The Subversion Game: An Interview With Harvey Smith
October 5, 2007 Page 6 of 8
A while back, Bush was talking about Iraq and why we should go there, because they were under control of a despot. He was saying that a free country does not exploit its people, and does not develop weapons of mass destruction.
HS: A free country does not torture. This is all ironic.
He said all that crazy stuff, and it's like, you're talking about all the things that we're doing. People won't pick up on that unless there's something like The Daily Show to pick out the irony.
HS: Which is why you've got to love Jon Stewart. But the problem is that he's preaching to the choir -- people like you and me.
That's why something like this game has a lot of potential. You're preaching to the guys who play first-person shooters.
HS: That's kind of why we use the word "subversive" a lot. We don't want to be The Daily Show version of a game, or the angry liberal version of a game. We want to be a badass Delta Force shooter, where you're Aaron Pierce, who is a thoughtful but quiet guy. Slowly over time, we have characters who are gung-ho who become a little less gung-ho. Even in funny one-liners. Noah, the Middle Eastern intel specialist, is your squadmate for a while, and has to give you an injection. Someone asks, "What is this for?" and she says, "It's classified. I can't tell you." Later, Grayson jokes, "Hey, I think I'm growing a third head over here," or whatever he says, and it's just this one-off joke. Later, she says something about safe, and the line is like, "Yeah, you'd never give any dangerous shit to a soldier, right?"
I was in the military for six years, and to go to Saudi, I got shots that I don't even know what the fuck they were. Like, "What is this?" "It's GG." "It's cold. It's like syrup." "Well, we just took it out of the fridge." "Well can you rub it under your arm?" That's what the nurses would do, and then they'd give it to you, and it would sit under your skin in a lump. What the fuck is this? Is it FDA-approved? No! It's experimental, technically. Even the flu shots we got were experimental. It was part of the FDA testing, actually, to test it on soldiers.
I was kind of naive back then, so I was like, "Okay, I guess it'll protect me from something -- diarrhea in the desert, or whatever the fuck I'm afraid of." It seems like over time -- if you take into account Gulf War Syndrome and Agent Orange and the stuff in the '60s or '70s -- I can never remember that drug that they put in formula for babies that caused deformities, and the number of babies with extra arms and legs skyrocketed -- clearly, in trying to pursue profit, companies will just utterly eradicate human lives. The government is no different from that, and you just have to be on guard.
The government is no different from a corporation in many ways. We're derailing a bit, but it's tough to feel like you have any effect on anything that goes on in your life. It's like, I can elect this guy, or this guy. Who knows if my vote's going to be counted, and who knows if this guy will do what he says he's going to do? Tomorrow he'll say something else.
HS: And the commercial that I just cheered for my guy, who paid for that? Did big pharma pay for that, or did the fast food lobby that's killing everybody in America pay for that?
Another question about the squad thing -- you've got the emotions for the characters in morale. Is it an off-and-on for emotions, or is it an algorithm?
HS: It's definitely an algorithm. Points go into a pool based on the things you're doing, and how well you're doing, and whether you're giving orders, making headshots, or missing or hitting. It's whether you're letting your guys take damage. At the peak of it, their tactics change, their facial expressions visually change, and their postures change, and they will race out into combat much more aggressively. They melee more. On the backend, they start taking cover more often, firing less often, and complaining. They have facial expressions, and they blindfire over cover more.
There's a lot of cool emergent stuff in games I think that you can build systems on. We have breakable cover. We have Mini D compared to Stranglehold's Massive D. It's mostly combat cover objects. If the squad goes into low morale, they start taking cover behind stuff, like this bench, and a sniper hits it and it crumbles. You see more breakables because morale went into a low state. It's really cool and unexpected -- who thought that would happen? Similarly, we have a recharging health model.
It does do a recharging thing, but it also has a layer of armor on top of it, so if you find kevlar, you don't take any damage until the kevlar's gone. That allows us to make comments about Rumsfeld's style -- not sending the troops to war with enough armor, and that sort of thing. But what happens is, when you're badly damaged -- you're breathing heavy, the screen turns red, and you want to take cover -- you tend to crouch behind something, which causes the enemies to shoot that. So you see shit breaking all around you. We didn't expect that at all, either. The two just work together like that.
How do you transition between animations? How sudden is that?
HS: Art Mann is an AI programmer that I've been working with off and on since I was a tester on System Shock and he was a coder. He worked on Team Fortress 2 for a while, and worked on FireTeam and Deus Ex: Invisible War. He's a solid guy, MIT grad, and he's the one largely writing the morale system. It just keys into a whole bunch of states, and those states key into a bunch of animation sets, like the facial expressions, the body postures, how frequently they look for cover, and how far away from Pierce they're willing to get.
Is the transition actually smooth?
HS: Sometimes it's abrupt. Sometimes they go from, "Wow, we're kicking ass now!" to "Hey, this isn't going so well," to "Oh my god, get me out of here!" but that's like if a grenade lands on his head and knocks his squadmate down, and you're just standing there doing nothing. All of a sudden, the game gets more difficult by twenty percent.
The more stuff like that you put in, the more miscreants are going to find some really embarrassing crap.
HS: Right. [Squadmates] hiding behind a gas tank, or something.
Which is funny, to be sure, but I'm sure it doesn't make you feel great to see it happen.
HS: I've always liked that. What you've got to remember is that some huge percentage like 95 or more of people, if they like the game, are sympathetic players. They try to make it work the way it works. If you fuck them -- if the game sucks, or runs at five frames a second, or is tuned badly so it takes five clips to kill a guy -- they become unsympathetic players, and they rebel. The game gets worse for them. It's another positive feedback loop. But 95 percent of players or more are trying to play the game and get enjoyment out of it. I have been that perverse guy, too. That's one of the reasons in Deus Ex that we did the multiple solutions to problems thing.
We all wanted to try to break the systems and see how they worked. Some guy in Deus Ex figured out that you could take a proximity mine and put it on the wall and hop up on it. It had a little lip of physics. Then you could place another one and hop up on it, then turn around, crouch, grab the first mine, and put it up higher. He would just climb out of the world that way. He'd climb the side of tall buildings that we never intended anyone to be on top of. It must've taken hours. But then he would take screenshots from places he wasn't supposed to be. That guy is such a small percentage of the industry, but it's so clever, and it's such a creative use of the game. It's a metagame, at some level. You've just got to applaud that.
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