So I hear that you hired on some guys for universe creation?
JE: No, the universe creation we did at Factor 5. We hired the guys when the universe was finished. That was the whole point. We did the whole universe and the basic overarching themes and certain archetypes of characters we knew we would have to have in there. It's the approach that George did with Star Wars. Before he wrote the story, he created the universe.
We had all this pre-design going on. We had a universe, and then we reached out for scriptwriters and basically said, "Here, guys. This is your universe to work in. Now create characters and a plot." That was the process.
Is it worth the extra cost to get that sort of extra world creation, culled together from different cultures' tapestries? Will that ultimately pay off?
JE: Yeah, I think so. The most convincing IPs which are being created in the game space are ones that A) have a vision that's strong, and B) go to that sense of detail. The best examples are with BioWare and their games. Of course they're going to these lengths, otherwise you wouldn't get a believable IP. Some of the other guys out there who create successful IPs always go to that length.
You were saying that if the game is really successful, there will probably be a sequel. How do you measure the success of a game like this, given that we're still in a part of the PlayStation 3's lifecycle where not many consoles have been sold?
JE: In the end, you have to see it in an absolute way. It has to break even. If it breaks even, I think for a new IP that's almost the best thing that can happen. The best thing that can happen is that you've got such a huge installed base that you basically go gangbusters in terms of profit. But quite frankly, for Lair, I would be happy if it breaks even, because that would be something huge already.
What do you think it would take for that? One million units or so?
JE: I don't know, but we'll see.
Can you talk at all about any PSN titles you will be working on?
JE: I cannot talk about it. We're working on it, that's the only thing I can say.
Any progress on Turrican?
JE: Yeah. We've been concepting quite a bit internally. That's another universe creation thing. I was looking at Metroid Prime's reinventing of a franchise that had been out there for quite awhile, and we're facing the same thing with Turrican.
There's aspects of the old games where people will feel betrayed if we don't transform them into the next generation. On the other hand, there's other stuff which is simply cheesy, let's face it. I don't think gamers will accept those things anymore. It's a fine line to balance.
It seems like it would be difficult to get some of those things across, because some of those things really have to do with 2D level design. The way you explored had a lot to do with vertical and horizontal scrolling.
JE: Yeah, 2D was all about world exploration in our games, but also about scale. That is one of the things we've transformed into our 3D games, where it's all about scale from macro to micro. I think some of these elements actually do apply, and they're quite different from what you've seen, say, in Metroid, which has a very rigid design.
So, [in Lair], why are all these guys on the ground when there are all of these dragons in the sky that can tear them to pieces?
JE: That's not true! They have kites on many levels loaded with explosives, so if a dragon approaches too closely, the thing blows up and harms you quite badly. They're not completely exposed.
Do you think you're going to eventually get to a scale of actual warfare? Right now (in the bridge level) you've got like ten guys on the front lines fighting, while everyone else is just waiting in the background going, "Yeah!" I know it's got to be difficult because you've got to separate the blue army from the red.
JE: That's the inherent problem. It's not so much the problem of displaying all of these guys, it's how you then interact. You immediately get punished if you start whacking your own guys too much. That's why we kept it separate. It's a tricky design issue.
I know that if we should do a sequel, we want to refine the army combat for sure. It's a tricky case, because you're this monster, a tank in the middle of a bunch of guys, so you would probably kill too many of your own. Having said that, though, there certainly should be ways of getting more fights next to you going, so that they also cleverly avoid you so that you don't accidentally kill too many of your guys.
It's interesting how design scope kind of explodes when you get these worlds so much bigger. When you're getting close to realism, it calls all of your old tropes into question.
JE: But it actually helps the gameplay so much in ways you didn't imagine. You're kind of afraid of it in the beginning, because you're saying, "Oh boy, the old tricks won't work. I don't know what the player is going to do." But embrace it, because in the end, as we've seen in Lair, those levels are the best ones.
There's quite a few plate-spinning levels where you have sandbox-like gameplay, and they are by far the best. They're so cool.