How many times have we saved planets, worlds, universes and all of their inhabitants, or watched them die, when something goes wrong? You’d think, we will get so used to it, we shouldn’t even care and just go through motions with every storyline like that. Yet still there’s a game from time to time which has familiar character personalities and storylines but makes us care about them, live with them, believe in them and love them. A game which understands, that it needs to motivate the player to do all that. Which knows, that it’s not enough to just assume that the player will just start caring on his/her own.
One of the biggest recent examples of a game, which completely confuses these priorities, was Mass Effect 3. A game which managed to both understand how to make you care, and completely miss the point, as if it’s parts were created by different people (which may be the case, actually). This game starts with the meeting of some «important people» in Earth, Reapers attack (a strange AI race, which seemingly wants to destroy all living things in the universe or at least Milky Way galaxy), death of some kid and Shepard (who is the main character) going to save everyone and everything. Already I have questions and problems with this — developers assumed that the player will care about new locations and characters, with whom and which we don’t even get properly acquainted, and which appear for a really short while in the start of the last part of the trilogy. My first reaction to all that was: «Fuck Earth! Let’s gather our forces in some other system, while most Reapers are in the Solar System!»
Now, don’t get me wrong — i care about real world Earth, real world people, countries and all the other real world stuff. This is «my» world — i was born here, i live here, i know it and i care about it. But in the Mass Effect world? I don’t give a shit about your Earth — i wasn’t even there at any point before, there’s not a single character i care about there, who can’t relocate if the Earth or even the entire Solar System get’s destroyed. Hell, i even know that humanity itself is not going to suffer that great, because a lot of humans live away from Earth or Sol. Sure, the destruction of «homeland» is going to be a tragic thing, but it’s less important when you know that the entire galaxy is in danger. And, what’s even more interesting, it seems that developers understand that too as about 80% of the game is about characters and places the player will definitely care about. You can save the Citadel again, the true home for the player, who has saved it before, knows it’s the center of the entire galactic union, and helped it’s people many times before and most characters you care about are there. So the game is about all that for the most part… but then just forgets about it, says that the Earth is important, then just turns Citadel into a lifeless plot device, disregarding everyone on it, and completely missing the point. Oh and yeah — i somehow should care about the only kid shown in the entire trilogy, who has been shown for a few moments and acted like an idiot. No thanks.
Of course, ME3 is far from being the only example. Most recent «cinematic» action games love to show mass destruction of the world famous places, expecting that mere view of that destruction will impress you, but usually they just make you yawn. For example, Modern Warfare 3 decided to drop the Eiffel Tower in one mission, but despite the pretty good audio and visuals it’s hard to care about that happening — you don’t care about the character you control, about that virtual Eiffel Tower of that virtual world of Modern Warfare. And even if i would live in Paris i doubt that moment would make me care much more, because it’s just a visual thing that has no implications for the player. Even if, for example, captain Price was in the Tower at that moment you could expect player show any emotion at the situation — it wouldn’t be just a visual cool thing, but would be something that may influence the fate of one of the most known and loved characters in the game universe. Instead, most «cinematic» shooters just expect you to care about their virtual worlds, because they’re «just like the real one!»
Or the Dishonored starting point of the story? I criticized the emptiness of the player character a lot, but even with such empty vessel, the game could make you care much more about what’s going on with a stronger start. Show Corvo’s life with the empress and her daughter, show how important these characters are to each other, how they care about one another. After this introduction, be it a short one or even not placed at the very beginning of the story, and the murder of the empress and kidnapping of lady Emily would’ve become a personal insult for the player, the personal problem he/she would want to solve. But instead the game just tells you that Corvo cared about empress and he is very upset that she’s dead, it would be enough for the player to care. It’s no surprise that Emily is the character you care more about, because you have a small interaction with her at the start of the game, which establishes her character and her relationship with Corvo quite well in just few minutes. And she becomes a more important character than her mother in player’s eyes. And, while this was probably the intent anyway, it makes the opening murder to seem completely mundane and hard to care about. Which is not a good start for a revenge story.
Obviously, the points i make here only apply to those games, which try to emphasize the story and make it the key element to motivate the player to keep playing. Although, ironically, some games with close to no story and no emphasis on it whatsoever may make you care more than those, where the story is the key, if the player has enough active imagination. And, for example, Knuckles story in Sonic games might come off as a better revenge story, than Dishonored. Mostly because, Knuckles is a memorable character. And if you have a unmemorable character in a unmemorable world it’s hard to care. Even if the unmemorable world is Earth.
P.S. Jim Sterling had a good video on a similar topic, about the importance of happy moments in sad stories, because it’s hard to care about constantly grim and depressed characters and worlds.
It’s time for the final part of the super long and exciting talk with Dan Pinchbeck. As promised, we talk about CryEngine, pros and cons of making two games at once, my dream design idea, «meaningless» assets in games, Dan gives advices on Surviva— grr…Survarium and then goes all out with his love and admiration for STALKER series. But we start with an awkward pause from the last part.
Klarden: *awkward pause* Riiiight… I had this question in my head there and forgot it -_-. Oh well, until I remember it, a rather random question instead. Why did you decide to go with CryEngine for Rapture? Was it your decision or somebody else’s on the team?
Dan Pinchbeck: No, it was a decision made by me before we employed anyone. I remember when FarCry first came out and I was playing with modding in CryEngine, I just felt that it was such a fantastic tool. So it always kinda marked as a probable engine, that if we were going to start from scratch and could choose any engine, then CryEngine would be the most likely choice. And the indie terms arrived so it seemed pretty easy to do. And I was at GDC last year and did a couple of presentations on it, and even though I’m not an artist or a coder, the way in which you can link programs up and speed you can iterate change in it, it’s just phenomenally powerful. And when you want to make an open world and decide on the engine… We looked at different engines and I knew that I wanted the visual quality to be at kinda Esther level. But there aren’t many engines out there where you can have that kind of fidelity in graphics and that kind of scale of open world. So we asked a lot of programmers using different engines, like Unity, UDK, Source… And they didn’t have the power to handle that kind of environment, all the things we wanted to do.
So we ended with the engine I wanted to work with, but it wasn’t because I just wanted to work in it, but because it was the only engine that could do it. And I’m really pleased. Crytek is very supportive, really helpful, it’s great working with them. But there are many engines for an open world. But I didn’t want it to look like it was something built with an open world engine. I wouldn’t want to build it in a Fallout engine, because it would’ve looked too much like Fallout.
So how is it… Well, Amnesia and Rapture are rather different games, and they run on different engines, so… How is it, working on two different games at once?
Oh, it’s a bit of a head trip :). So, there are two teams, which are completely separate, and I’m working on both games, Jess is writing music for both games, Samuel, the audio designer, is working on both games, programmer Maarten is doing coding for both games. Then, for Rapture we have Andrew, a great designer who is leading on the design, so I’m more of a creative director on that, and he’s actually doing the design, and then there’s a lead artist and an artist. And in Pigs I’m much more involved in the level design side, and then I’ve got another designer, who’s doing the scripting, and then we’ve got another lead artist and artist on that. So there are two separate build teams, and then the soft asset content management is shared across both games. There’s no way we could have the same art team working on both games. But the core of thechineseroom, that don’t have to be working on incredibly deep specifically technological level with the engines, can switch across both.
And I think it’s good for us. Although really really intense as it is a very hard work. It kind of stops you from getting too locked in to any of the games, you’re always being jolted back out of the game, which means that you have to get back to the game, and you’re kinda seeing it slightly differently. And there’s a rather good cross-fertilization of ideas. And you can look and go: no, we want to push it in this direction and not in this direction, because we’re doing it with this game. And I think for Rapture it’s… The good thing about doing Pigs is that between Esther and Rapture we get a game which is unequivocally a game. And we can make Pigs, cause I love the IP, and I like making a game. And then with Rapture people won’t go «oh, you just make Dear Esther-kind of stuff». We can say: no, we’re making completely different kinds of games. And we might make a much more traditional game after Rapture comes out and we chose to explore this, cause it’s an interesting thing.
So it’s good. The diversity is good… But it’s so fucking hard :). Particularly when you get to milestones, which arrive for both games at the same month…
You’re planning to release Amnesia before Rapture, right?
Yeah, the idea is that… Frictional is looking at Halloween. It’s the target date. So we will hopefully release Pigs on Halloween, if we can. And Rapture, at the moment, is going to be in 2013. But exactly when, we don’t know. We’re talking to some extra investors at the moment. Because we need more time on it.
Oh, I remembered the question. Did you try The Stanley Parable?
I actually have a new build of it… I spoke to Davey Wreden the other day and… He sent me the version of the latest build. They’re working on a new version. And I planned to play it yesterday, but then I realised I had no Portal 2 installed on PC, I had it on console. And I started downloading it and it said that the download will be ready in 14 hours… So it’s there, and I’m hoping to play it this weekend. I’ve seen bits of it and I’m really intrigued. I feel very guilty that I haven’t played it yet. It’s my weekend’s job :).
[b]Yeah, I love how he made it. You are a part of the story in a very interesting way. And while it doesn’t feel like it has an agenda, of criticising games or anything, it is a kind of a satire at the same time… And at the same time it’s also a very enjoyable game. Something that not a lot of developers can do right.
Right, so there was an idea I had I wanted to ask you about. Have you played oldschool jRPGs with all the pixel characters which often looked quite the same?[/b]
No, I could never get into them. I remember when I bought the first Playstation, I thought: I’ve got to buy Final Fantasy, I’ve gotta do this. So I bought it, got about an hour in it and just… I’m just no getting it. I can see how great it is, but it just doesn’t work for me.
So I was dreaming once and… You know how you can usually explain to yourself everything you have in the dream, while you’re dreaming. Like: yeah, I’m swimming with sharks in soup, that’s completely logical, I always do it on Sundays. And I wondered why not many games, if any, explored the concept of slightly but constantly changing, in a very subtle way, the game world and characters? So the players might not even notice it until it becomes too apparent. And to have s completely simple and mundane story at the same time, without any reality-bending or time and space manipulation stuff. So you come into the town and some NPC goes the usual: find me my ring. And you do some questing and monster slaying or whatever, return to the NPC and he’s a completely different character, but he goes like» yeah, thanks for finding my ring» as if he is the same character. And I wondered, if it is even possible to do this subtle thing right, especially without some text parser, so the player can actually write like «what the hell is going on», when he notices that something is wrong?
Hmm… Some elements of that are done in some games, yeah. Even in Esther, Rob’s put some things in it, where you have different objects in the environment. So you’re just going «did I just see that? Was that here a minute ago?» I really like this kind of concept. Oh, and Amnesia does this in some places. I think that it’s because of the model… Well, the model is: if you make and expensive game, and you make an asset, you want to get everything you can out of that asset, cause it costs too much. So the idea of chucking stuff away, that might not be noticed, becomes really really problematic.
And, again, it goes to things like what GSC did with STALKER. You can find the entire building complexes, and there’s nothing in them, no gameplay. And in traditional game design, it’s just ridiculous. It’s a laughable way of building levels, because you go: this asset costs money, what is its functional work in the game? But it’s a brilliant game because it has this extra stuff in it. And if you build something extra it kinda goes, that if you’re building something that we should make sure that enough players notice it. And for that we’re going to make it more obvious. And then suddenly the entire point of doing it in the first place is gone.
But I think people should do more things like that. Cause it unsettles you. Because the idea of feeling that something’s wrong, but not quite getting why you feel like that creates a really fantastic emotional state for the player. And if the player is in that state… It’s like why Amnesia is such a good game, cause you constantly don’t know what’s going on. So everything becomes significant. And you start scrutinizing the environment and going: «That was something! What does it mean? What does that mean? What’s this gonna do? What is that?» But no, they’re all static objects, yet you’re doing so much more work as a player. So I think that’s something to explore more in design, definitely.
And the fun thing with games like STALKER is that, it was so long in development and maybe one of those unused buildings was going to have a purpose, but it never happened. And other games, that had more planned, like Soul Reaver, and, probably, Silent Hill also have this stuff. Like in Silent Hill you have this huge town, and most of it is actually empty. There are some small easter eggs, like «REDRUM» written somewhere on the wall, but it’s mostly nothing. And, as a player, you’re always thinking that it does have some purpose. You’re going: well, maybe if I play it like 50 times, something will change on the level, something new will appear? And the player tries that. He plays the game more and every time explores those places. And nothing changes. But he still wants to find something.
You want to, yes, I think that’s the point. And it kinda rewards that investment. Cause if the environment is great, it’s atmospheric and everything else, it’s kind of its own reward. And i find those locations, even if they don’t have gameplay in them, rewarding to go in. Because you feel so sucked in the atmosphere, in the game world, that you’re just enjoying it.
Skyrim does this really well too. The best bits of Skyrim for me are outside quests and outside dungeons, where just being in the world is rewarding. It’s that idea in the game design, that if there’s a situation in the game it has to be exploited to the max, it has to stimulate the player constantly and you get only one type of emotional experience if you do that. But if you have the space, just time to stop and take in the world, being in the world… Red Dead Redemption does it brilliantly. My favourite moment in Red Dead Redemption is you sitting on horse, on a hill, watching the sun go down. And you’re so engaged in the game. And it’s why I far prefer Red Dead Redemption to Grand Theft Auto. Because you don’t get those moments of: I’m here, I feel like I’m here, I feel, like this is a real space.
Ok, so since we’re almost running out of time to talk… (We planned this a bit better than the last time — Klarden) You’re really excited about Surv— Survivar— Survarium… Ugh, the Vostok Games’ game.
So what you, as a fan of STALKER, a fan of STALKER from another country, would like to see in that game?
I think, the thing which STALKER could never do was that you could never get those social hubs. Cause it was AI. And it wasn’t the fault of the STALKER design team or the engine, it’s just AI, it’s always going to be just AI. But I remember playing Call of Pripyat and thinking: but if these were players, and it wasn’t like the bandits are gonna get together and wipe out the stalkers, but you’re actually there with someone around, who’s going to say: «Hey, see that guy? He’s been trading a lot of artefacts. Let’s follow him, knock him off and shove him in a boiler and take what he’s got.» Those things will kinda emerge, and i think, if they pull it off, that’s where it’s got its real potential, where you have this human side of it. You know, like: «we’re probably gonna be dead tomorrow, so let’s just go and do this».
The issue they’re gonna have, I think, that if they overpopulate this kind of world it loses its power. So it’s how you manage enough social complexity in multiplayer, while having the space around. And not turning into faction wars, which, I think, was why Clear Skies is least liked. But I think, what they’ve clearly got as a team is a way of looking at the world, which is still really unique. So if they can get that sense, that vision in the world, provide they keep it sparse, so when you see another player, it’s like «oh, I’ve seen someone!» And it may stop being a bulletfest, because it may be the first time you see the player in two hours.
I haven’t still played it, but just installed it, this new mod called DayZ, which is kinda a zombie apocalypse game, but it looked a lot of, what I hoped Survivar— Survarium would do. That you don’t see other people too often, but when you see them there’s a really weird edge in «it’s a person, and actual person! But they might kill me.» And how you manage that. But if you shoot them, if there’s a lot of zombies around, or other dangerous stuff around, by shooting them, you’ve probably killed yourself. Because you need to team up and work together. And if they get that thing of forcing players to work together because the environment is so dangerous, then it can be a really interesting game.
And I really want them to make a great game. Cause I think they’re a really good studio, who got… From what information is publicly available here, that they’re completely screwed. But I think they deserve to make good games, cause they’ve made good games so far. So, I hope it’s not multiplayer in a kinda classic way, with deathmatch and everything and there’s not much of the factions going, and it’s not a highly populated space. But it’s difficult in terms of server costs. If you try and take a lot of players, you’ll have a limited number of players in each game. You need kinda Left 4 Dead kind of recourses. But imagine Left 4 Dead with only 10% of all the creatures in it. And each creature is 100% more dangerous. It would be a great experience. No ammo cache, you start with 6 bullets, you manage the bullets you’ve got left, there might or might not be some things that can kill you by just looking at you. And you’re absolutely relying on other people you have in the squad. That’s a really cool model for a game.
Yeah, and if it has stuff like Demon’s/Dark Souls thing of seeing other players, but maybe not interacting with them, or people who just get in your game world unexpectedly.
Oh and things like in Roadside Picnic, where you have all the things in the Zone and no one actually knows if they exist or not. People say that they’ve seen or heard about them, but you kinda know that half of it is bullshit. And if they have those social hubs, one of the things I would do is employing people to go into the space… So, you never actually hardcode the story, you just bring people in, who just say: hey, guys, I’ve just got back from this space and there’s a lot of cool stuff there. And it’s a complete lie. If you go in, rather than relying on Ai or a hardscript, set up this space, have random drops and spawns and everything else, some keyset environments, but then create the story by dropping in people into the game pretending to be just other players, and see the story build this way and develop the mythology, develop those kind of things, like items and other stuff. Has someone, who goes in and says: «There’s a new type of creature we’ve seen, and he’s based in that part of a city. And we’ve lost three people.» And no one’s seen it before, developers didn’t announce any new creatures, is it actually there or not? So players flood in and try to find it. And it doesn’t matter if they find it or not.
And it’s kind of world they were really good at making with STALKER. It felt like there was a lot of unknown stuff. And the thing like they did with the Heart of the Oasis — you hear the thing referenced a few times and you guess that you probably would end up being there at some point, but you don’t know for sure. Because there was stuff in the game, that wasn’t actually as told. One of the coolest things that you could do with STALKER games, is just take all the environments from all three games, batch them together into one big open world and just dump players in it. And that would probably be enough for most players, without any singleplayer campaign. Like that… oh, what’s his name… The Oblivion Lost mod… Kanyhalos! So, yeah, where you could cook artefacts in anomalies. So you finish the singleplayer campaign and you’re released back in the world and it get constantly respawned. So you can take an artefact and through it in the anomaly, then you have to sleep and… It was just a really cool and I got hours and hours out of that. Because it’s just a great world to spend time in. So that’s what they’re good at. That’s what they should focus at.
Yeah, and let the community to make stories for them.
Right, so I think, it’s time up?
Hmm, well, I still have about 10 minutes, if you wanted to ask about something else.
Well… Do you know how big STALKER was for Ukraine?
I can guess :). It was the first game of that scale.
[b]Yeah, we have this joke… I don’t know if it’s a translation or an original joke that «every novice game developer wants to create his own Fallout.» And STALKER was kinda like that. Like: «Wow, we’re going to have Ukrainian Fallout! That’s so amazing!» And GSC did some good stuff before, like, they did the Cossacks games, which were good and popular. And they did some stupid stuff, like there was an unauthorized StarCraft translation supposedly made by them which was completely broken and awful. But Cossacks were great, so people were really excited.
And… I was personally disappointed with STALKER, because I just had so much expectations for it. I still admire the stuff it did, but… I haven’t even played Call of Pripyat yet. I remember, i pre-ordered Clear Skies and I’ve installed it and start playing… And there are people walking on air, and game crashes constantly and… I’m just: «What the hell?! I paid money for it and the previous game, how could you do that?» So I wasn’t really that excited for Call of Pripyat. And the joke’s on me, as from what I’ve heard it’s the best game in the series.[/b]
Yeah, but I still prefer Shadow of Chernobyl. Cause it’s kinda like BioShock, it’s never going to be as BioShock 1, cause BioShock tells the best story there is to tell in that space. (I stay silent -_- — Klarden) But what I love about Call of Pripyat is that they didn’t bother to try and make it a big epic thing, it’s a really small story. A bunch of helicopters have crashed, you’ve gotta find them, you’ve gotta find the survivors and get out. And that’s it. And that’s what it does, it doesn’t build up to some world shattering thing, just «that’s it». And I really admire that. And this is all about the Zone and being in the Zone. You don’t want to destroy the Zone, you don’t want to make it different from what it is, the drama is that how you get from one side to the other in one piece. So yeah, it’s really good.
Clear skies are a bit… yeah. *we laugh* But you know, what I think? I think, the problem with Clear Skies is that the Shadow of Chernobyl was the hit in the west. And they went «we gotta make the game which is more western-friendly. We gotta try to make it a bit more like western shooters.» And the reason why Shadow of Chernobyl is so good in a similar way to why Metro is so good, is cause it doesn’t feel like an American studio made it. It feels like it comes from a different place, with a different worldview and it’s tapped into all of that stuff. And it saturates the game and gives it a really unique feel. And I like making my students play STALKER (yes, it’s an actual requirement for Dan’s students to play STALKER among the classic games, like Tetris — Klarden), cause most of them are console players. So, you know, if they’re playing shooters, they play Call of Duty. And, probably, a bit of Half-Life. And you put them in STALKER and they come back in a week and go: «It’s just so ridiculously difficult! I’m getting killed constantly!» And I’m like: «Yeah, you can’t play it like that. You will bleed to death. You’ll starve. You will run out of bread. You’ll kill for bread in this game.» And that’s deeply cool. It makes Fallout look like a comedy life of the Simpsons. And I love how bleak it is.
I also remember that when the Shadow of Chernobyl was developed, there wasn’t a very epic story in it. There was a Monolith. And you were going to get there eventually. Probably. Because, there was this concept, that the game could finish even if you don’t get there. Like, when they played with that A-Life AI thing, there was an idea, that AI stalkers could actually get to the end of the game before you do.
Haha, I love this idea.
Yeah, it’s sad they cut it out. I mean, I get why they did it. Because people would go: oh, I was playing it for 15 hours and the game finished without me being there.
But they still did that thing with the Monolith endings. Where if you don’t follow the subquest, you would reach the end of the game but then die horribly. And it’s so brilliant. No big budget western developer will ever have the balls to do something like that. Just going: «You know that little thing you picked up 14 hours ago? yeah, well, you probably should’ve followed that subquest. Sorry, try again!» And you couldn’t just replay the last level to get a better ending, you have to go back to halfway through the game. And I loved it. «We’re going to make no concessions to you.» I was really surprised, given that it was THQ that they got away with that. And kudos to THQ for either missing it or just letting them do it.
Oh and I remember when Half-Life 2 came out in 2004, and there’s this moment when you’re given your trusty crowbar and there’s a train yard, and some music plays… And we’re sitting in front of my PC with my friend and we just go: «Oh my god, this feels and sounds exactly like that STALKER trailer. Valve were influenced by STALKER!»
Oh, it wouldn’t surprise me :).
[b]Yeah, we were just… Mind blown. And that trailer for STALKER was amazing, by the way. I kinda like it more than the game itself, it was so amazing. And I really wanted the game to be something like that.
But yeah, it was really big. People started live action role-playing before it got released.[/b]
Oh, it started before? Cause I’ve seen some of the footage. And it’s just so crazy. Live action role-play over here is just, you know, a couple of people going to the pub wearing fur and carrying some foam maces and going: buy me some ale, barmen! And I’m like: no-no, hardcore live action role-playing is huddle down in sub-zero temperatures with replica or decommissioned AK-47s pretending you’re in the Zone in the middle of Ukraine- that’s live action role-playing.
People started writing fan fiction and doing stuff like that almost instantly after STALKER was announced. We had the amazing movie and Roadside Picnic, so people knew what it’s going to be pretty much about. And the game itself was probably influenced by this fan fiction, live action role-playing and other community-made things. We had those «diggers», or how you call them (according to wikipedia, they’re part of «urban exploration» — Klarden), in the subway tunnels or some abandoned shafts or whatever, role-playing, pretending to be stalkers. So it’s not that surprising that people here got a bit more disappointed with the games, because they were not what most people expected them to be. I guess, it was more of a surprise hit for anyone outside Ukraine or Russia, but here people just went: this is not what you’ve promised!
I’m amazed that they even finished the games. I played with 2004 build of the game and you just kinda go: «Pfft. Yeah, about 20 years more, and you’ll get the game done.» It was… slightly ambitious :).
And with that Dan had to go continue his hard work of managing two projects at once. Hopefully, we’re going to see some more info on Everybody’s Gone to Rapture and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs very soon. And there is a probability, that there is new info available, when you’re reading this. And also hopefully, this is not the last time I had a chance to have a talk with Dan.[youtube]
This may sound strange at first, but Handsome Jack from Borderlands 2 and Duke Nukem from his latest Forever game have much more in common, than it first seems. However, Jack has something, that Duke lacks - charisma. And i find it very strange, since Duke is supposed to be the hero.
Both Handsome Jack and Duke Nukem (in Forever) are "I'm rich, I'm famous, I'm vain, I'm glitz, I'm the story" Mister Hollywood kind of characters. Both are arrogant, quite antisocial, do very brutal and murderous things, make very inappropriate jokes, have very grim sense of humor, think of themselves very highly and consider themselves to be the main heroes in their stories. However, while it is actually true in Duke's case, Jack manages to steal the show, at least for the first half of the game, while Duke constantly struggles to be interesting to the player.
Throught the entire first half of Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack comes off as a mysterious Heath Ledger's Joker-type character - the one you can't help but want to see and hear more of, while being scared and disgusted of him at the same time and wanting to murder him when the chance presents itself. And even in the second half of the game, when Jack is given much more backstory and he becomes more of a disgustingly pathetic and cowardly person, you can't help but want to hear more of him. You love to hate him - the perfect formula for a treacherous and shifty villain.
Duke Nukem, however, is supposed to be the character you actually like in Forever. He is the hero, he is the person you control in the game. You have to laugh with him and, at times, at him. Yet, it's hard to do so. Now, part of that may come from the fact, that Duke Nukem Forever is just not a good game itself, and that may be a pretty important part. But even so, the character himself feels forced, not fun or funny. Even without going into "that infamous rape joke" discussion.
It's interesting to see this huge difference in seemingly similar characters. And while some people might rightfully argue, that Duke Nukem Forever was made by 3D Realms, and Gearbox just "finished" it, i can't help but feel, that a lot of Duke's characterization came from the people in Gearbox. I mean, it's not like it's the first time we see them doing some pretty creepy main characters - I still remember E3 2011 trailer of Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 where I actually felt sorry for the nazis being mercilessly and brutally slaughtered by a band of crazies, who were supposed to be main heroes. So, while i really wish to see more Duke in the future (and get those XBLA version features of Duke Nukem 3D on PC), I'd like to see more "Handsome Jacks" in videogames. Because he was cool, you know? Kay, bye.
So, IO decided to do a huge spoiler on one story point of Hitman Absolution. Something, that i didn't get was the reasoning behind the thing that happens int hat spoiler - it was necessary "to bring emotion to a character like 47". Now, i still hope Absolution turns out to be a good game and everything, but... Why would 47 NEED emotion?
That may sound strange, especially from a huge fan of a good story in a game like me, but Hitman is fine without "emotion". hell, it's fine without a story, apart from the background one. 47 has a background we know, Agency has a background we know, there may be some "bad guys" or "conspiracies", who want 47 dead. With that out of the way, can i play the missions now?
Hitman series work fine with thought out gameplay-wise missions, each of them containing a mini-story of some sort to give it some background, to give us a reason to go on the mission and play it the way we want. An important part, but very small and forgettable, as it's only a tool to get us a bit more involved with the main course - gameplay. Contacts had no coherit story or noticable connection between missions and who cared - it played amazing, we loved it. Hell, the infamous Saints trailer for Absolution would be fine, if only it was not so retarded in it's setup, even by the already silly Hitman standards.
It surprises me how some indie games, like Super Meat Boy, give us what we want from it - gameplay, and don't give a damn about "emotions", while Hitman, loved for the very same reason, the gameplay, suddenly needs those "emotions brought to the character of 47". What emotion did you have while playing batman: Arkham Asylum? Probably the one called "I'm Batman!" You play as a bald guy with a barcode on his head who is supposed to be the ultimate killer in his fictional world and can decide who lives and who dies. You are, effectively, a superhero. Add great gameplay and what else do you need?
I have noticed this thing a lot, but recent Max Payne 3 became the last straw and I can't stay silent about this issue anymore. I don't understand, why exactly so many developers force their "great cinematic moments" in our mouth, completely ignoring the magic the player creates while simply playing the game. Why do they doubt the power of the medium they create in?
"Max Payne is hanging under the helicopter. There are enemies on the landing pad shooting at him. Suddenly, one of the enemies brings a rocket launcher and shoots. Time slows and Max has to shoot down the rocket in the air." It certainly looked good on paper. In practice? I rolled my eyes and sighed. 5 seconds later it happened again and i my eyes were looking iside my head. Later, this "shooting down a rocket/grenade/molotov cocktail in dangerous situation in slow-mo" happened about 15 times more and i had a palm tree growing on my face (it's gone now - i got better).
Max Payne 3 was criticised a lot for "cutscenes". But that's not the problem, not in the concept of the "cutscene" itself, when the game shows you something while you're not in control. Problem lied in the fact, that each shooting down the rocket, each "cool moment", the chain ride or water tower falling, developers were emphasizing the "cinematic" moment, which could've been created during the gameplay. Maybe not in the exact same way, maybe worse, maybe better. Rockstar have this incredible (albeit sometimes glitchy) ragdoll physics enginein the game, made every shoot, every jump, every kill at least a bit unique and gave the tools for creating "cool cinematic moments" in the player's hands. And you can create them yourself, easily, by just playing. And you could in older Max Payne games, which lacked the cool ragdoll physics and look dated today. And then Rockstar seem to have started doubting the tools they have created themselves, and started forcing the player to experience the pre-scripted, akmost always same "cool moments", taking away from the player something, that made the game fun and interesting in the first place. And made their own game worse.
But Max Payne 3 is just a recent example. I noticed this issue before and, it seems, will see it again. But i'm noticing the issue just because of what i can do in the game, and what the game lets you do. I was annoyed at some things in Mass Effect 3 (apart from the ending), or even the second one, when you were forced to replicate specific actions developers want you to do, in order to see something "awesome", which is often necessary to progress. But in fact, i felt awesome each time i did a headshot with my Sentinel's sniper rifle, during a heated and hard battle. I created those awesome moments, i still remember, by using the tools the game gave me. Slow-mo during the aiming, something that made the moments looking good, was a simple gameplay mechanic, used in every single battle. My squad members and my enemies just did their AI scripts, just as they did in every other battle. Those were tools to create a "cinematic moment" and i used those tools and created those moments. When i wanted and how i wanted. And i felt truly good. And i never feel good when the game forces me to blow up that thing or we die (because enemies will spawn infinitely until you do that and see a cool BOOM)". Your cool BOOM is just an visual effect, i see and can create myself, when i decide to blow something up. It does not become cool if you force me to do it, even if i destroy all the enemy troops with it in a cool way - it just becomes a simple mechanical motion i need to do to progress further.
This doubt of game developers in the abilities of the games they create is also surprising, when you look at multiplayer games. Games, which are not know for scripted moments, and yet they constantly prove that players can create "cinematic moments" using the game as a tool. Every developer may understand that by just going to youtube. Ignoring all the wubwubwub NO SCOPE 720 1337 PRO videos, you can start with some classic example, like LoopZook. And move from there, looking how people make amazing tricks in some Quake or Unreal Tournament 2004. How cleverly they play Spy in TF2, or juggle the turrets' rockets back as a Pyro. As they gotta go fast grab the flag, kill the chasers with precise blue-plate specials, kill the enemy with the flag, return the flag and finally score the point in Tribes: Ascend. These are multiplayer games, created to play good and look good at it. But Mass Effect, Max Payne, some Battlefield 3 or CoD-games in singleplayer are also created to look good while people play them. And they do look good. So why the doubt?
I'm playing games for many years now, and i go "wow" during playing rather often. I created "cinematic awesome moments" in games a million times, be it a tricky jump in a platformer, be it a hard won battle in an RPG, be it a difficult situation in an arcade racing game, or a multiplayer battle. If the game looks great while it's being played, you don't have to force the player to do "awesome things". You shouldn't take away the ability to chose or control from the player just to show him/her something, that can be done while just playing this game, in this engine, with these animations and sounds. Because if i can do something awesome, i want the choice - i want to choose if i want to do it or not. When i make that choice, when i get a "cool cinematic" thing, as a result of my choice, i go "wow". Shooting rockets down in Max Payne 3? Boring.
P.S. And if someone thinks that the problem lies just with the cutscenes - it doesn't. Cutscenes can (and in some game designs should) be used, just used right. They are a simple tools - developer decides how to use them.
And a week after, here’s a new part of my talk with Dan Pinchbeck, the creative director of thechineseroom. This time, we’re going to talk a bit more about the two new projects of the studio, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but not without talking about his influences and his undying love for STALKER and Metro.
In the third part of the talk specifically, we discuss the importance of music, sound design and voice acting for games, the importance of narrative and characters over the plot, the reasons why Amnesia was a scary game and why Daniel’s character was the best part of Amnesia story.
Dan Pinchbeck: Hmm, no… Wow, I have no idea, actually. :D There’s stuff in the game, which Rob’s put in, and I don’t know about it. When I was looking at the betas and stuff like that, I was just constantly: I didn’t know that was there, it’s really cool! So, I’ll ask Rob.
I guess this is the illustration of some philosophical questions asked in Dear Esther.
Yeah, there’s definitely a deep significance in that Cthulhu and ice cream cones. It relates to the story of Dear Esther, yeah.
A bit of a general question, but something really important to me personally: how important is music to you in your life? Does it influence your ideas, including the game design?
Massively. I used to work in a music venue, promote some bands and stuff like that. It’s completely central. And Jess and I are married, and she’s a composer… And it definitely influences the choices we make professionally. And we worked on a few things before we started making games. And I’ve always felt that what she aims at musically, type of music she does and type of writing I do… They just fit really naturally.
And I think that music in games… Audio in general, but music in particular, is incredibly underexplored in terms of how powerful it is in user experience. And it’s so cheap, compared to the other aspects of the game development. I remember playing Mass Effect and the music is really big and cinematic, but I think they did synth strings on it. On a game that big they didn’t use the real strings. And it makes such a big difference, to the warmth of the sound, to how human it sounds. It really grounds you in the world. And I was really shocked they didn’t break from synthesizer for that.
So I think it’s central. Every bit as important as visuals. But maybe it’s kinda harder to talk about music, unless you’re someone who knows music really well, if you’re a musician or a composer. And a lot of people I know, who work in sound with games, do get this frustration, like: this stuff is so important, but it’s difficult to… explain. Like you can say: there is this number of polygons. But with music it’s different.
I think it was last year that I interviewed Bobby Prince, the Doom composer, and he was talking about doing the game composition during the early 90s, where they’d have to write the software first of all. And because the file sizes were supposed to be small, they were going through a track and literally lifting out a note at a time. Cause each note would be worth like 5k, and they were trying to crunch it down within.
But in modern games it’s so important. But it also has to be working below the radar, I think. In terms of steering an emotional response for the player. This is what I liked in STALKER — most of the ambient tracks are brilliantly put together. Because they’re not necessarily in your face, but constantly adjusting the mood. So yeah, it’s central to everything we do. And central for me personally.
I remember first understanding the importance of music to the game atmosphere, when I played the first Silent Hill. Yamaoka created something that was completely unexpected. That music was constantly… «grinding» your nerves.
And we watched on the original Amnesia, when working on Pigs. And the sound design there is just so… I mean, they’re doing so much with audio. If you put a weaker soundtrack on the game, and you’ll completely rip the spine out of it in terms of experience, and particularly in terms of fear. It’s just so really well put together. I think it’s conceived of as not something which is there because music’s ought to be there. But it’s an integral game design tool. And, I think, that’s why it worked really really well. It’s the same kind of attitude that we have to writing, we have to music. No, this is a game design tool, it’s not something that’s just there because it’s ought to be there. It has to earn its place, have a functional effect on a player. And that’s how, I think, you create a good soundtrack. By thinking in these terms.
[b]Like in LIMBO there was almost no soundtrack, but those industrial sounds were creating something like a soundtrack which added something to the experience.
Did you have something playing in your head, when you were writing Esther, before Jessica wrote the soundtrack?[/b]
Yeah, I had some of earlier work of hers. There was a piece that she had written which was about… about 30 minutes long. And when the environments were getting built I felt, that the tone was there for the game, long before we knew anything about the story or anything like that. We not only built with the music playing, but also laced that music in the environment quite early on. I was kinda going: I think this music here, or section here that she had prewritten would fit and that’s the kind of emotion we want here. We used that as a build tool all the way. And one of the pieces which we used, when we started building the cave section was a very very very early version of Always, which is in game anyway. And it’s been prewritten, but then she rewrote and remastered it for the actual in-game piece. But when it was in the caves, it felt like the caves and that piece of music… there was no way of pulling them apart. So, it’s one part of the soundtrack which pre-existed the game.
And we’re doing it with Pigs now, where she’s been writing pieces based on some concepts we’ve written, then we’re using it in the early builds of the levels, and then readjust those as we go through. And Sam Justice, the audio designer… his ambient loops and lot of the noises and effects go in there incredibly early. And I think it really helps us in terms of… the art and design teams just can go: yes, that’s the mood, that’s the feel we want the player to go through at this point. Rather than going: well, we have an area, now we have to sculpt the soundtrack around it.
How important, do you think, was Nigel’s work for the success of Dear Esther?
Completely essential. The story with the voiceovers is that originally we used… Well, when the environment was just being built and wasn’t ready… This is on a mod level, so you can imagine how crude it was :). So we brought a guy to do a kind of a placeholder. And he came into the studio, and did what seemed like a really good performance. Like a radio drama, it was really really good. And then we put it in the game and it was just terrible. Because, he’d kinda put an emotional intensity into it that would’ve worked really well on radio, but seemed completely melodramatic when it was in game. And I was really gutted because of it, cause I really liked it at first, but then it was just: …it doesn’t work. So we knew that we had to find a different voice. And it was apparent, that the tone of the voice would make a really big difference. Not just the ability to act, but also the quality of the voice. And Jess and I spent about 3 days on the casting websites, listening to different actor voice reels. And then we hit Nigel’s, played it for about 30 seconds, then looked at each other and just said: that’s him, that’s who’s doing the game! And he was fantastic. I think, he’s seen the script only the day before, and he walked into the studio, did the entire script at the run and then we went back through and did two alternate versions of the voice cues, raising the emotional intensity, lowering the emotional intensity. And I think we actually ended up using his first take on pretty much all the voiceovers in the entire game. He just completely nailed it straight off. And when we brought him back for the new bits in the commercial version, there were things which were written in there, which, I think… Once he really brought that character to life and I had to get back to writing, I almost though that I know the character better now, when he made the voiceover for him. And i think, Dear Esther is, in a way, four people’s work: Rob’s amazing work, Jess’ amazing work, i guess, my writing, and Nigel’s voiceover. I think, if any one of those things would be falling below in quality it wouldn’t have worked. His voice is what pulls players through most of the time. And players really invest in him. And he was amazing at communicating the emotions in a very subdued way. Even though the script is quite emotional, particularly in the end. And, I think, it is what makes it work on the emotional end of it.
Yeah, he sounds natural. Like he is the character.
And we’ve been working with other voice actors since, and I’ve never had to do as little work as I had to do with Nigel. He just got it. A total professional. I hope he does more games, I think, he’s really good at it. His voice sounds good in games.
But you’re not working with him on Pigs or Rapture?
No, I think we need a space before we work with him again. Because, it was so central, what he does to Esther, so if we used him in either of these games, people would just be: it’s the Dear Esther voice man.
Yeah, kind of typecasting.
But without a doubt, I would want to work with him on another game. Just got to wait a bit of time before we do it again. Because, he’s fantastic.
I recently noticed that with most games I love, it’s more about the narration, the characters and the setting, then the story. If you look at the story itself of most games, it’s not very good. Even the Silent Hill 2, which is usually getting the «bestest story evar» kind of thing, is not that good as a story. The topics and themes are great, the setting is unforgettable, and characters are amazing, but the story itself — not so much. And it was similar with Amnesia — i don’t really remember all the bits of the story there. I remember the characters, their voices and how the story was presented to me. So, how do you think, is the narrative, the characters and other tools which present the story for the player are more important than the story itself in videogames?
Jess’ mom used to write for soap operas and dramas for television and radio. And she always said that, if you start from the plot, you end up with a weaker story. You need to start with characters and have good memorable characters, characters that feel real. And then, you place them in situations and the story naturally emerges from that. And it’s far more important to have that, than it is to say «this is what’s happening in the world». And I think that really holds true to games as well. Because you’ve got player in the middle and the player is thinking about what he’s doing, and they’re more likely to remember their path than the plot particularly.
But I think the problem in videogames is, that quite often to justify the length of the singleplayer campaign, which has reduced and it’s a good thing, developers try to constantly reinvent and twist the plot. And it ends up with the plot that is more difficult to remember and much weaker, because you’re going: I didn’t need that extra twists, I didn’t need those things to make sense. And the best videogame stories are the ones which have very simple plot structures. Because you’re concentrating so much on what you’re doing, what it means to you, that if they start saying: and than this, and then this, and then this… You’ll just go: enough story, it’s just too much. And you wouldn’t accept it in a film. Like those films where it keeps twisting, than twisting back on itself, and then twisting back on itself again and by the end of it, you’re just like: ugh, just tell the fucking story!
I think we should just chill out about what story is, and just say — story is there as a functional gameplay device. To conduct and steer and manipulate the player’s experience. And if it’s not doing that, there’s no point in it being there. Unless you’re writing some kind of an MMO and players expect a ton of lore and backstory, or in Skyrim, where people want huge chunks of information. But in games like, say, Crysis 2 — it has far too much story than it needed. Because it was basically: you’re running around ruinedNew Yorkshooting squid-aliens. And that’s what I really like about Doom, and what id did with RAGE as well is that it goes: yeah, you’re driving around, it’s Mad Max, you’re shooting things in the face with a shotgun. If you don’t need a story — don’t have a story. If that’s enough, then you’re fine.
And this is what I loved about Silent Hill, is that it made no sense at all. And they went like: oh, you don’t want to understand it, it’s so weird, you’re mad. And it was really inspirational to me. Like that worst ending I mentioned last time. You just have absolutely no idea what happened, but it’s really powerful and it stays with you. And you remember it because of that. So I don’t think that you have to have a plot, that makes absolute sense, and lots of complexity in it. That often makes the game weaker, rather than stronger.
I think the only series, which could pull this off right, was Legacy of Kain series.
Oh, I love Legacy of Kain.
But I think that was partially because of what an amazing job Amy Hennig did with the script. Which also shows now, when she’s working on Uncharted series. But most games with very complex stories and lots of characters and time manipulation or whatever become boring eventually. Even Rockstar made games, like GTA series… halfway through the game i don’t remember most characters. I’m just driving around in a car and suddenly someone calls mu character to go and hang out somewhere, and I’m just: who the fuck are you?
Yeah, we kinda went from the crisis of story in the games, to like: we must have the story it’s really important! Yes, it is important and can be a powerful tool. But saying «it’s critically important»? It’s as critically important as having 3D in the movies. It doesn’t make a good movie great and doesn’t make a shit movie good. It’s just there, because someone thought it’s ought to be there, and someone invested in it. If you can’t pinpoint a proper functional reason why this should be here at this point — it shouldn’t be there. I find Skyrim a bit like that. I’m just: I don’t care about any of you.
And it’s what i loved in the original Half-Life. It has, pretty much, no characters in it. Just Freeman, just you, and you concentrate on that. And in HL2 they just went: we’ve got Alyx, we’ve got Kleiner, we’ve got Breen and we’ve got Eli, and that’s pretty much it. And it’s a small amount of characters, but enough for people to invest in them. And Valve made, so you spent time with them and start caring about them. And they’re very well written. They’ve invested in characters much more than in plot. The plot in Half-Life 2 is the same old shit, but the reason why it works is because you really care about the characters, which’re in it. And it means something. Because it’s people’s reactions to a plot.
I also loved how they constantly try to subtly remind you of who the character is, and what his purpose is in the game. If you haven’t played Half-Life for a bit, you see those characters doing their things or placed in environments, which constantly remind you of who they are.
Yeah, Valve always invest in characters. They understand that the characters are far more important than the plot in games. And usually the games with weaker stories don’t have memorable characters in them. And that’s why it’s hard to remember them. In films as well, you’re kinda experience the plot through the characters. And if they have a good characterization in films, you forgive them a lot of other stuff. Because you’re invested in it.
You just want to see cool characters do cool stuff, most of the time.
Right, so… it’s been a month, I forgot what I wanted to ask… -_- Oh, right! Last time we were talking about one of the reasons why Amnesia was so powerful, that Frictional used the lack of information about the game to play with the players. But, what do you think was the most important reason Amnesia is considered so scary?
Well, one of the reasons Amnesia is terrifying… because you can’t kill anything. I think you can’t underplay that. If you see something and it sees you — you’re dead. And once you establish that, it’s just inherently very very frightening. Also there’s the thing that they didn’t have repeat gameplay. So apart from knowing that you can hide in the cupboard, and that they can see your light, every time you get in a situation, you can’t fall back on the same skills and tricks. And you don’t know how to get through each situation. In most shooters, including survival horrors, things go like this: I’m going into a space, things are going to come at me, I will shot them, and then it will be safe for me to move on. And because you couldn’t fall back on that idea in Amnesia, every time you’re going into a situation, you’re going: I don’t know what’s gonna happen here. And that’s inherently frightening.
And it’s very irregular in terms of the design. When you’re looking at the levels in the engine, and when you look at the original design documents, there’s no big deal about continuity, about how big the levels are, and what kind of rooms there are. Some of them are hubs, some of them are linear. And if you look at it from a kinda academic viewpoint, it’s a real mess. But it’s not a mess, it’s very clever, because it means that you don’t fall into predicting what’s going to be around the next corner, what’s gonna be in the next level. So it constantly undermines the player’s knowledge about what’s happening. You feel constantly on edge, because you can never know what’s going on. The light mechanic is very clever, but it’s obvious for the player to get.
And I think, the game’s just designed well. For a lot of games, you might have a good concept behind them, but most great games have it implemented really well. Like Metro. Metro is a great game, because of how it’s made, and the care and attention and balance. It’s a brilliant concept. But not that different from other post-apocalyptic concepts. But it’s done really really well. That’s much harder to quantify and pin down on a single good idea. And with Amnesia it’s the same. They had a lot of focus, a lot of attention on sculpting the player experience. And making sure that player never gets too comfortable. I think the torture rooms level was really well. It shows all the limitations of the engine, and the fog looks a bit crappy… But suddenly you’re in a massive open space, and you kinda go: ok, everything I’ve learned up to this point is useless, there’s no way to hide. And it’s terrifying. And it’s like you’re starting the game all over again. Which is just crazy.
*Dan suddenly has to answer one of his team members. Apparently, one of their software licenses for Everybody’s gone to the Rapture didn’t arrive in time, so they have to make up for the time lost.*
Alright, let’s carry on :).
Not going into too much detail to not spoil surprises, are you using some of these and other concepts from the original Amnesia in A Machine for Pigs, or are you going for something completely different?
No, it’s definitely an Amnesia game. And I think, what we’re trying to preserve is the type of the experience the player has. So, while we’re changing some of the mechanics and doing stuff that is very different in terms of the design, the really important thing about it is that people… will recognize it as an Amnesia game. And it’s really important to protect that. Because Amnesia is done so well. There’s no point in going: we’re doing a sequel, so we have to evolve and change everything. There’s no point in changing things that are brilliant and work really really well. It’s about finding different ways of doing those things. Making a different experience, but retaining the essence of what the original game is.
For me the priority… It’s kinda thinking: how can we make a slightly deeper and more complex story going on. There are bits of Amnesia, of the original story I kinda don’t like. That it descends into a kinda more Lovecraftian thing, which is not as interesting as the stuff that’s going on in the first part of the game. And we’re trying to focus on… What in my opinion is the strongest part of Amnesia story is Daniel’s character. And the idea that you have this person, who has done those awful awful things and why has he done it. And for me that «why has he done it» and him coming to terms of why has he done it is the most interesting part of Amnesia story. And I’m much less interested in Alexander, than I’m in Daniel. So, trying to find those kind of iconic characters and those kinds of relationships so people really care and really invest in the characters and the world is really important. And having that kind of emotional journey all the way through, so you’re never just playing the game. And I think that is staying true to Amnesia but trying to do it in a slightly different way.
What I really loved about Daniel in Amnesia is that… In Penumbra series, you were playing a different character, who also was not just your avatar but was also kinda you. Yet in the end of the second game he does something, which you probably wouldn’t do yourself and it completely breaks your connection to the character. And in Amnesia, Daniel still is a different character, but you decide how he comes in terms of his discoveries about his past, and, kinda, shape him. And they did different endings for this concept too. Are you also doing something like this? Like… giving the player the ability to shape the character story?
Yeah, I really liked what Amnesia did with Daniel story and I think it’s one of those story design things, that haven’t been used as often as they should be. Amnesia works in a very similar thing as BioShock in your relationship with your avatar. (good thing, Dan doesn’t know I think BioShock is a boring game and does this concept really bad -_- — Klarden) Which goes back to kinda similar but different thing in System Shock. But in both BioShock and Amnesia your character is not your character Daniel is a separate person, which you uncover and then comes the realisation that he is you. And in BioShock Jack is a separate character to the one you are playing. And it’s so powerful as a design tool. Because you can control the personality of the player avatar but they still have the freedom to imagine who they are.
And that core idea of you discovering who you are and discovering what this world is — it’s essential to Amnesia. And, again, Pigs has got that. You are Mandus, but who Mandus is lost to you in the beginning and you’re uncovering that. And it is about how the player responds to who Mandus actually is and what he has done, and what he wants to do, and the choices they make around that. How this manifests in the game and how the story goes is, obviously, a closely guarded secret :). But it is that central idea of going: who are you?
When I first got to know Thomas and Jens from Frictional it was around the time we were making Korsakovia and they just started working on Amnesia. I think with Dear Esther and Korsakovia and Penumbra and Amnesia, we share that kind of interest in that kind of psychology of who you are and how powerful it is for players to try and figure it out. And it’s weird, cause there’re so many games with an amnesiac player character. And it’s really important to game design. A really central thing if you have… Trying to figure out the way for your avatar to not have to much local knowledge about the world. Because if you did, you’ll be able to use that. Your character would just go: well, I would’ve gone there, as if I live in this tower block, why wouldn’t I know where the exit is? And a lot of games do that. Like with Halo — Master Chief is literally chipped out of a freezer in the beginning of it and has no idea of what’s going on. System Shock — you wake up after a coma and you have no idea of what’s going on. And it’s a design tool, not a story tool. It’s like: how do we manage players’ expectations about the character… And the Gordon Freeman thing. Valve just about got away with Freeman. He’s a world class theoretical physicist and he’s kinda crowbaring down doors and things like that. And you think: wouldn’t the first thing he’d do to go to the central computer complex and do some programming to resolve the situation?
Loved how Planescape: Torment played with the idea of amnesiac character. Like, you wake up from the dead in the morgue. You don’t know anything and can be whomever you want. But, you can see or hear about what your past incarnations did. And if, for example, you’d want to go the Lawful Good character, you later learn of your past Lawful Good incarnation and see that he was kinda of an asshole. And you’re like: no, I don’t want to be like that.
By the way, are you playing with the concept in Rapture too?
Yeah… And… The difference between the Rapture and Esther is… The main one, I think, is there are six characters in Rapture, which are actually represented in world. So it’s not like inside your head. There is always that sense in Esther, that nothing of what’s happening is real, it’s just in your head. And in Rapture, the world is absolutely real and you’re in it. And you need to be really embodied. And even though the world is strange and you still have that sense of it being unreal, it’s important for Rapture to feel, that you really are in a real place where real things happen. So it’s quite different to Esther in that way.
But it’s still, yeah… I think, in everything we do, in everything… I think it’s just the problem that I can’t write differently, rather than a particular skill for it :). But, «what’s missing» is what makes things interesting for me. What you don’t know, what you can’t find out, what’s really ambiguous, what’s lost. So I guess this… obsession will be in Rapture as well.
And this parts will end on an awkward pause, I made, because I forgot the question. But next time I decide to fix it by asking a random question about the choice of CryEngine for Rapture, we will talk about the difficulties and benefits of making two games at once, Dan will say that he plans to play The Stanley Parable (oops, spoiler), I will tell about a game design idea I’d love to see in games and we’ll talk about the awesomeness of «meaningless» assets and spaces in games, then Dan will have some things to say to Vostok Games on the recently announced Survarium, mention DayZ, and then go all out with admiration for STALKER.