Looking at the future, what do you think about Xbox Live Arcade, or the PlayStation Network?
AW: You never want to sacrifice the core single-player experience, but it's hard for me to imagine not factoring in online in some fashion. If you've planned well to make the game you wanted to make in the first place, online is just going to make the game that much better, or at least more varied so that it prolongs the experience.
It's another outlet for creativity to have [games] on a smaller scale. I don't understand why a sprite-based thing running on a cell phone couldn't be next-gen. Live and the Sony experience is just another venue for those types of things to happen.
What do you think is next-gen?
AW: I absolutely hate the term, because it's a manufactured marketing term. To me, next-gen is any combination of thousands of things that developers pull out of their bag of tricks and mix and match things together to create their own special recipe. If it's done well, it's a masterpiece, and that experience is a next-gen experience.
It's like I'm baking a cake. I have flour, butter, eggs, and chocolate, but how I use those ingredients and how I combine them will determine whether I give you a next-gen cake, as opposed to something you'd get at Starbucks.
How do you plan for the end of the game world within a game? You know there's going to be those people who try to go off the beaten path and try to find what's out there and try to get out.
AW: I'll use Smuggler's Run as an example. That was a significant challenge for us. On one hand, we were hopefully delivering an experience where the vast majority of people are going to be happy to play how we want them to. And then there's fits of last resort, where "if coordinate equals X, reset them back into world," so you don't let them get out. If we've done our job well, you'll find very few of those places where people can get out.
In Smuggler's Run, we used mountains. You wouldn't get to the last mountain, since you'd get stuck on [another one] and see the real mountain just beyond. You'd spend your time thinking, "If I could just get past this, I could get to the outside world!" It's almost like a ring defense. You've got the part of the world where the game takes place, you've got a border, and a second border beyond that. I applaud the guys who figure out how to get there. Just let them know that we're hiring QA testers!
Are you guys hiring right now?
AW: Yes. We're always looking for top talent across the board. It's so I don't need to worry about, "Oh, I didn't plan for that particular guy in my budget." Yes, I do worry about it, but if we find the right talent that comes to us, we'll find a way to make that talent come in and be productive and happy within our environment.
It's the very nature of what we do. You always have to be looking, and you always have to be ready for that opportunity hire. You can't plan to go looking for an AI guy one week and not the next. The world's best AI guy might come to the door, and if we're not open, we're not going to get them.