: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/public/wp-includes/formatting.php
on line 82
Andreas Roman is a Swedish novelist and game designer. You can find more details about him on his site — if you read Swedish — but the short of it is that he has many published novels, he was lead designer at DICE and he’s now working at HiQ Interactive. I decided to interview him based on his interesting experience mixing the gaming world and the literary world.
You’re both a novelist with many published books and a designer with many published games. What did you learn about game making from writing books, and about writing books from making games?
From the books, I learned that writing in games is one of the areas where we’re the least developed. Both in the practical art of writing, as well as composing a good story for a game. Many of the fundamentals, that belong to the please do and please don’t (and they aren’t many, according to me, which makes it even more important to get the few right) are still missing from writing in games. In short, we’re still in high school essay land when it comes to stories in video games. Even the better ones don’t compare to a barely good-enough novel or movie.
From the video games, I learned to present a concept in a simple and understandable way, no matter its complexity, and still keep the drama and intensity. I’ve also learned a a lot about finding the visual cues to trigger the right images in the reader’s or player’s mind. While writing is words only, it’s still a matter of projecting an image in the reader’s head, and when it comes to visual stimulation, video games are in the forefront. That can translate into words and writing as well.
The game design world is evolving quickly these days with the rise of popularity of casual games, the popularity of free-to-play MMOs in South Korea and the sudden explosion of games based on unconventional controllers (Guitar Hero, the Wii) to name just a few things. What do you think is the most exciting trend in game design right now? How will video games change in the next 5 to 10 years?
The most exciting trend for me is the rise of the small studio, the aim set at PSN, Live Arcade and Wii Play. First of all, the agenda from the publishers are clear on this one: Go nuts. But don’t forget your audience. Games like Everyday Shooter, Flow, SuperStardust HD and Mutant Storm Empire prove that high quality can be produced by two or three people, and these people can make good money too. This in turn is already enforcing a change in business models, which will create ripples in all directions. It will allow small studios to contribute with their applications to high-profile AAA-titles, separate downloadable content productions, debut games produced on your spare time like a novelist writing in the evenings before he’s published and makes money. We’re back to the 80’s in terms of freedom and opportunity, but we’ve got all the advantages of present day. Tools, editors are engines have never been better. If you’re a dreamer working in a supermarket or cleaning public lavatories, you can realize your vision with only hard work and time. A few years ago, that was not possible.
In your opinion, what’s the best-designed game of all time (video game or not)? What makes it special?
Best-designed or most enjoyable? Most enjoyable is easy: Okami is the best game I have ever played. Period. There are many reasons for it, but the main one summaries them all: It never stops giving on any level. Audio, art, challenge, gameplay, story – you are surprised and challenged and awed up until the very last second. It is a modern masterpiece.
Best-designed is a lot harder, since I don’t think that any game has made all the right decisions when it comes to the craftsmanship of game design. But one that keeps popping up in terms of references, is Metroid Prime. Mainly because it’s so aware of what it is and makes all its decisions based on that. If you like the Metroid Prime thing, there simply is very little to complain about. Any critique you might have against it, is more directed towards the game and concept. It would be easy to go for more abstract or clever games, such as Flow, Crayon Physics Deluxe or even the Wiimote as an idea (I’m not even going to mention Little Big Planet (and yet, I did)). But although they have interesting and playable stuff, they’re still things in the making, ideas evolving from ideas, whereas I consider Metroid Prime to be a complete experience. It might not be for everyone, but every decision was made with the perfect awareness of what those who would enjoy it, wanted.
The educational games you make are quite different in tone from the thriller novels you write. Why the difference?
Because of client needs. I enjoy switching from the outrageous to the serious to the horror to the violent. But there is a tone in all I do, a voice which you’ll recognize once you get more familiar with my work. Even in the darkest moments, there are subtle tones of humour. And even in the most hilarious cuts, you’ll find a hint of the dark. Although if you look at my darkest moments in my novels and my sunniest moments in some of the educational games, the stretch in between is long. Very long.
Groucho Marx once said “We should learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have time to make them all ourselves.” What mistake have you made as a designer that we could all learn from?
My god. I have made so many mistakes. But a few wisdoms along the way: Know your concept. Know your core. What is your game really about? If you’re on the right track, the core emerges quite early in a project. If it doesn’t, that should be a warning sign to you. Either your idea is fragile or you need help in understanding its potential. Furthermore: If a game identical to yours came out, what would differentiate yours from the competition? Decide early on in what way your core concept stands out, beyond just the idea? Is your art direction special in some way? Are you doing something new with a dialouge system? Are your levels designed in a special way? And so on. What would make people go “Oooh”, once you’ve caught their attention with the idea itself. And: don’t assume people get you just because you’re a killer design document writer. Be everywhere. Talk to everyone. Test everything. Communicate. As a game designer, you’re a diplomat. But you’re not a democrat! If 100 people and focus tests and a selected target audience are against you, you might still be right. Never allow for voting or design by committee. If you know you’re right, that could be because you are. Don’t be scared at being conventional. Some of the best stories, games and movies we’ve experienced, are just variations on a well-established theme. There was nothing special about Half-Life, really. It was just a lot better than everything else that tried to do what it did. Difficult to sell, though: “Well, our game will simply be the best game out there.” But if your vision is strong and you see the result before your inner eye, you’ll get there.
Some genres have fallen from popularity: adventure games, turn-based strategy games, etc. Is there any genre you think is due for a revival?
Yes and no. The story-focused adventure game, like Monkey Island, deserves to be brought back. But before that can happen, those who think that the click-and-point interface is the way to go, need to be executed. Contrary to what many might think, people are more than ready to play well-written and properly directed adventure-games. If you can write thousand-page novels and direct three-hour movies that are slow-paced yet amazingly addictive, you can produce those kind of games as well. But as long as those who design them think that LucasArts got it all right, then it’s not going to happen. And in the other corner, we’ve got people like David Cage who thinks that the genre needs to be more complicated, elaborate and all camera-angly. Look, like in a good book, people don’t want the message shoved down their throat, they don’t want to be forced to think along just one dotted line, they don’t want to be patronized. The LucasArts genre died when the players realized that and until a game designer has understood what that means, it will remain dead and only attractive for the die-hard fans. Those that try really hard also tend to forget that the story needs to hold some basic line of credibility. The level of maturiy in these games are still comparable to previously mentioned high school essays. In some games, it’s a conscious style and the way it should be, like Viewtiful Joe or the latest installation of Devil May Cry. But in games like Fahrenheit or Dreamfall – shame on you, people. Grow up.