The history of the company began ten years ago, when polish game industry vets decided to team up to make a hard-boiled old school shooter Painkiller, which has made it to the Top-10 shooters of the year and brought fame to the company. And that is in spite of such tough competitors as Valve, id Software, ambitious newcomers in German Crytek, and Starbreeze revolutionaries with their Riddick... In august 2012 People Can Fly acquired Epic Games. The company's founder Adrian Chmielarz, who have been at the helm of People Can Fly from it's very first day until recently, is inspecting the trends in the genre and reminisces the past, reasoning about cause of Bulletstorm failure in this informative and deep interview.
Greetings, please introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us about your position and job responsibilities.
I’m Adrian Chmielarz, and currently I am one of the founders of the new studio the name of which has not been revealed yet. I was one of the founders of People Can Fly and until recently I was a Creative Director there, responsible for titles like Painkiller, Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgment.
So, why don’t you start with telling us a little about yourself and how did you get into the game industry?
Video games were my love at first sight and nothing’s changed after all these years. On the contrary. Making games is something I’ve always wanted to do for a living, and I am happy being able to realize my dream.
Where do you see innovation in game development going in the future?
I think we are currently redefining what a “game” is. We are so used to the trial and error gameplay (fail, die, load checkpoint, be better, progress) that is seems very weird to have games that go in a different direction. And yet some of them do just that and are highly successful: from Zynga games in which you just can’t lose as long as you play, to more sophisticated solutions like a scary horror game in which you cannot die (Amnesia) or games where there are just choices with multiple different outcomes (Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead).
With the big comeback of “virtual reality glasses” on the horizon, I think we’ll see more and more interactive experiences that we should not really call games anymore.
Imagine you can give both Sony and Microsoft a list of what you’d like to see in each of their respective next-gen consoles…
There are obvious things like less curation, focus on digital distribution, support for different forms of monetization and more awesome hardware. So let me talk about something a bit different. I’d really like to see the new consoles being Always On, like my iPad. I think this will help to remove one of the psychological barriers a lot of us face in the evening: turn on the console, turn on the TV, turn on the amplifier, patch the console OS, etc.
In perspective, how long do you think it will be before real-time computer graphics become 100% photorealistic?
For the sake of many devs I hope that it won’t happen very soon, because then a lot of shooters will be in trouble. Now the developers have it easy: hey, it’s just a video game. When it becomes a true virtual simulation… Everything will change.
Who of modern game designers would you like to mention specially? Which FPS and\or TPS developing studio impresses you?
I’ve been in the AAA world for a while, but it doesn’t excite me as it used to. I have a few big games waiting for me to play them, and I just cannot force myself to. They are all so incredibly predictable.
That’s not to say all AAA are bad, because obviously they’re not — I’ve spent 40 hours in Arkham City and 100 hours in Skyrim — but let me use this opportunity to bring your attention to a few indie designers.
I am very impressed, for example, with the findings of Thomas Grip, one of the men behind Amnesia. Another guy that influenced me and thus Gears of War: Judgment is Chris Hecker, the creator of SpyParty. And since we love things that come in three, let me also mention Davey Wreden, the maker of the incredible Stanley Parable.
FPS games were always quite linear from the very beginning, though in the past it was well hidden behind various approaches to in-game situations. Nowadays many gamers complain about gameplay being much less variable and FPS titles turning more into a plain shooting range. Do you agree? Please name one FPS game you think has the most non-linear gameplay.
It depends on the definition of a “shooter”. If you mean a game in which shooting a gun is the main or the only thing to do, then what do you really need an open world for? Play multiplayer if you crave for a lot of shooting and unpredictability. If your definition is a little broader, then we already starting to see new kinds of experiences like DayZ.
Early shooters had everything to make one feel like the world's real savior — huge rocket launchers, jetpacks, medkits and non-stop action. A lot of modern shooters are either too serious or mostly multiplayer-oriented. Is it the dead-end or should we expect next ten years to change much in FPS genre?
Crazy weapons, tongue in cheek, and tons of monsters? Yeah, that’s probably gone for the time being. You may see one of these every now and then (Painkiller HD remake is coming along nicely), but that’s it, I think.
What is importance of a non-linear gameplay and freedom in FPS and TPS games? Do you think linear shooter games have aged well, despite the continuous success of several franchises?
Actually, I don’t. I mentioned that I am starting to feel a tiny bit tired with some AAA games, and the aforementioned predictability of the experience is the main reason. Of course I’ve played so many games in my life that this may be purely because of just that, but I think it’s high time for us to look for a fresh angle.
That’s not to say that shooters are going to die or anything. That’s not going to happen. We all love to kill things and blow stuff up. But we need to start providing different context and new gameplay solutions, because finger on the trigger and trial and error are not going to cut it anymore.
What do you consider to be the key moments in the genre's evolution — like, its most significant stages, events, people? What game influenced the genre and its development the most?
I’ll do it Rorschach test style and list three games that immediately sprung to mind. First, Doom. Because, come on. Second, Modern Warfare. Because the nuke. Third, Gears of War. Because cover system.
What were your biggest mistakes at the beginning of your career and later as a recognized developer? What in development process takes most of your time and resources?
Oddly enough, I didn’t make any major mistakes when I started. Maybe it’s because it was a slow start: first game, just me, second game, five people, third game, more, etc. Later on I think that out of all Bulletstorm problems the main one for me personally was not recognizing in time that the “8 hours SP plus some kind of MP” is gone. If Bulletstorm was released in 2009, or maybe even 2010, things would have been different. But we sold “only” 1.5M or so (I don’t really have the exact number) and similar games nowadays are selling 300-400K. Gone. Gone, gone, gone.
Most of what I do is design and making sure that the vision of the game is implemented either in the way I imagined it, or just well.
What changes do you think should be made in a classic F2P formulae for it to become a leap forward for the industry?
F2P is a tough nut to crack. I am currently 60 hours into a certain iOS game and I could make my life so much easier and get access to cool new levels if I just paid ten bucks. But I keep thinking “Fuck you”. It makes no sense. I paid more for much shorter games and I enjoy this one very much. And yet I have a blockade. So… I don’t know. I am very curious what David Jaffe is coming up with in his new F2P shooter.
What changes in the genre are leading it to a dead-end? What disappoints you the most in modern shooter games? What it’s going to look like in ten years, in your opinion?
That’s a question on which you could write a book, man. So let me try Twitter style. Problem? Been there, done that. Solution? Experiment with new things.
If it's not a secret, what is approximate budget for an action game and how high should sales be to cover development costs?
There’s no average budget. A good AAA game can cost $5M (yes, it’s possible) and $100M (also possible). And then you have to sell appropriately (although it’s not linear). Not many games earn money these days.
With each new generation development costs rise and new technologies require expanding the staff of qualified professionals. How are you planning to avoid these difficulties in the future and what measures did you take entering current generation?
Better tools. It’s that simple. What’s not so simple is that we desperately need much cheaper, shorter AAA games to accompany their bigger brothers.
Famous series have been showing decrease in overall sales for a few years. Can it be changed by equivalent replacement of core-brands, fresh new approach to controls and interaction with environment or does it require major reconsideration of the genre?
I’m not sure that’s exactly true, but yes, a lot of premium series enjoy steady sales instead of a growth. What the hell, I’ll go crazy and say it’s not only that we have to reconsider the features, but we need to reconsider everything else: what a game is, how do we communicate with the players, how to evolve monetization and distribution models, etc. But, to be honest, in reality it’s nothing revolutionary or “crazy”. This is happening already. 2012 is very, very different to 2009.
Modern game industry is comparable to a boiling pot full of philosophy. There’s half a million books written, teaching how make game the only right way, some people rock the crowd with long-forgotten tricks, others blame the lack of photorealistic graphics. What is your vision of genre’s development according to your observations and experience?
That’s the thing: we need greater variety. You talk about half a million different ways to design a game, but I don’t see that. We’re stuck in the old ways, and it’s only a handful of visionaries that are stirring the pot. We need more risk, and less Xerox.
Just to be clear, I don’t mean: let’s drop everything we’ve learned so far and start fresh. I don’t call for a revolution. Evolution is fine, too. So let’s evolve.
What are the main reasons FPSs is dominating other genres? Is it because of well-established public opinion on games, simplicity of learning the basics, aggressive marketing through last two decades, or because of something else?
My bet is on simplicity. You know it’s going to be you, your gun, and a lot of targets to take care of. In the world where it’s so easy to consume all other media, most people don’t want to invest too much into a game. Shooters are their comfort blanket.
Did the over-the-top FPS/TPS accent become an obstacle for other genres’ development?
Not really, no. Would you ever say that a certain genre was an obstacle for the growth of books or movies?
Interview by Anton Zhuk & Ivan Kapustin
The other members of the Round table, related to FPS genre, are: