Celebrity Byte

A Close Encounter
with Steven Spielberg

One of this year's best games is Boom Blox for the Nintendo Wii, which was conceived and designed by Steven Spielberg in collaboration with Electronic Arts. We got the chance to talk with the famed director about his motivation for making a game that didn't tell a story, his own experience playing videogames, and his first glimpse of the videogame industry 35 years ago.

Steven Spielberg

Can you tell me about the genesis of the idea you pitched to Electronic Arts that became Boom Blox?

After one of the meetings on our more complicated game I'm making, I was walking to my car with the team leader and I said I've got this idea for the Wii platform. I'd been so impressed with the interactivity it gives you, the rush where you're the cause and you get to see the effect. So I pitched a game of just knocking blocks down. It's a staple in every household, with three dimensional physical blocks. But it's in all homes with kids and I thought it could be almost a sporting activity for the Wii. You would get awards based on a point system based on your skill.

I understand that you've been a Boom Blox household since your family was able to try a prototype early on. Is that correct?

That's correct. My kids had a chance to not only tackle it, but to give me input.

What was their reaction when they first tried it?

They were late for dinner. We had to call them like five times to get them out of the family room to come eat. I figured at least I'd sold my family because I couldn't get them out of the room.

In Boom Blox, some people are more inclined to knocking things over by throwing balls, and others like the mounting dread of the Jenga-like mode where you take out one piece at a time until it falls over. Do you have a favorite mode yourself?

My kids like to grab pieces and very carefully pull them out. But I like the knocking stuff down. I'd been playing blocks all my life with all seven of my kids as they were growing up. That's how I came up with the game. That was going to be the draw, to get parents and kids in the same space together, finally playing a game together that would appeal to adults as well as kids.

I'd been so impressed with the interactivity it gives you, the rush where you're the cause and you get to see the effect.

The thing I found to be the most heartening was that my kids wouldn't leave these levels until they scored gold. So they would stay at the same level getting bronze and then silver and finally when they got gold they would move to the next level. That tenacity, I thought, was a good sign.

Did you feel that compulsion when you played? Do you have that when you play videogames, that drive to get the highest level of achievement?

When I play a videogame, I play to the end and then I go back and adjust the level. I always begin with a medium difficulty level and then I'll go back a second time on the hard level. Then if I love the game, I'll play it a third time on the expert level.

Steven Spielberg

Spielberg surrounded by his creations

One of the features in Boom Blox that a lot of people love, and that EA has put a lot of work into, is the level builder. As you play, you unlock basically new toys that go in the chest and then you use these to build your own levels. Is this something your family has played with much?

Oh yes. They've created new games, they've sent them to their friends. They're very proud of the things they've created. They really enjoy amassing all these collectibles they know they'll be able to use in the build section. Then they build these amazing complicated things. A does to B does to C does to D. They love the Rube Goldberg aspect. It's like dominoes. As a parent, I used to play dominoes with my kids. I still do with my grandkids. There's a whole element of that in Boom Blox.

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Posted: 8 Dec 2008

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