Harvey Smith on a creator's dilemma
Harvey Smith on a creator's dilemma
During my Dishonored interview with Harvey Smith, after about 25 minutes (I was alloted 20 minutes) I was told I could only ask one more question. I asked him how it felt as a creator to fill a game with stacks of content you know people might never see. His response was a doozy, and it's such an interesting insight into the thought processes of a truly legendary creator.
"We run the risk all the time of not knowing how long the game is. We've had people finish the game in 12 or 14 hours. We've also had someone else who's never played the game who has played for 25 hours. That variance is significant. And you've played that section of the bridge - there are four sections to the bridge and that was the fourth section - and we've dropped you in with all of the powers and some players spend like an hour or two messing around with that - exploring, reading every note, hearing every overheard conversation and doing all the little stuff - and again, each section of the bridge is about that long - and then other players get in and just because of the way they figure things out or put things together, they teleport to the right spots, get past the right guards and do the right thing and 15 minutes later they're done and like, wow, is that scary to us."
"When I worked at Origin I had the luxury of working with Warren Spector and Richard Garriot - I worked around Warren at a couple of companies, but Richard was there and I went to him and said, 'We need to make the next Ultima more like the last Ultima because I liked it, and one of the things I liked about it was I could finish the game and only see half the content.' And he was like 'That's always been the secret of Ultima - it's a world that's bigger than your experience, it always feels bigger. But we have to weigh how much work we're putting into it and how much it's costing because we can't make a game where each player only sees 1 percent of the content - it would be too big to make and too expensive.'"
"But players want more of that sort of thing, so we look at a game like Skyrim - you play through from beginning to end and you see about 15 percent of the content - it's an amazing extension of Richard's goal and Raphael and I feel the same way about Dishonored. And I know that [Ricardo] Bare the Lead Designer and all the guys I worked with before on Deus Ex who are on the team feel the same and all the guys that Raph's worked with on Arx Fatalis and Dark Messiah - we all feel the same, which is we would like to have a game that a player can play through and not see half the content and go through a different time and take a different approach and see a different set of content."
"And part of that is just owning the experience. If I go through a game and I see every single thing and I'm just riding along pushing a button or whatever, it doesn't feel like a game - it feels like a rollercoaster ride. But if I go through a game and make decisions which have consequences, then as a result I don't get the exact same experience you got and your experience feels altered by you, and my experience feels altered by me and my favourite memories from games, they are all games like that."
I interjected here to keep the conversation going - "And you have those times when you're telling a story about the game to your friend and they're like 'Huh, that never happened to me...'"
"Yeah, that's so great. I remember in the mid-nineties I was having a conversation in my office with Doug Church and he was a super-influential mentor over me and he said something like 'If you listen to gamers after they've finished a game they're really excited. They're telling stories as if they happened to them. They're telling stories the same way they did at summer camp after playing capture the flag - they get back and they're breathless and excited like something crazy has happened. And something different happened to them, so they take turns telling their stories.' And you listen to gamers talk about that and they can't really do that in games that are super linear or scripted. But they can do that in Far Cry 2 and they can do that in Deus Ex... and we hope they can do that in Dishonored as well."
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