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David Perry, Director

By Jon Wood on June 01, 2007 | Interviews | Comments

David Perry, Director

For those people who might not know, can you give us an overview of how exactly the Top Secret project actually works?

David Perry:

Well the goal was to offer the chance for ANYONE to join a real professional fully-funded video game development team, that already has a publishing contract with Acclaim Games. I love working with students and do my best to help them get their foot in the door. In this situation, they can join me on a project, then the most impressive one will be given the directorship of an Acclaim MMO. No "working your way up the ladder over X years", they will go from bedroom to Game Director / Design Director in one swift move. For the others, they get a resume credit and they're also are being watched by headhunters eager to find them jobs. I've personally hired two people so far (without resume) based entirely on how talented they were.

This whole experience has already changed my opinion that it's not about the resume, it's about the individual that shows up.


To what extent will the participants be involved in the decision making process?

David Perry:

Well I had assumed that I might need to lead the ideas, to keep everything moving forward and on track. But it hasn't even remotely turned out that way! In reality there are way too many ideas, so instead of adding, the actual challenge we are faced with is cutting them down, how to choose the best ideas out of a large group. Sounds easy? Well it's not, as people care passionately about their ideas. So we've been learning as we go and are starting to really close in on good systems to keep everyone focused on the goal. We're also experimenting with a reputation system so that if someone on the team impresses you, you can give them a thumbs-up. Getting plenty of kudos is a really hard thing to do, and so we find it interesting to see how that system evolves.

We now have added a wiki, and a Joomla news site made by the users, one user recently made a blogging site for all other users, some have started making adverts, banners and trailers, another has been experimenting with online voting systems, one guy even delivered an entire marketing plan for the project. I'm telling you, these people are passionate and amazing!

The next major system is a playing card system they want in the game and that can also work in the real world. Normally these ideas would be dismissed (a lot of extra work!) but when you have hundreds of people available, what not let them investigate?

You chose to develop a racing genre MMORPG. What led to this decision?

David Perry:

I chose the racing game genre. Simply because it's hard to really innovate there. I had also promised that we wouldn't ship a game that didn't break new ground. Everyone assumed it would be Mario Kart MMO or some kind of Need for Speed Online game. Well the team decided they wanted to ride beasts, now I don't mean monsters, I mean like the mounts in games like World of Warcraft. Something you are proud of, that is bad-ass, that can fight, that you can breed, feed, grow, cross-breed, train and race. I can't tell you what the weapons, armor or controls are yet as the team still has to design them, I also don't know the classes of the riders yet, but you can be sure they will be cool. If you want to help, it's a perfect time:

We have plenty of people willing to help you get started. (Just ask a moderator.)

There are many who would say that the racing genre doesn't lend itself to MMORPG play. How would you respond to this?

David Perry:

Normally I would agree, but this is not a copy of something else, it's completely originally, so the rules are already broken. I think the team will find a way to make it work. In fact some of the ideas are so cool, that I can't really imagine how it won't be fun.

Approximately how many people are currently contributing to the project?

David Perry:

We have over 34,000 registered team members, most of those are waiting to play the prototypes and so we see a few thousand in the forums. I had guessed at the start that we would end up with 1% really delivering. That seems about right as around 300 or so are really putting serious effort in. Meaning we have the biggest prize in video game history (you get to direct a team and make royalties on the game), and all you have to do is beat 1% of the people that sign up!

The twist is that most big teams today average around 30-60 people. We plan to cap this at 100,000 people on the team. That means (if we apply the 1% rule) that we have 1,000 developers working their butts off on this game. That's some SERIOUS creativity and brain power. So I have to admit I'm really interested to see how this puppy ends out and I can't wait to meet the winner! (We don't know if it will be a he or she, or what country even!) The last person I hired from the forums was a guy in Germany called Michael. (Luckily he speaks great English! - But he's really talented.)

What are some of the challenges of working with so many people on a project?

David Perry:

The problem is clarity. We define a task, and we find out about 2 seconds later that we just didn't add enough detail. Meaning we get swamped with questions! So now we don't kick off a task until the questions have been answered, then it's LIVE. We also would get pretty random results, so now we use forms, this makes it easier. At the start I chose the winner personally, which isn't really that fair as this is a community effort, so now we let the community vote. In reality this is more interesting as it stops me steering too hard. I still have the power of Veto, but have not used it for anything yet.

Where is Top Secret right now in terms of the game's development process?

David Perry:

We know what the game is now, so it's time for the detail, this phase will cover every single aspect, from interface, to menus, to controls, to animation lists, to concept artwork for beasts, tracks, weapons, riders etc. Now we know what the game is, we will start getting bids from developers to make this game. Then we will award the game to that developer. I had planned to use a team in China, but in reality they just don't have a beast fighting/racing engine (does anyone?), so I need to choose someone else. Teams are free to contact us, just contact me through Historian (our community manager.)

Do you have a timeline for release?

David Perry:

Well I would say 12-18 months, but in reality, we are not in a big hurry. It's really all about the game and team, so assuming the team keeps growing I expect it will end up getting done faster than normal, but decisions do take longer as we need to go through a submission/judging process. But there's nothing to stop us having several things running in parallel.

We really could use a few professional video game producers to dive in and help increase our bandwidth for "simultaneous parallel tasks". If you are one, we can give you Veteran Moderator Status (just contact Historian and tell him about this interview and tell him your experience.)

We also could use a few professional animators and 3D modelers so they can answer questions and help the students. Again we will give you Veteran Moderator status if you can demonstrate your ability.

Is there anything else about this project that you would like to add?

David Perry:

There's never been anything like this. The biggest team in history, the biggest prize in history and a lot of fun to be had along the way. It costs nothing to join, and will reveal to you if you can really (honestly) make a difference on a professional video game.

We are looking for people that stand out, and also for people that are not just talented but that also are team players. The winner will likely be talented, but also will have won the hearts and minds of the group. We hope they will want to work with the winner on his future games.

So whatever your skillz are, come join us: