Going back to the question of violence -- and, trust me, I'm not against the idea of having conflict in games -- I'm curious about why so many games are centered around it. There are reasons I can think about: for one thing, audience expectations, which you touched on, too. The built-in audience for games -- which we are. As well as creators, you just talked about the games that inspired you -- it's what you expect to be doing. It's what the audience is looking for, right?
HS: I think it's much deeper than that. I think it's poker or chess. Almost part of the definition of games at a formal level involves artificial conflict. Games are one of the ways that people, throughout thousands of years, have engaged in some sort of mock conflict in a safe environment. Violence and conflict are a huge part of the world. When you entangle with them in real life, the consequences are usually severe.
So people, I think, have devised this thing called "game" as a way of exploring conflict and exploring their relationships with conflict in a completely safe, abstract way. That's a neat topic that we don't sit around thinking about all the time, of course. But if you watch lion cubs bite each other and roll around on the ground, they're not trying to kill each other; they're engaged in some sort of conflict-based play. That's the same thing I think we're doing.
We all find conflict fascinating. If you're playing poker with your friends, someone crushes the life out of everyone else. It's absolute. There's not even a soft way to lose poker; you are crushed out of existence. So I don't think it's endemic to video games, or exclusive to video games.
One thing I've thought about also is that so much of the R&D that we've done so far as an industry over the last 30 years has been about combat. Those problems -- if not solved -- at least have a lot of robust solutions you can look at. Do you think that is part of it?
HS: I think it's more to the point that it's easier to model physical stuff. If you look at Lunar Lander, an old game, gravity is exerting a downward force on the ship; push one button at the right time, you exert an opposite thrust. You can control left and right, and, if you don't do it at exactly the right time and for the right duration, you run out of fuel and crash to the ground; ostensibly, the pilot is killed, I guess.
It's just easier to model physical things or actions than it is something very intangible. How do you model love in a game, without it just being a timer-based game or something? I think the industry is still figuring these things out over time.
Something I want to talk about is the sort of unpleasantness of the world of Dishonored. You could argue that we do live in an unpleasant world in the real world to a greater or lesser extent, but it definitely seemed -- at least from what was on display -- a pretty harsh, exploitative, oppressive kind of world. I want to talk about your motivations behind that.
RC: Obviously what we wanted was something that was pretty, but not in a vacation pretty. Something dramatic and sad, but at the same time pretty. It was important that the image was good, compelling.
And of course it is oppressive; it is that style because it's a good context for the story that we have and makes for gameplay. It also justifies why you have enemies. In that sense, it's a classic. We have so many creative things happening in this game -- including, of course, the style and the story, and the play style itself -- that having an oppressive world is a good guideline to provide for gameplay and enemies. We were not going to pass on that.
Are you trying to reflect things that are about human nature, or is it more of a caricature to set things in motion and motivate the player?
RC: Well, it is always hard to know exactly. Some of it is intuitive; some of it is an organic process of creativity. Of course we draw inspiration from every kind of thing, including reality, including our fears -- and including logic, such as what you describe, "Hey, let's build something motivating for the player." Probably a mix of all of that.
How do you feel about the fact that a lot of games are made based on other games? Is it important to have those as building blocks, or is it a limitation?
RC: Yeah, I think it's often true for 90 percent of games. There's always something surprising that comes out. Every art always needs references, and it's usually an iteration of something else, or a fusion between two things that you like and then you bring in something in the middle. I don't think there is anything wrong with that.
When you think about the '80s and '90s, every game was a new genre, almost. The term "first person shooter" didn't exist; "adventure game" didn't exist. It was just like, "Well, here's this game!" Now, for sure, we are in an era where the games can be boiled down to genres.
HS: You look at the beginning of when the novel was born, or you look at the beginning of radio, for instance, or film. I think all of those things were truel. Initially people are doing rapid work and figuring out what's the forms of the media are, but I think largely the same thing is true. How many writers aren't influenced by other novelists? You're not finding a bunch of those.
I look at the overall state of things; I can go out right now and I can find 80 percent of the games that are made, I won't personally like -- just because of my taste, or because I've been there and done that, whatever. But I can still look at, I don't know, 15 to 20 percent of the games that are made, and on every platform in every genre I can find something generally that I really like.
There's strategy games that I like. I guess that the most recent games that I've played are probably Journey and Fez; maybe before that Batman: Arkham City and Skyrim. There are just lots of games that I would ignore right now because they're not appealing to me, but it feels like I can always turn.
I can pull out my iPhone and play Waking Mars or the iPhone version of Mirror's Edge or the iPhone version of Ticket to Ride, the strategy game. At every turn, there's bad stuff and good stuff, just like with movies; I ignore 80 percent of movies that come out, as well. I take a larger view of it, I guess.