The Subversion Game: An Interview With Harvey Smith
October 5, 2007 Page 4 of 8
It's hard that we can't just do stuff until it's done, but if we did, when would stuff ever be done?
HS: Never, yeah. Nature abhors a vacuum. If you give me a salary of X, I'll fill it up. If you give me twice that, I'll fill it up, and I'll be complaining about not having enough money. Similarly, if you give me a year and a half, I'll bitch about it. If you give me three years, I'll be like, "Oh my god, if only we had six more months." Part of it, if you're a good producer -- and I'm not, though I've worked with some, Denise is probably the best producer I've ever worked with -- part of it is getting the team to that point when all the shit is more or less there, so guys like me at the end have the three, four, or six months to put the buzzards on the road.
With Deus Ex, we finished it, and Warren and I said, "We're done; you can play through the game, but characters just vanish. You never see Gunther Hermann ever again after the first three missions. You know what this game needs? Six more months. Let's just go in and write an ending for every character." So Gunther shows back up in Paris, and he has a showdown with you. Before that, he comments to you, "I'm watching you through satellite with my biomod link." We build up, and then we have a showdown. We do that with every character. We had Anna Navarre, instead of just disappearing; there's three different outcomes when she tells you to murder this Russian guy.
It just made a tremendous difference, and it pissed off the publisher to no end. When it came to Invisible War, we needed six more months, and we didn't get it. Everybody bullied us into shipping, and they said, "Aw, six months isn't going to make much difference with this game, and we've got to get it out." We kicked and screamed, but it wasn't enough. Now, I'm pretty much committed to saying I would rather end my career than ship a game too early. I'm not going to be the guy like, "When it's done," because that's also crazy. George Broussard is a friend of mine, and he's been working on the same game for ten years. Fuck that!
It better be good!
HS: I think it will be! But at the same time, I only want to work on stuff that I feel passionate about, whether it's a fast-paced shooter that's very immersive, or an RPG-hybrid that I'd like to get back to at some point, or the game for moms... I never want to be the guy that's about product or ROI or whatever.
With this squad thing, I've always hated games that have squads, precisely for the reason you're talking about. I go and play Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter or something, and there are these guys. I don't know what to do with them. Every button does five different things, depending on how I press them. I've played it with my coworker, and as far as we can tell, he got killed by a bench. It was absolutely beyond us. But this looks much simpler.
HS: There's a point in the world, and there's a bumper or a button on the keyboard that you'll push, and they'll run over and do the thing they can do there. People give me shit off and on about the left-leaning politics in BlackSite, and I'm like, "Don't you realize that games like the one you just named are implicitly, strongly political?" There's a patriarch figure. You're a good citizen, because you follow orders. The bad guys are the guys in religious garb who are poor. The good guys are the ones with a command infrastructure and the millions of dollars worth of equipment, and are following orders. It's like, oh my god.
And it's good to kill the bad guys.
HS: It's good to kill them, you're right! You're a hero for killing them. We'll give you a medal. I'm not the first person to say that, though. Ian Bell was like this total hippie developer guy. I was hanging out with him in London, and he had ridden his bike to the conference. I'm a vegetarian, and he's a vegetarian. I recently started eating fish again after six years, so I feel suspect in the presence of other vegetarians.
It's okay. I forgive you. Just make sure that it's not from the fish farms and preprocessed, when you can, but that's digressing.
HS: Thanks. Ian Bell is this awesome guy who did the game Elite [with David Braben], the space trader game. He said that he loved Elite, but he only realized years later that he had made an inherently capitalistic game that very much supported the values of the haves having more and more while the have-nots have less and less, because of positive feedback loops that are in economics.
If he had known then what he knows now, he would have tried to balance that, or put in a consequence, or shown you the difference of what happens when one company becomes a mega-monopoly, and buys the rainwater rights for a third-world city-state so they could sell the bottled water or whatever. It's like, how did this happen? It's all about positive feedback loops and emergent economics. Unless we cap it, it'll just keep running.
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