The Last Express: Revisiting An Unsung Classic
November 28, 2008 Page 5 of 6
The "I Did It!" Moment, and Exploring Times and Spaces
The thing that appeals to me about The Last Express is that though I may not have had much existing knowledge about that period, that period was so clearly defined and expressed in the game. The game knew its setting, and evoked it in such a way that it made me care about what was going on there. Usually, games deliver settings they know people will relate to -- fantasy, sci-fi, World War II, things that are very much ingrained.
MN: Well, adventure games give you more ability to be more flexible like that, although they do have their own kind of gameplay structures and motifs, and they repeat puzzles and things like that. The one thing you want to try to avoid with an adventure game is the game-stopping puzzle.
But it's funny, because we talk in terms of genres like sci-fi or medieval, but in games, in fact, genres are "first-person shooter" or "real-time strategy," and then you put it together with another element.
The big difference between games and movies that Jordan talks about is that in games, there's no identification necessary. You don't have to go through the same sort of effort as in the movies, because it's all about your action. When you're designing a game, you want to make it seem like a person can do anything, even though it's a limited number of actions. They're making all the choices.
In a movie, you're watching somebody else make choices, but you start to feel for them, and live the movie through their eyes a little bit, even though you're watching them do all of the exciting things. But Jordan would often talk about how in a game, the big thing is the "I did it!" moment. You try something over and over and keep failing.
In Prince of Persia, obviously, it's things like jumping, running, and fighting. In The Last Express, it's things like having to do something that's very plot-oriented by a certain time.
If you don't, we have the rewind clock -- the Fabergé egg that rewinds -- that I thought was a brilliant, advanced interface, and in fact, it was the inspiration for doing that in The Sands of Time. So it did have some value in the long run.
MM: I think games are the perfect medium for an exploratory setting. Broderbund actually had a title called 3D Home Architect, where you could go in and see what it would be like to be in a museum. They're the perfect tool for exploring, in a way that I think a movie is not.
I've only worked in film for the last eight years, but a film can tell a great story, but you can't really explore a whole year. A movie doesn't move at your own pace. It moves at the director's and the editor's pace, and it goes quickly and washes over you.
Whereas, with a game, you can sit there for hours and hours and just explore every crevice. Jordan used to say that the perfect environment for a game is a closed space, be it in the seven cars in The Last Express, or a spaceship, for that matter, or any kind of environment where you can say, "We're going to take a small area and map it out perfectly."
I've always been interested in history, and if you do latch on to a historical period... Some of the things we talked about during The Last Express were doing a game about Jack the Ripper set in 1880s London, perfectly recreating the London Underground just as it's being built in the 1880s, or doing a Huckleberry Finn-type "What would it be like to be on a boat in the Mississippi in the 1840s?" game.
There are these spaces that you can recreate. In The Last Express, we chose the three days on the eve of World War I, real dates in history. We didn't have to make a decision about what the weather would be like. We just looked it up. It's raining on the second day of the game -- Saturday -- because it really was raining all across Europe. There were thunderstorms all across Europe, and so we put it in the game.
MN: Yeah, but then we just had to program it.
MM: Yeah, and that was tough. We wished it hadn't been raining. But once you make a decision to be authentic to the date that you're telling, it's made.
I think a game that does that now masterfully is Assassin's Creed. I adore that game. For Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft decided that this game takes place in 1193. Not the 12th century -- it takes place specifically in 1193, and there are nine people you have to kill, and they are all real historical figures, and all nine of them actually did die in 1193.
The one big liberty that they've taken is that there's no evidence that a single assassin killed these nine crusaders, but that's a game that I feel really captures the feel of The Last Express in a way that's fun and action-oriented, and in some ways, it's a lot more fun to play than The Last Express.
You play in Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre -- three Middle Eastern cities they've recreated historically. They worked with all these old maps, so if you walked across a plank in Assassin's Creed, at least according to their literature and behind-the-scenes stuff, that's a plank that really did exist in these old maps. All the architecture and buildings -- they used real maps of Jerusalem in 1193. It's the exact same thinking we used for The Last Express -- just recreate a small section of the entire world, and let the player explore.
MN: Right. And we thought that that was a world that people would really enjoy. It was rich and very atmospheric.
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