Team Interview: Studio Head & Producer Jonathan Wine

IMG_20140704_205655 (1)Jonathan Wine has a charisma about him and a zeal for life that is palpable, whether he is cracking jokes with friends or leading a design meeting. Tall, charming, and confident, Wine has a sense of control about him and spiky hair like that of his favorite character – Sonic the Hedgehog. Wine is now the founder and head of the studio he’s talked about for years, and though he is a game designer by trade, Wine is a storyteller at heart, and is extremely passionate about creating characters a player can relate to. When asked what his dream job would be, he laughs, and quips, “I’m here, aren’t I?” And he is. Wyvern Interactive is just beginning, but Wine and his team are taking no prisoners as they enter the industry. Wine’s senior project for George Mason University is West, an action-adventure game set in L. Frank Baum’s Oz that will make you question everything you thought to be true about his characters. Creating a character begins, for Wine, with one question: what drives the character? The main character for West, Eledora, is driven by revenge; so Wine made her a brutal, efficient fighter. “She was raised as a warrior, so she understands honor, but her anger blinds her,” he explains. “From that, there’s much more we can develop.” His process involves delving into the character’s psyche, determining his or her mental state and the reasons behind his/her actions. This then leads to examining the character’s past. “Character development is like planting a tree,” Wine muses. “Take a seed, let it grow a little bit, and watch where it goes.”

WYVERN: Do you have a plan when you create, or do you run with your muse?
JW: It’s a little of both actually. I’ll typically have an idea of what direction, or destination I want the story and characters to go, but no sure-fire way of getting from A to point B. That’s when it gets fun though, because I can just let my mind wander and allow the characters to get there naturally.

WYVERN: What, or who, influences your work?
JW: I have so many influences. Stories and characters from books, movies, shows, other games, plays… I was raised around stories. My dad would be in the living room watching westerns and Henry V, and my mom would be watching Die Hard and Alien in the sitting room. I had a great blend growing up, and I can’t really say anything I’ve done was inspired by just one type of thing.

WYVERN: Do you listen to music while you create? If so, what kind?
JW: Constantly, it’s part a critical part of my process. As for what kind, it depends what I’m writing. If need to write a scene with emotion, usually something with violins, soft vocals, and piano. But if I need something that gets people amped, or needs to convey attitude, that’s when the volume is set to max and the guitars and synths come out.

WYVERN: Is there anything you find particularly challenging about your work?
JW: There’s always a bit of a stress when it comes to writing characters that people will relate to. I try to make these characters as real, relatable, and endearing (when it fits) as possible, but it’s always interesting to me when I get my team or my friends to analyze those characters. They [my friends or team] may get close to them for a completely different reason than I expected, or may be turned off because of something I didn’t think about. Writing a character that will be loved overall is a huge challenge… but it’s also really fun. And it’s so rewarding when all of the pieces finally fall into place.

WYVERN: Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to create than others?
JW: I tend to put everything I’ve got into character deaths, and I’m super hard on myself about them. There’s such a fine line between a death that touches you and a death that… well, is so cheesy it just makes you laugh. If I’m not at least tearing up when I kill off one of my characters, I’ll scrap the whole scene and write it again.

WYVERN: Clearly you’re a bit of a perfectionist. How do you feel when you complete a project?
JW: Really nervous, and I’ll check it five or six times to make sure it’s actually finished. Then after that, I’ll feel guilty, because I’m not working on it anymore. My brain has to be totally reassured that it’s acceptable to relax.

WYVERN: Do you let a project stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it, or work straight through?
JW: I will absolutely let stuff sit sometimes. If something is going like a well-oiled, very fast-paced machine, then I think that the best thing to do is take a step back and come back to the project clear-headed. It’s better for you, better for the team, and it’s definitely better for the finished product.

WYVERN: Do you have any strange artistic habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
JW: I tend to have conversations either with, or as, my characters. Out loud. That’s provided some interesting moments for people walking by.

WYVERN: Do you drink coffee while you’re creating something? Why?
JW: Only when I absolutely have to [laughs]. I’ll have a cup for leisure now and then, but to keep me awake or to keep me going… only when I really, really need it. I’m not a fan of depending on caffeine.

WYVERN: What is your favorite movie and why?
JW: While they’re by no means the best movies I’ve ever seen, I adore the Fast and Furious movies. Not because of the cars, not because of the action, but because the main core of characters is such a close family. That resonates with me so much. You can see the love that each character, each actor, has for another. It’s inspiring.

WYVERN: What advice would you give to your younger self?
JW: Be more appreciative, especially to your parents. All high-schoolers are going to be brats to an extent, but I really wish I could go back and punch younger me sometimes. I have such a wonderful relationship with my parents, and I wish I made it easier for them as a kid.

WYVERN: Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
JW: Barring all of the serious answers like faith, family and friends that inspire me every day, I’d say my biggest inspiration Sonic the Hedgehog. My very first video game was Sonic the Hedgehog, and he pushed me off the deep end into the world of video games. He was such a punk but he was so, so cool. And I loved that. When I was a little older, I got into the Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog series and all its spin-offs. I still read them, too. There was always something about the Sonic world that just meshed with me. I was so invested in every character and I felt like I knew each one personally. Before I knew it, I was thinking to myself “you know, I want to create a world like this. I want to create a world people will invest in as much as I do this one.” And now we’re here.

WYVERN: Who are your real-life heroes?
JW: My parents. Absolutely, if not for any other reason than because they put up with me as a teenager [laughs]. More seriously, they taught me so much about hard work, trial and error, sticking to your guns… I owe everything to them.

WYVERN: Moving away from family: name another entity – or entities – that you feel supports you.
JW: My fiancé, my close friends, of course my team, my professors. While there are always going to be the people that say you can’t do something, I’ve learned its best to just chuck them out of your mind. Focus, hone in, on the people that support you instead.

WYVERN: What couldn’t you do without?
JW: My loved ones. My family, my friends, my team… I feed off the people around me. They inspire me. They push me to do better.

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