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Interview: Silicon Knights' Denis Dyack Goes 360

In this exclusive interview, Dyack finally speaks about the future of Silicon Knights, the Xbox 360, and the changing face of game development in general, also commenting on his company's work with Nintendo, Konami, Sega, and the opportunities presented by online content delivery for the next generation.

Chris Kohler, Blogger

July 26, 2005

17 Min Read

In April 2004, Silicon Knights - the development house responsible for Legacy of Kain, Eternal Darkness, and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes - ended its exclusive relationship with Nintendo. For over a year, not a peep was heard out of the Ontario-based developer.

All that changed in the run-up to E3 2005, when Silicon Knights finally announced two major publishing partnerships. Too Human, a project that was first shown at E3 in 1994 as a PlayStation title (prior to the partnership with Nintendo) had been expanded into a trilogy of games that would be published by Microsoft for the Xbox 360. A separate project was announced in collaboration with Sega.

At E3, Silicon Knights' president Denis Dyack emerged from the shadows to once again speak to the media. In this exclusive interview, Dyack finally speaks about the future of Silicon Knights, the Xbox 360, and the changing face of game development in general.

Gamasutra: It seems that it's a good time for independent developers with solid credits, as Microsoft wants to partner with basically all of you. Mizuguchi, Sakaguchi, Okamoto.

Dyack: It's about having the flexibility to do the kind of games that we want to do. Partnering with both Sega and Microsoft is really good because they have a big, broad, high production value direction. We mesh very well, and work well together, in sync. We're really happy with both relationships.

Gamasutra: Are you announcing any details about Too Human?

Dyack : We've announced that it's a trilogy, a set of three games. It's coming to Xbox 360. We're very excited about it. We've been thinking about it for a very long time. We know where it's going. It's one of the best things Silicon Knights has ever done.

Gamasutra: This is the third or fourth time you've switched platform on this project.

Dyack : Originally, we were working on it for PSone. When we became a second party for Nintendo, we stopped. We did some earlier prototyping on the GameCube, but we then went full dedication to Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes. When we went our separate ways with Nintendo, we talked to some friends in Microsoft.

Gamasutra: You showed off Too Human on the PSone and there were a lot of plot and character details revealed. Do these hold true for the game on Xbox 360? Has that part of it changed at all?

Dyack: It's changed tremendously. A lot of the stuff that's out there isn't relevant anymore. But we don't want to talk about details.

Gamasutra: How close to completion was the PSone game?

Dyack: Approaching alpha. We showed it at one E3. We were getting there. It was a few months away from being ready to release. A lot of the screenshots are from 1998.

Gamasutra: You've announced a project with Sega - is that also for Xbox 360?

Dyack: It's unannounced.

Gamasutra: But it's next generation.

Dyack: Next-gen, absolutely.

Gamasutra: Do you feel that Silicon Knights' cachet has gone up in the industry after the publishing partnership with Nintendo?

Dyack: Nintendo [has] some of the best video game creators in the world. Working with Miyamoto closely was amazing for us, and. I've said this before, but it's like working with Aristotle. He's a genius. He knows gameplay better than anyone else. Silicon Knights wouldn't be in the position it is now if not for Nintendo. And they're awesome.

That partnership gave us the opportunity to work with Hideo Kojima as well. And I'd be really surprised if anyone ever gets an opportunity to do that again. Especially someone from the West. It's not very common, and the fact that all three of us got to work together is very unique.

So I would say that I thought we were fairly strong at telling stories before Nintendo, but that we became extremely well-rounded after working with Nintendo. Our production values grew drastically after working with Kojima at Konami. It's like we went back to school, learned how to really make video games.

And now we're poised for this generation, where content is really going to come into play, I feel comfortable that this is the generation for Silicon Knights. A lot of developers are worried about big production costs and being profitable. man, I can't be more excited about this generation. Because finally we can compete with the movie industry on production values; finally we'll be recognized as an art form.

We can have tremendous scripts, we can have graphics that are on par with movies like Lord of the Rings in real time, we can have tremendous technology - you've probably heard that we've signed, exclusively, the Unreal 3 engine. We looked at it and it was like, this is such an awesome engine with great technology that it will allow us to concentrate even more on content, which is our strength. And content, gameplay, art, that's what we're built around. The technology is built-in. We're going to change the technology a lot. We've been a tech house and done our own tech, and the tech group has been modifying the engine. Epic's been very supportive.

So we really think that, next generation, all the stuff that we learned from Nintendo and Konami is really going to pay off.

Gamasutra: How will game design change in the next generation?

Dyack: The production values next generation are really going to separate the wheat from the chaff. Getting that process down, getting art directors in there, getting concept artists. that's what we're doing with Silicon Knights. We have a group of artists who do only concept drawings, which is something people never really did through this generation. That's going to make a difference.

If you're not seeing a really big leap on Xbox 360 stuff, it's because it's running on alpha hardware. When the beta kits finally come in, you'll start to see a huge difference. But that being said, the difference between 360 and the PlayStation 3. the stuff Sony is showing is all pre-rendered. That is unlikely to be as good as the final product. That's going to come down, the 360 stuff is going to come up, and I don't think people are going to be able to tell the difference. They're very competitive systems. The RAM is exactly the same. At the end of the day, RAM is going to be one of the biggest factors.

Gamasutra: What do you think of the Nintendo Revolution?

Dyack: I saw pictures of the hardware. I looked for details and found none. I thought it looked nice, that the artistic design of the hardware was cool. But I don't know what the specs are. I don't know where they're going with their hardware right now. I'm always going to love Nintendo games, but it's too early to comment on the hardware.

Gamasutra: Did you play through God of War?

Dyack: I'm playing it. I'm in the Challenge of Hades. I love the art direction. To see Kronos walking around with the whole temple level on his back. there was so much imagery that I found captivating. I'm a big fan of mythology.

Gamasutra: What struck me about God of War was that you couldn't control the camera, but you never needed to. And it was a good thing, as the game always put the camera in a position where it was most dramatic. I saw it as sending a pretty clear message to game designers.

Dyack: Yes. Ever since Eternal Darkness we've strongly believed that you should not give the players control of the camera. I think Prince of Persia: Sands of Time did it too. And ICO. A lot of the research and development we've been doing has been in camera systems.

Gamasutra: So you can at least say about Too Human that you can't control the camera systems [laughter].

Dyack: I don't want to.

Gamasutra: Forget about it. Unless you were just about to say something good.

Dyack: I think gamers can expect what they normally expect from us, even a bit more. The relationship with Microsoft is going to create something very unique, just like the relationship with Nintendo created something very unique with Eternal Darkness, and the relationship with Konami created something very unique with Twin Snakes. People will notice that we're consistent with our games, but will also be very excited with where we're taking it. With some of the directions that our very radical and very exciting. We can't wait to talk about it, it's just not the time yet.

Gamasutra: As far as Twin Snakes goes, what do you look back on and say "Ah, I wish we'd done this." with the finished product?

Dyack: Jeez. We did fairly well with it, with the constraints that we had, which were quite heavy. All the Nintendo fans wanted it to be Nintendo-quality, and all the Konami fans wanted it to be Konami-quality. There's this huge fanbase for it. We had to combine elements of the first and the second. We didn't want to change it that much, because we didn't want to rewrite the whole storyline. I wish we'd had more time to polish everything.

We'd talked about connectivity with the Game Boy Advance, but there wasn't enough time.

Gamasutra: When you put the elements of the second game into the first one, what happens sometimes is that they're useless, and sometimes they're so useful that they hurt the gameplay. The Revolver Ocelot fight, where instead of having to fight him you can just shoot him in first-person mode. And hanging off ledges was basically useless.

Dyack: It would have been good to have more time to go back and make that stuff useful. But of course, then we would have had to change the levels radically. And this was the conundrum we were in. Kojima-san and I have talked about it, and we'd like to do an original game together sometime. To do an original game in the Metal Gear universe at some point in the future would be fun.

Gamasutra: That's not to say, of course, that Silicon Knights is in talks with Konami.

Dyack: No, no.

Gamasutra: What were the complaints that you got about Twin Snakes from the Metal Gear fans?

Dyack: They wanted more. I think some people expected Metal Gear Solid 2 to be part of it. Given enough time, we could have put the second Metal Gear Solid in there. But there wasn't time to put that stuff in, given the timeframe. But that's two games for one. I take that as a compliment, that people liked it so much they wanted more.

Gamasutra: Going even further back in time, to Eternal Darkness, there were definitely hooks in the story for a sequel. Could we ever expect a sequel? What would have to happen?

Dyack: It's certainly possible. We have a lot of ideas for a sequel, we set up the universe for one, and it's very possible that something like that could happen. Is it in the immediate plans for the future? No, not at all.

Gamasutra: So many of Silicon Knights' projects have been shifted across different hardware platforms. I think this Sega game is the first one in a long time that's just going to be released on the system it was developed for. What kind of restrictions does it impose on you when you have to move a game across consoles?

Dyack: We're not restricted at all. I think it's an advantage - there are very few developers who have had the opportunity to think about a game as long as we have with Too Human. We've been thinking about that since 1994. That doesn't mean we've been developing it since then, just thinking about it. That allows you to expand things in many ways.

Gamasutra: What attracted you guys to Sega?

Dyack: They understand that we want to do bigger and better games with higher production values. Sega seems to really get it. You've probably noticed a big change from last year at their booth.

Gamasutra: A lot of the big-name designers that Microsoft is working with are not actually developing the games. Hironobu Sakaguchi's studio Mistwalker is creating concept art and story, then passing off the game development to Artoon. Is that other end of the process something that Silicon Knights would still be interested in doing: partnering with a Japanese company to help them achieve their vision of a game, like you did with Twin Snakes?

Dyack: No. Metal Gear Solid was an exception to the stuff we usually do. It was a personal favor for Miyamoto and [Nintendo president Satoru] Iwata. We usually do original concepts. So I'd love to work together with someone to create something together. But Silicon Knights is not short of ideas.

Gamasutra: When you were doing Twin Snakes, was the entire company involved in that?

Dyack: Yeah, it was the whole company. It was a big project.

Gamasutra: What games have you been playing recently?

Dyack: I've been playing a lot of World of Warcraft.

Gamasutra: Interesting. Could you ever see yourself doing a massively multiplayer online game?

Dyack: No. Well, potentially, but there are no plans right now. It's a really overcrowded market, and people are having a hard time delivering content. I love WoW, but that's where it really fell short. There's no content. I really want a story, really want to find out what's happening, have an experience. Rather than just trying to get to the next level. I think in the future, when bandwidth becomes less of an issue, multi-player games and single-player games will start to merge. Whether it's cooperative or competitive, there will be an online component to most everything.

The future of hardware is no hardware.

Gamasutra: With the Xbox 360, every game is going to be Live aware. Goals in the single player games will show up online; if you beat a certain single player level, other people will be able to see it online.

Dyack: I think that stuff is awesome; whether it actually works or not, time will tell. Microsoft's got such an infrastructure built for online right now, with the potential to build big communities. I haven't heard anything about online from Sony or Nintendo. But Microsoft is so aggressive on it. I think it's really cool. And they're really pushing the medium in that direction. I think that's the future of the medium: online delivery.

This really boils down to piracy and non-linear entertainment versus linear entertainment. Any linear entertainment, anything that's always the same from beginning to end - books, movies - can be pirated. So if you watch a movie and it comes out a TV, you can record that. But when you're playing a video game, it's non-linear. As a director of non-linear entertainment, I can't tell you when a player's going to do this or that. So that gives you a unique experience. If you record yourself playing a video game, that's not the same as you playing a video game.

So imagine that technology is infinite. The bandwidth on the internet is infinite, the RAM on your system is infinite, the number of polygons you can push are infinite. We can do whatever we want. At that point, all you have is a controller hooked up to a display device. And you have no piracy because there's nothing to be copied. You don't have the game, you just hook in and play. It could be a single-player game. That is the future of our medium. That's really going to be more profound as the technology develops. Our industry is really in its infancy, and as that matures, it's going to be a major thing. I wish the other hardware vendors would do it.

Gamasutra: How do you think that sort of online community can benefit a single-player, solitary, story-driven experience?

Dyack: All I can say about that is wait until Silicon Knights has some more specific announcements. Think about it this way. Eternal Darkness was a collaboration between Nintendo and Silicon Knights that produced something very unique. Too Human is a collaboration between Microsoft and Silicon Knights that will produce something very unique. Think about the stuff that we're interested in, and the stuff that they're interested in, and combine them.



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About the Author(s)

Chris Kohler


World-renowned game journalist Chris Kohler enjoys spreading his wings and pitching articles to many different publications, which means he ends up having to write something like this about himself, in the third person, every couple weeks. He is a regular contributor to Wired News, and his articles about video games have appeared in Wired, Nintendo Official Magazine UK, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Official PlayStation Magazine, 1up.com, et al. As if all that were not enough, he has two books under his belt: Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life (BradyGAMES) and Retro Gaming Hacks, which will be published in October 2005 by O'Reilly.

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