James Stiefelmaier is one of those folks who are responsible for putting Central Texas on the map of the global interactive/gaming scene. He has worked with dozens of ground-breaking companies and shipped an incredible number of AAA games that have sold millions of copies around the world. Nowadays Jim works for Cubic Corporation, where he uses his expertise in interactive entertainment to solve some of the biggest world problems, such as urban transportation, machine learning and military training.
Jim was invited to AquaBrew for our first Skyscraper IPA presents High Tech Honky Tonk event, where he will be presenting a technology topic of his choice, obviously dumbed down so we mortals can understand it. We thought it'd be nice to catch up with Jim, right before the event, so you can get to know more about this legendary game designer and creative director. See below a fun interview we had with this maverick creator.
AquaBrew: Let’s say that Martians invaded earth with the plan of wiping out human race; let’s say that one Martian has you cornered you, points a ray gun at you and asks you, “tell me why I should not kill you, Earth-man Jim, what have you done with your life?” What would you say to it to save your life?
Jim Stiefelmaier: Tough question, I'm not sure I have led an exceptional life worth saving over so many others, but I would tell the Martian, that although I am not exceptional, I am compassionate, that when I see a bug on the sidewalk, I don't step on it, instead I pick it up and put it safely in the grass. I'd ask he show me the same compassion. I try a quote by Ben Franklin: "There never was a good war or a bad peace." and if that failed, I'd blast him with my Glock 19. (I spent 6 years working on the Area 51 series of first-person-shooter video games, I must have killed tens of thousands of aliens in play-testing, I like my odds.)
AquaBrew: You spent most of your career in the gaming sector. Which cool games did you get to work on and what role did you play in their creation?
Jim Stiefelmaier: I started as a designer on Ballz, a fighting game on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. I spent a lot of time working 3D platformers, like Gex and was the Creative Director for big AAA console games like Area 51. I also spent a lot of time helping out a lot of teams as a design consultant, especially for Zynga on their mobile games.
AquaBrew: New gaming consoles are finally coming out; are you excited? Where do you think that’s going to happen to video games in the next couple of years?
Jim Stiefelmaier: I am pretty excited about Cyberpunk 2077 because Keanu Reeves (huge John Wick fan!). I think games will get more immersive, more intelligent / adaptable to individual playing styles (AI will help this), but I think the biggest revolution will be true hands free AR gameplay. It will be healthier (long gaming session aren't healthy and this is huge problem.) AR will bring games back into the real work, hopefully in a more social way. I also think consoles will die and gaming moves to the cloud and the ~1ms latency of 5G allows for connected gaming anywhere.
AquaBrew: What are you up to nowadays? Any cool projects you’ve been working on?
Jim Stiefelmaier: I'm the Creative Director for Cubic Innovation. That means I do a lot of crazy and different things all the time. It is the perfect job for someone that loves to tackle hard problems, working with smart teams. I have been spending a lot of time lately looking at how to leverage machine learning and AI to creative new products and services at Cubic. Cubic is a very interesting global company, and I get to travel around the world, a passion of mine.
AquaBrew: Jim, you have been in the tech industry in Central Texas for a long time, long before Austin was the tech capital that it has now become; what do you feel that have been the biggest changes from the scene you knew back then, to the scene now?
Jim Stiefelmaier: Other than the traffic? ;) Seriously, the talent pool is just getting more vibrant and rich. So many interesting people and projects! I do worry how much more Austin can "scale" before it loses its special charm, but so far it has just gotten better!
AquaBrew: How did you end up in Central Texas anyways, are you from around here?
Jim Stiefelmaier: I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area. I moved here 17 years ago, I moved to Texas as fast as I could! After finishing a really horrible game, trying to look at changing my life, my wife and I flew out to Austin. It must have been April or May, everything was green and beautiful. People were amazing, the food excellent, the music refreshing. On our way to the airport, I had to gas for my rental car, we were hungry too, so even though I avoid gas station food, we ate a BBQ as we got gas. It was Rudy's on 360. To my California palate, Rudy's was heaven. I think I made my mind up at that point I'd move here. So I looked around and took a job as a Creative Director at Inevitable (a small 50 person startup that was later acquired by Midway, a famous coin-op gaming company, they also made Moral Kombat). It was great until I hit my first August in Austin. Yikes! Growing up in S.F. does not prepare you for the heat! But I'm now fully acclimated, especially with the help of a cold Topo Chico.
AquaBrew: What can the audience expect to see in your presentation at the upcoming Skyscraper presents High Tech Honky Tonk event? What will you be talking about?
Jim Stiefelmaier: A little about video games, little bit about A.I. and some about my innovation work. I'm lucky to share the stage with two very talented data-scientists, Chris Vela and Bryan Westcott who will delight and entertain as they talk about AI + Beer!
AquaBrew: Will your presentation be very technical, only to be loved by true geeks, or could it also be enjoyed by people who find tech interesting but do not know anything about it?
Jim Stiefelmaier: My goal is to always be relatable and to have a conversation with an audience. So definitely tech-lite. I know Chris and Bryan's talk will cover some more technical stuff, but they are amazing and know how to communicate technical concepts to non-technical people. You will learn something new, I promise.
And if you are a technical person, hit them with your toughest questions at the end of the talk, they love waxing philosophical on all things data science!