– Lead Writer and Designer
What is your take on the first person/multiplayer debate?
Clearly, multiplayer games rock. There is no question that they are going to be a huge part of gaming’s future – playing a human is just way more challenging and exciting than playing an AI.
So single-player gaming faces a challenge – what can they deliver that is just as good? If they’re not going to disappear entirely, single-player games are going to have to evolve, and find something that they can offer that is different from multiplayer, and equally powerful. Ob-viously everyone is always going to need awesome gameplay, but that’s true of multiplayer, too – single-player needs even more than that.
By definition, single-player games lack the thrill of direct human interaction. So game devel-opers have to find a way of making single-player games meaningful to play in their own way. We have to solve problems of artistry and “content,” and learn to create games that make you feel or learn something, something as good as a film or a novel, or a multiplayer game. Not many people can do this yet, although I want to be one of them.
By now people realize that it’s not just a matter of “Games need better stories and charac-ters” – it’s a tougher and more interesting problem. Computers are a difficult medium for working with narrative, and they really suck at presenting characters to interact with. But they are powerful, they do create uniquely intense experiences, in other ways.
For example: when I first played Zork, I was maybe in 5th grade. When I sat down at the ma-chine, I had an expansive sense of stepping into an ancient and beautiful world – I could feel the Great Underground Empire as a space all around me. I loved it, and no other medium could give it to me. This is an example of the unique power of computer games.
To various degrees, it’s happened with a few other games since then – nethack (obviously Tolkien is a great sourcebook), Myst, Ultima 3, to name a few obvious ones. And anything Shigeru Miyamoto does. Many, many games give you glimpses of the cool, strange spaces they create and let you inhabit, but not many games have focused much. (when I was at E3 I was playing Deathtrap Dungeon at the Eidos booth, a relatively good 3D dungeon game. I went through a door, and suddenly I was on a wooden walkway over a black gulf, and far below me giant luminous sea turtles were swimming back and forth – this the kind of stunning moment we can do in games)
There remains the problem of story. It is often hard to accept characters that appear in com-puter games as independent people that one can care about. If you look at the characteristic stories that you see in computer games, some work better then others: games like Castle Wolfenstein, or Myst, dungeon crawls, games of solitary fighting or conquest or exploration tend to succeed because they don’t give the computer the burden of creating complex char-acter interactions, which it’s just going to fail at. After all, in a certain sense non-networked computer is a space or world for solitary exploration and a search for mastery, through codes, logic, and secret knowledge.
So I think for single-player we have develop the kinds of stories that computer games are good at into something meaningful (kind of like the way the comic-book genre has been transforming itself for the past 20 years). Like, most dungeon games begin with a powerful sense of mystery and expectation – you’re journeying into the depths of the world. But when you get to the bottom, it’s just a bunch of monsters and gold pieces, and some evil guy who you kill. But what if it was something much stranger and unexpected – some strange revela-tion about the nature of the world, a giant void with sea turtles, a magic sword that knows the hidden history of the black gods that rule your fate.
This is Trespasser’s mode – we are building an adventure game that gives you something to find. As you explore the island, you learn more and more about the nature of the park, and the life of the man who built it. Jurassic Park is about an old man with an iron will, the world he built, and the resurrection of something ancient from the dawn of the life on the planet. Trespasser is many things, but it’s also a solitary journey to the heart of a great man’s life, and the origin of the greatest scientific project of the 20th century. These are the kinds of things that single player has to give us, if it’s going to survive as a medium.
Do you think it would be worthwhile to add multiplayer capability to Trespasser, or would you rather spend your time working on another single player game?
Multiplayer Trespasser would be incredibly worthwhile. Notwithstanding what I just wrote above, multiplayer rocks. The other day I was playing Capture the Flag Quake, and thinking – what if we had physics here. We could configure the levels as a team, use objects to build forts to protect our flag, and our opponents could break them in. We could have so much richer tactics. We could hunt each other through the primeval jungle.
But I also think we’re making a rocking single player game, and as you can tell I have a pas-sion for that medium. We’d also like to ship on time. So look for it in the future.
Since the game basically consists of one giant level, how many people are doing level design? How do you coordinate something like that?
We have two full-time level designers, me and Richard Wyckoff, who is a brilliant ex-Looking Glass guy. But the whole team is into the game, and everyone will be contributing ideas for puzzles and encounter areas.
Also, the overall design for the island is taken from an actual real-world island (I can’t reveal which one) – we wanted to be sure our terrain had the natural feel to it. Coordinating it is rough, but as you might expect we have sectioned off the island into various parts, which we work on one at a time.
At what point in Trespasser’s development as a concept did the idea to do a com-pletely physics based engine come in? Was the engine concept first, or the license?
Seamus and I had the engine concept a long time ago. For a few years now, we have be-lieved that a fully physics-based engine would be a quantum leap in gameplay – it’s a vision we both shared back in our Looking Glass days. I came to Dreamworks to do this engine with Seamus, since we had the idea together, and Seamus is (as far as I can tell) the only one in the industry capable of making it work right now. When the PC license became avail-able, we saw right away that it could be adapted to our ideas, and that it would be a great vehicle for bringing them to a wide audience.
Do you think Trespasser’s engine is suited to other types of gaming? Would you ever consider adapting it to meet the needs of say…a racing sim?
It’s hard to picture a 3D game that wouldn’t benefit from great physics. It’s pretty sure you’ll be seeing the Trespasser engine again, although in what form I don’t know.
Do you see other companies recently burned out from lousy multiplayer games turn-ing back to single player?
Too early to say I suppose – the truth is I’ve been a little too busy to track all the trends. Has anyone really been burned by adding network support? Sounds like you might have some-one specific in mind.
Do you think the market for single player games is dwindling?
I don’t think it is just yet – people are still buying the same stuff, and perhaps the install base of networking hardware is still small enough not to matter too much. But it’s just a matter of time — the success of multiplayer is really the cue for the single-player to come of age — evolve or disappear.
What kind of puzzles does Trespasser have? Do the puzzles outweigh the action in Trespasser? Vice-versa?
I’m very pleased with the puzzles in Trespasser – the engine supports them very well, and they will be one of the best and most distinctive things about the game. Very few 3D games have puzzles worth the name – hunting for a keycard or combing a maze for a hidden button don’t qualify in my book. Puzzles should ask you to think! (Tomb Raider had a couple of good ones, but only a couple).
Trespasser and it’s physics present a complex world-system with many different objects, and the puzzles are basically about hacking the rules of that world. We give you the tools, you figure out how to use them solve your problems. And of course, no separate screens – any-thing you do, you do it physically in the 3D world, which is just viscerally more satisfying.
I group the puzzles loosely into a couple of classes. Some are more logic-y sorts of puzzles – looking at some geometric shapes, and figuring out how to use them to get something done – build a barricade that will hold, or a bridge that won’t fall. Use the rules of physics to obtain your result.
Other puzzles will have a real-world thinking emphasis – we want you to consider our envi-ronment as a real place. If you want to find a building in a forest, you might look for some power-lines to guide you. If you want to break into an office building, think about how they would set up their security: which door might be unlocked? Are the windows breakable? Can you get up to the roof, perhaps using some objects you see scattered around?
I don’t want to sell Trespasser as a puzzle-only game – combat will be at least as important. Hell, tactics is all about solving physical problems in 3Dspace – our puzzles should be just another aspect of that.
We find that our engine supports cool action and puzzles about equally well, so we’re going to use it all (and some combined combat/puzzle situations).
What do you make of the current crop of games? Quake? Tomb Raider?
I enjoy these games a lot, so I’m not eager to slag anyone. What we saw at E3 is that the current field is strong – lots of people are doing indoor 3D games, and doing them well. But there just aren’t any real standouts or innovators – everyone is making Quake (or Doom, or Castle Wolfenstein), and doing it basically the same way. Tomb Raider is an exception, but it’s a game I have mixed reactions to. Some parts of it were quite beautiful, and Lara’s anima-tion is superb. On the other hand, I don’t think the combat dynamic really succeeded – auto-targeting takes too much of the fun out of killing, and the rest is just jumping around. Plus many of the puzzles were just too annoying and time-consuming to be enjoyable. And searching for all those hidden places + I finished it the game, but it just felt like a lot of work. Mario64 and related 3D games are actually the development I find most exciting – giant land-scapes full of things to explore, different kinds of challenges. It’s a whole different direction in design than what we’re seeing on the PC – Miyamoto is a god.
So overall I thought we had some strong Quake games, but I was disappointed at the lack of technical and gameplay innovation.
In what ways is Trespasser superior? Inferior (if, that is, you’re willing to admit to Trespasser’s shortcomings).
It’s hard to list everything, since I think having physics will give us a fundamentally more in-teresting world to play in.
Rendered environment – no one else is doing outdoor scenes in this quality — lush jungles, beautiful vistas
Combat – physically modeled combats should have a lot more interesting tactics – e.g. impro-vised weapons, hit-location, knockback.
Puzzles – as discussed above, physics creates a set of tools and laws that combine interest-ingly.
Realism – the fact that everything can touch everything gives the feeling of a consistent world. Guns have recoil, creatures react in real time instead of playing animations.
Sound – we generate sound in real time, based on object materials and collision forces; in addition to outdoor ambient soundtracks. Your ears will be telling you that this world is real, and your hindbrain likes that.
story/design/whatever: this is not just a random collection of levels, this is a model of a real place, and that really counts when you walk in it. The fact that Trespasser contains a mean-ingful progression, an adventure, will make all the difference between it and the cookie-cutter shooter products out there.
Well, it doesn’t do everything. We aren’t shipping network support or colored lights. Also, a physical world means some complexity – if you’re looking for Windows Solitaire, this isn’t it – playing will demand engagement, but it will reward it with an intense experience. We cer-tainly can’t play to all tastes at once. Beyond that I don’t know what to say – when Seamus and I conceived this engine, we picked the strengths we thought were important, and we haven’t had to compromise too much.
How hard do you think Trespasser is going to be? Are there skill levels?
Trespasser is going to be released to the mainstream public, so it’s got to be accessible to the first-time gamer. However, we also want to challenge and interest the hardcore people. Our solution is to feature a long ramp-up, some early puzzles to get you used to the inter-face, fun physics stuff to play with without too much danger. Later, when everyone’s comfort-able with playing, we start pushing players towards that performance-high that the best ac-tion games can give.
We will have skill levels, based around tweaking certain parameters which change the game in different directions: dinosaur AI, Anne’s toughness, physical strength, and endurance. People will be able to ramp it down to almost a pure puzzle game, or turn themselves into near-superhumans, to suit their playing styles.
Lets talk dinosaurs. How many different ones are there?
I don’t think this public info yet, but definitely all your favorites from the movies. We’re looking to give you a variety of opponents, and also strike an ecological balances. Dinosaurs are fun in that they vary incredibly in size, which produces a good variety of play-dynamics.
How densely populated is Trespasser’s world? Is it unlikely to wander for a while, and never see an enemy?
One challenge in outdoor game design is pacing, making sure something interesting is going on all the time, and we’re taking pains to get that right. In some areas a raptor tribe will harry you continuously through nearly a kilometer of forest. In some areas you won’t find a dino-saur right away, but have an interesting puzzle to face. Of course that T-Rex has a will of it’s own – a certain amount of randomness is inherent in the realism we are striving for.
Are there any human enemies, or are they all dinosaurs?
I guess I’d like to keep that to myself for a while.
Are there friendly dinosaurs?
Well, remember that dinosaurs are animals, not agents of an evil power. So there are preda-tors and herbivores, and our AI gives them all a variety of motives – anger, fear, hunger, thirst, territoriality. You’re entering their world, and it’s your challenge to relate to them.
You have worked on several other high profile projects in the past, including Flight Unlimited, also with Seamus Blackley, and Ultima Underworld (one of, if not *the* original first person 3D game). How do you think Trespasser compares to those pro-jects?
Well, we are making a game that is somewhat in the Looking Glass tradition – a rich, immer-sive 3D world, with strong combat and puzzle gameplay. (also I should set the record straight here – I joined Looking Glass just after the release of Underworld I, so I can’t claim any credit for that excellent game).
I don’t want to take anything away from my other projects, which were in many ways the best of their time. But I will say that Trespasser has the engine I always wanted – full physics modeling opens up so many new design possibilities, and that’s never been available before. So while it’s in the tradition of what I’ve worked on before, it represents a qualitative step for-ward.
Does Trespasser feature colored lighting?
Not unless you count the sun. Our policy is to push the technologies that matter to gameplay most -colored lights are a nice frill, but it’s not exactly the first thing I think of, when I think of what I want in a game.
I just want to close and say thanks to everyone who came by the booth at E3 – we’ve been doing intense R and D for a year now, and this was our first public showing, and it was only a partial demo of our engine, so we were quite nervous. People responded very intelligently, and with such warm and open enthusiasm – it was all we could have hoped for. Most people understood right away what we were trying to do with our engine, and were very psyched for us. Many people told us we had the most interesting product at the show. John Carmack, the Prey team, Tim Sweeney (of Unreal), and the other 3D PC-game developers at the show came round to the booth and gave us an excellent response, and were generally very cool to us — it was of course a big thrill to be taken very seriously by the best in the business. So thanks to everyone for making the show a great time.