Interview: Trent Reznor

Wait. What? Trent Reznor? As in "Mr. I'll Give Away My Music," "Mr. Brutal Honesty," Mr. NINE INCH NAILS? What's he doing on Joystiq?

Prior to taking the concert stage this month, The Trent Reznor, along with NIN Creative Director Rob Sheridan, opened up to us about their gaming pasts, the direction they see the industry headed in, and whether or not Trent will have a role in shaping that future.

Continue reading for Joystiq's first-ever NINterview ...
Let's start off with an easy question: What kind of gamer are you?

Trent: I am old, so I was there from the beginning. You know, from the first Pong machine. Rob and I are both avid gamers and our friendship kind of grew out from it. We worked with each other for years and had a lot of space in our studio, so we collected a lot of arcade games. We tried to get all the classics like Metroid, Space Invaders, Robotron and others from that era. I've stayed with gaming throughout the years and have all the current systems and, yes, I still get excited about release day. That said, I've become disillusioned in the last few years with the types of games the big studios put out. They're the same game over and over again just skinned differently. I'm not a believer that everyone wants to necessary play a movie, where game play is overlooked for flashy graphics. That's a disturbing trend.

A game like Robotron ... that separates the men from the boys.

So, you're big into classic arcade gaming?

Trent: Every time we to go to a different country we try to see if there are still arcades left. The modern Japanese arcade is not the same, because they're all about these weird resource management, horse racing, car games that nobody can figure out what the fuck is happening. Unless you're Japanese, of course. I had a lot of great times in arcades and I miss that experience. I know things move forward, but there's something about discovering an arcade, the aesthetics, the cool cabinet that was built specifically for that game. The first time I saw Tempest, for example, I was like, "What the fuck is this?" It looked like some sort of 2001 thing, it had weird, abstract graphics and sounded cool. I realize times have changed, but I miss having those three minutes where it's you versus that machine, sweating like crazy in this finite countdown to death scenario. A game like Robotron ... that separates the men from the boys.

You previously mentioned that you came up with a video game idea and pitched it to big publishers. Tell us about that game.

Trent: Rob and I have some things on the side that we've been working on and one of the things we've been talking about doing is publishing or developing video games. A few years ago we took that idea to a few of the main publishers, Midway, Activision, etc. And as first time people in a pitch meeting, it was kind of depressing. Depressing to see that the people in control of those studios and publishers are much the same as the people sitting at record companies.

In a record company, they aren't musicians or people who love music, they're people who want to sell plastic discs. They think they have a formula where if they can eliminate the artist from that equation, even better. You see that in the case of the Pussycat Dolls and some of the other fabricated crap that's out there. What we tended to notice in the video game meetings was that it didn't seem that there were gamers there. It's business guys who want to turn the company into a profit making machine. They look at it in terms of numbers, like a Hollywood studio. If it costs "X" amount to make a game, to compete, then it has to be a proven franchise or it has to be similar enough to something they know is going to sell. They don't want to take the risk.

Can you give us specifics about the game you were trying to pitch?

Trent: Yeah ... I'll let Rob talk about that, because it's primarily his idea.

Rob: No ... I don't think we should reveal our trade secrets just yet.

Trent: Let's just say this. It's a simple idea. It's kind of dumb and obvious, but could be fun. It'd be something I would buy and is an idea that takes a chance and bends a few rules. Some of which have been bent since our initial pitch. The idea has a juvenile, kind of fun smartass-ness to it, but was ultimately just too risky for a big company that's more interested in "Spider-Man 11" or "Madden: This Year."

Would you be interested in completely funding a game for distribution through cheaper channels like Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network?

Trent: We're working on some things that will start to come into fruition post Nine Inch Nails and post our tour. That's one of the reasons I'm stopping the tour, because there are all these other things that I've been wanting to do that are outside playing shows. While I enjoy doing Nine Inch Nails and touring, I've done it enough where there are a lot of other things I'd like to get into. One of those things ... well, I'm probably saying too much, because if it doesn't happen then I'll have to answer questions about it for the next five years. Let's just say that one of the things that's highest priority for me and Rob is the development of some entertainment-based video game–type stuff.

Do you see any similarities between the indie video game and indie music industries? If so, what advice could you give to those who want to get noticed in the market?

Trent: From a business perspective, in looking at the video game world, I haven't applied myself to learning the obstacles or knowing if it's a bad deal to sell yourself to companies like Activision or not. I just don't know the details of that. Video games are a fairly new form of maturing entertainment that really are art forms. The success of the industry as an art form and a form of entertainment will be if it can rediscover itself and to allow for the redefining of what a video game is. Not necessarily targeting it towards just kids or grandparents or whatever. The goal is always to keep a level of entertainment, excitement and innovation.

Again, it seems like games have gone from the golden age -- like Robotron, which was only a few kilobytes -- to the era of Wolfenstein and Doom, where a boutique shop of just ten guys could create an in-depth, quality game in six months to a year. Now we're at an era of needing hundreds of guys and millions of dollars and several years to compete with other A-list titles to attract the big publisher that wasn't as big of a deal years ago.

Indie implies there's a great creative atmosphere, but that isn't necessarily true.

The publisher equates to the record label and now you have an ecosystem where, if you want to compete with EA or Activision, you have to have a mainstream enough title, which turns into a blockbuster movie scenario.

This, again, is the same thing you see with films where a lot of generic, big films come out of Hollywood. Things like G.I. Joe and Transformers, where you know what you're getting, they aren't redefining anything, but they'll make "X" amount of money, because "X" amount of people -- including us -- will see it. But every once in a while, something different comes along, like a Quentin Tarantino who'll blow the doors off things and turns the industry on its head. All because it was exciting, innovative and it came from way over there.

I like what I'm seeing from Xbox where they're providing a place to get indie games and you don't have to hack your system or fight updates to get those games on it. Again, the iPhone is another platform that's inspiring and allows developers to make a game in a reasonable amount of time, with little money and allows for the possibility of something cool. Innovation is the key. I'd like to say, from a music side, that the indie world guarantees more innovation, but that isn't necessarily true. The indie world is trying to be the major label. The people I know on indie labels are dealing with the same corrupt, broken structures. Indie implies there's a greater creative atmosphere, but that isn't necessarily true.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.