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Into The Sector: Digital Extremes' Steve Sinclair
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Into The Sector: Digital Extremes' Steve Sinclair

February 5, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

I know you're going back in and doing more multiplayer stuff now. Do you feel like... well, I've been feeling like, I should say, that multiplayer hasn't killed single-player, but it's almost supplanted it, as the thing that people focus on in many ways. It's like... it could just be the press, but I feel like people aren't spending as much time, sometimes, figuring out how to make a good single-player experience, as long as the multiplayer is really solid. I don't know.

SS: Right. It's been the inverse for us. We've had a lot of experience with multiplayer, working on those Unreal games. They were multiplayer games. Any single-player component to speak of was a way of rephrasing what was multiplayer. Again, that's where I think the studio stretched quite a bit, in terms of figuring out how to tell a story. For us, it certainly hasn't supplanted or even competed in terms of our focus.

It's definitely been single-player from the beginning, and in fact there have been points very late in development where we didn't think we'd be able to get multiplayer at all. That was pretty painful, because technically, it was not a problem. The engine has been a networked client-server engine from the very beginning. So for us, the multiplayer is cool, and it's uniquely Dark Sector, but it hasn't eclipsed at all the single-player. It's definitely firmly there.

There's a lot of the kind of modification of skills and abilities that happens. How much is too much of that? How do you decide, "Okay, people have a bunch of stuff they can do now." When does it start getting too complicated?

SS: I would say that one of my fears is that we're pretty darn close to that threshold -- that saturation point. One of the earlier concepts of the game that we had until like a month ago was this sort of XP system, where number of glaive kills equals points toward getting the next evolution. A huge problem with that ended up... for example, you saw the power throw, when you hit the gates and you slam them open. We couldn't do that, because we didn't know when you were going to get it, which meant that we couldn't present you with a challenge that you could prove your knowledge of it.

In fact, we found that when we focus tested, putting the two gates is like ten times better than putting one, because they'll accidentally do one, but by the time they get to the second one, they're kind of rocking. So we took out the XP system, and said, "Okay, you're going to get it here, here, and here." And that allowed us to pace a challenge with it.

What you saw, I think, was that we rapidly layer on the aspects of the glaive, and then you're going to play for about an hour and a half with that stuff, and then there's going to be a boss and you're going to get another simple power, but the complexity of the glaive is important, because that's our defining weapon in the game. We wanted to give it as much as we could.

Digital Extremes' Dark Sector, in development for the PS3 and Xbox 360

Yeah. You seem very reliant on people liking the glaive.

SS: Absolutely. The dual-wield kind of relaxes that tension a little bit, and we did go back, like I said, and gave you a whole bunch of different pistol weapons. But yeah, if they don't like that, we're kind of screwed! (laughs)

Does it make you nervous?

SS: Yeah, it does. I mean, as soon as someone rips someone in half in slow motion with the aftertouch, I think they'll hopefully appreciate it.

The achievement stuff that you're doing on the PS3...?

SS: Yes sir.

Is that visible by other players?

SS: It is not.

So it's just for you within the game?

SS: It's just for you within the game.

Does it do anything else? Does it unlock anything?

SS: No. It is merely just to present you with a challenge. "Do 30 headshots," do this and that.

So it's more like a high score type of aesthetic.

SS: Absolutely. It's pretty simple, how it's implemented.

I was just wondering, because... I know some people who are like, "Okay, I've got two versions of this game. One of them's got achievements. I wonder which one I'm going to play!"

SS: Yeah, for sure. I guess it's just "Where is Home at?" and how much beta code can we stand to use. I would love it if that was integrated in there. I'm not sure. Again, I don't think we can stand to do another delay.

No. But you could probably, since you've implemented them, I bet you could maybe patch it?

SS: Yeah, if there's an auto-update and we add more maps and game modes. That would be awesome to squeeze that in there, for sure.

What do you think is the importance of story in these kinds of single-player experiences? As you know, I like story, as I mentioned earlier, but still a lot of the time I want to skip it. How do you make it so that people don't want to? Because sometimes I don't want to, like in BioShock and Call of Duty 4.

SS: Sure. How do you do it? From what I've seen, it has to be outrageously high quality. That's part of the thing we're trying to do, is to polish them up so that you don't want to skip them. But I think they're important.

I think at last year's GDC, they were talking about some Harvard research on gamers and paths, and one of the top ones wasn't graphics and so on -- it was role engagement. "Why am I here? What is my role in this world?" That seemed to be one of the highest.

Beyond multiplayer, and beyond sexy next-gen graphics, they wanted to feel like there is a reason and a compulsion to continue. So I guess stories are too old to smack you in the face of role engagement. I think there are probably other tools that might be better, but I don't know what they are.


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