Daniel Vávra — one of those people Mafia owes its cult status to. We all loved it not just for sandbox gameplay (which is still more than decent, by the way), but for the story, dialogues, characters and direction — mainly the things Daniel Vávra worked on. Daniel left 2K Czech, which is, according to some of the rumors, now working hard on Mafia 3 to be released on next-gen consoles, shortly after release of the sequel to the original game and founded his own company — Warhorse Studios, where he's planning to unlock his potential as a developer of a large-scale RPG project. All of the troubles his young team is going through, Daniel describes in his official blog. Despite being busy with his new project, Daniel found a minute to answer our questions regarding problems behind fully realistic games, projects that impressed him, indie-scene and said his “Eww!” to F2P model and upcoming Dead Space 3.
So, why don’t you start with telling us a little about yourself and how did you get into the game industry?
I am currently creative director (and one of owners) at Warhorse Studios, working on realistic medieval open world RPG. Previously I was designer and director of Mafia and screenwriter of Mafia II. I also worked on several other projects, but sadly, they never saw the light of day.
Where do you see innovation in game development going in the future?
I hope that industry will reach the state, where current publishing model will change and will be more developer centric and that game development tools and services will get so sophisticated, that making interesting projects will be easier, cheaper and faster, while developer will be able to keep his independence. In such environment innovation will play bigger role. And these times are coming.
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…
They say, that the more power consoles will have, the more money it will cost to develop for them. It’s true to some extent, but I am pretty happy with what upcoming gen will offer. I like realistic graphics and it seems that we will have enough power and memory to achieve our vision in a way that was not possible before — graphics, but also gameplay wise.
In perspective, how long do you think it will be before real-time computer graphics become 100% photorealistic?
I guess we are pretty close right now — games are starting to look very real, but when you look at them little bit deeper, you realize, that there is still lot of room for improvement. The next big thing will be real-time lighting. Lighting is very important and the biggest difference between games and CG movies is probably lighting — we need real-time radiosity, better shadows, more dynamic light sources etc. Next step are “little details” like hair, fur, skin, detailed foliage, volumetric clouds, water etc. But there is a big problem on the hunt for realism. We are starting to reach a place called “uncanny valley” — a moment where things start to look so real, that we start to judge them as real, but because they have little flaws, they seem weird and ugly and we prefer the “worse” and simpler versions. We like paintings, but when they start to look like photographs, they usually start to look little bit weird if they are not perfect. So I think, that the moment when real-time rendered and animated virtual girls will be as sexy as the real thing is still years ahead.
Who of modern game designers would you like to mention specially? Which FPS and\or TPS developing studio impresses you?
Hideo Kojima is the guy I admire. Everytime he makes a game he surprises me (in a good way). First Metal Gear Solid was personification of everything I ever dreamed of. I also loved the approach of guys from Obsidian in Fallout New Vegas and I enjoyed Read Dead Redemption. But these are old games. Only thing I really play these days is old school hardcore isometric RPG InquisitorNothing much interesting this year so far.
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 agree. Most FPS games suck these days. As I said I love Fallout New Vegas. Its approach to non linearity was almost flawless. If I should mention some “true” FPS I have to say I prefer to play Arma than some on rails shooter like Call of Duty. But I would like to have Arma with the production values and flawless controls of those big games :)
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 prefer realism and single player and I think, that as long as there are customers, there will be games for them. Now, when everyone is getting more independent I hope, we will get more various games.
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?
It’s the most important stuff and I am not speaking about some open world crazyness. If you want the shootout to be fun, there must be some variability in behavior of the enemies and you must have some choice about how to solve the situation — multiple paths, different kinds of tactics etc. Many modern FPS games are starting to be so simple, so they became to play like House of the Dead clones. They have zero replayability, because the element of unexpected events is lost, so the developers are trying to replace these with multiplayer which is (naturally) unpredictable. But I would like to have that multiplayer gameplay in single player and placed in to some context, with interesting story and some progress. Mixture of ArmA and Homefront is a game for me!
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 am not big id soft games fan. For me, the most important FPS was Terminator Future Shock. First game that used mouse controls had reasonable story and interesting missions, open world freedom, vehicles and even flying. This is definitely one of the most important games of the genre. First Medal of Honor for PSX was also revolutionary. Also Duke Nukem 3D and Max Payne. The rest is just evolution.
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 am generally lazy person, so my mistakes are mostly about missed opportunities and those opportunities might not always be to do something, but also not to do somethingYou have to make right decisions at the right time. To start something, but also to end something. I didn’t start everything at the right time and I didn’t ended other stuff when I should have. I would also advice anyone to work with the right people. That doesn’t mean you need to be the best friend with everyone, but it’s always good to be surrounded by smart people you get along with well. Life is short, so when there is chance to do something, do it!
What changes do you think should be made in classic F2P formulae for it to become a leap forward for the industry?
I have no opinion about free to play gaming. It’s probably good for MMOs, but I don't play them. I don’t like the idea to have F2P features in a single player games. If there will be some change thanks to it, it will be for the worse. Good things can’t be free. But I might be wrong :)
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?
Big publishers and their megalomaniac games are the biggest disappointment. Bigger is not always better. I hate the word WOW moment and I hate games that have WOW moment every two minutes, because some smart ass thinks its cool. Third Dead Space looks (at least so far) like perfect example of how to turn something interesting into something nobody will like. As I said, I hope that there will be more independent developers, which will lead to more interesting games, because publishers are to blame for this situation.
If it's not a secret, what is approximate budget for an action game and how high should sales be to cover development costs?
They say, that for every 10 million USD spent on development you need to sell 1 million copies to break even. But big publishers say that and big publishers are not very cost savvy during development :)
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?
Industry needs good 3rd party development tools and good technology like CryEngine or Unreal, so you don’t need to spend years to develop tools, but the game itself. It would also be nice to have some kind of marketplace for good assets. I don’t see a reason why not to buy for example a character model for my game if it’s of reasonable quality/price. Unity is trying to do it and I think (and hope) this is the future. But on the other hand, lot of money on big projects are wasted thanks to poor management, bad planning, changes in direction and design during development etc.
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?
We need more good games. For last half year I thought that all is lost and there will be nothing that I will like, because everything looks like the same old shit we are getting for years... and then Kojima has shown new Metal Gear and I saw Watch Dogs and I knew that this is something I want to play. People are tired of those epic calculated monster games. We need new wave, fresh talent, and new people. And we will get it.
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?
I am not fan of “how to make perfect game” theory books. I always look who wrote it and most of the time, author is a person who never produced anything worth mentioning. There is no bulletproof recipe for good piece of art. Different people have different tastes; there is room for many genres and styles. We are not getting them right now, because publishers think that we all want Call of Duty type games. But it’s changing and when the indies from Steam, XBLA and iOS make some money and start to produce bigger games, we will see lot of fresh stuff. I personally would like to see more open, realistic and visually stunning games with less combat and more "other stuff" to do. Games like Dear Esther are just first examples of what’s coming in the future :)
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 wouldn’t say that FPS is dominating. One game that happens to be FPS is selling pretty damn well, but on the expense of poor sales of the others, while other genres are also doing very well at the same time. RPGs are doing pretty well, sports are very popular and at the end, any Zelda or Mario will get them all :)
Did the over-the-top FPS/TPS accent become an obstacle for other genres’ development?
It’s harder to write something believable and serious with lots of combat at the same time. If you don’t want to have lots of enemies, you need to think a lot and prepare some special situation for it... or to say that it’s a over the top parody and do anything. In most cases it’s a cheap excuse and we get a bad parody with very absurd action. But it became a standard, and other games are replicating the same formula, because they think it works. It doesn’t. Just look at poor sales of most games. So yes, it’s an obstacle.
Questions: Anton Zhuk & Ivan Kapustin
The other members of the Round table, related to FPS genre, are: