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Obviously, there's a lot of debate over how story integrates with games or how relevant it is. You seem to feel pretty strongly that it's an equal partner.
TA: Yes. I definitely would. I would rephrase it as, "What we are creating is a story adventure." Every element of the game should support that. So, I actually see story as -- and I'm not embarrassed to say it -- the most important part of the game experience.
And everything, including the gameplay, which has to be solid -- the sounds, the cinematics, the cameras, and the action -- all of those things are part of the story. And if you manage to integrate all of those layers together, you get this kind of transcendental experiences that you remember from gaming yore that you get in games like Ico, Out of this World, the games that you hold dear to your heart and that you never forget.
They're the ones that have managed to just transcend above the sum of their parts. That's our ambition. It's difficult. We don't know if we'll actually achieve it, but that's what we want to do.
Aside from storytelling, you guys have had a real focus on melee combat. Obviously, you have Heavenly Sword, and this has a melee combat focus -- and Kung Fu Chaos, for that matter.
TA: Yeah, yeah. I guess it started from Kung Fu Chaos, and since we've always been building on top of our last game, it's carried on. It's different in this game. It's about a third of the experience in this game. It's actually really, really tough to actually carry a whole game with one mechanic, which is combat. In Enslaved, we focused on areas that we didn't tackle before -- puzzle solving, traversal, that kind of thing.
It seems that we sort of as an industry fall back on combat because it's something that we understand how to do, and it's something that is rewarding and engaging. How do you strike the balance that you want to strike this time out?
TA: Yeah, I don't know. When you walking on a trade show floor, you see just so much -- this barrage of action, violence, shooting, fighting, and swordplay. Fundamentally, it's familiar. We know we can make fun, melee combat, which is why we all do so.
But one thing, I think, that's starting to shift, is the idea that a game has to have one selling point. You go to a publisher and you pitch an idea, and they'll ask, "What's your main selling point?"
When I look at some of my favorite games, I can't spot my main selling point. When I look at Uncharted 2 -- I keep referring to it because it's fresh in my memory -- I can't spot a single selling point. The selling point is it's by Naughty Dog, it's got a great story and a great game, and everything works really good.
And I hope that trend continues because I think we've got to move away from the gimmicks of gameplay and more into the overall experience.
Mechanics versus experience -- it's different ways of looking at what games can actually deliver.
TA: Yeah. Yeah.
But at the same time, to have elements in a game, you do have to nail them from a technical and from the feel. If the feel isn't there, it's not going to fly. So, you have to put that work into those.
TA: Yes, yes. Absolutely. And when I keep talking about the story and the experience, I see very much gameplay mechanics, sound, music -- all those elements have to be rock solid because they are part of it. You don't have to compromise one for the other.
When it comes to actually developing the solid gameplay mechanics that underpin the experience, did you spend a lot of time prototyping out the interactions before you launched the production of the actual game?
TA: Yeah, so we probably spent a year and a half in pre-production, which I think should be about standard. I think you should probably be spending at the very least about a third of your development time, if not more -- half, ideally, actually -- in pre-production.
Was that primarily focused around prototypes of gameplay?
TA: Yeah, so one of the ways we approach mechanics is we prototype and iterate the mechanics as much as possible, and then we test it. So, before we put them into a level, we create gray box scenarios just totally out of context so that designers don't have to worry about "How does this fit into the story or the world?" They're just stress testing each mechanic in different gray box rooms. And then once we know which bits work really well, we can then integrate them into puzzles and the gameplay. I think that approach worked very well.
Did you get as much out of it as you were expecting? Did you spend as much time on it as you expected?
TA: Well, I mean, when we moved from Heavenly Sword to a multiplatform title, we had to basically start from scratch because all our tools -- engine and everything -- is owned by Sony.
So, we chose Unreal. It actually allowed the designers to start working immediately. A lot of our designers have programming backgrounds, so they can start prototyping without any help at all, and that was brilliant.