I think there's definitely multiple ways people look at games. Some people look at them experientially; some people look at them more mechanically.
TA: No, I agree. I guess we're focused on story. We're focused so much on story, because that's the area I understand best -- story-driven games, that is. But there's room for all kinds of games. And all genres shouldn't necessarily have a story. I'm not that interested in creating games that don't have stories, because I like stories.
People like stories. I think that's why we always come back to putting story into games. As you said, there are some people who say that they shouldn't have them at all.
Similarly, you'll see people say that games shouldn't be single player, because games inherently evolved naturally as interaction between people, right? But then again you always turn around and say any medium just evolves via the people who work in the medium, and their drives.
TA: Yeah, and it's messy. It's like, what do people like? People like different things, so it just gets messy. I think games have long branched away from the early days when it was very limited. I don't even know if "game" is the right word for it anymore; it's just too diverse now, too big.
Something you said that I thought was really interesting is that when you're doing the read-through of the script, and you see a lull in the story, that can often tell you there's a lull in the game. I was wondering if you'd go into that a little bit more.
TA: I think one of our jobs as creators is to create a world that's believable, that allows a player to forget that they're playing a game, and they're just involved in this world. And it's so easy to break that illusion if just one thing that works wrong. Like a door that doesn't open. If you can shoot 10 doors, and they can break open, and one of them doesn't, you're immediately broken out of the illusion. So preserving the illusion of the world is the most important thing you can do as a creator.
So if you're creating a story, it's about creating this evolving illusion; it's defining this world that you're in. So if that world, if the story, starts to lull, you can bet that everything wrapped around that story -- which is also the gameplay and the experience the player's having -- will also lull.
I guess it just signifies that you've got to deal with this experience as a whole, both story and gameplay, and all aspects of the mechanics, and audio, and everything, are all part of one experience. And if one bit, or part of it lulls, it can drag the rest down with it.
I know that when you say "lull", you mean the game's dragging. But definitely in stories, you need up and down moments, right? So how do you work with pacing in that regard?
TA: Well, it's the same as editing. Like, scenes can drag on too long in editing -- you cut those scenes, or you insert something at those points. I mean, you're right that there's lows and highs and peaks and drops, so you've just got to make sure that that's happening regularly enough.
You record all the performances in advance. You might not have the flexibility you need; you can't really do reshoots. So how do you re-pace a game, from a process prospective?
TA: One thing I've learned from Alex, actually, is how much cheating goes on in film. I was quite surprised, and shocked, at the amount of editing that happens, the amount of cheating that happens during the editing phase. So if a film doesn't work, they do all kinds of things -- take the same scene from a different angle, and insert it in different parts of the film. Lots of back-of-the-head shots where people talk, and they insert dialogue that way.
And a large chunk of the films that we watch are shot like that, all the way through, and you can totally do the same in games. So even if we haven't got the scene, we can reconstruct the scene from different motion capture, from different scenes. In fact, the entire ending scene of Enslaved was done that way; none of it was captured. It was constructed from different scenes that we had. You can do all of that very easily, especially with motion capture.
Why'd you end up having to do that in Enslaved?
TA: I think it was because the original scene as we had it... We went through it, we read through it, we shot it. Alex watched it, and he said, "This doesn't work." And it's something that happens very often in movies, where a scene just doesn't work. And he said, "Let's forget about it for a second. If I was to rewrite it, this is what I would write," and so he just rewrote it again, and said "In an ideal world, this is what we'd do."
And I said, "We haven't shot that." And I was saying that all the way through, as he was writing; "We haven't shot that," "we haven't shot that." And he told me to just be patient waiting for it, and then he explained that in movies they cheat all the time, and scenes that don't exist, they can create.
I tell that the guys back in the office, and we reconstructed the scene, and figured out how to do it with just stuff that was left aside. We bought a five thousand buck little mo-cap studio in our office, USB-based, and we could create character performances that we didn't have, to fill in the gaps and... I think it's just part of the process.
And did you have to record new audio?
TA: Yeah, we recorded new audio. In fact, we filmed Andy Serkis, In the final scene, he appears in video from the real world, and we just recorded him in a voice recording session, and put that into the game as well.
Something you also talked about was watching back the whole thing; it sounded like you watched back the whole recorded performance, as though it's a film.
TA: Yeah, we do.
And you edited it to lock that pacing in.
TA: Yeah, exactly like you would in a movie. Everything we've shot is shot on video; it's edited by a film editor. And yeah, you can do that; it just seems to work. If something feels wrong in just the viewing of the cutscenes, it seems to feel wrong in the gameplay as well. I don't really understand exactly why, but it just does.
That's interesting, yeah. I don't understand exactly why, but trust your gut, right?
TA: Yeah, a lot of it is gut.