EXCLUSIVE FIRST INTERVIEW
When I was asked to look into KEYSTONE GAMES for an interview, I thought I was simply heading into another enjoyable discussion with another indie developer in an effort to gain them some more exposure. We had seen that they develop games and put the profits towards the disabled and less fortunate, which put an interesting twist on matters. I reached out to Jane Whittaker for the interview...and quickly discovered just how big this interview was, not just for Pulse Entertainment, but for Keystone Games and possibly the entire world at large! It wasn't just a case of biting into an apple that is too large to chew, but rather an entire tree that dropped its apples on me. Newton would have been proud.
So before I head into the interview itself, let me tell you a little bit about Jane from the long discussions we've had over the last two days. It really doesn't do her justice, as there is so much more to her than meets the reading eye, but it's enough to wet your appetite and know just how important Jane and Keystone Games really are.
Jane Whittaker has been described as a games industry legend and as one of the finest minds in games design. With a 34 year career in the games industry, a string of best game awards, 5 times programmer of the Year award and over 30 worldwide top ten best sellers, senior positions at Electronic Arts, MGM and Atari where could Jane go next? The answer is to be involved in a massive new philanthropic venture, with partnerships that are taking the games industry by storm, involving everyone from Microsoft, Unity 3D, major developers and small indie teams alike with the formation of a major new publishing and development company, namely Keystone Games.
[Gamasutra made an announcement about Keystone] (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/pressreleases/293582/KeystoneGamesisadeveloperandpublisherwithadifference.php) before we could get the interview with Jane, and I suggest you read that too to get better insight. However, we delve further into it with some questions we put together for Jane.
INTERVIEW WITH JANE WHITTAKER, COO OF KEYSTONE GAMES
Game Imagery - Camping
1. First off, give us a bit of an introduction to Keystone Games? What is the vision for the company?
Keystone Games was founded with a simple aim, to raise money for children with life-limiting illnesses and disabilities. We operate akin to any other publishing and development company to achieve that aim. We develop our own internal titles, with some of the world's best developers and we also publish the finest games from third party teams. We publish a range of platinum AA and AAA titles and also work with indie developers.
We are delighted with Keystone Indie, a branch of the business that specialises in both publishing and nurturing the finest indie talent. In addition to industry beating royalties and massive marketing and promotion we provide a full community and technical support teams to really help indie developers realise their dreams. The developer gets better royalties than other publishers offer, whilst we use our share to help the children! It has been hugely successful with developers telling us that the Keystone Indie program has changed their lives. If that is not enough, we also have many internal team members who are physically disabled or carers for the disabled. For instance, my head of Art, Katie Bailey was born without hands, yet is one of the most gifted 3D artists in the industry. The major difference between us and other publishing companies are that the majority of our profits go straight to the children!
Katie Bailey, born without hands, is Head of the Art Division, who will be interviewed in our next Keystone article.
2. When was KG established, and what made you or others decide to start it up?
Keystone Games was founded around 19 months ago by an incredibly talented group of individuals from the charity, business and gaming sectors. Our board of directors reads like a who's who list of some of the world's most influential business leaders. I was very proud to be invited to join such as illustrious group of individuals. Keystone was the brainchild of Kevin Mathieson, the CEO of Over The Wall, the UK branch of Serious Fun, the charity founded by Paul Newman and supported by a host of A list actors to help seriously ill children. Kevin wanted to unite the gaming and entertainment industries with the charity to do something really special. Only this week, Warwick Davis, the Star Wars and Harry Potter legend, joined Keystone in a long term relationship. It is not everyday, you have Willow, an Ewok, Griphook the Gringotts Goblin or Professor Flitwick throwing their weight behind a games company!
Keystone has already succeeded our wildest expectations with the entire games and entertainment industry with support and involvement of a huge amount of companies getting involved in Keystone and helping us in so many ways! Companies such as Unity 3D and Microsoft and a raft of distribution and marketing companies have really rallied to the cause and joined forces with us to drive forward Keystone with its philanthropic mission. It has been an incredible journey getting here with the list of partner companies being too large to mention in an interview! It really is the whole gaming industry coming together behind a common cause. It is incredible to see!
Almost every day too, it seems, a new developer or established team partners with us to bring their products to market, utilising our massive promotional and distribution network. Right now, I don't want to be at any other company as I am just loving riding the crest of the Keystone wave!
Warwick Davis joins Keystone Games
3. KG was announced last year by Gamasutra, who took a look at your life and your experience with top dogs like EA, the James Bond game franchise, Atari and MGM. What is it like living life in the fast lane?
I have worked full time in the games and movie industries since leaving school in 1984 so it is the only life that I have known. I started as a trainee programmer and worked my way up the chain to Vice President level. I have been very lucky to have developed a large number of chart games over the years, with everything from Alien Vs Predator for the Atari Jaguar to a range of titles at EA and MGM. I wouldn't say I live in the fast lane, but I am certainly very privileged to be travelling down the road of my dreams. I have never stopped writing code or designing games in all these years, although our industry has come a long way from the days I started with the Sinclair Spectrumand Commodore 64 computers! What hasn't changed is the passion of both developers and game players with the stunning games that are released today. I just could never imagine me doing any other job. In fact, I probably don't have the skills for any other job, so I will just stick to making games, whilst loving every second of the experience!
Homicide Detective Game Imagery - Egypt
4. In the Gamasutra announcement there seems to be a heavy focus on Aviation, from Flight Angels to PC Pilot Magazine to expert aviation advisor. I assume that this is something you really have a passion for?
Aviation is a massive interest for me, so I was delighted to be asked to take on the role as Deputy Editor of PC Pilot Magazine which I did for many years. At Keystone, we also have a relationship which makes us an official developer of expansion packs for Microsoft Flight Simulator which has been a massively successful franchise for us, further cementing the diversity of products in our portfolio. It is a lot of fun and provides great personal satisfaction for me to marry the aviation interest with my work at Keystone.
Homicide Detective Game Imagery - Times Square
5. Do you have plans for any upcoming games?
We have a major release schedule planned from the third quarter of 2017, with a wide range of third party titles on the horizon. There are too many to name, but I am really excited by The Puzzleverse, the most addictive puzzle game we have ever played, a fabulous cyberpunk RPG called Neon Sword and a unique game with the lovely working name Tactical Blob Takedown! Internally, we also have teams beavering away on a series of major titles for release on PC and consoles. We are releasing Homicide Detective later this year. It's a full 3D open world game where the player travels around the world solving murders and chasing a serial killer, all in glorious first person 3D at some of the world's most iconic locations, from Times Square to the Pyramids, from London's Tower Bridge to the Chinese lantern festival in Penang. All complete with corpses and clues! We are excited that it is to be voiced by a number of TV and movie actors, whom we will be announcing shortly, led by the incredible Warwick Davis! To my knowledge, it is also the only crime game that has had full support from actual murder squad detectives around the world, including the FBI and British murder squad detectives who all gave their time to help us design the crime scenes and solutions!
We also have Safari Park Manager in development, which allows the player to build and run a conservation centre, with everything from building tourist facilities to learning how to care for elephants, giraffe, gazelle and the entire gamut of African wildlife. Although still relatively early in development, it's starting to look stunning, with custom lighting engines and incredibly detailed animals that bring the savannah to life!
Navy Seals is another in-house title, which will bring massive action to the PC. Akin to Homicide Detective, we were able to bring in the real experts to help us in the design. We have the support of real special forces operatives, including Navy Seals people to bring both huge excitement and realism to the title! It has been incredible to sit down with special forces to create a game that we genuinely believe will redefine the genre. Much more realism and we would have been visited by the guys in black suits to talk to us about state secrets!
Game Imagery -Serengeti
6. Do you have any advice for writers and developers that would like to get involved with writing for top gaming developers like EA or the James Bond franchise? It's pretty hard for the rest of us to get such exposure.
Three simple words, never give up. Actually four simple words, never never give up! Seriously, you set your sights and chart your course. There will be pitfalls and setbacks but if you have the sheer willpower and determination to follow your goal, the road will eventually lead you there. Never be put off or disheartened as you hit a pitfall, just climb up out of it and doggedly keep on going. It sounds really simple and clichéd but it is the truth. I was determined to be a games developer since a child, but over 40 surgeries (I am a type of siamese twin) threatened to get in the way. I actually was determined not to slow down and the hospital became my college. I had programming books and a small Sinclair ZX81 computer by the bedside and I taught myself to code and make games whilst spending the long months in hospital. I sold games mail order from my hospital bed by advertising in the fledgling gaming magazines of the day. I just kept on going. When I reached 16 I left school and was invited to have a full time career in the games industry, emigrating from my native UK to the USA. It was scary, leaving home on your own to cross the ocean at the age of 16, but my passion (or should I say obsession?) to become a chart standard games developer kept me going.
Homicide Detective Imagery - Egypt
7. How do you keep your motivation and inspiration levels flowing? Are there ever moments where you feel overwhelmed?
I have never felt overwhelmed as after all these years I thrive on what I do still. I have also never really had motivational issues as I simply love my job. Being a games developer is such a wonderful thing. One day you are working on a homicide game, the next day you are researching African elephants, the day after that offering technical advice to rising stars such as Rob Anderson and his world beating Puzzleverse game, worrying over puzzle designs rather than how to feed an elephant! How many people have such variety in their career!
Game Imagery - Penang
8. Is there a way that the public, industry and developers can get involved in your charity programs? Do you have a special message for them?
Now that we have announced Keystone, I would love members of the public to not only buy our titles to help the children, but also help us spread the word that Keystone is here and here to stay with our philanthropic mission. Please tell your friends about us, follow us on twitter, facebook and social media and encourage others to do so. Please help us get the word out so we can support these kids! If you are a developer, please come and talk to us about being your next publishing partner. If you are a distributor, retailer, journalist or anyone else connected to this wonderful industry, please come and talk to us about partnerships! Quite simply, we are asking everyone to please help us in our sincere undertaking to help others.
Game Imagery - Serengeti
And that's it for now from this wonderful developer, philanthropist and COO, Jane Whittaker. We will be following up this interview when we talk with the Head of Art, Katie Bailey. For more information on the game, you can visit and subscribe to the website, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram. Pulse Entertainment will be watching and working closely with Keystone Games to make sure we assist in any means possible.