Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist
July 11, 2008 Page 6 of 7
CR: I'm so glad you mentioned that. I was playing a demo of Rev yesterday, and it made me think a lot, because it's such a big reset of that series, to the point where it reminded me of the game I first played 17 years ago.
It made me think that as simple as it is, it's still fairly complex. I made it to the point where every single turn I'm still moving little workers around and assigning them to these tiles and thinking about things 20 turns in advance, and I'm wondering, "Why does it not feel overwhelming?" And then I realized, "Well, it's turn-based. I could go to the kitchen and get a drink in that time."
BS: And also you can stop.
CR: Exactly. You can just stop. That made me think about it further, in reference to StarCraft. I have a friend who's not a hardcore gamer, but he loves the idea of StarCraft. He loves the basic mechanics it has, and he enjoys playing it, but it's overwhelming to him, and it's frustrating, because I know what he means. It's such a great feel, but it just pounds you over the head, because if you can't keep up with it...
SJ: It's weird. I definitely have thoughts like, "Will RTS as it exists right now be here in 20 years?" The classic "Build a base, build some barracks, go attack the other guy..." Part of me wonders if this is just a temporary dead-end, because RTSes could be everything from Railroad Tycoon, SimCity, MULE, Populous... those are all RTSes.
But they're each in small bits of gameplay. It's not everything. It's not forcing you to manage a hundred guys at the same time and juggle all these balls. A lot of these games have gotten by recently based on the pure spectacle. It's always cool to have all these tanks and point them at the other guy and see all this stuff fly and blow up. It's still fun.
CR: Like Supreme Commander and even the Relic games. Opposite scale, but they all have the same kind of appeal.
SJ: Yeah. I really enjoyed playing Company of Heroes for those reasons. You put the guys in the buildings, you snipe someone from a long distance, and it's just fun to see that stuff happen.
THQ/Relic's Company of Heroes
CR: These days, everybody releases their own RTS screenshots zoomed in to the ground. You never play the game like that, but it says a lot about...
SJ: What people are looking for from it, yeah. I think there's a big tension there. It's going to be a hard thing to resolve.
BS: Or like Command & Conquer 3. When it came out, they were like, "You can control this many dudes now!" And I was like, "No! I won't!"
SJ: "I'll run farther away from you!"
BS: Yeah. But at the same time, you don't want to know how many tactics and turn-based RPGs I've played through to completion. I will play those until I'm dead. But an RTS is like, "Aaaah! It's all happening!"
SJ: It's really weird how the turn-based genre is this red-headed stepchild, because there are a lot of turn-based tactical games... most people would call them RPGs, and not classical strategy games. But to go to a publisher and say, "I want to make a good old-fashioned turn-based, grid-based strategy game," you're more or less dead in the water.
BS: Well, I don't think they even sell that well, because we were talking on the bus about Jeanne D'Arc, which is really, really good and it's got so many of the UI problems fixed. The main thing you're doing in a turn-based game is dealing with the UI and the numbers and choosing things from a list, and it's so smooth, but I don't think it sold very well.
SJ: Really? That's too bad.
CR: I'll be curious to see how Revolution sells, because I think a lot of it is purely a perception thing. The PSP was not the right system for that.
BS: If it were on the DS, it would have sold really well, but Sony wouldn't be able to do that.
SJ: They wouldn't know how well Advance Wars usually sells.
CR: They sell really well. I couldn't give you numbers. They're in the top ten, I think, on the DS at least.
BS: I think it's a million-plus seller, probably.
SJ: Yeah, I would assume. But this industry suffers so much in general from vague info and the fact that nobody really knows the answers to these questions.
CR: It's marketed in a much more intense and heavy way than other entertainment products are, to the point where if you have a game coming out, on a weekly or monthly basis you need to release some screenshots. And turn-based strategy games are simply not as glitzy. That really says nothing. When you actually sit down to play it...
SJ: As an actual publisher, I think there's always a little bit of machismo about what games you're making. Turn-based is not the kind of thing that makes you feel like you're at the forefront of the industry.
CR: It doesn't feel progressive, in that sense.
SJ: Yeah, they've been doing that for thousands of years.
CR: Chess is a turn-based strategy game.
SJ: There's a reason they've been doing it for thousands of years.
BS: Because it works.
CR: It's interesting, because it seems like there's kind of a resurgence of that kind of thing outside of the video game world with all the German-style board games. Those seem to be going through a rise.
SJ: And then they pop up on Live Arcade and people discover it who wouldn't have tried it otherwise, which is really cool.
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