For this week’s Desert Island Games, a column that looks at the top five games of some of our favorite industry personalities, we speak to Denis Dyack, president of Canadian developer Silicon Knights.
The studio was founded by Dyack in 1992, and released their first title, Cyber Empires, soon after. Though PC strategy/action hybrids Fantasy Empires and Dark Legions proved popular and were well regarded, the company’s first PlayStation release in 1996, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, was their real breakthrough. Silicon Knights was signed as a second-party developer for Nintendo two years later and released Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for GameCube, before ending their contract with the publisher in 2004.
Currently, the company is working on Too Human, a third person action adventure game for the Xbox 360 which is currently slated for release this summer. Also in development is a sequel to Eternal Darkness, according to comments by Dyack on his weblog, though it does not have an official release date as of yet.
We spoke to Dyack recently, and asked him about his desert island, all-time, top five most memorable games – in no particular order, of course.
Total Annihilation (Cavedog Entertainment, 1997): "It was my favorite real-time strategy of all time – I’m really looking forward to Supreme Commander, which is coming out very shortly. I just really liked the way the large formation worked, and the way the AI worked in general, and how there actually was a good elimination of micromanagement. I don’t think any RTS has achieved that since.
It kind of was in 3D, and it kind of wasn’t. I loved the part of it. You couldn’t really rotate the camera, but it had all this isometric perspective and it had all the landscape in 3D. I thought that was really cool – very interesting. I loved the maps, and I loved the fact that it was a game where you really had to vie for territory. Rushing was very difficult in that game, and to me that’s a flaw of all the modern RTSs. All people do is try to think up a rush strategy, and once they have that strategy, everyone just goes to that. So I’m hoping Supreme Commander has the same thing.
I think it has some flaws, and I think it started breaking down when they started releasing downloadable units, because they weren’t balanced well, but overall I think it’s an excellent game – much more than Starcraft. I liked Starcraft a lot, but I think Total Annihilation is a better game. It’s more balanced."
Resident Evil 2 (Capcom, 1998): "Well, I’m going to throw technology out the door, because it’s not a fair comparison, since technology just keeps getting better and better. Resident Evil 2, I think, was one of the first games that actually used and started to explore non-linear content well, where you could play the different ways through with the different characters, and it allowed you to see the game from different perspectives. To me, that was pretty groundbreaking.
I think the content is timeless. The way the “scares” were in the game, I think defined horror for a while. The first one was okay, but Resident Evil 2 really made me say ‘I want to make a horror game now’. After staying up all night playing Resident Evil 2 -- that’s when we started thinking about creating a different type of horror game -- we started thinking about Eternal Darkness, actually. It was nothing like Resident Evil, but still – I think the whole horror genre was opened up by it.
Certainly, the latter Resident Evils are great, especially the latest one, but it just didn’t do it for me like Resident Evil 2 did. You know that first time you go and see Star Wars, and you fall in love with special effects? For me, that’s kinda what Resident Evil did for horror.
In my opinion, it was a really solid horror game with some good content, and they did - like I said - some good stuff with the story and the non-linearity and seeing things from different perspectives."
Defender (Williams Electronics, 1980): "Going way back to arcade games, I used to play Defender a lot. I was a big fan - it’s not a great game, I just really liked it! It’s probably the arcade game I played the most. I dropped a lot of money into that game – the controls were very complex, and I felt that was very interesting, from a design perspective.
I haven’t played it in years, and I might even hate it now, but it always comes to mind when I think of my favorite games of all time."
Ultima 3: Exodus (ORIGIN Systems, 1983): "For me, even though I was really young, that was when I thought that video games were meant for telling stories. I remember a time when I was stuck and couldn’t go anywhere, and I ended up wassailing around in the boat. I hit the whirlpool, thought all my guys died, got really upset, but then it opened the world up. To me, that was sort of an epiphany – like, ‘Wow, the things you can do with this genre...” I really started getting into role playing games and started loving them.
That was back in the days of the Atari ST. I used to play that when I was in high school I think – all the time. I really, really, really loved Ultima 3."
Samurai Shodown II (SNK, 1994): "I love this Neo Geo fighting game. We bought one for the company, and it was the most expensive video game we’ve ever bought. I think it was almost $380 back in the day when you had to buy those big cartridges, but our money was never better spent. We put so much time into Samurai Shodown II we broke several controllers -- we had all these tournaments.
There were a couple of things that played better than the original Samurai Shodown – it had a little more depth, the graphics were slightly better. I missed one of the characters, Tam Tam, who was lost in the second one, but overall, though we played the first one a lot, we played number two quite a bit more. I liked the balancing of the characters and the intricacy of the moves, and the fact that they introduced a lot more characters.
I had a lot of respect for the people who made fighting games, and ironically, after playing that game for so long, Silicon has stayed away from fighters because we thought that balancing them might be too difficult, and they might be too niche of a genre. At that point we were working on Legacy of Kain, and we thought that was the right direction for us to go even though we loved those fighting games. They don’t have that much content and the stories are usually pretty horrible, so that steered us away from those kinds of games, even though I loved them.
The company has grown a lot, and there’s a couple of real fighting game guys here and I tried to get them turned on to Samurai Shodown 2, but the graphics just don’t hold up – no one wants to touch it, they would rather play Virtua Fighter. The cartridge is still at work, and we had it hooked up to a high def TV for a while, but it was just collecting dust, so we put it back in the company library."