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Roger Hector has had a long and storied career in the game industry; he began at Atari with Nolan Bushnell in the 1970s. He's now the vice president of development at Namco Bandai Games America, as the company builds up its U.S.-based development studio and produces its first title with its current team -- Afro Samurai, based on the popular TV show.
In this recent interview, Hector recounts his career, which included stints at Disney and Sega, as well as discussing the current state and future of Namco Bandai Games' U.S. studio and reflecting on the importance of character in games.
So now at Namco, are you in charge of the... I guess it's not called Namco Hometek anymore, but the U.S.-based development?
RH: Yeah. It's called Namco Bandai Games America Inc., which is a really long name.
What are you all working on now? What's the kind of stuff you're doing now?
RH: Namco in Japan has a large development group that's working on a large number of titles. Only a percentage of the titles that are created in Japan make it outside of Japan. They're very culturally specific to Japan.
And a lot of them are anime license-based and stuff.
RH: Right. And there's any number of reasons why they don't fly outside that market. Namco Bandai Games America is all about focusing on creating properties in both licensed and new IP that's going to be more targeted towards North America and Europe.
The kinds of things we're working on right now are things that will complement the brand image of what Namco's supposed to be all about, but it's going to be focused more on things that are primarily going to be sold here in the West.
Are they original projects, or are they coming from extensions of existing Namco brands?
RH: We have examples of both. We have completely new, original, never seen or heard before kinds of games. We are also interested in using the value in intellectual property in Namco owns. Not rehashing something, but more along the category of reinventing it. We have some pretty cool things that are in the pipeline in that regard.
Hopefully it can be as successful as Pac-Man CE. That was quite well-done. But I guess Iwatani came back to design that. You can't go wrong there.
RH: Nah. (laughs)
It's just been interesting to me that the U.S. division of Namco is not that prominently displayed, in terms of developing projects. There are a few I can think of.
RH: Actually, what's going on is a relatively new thing. The division used to be called Namco Hometek, and there were games that were produced out of Namco Hometek. But since the merging and the blending of Namco Bandai, things got reworked, and it's now Namco Bandai Games America.
I think that there has been in the past some brand confusion as to, "What does all this mean?" It can be hard if you're working literally in the company to figure some of this stuff out, but if you're outside the company or even very casually associated with it, you don't have a clue.
One of the things that we are doing is rebranding or looking at rebranding the American studios in a way that will build some brand equity around what will hopefully be the kind of successful games that will keep coming out of this group.
How many developers are working on the American side?
RH: We have both internal teams and we contract with outside developers. If you added them all up...
Well, just the internals.
RH: Well, we have a couple... I can't even say that exactly. In a rough sense, we have a couple of next-gen teams. Those are pretty good-sized teams.
But we're also doing a whole portfolio of games, from full-blown, next-gen, big-production, big-budget kinds of games to some small, simple XBLA-like titles that don't require that kind of staff. But we're covering a full range of the potential for the market.