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Interview with Sam Roads

What first drew you to the works of Tolkien?

My father read the Hobbit to me, then we read it together. I was a bit early with my reading, so this was aged 4!

How long ago did you first discover Tolkien and his worlds?

That would be 34 years ago.

How different is the world oif Middle earth to that of other fantasy writers for gaming?

It's quite tricky, as so much of the fun of Middle-earth is the story of the destruction of The One Ring. This means that any game you write needs to involve that story, and that makes it harder to do persistent gameplay. On the other hand, the world is so amazingly deep that you have an almost endless seam of ideas to mine.

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Gaming gives you a chance to explore parts of the Tolkien mythos that you might otherwise not.

Do you think the gaming experience enhances the readiing of the books, and if so, how and why?

Absolutely. Gaming gives you a chance to explore parts of the Tolkien mythos that you might otherwise not. For example, in the One Ring on Facebook, I've met the Lossoth, snow Elves. I really had no idea who they were before playing, but now I have witnessed an extra part of Middle-earth's story played out in front of me and I know a little more about it. Next time I read the books I'll be reading them in the context of a much greater comprehension of Middle-earth.

Some books are only fun the first time you read them, but LOTR is so good and so detailed that it bears repeated rereading, as you start to enjoy not only the narrative of the story, but the history of the world. I think you'd find much the same with games set in the world of Dune, and other deep worlds.

Would there be any chance of games being set in Tolkien's other settings, for instance Farmer Giles or perhaps Smith of Wootton Major?

I can't really answer that, it's a question for the owners of the Intellectual Property rights, and I can't speak for them. Sorry.

Where do you think the future of gaming will be going?

Facebook. A lot of people have no idea about the jaw-dropping, staggering, mind-blowing changes that are currently taking place in gaming. It's the biggest revolution since Pong first came out. The biggest commercial game in the world is not on the XBox or the PC, it's Farmville, a Facebook game. It has around 80 Million users. (dramatic pause!) Facebook gaming has changed the demographic of who a gamer is. Most folk think of gamers as either long-haired, beardy men (which may or may not exactly describe me) and teenaged boys. This is now wrong, more gamers are female than male, for the first time in the history of gaming. And on average gamers are aged 30-50.

If you're into gaming and you don't wake up to how Facebook is changing the world of gaming, you're still... erm...asleep. Hmm. Obviously. But you take my point.

Is virtual reality or 3D gaming an option in the future?

Yep. It's already here, just not mass-market. There's some new stuff coming out where you can play Wii style games but without a controller. I've seen fully immersive goggles on TV. It won't be long until VR gaming is mainstream.

How open ended are the games these days? Can a player exhaust all the posibilities or is it extremely wide?

Nothing has changed - some games are completely open ended, like any tabletop roleplaying game or a MORG. And in a game like Chess or Go you can endlessly replay the game without exhausting all the possibilities. And, not to get boring or anything, playing a game on a Social Network tends to involve so many other players that it can seem like the possibilities are endless.

What are the pitfalls of writing and designing games?

The old joke: How do you make a small fortune in gaming? Start with a large fortune. There's such a vibrant amateur scene that you're competing with, and some freeplay games are simply amazing. You can certainly get too close to your game, that's a common problem. You can be under too much money pressure to make the right choices. And you can end up working far too long hours - I guess one of the reasons game developers are stereotypically pasty is because we don't get out of our dungeons to go on holiday much! :)

If any reader out there was wanting to be a games designer, how should they go about it?

I get asked that a lot. The general answer, which I think applies to most fields of expertise is to find someone who is doing what you want to be doing, and then ask them questions and learn from the answers you get.

Specifically for gaming?

* Play a lot of different games, especially in different mediums. Roleplaying, Boardgames, CCGs, Console, Community, Twitch, Multiplayer, Singleplayer, Classic, Card.

* Find a way to discuss the games you play, make it part of the gaming experience to do a post mortem on the game that was played, and from time to time, on the game mechanics themselves. Become fluent in the language of gaming.

* Make sure you understand text, art, music and other things that make a game great, but which aren't 'gaming'.

* Find a games designer and find a way to apprentice to them, even if it means making the tea.

* Try to make your money some other way first.

How international is the gaming scene, and are most games multi user online ones these days?

Apart from some cultural differences between Western and Eastern gamers, it's very international. Facebook has made it so that most gamers are multi-user online.

Is the UK a good place to make games?

Well, we're very good at it. Many household name games were either made in the UK, or by developers from the UK now working abroad (ie Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider). We punch way above our weight, but we don't get enough governmental support, which is just crazy. Gaming earns the UK much more than films, but the media and the government both give much more attention to the UK film industry. I think there was a bill about to go through parliament under Labour which might have helped things, I don't know if the new government is going to continue to support UK gaming.

My business has had a lot of support from the Welsh Assembly, which we're very grateful for, so I can recommend Wales as a place to make games!

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