Would like to introduce all of you to Drew Medina, who is the Owner, Creative Director, Lead Design and Sound Engineer for Headtrip Games.

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When you first read all the titles, the first thought that you have is, “no way is this guy doing all of that”.  But  after sitting down and talking with Drew for a decent amount of time, you realize, yes, this is exactly what this guy is possible of doing.

The reason for this interview is that Headtrip games was the team that won the VR system that The Powell Group was giving away based upon an important survey we were requesting to be filled out.  The VR system that they chose was a retail version of the HTC Vive, as is was the one VR system that they currently don’t have as a retail unit, although they have their dev kits.

So, let’s start from the beginning, how’d you get into games?

It was time for Drew to work on his thesis project for his final year at the University of the Arts out of Philadelphia.  The thesis being done on an Amiga, yes Amiga (awesome) was a 3d project based upon none other than Dante’s Inferno. With already being interested in art, what a better way to leverage the opportunity to get into computer graphics.

Anyone graduating from college, once you get out, it’s time to start looking for a job.  But with graduating, especially in art you need to show your stuff, so Drew started working on his reel.

With Drew already interested in what Virtual Reality had to offer he created, he started creating 3D vector graphics using VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) for his reel.

VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language, pronounced vermal or by its initials, originally—before 1995—known as the Virtual Reality Markup Language) is a standard file format for representing 3-dimensional (3D) interactive vector graphics, designed particularly with the World Wide Web in mind.

With a reel in hand, Drew started sending it out to companies looking for his first job in the industry, and what a better place to land at his first job than Atari Games.  With his first title being Gauntlet Legends being an environment and character artist.

The game is similar in play to the original. Up to four players at a time can explore the different worlds, face hordes of monsters, search for treasure, avoid traps, pick up and use magic, and make their way to the exits. In addition, players also have to contend with boss enemies, solve puzzles, discover power-ups, and follow the story line. The game has four worlds and each world has a different boss enemy: The Dragon, the Djinn, the three-headed Chimera, and the Spider Queen.

But also being at Atari Games allowed him access to all their arcade games that you could play.  (Go look up the list, as it certainly brought up some good memories for me from that game list)

With memories being talked about.  I realize that Drew and I grew up around the same time period, especially given the games we already discussed and I started talking about how I have the original Odyssey still.

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Which then Drew reaches behind his and pulls out his Atari 400 computer that has the cartridge basic in it and one of his business cards from when he was at Atari.

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With the cartridge of basic being seen by Drew, he remembers when at 9 years old he used to spend all weekend with a copy of Compute magazine, typing in data lines on, wait for it, a cassette tape.  That’s right, back then you would use audio cassettes.

From Atari, Drew went to be an Art Director for a studio that released the game Jet Moto for the PlayStation.  He worked directly with 989 studios and Sony to released that title in San Mateo.

He also worked on that period of time Road Rash 64.

Then got pulled away for a new opportunity

From there he went to work at Angel Studios, where he worked on Smugglers Run, Midnight Club and Test Drive.

In particular, with Smugglers Run, a little known company called Rockstar co-developed the game with Drew getting to know some people there.

Then Drew had the opportunity to work with Shiny Entertainment and worked on their Matrix titles, Enter the Matrix, Path of NEO.

And while being at Shiny Entertainment, his office overlooked the ocean and would take walks to clear his head on the beach.  Talk about have a great working environment, that’s got to be it.

It’s important to note that at that time period games had a limited scope due to the limitations of the system.  People like Drew had to challenge themselves to come up with unique solutions for the limitations they were faced with.

In addition, while Drew was working on those games, the filming of the movie Matrix Reloaded was going on at the same time.  Which gave him the unique chance to do some reference gathering and to see the filming taking place, hang out on the set, and get to watch the filming of the scene where Morpheus is giving his speech at Zion.

From Shiny Entertainment, Drew landed at Crystal Dynamics and worked on Tomb Raider Legends, which at that time PlayStation 2 was ending and Xbox 360 started being worked on.  This gave Drew the chance to work on creating a prototype and basically go nuts in pushing the boundaries, which lead to the game getting greenlit, him getting a lead role and releasing Tomb Raider Legends on the 360.

From there, Drew worked at EA in Seattle and got to work on Need for Speed: Underground.

Then went back to Crystal Dynamics as EA shut down the studio in Seattle just after a couple of months.

After that, Drew decided that it was time to move back to the East Coast to be closer to family and got hired by Mad Doc studios.  Which got us talking, as I am originally from New York and his father was part of the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bride and the Battery Tunnel.

Being at Mad Doc studios allowed Drew to be part of a pitch team that lead to them being acquired by Rockstar games, which lead Mag Doc studios to be renamed Rockstar New England.

Once becoming acquired, Drew worked on porting Rockstar Vancouver’s Bully, which became Xbox 360 Bully: Scholarship Edition.

Then getting the opportunity to help lead the art effort work on Red Dead Redemption.

After such an effort, he was given the reins to be Studio Art Director at Rockstar New England to work on Max Payne 3.  He was able to lead the team in creating lighting, but more specifically as an environment artist.

Throughout much of Drew’s career, he mainly was an environment artist.

The environment artist (also known as an environment modeler) creates backgrounds and scenery for video games—anything from architectural elements like pyramids or arenas to chairs and plants. Game designers first hand an idea to the concept artist to sketch. After several drafts and revisions, the concept art is sent to the environment artists to create 3D models with texture, color, and lighting. During this time-consuming process, the senior environment artist will continually consult with the design team to ensure a consistent style. He or she will also communicate with level designers and animators to take into account gameplay considerations like mission-critical assets, inclusion of vehicles, and design of creatures and other non-player characters.

After Max Payne, as Drew put it “the big one”, he went onto work on GTA 5.

At this point I ask Drew the question, “When someone asks what do you do for a living, what do you tell them?”  This lead to a great story to where Drew was with is his wife and there was a teacher across from them with a bunch of kids around her.  The teacher asked him what he does and he stated, “I work in video games”, which she replied, “Oh god, I hope it isn’t that grand theft game that everyone keeps talking about”.

What are the chances of this, the game you just worked on and here is the person pleading with you hoping it isn’t that game?

Which he chuckled and said, “Yep, I worked on that game.”

And right before leaving Rockstar, he got to work on a game called Red Dead Redemption 2, to be released in 2017.

At this time, he founded Headtrip games because he really wanted to do something different and work on VR.

He started working on some small prototypes in which someone passed on some of his stuff to Oculus, which they fell in love with.  Which lead to Oculus inviting Drew to work on their hardware and sending him development kits, etc.

With landing some funding Drew was able to create an early access VR experience called iOmoon, which is available for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

For the music for the game he roped in Garry Schyman of Bioshock fame to create the original soundtrack for the title.

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iOmoon is An amazingly immersive, made for VR experience where you pilot an exploration probe into the heart of Jupiter’s moon iO. Explore and survive while gathering evidence of possible life on another world. Streaming technology allows for a nonstop adventure into a world filled with “things” to discover as 3D audio fills the world around you!

While iOmoon is still currently being worked on, he also created RollerForce.

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A geometric world designed to test your skills, soar through the cloudy skies of “Greebles”, while clearing out various greebots. “Dual Wield” gin blasters to clear a path through enemy filled skies. Exterminate space vermin in “Supernova”.  Physics base shooting means your missiles will fly, bounce and ricochet every.  Use skills to tag enemies or “Health Ups”.  Smooth coaster tracks designed for VR.  Play multiple skill level tracks, made for all types of skill levels.

Both titles being impressive, I come to find out that yes, as I mentioned in the beginning.  He created both titles himself; handling the design, audio, lighting, art direction, etc.

While working on this title, he came up with a way to scan real object and place them in Roller Force.  So he would scan lava rocks and different objects to create a very real world for one to be a part of.  Additionally, he used a science called photogrammetry, which is the use of photography in surveying and mapping to measure distances between objects, which also helped create the realism of the world the game lives in.

With the ability to create these two games, Drew has the unique position of what it takes to make a VR experience great, but not an experience that makes you want to puke.  This is honestly a hard line to accomplish, as a lot of VR experiences make the player get dizzy and want to separate themselves from the game, then enjoying the experience.  That’s where Headtrip games and Drew set themselves apart, as he has the experience, the know-how and an amazing head start that most don’t have in this game space.

What would be the one system that changed your perspective and made you want to make games when you were a kid?

  • Colecovision

As an Adult?

  • PlayStation

So Drew, top 5 games that you have enjoyed the most.

  1. Dragons Lair (visually favorite)
  2. Half Life 2 (gameplay)
  3. Abe’s Odyssey, Oddworld
  4. Earthworm Jim
  5. Marble Madness

What are you playing right now?

  • Broken Age
  • God of War
  • Star Wars: Battlefront

Any VR games you would recommend?

  • Dead and Buried for the Oculus
  • Feral Rites
  • Minecraft VR

Then he quickly states, “Any artist that wants to be part of the 3d space needs to try Oculus Medium and also try Quill, and on the Vive, Tiltbrush.

When you aren’t doing games, what do you do?

Photography, Drawing and Sketching, but mainly hanging out the family.

So here we have it folks.  A man that followed his dreams and is creating VR experiences for us to enjoy.  A one-man army who has been already been part of the VR space for over 2 years.

I hope you enjoyed spending some time getting to know Drew and Headtrip games.

Now, go check out his games!

So truth be told, I am new to this whole give an interview gig.  That being said, I honestly have to say from my opinion it went pretty well and appreciate Drew’s time.  I hoped you enjoy the first, to hope many future interviews.

December 21st, 2016