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Life In Vegas: Surreal's Alan Patmore On Open World Innovation
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Life In Vegas: Surreal's Alan Patmore On Open World Innovation

June 23, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

I have to admit to a certain unfamiliarity with the game; certainly this was the first big presentation I've had on it. I see the game -- at least from what I saw -- there's a synthesis of a lot of things -- a picking and choosing of things that work, maybe. To an extent it reminded me of The Sims, in the dance party. It's a sort of social interaction gaming. But then, obviously, you have the fighting, which is, you know... A more core-gamer oriented thing. And there's, you know, obviously driving and stuff like that. Is it picking and choosing the different elements...

AP: Yeah, it's interesting you said The Sims element, because a lot of people have been kind of pulling that, OK, there's a little bit of The Sims in here; and conceptually there is, in terms of, you know, Vegas is social, partying is social.

But what we've had to do, and the challenge we've had, is how to translate that into an action experience. So dancing is high action, I mean you have to have timing, there's coordination, there's a lot of second-to-second gameplay where you are busting the controllers.

We based it off of Tony Hawk, where literally there is a series of combos based on the beat, that will get you your score. So, in its core essence, it's action, but it definitely has a social element, and feels social. So it's definitely been an interesting challenge to combine those elements, because at our core, it's an action game, an open world action game, but ultimately, what it really comes down to is player choice.

It's really up to the player, we've staged [the presentation] out in a very staged way, but if you played it, you could dance the entire time to get the party going, and just ignore the [enemy type] Cheesy Bachelors. Or you could just beat up Cheesy Bachelors, if that was your thing; if you just want to fight the whole time, you could do that. So it's really up to the player to choose how they want to play.

Midway/Surreal Software's This is Vegas

I've heard it said that open world require 30% more that goes into making one, compared to a traditional, linear game. So it's a big challenge. You're trying to raise the bar; you're trying to put in more and more different stuff in the game. How do you manage that? How do you get the right people on the right things? How do you prioritize what will go into the game?

AP: Well, the first thing we did is really figure out what the focus of the game was, and that's where we came up with the Vegas pyramid. And that was really kind of funny, that we showed this at a press event, but it's really what helps synthesize the vision for the team, and help keep us on target, and to help set the priorities of what we're going to work on.

One of the challenges with an open world game is that it's all about breadth. You want a large amount of breadth in the game. In Vegas, God, the possibilities are endless; when we were in blue sky design mode, it was like, "You can do everything!" because you literally can do everything you want in Vegas.

So we really had to narrow it down to the four core pillars of the game, which are: fighting, racing -- which includes driving, gambling, and partying. So, really, those are the core elements. And then from there, once we had those core pillars, we had a writer come up with the story... Actually, the story is incredible; it was Jay Pinkerton, who is the editor of Cracked magazine, who wrote the story. We really wanted to balance out those mechanics across the course of the narrative, and that's really what kept us on-target as well.

One of the interesting things we're finding is that, with open world games, you'll be playing, and you'll discover something new. Like, "Oh, we didn't intend for this to happen in the game, but it's fun, and cool, so how do we support it?" And that's where you start getting, I think, into the 30%, and that's really the magic of open world games; how those four pillars of your game interact, and how players can use it as a tool in this simulated space to create emerging gameplay.

And that's something that we really want the players to be able to do in Vegas. We literally want you to be able to pick up the controller and just screw around; just mess around, and not have to do the narrative if you didn't want to. And that was one of the appealing things when I first started playing GTA.

I think it took me maybe two or three weeks to get to the narrative, because I was literally just messing around in the world for so much. So we really want to support that, and reward the player for doing that.

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