St. Catharines, Ontario based developer Silicon Knights first revealed its ambitious Too Human at E3 back in 1994, as a 5-disc PlayStation epic. After the company signed on as a second party developer with Nintendo in 1998, the project was prototyped for a time on the GameCube, though never progressed past that stage, and after two games with Nintendo, the developer and the publisher went separate ways in 2004. Company president Denis Dyack told Gamasutra shortly after that time that he felt Silicon Knights had become “extremely well-rounded” at crafting story and game experiences “after working with Nintendo.”
Just prior to E3 in 2005, the company revealed the Too Human project had shifted platforms once again and would be appearing as a trilogy on the Xbox 360 as part of a partnership with Microsoft. At the same time, Silicon Knights also announced a collaboration with Sega, though further details – including platform – have not yet been revealed.
E3 2006 saw events take a turn for the worse for the company, though, with a preview build of Too Human shown sharply criticized by some outlets for its camera and frame rate issues. Since that time, Dyack has been relatively quiet in regards to the game, but increasingly vocal about the development, publishing and marketing model that exists in the industry at this present time, suggesting that the marketing process – including reviews and advertising – should not begin until the game has been completed. Additionally, he believes, the preview process should be set back until the game is around two-thirds of the way into the development process.
We spoke to Dyack at length recently, and asked about his views on video game narrative, his development and marketing proposal and his views on video game criticism.
Gamasutra: The last time Gamasutra spoke to you, at E3 in 2005, you mentioned that your decision to work with Microsoft and Sega was based on a need to have the flexibility to make the games you wanted to. I wanted to begin by just asking whether you felt like you do have the kind of flexibility you wanted, at the moment.
Denis Dyack: I think it’s gone very well, from the perspective that the company since that time saying that we wanted to do bigger and larger projects, we’ve now got two large projects underway. We’ve gone from, I think, 60 people under Nintendo to close to if not past 150, and growing, and we’re going to start a third project, so we’re going to grow by probably another 75 as well.
I think from that perspective, it’s gone very, very well. We’ve been able to do what we want to do. We’ve been able to create high production value games with the highest fidelity, so we’re very happy in that regard.
GS: Why do you think something like Too Human wouldn’t have been possible with Nintendo?
DD: Oh, I don’t think that. I think Too Human would have been possible with Nintendo – I think good ideas work on any hardware platform. However, I think in terms of the kind of game that we want to do, I think Nintendo’s direction was really skewing towards accessibility, new gamers and light hearted easy immersion party type games. That’s our impression of it, and I shouldn’t speak for them and I think Zelda shows that they can do other things as well, but their market demographic clearly shows that they’re moving towards that. At least…I don’t know about ‘clearly’, but it seems to be heading towards that.
I wasn’t sure that the type of games we wanted to make would resonate well with that platform. So, I don’t think it’s impossible I just think it wasn’t the right fit and I think they agreed as well.
GS: Why do you think the 360 is the best fit?
DD: Well, I think PS3 and 360 are the best fit, to be honest. We’re not exclusive to the 360. I just think those consoles have a lot more memory, a higher fidelity. They’re a lot bigger, they’re a lot faster, and we can create games with higher production values. What I mean by that is, things that are closer to film; lots of technical post processing, significantly increased levels of polygons, characters that look more lifelike. All those things.
GS: Do you think, given that you’re envisioning Too Human as the first in a trilogy, we’ll see the company getting a better hold of the platform as time goes on? Are you finding yourself becoming more familiar with the 360 even now?
DD: Oh, yeah - of course. I think that’s always the case with the new hardware platforms: once you get used to working with systems you get better and better at it, and you learn more constantly as you go. Ironically, as soon as you generally start to get really used to the system, the platform moves on and you need to start looking at a new hardware system.
GS: That was actually something I wanted to ask about. Are the games in the trilogy all definitely planned for the 360?
Where does that put you if Microsoft announce a new platform in two years time, for example?
DD: I don’t think they’ll be announcing a new platform in two years time, but we intend the trilogy turnaround to be a lot faster than the first game. So, the whole plan is intended and projected to get all the games within the lifecycle of this particular platform, which in this case is the Xbox 360.
GS: Is that because you have the engine more or less set now?
DD: Yeah, well, there’s a lot of reasons. You get your process down, you create a trilogy where you don’t have to recreate every single thing. Like, as an example, the main character Baldur or some of the other gods like Thor or Freyr, a lot of the work is already done with those, so it becomes a case of not having to build everything from scratch but to use what you have and really build upon what’s out there.
So I think traditionally, a problem with sequels rather than looking at things from a trilogy is that they will create the first one, and if it’s successful they’ll do another one, but if they are successful then they have to add all this new stuff; maybe create new things from scratch or a new gameplay mechanic. We’re essentially going to take the core of our game and continue with a planned continuation, over three titles. I think the structure that we have is a really good production process that a lot of companies are now looking at and have adopted since we started, actually.
I’ve heard a lot of companies say they’re working on trilogies now, and it’s a good business model, and it’s good for creating content and it’s good for the gamer, because they can get something that is quality and they know if they liked the first one they know what to expect from the second and third. It builds upon something, rather than creating it from scratch.
One of the problems with the sequelitis stuff it that they add so much stuff it breaks the original game, and those are the kind of things we’re trying to avoid.
GS: In some ways, it sounds more similar to what’s happening with episodic content than a traditional sequel-based model.
DD: Well, it’s not a sequel and it’s not episodic content. Episodic content reminds me a lot of television. So, episodic content is “to be continued” with a chapter or a series that keeps you going from episode to episode. Too Human is planned to be three titles, and we know exactly how they’re going to go. There’s not going to be cliff-hangers of any sort. They’re self contained, but they build upon each other.
There’s a start, a middle and an end that’s pre-planned, which I think a good consumer can distinguish between that and episodic content, which is more like a television series. There’s Battlestar Galactica, which I love, but that’s a very different type of content to, say, Lord of the Rings. Even though one may say they’re both great, they’re very different in structural nature and storytelling. From a gameplay perspective, it’s the same thing – this is a trilogy, not episodic content. There’s a significant difference.
GS: What kind of pressure does planning a trilogy put you under in terms of sales?
DD: I don’t know. I guess the first one would certainly have to do well, but that’s always the same when you do any game, so I wouldn’t say there’s any more pressure than anything else. In the long term, with Lord of the Rings it was definitely the case and I think it’s the same for us: if things go well, the upside is a lot higher than if you just planned a single game.
Long term there’s some very good benefits from a production value and cost perspective, but also from a quality perspective it’s going to be a long time before you see something as good as Lord of the Rings because they filmed all of them at the same time and there was a very high level of quality. All the actors didn’t age ten years between each one – there’s some really good stuff there that I think gives you some significant advantage over doing a single game, or any other kind of development, really.
GS: Do you worry that the first one won’t do well, and that it could throw the rest of the plan out?
DD: That’s always the case with anything. I think it’s the same with Lord of the Rings – if the first one hadn’t done well, that series would have ended. We never would have seen a second or third one. I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case with Lord of the Rings, and I don’t think that will be the case with us, but I think in this industry we’re creating entertainment and I’ve always said that you should try and create something you like yourself because at least you’ll please one person and the goal is to please other people beyond that, but you never know until the title’s out there.
GS: Going back to what you were saying about creating the overarching narrative, how do you go about mapping all of that out when creating a trilogy?
DD: That’s a good question. I guess we always like to fall back to some basics and do structural 100,000ft to 10,000ft plans. I’d say the 100,000ft plans for Too Human, we break the games down into themes. The theme of first game is discovery, the theme of the second game is revenge and the theme of the third game is enlightenment. That also is scalable, if you take Aristotle’s theory of Poetics and the way he would create narratives – it’s normally broken down into parts. We often structure and take Aristotle’s Poetics, which is used a lot for entertainment, and break it down into linear things that we do, like gameplay and interactivity and combine those with our theories.
We’ll often produce graphs of plotlines and stories that are going on, and we basically planned out the entire trilogy from beginning to end and then we’ve looked at good places to say, ‘Okay – here’s a good component, and the first story is going to end here with these things happening, the second story’s going to end here with these things happening’ and you make sure that they’re self contained and the story makes sense. If you were to cut out the first and third parts of the trilogy, would the second part make sense on its own? Then you just iterate, and iterate, and iterate until you get all of those things together.
GS: What about balancing your plans for the narrative with the actual gameplay? I think there’s a concern from a lot of action gamers in particular that they don’t actually want an overtly story based experience.
DD: I think that’s generally because the story based experiences that most action gamers would be familiar with are absolutely horrid. I think one of the problems with narrative in the industry right now is with the quality writing in general. It’s not everyone – there’s some well written games, that for sure. But they’re so far and between that when someone actually sees one, they go crazy and there’s a real rabid fanbase for games with an excellent narrative.
I think we’re known for that because we pay attention to it, but most people don’t want to do it. One of the big problems in our industry – and it’s still rampant today, and we’re very much against it – is the idea of completing a level and then getting a story segment as a bonus.
That whole mentality is really old school; coin-dropping. ‘You beat the level, you get this little cinema’, which gives you a break from the repetition of the game because you’re so tired of it. Nowadays, you play games at home, you don’t have to drop coins in, and the story has to be so essentially interwoven into the game. In order to tell a good narrative, it has to seamlessly mix and integrate with the gameplay.
At Silicon Knights, our structure is, we have a director for every department – sometimes two, depending on how complex it is. So, there’ll be someone like myself on Too Human, working as director of the entire project. Then we have five departments which we think are extraordinarily important in making non-linear entertainment or video games.
There’s audio and sound, so we have a director of that who interfaces with everyone. He’ll read the scripts over, and he’ll look at the gameplay and he’ll create the appropriate audio and sound files. Also, the people in his department are there to make sure everything balances well. We have a director of technology to make sure the tech supports everything we do. We have a director and gameplay and game design, and he looks over everything and makes sure it intermixes with the technology and the story and the artwork. We have art directors, obviously. And we have a director of content, and he makes sure that the story is interwoven with gameplay and the technology and all those.
Our theory is that you take all those five areas, and you mix them together and try to balance them all so they’re all equal in strength and then suddenly you start to get something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. You create this completely immersive experience, where the gamer is so wrapped into it and loses track of time. We really feel strongly that we’re creating entertainment, and in order to hit the greatest entertainment experience, we have to balance all those five things.
The thing that really separates video games from other forms of entertainment – traditional forms like books, television, movies, radio – is technology is so rapidly advancing. Then the game design part, where we’re actually in an interactive media – those two things break all the previous rules, so applying something like Aristotle’s Poetics really is challenging because a lot of the rules, if they apply, you have to be very creative about the ways that you apply them, and sort of look at them from a very proactive and future-forward perspective. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with some stuff that doesn’t work, and that’s traditionally what’s happened with all the bad games that have tried to make movies into games, and that’s why you’ve got to take an aggressive perspective and a future looking perspective. I hope that all made sense.
GS: So, that synergy between departments is what you think is most important for the future of narrative in the industry?
DD: I think it’s absolutely the future, and Silicon Knights has structured the whole company around that philosophy, and if you notice, we have a sort of guild mentality that’s inspired by the works of Shakespeare where it’s widely believed – or at least believed in a few circles – that Shakespeare wasn’t just one person, it was a guild of people and writers that iterated and learned off of everything that they did with their plays and they created something that resonated for long periods of time. That’s something we’re trying to do by balancing these synergies over all the departments and trying to come up with the perfect balance.
GS: Do you think full interactivity is where things are headed, or do you believe some kind of linearity is necessary within the narrative of games?
DD: I think a balance and a mix, for sure. I think if you’re completely, absolutely non-linear, then you start running into problems with navigation and if you’re going to have any kind of story it has to have a beginning, middle and end. That is the definition of story in some ways. You can certainly build your own stories, but there needs to be a beginning and an end - you can have multiple paths and things, but it will eventually cumulatively explode.
So, I think the perfect mix is to have some sort of guide walls; some way of guiding the player so they know what to expect next and they know that they’re making progress. At the same time, make it so that they can make decisions that affect the game and do things where they really feel that the gameplay is emergent and their decisions are having an effect on it, but at the same time they’re also in a big world and a living world, and just like in reality, as much as we may think we’re an effect on our personal lives, how much we affect the world…it’s still going on and there’s still things happening. So, I think those kinds of balances are what we’re looking for in the ultimate experience.
Others may disagree – a lot of people think that’s not the case, and they’re trying to do more aggressive things or less aggressive things, but we think a balance is the way to go.
GS: It’s interesting what you were saying about the perceived effect of personal actions on the world. Do you think one of the problems with narrative in games has been that developers are trying to portray their characters as having too much of an effect, and they’re not looking at it in a big picture sense?
DD: Yeah, I think so. I mean, first of all, generally to create an engrossing story, you want characters that are bigger than life. To take Too Human as an example: you’re playing the role of a cybernetic god. So, you’re going to have a lot more influence than the average person, and all types of mainstream entertainment – in order to do something fun – create things where the player is larger than life.
However, if you’re going to create something where this person is absolutely pivotal at all times and everything you do controls the whole world, it becomes quite boring. When things are completely in your control, that’s generally not a good vehicle for entertainment; you have to really balance it out. That’s my perspective on it, and I think a lot of people here at Silicon Knights would share that perspective. But, like all things in entertainment, there’s many ways to create an entertaining experience. I think by and large, though, that’s a good principle.
GS: Moving on to the Sega project, you’re not announcing details on that until it’s done at this point? Are you implementing the ideas that you’ve spoken about recently in regards to the development cycle?
DD: We’re certainly trying to find an approach where we’re going to talk about titles at the right time. I think it’s fair to say that when I first started talking about this I was honestly a bit surprised about the level at which it resonated. We got a lot of emails from people within the industry, and I talked to a lot of people at the Game Developers Conference about this, and a lot of people want this to happen. When we put it into perspective, often times you’ll say something pretty extreme to get people’s attention but I think in general we are moving towards that. But time will tell how we make it.
GS: So what kind of feedback have you had from people in the industry?
DD: Well, it’s pretty interesting. It depends on what people you talk to; if you talk to developers, they like it. If you talk to marketing people, they love it – it’s their perfect environment. For them, they have to guess how many copies the game is going to sell, then they have to put marketing money behind it, so this removes a lot of really unpredictable things for them and they’re just like, ‘This is the best thing ever’.
Publishers, if you have the cash flow they like it very much. If you don’t have the cash flow, they don’t like it at all. Basically, the biggest publishers, they’re looking at it, and quite frankly some of them are already doing it – they’re just not talking about it. Others are not right now.
The press response and the gamer response has been not as favorable, because the perspective that they have on it is that they see us as trying to take something away, which is not true. The gamers look at us like, ‘Denis Dyack is trying to take away our previews’, and that’s absolutely not true. All I’m saying is that what we need to do is delay the game’s release on the shelf to get some marketing and hype behind it, get some better planning – basically get a better production process for getting that game on the shelf than we now have.
From a press point of view, the press want to see things as soon as possible, because they’re very enthusiastic. Some of the press are split on it – some of them think, ‘That’s right, in order for us to be absolutely critical of the products, we have to see the final project and it’s impossible to critique stuff before it’s done’. Others are saying, ‘No, no, our readers want us to go to E3 and see things and tell it like it is as soon as possible because that’s what our job is and we just need to get the information out there.’
I think there’s been a general misunderstanding, but quite frankly the speaking point of this whole production model really is internal to the industry. Other industries are doing it, and from that sense, the press – to some degree, not to a total degree – is not directly relevant for it. I have said this before and it seems almost hypocritical, but it’s not: the press in our industry, I believe strongly, needs to be more critical. For them to be more critical, they have to be absolutely be looking at final product, and not trying to predict the future of how a game is going to be based on the pedigree of the developer, whether the game’s going to be done on time and when it’s supposed to ship.
So, if you’re doing a final review or a preview, the parts of previews for final footage [will] just go, ‘I think this looks cool, I can’t wait to see more’, and reviewers can review it and know it’s final and not worry about ‘Is this frame rate issue going to be fixed?’ or ‘Is this bug going to be fixed?’ – they can just report on what they see.
But for the gamer, this is so far removed from them that all they see is, ‘Hey, we’re going to get more delayed games.’ They just see it as all negatives. I think, from that perspective, it’s actually all positives for them, but it would be so transparent for the gamer that it’s probably not the right audience for that.
GS: Well, in the end it’s going to be the reaction from developers and publishers, rather than gamers that the success of this idea is riding on.
DD: If that’s the case – if that’s truly what’s going to decide – then it’s already done. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it in the development community. I’m not saying that there aren’t any, but most of the developers I talk to don’t ever want to show their game before it’s finished. Why bother? Why bother making that demo?
GS: Do you think it’s a quirk of the games industry that the gamers do have so much of a voice to be able to announce their views so vocally?
DD: That’s a pretty big misconception in our industry. I’m going to be very straightforward about this, but generally gamers don’t have any influence on games. Feedback from gamers from previews is universally almost never taken. If someone releases something in the press like, ‘Oh, we’ve heard what people are saying, we know the problems – we’re fixing them, please don’t worry’, that’s all PR spin. Generally, when a game is shown, there’s not too much time to alter the direction.
The other thing, too, is that there’s better vehicles for getting feedback, like focus testing in a controlled environment. Not showing things at a show to the public; it’s not a good vehicle for showing things. We have been doing [focus testing] internally with Too Human, and those kind of show from a PR and marketing perspective; it’s always good to say, ‘Hey, we learn, we fix things, we get it’, but the reality is it just really doesn’t happen. That’s just a perception. I remember hearing about some game getting some negative feedback and then them saying, ‘Oh, we fixed it, blah blah blah’. But I’ve talked to those guys, and they were like, ‘Nah, we didn’t have any time for that! We just did the best with the time we had and got it done. And I really wish we hadn’t showed it at that show.’ That’s what I hear all the time.
GS: In terms of what this means for publishers, does it mean a change of financial model?
DD: I don’t think so. I think what it means for the publishers is, they look at their quarter, they look at their development cycles, and they look at the release schedule, and then they basically say, ‘We’re going to develop these games from here, and they’re going to go to masters in January’. Say it’s some kind of horror game, and it’s January, February, March – whatever. But since it’s a horror game, they want to release it on Halloween, they can hold it, and release it then, and then do all their titles like that.
It’s basically a change in cash flow, and so what it essentially says is you’ve got to be able to create a game and then be able to sit on that game for several months in order to release that game at the appropriate time. This is something the movie industry has done for quite a while now: you release it in the time that’s best for that piece of entertainment. If it’s going to be a feel-good Christmas title, the best time to release it is at Christmas. If it’s an action flick, they’re often released in the summertime. If it’s a serious drama, that’s often in November.
The film industry has staggered these things, and that’s what our industry needs to do as well. It’s not like games are going to cost any more, it’s just that the cash flow has to be adopted. Right now, publishers and developers are releasing a game as soon as it’s gold and mastered – all I’m saying is, wait for a while. Build up some of the marketing. Instead of doing it before the game is done, do it when it’s gold and mastered, or maybe just before that, when the game is near final and you have a really strong idea of when you’re going to be able to release it. Then go from there. I think you’re talking probably six months cash flow, on average, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
I think long term for the publisher, it becomes a much, much more controlled model. You’re going to get higher quality product, and a much more predictable launch and cash flow than you would with any other model. It’s a natural maturing of the industry. I think this is inevitable. I think if games are going to start costing more and more, people are going to start getting to the point where they’re doing $50 million marketing campaigns – they’re not going to risk $50 million if someone misses the launch of their title by a month. It would be just catastrophic, and you’ve probably heard this: in the games industry, games are getting more and more expensive. That’s not only to develop them, that’s to market them as well.
If we’re going to be mainstream entertainment, we see something like, as an example, Halo 2 being the biggest entertainment launch in the history of the world, it’s going to get to the point where to plan that is going to cost so much money, that you’re going to be guaranteed that the project can not slip. The bottom line is, it can not miss its date, then.
The biggest risk for marketing is if the game slips because when you have to go ahead and buy that television time and trailer time and buy the marketing in the magazines three months in advance and get that shelf space in to the distributors and the retailers, if your game slips, you’ve missed that. So a lot of companies will just throw 300 people on the game, or 500 people, just to make sure that game gets done in one month. As much as try, that is just not good for the game, and everyone knows it.
The best way to deal with these problems is to get the game done, then set the date. At the end of the day, as an example, Halo – I don’t think it matters when that game ships, it’s going to do well.
GS: Do you think we will still see a flow of media from the game during the production period, to some degree? To continue your point about the movie industry, you still have stills from the set coming from movies in production.
DD: I think stuff like that will continue. The only thing that I think is going to happen, is that you’re going to stop seeing…well, right now, we’re seeing some things that are so early in production, and it just shouldn’t be shown. When you have untextured models and you’re trying to show a vision of gameplay in the future, as an example, or if someone says, ‘Please ignore that’, I think that kind of stuff is going to go away. You might see some production shots, or some things that are early but the whole idea of having some kind of show where someone sits down and plays the game before it’s done, I absolutely think that’s going to go away. As a matter of fact, it pretty much already has.
It’s really going to be very similar to the movie industry because if a thing’s not looking as good as it possibly could, you don’t want the chance that it’s ever going to get any negative press. It’s just not worth it. You might as well wait. It’s so expensive a process, you might as well just wait for the right time.
I think you might get some fringe people showing whatever they can, but I just don’t think they’re going to be the major titles or AAA products. This is basically a matter of risk management, and when you’re doing something that’s really big and really expensive, you just can’t take the risk of showing it until it’s absolutely right. You might do some preproduction shots, and there will be some previews, and that might occur when you’re closer to done but you’re never going to get it to the point we’ve seen where people are showing games three or four years before they’re complete. If that has not gone away already, it certainly will.
GS: You’re seeing it becoming closer to what the movie industry does with previews coming out, say, six months before the release of the film?
DD: Yeah. There could be some preview shots, and some films, as an example, shown at Cannes Film Festival, but at that point they’re already done and they’re looking for major distribution. So that still could be the case. That could be a model that people follow, but at the end of the day you’re going to get the game done, you’re probably going to get some kind of preview two or three months, maybe four months before its release and then you’re going to get demos that are out probably about a month before the game is out, and you send copies out to the reviewers four months before.
It’ll get staggered like that, so you’ll need about a six month window. So, if you want to get a magazine to review it, and you want it to be the final copy, you’ve just got to make sure that, four months before the game is released you give them the final version.
That’s how it works. The consumer shouldn’t see a difference at all, except that what they will see is that reviews of the game will actually be accurate. How many times have you seen reviewers go, ‘Well, if this gets fixed it’s going to be great’? Or, when they write reviews and it’s crashing every two minutes? They have no idea how the game feels because they just can’t even play it. Those kind of things will go away, and I think it will be better for everybody.
GS: Why do you want to see the press becoming more critical of product?
DD: I guess I’m really against the whole notion of the enthusiast press. Being so enthusiastic that they want things to be good. I think if our medium is going to become mainstream, and we’re going to be considered an art form, we need true critics like the movie industry or even the music industry where people go up and literally critique something, and it’s a profession to critique it. In order to critique something, it has to be done. How can you possibly try to predict the future? It’s like predicting the weather a year from now. It’s almost impossible.
So I think for us as an industry, to be taken seriously, and for game reviewers to be taken seriously…I’m sure you’ve seen the evidence – that gaming scores don’t necessarily relate to sales at all, and I want to be able to pick up a review and know that it’s a good indication of how good the game actually is. Often, the case is that it’s completely random. Especially for the magazines, they have a really tough time, because they’re looking at stuff four months before the game is done. How can you possibly review that?
I think it’s good for the consumer, it’s good for the developer and it’s good for the press, it’s good for the publishers. I think it’s good for everyone. I think it’s just a natural maturation of the industry.
Have you ever had to review a game and got a list like, ‘We will fix these things – please ignore them’? Have you ever got that list, and then when the game’s come out, they didn’t fix half of them? How fair is that to you? That’s what I’m trying to eliminate. The worst thing about the whole process is that no one’s trying to be unfair; no one’s trying to be deceptive. But the process is just broken, and it inevitably leads to something that you can’t objectively review.
GS: Leaving that aside for a moment, do you think that the nature of criticism for games still needs to mature?
DD: Oh yeah, I think so. Here’s a really good reason that I look at: we’ve worked with several hardware platforms now, and have a lot of websites and a lot of magazines that have an Xbox 360 specialist, a PSP specialist, a PlayStation specialist, a Nintendo specialist; in the end, for me, I hate that. I want someone who’s going to tell me if the game is good regardless of the platform. I don’t want it relative to anything else, I just want to know if it’s a good game. I might only have a Nintendo, but that doesn’t matter – we need to get away from the fundamental nature of, ‘This guy’s reporting on this, he’s reporting on this because he likes it’.
I’ve seen so many things where the author or critic will say, ‘Hey, I love Nintendo’, but, who cares? What’s the game about? I love Nintendo too, but how does that reflect on the game? Or, ‘I love Microsoft, and I love what they’re doing with…’ – I think that’s all great, but that’s not being critical of the game.
I think, from those perspectives, our industry really needs to grow up in that way. It’s really all about the games. All the hardware manufacturers – Sony, Nintendo – have always said that. What we need to do from a critical perspective is have people who are game experts. Have you ever heard of a film critic that only watches films that use THX? It’s just not the case; they just review films. They might like horrors, or westerns or dramas or whatever – they might have what they personally like – but they’re not directed to any hardware platform. I think that’s going to change over time too, but I think there’s a lot of areas in which that needs to be done.
Previewing things and giving opinions on things in the way that the preview structure works – I think that’s broken. I think, in general, the type and analysis of how you rate a video game needs to change as well. To me, as an example, I just need to know that a game’s entertaining. If the technology is great, that’s a bonus. If the sound is great, that’s a bonus. If the story is great, that’s a bonus. If the gameplay is great, that’s a bonus. If the artwork is great, that’s all a bonus. They all add up to: how entertaining is this package? That’s what I want to know. If was a critic, that’s what I would write.
It seems you like are getting a lot more people now talking about reviewing games in that binary nature – thumbs up, thumbs down – and saying that way might be more relevant than a score out of ten.
I’m strongly in favor of a thumbs up, thumbs down or a star rating. If you say something is five stars, you’re saying it’s incredibly good, but you’re not going to say that it’s a perfect game. When you say something’s a ten out of ten, it’s just not realistic. It’s like if you give an Olympic medalist a ten out of ten across the board. Nothing’s ever perfect – there’s always ways to improve things. I don’t ever care if it’s perfect; I just want to know whether I should play that game. Am I going to get an entertaining experience? That’s all I’m looking for.
I think that’s what critics need to do: they need to give a critical analysis of the game, and a yes or no. I think that’s the best way to do it. I agree, a lot of magazines are going that way, and I think that’s a good trend. I think people honestly want to become more critical, as well, and I think that’s also a good thing. In order to be the most critical, and the most objective, we need to establish a process where you have the ability and the tools to do that.
I think, in the end, whether it’s exactly the way I say it or some variation, I this is going to be better for everyone.
GS: How long do you think it will be before we start seeing the kind of model you’re talking about picked up on a wider basis?
DD: I think we’re probably starting to see it already – some studios are doing it already. I think it’s going to become the norm by the end of this generation and the start of the next one because of the increasing cost of games. I think, with the death of E3, for example, that’s another step forward. One of the reasons people didn’t want to do it was the downside was too high; it cost too much money, and there weren’t enough positives that would come out of that show.
Take, as an example, Rockstar and GTA IV. How much do we know about it right now? The trailer is very controlled, and as far as we know, the game could be done right now.
At the end of the day, I think we’re going to move towards that, and the more expensive the game and the more important the game, that’s definitely going to be the direction. So, I think it’s happening right now, and we’re starting to see a slow change. I think a lot of people want to see it happen and I think when it does happen, no one’s going to notice, except, ‘Hey, reviews have gotten better; press are happier and developers are happier and publishers are happier.’ Everyone becomes happier.
GS: So, overall, you’re seeing this as a necessary maturation of the industry.
DD: Yes, absolutely.