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Dan Houser On How Rockstar Does It
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Dan Houser On How Rockstar Does It

November 18, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

You're in a profession where there is a lot of feedback from the people and not all of it is positive. Do you read the forums and feedback or do you just try and stay focused on what you are doing?

DH: We do a bit of both. We try not to read too much, but we definitely see some of it. We try not to get consumed by it, but try to look at it for what it is and look at what the underlying messages of anything are, rather than being too reactive to stuff.

The internet generates opinions on things when people don't have too much information. We know all the information about Max Payne, at least, so to respond to someone who doesn't know much about it yet based on one screen shot of one level of a big game causes you grievance.

Can you discuss the catalyst that made you decide its time to bring Max back and do more with him?

DH: Basically we have been meaning to start it for a while, but we have limited bandwidth and limited studios, and more games to make than we've started. So suddenly it was a good slot.

Also, contrary to a lot of people, we like to take a little bit of time at the end of a game before starting a sequel, so we can wait for the excitement or disappointment and everything else of the experience to shake down and really see what we should do in the next game.

So we knew that we didn't want to start doing the Bully sequel instantly at that second with those guys -- even though it is a property that, like Max, we adore and might come back to in the future. There was just no impetus to do that then.

So we said, "You can do Max, and then we will see what we can do with Bully." So it was really waiting for the slot to open up and the group to open up to at least start work on it.

A few years ago, you had mentioned that games were slowly getting creditability as an art form. I am curious where you think they stand these days. Have they made a sizable progress?

DH: I don't know. I kind of swore that I would stop talking about that because it got people obsessed by it. It's sort of a parlor debate, and we really never let it affect what we did.

We make something we think above all is going to be enjoyable for people to play. Otherwise they are not going to keep doing it -- and the idea that anything could be artistic and not enjoyable is something that I am not sure I agree with.

Apart from that, I think it is a commercial medium, just as cinema is a commercial medium, and pop music is a commercial medium, and they can all make some things that are artistic and some that are purely exploitive.

Does it have creditability? In some ways I hope not, because we will become more and more controlled and Academy-sized [as an industry] and you'll lose a lot of the freedom that we enjoy.

So it's probably not for us to say, but probably more for you to say if you think it's interesting and has artistic merit. If you sit there obsessing. "Am I an artist or the equivalent of someone who makes KFC Value Meals?" it doesn't lead to success. So we just do what we do.

For plenty of developers, story is an afterthought to the game's action elements. Why does Rockstar put such an emphasis on narrative?

DH: If games are to be the next major form of creative consumption, art, cultural expression, or whatever the correct term is, then strong narrative has to be part of that. I think it doesn't necessarily have to just be about linear narrative, but it can be about experience of being in these worlds we make and exploring them in a nonlinear way.

I think that's a great strength of games. You get this atmosphere and sense of immersion that you can't get from anything else. The immersion, which comes partly from the way things look and partly from the way you respond to things and the way certain random characters treat you, has to be engaging and the direct linear narrative has to be engaging. Plus a poorly written story ruins everything just as much as a mechanic being broken ruins everything.

Everything has to feel like it's the same level. It has to feel like you are the same guy when you shooting a gun or running as you are when you are involved in a story or when you are just wandering around the world. It has to feel like this is one experience. So if the mechanics are fine and the story is ridiculous, the experience is much diminished.

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