The basic concepts for the game, from a gameplay standpoint came first, then you sort of fleshed it out with some basic setting ideas, then you moved forward with finding the narrative that fit that. Would you say that's a fair assessment of how you proceeded?
CB: Yeah, pretty much. You know, we definitely started from "let's make you a mercenary". And let's let you work with different factions, and let's really focus -- and from a gameplay perspective, my thing had always been, you know, I really wanted to make something partly inspired by GTA, but also equally inspired by, you know, I grew up -- I'm Australian; I don't know if you can tell from my accent -- I grew up in Australia, and in Australia, the Commodore 64, and the Commodore platforms, like in Europe, the Commodore platforms were very dominant.
So I grew up with a lot of really classic Commodore 64 games as a kid -- you know, Elite, and a lot of the Andrew Braybrook games, like Paradroid -- and they all have this kind of sandbox element to them, where they have these fairly rigidly defined game rules, and then they set you loose in the world.
Particularly Elite, which was a game I was pretty obsessed with as a kid. It's got its rules, you've got the training, you've got your spaceship -- but then you're just set loose in the universe, and you can really, you've got goals, but... you're not told, minute to minute, here's what you have to do. And those were the games I was always really attracted to.
Actually, another really formative game for me was a game called Raid on Bungeling Bay, which I was really amazed to learn many, many, many years later, I learned that that was a Will Wright game, and it was actually the engine he wrote that he used to make SimCity.
So it was... this helicopter combat game called Raid on Bungeling Bay, that, as a kid, I played on the Commodore 64, and adored. It kind of had that element too -- you had free movement over the map, you could attack various objectives at any time. It was very goal-driven, rather than a scripted kind of...
You know, I have a lot of respect for all genres of games -- I have been a game developer long enough to know that there is creativity, and passion, and skill applied to pretty much any genre -- but as my personal tastes go more to the very emergent games... So, you know, I was bringing in to it... there was a great convergence between the idea of being a mercenary, and the kind of narrative freedom, and just the freedom inherent in that role, and the kind of gameplay freedom that, really, as a game designer, I find personally exciting.
And, actually... a lot of the designers that have been on the team for a long time, I think, share that enthusiasm for that kind of sandbox-style gameplay. And, honestly, to this day, I still think that's really something unique that Mercs really brings to the table, is our commitment to that player freedom. We really take it to a level that I think a lot of teams kind of get a lot of the way there, but you know...
I have a saying that I use a lot with the team, that I think is completely applicable to game development: "There's the first 90%, then there's the second 90%." I think a lot of teams go the first 90% -- all the games, I feel that they're the first 90% -- but then they'll kind of back off, and they won't let you go the rest of the way. I think there's a real emergent complexity that comes out if you really stick to your guns and say, "No. These rules are going to hold true without exception, across the entire game world, and the player can just do this any time."
I think it would've been very tempting, and it was very tempting at times, given the technical difficulties, to take something like the airstrikes, and make them into more cinematic, scripted moments. So, like, you had to stand on a specific hill, and you could call in the airstrike on a specific city, and we could craft it. It would have been much easier to make that a crafted, scripted moment. And it would've looked great -- it would've looked great in trailers, it would've looked good in TV ads.
But when you're playing the game, and you've been playing for three hours, and you've got your own personal narrative of how you got to that point, you don't want to be told where to use the airstrike. You want to use it when you want to use it. And I find it's a bit of an immersion breaker when I have to stand on a special flashing spot and press a button and it just happens for me. That's just me, as a gamer, but I certainly don't intend to be judgmental about how anyone else does it.
Well I think it just comes down to the matter that certain people like certain things. It's just like anything else -- movies, music.
CB: Yeah, exactly. So, see, I guess that was all an answer to your question of "how did we arrive at Mercs". For me, it was very -- once I got into that convergence of the idea of being a mercenary, and the narrative freedom, and that gameplay freedom, I was pretty hooked.