Life In Vegas: Surreal's Alan Patmore On Open World Innovation
June 23, 2008 Page 1 of 5
As the gaming industry begins to test the boundaries of what subject matter works in a shifting marketplace, the Seattle-based, Midway-owned Surreal Software -- known for gritty horror action like The Suffering and fantasy like Drakan -- moves to This is Vegas, a permissive open-world game for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 that features activities from racing through gambling.
The title, which has the player trying to stop a powerful businessman from converting Las Vegas into a family-friendly resort, and is intended as the next evolution of the genre pioneered by Grand Theft Auto, is described as follows by Midway PR: "Where you go and what you do is your call whether counting cards, seducing dangerous women, cruising the strip or starting bar brawls, there’s lots of excitement on the way to the top."
Here, Alan Patmore, the studio head, discusses the design efforts required to pull those disparate ideas together, including its custom tools, as well as Midway's company-wide tech sharing solution (based on Unreal), and how that is affecting the development of this title and the roadmap it provides to future collaborations among the company's studios.
So you guys are working on This is Vegas -- what was your last project before that?
AP: It was The Suffering: Ties That Bind, which was the sequel to The Suffering.
So this is a bit of a departure. You went from a horror action series, to this This is Vegas concept, which is a little bit fresh, I think, for games. Obviously, there are certain influences in it, but I think it's tying things together in a different way.
AP: Definitely. One of the things that we looked at when we were first wrapping up with The Suffering is, we wanted to work on open worlds. But then we were looking at the games that were coming out, and they were all sort of derivatives of each other. It was crime games, you know?
And I love open world games, and thought there was a lot of space to explore. And then, around that point in time, I did a, I believe it was a DICE trip, down here, and had a pretty crazy Vegas experience, and kind of put two and two together. I'm going, "Wow, you could do an open world game, set in Vegas!" It's definitely not GTA; it really feels like Vegas, and captures the feeling of Vegas. And so that's what inspired us.
Vegas has become increasingly culturally relevant, I think, also. Over the past few years, there's more and more construction, more and more hotels, more and more glitz and glamour...
AP: Yeah, definitely. This game is definitely relevant, and that was one of the things that -- for us, if you look at what we've worked on, it is fantasy -- you know, where you're a chick riding a dragon; which was cool, but not necessarily really part of pop culture -- and The Suffering -- again, that was a little bit more tied to urban culture and things like that, but that's where we started heading.
Midway/Surreal Software's The Suffering: Ties That Bind
And looking at the core competencies of our studio, we really felt that we did a good job building worlds. You know, Drakan had a very rich world, with its own history, and its own characters -- same with The Suffering -- and we wanted to do that with Vegas. To really capture the hip, cool vibe of Vegas, but put our own slant on it, and create our own version of Vegas, with its own cast of characters. So that's what we did.
When you came up with the concept of this game, inspired by a trip to Vegas, and you said you were interested in increasing the cultural currency of the games you are working on, I guess is one way to put it... Is that some personal artistic drive for the studio, or is that also a marketing-derived angle?
AP: It's a little bit of both. I mean, as a developer, Midway has been really good in allowing us to work on new IP, and pretty much do what we want. I mean, no other publisher has as many new IPs coming out as Midway. And so they gave us pretty much free license to do what we want.
And so from as a studio standpoint, we really wanted to look at what we do well as a studio, but then also what's going to sell well. We want a monster hit like GTA. But then, you know, ultimately, there are so many interesting, cool things we could do in Vegas, and like you said earlier, it is pretty fresh. We are doing things no game has ever done before, and from an artistic standpoint, and from a game development standpoint, that's what you want to do. You want to strive for being innovative and cool.
So I think it's a good balance, you know; we have the hip, cool, relevant aspect of Vegas that is very appealing to a broad audience, but then we're doing some really cool, innovative things from a gameplay standpoint that are, quite frankly, going to challenge players; and hopefully people will embrace it, and enjoy them.
We're doing a lot of game testing to make sure this stuff is fun, but it's tough sometimes to go, "Hey, look, open world gamer guy, you're gonna party!" It's a new mechanic that no-one's ever done before.
Page 1 of 5