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Dan Houser On How Rockstar Does It

November 18, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

One of the hot new technologies of this industry these days is 3D. Is there a room or a place for true stereoscopic 3D in a game like Max Payne 3?

DH: I'm not really the person in Rockstar to talk to about that one, because it is no passion of mine. I don't think anyone has solved the riddle of how you make 3D an integral part of the gaming experience: 3D in terms of depth of graphics of course, but not 3D in coming out on the screen and stereoscopic.

Is it really able to impact gameplay in a meaningful way? That is something that we haven't solved. You know, I don't think any of us have come close to solving it yet, and I don't think they've solving it in cinema. But that's a more complicated debate.

There are a lot of powerful people in movies who are passionate believers in it. In games it's got a little bit less attention, because games are about gameplay, and no one has yet found a way that it enhances this gameplay.

Every other technological innovation, that either television, or console makers, or PC graphics card makers [has made that] you can see, has had a tangible impact on either the ability to make mechanics more interesting at the core level or the ability to make the characters better.

3D has not yet done that, as far as I am aware. You can point to the killer experience on most bits of new technology, or most bits of new hardware. And you can't point to anything that makes you go, "Once you play this on 3D, then you know why you want to play 3D."

I've got to ask: In Max Payne 2, Mona dies in most difficulty levels, but if you finish the game at the highest difficulty level, she lives. Where does she stand health wise at this point in Max's life?

DH: It is not continuing that aspect of the story, because of that exact issue. Because of the time difference or the platform difference, there's no way of know what anyone might have played.

We toyed with figuring out some way, or doing something clever, and then [decided] "No, no, just move on from that bit of the story." It really didn't work because there was no way of knowing the choices someone made.

Options turn your consumer from a passive consumer into an active consumer. The more choices you give them, the more balls go into the air, and the more problems you have when it comes your turn to reset the balls up for their next go at it.

It is interesting work in making a narrative that responds to what the players want and the player's choices. The second you do that, though, it makes sequels very hard. So it is super exciting that stuff, but it also can make your head spin.

I can't even imagine what your bible is for a game like GTA, and much less for one like Max.

DH: Oh, I've got several bibles for GTA. There has to be, because there is a bible for brands, and a bible for radio, and one for background characters. Really, there is no one single knowledge base on GTA. There's too much now. I mean, between the technical and the non-technical sides -- but even on the non-technical content sides.

Well, there is one expert -- and it is the fan base.

DH: Yes! We don't make a lot of mistakes, but if we make them, they find them in seconds -- even the tiniest little things hidden away in the back of beyond in the games. You have to be careful because they are there for you.

It's funny. I spoke with Tim Kring, the creator of the TV show Heroes, earlier this year, and even that show had so much mythology going on he said that the writers lost track. But thankfully, the fans were so obsessive they had basically put together a wiki, and the writers were pulling information from that.

DH: We do the same. I would be very surprised if anyone working on a long running thing like this that is popular these days isn't. The wiki is pretty good. For some of the older games, where I just want to remember a particular person's name or a particular brand or something, it's probably in our records, but some of the details stuff from the wiki is amazing and we love it.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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Mark Collen
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I have to utterly disagree with the assertion that 3D has yet to prove itself as a valuable addition to games, and games are certainly the "killer app" for 3D at this point.

I play Socom 4 (and played Killzone 3) *exclusively* in 3D, and it ups the immersion factor, and the ability to judge distances, etc., to the degree that when I for any reason step out of 3D (to show a group of people something in the game, for instance), it's like I've gone from being *in* an experience to to viewing flat cutouts in a cheap diorama through a window from a distance. It loses a *tremendous* degree of immediacy.

And as for games being the killer app for 3D: before I started gaming in 3D, I probably watched maybe four to six hours a month of 3D content -- now, playing my favorite game(s), I actually had to modify the glasses for comfort for such constant use, probably a hundred hours or more a month.

(And for reference, I'm fifty-seven, so this isn't a kid's enthusiasm for the newest, coolest thing.)

Just an addtional point of reference for the developer: Game companies are filled with game "lifers" who are simply used to things being the way they've grown up with them (i.e, thumbstick controllers, etc.), or they wouldn't be so deeply involved as to make it their livelihood, and they can tend to forget that their largest untapped market are those who DO NOT buy and/or try every single thing that comes out... those who are often unfairly label the "casual" gamer. The NON-"hardcore" gamer can be just as involved as -- and is usually prepared to willingly *spend* more -- than the hordes of whiny "I play everything but don't have a job and live in my parents' basement" 'hardcores'... we tend to focus on something we really enjoy irrespective of COD-style "leveling-up" dopamine-stimulation and trophy-whoring etc., and are consequently far less fickle about which IPs we remain loyal to.

Joe McGinn
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Current 3D tech is just far too crap for this problem to be really solved. 3D will have no impact on gaming until we have much better, closer to holographic, tech.

Ian Williams
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While I understand where you're coming from, and the 3D does sound sweet, calling hardcore gamers whiny basement dwelling trolls is hardly fair.

Joe McGinn
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I also have Pilot Wings. By playing with that 3D slider - and of course, if I hold the device *perfectly* motionless relative to my head - I can see a sort-of ghosty 3D effect that is really not that impressive. And it gives me a headache after a while, I can feel how it's screwing with my eyes as I play.

james sadler
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3D can do some great things for the gaming industry and vise versus, but the technology available to consumers just isn't there yet. I saw some technology about 4 years ago that allowed people to view 3D without glasses, similar to the 3DS, but on a large scale (think the display was something like 150 inches). It took a minute for one's eyes to adjust but it worked pretty well and didn't give the usual 3D hangover effect most 3D does give. But there was a lot of debate about having the proper lighting, how fast the image can be, size and viewing angle. There are just too many variables at this point. It also doesn't help that they came out with the commercial products way too soon after releasing the LED LCD displays as well as during an economic downturn. Now it just seems like they're trying to ram 3D down the consumer's throats and people are pushing back. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of 3D for games and movies, but I think that it just isn't right yet.

Joe McGinn
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Yeah I think James nailed it, the tech just isn't there.

Dario keep in mind with current tech, the effect is *highly* variable to different people. It's likely that you are seeing an amazing effect and I just am not, that's perfectly consistent with what I'd expect from this tech. Some people can't see the effect barely at all (anyone with "lazy eye" for example) and others experience physical discomfort, while others see an amazing 3D image and can't understand why everyone isn't in love with the thing.

Dan Jones
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Good article. I have a lot of respect for Rockstar and it's always interesting to get some insight into the way Dan Houser thinks about games.

One minor correction in the very last bit of the interview: the name of the "Heroes" creator is Tim Kring, not Tim Crane.

Gil Salvado
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I agree, just lately I personally came to despite thinking of games as an art form. In my opinion they're design, because they have a function and technical limitations. As car manufacturer you wouldn't speak of your automobiles as a piece of art, would you? But others could, and that's the point I got to admit to Houser. For other people, the consumer in most cases, games can be art, but for us as developers they are design.

Pieterjan Spoelders
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Refreshing interview :)