Tuesday, January 17, 2017

GJG Blog Interview #8: Zhenghua Yang

For the 2nd time in January 2017 the Gaming Journalist Gazette will feature an interview with someone associated with gaming! This time around it is a game developer who I happened to discover through Facebook and YouTube, and after watching an animated retelling of a rough time period of his life, I was motivated to schedule an interview with him. This man is the Founder and Executive Producer of Serenity Forge, a game developing company that puts its focus on making meaningful serious games, though they of course have fun making them! 
Better known as simply "Z", Yang's backstory in how he got into game development is not only very unique but also very inspirational. The YouTube video link below will tell a better story than I can, but basically Z spent 2 years in the hospital recovering from a very rare illness, one which doctors originally told him that he wouldn't survive from. Of course Z did survive and fought his way back to good health, and here he was kind enough to share his thoughts on gaming and game development.
Steven Vitte:
1) Serenity Forge appears to be a unique video game development company. What are the main goals of Serenity Forge?

Zhenghua Yang: The goal of Serenity Forge is that we wish to push the video game medium forward, creating interactive experiences that challenge the way you think. Games can do so much more than just teach people how to shoot, or waste peoples' time by knocking over bricks. We believe that ultimately, by creating games that would foster education, inspire art, or promote health, we're in the business of changing peoples' lives.

2) Challenging the way people think is one aim of Serenity Forge. How is this aim implemented in the games you make?

Z: Everyone has an opinion of what a game is and what a "gamer" should be. We aim to change that. The games we create are aimed to change peoples' perceptions of what games can be through both tangible knowledge via education and health, or the intangible mediums of art expression.
3) What are your thoughts on mainstream gaming, such as games on Sony PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U and Switch?

Z: Main stream gaming is great, they provide a strong foundation for entertainment and culture. I own a PS4 and a Wii U, and I just preordered the Switch. We develop for all of these consoles that you listed, and we wouldn't be here today without their support. However, I definitely think there are more socially conscious decisions that these video game giants could make to further improve the industry.
4) What are your favorite gaming genres? (RPG, Shooters, Platformers, Puzzles, etc.)

Z: I play all sorts of games so it's a bit hard to answer this question. The genre that I get most drawn into however would have to be tactical RPGs, such as the Fire Emblem series, and mechanically JRPG type games (non-firstperson RPGS).
5) What are your thoughts on certain parts of gaming communities, such as the autistic gaming community? (I am a source on autistic gaming since I am autistic myself. I run my own blog dedicated to autism topics as well!)

Z: I think the various gaming communities, especially ones that support gamers with difficulties really shine as stars in our industry. AbleGamers is an organization that I love and work with. We also work with EVO, the fighting game tournament in Las Vegas this year. The fighting game community overall had been an amazing group of passionate fans that I've seen time and again in supporting any type of gamers.
6) Expanding on the last question, how do you feel aspiring game developers, especially autistic devs, can receive opportunities in game dev projects? (I just worked on a mobile game dev project late last year and it's something I want to do more of.)
Z: A good friend of mine is an autistic developer, I definitely see his struggles in life trying to "make it work" in the industry. However, the beautiful thing of our industry is that it doesn't matter who you are, what you look like, how you behave, etc. Ultimately, if you have the passion and the artistic eye, you will be able to create an amazing game and be recognized for your work. Tons of game developers I know are on the autism spectrum, and the funny thing is, you probably played and loved a lot of their games without even knowing. That's the beauty of this medium.
7) Are there any game dev icons you've gotten inspiration from when making games? (Satoru Iwata, Shigeru Miyamoto, Yuji Naka, etc.)

Z: Most of my icons are actually outside of the game industry, and many of them have been dead for thousands of years. However, within the game industry, one of my main icons is exactly former president of Nintendo Satoru Iwata (I'm glad you brought him up). he's such an inspirational figure. 
If you just look at his life, you see a life filled with hard work, dedication, talent, understanding, care, and forward thinking. He's a engineer guru but at the same time, was loved by millions and spoke for a generation. He had amazing ideas and was not afraid to get his hands dirty to make them happen. Ultimately, when he was required to take on much larger tasks, he never hesitated and proceeded to do the right thing. Hard to find a better person than that.
8) What advice can you give aspiring game devs?

Z: I think most game devs are not dreaming big enough, or dreaming incorrectly. I don't want people to lose their passion in this industry because afterall, it's fueled by passion. However, I think most game devs either want to "make a small addicting money-making project" or "make a huge MMO." Neither choices should be the goal, especially of an aspiring dev. 
I think everyone needs to dream bigger and think about what kind of impact you want to make on society. When you make a game, think about WHY you're making it, and design a game specifically to that goal. Don't base it on "how much money I can make." Instead, base it on "what can I do to make the world better." Because the truth is, if you're able to achieve that 2nd goal, the first one will come naturally.

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