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When Warner Bros. picked up Midway, it really only wanted the Mortal Kombat studio and back-burnered everything else, right? Were other teams fighting for consideration, and were you showing Hero around, trying to sell it off?
CS: Early on there was no known buyer for Midway. Lots of IP got shown to lots of publishers. All the IP was for sale. Eventually, my understanding is Warner Bros. bought most of it, but not all.
This was a huge shock to all of us -- besides losing your jobs, it is like a friend died. Many of us had two years of eating and sleeping this game. Not sure if it is hope or denial, but you really try hard to keep anything of a team together.
Right away, you start having "offline" communications with the whole team, with a team email distribution list through personal email instead of corporate, giving them updates on how you are still trying to sell this game that we all fell in love with, but it is really hard -- they all need jobs, many have families, they can't just hang out in limbo, waiting.
It is pretty crazy how even after getting let go... how much the whole team was still engaged and wanted to make this game more than anything. Looking back now, it is pretty amazing we have so many of the Hero team working with us now at Phosphor, even though it took us over a year after the layoff to get a physical studio.
Could you take any of it with you?
CS: What we're doing now is, I mean -- we just totally started over. We don't have any connection to the old codebase, story, assets, whatever. What we have is the very cool idea that create-a-player [concept of Hero's central feature] is this really awesome opportunity to change your character and your abilities to whatever you want them to be.
It's crazy, because after you have that power... you get so used to that idea that when you see other games, you're like, "I wish I could just do this or that, I wish I had this other kind of skill."
Do you think players generally are dissatisfied with pre-prescribed characters?
CS: Well... I worked on Psi-Ops and Stranglehold, and a lot of that... as cool as [Psi-Ops protagonist Nick Scryer's] abilities were, he looks almost generic. And even Stranglehold, where you're an older Asian man -- a lot of times, players don't interact with the game because they might look at the main character and say, "It's not my power fantasy to be this person."
With Awakened, we'll really let players make their own character.
When you let players have their own power fantasies, is it challenging to then balance the rest of the gameworld to make sure players still find it engaging? What's to stop people from just making some hugely powerful character who can easily surmount everything you design for them?
CS: It is really challenging. To some extent, you have to put limiters in. We have a point system in; we're constantly refining what we're letting people do. Maybe for the campaign mode, the first time you do it we want to make sure people are just having fun. Why not just let them do something and have fun with it?
Multiplayer has the whole competitive end, where you've crafted your characters and play them against others. In that case it becomes really about letting players make their own game up. If you want to have, say, like five people playing villains against policemen, or set it up so it's aliens versus marines -- just let them make their own game. We really don't want to constrict them.