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With open world games, I don't know if it's a weakness, but a challenge is environmental storytelling. Have you given any thought to environmental storytelling? Because I know R.A. Salvatore, in particular, is big on world building and society building.
CC: Yeah. It's one of the things we really strive for. We built a game where you can run along the path and veer off... The main quest is telling you to go in one direction, and you can veer left and explore the tiny shack that's been destroyed, finding quests that lead you down to the dark, spider-infested forest.
So, we try to build a world that ebbs and flows, and has moments of large visual storytelling -- like I said, a whole forest that's spider-infested, and then, like, a tiny overturned cart you find.
And, you know, 50 feet down the road, you find the bandits that are getting away with the loot. You kill them, and maybe that's not a quest, but it's a little moment in the world that makes it come alive. We try to do all types of scale in that way.
There are limited resources in this world, in this life, so how do you define how much of that stuff you want to do? The smaller, nuanced little nuggets like that, versus the big picture stuff?
CC: It's tricky. That's a really good question. You know, you take care of the big stuff first because that's what most players are going to see, and with the time you have left, and as you're going through the world, you just decide.
You have a moment of inspiration, and you say, "This is a great place to do something with. I'm going to make it right now." And you kind of just jump in at that moment. In that creative process, things can slip you by if you don't grab them at that time. But we've dedicated real time and real effort to the open world gameplay, running around the world and just finding things to do.
So, I would say that from our work, it's probably a bit of half and half. It's supporting the quest and what the player runs along and experiences, like if you're just following the quest targets. And also, we went off on our own and just made a whole bunch of stuff in the world the player can find.
As a manager, when you're managing other artists and other designers, how do you allocate time to people to let them make these decisions about whether they can follow their inspiration or "No, we have to hit what needs to be hit, or this game isn't going to ship."
CC: We reached that point... I'm really fortunate. My team is incredible. You know, I manage them in the sense that I keep a big picture about things, and occasionally if they need a call to be made about something, I can make that call. But they're so good at prioritizing themselves and looking at the whole world and not making it theirs, but making it the whole project's.
So, they'll look at it and say, "Okay, what does this need most? This space is supposed to support a quest here, so I'm going to take care of that. But it also needs to be freeform gameplay over here, so I'll take care of that." They're really good at balancing those things. I don't have to sit on anybody to make sure that they're following the right gameplay principles.
To get a sort of big picture question, do you consider your team to be an art team or a design team? Or is it too ambiguous to answer?
CC: That's a really good question. We've gone back and forth on that a lot. Technically, we're in the design department right now, but we still go to the art meeting. My heart-of-hearts tells me that we're both, you know? We're trained as artists, but a lot of decisions that we make in the game are about design. If there's a choice where one has to be given up a little bit before the other, we try to walk that line and balance the two.
You say your team has a really good sense of knowing when to spend their time on certain stuff, but where does that come from?
CC: That's a good question. It's experience a little bit. Failing, even -- like making the wrong and learning from it. Watching someone play the space and realizing, "That's not what's supposed to happen at all."
And evaluating and changing. Being willing to do that is, I think, a huge part of it. It’s being willing to take criticism and being willing to find out that you're wrong, and take actually a little bit of joy and discovery of learning a better way to do things.
But some of it is intuition, and some of it is, even looking at references in other games and learning how they've done things, and learning what not to do, even, from that.
Speaking of failing, Did you do a lot of playtesting and see what people react to?
CC: Exactly. That's the heart of it. You want to see how these things play out, because there's no right or wrong answer to it. It's pretty much the player experience, and watching people play in our spaces and in our worlds is one of the most rewarding, and, occasionally, challenging things we did. You want to see where you've messed up and fix it, and make it better. The only way to do that is to put somebody in the seat that doesn't know the place like you do.
How does playtesting work for you?
CC: So, we definitely do big playtesting where people come in, play it for a period of time. We have an occasional boyfriend or girlfriend of somebody from the company, like, "Oh, you're here for a couple hours to hang out? Why don't you come over here and play the game for a little while. We're going to watch and see what you do."
So, it goes from very official to more, "Hey, do you want to just check this out for me?" It might even be I turn to the guy or girl to my left or right and say, "Hey, would you just check out this space for me? I don't really know if I'm doing the right thing." It's being honest with yourself that you as yourself aren't going to know all the answers, and inviting people in.