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Interview with Ed Byrne, Creative Director, Zipper Interactive

March 18, 2009

Thanks to Ed who agreed for a quick 5 questions interview for Irish History Week. He lets us in on some Cuchulainn info for the Sinclair  Spectrum (a very Euro-centric machine from way back in the last century).

Q. Who are you, and what’s your role in the game industry?

A. I’m Ed Byrne, the Creative Director at a game studio called Zipper Interactive. I oversee the overall design of our games as well as a lot of the creative teams such as Audio, Cinematics and such.

Q. What is your connection to Ireland?

A. I was raised and schooled in Ireland. When I was four my parents moved from NYC to Dublin where my Dad worked as a Designer at the national television station. I grew up in Dublin and went through the school system until I turned eighteen, when I headed to New Jersey to go to college — talk about culture shock! I still have many ties to Ireland. My Mom until recently still lived there (having since hopped over to Scotland), and I’ve been reconnecting with many of my long-lost school friends through services like Facebook. Probably the biggest connection to Ireland is my continued love of sarcasm, and the trouble it gets me into in the US.

Q. If you were free to make the ending anything you desired, who would make a better video game – Michael Collins, Queen Medb or Eamon de Valera?

A. Oh, Michael Collins for sure. He was an amazing character, a highly charismatic revolutionary but also a very skilled political and military leader. I love tactical games, and as a designer of “tactical shooters” there are plenty of events surrounding the life and actions of Collins that would create a rich source of material for both strategic, high-level gameplay and low-level tactical combat. The struggle to organise the forces of the IRA, to build the foundation for what would become the Free State, along with simply trying to stay alive as one of the most wanted men of the time by the British forces… I think that has the trappings of a fantastic video game.

Q: This is a question that I also asked David Perry in our recent interview. Ireland is home to so many amazing myths. Why do you suppose so few find their way into the games that we make?

A: Well a lot of Irish myths are _highly_ metaphorical, the equivalent of Aesop’s Fables or the tales of the Brothers Grimm, almost to the point of extreme surrealism. That being said, I think that their essence relies in their subtext and subtlety, the situations rather than the characters themselves. In most contemporary games we focus on the characters because true, deep storytelling in games is still so hard when players need agency and free will. So, certainly, you won’t find many myths along the lines of the Salmon of Knowledge – though it would certainly make a fantastic power-up 🙂

The other reason, I think, is that the Irish myths are simply not as widely recognised. Many of the oldest of Ireland’s myths have roots in, or perhaps even helped form elements of the Greek, Nordic, Roman myths and beyond. However, these latter mythologies have become super-cultural, part of the collective human framework to the point where you see Nordic or Greek mythology showing up in Japanese animated TV shows such as “Ulysses 31”. that being said I was surprised to find many of the classic Irish heroes in “Dark Age of Camelot” when I first played the Beta, and I think that the fertile soil of the Celtic pantheons will grow fruit as the game industry seeks out new material to leverage, hopefully going beyond the more obvious surface of Irish fairy legends like bean sidhe or leprechauns.

Q. Among Irish American game developers, I have heard more than once, “When will someone make a game about Cuchulainn?

A: Ah, but they have! I remember spending weeks of my time after school plodding around as Cu Chulainn in “Dun Darach“, a side-scrolling epic adventure game for the Sinclair Spectrum. Not that I did more than walk around the city in confusion, but he was there.

Similarly, I recall the comic character “Slaine” being very Cu Chulainn-like in essence (more of the myth of the barbarian warrior in battle who goes bezerk quite a lot) and having his own game on the Spectrum as well.

For contemporary games… well I think Cu Chulainn could quite easily take the place of Kratos in a game like God of War. Certainly with the popularity of epic hack-and-slash games with larger-than-life characters such as Heavenly Sword, God of War and Ninja Gaiden, I suspect its only a matter of time before we see an Irish version come out with everyone’s favourite crazy celtic deathbringer. Hopefully we’ll see more home-grown and professional game development within Ireland so that more of the hidden gems within the Celtic Mythologies like Cu Chulainn can have their time in the sun (or drizzle, to be accurate).

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2009 8:08 am

    Nice interview. I’m really enjoying the Irish week here on your blog, by the way. I have some Irish blood myself, but only sprinkles of knowledge of the culture and history. It’s inspired me to waste (or spend maybe?) some time on wikipedia looking up the odd folklore of my heritage.

    Keep it up!

  2. March 18, 2009 8:11 am

    @Seth – Good! I’m glad to hear that. For many Irish Americans, that’s how the interest starts. I’ll be posting on Brian Boru soon if you want to skip ahead.

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