You were talking about literal things you can take from film production. Film directors know a tremendous amount about how films are made, right? In all aspects and in all ways, whereas games can get disciplinary; a little bit isolated sometimes.
TA: Yeah. One of the best things about working with people from the outside is that it just gives you fresh infusion. And I think it's a healthy thing; otherwise we'd just keep repeating ourselves.
Sometimes you do kind of despair when you look around the room and everyone's... you see the same faces creating the same games, and everyone's white middle-class male. And from diverse backgrounds.
But you kind of think, "God, we're sending games around the world, to all kinds of people, from all kinds of communities, and yet they're not represented within the games community." And I think we should do that somehow, and we should accept creators from other industries to come in and feed us as well.
It's sort of like a pet issue of mine -- being influenced by things other than game culture and the ancillary geek culture. Feeding from different spaces and being just aware of what's out there. Even if you're going to end up creating something that's still typical.
TA: We're going to back ourselves into an elitist corner. [laughs] And then be totally shocked when someone comes along and does something that just breaks out, someone that doesn't think like we do, and has a different perspective. It's important.
Activision is doubling down on a specific audience. They're making Call of Duty and World of Warcraft the center of their world. Rather than saying "Strategically, we can expand things."
TA: It's difficult. I think we're always battling against what's current. Publishers make the decisions; everyone's too frightened to put their foot forward and say, "This is what we should do", because if you get it wrong, you're fired. So publishers are inherently conservative, and the way that they can arrive at what kind of game they should do is through consensus and focus testing.
If you put a bunch of kids in a room and ask them, "What kind of game do you want to make?", "What kind of hero do you want to be?", they're going to say "I want to be a space alien" because they just played Gears of War, or "I want to be a gangster" because they've played Grand Theft Auto, or "I want to be a cowboy" because they've played Red Dead Redemption.
So if you took them something like The King's Speech and said "How about a film where you want to be a speech therapist and you're helping a quaint king in old London?", they'll say "No, I don't want to watch that!" Yet somehow in the movie industry they allow it; there's a system that allows kind of these projects to go forward, whereas in games we don't allow them to go forward.
Well it kind of goes back to what you said about, you know, like Prince of Persia flopping and these movies being tremendous hits; there's a certain insurance there. The bombs are carried by the successes.
When people go to movies, you know, no one goes into The King's Speech and thinks, "Well, this isn't going to have 200 million dollars of special effects." Whereas with games, if your game doesn't look as good as Gears of War, or whatever, people get a little bit...
TA: Oh yeah, because again, I think that's the price point thing. If you're paying 60 bucks for a game, you want it to give you everything under the sun. I would give games more of a chance if they were at different price points, as I think that would make sense, because it's not possible for a low budget game to compete with a super high budget game, technology-wise, anyway.
Though I honestly don't know what was spent developing it, but I do feel like Heavy Rain was sort of The King's Speech of this generation. They've been public about the fact that it sold more copies than they anticipated. I know that Sony, in America, didn't market it very much at all; they didn't do TV ads for it in America, and it sold well beyond expectations. It was also different than pretty much anything that it was competing with.
TA: Yeah. I don't know how much it sold -- I mean I don't honestly know how much it sold -- but I suspect it's still not comparable to The King's Speech just sweeping the board and everyone wanting to see it.
Probably not, yeah.
TA: I don't know that it is quite The King's Speech. It is in terms of that it is a movie-like story. But I don't know, it still feels like something's missing. It feels like there's a creative opportunity in games that's not being taken advantage of. I don't know.
Kellee Santiago of Thatgamecompany ha said that when they sat down with this idea that they wanted to make games that are designed to evoke emotion through play, it turns out it's harder than they anticipated. Because there's been years iterations on combat mechanics. Not so much iteration done on other things, other forms of interactivity.
TA: Yeah, that's true. I don't think you should confuse the interface with the content in such regard. So I think, for example, you can do an FPS that focuses on emotional impact, and do it extremely successfully. I think that the games that are extremely successful are successful despite their stories and their emotional involvement.
I'm still waiting for that game that manages to do both extraordinarily well, and I think it's just around the corner. I think there's been just a few near misses, really. But when it hits, I think the attitude that stories don't, somehow, make a game feel better, make it feel more an experience, will go away.
What do you think is causing near misses?
TA: I think it's cultural. I think there's not many people in games that are experienced storytellers, filmmakers, etcetera. I don't think they always invite those people along to raise the game; I don't think they use the right techniques often to convey emotions. And I think that the game production is so difficult that it has to take second fiddle, really; it just has to.
I've talked to a lot of people about how difficult it is to integrate story into the process.
TA: It needs to be cultural, it needs to. Like in movies, every single person that's on set -- that's the crew, that's every single person involved in the movie -- is serving the story. They all understand the story and the importance of it, and they understand that their part is to serve the story.
In games, that culture doesn't exist. So if you want to be successful with that, it needs to be from every person in the studio, to the publisher, needs to be supporting the idea that they're serving the experience. It's not even story, I think. It's the experience -- it's serving the experience. Story's wrapped into that. It's a very hard thing to break habits.