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And the same thing, when it comes to deciding what features you're going to update, it must be driven very much by practical considerations, as much as it is driven by a blue sky of what you'd like to see. How do you prioritize?
JO: One: Where do we want to be as a company; what do we want to own? And we have to have that in order to deal with larger types of investments, such as, for example, if we really want to own AI, we need a large AI staff, and we need to do years and years of development which is impractical for a single game title. So we need to have an understanding of long-term priorities, and road maps.
And then we try to identify games, and make sure that our priorities are in line with that, and meet the priorities of the game -- which systems are causing us the most pain -- and come up with, basically, a list, and do what we can; match the resources to them. So it's pretty practically-based, but there are a lot of factors that go into deciding it.
All of the titles that you've been developing recently, and also in terms of your company's history, for the most part seem to be first person titles. How much of that is a priority in terms of your technology, and how much of that is just a priority in terms of your company's overall core competency and what people like to make?
JO: I'd say primarily core competency. There are some differences in technology between, say, first and third person games, but not a huge amount, so we are looking to expand out in the future a little bit more. But, you know, we've made pretty good first person shooters; that's what people keep paying us to make. So, we haven't really had to break the mold too much, in terms of that, and, you know, if you're good at something, stick with it...
The biggest chunk of features on the list you provided about the engine is graphics-oriented.
JO: The main reason for that is that it tended to be what people care about and see. There's a huge number of underlying system things, like memory management, performance tracking, streaming, threading, etcetera, but people generally don't see those, and therefore, you know, out of sight, out of mind.
Do you guys do any data-mining on gameplay, to find out how users are interacting with the game -- either from a playtest perspective, or even in the retail product?
JO: We do. We do in the play test; we don't do any in the retail right now. It's something we've been doing over the past year or two, and it's a really great trend in the industry. There's a huge amount of information to be had, and some of it is so obvious once you have the data sitting right in front of you, but can be so difficult to spot when you're just not looking for it.
Tracking things like player death, when they use health packs, where they shoot, damage. We track a whole bunch of other stuff that is recorded during playtesting, and then we can analyze that information.
We have an on-site play test lab, and they do a lot of really interesting stuff, where they record the people, they ask them questions, have them fill out their excitement level at different stages, and stuff like that; and over time, you get very, very clear graphs of fun. It's turning fun into a relatively objective data point. And we've been able to use that to really make the game quite a bit better.
It's kind of funny, but I think that's true; it sounds a little weird when you say that -- "turning fun into an objective data point" -- but I think there's definitely an element of that. It's becoming clear that fun is something that you craft, so of course there's logical improvements to it. I mean, the initial spark of inspiration, or great ideas, drive the creativity of a product, but it's the ability to actually tweak and improve it that can turn it into something really special.
JO: And I still think there's a key difference in the type of stimulus you can receive from a game, whether that's intellectual creativity, or adrenaline-pumping excitement, but once you get down to that, there's obviously some very clear cut ways to measure that, and to determine if you're succeeding in them.