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If you did a cell phone game, would you want to do something small and original for it, would you want to do an extension of Tabula Rasa, would you want to use an old IP that you have sitting around?
RG: I would do something original, but probably familiar. Here's what I mean. When I describe the Runes of Virtue on the Game Boy as my favorite non-PC game that we did -- when we tried to translate Ultima onto consoles, when we tried to create the Atari 1600 version of Ultima V or whatever, those games were terrible.
And the reason why it didn't work very well was because the PC is a very big platform, we shoehorned it into the 8 or 16-bit console. The graphics looked worse, the game was kind of stripped: it became a clearly inferior shadow of the original. And so I don't think it was really very fun.
When we went to make a Game Boy version, you really couldn't shoehorn one in. It was so much smaller that really all you could go is, "Well, what is the essence of an Ultima?" and "Let's go make something that's Ultima-like, but is really designed for this platform." And that game was actually a really good game. And it felt like an Ultima, it was clearly an Ultima in my mind. But it was designed from --
You built it from the platform up, instead of trying to reduce it.
RG: ...the platform up. And so that why I probably wouldn't do any translation onto [a smaller platform]. Even if we used an IP like Tabula Rasa, that would only give people some familiar grounding of visual style.
It would be the same logo.
RG: Yeah, exactly. But otherwise it would be completely different, ground-up game.
GS: I wanted to ask you about areas of familiarity. What do you keep up with, and what's off your radar?
RG: As a gamer, I'm actually surprisingly ignorant of what's going on... many of the popular products I've of course heard of, a few of them maybe even purchased the box, like I have a BioShock box on my desk, that I've never installed for about three months now.
But I bought it because I saw other people playing it and it looked like something I'd be interested in so I actually went out and bought one. I just haven't even found the time to put it in.
There's occasionally things, like the Portal game in The Orange Box is one that I've observed and think that it would be interesting -- I've watched it be played -- but I've never played it. And so it's really only one game every few years that I actually manage to get to play.
Does that concern you? And
this is the story for developers across the board -- they never actually
have time to play games, they only have time to make them?
RG: Not really, because I think that, at least I have found, that by observing other people play, and then these little windows, brief windows of time that you get to play the games, you...
When I do play games -- with the exception of the ones I already mentioned like Myst, and Abe's Oddysee, and American McGee's Alice, which I played because I really enjoyed them, and I played them to completion -- most of the time when I play a game, I play it for like two hours.
And I play it to really get the gist of "what is their big advancement," UI theorem, what's their render pipeline operating like, what is their mission cycle organized like. And so I'm studying it. As soon as I think I've got the gist of it, I'm done, I move on.
But isn't this like the
Great American Novelist who reads thirty pages of Nabokov, then thirty
pages of Tolstoy, then thirty pages of Faulkner --
RG: Oh, totally. But here's
what's interesting is, I'm very much what you might describe as a non-reader.
I've read Lord of the Rings multiple times. I've read the
Chronicles of Narnia multiple times. That's about it. The other,
even fantasy or sci-fi works that I've ever read in my whole life, I'm
sure numbers less than five books total. Even through school.
You might think of that as a big deficiency, and it probably is, when you're trying to do something artistic or literary, I'm sure that's a deficiency. But what's interesting is, as I grew up as a game designer, I instead have become a devout researcher.
And so I have a whole research library now. On every subject I try to tackle in games, I go buy -- not just a few books -- I buy a shelf of books on the subject, whether that's philosophy, symbolic languages, architecture of various eras and countries. While I don't read it cover-to-cover, I do study it and find passages and paragraphs or chapters that are exactly what I need to digest in order to become quasi-expert on a subject.