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Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist
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Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist

July 11, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 7 of 7

CR: This parallels a lot with the article you wrote in Game Developer about 2D versus 3D. It's a similar kind of thing, and a similar problem. One of them is less glamorous than the other, but sometimes...

SJ: Well, turn-based games are all about clarity. It's like, you have these three choices, and go ahead with it. In 2D games, the clarity is much higher than a 3D game. You're able to pick up the metaphors a lot quicker and get what the situation is.

The thing about turn-based games is - and I think this is also true for flight simulators - is that it's kind of a matter of your expectations. Stardock, for example, has made a lot of money with Gal Civ... Just knowing, "Okay, we're not going to sell a million units, but we're going to sell 250 or 300,000 copies of it."

It's not hard to make money. You can make a lot of money doing that if you set your budgets. If you set a realistic expectation for your project, you can definitely make money. You just need to set your budget correctly. But those kinds of returns just don't interest a lot of major publishers.

CR: I think there's also, on the flipside, an expectation problem on the part of gamers, a different kind of expectation. I think for whatever reason, we've been trained to expect a different thing from a triple-A title than we do from... like, if you go to Live Arcade, you can find a lot of 2D games. You can find Carcassonne or whatever.

For some reason, even though you might have the exact same amount of fun with that as you do with a game that you bought from GameStop that's a much glitzier game... I've played more Live Arcade games than I have retail games, and I know other people who have too. For some reason, there is still an unwillingness on the part of some people... it's a mental block of, "Oh well, that was super-fun, but it's still..."

SJ: Well, the whole human psychology of the expectation of what something should cost is a really funny category. Everything's very comparative. I think people have a sense that 2D games shouldn't be more than 10 or 20 bucks. That's just how it goes. I was listening to the Alien Hominid people talk about trying to get their game out there. So many publishers were not willing to give them the time of the day.

This was like three or four years ago. I think it has changed somewhat thanks to Live Arcade and stuff like that, but one publisher said that their art style was "irresponsible", making a 2D game like that. I thought that was a very interesting way to phrase it. 3D is definitely not helping them.

BS: Yeah, 3D does not help you enjoy a game. Cameras are horrifying.

CR: Yeah, I've been using cameras for years and years. Think about how many reviews you read from hardcore gamers who still say, "The camera isn't very good. You have to fight the camera a lot."

SJ: Nobody complains about a 2D game's camera.

CR: To take this in a circular direction, I almost hope that a similar thing happens across the industry, in terms of not just 2D or 3D, but in gameplay in general, almost in what you described in Spore, in terms of being able to, "Now at this part, it plays like this game!"

Being able to, rather than segment everything like, "This is a 3D, third-person shooter game with a story," being able to say, "Well, this is what we wanted to express at this particular time. This is the gameplay and the interface we'll draw from to do that. Let's just make this part make as much sense to what's going on as we can," rather than relying on the much more bullet-driven thing entirely. The thing that's baffling is, like you say, casual gamers don't have a problem with this.

SJ: They don't have these expectations, yeah. There's this strange thing that goes on at a lot of publishers, I think, that you have a lot of people making decisions who are not hardcore gamers, but they've been in the business long enough that they feel like they need to please hardcore gamers. It's kind of this weird mismatch.

BS: I think it's because it takes them so long to learn what it's supposed to be like that it's hard to unlearn it, or rather change with the tastes of people.

SJ: Ironically, they may be better off if they just trusted their own instincts, which is weird. You wouldn't normally say that about quote-unquote suits, or whatever, but it may be true.

CR: Do you think that creates a reciprocal expectation on the part of the gamers, but then gamers aren't expecting that too? Because that's what I think.

BS: The press is definitely cycling into that.

SJ: The press is a big part of that, yeah. I would not want to be in one of the classic triple-A franchise battles right now. I think that's just a very bad place to be, whether that's fighting games, RTSes, FPSes. Those categories are very overcrowded, the press knows exactly what they want and what they expect, and that's just a very difficult area.

BS: To get back to Spore, one thing I was hoping was that since it is kind of tackling... it's not so much genres, specifically, but since it's tackling styles, I was hoping that it move from the casual to the hardcore, which it sort of does, and teach new people how to actually get into this different space.

SJ: I'd hoped we would do it, too. Civ will definitely be a lot of peoples' first RTS. They may not be aware that concept exists outside of Spore. I don't know if they'll suddenly go from Civ to StarCraft II, but...

BS: But they may recognize the teachings, because once you learn to read The Cat in the Hat or something like that, then you've got this lexicon of language that you can apply to other books. If you see another book, it's like, "Oh hey, I know how to read that."

SJ: It's probably better for the strategy genre than a lot of other triple-A RTSes. I mean yeah, like we've been talking about, how do we get more people into strategy games? That's the big challenge. We're going deeper and deeper on these smaller and smaller design areas, and the big problem needs to be solved.

CR: Spore is your Trojan Horse for getting strategy games there.

SJ: We'll see.

Article Start Previous Page 7 of 7

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