully picks up on what is and isn’t recyclable while they’re doing it. Again, first and foremost our games are meant to be entertaining, so we hope that the chance to pick up some information doesn’t keep players from trying our games. Fingers crossed…
One of the things that I love about Relevant is how well-chronicled and inclusive your blog posts (Creating Scrap Squads Audio Style) are. You look like you have fun (Video Game Studio Director Dances and Wins Talent Show). Is there anything really unique and cool about your workplace or your workday that you can share with us? Do you guys start the day off with paintball and mimosas? Anything wild?
RG: I’m glad you enjoy them! The blog posts let us talk about what’s on our minds, the state of our projects, or at times just let us blow off a little steam. You are a genius!! Paintball and mimosas would be amazing! Unfortunately though we just have fierce beard growing competitions, rant about the best and worst NES games, impromptu dance competitions (AND WIN), come up with all sorts of crazy ideas, get shot and shoot others with nerf guns, ride scooters around the office, and perhaps find time make some games with friends. Not as wild as you were hoping maybe, but I dig our routine. Josh will totally have to add a line item to the budget and get Mimosa Mondays going though…
What other titles, if any, do you presently have in the works?
RG: We currently have multiple titles in the works. One that we’re co-developing is called Fat Chicken. It’s a strategic tower defense game with a twist, and it takes on all the problems surrounding Factory Farming. We tackle this subject through satire and basically take everything that we want to highlight, then blow it out of proportion with a looney-tunes flair that keeps the game fun and approachable. It’s pretty crazy, I think players will enjoy it because we really had a blast making it with the guys at Mighty Rabbit. It even has a soundtrack by award-winning composer, collector of birds, caregiver of hens and all-around great guy, Jason Graves (of Tomb Raider & Dead Space fame). I took inspiration from the work Will Potter (author/journalist/activist) has been doing to highlight horrifying practices on factory farms and we basically built a game around it. I take some liberty here and there with things, but only to help drive home points in a digestible way for the intended audience. We have other games in the works of course, but you’ll just have to wait a bit longer till we can share them with you as well.
Do you have plans to continue with app development? Any plans to develop content for consoles or Steam?
RG: We definitely want to keep developing games for the mobile market. After all, mobile devices are ubiquitous now. Through phones and tablets we can tap into the largest gaming audience around and fulfill our mission in getting more people thinking about the issues. That said, we won’t deny that we’re interested in Steam, consoles and handhelds too. We’re taking things a step at a time, but if a game we’re building makes sense to be cross-platform or can only exists on something like Oculus Rift, then we’ll do what we have to do to ensure it finds it’s audience.
What sort of titles and development can we expect from Relevant in the coming months and years?
RG: You really honestly never know. Just the fact that we have our mission in place pushes us to approach game development from a very different standpoint than it normally is approached. We can already see that all of our games will be unique because of this, in fact it’s surprising even us how odd or experimental we have to get to do what we’re doing. At Relevant we’re trying out new game mechanics in all our titles and flipping genres on their heads whenever we can. Over the coming years we’ll surprise players with new experiences and try our best to stand out while making players think about their world. If we can inspire thought and discussion with our titles, then maybe it could turn into action. Creating a game that could inspire change would be an amazing accomplishment, and it’s something we do indeed strive for. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re definitely not going to give up trying.
Are there any developers or studios that your team champions or that you’re aspiring to? In your opinion, who are some of the industry leaders right now that gamers should be watching out for? (Relevant aside, of course.)
RG: I’m a huge fan of Papers, Please, so I got my eye on Lucas Pope and his next game, Return of the Obra Dinn. Papo & Yo hit me out of nowhere a couple years ago and now I am very interested in what Vander Cabellero & the rest of Minority Media are working on next with Silent Enemy. I’ve had amazing amounts of fun playing Towerfall Ascension with friends, co-workers and family and I’d say that Matt Thorson has inspired me to start thinking more about same couch multiplayer in a big way.
I’d like to shine a spotlight on Hazard Studios and Mighty Rabbit games for being amazing dev partners and for their dedication to the craft. I expect both groups to have a bright future and your readers should definitely keep their eyes peeled for new titles from them.
In the realm of AAA, I’m expecting some big things from my former cohorts at Insomniac Games when Sunset Overdrive launches.
I’d be upset if I didn’t also use this opportunity to implore your readers to pick up a Wii U and Mario Kart 8. Nintendo never fails to deliver a fun experience and I want more people playing online when I log on!
What’s your favorite game? It can be old or new, one you’ve worked on or one that you feel is iconic?
RG: As a strategy gamer and former Westwoodian, Dune II will always hold a special place in my heart. It not only introduced me to Real-Time Strategy (RTS is my favorite genre) but also led me to seek out a career in game development.
The game I go back to over and over again (I play through it every year over Christmas Break) is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It’s a masterwork in game design and I think budding game designers that missed out on playing it should track down an SNES ASAP and rectify the problem. It was a hard choice over the original Legend of Zelda, but you told me to choose one game, and somehow I kinda just chose three. Hopefully I get away with it…
And now, a fun question: the zombie apocalypse is nigh. You can grab three things to defend yourself or to save while you’re in a bunker, hiding. What do you take with you?
RG: A lot of people might say they want a shotgun and a box of shells or some other firearm. Personally, I want some melee weapons and survival gear that I don’t have to worry about breaking or being depleted. #1 on my list is a katana that I can use to slice through zombies fairly quickly if need be. Second on my list would be a nicely stocked first aid kit, sickness and infection can kill you just as easily as Zombies, so I’d like to be prepared for anything. Lastly I hate the dark, especially when there are potentially zombies all around me closing in. To avoid dying of a heart attack while my imagination races with thoughts of imaginary zombies swarming me, I’d like a survival flashlight, one that can be charged up with solar power during the day or a hand crank on the side for when running low on power at night. I think with those three items I could stay alive and help save other survivors… possibly ones with a shotgun and access to the actual Grave Digger Monster Truck (the only way to travel in the zombie apocalypse). Sunday, sunday, SUNDAY! I’m sure that’ll be the day the zombie apocalypse starts.
That’s great! Again, we thank you for taking the time to sit down with our readers, and we anxiously await further developments from your studio.
The team at Relevant is comprised entirely of people the average gamer would pray to get shipwrecked on an island with. This crew and their titles (both released and in-production) are definitely worth checking out. For more from Relevant, don’t forget to subscribe to their hilarious blog to keep up-to-date with what’s next from this small studio full of big talent in Durham, NC.