I really like when you know where you're supposed to go, but you've
completed all the objectives and decide you want to mess around for a
Gamasutra: I was playing Resident Evil 4,
which is one of my favorite games in a while, and I just went back
through an area that had no reason to return to, and there were
suddenly really tough monsters in there. I guess they had figured
someone was going to do that and placed a bunch of strong monsters in
there for you to deal with. I always appreciate when that sort of thing
WS: Sure, side quests and the
ability to go back and revisit places, or play through them differently
and see how the situation changes differently. Alienate [an npc] one
play-through and then see what happens if you don't on the next time.
There are all sorts of things that we can do, but don't.
Gamasutra: You've been a long time proponent of single player roleplaying experiences, what do you think of MMOs?
Honestly, I don't much care for them. If I'm going to have a social
experience, I'd rather have it in person. I feel like a blind, deaf and
dumb person watching a movie while I'm playing an MMO because the
social experience is really shallow. Again, this is one of the things
I'll end up talking about at the GDC, but I'm, perhaps to a fault, a
story person. I really need narrative. The level of narrative that
people have been able to achieve in MMOs has been so shallow. I'm one
of those people who doesn't find anything interesting at all in
leveling up, finding a +3 sword or paper-dolling a character with a
purple cloak. That doesn't appeal to me in any way as a human being.
Put that all together and the play experience of MMOs is on par with
roleplaying back in ‘87. In all fairness, my wife is a World of Warcraft addict.
Gamasutra: That could probably influence your opinion as well.
I've had this position for a long time. I think if someone solves the
problem of “I don't want to interact with 10,000 of my personal
friends, ever, and somehow make 10,000 people all be the hero of a
compelling story,” then I'll be a lot more interested in that game
Gamasutra: That would be interesting if you could potentially make everyone somehow a player in a large epic tale.
WS: It sounds pretty impossible. Junction Point,
the game I was working on at Looking Glass, was taking a kind of
end-run around the problem. We were actively trying to address that,
and someone will eventually. Guild Wars takes an interesting approach. There have been attempts to get at that, and someone will nail it, but it probably won't be me.
You have a background in writing, what do you feel about writing in
stories and games today. Do you think there are any that do it well?
Yes and no. There are plenty of games where the quality or writing is
high. I'm going to generalize so much that all of my friends are going
to hate me in about 30 seconds, but the games that are really well
written tend to have too much writing in them and that's a problem.
People don't play games to read or listen, they play games to act or
do. We still need to learn some lessons from film and television
writers. They can bring a character to life in 6 words and not in
6,000. I think most of the games I've worked on have fallen into that
trap as well. I will say that Sheldon Pacotti, who was the lead writing
on Deus Ex and Invisible War, he's now back with us
at Junction Point, is a spectacular writer and he gets that. I think
you're going to see some big strides from us in that area.
Characterizing people much more succinctly, and making great writing
interesting to players.
Deus Ex Invisible War
It seems to me that even the method of storytelling has some areas to
advance. Sometimes the stories seem immature, and I'm just speaking for
myself, but people need to realize what a good story is and make
compelling characters and a great universe so that the story will tell
WS: I think you've hit upon
something that has 3 underlying problems, and here again I'm going to
alienate just about everybody in the game business. First of all, I
think there's a widespread belief that, even as developers and players
get older, at its core, our market is young and that our games are made
for kids - and that people stop playing as they get older. So even the
games that are “mature”, I mean seriously, who in their 20s or 30s give
a good gol-darn about being the last space marine on a space station
who has to stave off an alien invasion? Who cares? Games are still
aimed at kids even though the players may be adults. It’s a problem
that comes from many developers who have no experience of life other
than “I've played a lot of games, I love games, let me make games.” You
end up with games about other games and not about life. So that's a
real issue. We'll start telling better stories when people who have
interesting things to say start making games.
there's what the audience buys. One of the big reasons I'm such an
advocate of games education and university programs about game
development and analysis is because I think we need to change the way
our players think. Players just accept what we give them, it seems. I
want players that demand more of us. Right now they don't seem to be
demanding much more. In fact, without naming names, I've had publishers
tell me that there's an inverse relationship between reviews scores and
sales, and that quality doesn't sell. I'm sure there's some hyperbole
in there, but that's a scary thought.