GDC 2013: Media Molecule on Tearaway’s troublesome gestation, and the role of the producer

Media Molecule producer Siobhan Reddy has revealed that Tearaway struggled through several iterations and was initially conceived as taking place in a fully procedural, GPS-supported gameworld.

Speaking at GDC 2013 this afternoon, Reddy termed her role on the Vita title as the “vehicle to get the artist’s creativity on the table,” explaining that producers must take part in a “collaborative, push-and-pull” relationship with their team. Ultimately, producers must judge themselves by how the final product “matches up with the team’s vision,” she said.

She compared the task to her first video-game production job at Criterion where her role was to track project delivery, but ultimately grew into working with Alex Ward to “get what [he] was thinking to the team in a way that was useful.”

Conversely, her role at Media Molecule is to provide structure to the team’s creativity, but she said that it is so engaged, so full of ideas but also so desperate to ship a product that working processes didn’t take long to come together effectively.

“We have evolved from a new start-up launching a game and service, to support of that service and creating DLC, then creating a sequel where we started to know what we were doing,” she said. “We have decided to ditch that and have two new IPs, and I feel more than ever my role is to get creativity on the table.”

That creativity includes the work of Media Molecule’s Rex Crowle. “One of the reasons we wanted to have two projects is we wanted Rex to have his own project to lead,” she explained. However, that came with its own challenges. What Crowle needed from a producer was to “understand that prototypes are necessary stepping stones” when creating new things.

This where the push and pull became important – after several prototypes. “Things that were important to Rex still hadn’t been proven – huge ambitious projects like a procedural world to support GPS-based gameplay – they were in an unfinished state, and made it difficult for the team to get behind it,” she explained.

“The team needed to be excited by the feature to want to use it,” she argued, stating that the creatives in game teams can fall into the trap of thinking that they “don’t have to finish something to prove it … that they can fill in the blanks with their imagination.”

As a result, she eventually sent Crowle and Media Molecule founder Dave Smith into a room to thrash out one definitive concept for the project. “No matter the pressure they felt to keep certain ideas in, greenlighting something that you don’t want to make is worse than not getting greenlit at all,” she said, revealing that they emerged from that room “with a very clear idea of what they wanted to do” – that is, to lose the procedurally-generated, GPS-supported world.

With the tighter focus, the “team were buzzing,” and were able to drill down on the “godlike powers” supported by the PS Vita’s back-touch. Finally, Tearaway took shape. “The beginning is when you have the time to play around,” Reddy offered, telling the producers in the room they “can’t panic.”

“You need to look for opportunities… but if you really end up not knowing what to do you have to ‘course correct’. You have to be courageous, the team’s best ideas might be the wildest.”