Before forming 4mm Games last year, Jamie King spent over ten years at Rockstar as vice president of product development, working on all the big franchises, including Grand Theft Auto, Midnight Club and Max Payne, amongst others. 4mm Games is backed financially by CEA Autumn Games, and is working with engine makers Terminal Reality on its first title, Def Jam Rapstar.
Def Jam Rapstar is a hip-hop music game where users can film, edit and upload their performance online, for it to be judged and rated by the community. In this in-depth interview with GamesIndustry.biz, King discuses the origins of the project and how it's changed from the original vision, why the music genre still has plenty of untapped potential, the importance of trusting the community and the why the team's passion for hip-hop is 100 per cent genuine.
I think I'd done about ten years at Rockstar and it was amazing. But it was the best time for someone in my position to leave with the minimum of ramifications. We were at the start of a lot of next-gen projects, we'd already got the internal code engine team up and running. There were just a lot of things I wanted to do that meant I had to leave, in terms of different games. But being at Rockstar was some of the best days of my life.
I was very interested in virtual worlds and the whole idea of the meta-verse, and at the same time there was Second Life and all the Korean free-to-play business models. I thought all this was really interesting because it was undefined, there's no templates for it. I always tends to like stuff that isn't proven yet. It keeps you awake at night and keeps you on your toes. There's so much growth. And there was the Wii, and gesture-based interaction, and World of Warcraft and Habbo Hotel and there was just so much change going on with all these models that I thought we need to get to grips with this or we'll be dinosaurs. And because I hadn't worked on MMOs before or social models I found that very interesting.
We had the vision of being a digital publisher and putting our games online, but going around asking for £50 million, well, you should have seen their faces. They were spilling coffee and looking at me like I was insane. In terms of the financial community, they said if we were to do console games they would feel a lot better about investing. And at the same time, part of our vision online was we wanted to do dancing and singing and once we met with Kevin Liles [former president of Def Jam Recordings] we instantly got on. He wanted to make a hip-hop performance game, and that was it. We were done, brilliant.
We spoke about the fact that no-one has done a hip-hop game. Despite people in the games and music businesses having discussed it for so long - but no one has done it. It was weird why no one had done it. For me Def Jam is the best partner because we can worry about the game and they can worry about the music because they represent hip-hop.
Yeah, and Russell Simmons and Kevin Liles are all still together. Def Jam Interactive Enterprises are very active, they've kept the original label, which is what I identify with as a fan of hip-hop. For me Kevin was one of the few people in the music industry that has published videogames, has a track record of liking and caring about videogames, and understands the process that we need to go through. It actually started as quite a humble project with a couple of million and we were going to do it on the Wii, to it snowballing into something much bigger.
I really like the challenge of moving away from a 2D karaoke screen and we weren't going to give the player an avatar. We didn't want to create these fake stages to perform on. We were looking at huge numbers of people on their laptops filming themselves rapping along to [Lil' Wayne's] A Milli and posting them online. What we're doing with Def Jam is rubber-banding that community and giving everyone a forum to compete.
It's not just a game where you score, but it's about the community judging the performance and ranking each other, so that's where we were looking at those that have a camera with their console can broadcast themselves. No one's really looked at that in terms of performance. We're excited about Kinect, but this is letting someone upload themselves to a community and socialise in a very different way. That's where the idea of it being about the user and themselves on camera came from. We're not going to create storylines or anything. There was conversations about should the player be an up and coming rapper, do they progress through levels in a city, buying hairdos and clothing? There's definitely room for that, but this is very much about you and I sharing this experience together, the core part of battling is brilliant because that's where the objective is. It's about crews going head-to-head. I can't rap, but I do it and I have a lot of fun doing it.