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Five things you didn't know about THQ's Danny Bilson

4:35 PM on 11.04.2010 // Ben Perlee

THQ is on a rise right now. After years of relying on licensed titles and WWE wrestling games, the company is stepping it up to compete with the likes of Ubisoft, EA, and Activision. With a new studio in Montreal that will one day employ 400 staff members, a brand new franchise with Homefront, and a solid focus on hardcore titles like Red Faction: Armageddon, de Blob, and more. There's a lot more to like about this major publishing house, and part of that can be thanked to one Mr. Danny Bilson.

You know who Danny Bilson is right? He's the Executive Vice President of Core Games at THQ, meaning he's the one who makes sure we as gamers receive more Red Factions and Homefronts than casual shovelware and licensed titles. He's also one hell of an interesting human being. I had a chance to sit down with Danny while in Montreal last month, and between the excitement of Homefront and THQ's brand new studio, I was able to pick apart the guy. Believe me, he's no Bobby Kotick. There's a lot going on with Danny Bilson, who may be one of the most fascinating men in the industry. Follow for more.

THQ is on a rise right now. After years of relying on licensed titles and WWE wrestling games, the company is stepping it up to compete with the likes of Ubisoft, EA, and Activision. With a new studio in Montreal that will one day employ 400 staff members, a brand new franchise with Homefront, and a solid focus on hardcore titles like Red Faction: Armageddon, de Blob, and more. There's a lot more to like about this major publishing house, and part of that can be thanked to one Mr. Danny Bilson.

You know who Danny Bilson is right? He's the Executive Vice President of Core Games at THQ, meaning he's the one who makes sure we as gamers receive more Red Factions and Homefronts than casual shovelware and licensed titles. He's also one hell of an interesting human being. I had a chance to sit down with Danny while in Montreal last month, and between the excitement of Homefront and THQ's brand new studio, I was able to pick apart the guy. Believe me, he's no Bobby Kotick. There's a lot going on with Danny Bilson, who may be one of the most fascinating men in the industry. Follow for more.

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1. He's a gamer. While many CEOs of popular gaming companies like to tout their supposed gamer rep, sometimes their role as high-level moneymen would call their hardcore skills into question. Bilson's pretty upfront about his gaming habits: “I have just finished Red Dead [Redemption], and was completely blown away by that experience, and I think it was one of the best things I've ever played in my life.” He mentioned that board games were his starting point, but that “I got an Atari 2600 for the Christmas it came out, and I was twenty years old at the time, but my dad knew I was a kid.”

He then went on to say that he plays "a lot of Madden, and just started playing Medal of Honor, and I'm really looking forward to Fallout: New Vegas. I love big, deep RPGs, and I like experiences that go on for twenty, thirty, forty hours. Oh, and NHL 11.” And considering his schedule, Bilson will get up in the morning before the rest of his family to play games and ride on a recumbent bike. “That gets me exercise and an excuse to play for an hour before everyone wakes up."

2. He comes from a family in entertainment. His grandfather was a producer at Warner Bros. in the 1930s, his father Bruce Bilson was a director of episodes of Bewitched, Get Smart, and Hogan's Heroes, and his daughter, most famously, is Rachel Bilson, an actress most known for her role on The O.C. “It was just the family business,” he says. “If we were making shoes, it would be the same as any other family. We were all, except for Rachel, we were all journeymen filmmakers, and I was in the film business before [the games industry]...We were people who kinda went to work every day, and very much had a factory work ethic about it. When you grow up in that environment, it's normal.”

Rachel, on the other hand, has had it a little bit more celebritized than Danny's career. “She's really had more of the celebrity experience, with the paparazzi chasing her. They come up to my house and to the gate, and I have to shoo them off. They follow us everywhere. Car chase movies where we try to ditch them and switch cars, and she'll lay on the floor and try to lose them. That's pretty wild.” With regards to Rachel, it looks like she'll be heavily involved with a new unannounced game with THQ, something Danny alluded to at E3. “She will be appearing in a game which we are not announcing until next March and will not be coming out until next Christmas.”

3. He wrote Trancers, Zone Troopers, and The Rocketeer. Okay, okay, this might only be relevant to those who spent their formative years in the early Nineties, but Danny Bilson is also a screenwriter from the late 1980s, with a highlight being The Rocketeer for Disney in 1991. “I love that movie. I had the privilege to work with the late Dave Stevens with the comic books, and then he gave my partner and I a free auction to take it out and try to set up the movie at Disney. We wrote it, and it was screened recently in LA at the Cinerama-dome, and I went. It was sold out, and I have to say, I enjoy the movie now more than I did because I don't have all the writer peccadilloes about 'well, they didn't do this, they didn't do that.' I think it's a really fun movie.”

4. He co-wrote a Flash comic book series, among others. After doing the Flash television series, he and his partners were asked to relaunch the comic book series. “At the same time, we wrote two comics. One was a graphic novel for Wildstorm [Comics] called Red Menace. And it was a dual experience. The Flash experience was not a very happy one. The fans just didn't like what we were doing. They were very bitter about some of the changes we made. We were kinda innocent and didn't know how they were going to respond.”

“At the same time, we wrote the Red Menace which I thought was incredibly successful creatively, and is in many ways the spiritual sequel to The Rocketeer. It's about a blacklisted superhero in LA in the Fifties, and it was drawn by Jerry Ordway. Every panel is gorgeous. It's a beautiful book.” The Flash, unfortunately, wasn't very fun for Bilson and his partner, and they wound up quitting after a few episodes in; the editors wanted to kill off their character.

5. He's an adjunct professor at University of Southern California. He's been teaching there for six years, having taught in screen writing in addition to game writing. “I still work [there] every week, and I'll be flying back in time to make my class. I'm sort of trying to inspire students to do better game design for the future and invent new stories, be more original, and bring some fresh approaches to games.”

Clearly, Bilson isn't your average guy. We didn't even get to talking about his game development background, as the man has had his fingers in everything from The Sims, the original Medal of Honor, James Bond, and Harry Potter. In an industry headed by many men who don't seem to have the interests of hardcore gamers in mind, it's hopeful that a man like Danny Bilson will help fresh approaches to games keep coming.



Ben Perlee,
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