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Engaging Audiences: Denis Dyack Deconstructs The Industry
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Engaging Audiences: Denis Dyack Deconstructs The Industry

September 27, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 6 Next

One thing that you mentioned earlier was about scriptwriters and the human element of film creation that can be commoditized. I have a slight problem believing that's true, because while there is certainly people that you seek out and try to attach to a film or something like that, but at the same time, they are then allowed to lend their personal creative vision to that, and are given power within that. It's empowering as well.

DD: I guess if you look at my opinion -- and my understanding of the film industry -- the fact that everyone's contract and no one has a permanent job, that's not... some people do well in that. There's certainly some directors who became very successful. But I'd say the majority of the people in that industry do not like that model.

Interesting. My perspective is that the majority of people in this industry don't like the model that we use, because you've got a group of people always together, and there's like a "boy's club" insular mentality in certain ways. It's like once you're in the industry, you don't get booted out of it. You have to do really super bad to get kicked out of this industry.

DD: We're not big proponents of recruiting within the industry. We generally don't even look at it. Industry experience can be an asset, but it's necessarily an asset. However, if you look at Nintendo, those guys have been working together for 25 or 30 years. It seems to work for them.

Some people have made the point that I could make a great game with Ken Levine from BioShock and Cliffy B and Warren Spector. If I put those guys together, they would make this awesome game.

DD: Mm.

I know, I'm just saying.

DD: Yeah, I don't think they would, but I don't know.

No, I don't think they would either. I think they would just make something really terrible and then split up. But anyway, why shouldn't you be able to get the right talent for the right job?

DD: Oh, you should. I think from the perspective of a business model, it would be great if you didn't have to carry staff and look after them, and if you could just bring people on when you needed them and let them go when you didn't. I think for the talent itself, though, that's a commoditization. You become a utility, and your value becomes diminished significantly. At Silicon Knights, we don't hire part-time people. We don't outsource. It's all to protect the talent, which we are. I look at these models in Hollywood, and I think it's kind of broken in many ways. There's a lot of people who are struggling.

I think Hollywood has some really good things about it. There's a lot of things to learn, but there's a lot of things that you want to avoid as well. That's one of them: the commoditization of talent. One of the ultimate commoditizations of a human being is slavery. You can get even further than that, and you don't want to go there. It's whatever we can do to watch out for that. When I saw this, I referenced it in the scripts. I saw the screenplays, and I was like, "This is really homogeneous. They've got all this rules about interior, exterior, outdoor, light time, and night time."

I thought at first it was really terrible, but then after reading about 25 of them, I'm like, "Okay, I get it. I get now that after they submit this the director changes it. He puts it where he wants it." But what that does is say to the writer, "Okay, you're valuable, but you're not that valuable." It puts trust with everyone in their place. But that's my opinion of it. Maybe it's being sort of ignorant, I don't know.

Silcon Knights' upcoming mythological action title Too Human

That's sort of the opposite perspective that some people have. When you take a specific person, you could consider that you're giving them value, because you're saying, "I need you to do this, because you are the one who can do this for me." Some other people would find that floating around from project to project gives you a lot of freedom, and gives you the ability to work on different things instead of being like, "I have to do this one thing. I have to make textures in four years this exact way."

DD: That's a commoditization, too.

Yeah. There's certainly both sides on either way there.

DD: When you think about commoditization in technology, there's really... this is a reference from Ursula Franklin in The Real World of Technology -- she describes methodologies in two ways. One is prescriptive -- that's where you have a process where you say, "Okay, we're going to do this, this, this, and this." It works really well for people who don't know what they're doing and they're learning it for the first time. A prescriptive model has very hard set rules. Prescriptive models were used during the industrial age, for manufacturing. The other approach is the holistic model. The holistic model is learning from peoples' experience where they have knowledge and understanding, and they have a set of rules, but they use their experience to overcome unforseen circumstances, and they adapt well. The holistic models are generally, in my opinion, much better.

From a perspective of making sure that the talent behind what's being created really has an opportunity to get their own creativity in there, and they can use their experience to overcome challenges, whereas with the prescriptive model, it would be like, "I can't do that. It's a rule," whatever that may be, whatever that rule is. In those different ways of doing things, the prescriptive model is unfortunately becoming very dominant in society. People automatically want rules, and they automatically fall into... it's just like when technology is introduced. [It] suddenly becomes this awesome thing that's going to change your life for the better. This is back into the technology talk, but when I talked about commoditization of technology, when the sewing machine was introduced, it was introduced and marketed as something that was going to free women from sewing.

It was going to change their lives so that they could sew five minutes a day, and do more sewing than they could otherwise. After awhile, they became mass-marketed and commoditized, and then someone figured out, "Hey, I can make these sweatshops where people can be sewing all the time," and suddenly, this really good thing became this really bad thing. Technology is always that way. In the film industry, I do see that as a negative, and I really wish we could, when we look at all these things... we can't always ask -- and I think that's one of the central themes in Too Human -- just because you can doesn't mean you should. Every time we figure out we can something, should we do it?

If we're going to start splicing our genes and decide whether we have males or females, or whether our son is going to be blonde or brunette, or if he's going to be very muscular or intelligent -- should we do that? Is that the right thing? What is that going to do 100,000 years from now, when our genetic code is completely controlled by us? Is there something in the random generation of DNA that helps us survive? Are we going to be extinct? We need to think about these things. These are the kinds of things with technology that I think that we have. That's why I brought that up. It wasn't necessarily to make the point that it's bad, but I think there's definitely some bad things in Hollywood that we need to avoid.

That's actually the same thing that they're tackling in BioShock. Rather transparently, but it's the same deal.

DD: Yeah. That's a good game so far -- I'm about halfway through.

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