Matthew Lee Johnston is an eighteen-year veteran of the video game industry and in that time has contributed to over 50 shipped titles. His first project was Microsoft Golf 2.0, and his most recent was Plants Vs. Zombies 2.
At the 2013 D.I.C.E. Summit today, Matt will be moderating a panel titled, “Secret Sauce: Disruption on the Mobile Frontier.” Joining him on the panel will be Halfbrick CMO Phil Larsen (Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride), Spry Fox CEO David Edery (Triple Town) and Backflip Studios CEO Julian Farrior (Dragonvale). This is a session where outspoken and independent developers, who have innovated in the mobile market, tell the big guys how they snuck up behind them and grabbed their earnings last year. We’ll get behind-the-scenes access to the designs, principles, and methods that allowed these studios to disrupt the entire balance of the traditional video game marketplace in less than two years by dominating the mobile space with some great entertainment.
What games are you playing right now?
Robotron. I am always playing Robotron. If Eugene Jarvis doesn’t get the Legendary Old Guy award this year I am going to flip my table over at the awards banquet.
My son is 6 so we play a lot of Wii and iOS games. I have a classic console collection, and I’ve been working him slowly through video game history. We started with Mattel Electronics Football, worked our way through Pong, and spent a long time combing through crates of 2600 games. Lately it’s all about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 on NES. I’m thinking of staging a 2600 Warlords tournament in my room at DICE this year. Dave Eddings, you are going down.
We also play a lot of board games. There’s this amazing tower defense game called Castle Panic. It’s co-op, but still somehow people get bent out of shape and start throwing stuff. When the kid is asleep: Cards Against Humanity.
What future release are you most looking forward to?
That Watch Dogs shizzle holds much promise. I want a complimentary mobile experience where I can play that game in the real world and have it feed back into my core experience when I’m back on my couch. I also want someone to port Voodoo Vince to XBLA so I can have my little buddy back.
What about a niche title that impressed you with its sheer innovation or fun factor?
Soundshapes. No question. Accessibility, style, expandability, and massively fun. It’s all in there. Too bad not a lot of people got to experience it. Everyone kept talking about Journey but I couldn’t get past the Steve Perry level where he shoots those LP records with his microphone laser. I still like their music though. I’m thinking of having a Journey party in my hotel room at DICE this year.
What literature has had the biggest impact on your creative process?
When I wasn’t compulsively re-reading “50 Shades of Grey,” I managed to squeeze in “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. It doesn’t matter what size your game studio is...if you run your team it like an entrepreneurial venture, you can really get a lot done in a short amount of time. It turns out I was pretty late discovering this book because I was stuck on that other one I mentioned, so my last project took two years, but I’m hip now. Great book.
What two movies or TV shows influenced your creative process the most?
We assembled an amazingly creative team for my last project, and rarely did a brainstorm go by without reference to the animated film Heavy Metal. I think people that gravitate toward games are also drawn to animation. I regularly draw from Bakshi stuff like Wizards, Fritz The Cat, and the old TV series Star Blazers when it comes to look/feel, story and style. The fact that Louie CK basically has a DIY television series also gets me up in the morning. I love it when people just make cool stuff for the hell of it, and it WORKS!
When you’re daydreaming about the “next big thing”, what are you listening to?
I’ll tell you what I’m not listening to: Maroon 5. Awful. Musically, I am all over the map, but if I really want to get into the astral plane, John Coltrane’s “Live at the Village Vanguard” usually does the trick. If not, then I try “The Chronic”. I am of course referring to the classic West Coast hip hop album by Dr. Dre, and not whatever it was you were thinking.
What app is making it tough to put down your phone or tablet?
I got really into iCade gaming this year. That thing not only transformed a whole bunch of games from unplayable garbage into mini arcade crack, but it transforms the iPad into a totally different beast. Speaking of beasts, playing Jeff Minter’s games on the iCade made my year. I love that hairy weirdo.
What social game has you hooked?
Gross. What kind of interview is this?! I will come clean. I actually played the Margaritaville game a bit. I came for the genius licensing angle that allowed THQ to enter into “ville” territory, but I stayed for the WASPafarian, rum distillery, hole digging mini games.
What does your home gaming setup consist of?
The classic console/computer collection stays in storage, and we make “withdrawals” so the basement doesn’t end up looking like the world’s nerdiest thrift store. Staples include the three consoles, Tempest and Tron arcade machines, and a karaoke machine we use to punish each other.
What’s your favorite new gadget?
I think it has to be my Teenage Engineering OP-1. Somehow those guys figured out how to re-imagine musical instrument interfaces for the video game generation, and pack a studio full of gear into a size 13 flip flop. I can pop it into my man purse on the way to the airport and return from my trip with 6 polished, multi tracked song ideas.