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Polygamer Interview: Translation

Posted by Chris Avellone , 03 May 2010 · 2635 views

Polygamer went live with an interview I did for them a while ago (Polygamer Interview), and here's the English translation for those who don't know much beyond their high school French... like me.

1] At Polygamer we ask ourselves many things about videogames, for example why it’s able to distress us, stress us, to inject adrenaline to us, to make us think (with enigmas especially), but why does it rarely make us really laugh and almost never cry ?

Humor in games is hard. What makes us laugh or cry varies per individual - and it's difficult to build up enough sympathy for a character to create the emotion of sadness in the first place.

The times I've seen humor used successfully has been in games like Monkey Island, where for me, the dialogue and the style of presenting the dialogue is what I found especially humorous. I also appreciate moments where sarcasm are used in games, since I appreciate good sarcasm and find it amusing, but that's not true for everyone.

So onto crying. Crying can stem from loss. So the question is, how do you build up a connection to an NPC such that you feel sympathy for them and miss them when they're gone? The only game that has done this for me is Infocom's Planetfall. The only game I attempted to make the player feel a sense of loss was Planescape Torment, and it worked there because the person you were losing was your player character - you weren't watching someone else go away, you were the one going away from your companions.

So my advice? Make the loss personal, and make it centered on the character.

2] As an author full of ideas, what would you do to make us laugh like fools or cry like little girls? Would you work especially on the narration ? Interaction ? Visuals ?

Don't force the humor, let it come out of context of the player's actions, and whenever possible, make that humor reactive based on the player's actions, not on watching a passive sequence. Try to get inside the player's head, and not only anticipate what they may think, but provide options for it. As an example, nothing created a more sympathetic reaction for me than Ripley in Aliens echoing exactly what the viewer is thinking ("Nuke 'em from orbit." Followed by "They can bill me.") - everyone in the audience can completely sympathize with getting the hell off of LV-426 and dropping nukes on a nest of vicious predators with acid for blood. So look for points in the game where you catch yourself thinking of a solution and have characters in the game echo what the player might be thinking.

Narration, interaction, and visuals can all contribute to humor or sense of loss, but really, you want to focus on the audio.

The tone of a voice actor and the background music will do more to create mood than any visual or interaction sequence can strive for. As an example, in Alpha Protocol, Michael Thorton can develop a romance or a hatred with a contact, Madison, in the game... and when you interact with Madison, the music and the voice acting is what drives the emotion of the scene. When you have a hatred going, the music is tense, dangerous, and everything about Madison's tone tells you how much she despises you. On the counterbalance, the voices and music (softer, slower) is what drives home the romance at the other end of the spectrum.

3] Let us imagine that I am in a good position at Microsoft and Epic, I give you the head of the next Gears of War development with totally freedom. What would you with that and why ?

I'd probably turn it into a fantasy 3rd person RPG, and give the main character a colorful outfit, pointy ears, a hat, and... I don't know... a boomerang, sword, shield, and some bombs.

4] Let us imagine that I am in a good position at Nintendo (yes, many people love me), I give you the head of the next Zelda development with totally freedom. What would you do with that and why ?

I'd have Link's world invaded by creatures that live below the earth, give Link battle armor, a chainsaw assault rifle, the ability to call down blasts from a Hammer of Dawn death cannon in orbit, and the ability to maximize his use of cover in order to wipe out encroaching hordes of mole-like humanoids from holes that erupt from the ground.

5] Will sex in video games be possible one day ? (I mean games with sexual relationships inside for adult only of course, not strange relationships with your consoles or something like that original.gif My question wants to make you tell us about censorship and adult stories in video games.)

Yes. There's already plenty of mini-games related to it in mainstream titles, so that trend will only be iterated on until you get the whole experience. I'm not talking about solely pornography here, I believe there are romances and situations where sexual activity can be interactive and still be artistic (Mass Effect is going well along these lines, personally).

6] Do you have frustrations as a videogames creator ? Which ? Why ?

Only the typical ones regarding resources, time tables, and parameters. I'm sure we'd all like to blue sky elements and put all of our ideas into games, it's just a question of how and how and much it'll cost in the industry.

7] Was making video games better before than now ?

It's better in some ways and worse in others - a more detailed answer relates to voice acting.

In some respects, having a fully voice acted game is great. On the development side, however, the cost, resources, and the inflexibility of iterating on recorded VO (as well as arranging the studio sessions) makes it a challenge for developing an RPG. So... for every aspect of game development, there's tradeoffs. The industry definitely has changed over time, resulting in more and more specialization in art, design, and programming, and resulting in larger team sizes, which makes delivering a vision more difficult, but not impossible.

The solution to this, however, is just to go make your own games for fun, and in many respects, I thank the iPod and mobile phone community for the opportunity to release tinier, more manageable games that are fun to play.

8] Tell us about one or several of your projects which you would have loved to release but you could not for various reasons. There appears that each creator has at least a cursed project of this type in his bundle, so do it, please frustrate us with this game we will never be able to play… Moreover, with the time, what do you think about this project(s) which stay on the paperboard and why do they stay like it ?

I wanted to do a Planescape Torment sequel called Lost Souls where it took the lives of Deionarra, Ravel, Dak'kon and others from the original and told their tangential stories in an RPG format before and during the events of Torment.

I also wanted to do one other game set in the Planescape universe that wasn't tied to Torment itself, called Planescape: Tesseract. I actually turned a sample of the premise into a 2-3 hour pen-and-paper game session that played at GDC one year with a lot of press folks (and Ray and Greg from BioWare), giving each of the folks a pre-made player character and a time limit to accomplish their goals. I really liked the character designs, and I'd love to develop those characters, but most of them only work in the context of a Planscape-style universe.

9] With respect to your experience, what would you to advise to a guy who starts from scratch with empty pockets and who launches out in the industry with a lot of ideas and ambition ?

Get a part-time job that doesn't drain you of creativity, or even better, lands you a job in the game industry without actually being in game development. If you have ideas, realize them yourself - make mods and use the many game editors out there (NWN1, NWN2, G.E.C.K.) to make your own game content and see if you actually like doing it.

If you do and have a passion for it, you're going to learn a lot on your own, and at the least, it's a hell of a thing to put on your resume. We've hired folks solely based on their mod success with existing RPG editors (ex: Jorge Salgado, who created Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul mod).

10] Are the games which marked you as a player the same ones which impressed you as a creator ?

Yep, and System Shock 2 is top of that list, followed by Chronotrigger. Portal's on there, too - if someone had told me they wanted to do a FPS where you didn't have a gun, I would have shaken my head. Portal proved me wrong.

11] And last, to ask you a more classic question: Tell us about your next projects and/or ideas that you would like to explore…

I'd love to do a game based on the HBO series the Wire - the whole idea of slowly building up a case against a target and balancing the character flaws of your squad of malcontents to make a successful criminal case is intriguing. When watching the Wire, I was so used to the one-hour turn around in most legal dramas, and to observe a single case stretch over the course of a year actually made the characters and your investment in the case as a viewer much more. You could do the same thing with a computer game.

July 2018

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