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Q&A with Jeremy Snead, Writer and Director of Unlocked: The World of Games, Revealed

jeremy-sneadWe sat down with Jeremy Snead, writer and director of Unlocked: The World of Games, Revealed, a new documentary series about the video game industry’s past, present and the future. Read our Q&A to learn more about this unique documentary and what Jeremy has discovered about the video game industry along the way.

Responses have been edited for brevity but not content.

Q: Can you tell us a little about Unlocked: The World of Games, Revealed and the topics it explores?

Jeremy: Sure. The short answer is Unlocked: The World of Games, Revealed is an eight-part documentary series where we follow eight celebrity correspondents that all explore different topics and sub-topics within the video game industry and video game culture and technology. For example, Sean Astin, the actor, goes to different colleges that have video game design schools and talks to the professors and students who are teaching and learning about game design. Tom Arnold, for example, goes to E3 and meets with industry pioneers and takes a journey from the past and present of video games with Call of Duty guys, and moves to the future with Twitch and more indie developers. Matt Walsh, the actor from Veep, interviews field experts, scientists, and researchers about the psychology of games and what happens in the brain when playing video games. Penn Jillette, the magician, came to Dallas, Texas where we are based and interviewed lots of really well-known game developers like Cliff Bleszinski, Vince Zampella, and guys from Gearbox Software, the list goes on and on. That’s just a small sampling of the eight journeys these different correspondents go on exploring the world of games. This was all sort of an outgrowth of our first film Video Games: The Movie which was a high-level look at the culture, the technology, the history, and the future of video games but, as you can imagine, you can only include so much in a 90-minute documentary.

Q: Are you planning a follow-up?

Jeremy: We’ll see what happens. You know, a lot of it is kind of what the market will bear and what the audience thinks. So far we’ve had great feedback and reviews from the release of Unlocked and there’s definitely an unending list of topics and fields in gaming, so we’ll see. The jury is still out on whether or not we’ll do more and what the future holds.

Q: What prompted you to produce a documentary series about video games? Are you a big fan of video games?

Jeremy: I am. I’ve been a gamer since I was young and have always been fascinated with the design process. Back in the Nintendo days, I discovered a copy of Nintendo Power magazine that had an article featuring character design and how artists drew their characters on graph paper then had to translate them into pixelated art. I just had this aha moment of like oh, people have to draw these and that’s how they get into the game. So that’s where it started for me and you know, as I started my production company, Mediajuice Studios Ltd. in 2004, it was the kind of magic bullet that started this whole journey. I produce video games, films, and television through Mediajuice which is what we’ve done since 2004. We produce commercials and trailers for video game companies so we’ve worked with Activision, Capcom, you name it, we’ve done trailers for publishers big and small. Through this process we’ve developed a lot of contacts but we’ve also seen the process behind-the-scenes which further fascinated me. I think the process of how games are made and what this whole industry and community is like is something the average viewer isn’t aware of and I thought it would be cool to share. So that’s where it all came from.

Q: What was the most interesting finding of your documentary series or what stuck with you the most?

Jeremy: There is something that jumps to mind right off the bat. We were shooting Zelda Williams interviewing patients and doctors at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles about how video games are being used for rehabilitation, pain management, and therapy. That was really powerful, more so than we anticipated because we were just in planning mode at that time, getting all the interviews set up with logistics. When we actually got there boots on the ground though, and saw these kids, some of whom were in the bone marrow transplant ward, it was really moving. These kids are isolated for up to six months and the only contact they have is with their families, maybe four or five people. To see them playing the video games that the hospital, Get-Well Gamers, and Starlight Children’s Foundation provided them, was really powerful and emotional and something we didn’t expect. There were a lot of moments but that’s the one that jumps into my mind as being the one I’ll never forget.

Q: Was there anything you wanted to include in the documentary that ended up on the cutting room floor?

Jeremy: It’s always tough with video games and technology, it moves so fast and creates this environment where you have to plan, shoot, edit, and produce fairly quickly or you’ve got the melting ice cream scenario on your hands. We knew that while we were shooting, so things like VR, AR and Pokémon Go came out at the time which we would have loved to include. All that stuff that’s kind of a moving target you have to make sure you capture but also be aware there’s stuff you’ll miss. I think VR is the thing we’d have loved to include more of but I think the challenge there is the jury is still kind of out on the technology as a whole. PlayStation has come out with their rig and Oculus has had a soft launch on PC that hasn’t gained a lot of mass acceptance yet. It was like we wanted to include and talk about more of this stuff but there wasn’t as much of a story at the time as we would have hoped.

Q: How has your series been received by the gamer community, as well as those who don’t play video games? Do you think your documentary series will change the misconceptions about video games?unlocked-trailer-pic

Jeremy: I think it’s a long haul, it’s kind of like the movie Blackfish. That’s an extreme example to be sure, but that movie came out and within a year or two SeaWorld announced they would no longer have orcas in their parks because of the outcry the documentary revealed. Now, Unlocked – by no means an exposé or a controversial revelation of what games are versus what they’re perceived to be – but I think it’s just another gradual unveiling of an industry of a community that the vox populi aren’t aware of. My goal as a filmmaker has never been to proselytize or to evangelize for video games, it’s been as a filmmaker and artist, a media that I feel like is genuinely interesting and underrepresented in the documentary video medium. I think if people give it a chance and watch some of these episodes, they’ll learn something they perhaps didn’t know before. Things like motion capture or games for rehabilitation or classic games versus modern games. They’ll also have a lot of fun too while watching it.

Q: Based on your findings and interactions with the community, where do you think the video game industry is headed? What are the major trends you are seeing and how will they impact our everyday lives?

Jeremy:  The word that comes to mind when talking about the future of the gaming industry is gamification. Up until the late 90’s there was this separation between computers and video games, consoles, hand-held devices, and then the rest of the world but now as we all know, technology and interactive technology is so integrated in all of our lives with things like iPhones, tablets, smart TV’s where almost everything has an app or interactive element with games that are all around us. Companies are using gamification to engage people and so I think the future of games is tied up with the future of interactive technology or you can call it interactive entertainment because the lines really get blurred. Facebook’s plans with VR for example, there won’t be as much of a distinction between these two mediums that separate gaming platforms form other entertainment options.

Q: What are the most creative ways that you think video games are being used for today?

Jeremy: What I immediately think of is all the independent video game developers out there right now which we included in Unlocked. Organizations like IndieCade are really fostering young, creative designers, artists and developers and are creating access to a lot of these game engines making them open sourced. You can download them and start learning for free. I think the ultimate creative engine is the human mind and human body, which is where all this stuff comes from, and the fact that barriers of entry like having an idea and creating a game can be done by anyone who has a desire and who can put in the time and effort anywhere. The fact that it’s possible now not to have to get permission from someone and have $100,000 is really empowering for this up and coming generation.

Q: In your opinion what’s the most exciting development the gaming industry has produced in the last decade or so?

Jeremy: Well I think this also gets into the blurry lines theme. In gaming there’s always a balance between image fidelity, game-play mechanics, and story. Different companies and different developers are pushing different avenues, some of them are doing all of it, but with Ultra HD and 4K screens and the technology these developers are creating to match these new technological advancements, that is certainly one element. Another is being fun and dynamic, it is to have ever-evolving game-play mechanics and of course, compelling immersive story lines. Companies like Naughty Dog, Unreal, and Epic are doing challenging story components and Eidos, with Tomb Raider, is doing the same thing. With the Tomb Raider relaunch and what Naughty Dog has done with The Last of Us and the Uncharted series, they’re all pushing these technological and creative boundaries and so I don’t see it as one stake in the ground pointing towards one thing but all of this innovation and creative thinking. This group mentality of all of these talented people using this technology in really creative and innovative ways and putting it all together drives the industry forward so you can have amazing products like The Last of Us or Tomb Raider or Angry Birds. It’s a different art style but it’s simple, creative, and fun. This is happening all across the industry and across multiple genres.

Q: On a more personal level, what do you like most about video games? Do you have any favorites?

Jeremy: I think what I enjoy most about my personal gaming experience is the adaptability the industry has to cater to how I’m feeling on a particular day. We all have a range of emotions as humans and if I want to just veg out on the couch for an hour or two, there are games that I can play to be completely immersed and lose myself. Or if I’m on the go and want to kill some time, I can play Sudoku, Angry Birds, or Candy Crush. Or if I want to connect with friends and have lots of friends and family online to play multiplayer with, I can do that as well. I tell you, it’s funny, I sound like a game advertiser, but it is true. I think video games are powerful tools that connect people. There was an article that just came out on Kotaku about a grandfather who has lost his family. His wife passed away a couple years ago and his son died and he’s kind of alone in the world so he started playing Destiny multiplayer. A well-known streamer who played Destiny took it on herself every couple of weeks to find inexperienced players to take them along with her on raids and she did that with the grandfather. He shared his story over his microphone and how playing Destiny multiplayer and connecting with the community had really given him a purpose and a reason to get up every day. It might sound silly or trite but you know that’s tangible, real-world stuff and I think to me right now that’s the most exciting stuff in games. The most exciting part of the gaming industry and how it can connect people using this really powerful technology and media.

Q: Where can our readers find access Unlocked: The World of Games, Revealed? What platforms is it available on?

Jeremy: Right now it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and for all the gamers out there, it’s on Steam. If you want to know more about Unlocked, you can visit the website at unlockedtvshow.com We’re also on social media, on Facebook and Twitter, as well as Instagram. We post cool, fun, insider stuff on those channels and if someone wants to get an idea of what they’re getting into before they jump into eight episodes, Video Games: The Movie is a softer introduction and is 90 minutes which provides a nice overview, while Unlocked is more of the deep dive.

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