Tag Archive: interview


What Remains of Edith Finch was announced late in 2014 as the sophomore effort from Giant Sparrow, the developers behind The Unfinished Swan. After some twists and turns in the development process, we’re now on the precipice of this highly anticipated game finally being released. Before it drops at the end of April, though, I got a chance to go hands-on recently with one more new demo from the game.

For those who don’t know the game’s basic premise, What Remains of Edith Finch follows the titular Edith through her familial home. The house serves as a gateway to Edith’s family tree, with new rooms being added—and subsequently cordoned off—as family members are born and later pass on. As you explore with Edith, you’ll learn of some of the more fantastic ways her family members passed from this world via diaries and other mementos, learning about the Finches alongside her.

This latest demo touches upon Lewis, Edith’s brother and most direct relative we’ve seen to date. Like many of the other stories that have been revealed, Lewis’ tale is a sad one of big dreams that are dashed as he lives out his life, working daily at a fish cannery plant up in Washington state. It continues the superb storytelling I’ve seen from the previous demos, and has me chomping at the bit for this title even more. As I try to avoid spoiling the game too much, unlike the other demos we’ve seen, Lewis’ story purposely tries to divide your attention, making you more vulnerable emotionally via mundane tasks before it hits you with the gripping finale.

I also had the chance to sit down and speak with the game’s creative director, Ian Dallas, specifically about this demo, the game as a whole, and get some background on what went into the making of What Remains of Edith Finch. The transcription of that conversation is below.

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EGM: This is the third different demo I’ve played of What Remains of Edith Finch, and the bittersweet quality to every short story is really evident at this point. How do you go about making it so that you still have these emotional moments that end on a down note, but keep players playing? 

Ian Dallas: Well, we hope in some ways that each of these is also a triumph, but especially after playing a couple of them in the game, yeah, it’ll dawn on players that everyone is going to die. And then going into each of these stories you might be a bit reserved, but hopefully you’ll get lost in the moments before getting back to that point where you’re like, “Oh, right, this is going to happen again.” But, the journey’s a more joyful version of that.

EGM: Each story thus far that I’ve seen is drastically different from the others. How was it to develop each one of these, and what was some of the process?

ID: For each story it was really different. It all started with whatever the kernel was of that story. Like Calvin’s story on the swing, for example, it was really just asking what is it like to be on a swing, and for that one the team knew early on it wouldn’t be a 20-minute story. It would be something punchier, and we wanted to make sure that the pacing matched where we wanted it to be. Sure, we could’ve made it longer or shorter, but we wanted people to have just enough time to get acclimated, but then not overstay our welcome.

We’re also always trying to keep people on their toes and never settling into a routine. There’s this weird thing that happens with games where, at the beginning, most players are always really open to whatever it might be, and experimenting, and trying new things. And then there’s a point where it switches over to thinking about how to maximize the tools given to you, and finding the optimal path here. We wanted to prevent players from getting into that mindset and always, right when they’re about to get comfortable, throw them into a new thing. But, at the same time, we also had to make sure that wasn’t frustrating, and that was the hard part for us. How to keep throwing new things at people without them getting frustrated, because we also found that there’s a really short fuse that people have when you’ve given them a new thing to do and it’s slightly difficult.

If it’s the very beginning of a game and the player just paid $60 for it, they’re more open to accepting something might be a bit complicated, and feel it’s on them to figure it out. If they’re halfway through a game and you change the mechanics on them three times in a minute and they can’t figure it out, they shift the blame onto us, the developers. So, in trying to balance that, but not make it too simplistic, the answer we found was always to make it more complicated, and then simplify it after.

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When we first started working on the demo you played, we had it ridiculously complex. There was a boss in the fish factory constantly checking on you, checking to see if you were chopping the fish the right way, and initially, you could chop your fingers off if you weren’t careful. On paper it made sense, because we wanted you expending more mental resources and have players thinking about these things and have some real risk, you know. Then, once we got all these things together, we realized no, we don’t need that.

We talk about cognitive load a lot. How much are people dealing with—and it’s hard to know when people are playing the game—how much are they thinking about the story that just happened, or maybe the story before that, or the bedroom they were just in. So, I think we consciously tried to simplify a lot of these stories a year or two ago when they were all on their feet, and we could play through and test the game from beginning to end, and we realized it was too much. In order to keep the focus not completely on the mechanics and struggling, but instead have them feel like they’re falling down a rabbit hole, or this spiral that’s going faster and faster. There was a lot of tuning to make it not too difficult in a weird way. We didn’t want to make it too easy, either, but I think we ended up in a nice place where people are engaged, and it feels like there are so many things going on, but it’s actually a relatively simple path through the game. It’s the illusion of all this stuff going on, and I think it was better for us ultimately instead of giving some open-world sandbox thing considering the brevity of a lot of these stories.

EGM: More than the other stories I’ve played so far, the fish cannery plant with Edith’s brother, Lewis, seems to purposely focus on dividing my attention. There’s a strong emphasis on the narration and story being told here, combined with two distinct, yet simple gameplay elements that carefully split my focus. It actually made it feel like the story was more powerful this way. Can you talk to how the gameplay informs, but also emphasizes the story in a seemingly subtle way?

ID: The hope in this case is that it does feel monotonous after a while. You don’t want to make it so monotonous it’s boring, but yeah, we found just that hint of monotony does help with the processing of this particular story. In this case, we’re telling the story of someone at work doing a kind of boring thing, and the monotony can trigger similar feelings. Almost like a smell can remind you of a time in childhood per se. And, in the case of the fish cannery plant, doing this monotonous thing hopefully reminds you of times where you yourself might’ve been in similar situations.

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EGM: That’s kind of the game in a nutshell, no? Of the three stories I’ve played, it starts off as normal situations that quickly turn fantastical. That start makes them instantly relatable, though. Was that a goal for you in developing this game?

ID: Yeah, and actually that’s what the house is there for really. I look at it sort of like with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with Arthur Dent where if it’s just Zaphod Beeblebrox and it’s an interesting story, but it’s not something you can connect to. Being able to see through a lens of the familiar into the bizarre really helps to bring things into focus. So, the house is a way for us, no matter how crazy we go, and I think Lewis’s story is one of the crazier ones, you’re right back into the bedroom of someone who died. This is Edith’s brother. This is someone who was referenced in other stories. In this world, he’s a real person and he had a life and hobbies. And we had to balance that. But it also allowed us to just go even crazier the next time. It’s peaks and valleys. You don’t want everything to be at the high point because then nothing is really the high point. Balancing and mixing things up, making sure it’s not all surreal crazy fever dreams, making sure there’s some of you just walking around looking at things.

EGM: You mentioned Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Would you consider that an inspiration for the game? What might you consider some of your other inspirations for the game?

ID: Hitchhiker’s Guide was one for sure, although I wouldn’t say it was the inspiration. I just think Arthur Dent is this nice character that is inconspicuously in the middle of this insane world and in terms of Edith, Arthur Dent was one figure we looked at. Brazil, too, where the whole world is crazy, but the central character in that is pretty sensible. One Hundred Years of Solitude was a big influence. It’s hard to tell the story of a family and have these arcs that interweave without it being completely impenetrable. Twilight Zone was an influence and then just weird fiction in general. Things like Lovecraft, or modern writers like Neil Gaiman where it might be a little scary, but it’s really more about the feeling of being in a universe where you as a human cannot understand, and suspect you will never understand. It’s beyond comprehension and dealing with that.

What Remains of Edith Finch will be available on PS4 and PC on April 25.

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With the final piece of Just Cause 3‘s three-part DLC expansion, Bavarium Sea Heist, on its way, we took the opportunity to chat with Marcus Andrews, the lead designer on the entire Air, Land, & Sea Pack. We discussed with Marcus what challenges the water theme brought to the dev team, what that meant for Rico Rodriguez, and what new weapons and vehicles he’ll get to use and how they will affect the world of Medici.

EGM: Just Cause 3‘s previous DLCs seem to have been building to this final add-on. What can you tell us about the story of the Bavarium Sea Heist?

Marcus Andrews: While the packs can be enjoyed stand alone, it’s true that the overarching narrative reaches its conclusion in the Sea pack. We even felt we had more to say about eDEN and The Black Hand than would fit in the mission narrative so we included audio logs in this pack. I really recommend finding and listening to them. They conclude the narrative and will hopefully give rise to some theory crafting.

The story revolves around the last of the eDEN stations, “The Stingray” and how the character Annika has a plan to cheat The Black Hand on some valuable tech in a daring heist. Rico is not hard to persuade when he realizes he will get the prototype weapon “eDEN Spark” as a reward for his contribution.

EGM: Will most of the DLC take place in the water? If so, could this be a hindrance to Rico’s grappling hook/wingsuit/movement abilities? 

MA: Water in videogames is notoriously unforgiving. It often sounds great at first when you throw around ideas for water gameplay, but bread and butter stuff like what Rico can do, how enemies move, what you can interact with, and all the explosions and stuff become problematic if you don’t have solid ground. All that led us to take an approach with a combination of sea combat and normal combat in a sea setting. I think the new outposts are a great example of water gameplay in Just Cause. You have a powerful and agile boat to do lots of the heavy lifting, but you get out of it and do some complimentary work on foot/wingsuit/parachute/hanging upside down from your companion drone or what have you. We didn’t want to disqualify that type of gameplay just because this was the “Sea” theme.

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EGM: What went into crafting a DLC primarily around the water region of Medici? How difficult was it?

MA: There were a lot of novel challenges to overcome, that’s for sure. One particular headache is that water is flat. If you think about Medici, it has very varied topography with mountains and valleys. Even small hills and buildings will obscure the horizon and hide objects behind them. On the sea there’s none of that; you see everything from everywhere. Part of the reason why the new boat is so insanely fast is because the drive from point A to B on a flat sea becomes quite boring. This is also part of the reason we increased the size of the waves during the driving sections of the mission, to basically create something resembling a landscape.

EGM: What new gameplay will the Sea Heist introduce? New vehicles? Weapons? Gear challenges? 

MA: The pack includes two new missions, 18 audio logs, the Stingray base, five new outposts, and the eDEN Spark, an insane new weapon that brings down a lightning beam from the sky that follows your crosshair around. There’s also the Loochador, the fastest, by far, boat in the game capable of going over a hundred knots for extended periods of time. It’s also equipped with machineguns and homing missiles that target all vehicles and chaos objects. And finally, there’s the new Boat Invaders challenge, which allows you to hone your skills with the eDEN Spark and mod it with gears.

I think this adds primarily two new experiences to the game. The fact that you can be really competent with the boat and defeat air, land, and sea enemies without leaving it is fresh. The eDEN Spark is the obvious new thing though. A giant death beam from the sky!

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EGM: Did the team ever consider going underwater with Sea Heist? Like with submarines or other submersibles?

MA: During the concept phase everything was on the table in one way or another, but we decided against underwater for the reasons I brought up earlier. If we ever go underwater, this wasn’t the time or place for it.

EGM: Was there anything that you wanted to include in the DLC but couldn’t fit in?

MA: It’s the nature of making games that you want all the cool things, and each thing will be mind-blowingly awesome. What separates a good team from a bad is the ability to adapt the scope to the realities and pick the right focus.

EGM: The other DLC packs allowed you to bring vehicles and weapons over to the main game. Does Sea Heist do the same? Were there any balancing issues that came up trying to make sure everything could fit properly into Medici? 

MA: Yes, all the things you get in Sea Heist will be useable all over Medici. We decided that the DLC vehicles and equipment would be allowed to be very powerful but HEAT is a very good mechanic in this regard because even if a vehicle is very powerful, you rack up 5-star HEAT and you will eventually be outmanned regardless.

We thought a lot about how the new toys would integrate with Medici, but balancing power was only a part of it. Making sure that main missions didn’t break and that the main game content reacted properly to them was also part of that.

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With the release of Gears of War 4 right around the corner, I had a chance to talk with Chuck Osieja, creative director at The Coalition, to get a little more insight into this newest chapter in the franchise.

EGM: Did you ever entertain the thought of having Gears of War 4 pick up more closely after the end of Gears of War 3?

Chuck Osieja: Sure. We explored a wide range of ideas of where in the timeline we wanted to set the game. The Gears of War universe has such a rich history, and such a great cast of characters with interesting personalities, that we were really unlimited to where we could go with a new story. The question really became “how do we create something new and interesting that still feels grounded in the Gears universe and is familiar to fans of the franchise?”

After a lot of discussion, we all got really excited by the concept of exploring what Sera would be like after 25 years of peace. What does the world look like now? How does it recover from years of war and destruction? How does it rebuild when most of the population has been wiped out? What does a new generation of characters look like, and how do they deal with a new deadly threat when they’ve never faced conflict in their lifetime?  Telling the story of JD Fenix and his relationship with his father Marcus is one of the central narrative themes of Gears 4, and to be able to explore that and take this franchise in a new direction was something we found very intriguing and inspiring.

EGM: Can you tell us about The Swarm?

Osieja: Fans are going to love the Swarm. They are a brand new enemy in the Gears of War world and they bring a whole new feeling to the combat. The variety in the Swarm is like nothing players have seen in Gears before. They come in a wide variety of styles, and each brings a unique threat to each combat encounter.

There will naturally be some comparison between the Locust and Swarm—this occurs mainly in the “mirror” enemies, though. These are enemies that act like the player, or mirror their abilities. This makes up the foundational layer of enemies in a cover-based combat experience. Then you start to branch off into more unique units and abilities. This is where the similarities between the two ends, and the Swarm become very unique and distinctive.

The way they act, strategize, and fight in encounters adds a whole new dimension to the game. A big emphasis for some of the Swarm was to design enemy characters that really leverage cooperative gameplay. Gears has always been at its best when you play with someone else, and we wanted to really emphasize teamwork between players when fighting the Swarm.

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EGM: Will wind flares be a recurring obstacle for JD and his crew, as opposed to Razorhail or the Kryll, which were limited to small sections of their respective games? How else might weather affect gameplay?

Osieja: Wind flares can impact game play throughout the Campaign. Rod has always talked about how Gears turns everything to “eleven.” We don’t have bats, we have murderous Kryll; we don’t have hail, we have Razorhail. So, when it came to designing something like the wind flares, we knew we needed to really turn up the intensity, and create something worthy of the Gears franchise. Wind flares are a system in the game, not a scripted event, so they can happen anywhere–and at varying intensity–so you really have to pay attention to the environment as well as the encounters.

Wind flares are almost like a “tidal wave” of wind that crashes onto the battlefield, affecting everything in its path. It can impact character movement, and it can actually lift cover out of the encounter, or send new cover crashing onto the battlefield. Clever players can dislodge loose cover with their bullets, causing the wind to send obstacles hurtling into—and crushing—entrenched enemies. The intensity of the wind does effect some of your weapons, with the air currents changing the flight path of grenades, Boomshots, Buzzkills, and Dropshots, so a little extra precision is needed when using them in a full force gale.

When a Wind flare peaks, it unleashes the “Storm wall” which contains lightning flurries. Think a forest of lightning, which pack a powerhouse of electricity as they touch down, and then wander aimlessly across the battlefield crackling with intensity. Lightning flurries are unpredictable, and can easily take out unsuspecting enemies—or you—if you aren’t careful.

EGM: Are there any major differences between playing the campaign co-op versus solo? Are there branching paths like in previous games?

Osieja: Cooperative play has always been a focus of Gears of War, and it is again in Gears 4. Like previous Gears games, there are branching paths throughout the campaign. The player will be able to select which route they want to take. The paths are designed to create different experiences based on the choice of path, but they are all designed to be cooperative. This means that, even though you will have your own unique encounters, you’ll also need to work with the players on the other path—sometimes providing support or executing specific tasks—to successfully complete the branch.

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EGM: What has the addition of the combat knife and new close-quarters combat kills done for the flow of gameplay?

Osieja: Introducing Close Cover Combat moves to Gears of War 4 has introduced a new layer of strategic play and unpredictability. It encourages players to stay mobile, making for faster and more spirited play, as well as changing the dynamic when players find themselves on the opposite side of the same piece of cover. Close Cover Combat maneuvers can be used to counteract anyone who relies too much on cover, by vaulting over cover, or yanking an enemy to your side of cover, stunning them, and opening them up to a combat knife execution.

One of the crucial aspects of the Close Cover Combat was making sure it was a fair mechanic in Multiplayer matches. When you execute a Close Cover Combat move, there is a brief moment where the intended victim is prompted to “counter” the move, completely turning the tables on the attacker and opening them up for a combat knife execution. As you take on the harder difficulty levels in Campaign, Horde, and Versus modes, you’ll see the AI attempting Close Cover Combat moves as well.

EGM: What can you tell us about Gears 4‘s Horde mode?

Osieja: Horde is one of the modes I’m most excited about. Gears of War invented Horde game play, and now we’re taking it to a whole new level in Gears 4. The new Horde 3.0 is really about empowering players to choose the way they want to play and discovering emergent strategies over the course of a session. By putting choice in the player’s hands, you can now completely choose how you want to build, and how you want to solve the problem of each of the 50 waves of enemies. We are unshackling the player to allow them to approach the waves however they want. Horde 3.0 is the ultimate team experience, and players who coordinate and work together will be the most successful. I’m really excited to watch the videos of how players conquer Horde, because the way you can set up your defenses and outfit your character is nearly limitless.

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EGM: Can you tell us more about the bounty-card system being introduced to multiplayer? How do you expect it will affect how people will play?

Osieja: In competitive play, Gear Cards will have no effect on gameplay balance, as they offer cosmetic items such as weapon and character skins. Bounty cards allow players to set a personal challenge in the match based around a specific task. Successfully completing the Bounty in game gives the player the XP reward that is listed on the card. Don’t worry though, you only consume the card when you successfully complete the bounty.

Bounty cards come in a wide variety of types, and can be specific to a particular character, completing a number or specific type of kill, or it can be based on particular game mode. Bounty cards come in a variety of rarities as well, with the more rare cards giving a larger XP bonus when you complete them—which in turn enables you to level your character that much quicker.

EGM: Gears has always had a strong competitive community. What measures are you taking to help support Gears 4’s eSports potential?

Osieja: Earlier this month, we announced the Gears Pro Circuit for Gears of War 4, in partnership with MLG and Gfinity, with a starting $1,000,000 in cash prizes. Amplifying the success we had with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, the Gears of War 4 Pro Circuit will invite players from around the world to earn Gears Pro Points to qualify for the international open events, and we’re keen to kick things off this November in Columbus, OH.

In terms of development around Gears of War 4, we’re focused on building Gears of War 4 Versus Multiplayer from the ground up with eSports as a foundation, with modes like Escalation and specific maps that are designed with competitive play in mind.

We’re also adding features to make broadcasting of matches more interesting and dynamic, with two dedicated spectator slots. There are new overlays for spectating that give a more in-depth view of the action, including what weapons all players are using at any moment during a match. There are also a variety of camera positions that can be quickly switched to, while spectating, to see elevated views of the battles and watch strategies play out from a new perspective.

We look forward to sharing even more details and announcements about Gears of War 4 eSports in the coming months!

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I had a chance to sit down with Bill Goldberg to discuss him becoming the next pre-order bonus in the WWE 2K series and what he thinks about being in WWE 2K17.

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The hit is on

The Hitman series has been a beloved staple in the action-stealth genre for a decade and a half now, and continues to force players to think outside the box when carrying out their objectives. Now, on the verge of the sixth mainline release for the series, we sat down with Io Interactive Studio Head Hannes Seifert to talk about how this latest adventure looks to reinvent Agent 47 and turn the series on its head by going episodic while still trying to stay true to the franchise’s gameplay roots.

EGM: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Why make Hitman episodic?

Hannes Seifert: We had the vision of doing this very soon after finishing Hitman: Absolution. We didn’t call it episodic then, but we had this vision of our games having longer lives, and of being able to update and change the game post-launch. We had two epiphanies that led to that.

The first came when we had released Absolution in 2012, and we had done a few things new in that. One was we actually thought about what it meant for Hitman to have multiplayer, and multiplayer was something that, when we talked about it to fans and players, they didn’t want us to do it, usually talking about Hitman’s single-player nature. And if we were to do something PvP, that’d have been a fair assessment.

But that was also the time when YouTube was becoming big for gaming, and when we looked at what people did with older Hitman games, especially Blood Money. They had created these YouTube channels where they would make their own hits. They’d go through a level and say this is my target and I must kill him with a knife while disguised as a plumber, or something like that. They’d post the video, and then challenge their friends and viewers to do it better, faster, smarter—and post a competing video that led to them escalating the challenge.

And that inspired Contracts. It was basically those YouTube videos, but properly gamified. And we thought it was a nice gimmick, but it ended up being a runaway success. When it launched, we had server issues because so many people picked it up. Forty-percent of people who ever played Absolution played Contracts, and put at least one contract online. We now have 30 million contracts from Absolution, and that was a game where we didn’t have any DLC, we didn’t update with new features, yet 400,000 people are still playing it every month. That was when we saw the long life capabilities of the game, and wanted to do something that better catered to the fans.

So, when looking at Contracts, we asked ourselves if there was an opportunity to do some DLC that focused on that mode. We realized it really wouldn’t fit with the narrative nature of Absolution, though, to just do new maps. Looking back, we realized it made the most sense when compared to Blood Money, and that’s when the idea for a non-linear  episodic unfolding of our vision really came to be—which led to our World of Assassination. That was the ultimate vision for it. We wanted to have something we could ship, but then react to and grow the game while our players are playing, and learn what they like and don’t like more easily.

The second thing was when we patched Absolution post-release with a balance update to the disguise gameplay after seeing what the fanbase was saying. It was the first time Io Interactive had used a post-launch patch to not fix a bug, but change balancing according to feedback. And, to be honest, Absolution wasn’t made for that. It wasn’t easy, it was a classic AAA-release, and old technology was really more about shipping and less about modifying—so that also heavily influenced our mindset about how the next game should run. Really, just scratching the surface of what we wanted to do. So, having Contracts that come from us, and also from the community, plus some new features as well, and it’s all about catering towards the community playing it, because Hitman is not meant to be a game you play once on a weekend—it’s a game meant for you to keep coming back to.

So, those two things are what inspired us to go episodic with Hitman. It was a long journey—convincing ourselves that it could work—because we needed to plan and think differently as a development team for this, and have the technology change enough to better accommodate this. But, I’m actually very proud we’re still the first to do it with a such a big title, even if that might leave us open to being scrutinized a bit more, and looked at from more angles. When you do something new with something that people are so passionate about, you also need to be respectful with that. Now, we just have to prove this is the best possible way to make a Hitman game.

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EGM: With the episodic release schedule of maps, though, are you worried it could hurt the life cycle of each location? What will you do to keep interest up in older content?

HS: We didn’t see that in Absolution, even though you could see some people did have their favorites. I think Absolution’s linearity really worked in its favor. I do expect when we ship Italy in April, America in May, etc., that people will focus on those for a while. But, we also are growing features overall in the game, polishing them and tweaking them, adding content to all locations over time in the ever-growing World of Assassination to give you those reasons to travel back and forth. One of these features is Elusive Targets. It’s a hardcore feature for the online community, where a target is available for only 48 hours. So, imagine Thailand just came out, and you are playing that, and then an elusive target is spotted in Paris. You don’t want to miss out on that, so you spend that weekend going back to Paris and getting that elusive target before heading back to Thailand.

We also have a large chunk of players who care about the story, and the way we structured this is like a modern thriller. So, we have an overarching storyline that weaves through the missions like a TV show, and a lot of the story is told in the actual level. There are cutscenes that carry the narrative forward, but when you are in the level and listening to conversations and seeing what people are doing, you can get a better understanding of what’s going on in the overall plot. So, once you have played a few episodes, you may realize that a character you may have interacted with earlier on plays a specific role in the story. As things unfold, I expect some people will go back and play those early levels again just to get the different perspective and context they now have.

So, yes, the new stuff is obviously going to be the exciting stuff that garner attention, but Elusive Targets will keep coming, Power Escalation targets will keep coming, Contracts will keep coming from us, and then there’s the idea of fully understanding everything that’s happening.

Of course, I’m also curious to see how it all actually plays out, because that’s what we can do with data. We can see what the majority of the people are playing, and how they are playing, and tailor content more towards what players want. And, we also know that one-percent of the people are the most vocal and 99-percent will rarely say anything, so we also need to look at both and balance that, too.

EGM: You show Agent 47 meeting Diana Burnwood for the first time in the very beginning of the game. Why go back to his early day as an assassin and what does this do for the story of the game? Are you rebooting the universe?

HS: Well, first off, it’s not a reboot. Nothing in the game is a reboot. It’s a compliment to the lore and universe of Hitman. I think why people see this as a reboot is because of the name. There was never any Hitman game called simply “Hitman”. You had Codename 47, Silent Assassin, Blood Money, etc. And we did that to emphasize the start of this World of Assassination. It’s setting up a foundation for more games to come. It’s the first time in Io’s history that we are thinking of this multi-season storyline. In the past we weren’t very good at that. It was six years between Blood Money and Absolution, right? And the most interesting characters we introduced in each game we killed off. [Laughs]

So, all we have to carry forward is Diana and Agent 47. But that’s what we want to emphasize: this is the start of a new generation. The game will take you back 20 years to when Diana and 47 first meet, because that is a pivotal moment. But, in the timeline it fits into all the previous games. The main story takes place after Absolution, except that Prologue, which focuses on this meeting between Diana and 47. Absolution was more like a road movie, and now Hitman is a modern thriller. Agent 47 is back at his peak after hitting his low in Absolution.

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EGM: Given we see the first meeting between Agent 47 and Diana, do you think this is a good time for new fans to get into Hitman, considering it does have such lore and history behind it?

HS: We are always trying to cater to both new players and our longtime fans, but that doesn’t always align 100-percent, because we have a reputation of being a difficult game. Absolution was the exception I would say, but a lot of longtime fans disliked that because it made it feel more like a third-person action game, and not necessarily the best Hitman game there ever was. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve now.

You could play Absolution like a Hitman game, mind you, but you couldn’t kill every target, as you might have wanted, with some characters dying in cutscenes. It was a deliberate decision, but we learned it’s not necessary to cater to everyone. We are a game for gamers, and want to make sure our fans are happy with it.

Of course, the advantage of doing this episodic model now, though, is that if you are new to the series and have heard how hard it is and are not sure if it’ll be for you, you can try it for a few dollars and see if it’s the game for you. I think many people will take that step and find out.

The other thing is that we took the controls to a new level. I admit they were perhaps a bit clunky in the past, and Absolution was the first that felt really right on the sticks. So, we built on that with this game, so it feels right. That should make it easier not only for gamers, but also newcomers to the series, to jump right in.

Lastly, we have the opportunities feature now that gives you hints on how to take our your target. We know from the beta already that our fans don’t use this.  New people use it a lot, though, and it’s great seeing the statistical distribution. Of course, some are more popular than others based on who saw the trailer or previews and wanted to replicate what they saw, but there isn’t one that dominated the statistics. No assassination opportunity even hit 30-percent according to our data. So, everyone is getting completely different experiences when playing the game, and it’s very evenly distributed. Some fans just want to find everything themselves and take pride in that, but when new to the franchise, I think it’s important you understand the buffet of opportunities you have in a true Hitman level. I think this is where we have to teach players, and we try with the tutorial to show that this is how you get the maximum enjoyment out of a Hitman game.

You can still play it how you want, though. If you want to go full action, you can; it’s not the easiest shooter, but you can try it out. If you like pure stealth, go for it. If you like adventure, it’s like solving puzzles when trying to get the most impressive kills. And that’s what we have to teach new players. I sincerely think we found the right balance now, because Absolution alienated some of our hardcore fans who felt we were taking them by the hand. It’s much more open now, and you can only be taken by the hand if you want to.

The game will even ask you after showing you everything if you want waypoints and opportunities and notifications, or nothing at all. It’s our new take on difficulty. All the notifications being on is super easy, and going pure with no notifications is super hard, where even the producer like me can’t finish it, because it is so hardcore.

EGM: The freedom or illusion of choice in games has come up in a lot of topics of discussion lately. Hitman is one of many games where everyone has the same start and the same end, but the choice is in how you get there. How difficult is it to work in a system like that, and how do you keep every choice entertaining?

HS: There are a lot of games where you do work exactly like that. You give people subtle guidance. For example, in level design you’ll often use light. People always follow light, and follow the position that will lead them along that path. That is a very valid design approach, giving people a sense of choice where choices are really limited.

In Hitman, we approach things differently in that we don’t necessarily approach every path with the idea of making it enjoyable. When we look at our opportunities for example, we have plans to have 10, maybe 15 per level, and hope they are memorable more than enjoyable. Like in the tutorial level with the ejector seat, or crashing the light rig in Paris—we have a few of these in each level, because they are funny or impressive moments. But when you look at the statistics, the maturity of players leads them on their own path, and they find their own way to kill the target. This is because we do our levels systemically.

The game design is actually very simple. There are two characters, you kill them, and you get away with it. Go in. Kill. Get out. There are so many ways of doing that, and the game environment is made for you to try them all out. I saw this in the beta: One guy actually killed the target by burying him under the bodies he stacked on top of him. It was so crazy when I saw the video. He lured the target to a morgue, blocked the target with body bags, and then killed him by dropping bodies on top of the target. And that is not enjoyable. That takes hours and is a chore, but people find ways like that all the time. And the game allows this kind of choice. So, that’s what I mean when I say we don’t make everything enjoyable. You simply use the tools that we provide, and they are systemic.

Sure, some scripted things always take place. There’s always a fashion show in Paris. The show will start, climax, and finish. But, say you just stand around the entrance at the start of the mission and wait two hours. Eventually the show will end and it will go into an after party and you’ll never again have the stage kill opportunity because he only does his speech once. So there are certain scripted elements in how the level is directed, but the moment you step into the level, you’ve changed the outcome. It’s a butterfly effect. Say you have a favorite sniper spot. Getting to that spot unobstructed the same exact way twice is really difficult because you need the right timing and mustn’t interact with anything else. The second you distract someone, or someone sees you, it might send guards on a different patrol pattern or delays timing by just a second so your gap is now non-existent. And that could affect other characters who are set to interact with that NPC—and it just multiplies. It’s a butterfly effect. If you kill all the waiters, who can serve the poisoned food?

That is something that happens when you interact with the level and that’s why it’s so unpredictable—and I think that’s what people really like.  Everyone having different experiences excites me because it means we succeeded.

 The first episode of the new Hitman drops on March 11 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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Out of the Shadow

Shadow Complex was sort of a game out of time when it released back on the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade in 2009. A side-scrolling action-adventure reminiscent of metroidvanias from years past, Shadow Complex put players in control of Jason Flemming, an ordinary man put in extraordinary circumstances.

When Jason’s girlfriend goes missing while they’re camping in the wilderness, he has to track her down. What he finds instead is a secret military installation run by an anarchist group called the Progressive Restoration that wants to overthrow the government en route to world domination. As he explores the facility, Jason will use a variety of super-powered armaments he finds inside to save his girl and possibly the world.

Now, with a remastered edition of the game on its way for Xbox One, PS4, and PC almost seven years after the release of the original, we sat down with ChAIR Entertainment co-founder and creative director Donald Mustard to discuss why now was the time to bring Shadow Complex back to gamers.

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EGM: Why bring Shadow Complex to current gen, and why do it now specifically?

Donald Mustard: It’s always been one of our goals at ChAIR to bring Shadow Complex to as wide of an audience as possible. When we first finished Shadow Complex, we started working on and moving on to a sequel, but then the opportunity to make a game with Apple for their budding game platform presented itself to us. And we thought that would be a really great use of Unreal Engine technology and so we paused development on Shadow Complex 2 and started work on this iOS thing that ended up becoming Infinity Blade, which then became this huge thing and that we didn’t anticipate happening.

Then led to some sequels and once we finished work on Infinity Blade III, we started work on this new original IP with J.J. Abrams that we announced a few weeks ago called Spyjinx. But while doing that, enough stuff kind of finally aligned where we had the time and resources and could take the original Shadow Complex and it get it converted over to our most recent code base and get it prepped in a way that we could bring it to PC, Xbox One, and PS4 and man, I’m so excited. I’ve been wanting this to happen forever. I know it’s taken a while, but this was literally the first opportunity that we could do it, and so we did it.

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EGM: Originally Shadow Complex was an Xbox 360 exclusive. Was it difficult to bring Remastered to current gen consoles and PC?

DM: Well, we have a couple of awesome things going for us. One is being part of Epic Games and we use Unreal Engine technology, which is super-versatile and is already very good at cross-platform performance. So, it’s been a relatively painless process to take the original Shadow Complex code and bring it up to date with our current version of Unreal Engine. And we’ve had a great partner in Hardsuit Labs that has helped us in doing that.

So we got everything moved over code-wise, and then luckily when we first developed Shadow Complex, we authored all of the art and textures at a higher resolution, and then turned and scaled down the textures and art to fit what the Xbox 360 could do. But modern consoles are a lot faster now, PCs are a lot faster now, and that allowed us to go back into the original source art and use it at its highest resolution settings, which is awesome because now all the art is in its original authored state. And everything looks amazing while still playing super-tight. So it hasn’t been that crazy of a process. Lots of work to make sure everything still looks and plays well, but it’s ready and we’re excited.

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EGM: The original game ran on Unreal Engine 3. Is Remastered still running on Unreal 3 or did you switch over to Unreal 4?

DM: No, Remastered is running on Unreal 3 still, but it’s interesting because the engine has evolved a lot over the years. Unreal Engine 3 from 2009 is very different from Unreal Engine 3 in 2015. In fact, a lot of current gen games still use Unreal 3, like Batman: Arkham Knight. And there’s a lot of really awesome stuff we’ve done engine-wise. What we did do was move the entire code base to our most current version of Unreal 3.

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EGM: You mentioned earlier that you had to “pause” production on Shadow Complex 2. If Remastered does well enough, do you think you’ll start production back up on the sequel?

DM: That’s certainly a distinct possibility. One of the reasons why I’ve been so excited to bring Shadow Complex to a wider audience is for the express purpose to open the door and pave the way for more opportunities to do more in the Shadow Complex universe. We loved working with Peter David so much and writing the game with us. He’s always been one of my favorite comic book writers and we loved working with him and he wrote the first game. So one of the first things we did for pre-production on the sequel was for him to write a script for that sequel. So we’ve got this really awesome Peter David script for the sequel along with some other things. I mean, we’ve got some really awesome stuff that we’d love to do if there’s interest. So yeah, our hope is that if people are interested and they love the game and they want more of it across multiple platforms that this will open the path for us to do more. Nothing would make me happier.

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EGM: So, what new things can we expect from Shadow Complex Remastered besides the improved upon graphics?

DM: One of the things when we sat down and said we were going to do this was that it was very important to us that we keep the core gameplay experience as close to the original as possible because it is such a beloved game. People really loved Shadow Complex and we love Shadow Complex. So while we were willing to allow ourselves to turn up the resolution and put in some of the original high-res art, we very deliberately didn’t change any of the core gameplay. The game is the original game in terms of how it feels and how it plays and the layout of the world and where all the power-ups are and what they do. That said, we did allow a few little things, a few tweaks here or there and a few little things we’ve hidden for people to find.

And we allowed one other cool thing. Early on in the development of Shadow Complex, we had created this melee system where if you got up near enemies, you could take them down and do this quick, cool, little cinematic takedown like snapping someone’s neck, or punching them, or kicking a bomb guy or whatever. And that was the like the 1.0 implementation of that system. So, one of the first things we were changing for Shadow Complex 2 was a more contextual melee takedown system. Like if you had ran up to a guy and jumped in the air and then hit the melee button, you’d do this flying jump kick. Or if you were hanging on a ladder above a guy and hit melee, you’d reach out with your legs and snap his neck or pull people off ledges. And that system was so cool and was pretty much finished, so we had all that and put all that into this as well. So that’s a cool new thing we added to the game and there’s a couple things like that, but for the most part we didn’t want to alter the game beyond what it is because we think it is so great as is and didn’t want people to not experience the same thing people experienced six years ago.

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EGM: Back in 2009, old-school side-scrolling metroidvanias like Shadow Complex weren’t really being made at that time. Since then, particularly through the Indie scene, the genre has seen resurgence. Do you think that might help Shadow Complex Remastered hit a larger audience this go around?

DM: I agree and that is something we had hoped would happen because yeah, in 2009 not only were people not making non-linear exploration-based side-scrollers, people really weren’t making side-scrollers period. When we were talking to people about making this 3D-looking, but strictly 2D playing game, people thought we were crazy. And we said it wasn’t crazy and thought people were going to love it and decided to build it on our own. Then we said we’d make a Metroid-esque non-linear side-scroller.

To me, Super Metroid in 1994 was the pinnacle of 2D game design. Then all these 3D systems like the PlayStation and the N64 came out and we moved away from some of those design lessons. To me it was crazy. It would be like Grand Theft Auto came out and then no one made an open-world GTA style game for 15 years. So I felt we had to do this and we made the game and people loved it and we loved it.

Since then, I agree there has been this resurgence of non-linear side-scrollers, which was half the reason I even wanted to make Shadow Complex. Because I love playing those types of games and I love all those games that have come out over the last couple of years in the style I used to play. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be able to talk to the creators and teams behind some of those games and share our experiences making those games and it’s been really cool.

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EGM: There appears to be some heavy subject matter throughout the story of Shadow Complex, with topics like terrorism and the NSA, among others coming up. What was the inspiration behind that when making Shadow Complex?

DM: When we sat down to make the game, we wanted to do two things. We wanted to explore our love of Metroid-style games and we also wanted to explore our love of G.I. Joe. We all grew up in the 80s and we loved G.I. Joe. I always loved the dichotomy between G.I. Joe and Cobra and the idea that there was this hi-tech enigmatic bad guy that had all these resources versus more low-tech military people. And we thought it’d be really cool if we could make our version of that and that was really our idea behind the Progressive Restoration. To make these hi-tech bad guys versus this lone hiker who had no technology, and then stealing their tech and using it against them. That was really our aim and goal.

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Recently, I had the chance to talk with the legendary Stone Cold Steve Austin during the filming of his WWE 2K16 reveal trailer. What does the toughest man to ever step inside the squared circle have to say about being named the cover athlete? Hear what he told me in this behind-the-scenes video interview!

WWE 2K16 will be available on October 27 for Xbox One and PS4.

During E3 2015, I had a chance to talk to principal designer Francesco Antolini for Walmart Gamecenter about Avalanche Studios’ upcoming open-world game Just Cause 3!

During E3 2015, I had a chance to talk to Madden NFL 16 creative director Rex Dickson for Walmart Game Center about the game’s new modes, and new passing system!

It’s never easy trying to reboot a franchise, especially when you’re doing it to an IP that has as much history as Wolfenstein. But new developer MachineGames wasn’t going to let that deter them from telling the kind of story they felt B.J. Blazkowicz deserved. We sat down and talked with Jens Matthies, Wolfenstein: The New Order’s creative director, to get the lowdown on this process and how the project first came about.

EGM: How did Wolfenstein: The New Order come about?

Jens Matthies: We knew [Zenimax] had bought id Software at that time about a year earlier and had all of their IP, and everyone at MachineGames are huge id Software fans. We all grew up playing their games. Games like Quake are the reason many of us at MachineGames are even in the industry, because you could modify that game. I started building levels and textures for Quake, and that allowed me to build a portfolio, and that allowed me to get a job in the industry back in the day. So, for me personally, id’s games have a special place in my heart.

When we started talking with Bethesda the first thing we asked them was if anyone was working on Wolfenstein. They said nobody was, so we responded by asking if we could give it a crack. Then we reached out to id and talked some with them, and everything just grew from that. We had a number of meetings with id Software, where they talked to us more in depth about Wolfenstein, and from there we started tinkering with several ideas for the kind of setting for a new game. This idea of the Nazis taking over the world, and having done so using some sort of very advanced technology came about. Then we figured we could move the timeline forward, so the world would be completely different from what you were used to with a Wolfenstein game. This was a very powerful concept for us, because it had such fertile soil for us to build creative ideas on.

We pitched it to id and they really liked it, and then we pitched it to Bethesda and they really liked it, and that was the game that we made.

EGM: For a very long time, people really didn’t know what to expect from this game. It never really seemed to fully come together until people sat down and actually played the game the entire way through. How hard was it to convey this was still a Wolfenstein game to people while saving all the major details that made it so good in the end?

JM: It’s always a problem for us to really sum up the experience in a short segment because of the kinds of games that we make. One of the reasons is that we love to give lots of variations in terms of settings and player interactions and storytelling. So, if you cut a half-hour segment out of the game, it’s not representative enough of the game, because the next half-hour will be different and the half-hour after that will be different from those. It’s hard for us to condense it into something that gives an overview. Depending on what half-hour segment you pick of the game, you’d have a different view of what the game is [based on] that snippet.

I think that’s very different from most other games, which tend to be more vertical slice–focused, where you have that half-hour and the rest of the game simply repeats that half-hour. It has the same look and feel and the same gameplay rhythm. Whereas we just don’t operate in that way. We look at the game holistically and build an arc for the player from start to finish, with ebbs and flows, and that has a much more strategic narrative flow. But I’m very happy now that the game is out and people are out there playing it and we can communicate about it since people understand fully what it is now.

EGM: Wolfenstein is a gaming franchise with a very rich legacy. Was it ever extra daunting or intimidating once it sank in, that you were working on the next chapter on a franchise with so much history?

JM: Well, I wouldn’t say it was extra daunting, because anytime you do this kind of game, it’s such a monumental undertaking that even if everything goes perfectly, it’s still at least a three-year process. This game ended up being three and a half years for us. That’s a big chunk of your life. That’s a big chunk of the whole team’s life. And it’s very important then that at the end of the development process you have something that was worth that kind of commitment in regards to the work and time you put into it. I think that, more than anything, is where the pressure comes from. Whatever IP you’re working on carries less pressure than the fact you are spending such an incredible amount of time and money and resources on making something, and it’s really important that it comes together.

Most of the major decisions that you make are early on. Things that don’t get their final polish and their final stage of execution until the final months of the project have all been planned and conceptualized very meticulously in the early months of the project. So it’s very important that the foundation you build early on is solid enough so it doesn’t break halfway through, or suddenly lots of things don’t work and you can’t do anything about it because the train is already in motion. I think that’s something we’ve gotten progressively better at over the years. There’s been a lot less rolling with the punches this time around, and we could focus on executing the vision we had early on.

EGM: You guys bucked the trend by not including a multiplayer mode, which is almost unheard of nowadays for a FPS game. What went into that decision? Was there ever any push back?

JM: This was really a testament to Bethesda as a publisher. They will give you a huge amount of trust as a developer. Whenever we say things like we feel the best possible game we can make is when the team is just focusing on one thing—in this case the single player—and we eliminate all the distractions around that, Bethesda is the kind of publisher that respects that. They trust the developer, but they are also primarily focused on whatever factors there are that can provide the best possible game, because they feel comfortable on selling a game on it’s merits and its quality. And this is vastly different from many other publishers, which operate under different sets of rules. Other publishers, they talk about a lot of things that are marketing-driven, a lot of things that are driven by other goals than what the developer feels will make the best possible game. This is also the big reason why we really wanted to work with Bethesda, because they have this tremendous process of working with developers. There was never any pushback. Obviously, questions were asked, but this is a publisher that you can explain your point of view and they’ll get it, and that’s very rare in our industry. It’s an amazing thing as a developer.

EGM: Let’s talk about B.J. a little bit. This is the most fully fleshed out B.J. has ever been as a character. Was it difficult expanding on a character who already had a bit of a history in gaming? Were there specific things from the past you wanted to keep? Was it hard filling in the blanks?

JM: The thing about B.J. is that, when we started this project, he was a lot more open because he’s been interpreted differently a couple of times before in different games, and the agreed upon facts about him are fairly few. There’s some backstory and some lore, but there was never an in-depth characterization we had to worry about conflicting with. The hard part was making our own choices on what we considered to be the roots of the character and building on those to make the most compelling character we could.

Very early on, we settled on his image from the pixel face in the original Wolfenstein 3D, because we felt that was the most pure and true piece of information about him. At that time, when the guys at id decided, with the sensibilities they had at the time, inventing a genre as young guys, that this was the guy, with the square jaw and the muscles on this grunt—which I’m sure was very inspired by the Sylvester Stallones and Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the late ’80s and early ’90s. And that, at least, we didn’t want to shy away from. We wanted to see if we could make that character, who is really sort of an action hero cliché, and give him the depth and really make the player experience what it is to be this guy. That, to us, was just so much more interesting than doing some sort of modern version that just turns [him] into, like, a Nathan Drake clone, because that’s what most shooter protagonists are like these days. But that was our thought process around that.

EGM: Will shooting Nazis ever get old?

JM: [Laughs] Well, there certainly was a period there with Call of Duty and Medal of Honor where that was the norm. And I guess Battlefield did that, too. But it’s been a while, so I think the timing felt especially right to bring back some good old fashioned Nazi killing.

EGM: I think the moments in Wolfenstein: The New Order that surprised me the most were the downtime segments you had in the resistance base. It was such a huge change of pace, and almost felt RPG-like in regards to the missions you had to do there. What was the reasoning behind those levels and what were you hoping to accomplish with them?

JM: From very early on, both internally and from when we started talking to the media about the game, we wanted this to be an action-adventure shooter more than just a straight-up FPS game. In broad stroke terms, it is good for pacing because if it was all action all the time the game could get numbing after a while. You need to mix it up and activate different problem-solving skills in the brain just to keep everything fresh and interesting. But it’s also great to find a way to anchor the story and the player experience into something that is more emotional relatable, because a game like this, fundamentally, is just so over-the-top crazy that if you don’t provide a counter-balance with intimacy or drama that you can feel something towards it can become alienating emotionally for a player. So, the moments with the resistance serve that purpose.

It’s all well and good to have strong gameplay mechanics and an addictive gameplay loop, but if you can also anchor that in a way that makes the player feel like they’re fighting for something worth fighting for then it just makes the experience that much stronger, and that’s always our goal. We want to integrate the story and the gameplay in a way that they’re both pulling you in the same direction. The story reinforces the gameplay and the gameplay reinforces the story.

EGM: The New Order has a perk system where you normally have to accomplish a certain set of objectives to activate the next set of potential perks to then unlock. Is setting that up in a linear order like you did a way to challenge players to possibly try different play-styles in the campaign? What was the reasoning behind that?

JM: Another focus for Wolfenstein: The New Order was definitely that you could play it in a broad array of ways. It allows for many playstyles. You can play it more tactically and stealthily, creeping forward through the levels. Some situations force you think more on your feet, with enemies charging you and the cover breaking so you can’t really camp out for too long, but it’s definitely easy to miss out on some of those aspects of the gameplay. So the perks were a way to incentivize the player to try different things. You can also play the game very aggressively, dual-wielding massive shotguns and whatnot. The perks system was a way to make you get a taste of different playstyles if you wanted to unlock their rewards. Plus, it could be a bit of an eye-opener if you’d suddenly rather play these other ways. What we found was people who default into one playstyle or another, would incorporate these other methods at certain points and broaden their playstyle over the course of the entire game.

The reason why they’re not all unlockable at the start is that they would just unlock too randomly. We want you to engage more directly with the system and think about how you’re taking on each situation strategically. If everything was unlockable from the start, the system could end just being some sort of background noise for you, and suddenly you’d get better or have more of something and not realize why because you’re engaging less with the system. But by structuring the system the way we did, everything happens less by chance and more by you choosing to go after a perk and unlocking it. This also makes it feel more like an actual achievement for the player and not a random reward.

EGM: Part of what that also speaks to, I believe, is that it adds another layer of replayability to the campaign. Another aspect of replayability came through in the critical choice you force players to make at the start of the campaign. What was the inspiration behind that singular choice and what affect did it have on you developing the game?

JM: It had to do with creating meaningful, emotional engines for the player to propel them through the narrative. That’s the thing with a game: It’s not enough to just have a story, or just have context, because, in a game, you as a player are in charge of advancing it and finishing it or not. From a story point of view, then, you need players emotionally invested in the outcome. When we develop and antagonist like Deathshead, he has to do something to you, the player, that motivates you to hunt this guy down and sticks with you the whole game so that you keep going after him to put an end to him. That choice was one of those things where if you, the player, are the one making the choice, then you are emotionally invested from then on for the rest of the game. Once we came up with it, we realized that we had to do these two timelines and decided how we would separate them from one another. There was a huge ripple effect from that one idea, but we felt that it was so cool because no one had really done anything like that before in this kind of game.

EGM: Were you ever tempted to insert more choices like that and have several branches in the story?

JM: It’s an interesting question, and I think it’s just the difference between how we view the game as the developer and how a journalist or just a player might view it. For us, it’s not about milking an idea until its dead. We do a lot of things in the game only once, because it’s really powerful once, but the more you do something, the less powerful it gets. Whatever ideas we may have, its rare that we think we should do it 20 more times. It’s more that we have a cool idea, we implement it, and then try to come up with more cool ideas. It helps build up a unique narration full of unique moments as opposed to just variation on the same moment. And, of course, doing something like this has a production aspect to it. If we were to branch off several more times, it would lead to a copious amount of work to support all that. But we never really got into that discussion. We felt like the choice was a really great, signature moment from the game and we never felt like that needed to be repeated.

EGM:  The atmosphere of the game is almost unto a character in and of itself. Can you talk to us some about the use of music and voice acting was critical to helping convey some more subtle messages within the game?

JM: There is one aspect of it that has to do with sticking with the vision. And that is harder than you may think, because there are so many different disciplines that go into making a game. It’s very easy for the disciplines to get atomized and isolated from each other, but what you really need in order to execute a project properly is cross-disciplinary cohesion. So, if I write a scene, just because I know what the scene is about and what the scene is supposed to convey, I will have information about that, which can help guide other aspects of it. It’s everything from audio to lighting and camera angles. If we had hired some script guy to write the script and someone else to record the voices and someone else to lay music over that, it wouldn’t be as strong. You need the understanding about what everything is and what they mean and why they’re there to in order to be available to everyone who might work with it. So that’s one side of it, and why we keep everything that has to do with that original vision very active throughout the development.

The other aspect is that you have to have really talented people that can take an idea and actually execute it the way it needs to be executed. The audio designers, for example, are involved with the creative process the entire way through, and the composer that we hired, Mick Gordon, is just an incredibly talented guy. We could just give him very basic, broad stroke thoughts about a scene or a moment or a gameplay section, and he was able to turn those ideas into the perfect pieces of music. Unless you have those kinds of people on the team, it just doesn’t work, but we are fortunate to have a lot of talented people here.

Same thing with the voice performance aspect. Our director specializes in directing actors. His name is Tom Keegan, and he is very much my mentor when it comes to directing actors. We had this very intense collaboration with everything from the casting to all of the recording of the performances. Just making sure you cast a game correctly is incredibly important. I had worked on a couple of games before, and that extra experience when it comes to casting was critical. Its weird, too, because there are some parts that you think are going to be hard to cast turn out to be easy and some parts you think will be easy to fill turn out to be extremely hard. But you cannot compromise on that. And then you get into the studio for full performance capture, which we helped pioneer back in 2005 with The Darkness, so we have a lot of experience with it. That helps, because it is a completely alien environment. [The actors] have nothing they can relate to with regard to real world objects or people because everyone is dressed up in these crazy looking tights. In that high pressure environment, the actors have to find an emotional truth for them to express, and directing all of that it is critical to know exactly what you’re after so that you can help the actor get there. So when we’re in a recording session, I’m the only one in the room who has some sort of conceptual understanding of how that will look in the game. Everyone else doesn’t know how everything will come together in the end, so you have to have that vision with you all the way through so you can measure what you’re seeing and recording and see how all the puzzle pieces will go to together in the end.

Basically, over the years you accumulate a backlog of f***-ups and you try not to do them again. That’s what experience is all about.

EGM: You mentioned earlier the advantages of cross-disciplinary knowledge. Does that help you maintain focus over a three and a half year development cycle?

JM: I think it does. I started out making textures and levels. I’ve done art for computer graphics in one way or another longer than anything. I started when I was 12, so it’s been a long time. I’m very much an artist; it’s my foundation and visuals have always interested me. The more experience I got in making games, the more I realized it wasn’t enough making sure textures and levels looked good. There are so many other dimensions to a game that matter, and if they don’t do their part it doesn’t matter if the textures and levels look good. What started happening was, I started broadening my skillset and scope of a game and from that I became an art director and from that I started dabbling in the story aspects and that naturally got me into dealing with the animation side of things, which led to audio, and then for this game I figured I might as well write the whole thing myself. It’s not all me, of course—I had help—but I had never really been behind the keyboard before. Actually writing the story, I’d write a scene here or there and I’d be more focused on the execution of the story on the recording side and the implementation side and all that. But that’s been my journey, to broaden my skillset and the depth and breadth of my scope. I think it has to be that way.

This kind of game is so big and so vast in its complexity that one person cannot be on top of everything, though. There has to be so much cooperation for everything to work and negotiating with people’s different sense of sensibilities to come together into a cohesive whole. That is essentially what it’s all about. But there is also the side of it where it’s very personally rewarding for me to do different kinds of work throughout the process. In the beginning it was just me and the keyboard writing text. Then later it’s massive shoots and recording sessions, and even later on after that it’s doing camera work for our cinematics and just talking to the audio people and the animators and the lighting people and the modelers, and its very rewarding to have that much variation in your work.

EGM: The game has been well received by fans and press alike. At this point it’s been a few months after the release. Have you given any thought as to what MachineGames next project may be going forward at this point in time?

JM: We think about that all the time and we would love to do a sequel. We always thought about a sequel while making this game, so we have a lot of ideas in The New Order that we could build upon for a sequel. A sequel would be the dream next project for us.