Next-Gen Narrative: The David Braben Interview
January 9, 2008 Page 3 of 4
The Outsider is obviously
a much more overtly political game than
Elite. Are you integrating real world politics into it?
DB: Yes, we are. We're not really talking that much about that side of it, but you have rival factions, and I've already taken some stick for saying, "Yes, you can work with terrorists." The point is that you find out your side is corrupt -- and what do you do?
You've got these terrorists, and of course, they call themselves revolutionaries, and you think, "Wait a minute, maybe they've got a point." These are American revolutionaries, not foreign terrorists, so there's a very interesting dynamic there: who is good, who is bad? In many ways they're all bad, but they're all good in some way, too, so you can play them off against each other.
The brilliant thing is, because you're accused of such a terrible thing, things can't get any worse. So it's you who's in control. You can determine who's going to win this one, and that's how the game can play out. You get dramatically different end results because of that.
How much control do you
have over other characters? How much is it AI-driven?
DB: Essentially, it's all AI-driven. You have control of people who are working on a squad with you, but we're putting a lot of effort into key AI characters who will work with you and you may piss them off.
But to go back to the political
thing -- I've taken a lot of stick -- you might have seen the thing
in Eurogamer. It's not that I was misquoted, but that they'd taken it
out of context. One of the things I felt with that was that I stand
by what I said, but it was by no means meant to promote The Outsider.
It was actually a question about The Outsider I was answering.
To put the record straight,
I think BioShock and Halo 3 are fantastic games. I think
they have moved forward. BioShock: all the Art Deco stuff, all
the soundscapes, brilliant. But they've not moved the game forward much
from games we've seen before, and that was my point. Gameplay's supposed
to be the key thing, and it's getting forgotten.
Halo 3 I thought was great, but the gameplay is so similar to where we've been before, that I felt it was a missed opportunity. Some of their squad tactics were better, which I thought was a big improvement, but we shouldn't be in an industry where we can't be critical, and give praise where praise is due.
We all know it's very hard bringing a high-quality game to market, and there are so many slings and arrows in the way, and they've done fantastic jobs. But there is also almost an obligation we've got to keep moving things forward so things don't get stale. That's the criticism.
As it happens, I played The Darkness and then BioShock, and I thought Darkness was a very good game, but that got reviewed in 6s and 7s. I loved it, and I thought, "Wait a second, this actually has done stuff with the gameplay, and I think it's up there with BioShock." If they gave it an 8 and BioShock a 9, I'd be happy. But they gave it a 6, and they gave BioShock a 10!
What do you think The Darkness got right?
DB: I thought the way they built the character was very interesting. You felt like a character and you don't get that in games very often. He was a character I was playing, which was a bit bizarre, but they managed to pull it off. The subtlety of the cut scenes when it's loading -- that was a nice touch. The way it played as a story, and did it in an interesting way, even though it was still linear.
It had side quests which gave
some richness to the characters, and I think people railed against it
because it used so many dark clichés, but if you take that to one side,
it's really lovely. So the flipside of BioShock, yes the reviews
rightly criticized The Darkness. They also criticized BioShock
and then gave it a 10! Similarly Halo. But it is awkward. You
see comments in print and think, "D'oh! Did I really say that?"
So why do you think story hasn't moved forward as much? Do you think you have the magic bullet that no one else has discovered?
DB: No one has a magic bullet. We've been working on it a long time. It's a risk as well. The reason I mention The Darkness and BioShock is, story's not a priority in reviewers' eyes, and I think that's a sad thing. For me it's very important and it makes a very big difference, and I know that's true of a lot of other people, and I suspect it will become more so as people feel the sameyness. We're still reveling in the fact that, graphically, games have become a lot more beautiful as people get to grips with the new platforms. But I think we've now spent that. That's the expected benchmark.
We really need to move forward
on story -- as one of the fronts. That's not the only front left. Look
at Katamari. A while before that, people were saying there are
only so many genres, and then someone comes out with a lovely game.
And tomorrow it will be something similar. By all means, push on different
fronts, but whether it's a novel gameplay mechanic, something new in
the story, or whether the way the game's presented.
I had an argument with somebody that there were only four types of gameplay, and then out comes Populous. Okay, there are five, then. And usually, it's an excuse to plagiarize. We all take inspiration from other games, and that's fine. It's when we take inspiration and don't do any more. That's the sad thing. When you don't move it forward. And there's a danger. Some of the games that fortunately don't get much airtime don't necessarily do that. That's a missed opportunity. Especially these days, where we're making fewer games than we used to. We're essentially being trusted to use the opportunity to do something fantastic, and if we don't we should get slapped around -- which I'm sure we will do. [Laughs.]
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