[Interview] Five: Dave Zdyrko

Five questions, five answers. Simple as that.
Author: Marc N. Kleinhenz
Published: August 1, 2010

TotalPlayStation's Five interview series takes the brightest minds from the journalistic and game development worlds and asks them to expound on their personal benchmarks of the videogame industry, exploring the crucial components of narrative, music, gameplay, graphics, and character.

Dave Zdyrko is no stranger to the gaming scene. After swooning over his Atari 2600 and Commodore 64, he drifted to the world of fan sites some 15 years ago, writing for Sega-Saturn.com and Eidolon Gamers’ Society. This lead to his “first pro gig” three years later, at Working Designs, where he “got to work on Lunar: The Silver Star Story, a remake of Lunar: The Silver Star, which was one of my all-time favorite games and one of the games that got me hardcore into gaming.” In 1999, he migrated once again, this time to IGN’s PSX and PS2 channels – which, in turn, paved the way for his tenures at Visual Concepts and Quick Hit. His credits include everything from NFL 2K3 to NHL 2K9 to Quick Hit Football, which he is the lead designer on.

[Plot Point/Character Beat/Story Twist]
It wasn’t a part of the game, so it doesn’t necessarily fit with this, but one of the most surprising and rewarding experiences I’ve had in my gaming life was getting the bonus audio track for beating Earthworm Jim on the Sega CD on the hardest difficulty setting.

It was just this super cheesy congratulatory audio message from the developer about how you just accomplished such an amazing feat by beating the game on the hardest setting and how it was something that you could be proud of forever – that even if you ended up in prison with a life sentence, you could always say to yourself that you beat Earthworm Jim on its hardest setting and feel great about your life.

Simple, super cheesy, not quite on the emotional level of various plot twists that I’ve experienced in RPGs or even story-driven action games over the years, but it really hit the spot at the time and has stuck with me over the years.

[Song and/or soundtrack]
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is still among my all-time top five games, and one of the reasons is that it has such an amazing soundtrack that helped make a great game even better. The music is so good that I’ve played through the game a few times just trying to figure out what my favorite track was, but I never could make up my mind. It was the first soundtrack for a game that I ever felt the desire to purchase.

[Gameplay Mechanic]
I’m split on this one, with one old-school and one somewhat new-school mechanic coming to mind. The old-school mechanic would be the classic double jump. It’s super simple and not at all realistic, but whenever you got the ability to do it in games, such as Super Metroid or Castlevania, the games just completely opened up and simply got better. It made you wonder how you ever could play the game without it, and often had me wondering how my real life would be so much better if I could figure out a way to do a double jump.

The new-ish mechanic would be using cover in first- and third-person shooters. It was always something I wished I could do in games before it was first implemented, and once it was, I couldn’t stand playing any shooter that required any kind of stealth that didn’t have the mechanic.

[Graphical Effect]
Having spent time as an editor for PS2.IGN.com for a couple of years, I would have to say my favorite graphical effect was all the improvements in technology over the years that went into making the term “jaggies” no longer commonplace. No one game in particular nor one technology, just all the advances that have been made where it’s no longer something that I have to see or hear about anymore.

If I ever had to single out one game that turned me from someone who played games to a person who loved games, it’d have to be Lunar: The Silver Star for the Sega CD. The game was among the first I experienced with quality voice acting, and that helped me care about and fall in love with the characters in the game. And the one character that stood out the most at the time was Ghaleon, the game’s villain. He was devilishly evil and it was rewarding taking him down, but as far as bad guys are concerned, you just couldn’t help but like him.

[The Five Archive]

Micah Seff

Sam Bishop

Crispin Boyer

Rus McLaughlin

Chris Dahlen