Talking with Eitan Glinert is like drinking from a firehose. His positive energy and enthusiasm creates a very strong channel– kind of like Austin Powers (“yeah, baby!”) , but with the mojo directed towards games instead of girls.
Comparing Glinert’s karma to a spurting firehose was not meant to be snarky, but rather one that naturally comes to mind because he’s the founder and creative director of Fire Hose Games, a Cambridge-based start-up established last year. A graduate of MIT (undergrad and masters in electrical engineering and computer science), Glinert got the company name from the saying that getting an education at MIT is like drinking from a fire hose.
Glinert, 26, is interested in making games that are accessible and have a positive impact. While he was at MIT, he created AudiOdyssey, a rhythm game using the Wiimote, that was the first that could be played by the blind. He also created Immune Attack–a game that teaches high school kids immunology– as a research associate at the Federation of American Scientists.
Fire Hose hasn’t published any games yet, but two major projects are in the works, slated to debut next year. I talked to Glinert about the projects and his philosophy about game development.
Q: What can you tell me about the games you’re developing? I hear that they’re kind of hush-hush.
A. Well one is really hush-hush and I can say next to nothing about it, other than it’s going to be awesome. The other is slightly less hush-hush.
Q: Tell me about the less hush-hush one.
A: The game is a 4-player co-op game, and it’s going to be digitally distributed , which is important because those platforms are good for new, small, independent developers. We want to make a smaller game, something weird… we’re not sure which platform we’re going to use yet.
Q: What’s it about?
A: It’s about superheroes. In all the superhero stories, you have these superheroes fighting the bad guys, and after a long fight, they win by a hair. But if you think about it– what are they saving? They’ve destroyed half of the city in the process. So our game kind of picks it up from there. You go to the mayor, expecting to get a medal, and he starts yelling at you because you did more damage than the monsters. Your task is to rebuild the city, but there are new monsters. You have to deal with monsters but also think about the damage you create. It’s very engaging. It started out as an architecture sim, but then we wanted to get into green technology and sustainable buildings.
Q: Let’s talk about Fire Hose. Why did you decide to make your own company?
A: I wanted to make weird videogames, but didn’t want to answer to other people. I wanted to make videogames that have a positive impact, and unless you’re at the top calling the shots, it’s hard to do what you want. I have good ideas on how to make games.
Q: How would you describe your corporate culture?
A: Everyone’s opinion matters. No one’s a gear in a machine. We’re only six people now, but everyone is awesome and way smarter than me. We try to make things enjoyable. The industry has a habit of grueling its workers, but we work 45 hours a week. Except for me, I work like a dog.
Q: Looks like things are rolling along.
A: Things are on upswing, but I’m still not taking any salary– hopefully, I’ll be able to start doing that soon.
Q: Do you play games outside of work?
A: I play an hour or two a day. I don’t play sports games so much because I actually play sports [Glinert is an avid hockey player] and not too many first-person shooters. I love the new Xbox and Steam, and all the time manipulation and puzzle games like Portal. Of course, I also play the games everyone else plays, like Zelda.
Q: When did you start playing games?
A: My father is a computer scientist, so I grew up with a computer in the house, which was a big deal in the early 80s. My parents, however, would never buy me a console, so after I got a paper route in 6th grade, the first thing I bought was a Super Nintendo. Naturally, they couldn’t say anything because it was my money. I still have it at Fire Hose and it works fine. After that, I didn’t play until college, and once I started making Immune Attack, I started playing a lot because you can’t make a game without playing games– like you can’t make a movie without watching movies.
Q: Do you enjoy what you’re doing?
A: Yes! I think most people– men, and probably women, too– would give up their right arm to do what I do for a living.
Q: What kind of impact can games have?
A: First of all, we can improve people’s attitudes towards science and engineering. I think there’s a lot to be learned from games. It’s like giving someone a fish as opposed to teaching someone how to fish. Maybe if the scientist is a hero in a positive light, people will get excited. If they’re thinking of architecture [in a game] maybe that will inspire them to read a Wikipedia article or get to know that Frank Gehry is a douchebag that built the Stata Center.
Secondly, what if videogames could be art? There could be tons of neat stuff that people produce and share with their peers. Finally, we have to figure out new interfaces to make games more accessible so that people can interact with games. No one could think of Wii sports before the Wii. What can we do with new technology?
Q: What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
A: Wow, that’s a hard question. I’d really like to go to Mars. I hope NASA recruits volunteers. I’d also like to have made great games that push limits and turn heads. Hopefully, I can influence how people make games.
Q: Do you think game developers should have a moral obligation?
A: I’m not going to force my thoughts on other people, but I think it would be good if developers could feel like I do. People can spend days, even weeks on games. I think game developers have a responsibility. I don’t like addictive and time-consuming games. I’d rather make games that have more benefit to the user.