The round table with shooter games developers is spinning up. The discussion about genre agenda, which has been started by Ruslan Didenko from Ukrainian Vostok Games, is being continued by his western colleague Christian Allen from a little company Serellan LLC. Christian worked with such great companies as Ubisoft and Bungie in his career, creating Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter dilogy and Halo: Reach, so we undoubtedly invited him to the round table.
So, why don’t you start with telling us a little about yourself and how did you get into the game industry?
My name is Christian Allen. I got started in game development as a modder in the late 90’s. I started making mods for Rainbow Six for fun and for my friends, and pretty soon it turned into working as a professional game designer.
Where do you see innovation in game development going in the future?
I think that the rise of social media has provided a platform for new innovative games to come from people not a part of the big publisher machine. Because the barrier to getting the word out on a cool game or even game idea is so low now, ideas that would never get made by traditional publishers will continue to see the light of day, much like Minecraft or DayZ have.
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…
A focus on core gamers and the features that they need, rather than a focus on expanding the consoles as a broad entertainment device. Also, working to remove the barriers to smaller developers to gain access to the consoles.
In perspective, how long do you think it will be before real-time computer graphics become 100% photorealistic?
I think it will still be a while before we see Avatar-level real time games. I had the opportunity to view some of the Avatar production assets, and the size and scope of them blew me away compared to what you see in game development.
Also, there is the problem of the uncanny valley. Even if the horsepower is there to render that level of graphics is available, creating content at photorealistic levels that is appealing to people is still hugely challenging. Movies still haven’t gotten it right without the technological hurdle that games would need to conquer.
Who of modern game designers would you like to mention specially? Which FPS and\or TPS developing studio impresses you?
Right now I am impressed by the developers that are stepping outside of the traditional box from a publishing standpoint, such as Brian Fargo, Jordan Weisman, and Dean Hall. Fargo and Weisman helped push crowdfunding forward to bring back beloved franchises, while Dean Hall created the zombie shooter I always wished I could make.
As far as shooter studios, there aren’t a lot that stand out in my mind right now. I’m pretty burned out on the “gritty realistic gray brown shooter.” Hawken recently impressed me as a bad ass fast-paced mecha shooter.
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.
I definitely feel the trend has been going more linear, and that comes about for a few different reasons, mainly a drive to provide a “cinematic” experience to reach a broad audience. And I think that gamers want an alternative to that, thus the rise of games like Day Z.
One FPS that stands out for non-linearity is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Of course personally I was influenced greatly by the original Rainbow Six, as it presented the gameplay levels as a puzzle with multiple tactical solutions.
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?
I think that with the next generation of consoles, you will see branching out in the FPS genre. With titles like BioShock Infinity on the horizon, hopefully developers will work to expand the genre and do more than just another run & gun linear brown shooting game.
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?
I personally feel it is hugely important. Games that make you think about what you are doing are much more rewarding to me than games that play like a movie. Michael Bay movies are fun once and a while when I just want to stuff popcorn in my mouth, but most of the time I would rather watch a Christopher Nolan flick.
Once a game comes along that bucks the current trends from a sales perspective; that is when you will see a shift in the big publishers. Right now, they can point to the success of Call of Duty and the not-so big success of Mirror’s Edge and say “look, that is what the customers want!”
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?
Well of course there are the originators, Wolfenstein and Doom. Remember, for a while, all FPS games were called “Doom Clones.” Doom also spawned a hell of a lot of modders who became game developers.
I would argue that Halo helped to make FPS’s “cool” and bring them into the mainstream, with its popularity on college campuses. It also, of course, set the gold standard on consoles for controls and interaction.
And then you have games like Bioshock, which proved that gamers ARE interested in story, if you do it right.
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?
I think the biggest mistakes I made was when I didn’t trust my gut. Often times at AAA studios there are a lot of people who want to push the game different directions, and they are often not game developers. I should have argued harder for various decisions, and not listened to the people running focus groups.
What changes do you think should be made in a classic F2P formulae for it to become a leap forward for the industry?
I think F2P is leaping forward pretty well on its own. The key that people are starting to realize is that F2P as a business model works, if the game is good enough. World of Tanks shows us that. If the game is crap, it’s not going to be successful, regardless of the business model.
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?
What disappoints me the most is the sequalization and “me-too” feeling of modern shooters. I’m tired of looking at brown environments with brown character and blood on the screen. I’m tired of regenerating health and two weapon swaps. All games don’t need to be Call of Duty or Halo.
I think that a continued success of independent games will hopefully show publishers that people DO want something different, and if they budget smartly, they can step outside the box and do something creative and new. That is the biggest problem right now, is that publishers don’t want to commit to anything unless it’s a sure bet, and don’t do enough smaller budget titles that try new things. Embracing innovation will lead to failures, but we have to continue to embrace it and have business models that allow for it.
If it's not a secret, what is approximate budget for an action game and how high should sales be to cover development costs?
I can’t give exact numbers on the games I worked on, and they can vary wildly, but you are usually looking at least 20 to 30 million dollars (and can go much higher). If you run the numbers and consider that the publisher/developer gets less than half of a $60 console title, that is around a million units to break even. And of course used game sales don’t contribute to that at all.
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?
The key is scoping appropriately and utilizing assets smartly. We license as much technology and even assets that we can. If we can buy it, we will.
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?
There are a few reasons why a brand can stagnate or decline. Quality is one, of course, but one that I see is when the brand steps away from the core tenets that made it a hit in the first place, usually in an attempt to draw a bigger audience or ward off a perceived competitor.
I go back to movies. When you go to see a sequel, you want a sequel, not a different movie.
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?
FPS’s need to be developed by teams who know what the vision of the game is and then make the decisions that are right for that game. Tacking on features or making changes to be “competitive” usually just ends up taking away resources that should be focused on making the core of the game the best that it can be.
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?
I think that FPS games are inherently immersive. When you see a screenshot of an FPS you don’t ever wonder what you are doing. When you see the gravity gun in HL2, you don’t have to think about it, you just get it. When you look at the environment in Bioshock or Fallout 3, you instantly get why it is appealing, because you are looking through the character’s eyes.
I think that other genres have more of a challenge, because their character has to be as appealing as the rest of the game. You have to want to see Altair assassinate someone, or Batman punch someone, or Kratos kill all those dudes. It’s much more challenging to create that. In a FPS you get to imagine yourself as the protagonist, instead of watching the protagonist do cool things.
Did the over-the-top FPS/TPS accent become an obstacle for other genres’ development?
I believe that was true for a while, where the buzz on the street was that only FPS’s were what publishers were interested in, but I think that has changed. I think as you saw the popularity of games such as Assassins Creed or Batman or even Minecraft, the industry as a whole woke up a bit and realized that gamers want good games in general, not just good shooters.
Questions: Anton Zhuk & Ivan Kapustin
The other members of the Round table, related to FPS genre, are:
The creator of the cult gangster action game Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven Daniel Vavra about one of the prettiest and biggest role-playing games of next-gen.
There were Novgorod Pirates that were bothering us in Infinite Space for DS, not to mention fairly regular additions to the library of titles with an overly stereotypical representation of Russian history, majority of which is an obvious propaganda. For the developers of The Mandate, on the other hand, it's more of an exotic and appealing setting that allows to fuse together the core mechanics of the old-school RTS/RPG with an array of fresh and innovative features.
Last year the founder of People Can Fly and father of Painkiller and Bulletstorm, Adrian Chmielarz, left the studio to establish a new company that goes by the name The Astronauts. Distancing itself from a familiar genre of shooters, his new studio has recently been working on a gloomy adventure game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. We couldn't miss an oportunity to ask Adrian a couple of questions about his new project.
I’m fairly convinced that Witcher 3 is going to be amazing. During the last half of the year we’ve talked to developers three times, discussing not only the new Witcher, but also another ambitious RPG that’s been developed in CD Project RED for two years already. We’ve seen Witcher 3 with our own eyes, and it DID have all the promised fixes, improvements and the open world. No doubt – CDP does everything the right way, and our latest talk with CEO Marcin Iwinski is just another proof of that.
City Interactive are making a shooter which is to become a step forward for the war against fascists setting.
As soon as Lords of the Fallen was announced, it was labeled as «German Dark Souls». At a first glance this observation does seem correct — both games are harcore RPGs that focus on combat and exploration. But as soon as we dig deeper we see that LotF developers have quite different priorities than their Japanese colleagues. What are the differences between LotF and Dark Souls, what weapons can player crush skulls with, what are the «educated guesses» and how did RPG development accents shifted told us Tomasz Gop, executive producer of Lords of the Fallen.
We would like to present the interview with WB Games Montreal, which is to pass the important test - developing of Batman games series.
What happens if you try to turn turn-based tactics in a third-person shooter? We will know the answer very soon, because The Bureau: XCOM Declassified will release this week. While waiting, we decided to find out what should we expect from The Bureau and to ask some questions straight to the developers.
He says he's not a storyteller, yet his games never cease to amaze us with their deep plot and their intricate questions. He keeps positive outlook on things, yet his paintings are colored in gloomy dark crimson tone. Our previous interview with the famous designer was timed to launch of OZ campaign, and now, during conversation about a green-eyed girl travelling between two worlds, I realized that I am not so worried about the fate of little gun-wielding Dorothy. We'll definitely see her comeback — she has her loyal Tin Woodman in the person of a modest storyteller from Shanghai.
Interview with the developers of the promising zombie project called ROAM. Ryan Sharr, the team leader and former employee of Gas Powered Games, answered our questions.
We really do like to talk with The Creative Assembly’s representatives, the authors of the cult strategy series Total War. The studio’s employees are not only true professionals that are doing fine games, they’re also very passionate and intelligent people. This time questions on the upcoming Total War: Rome 2 (and not only) from GameStar.ru have been answered by Al Bickham, Studio Communications Manager, and Jamie Ferguson, Lead Battle Designer.
The interview with the developers from Ubisoft Montreal about one of the most awaited games of 2013 — Watch Dogs. While looking like any other action game, Watch Dogs is planning to discuss the ideas of modern dependence on technology and information with a serious face. And while there's GTA 5 and another sequel of our favourite Assassin's Creed, Watch Dogs will surely take its place among the greatest.
Satellite Reign is notable because of its developer, who was involved in development of original Syndicate and Syndicate Wars. We talked to Mike Diskett about his new game, cyberpunk and why this topic is so relevant now. Details — in this interview.
Most recently, Pencil Test Studio has successfully ended the Kickstarter campaign. We decided to talk to the developers about developing process, how difficult it is to make a game from clay and why community is so important.
The announcement of Shadow of the Eternals is a great news to both ED fans and gamers that didn't have a chance to play it — a team lead by founding father of Silicon Knights is now determined to develop a spiritual successor to famous ancestor. About reasons for using CryENGINE 3, larger storyline scale and choosing the main cast, about connections between the SotE and ED speaks Denis Dyack, founder of Precursor Games.
American McGee is preparing something big: concept art from Alice-sequel and the new project called OZombie began to appear in the Internet. To learn more about these new games, we have addressed the list of questions to Mr. McGee personally. We could not figure out specific details, but still we had a nice chat.
We talked to the key developers of Torment: Tides of Numenera about similarities between the new inXile game and Planescape: Torment, how to start a successful Kickstarter campaign and why it is very difficult to sell the hardcore RPG to publisher.
What horrors do horror developers play, how is personal nightmare born, what are the inspiration sources and how to scare the hell out of veteran gamers — Jared Gerritzen, сreative director at Zombie Studios, kindly agreed to answer these and other our questions.
Will the new team be able to carry over the unique atmosphere of one of the most intelligent stealth-series out there to their new title? Why is there other actor replacing fans-favoured Stephen Russel? Will the new game be able not to stain the reputation of one of the most difficult stealth series? The answers to all of these questions you will find in this interview.
Kai Fiebig on working with TDE universe, dark and mature stories, battle maps with a twist and roleplaying system in Blackguards.