x360a Meets: Denis Dyack, Too Human
Written Tuesday, August 19, 2008 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Way back at the beginning of August, we were invited to attend a launch event for the much anticipated Too Human. We managed to rub shoulders with the developers and talk about the game in general. The highlight no doubt was managing to get a few minutes to sit down with Denis Dyack, President of Silicon Knights and discuss the game and I must say that he was such a pleasant and interesting character to sit down and talk shop. Without further ado, check out the full transcript of the interview below.
Hi, to start off, can you give us an insight in to the game’s plot and why you decided to choose the Norse aspect?
When we first conceptualised Too Human we wanted to create a game that had commentary on the effects of technology on society and culture. Usually when we create a game, we do a lot of research in to mythologies, lore or legends... You know, with Legacy of Kain we did a lot of research in to vampire myth... Total Darkness, a lot of blood craft and for Too Human we looked at the Norse mythologies because they were so different from all the other mythologies.
In Norse mythology the gods are not immortal and they die. They know the end of the world is coming, other than trying to run away from their fates, they face it with a grim determination. When you’re talking about the effects of technology on society, we can’t roll the clock back. We can’t take back all the changes that technology has had on society. So if we’re going to make commentary on that, what better medium to do it or what better foundation than the Norse myths where you have to meet it with a fatalistic attitude of “we can’t pull back the internet now, anything that is happening on the internet, we can only try to understand and accept and then try to deal with it, rather than run away from it”... So that’s why we chose Norse mythology.
It’s one of my favourite mythologies and in Too Human, the gods aren’t something magical. They’re cybernetically enhanced humans, that have just got these technologies beyond Norse people where they seem superhuman but they’re really not. The Norse mythology was just perfect for that, so that’s why we chose it.
Do you think there is more pressure developing an Xbox 360 exclusive?
I would have to say no actually. If I was to pick a perfect platform for Too Human, it would have to be the 360 for several reasons. One, the attach rate on videogames on the 360 is the highest on anything, than the Playstation or the Gamecube [editor’s note: the original platforms for Too Human].
I think that the type of the game we’ve created is built on the pillar of Xbox Live and multiplayer. I think that Microsoft’s internet approach or multiplayer approach is by far the most robust and we’re really excited about that.
So no, I think Too Human, more than anything will probably benefit from that.
There was a mixed response to the demo... Some praised the combat on the right analogue stick whereas others criticised the camera and picked up on other little things. Do you think it’s a fair representation of the final product?
Yes... When you say mixed... I would only agree with that, where not everyone liked it. It’s pretty clear to me that the majority of people who played the demo did like it. The interesting thing about Too Human is that it’s so innovative that... It’s like human nature. If people don’t understand something, they attack and it’s also a commentary on society in that way and it makes me feel really good about what we’ve created.
I think it’s so different that once people understand it, you can almost see them click. For those who, in my opinion, write it off as having simplistic combat which is not true. Too Human has very deep combat and it’s deceptively deep both from an RPG perspective and an action perspective. But by the time you’ve fused both of those together you have such a unique gameplay experience on top of that, together with automated camera, the dual analogue control scheme... There is nothing out there like it.
The reception by on large has been, the majority, clearly positive and with over a million downloads now, I can’t ask for better. So, to some extent it’s a bit polarising, some would say perhaps because of me or perhaps of some of the stands we’ve taken. By on large, when you create something new, it’s going to be polarizing because some people aren’t just going to get it. Hopefully in time, everyone will get it and it’ll be something that people really gravitate towards. We’re really happy with the reception. We think the demo has done incredibly well and we’ve had people write us saying that they’ve played the demo more than they’ve played some games. I can’t wait till they get their hands on the final product where the depth is just insane.
You mention the depth there and there is obviously a lot behind the scenes with regard to the character’s skills, the armour, the weapons. Do you think it’s a little too much for some people and it’ll put them off?
That’s a real tough question. I know it’s a real deep rabbit hole for those who really want to go down it. For a first time through, playing the game from beginning to end, it’s only 10-15 hours, so if you’re not a hardcore gamer and you don’t want to do that, you can still get a really enjoyable experience. For someone who really wants to get their monies worth and plays to say level 50 and wants to get those epic sets, there’s 100’s and 100’s of hours of gameplay there... Not even including the co-op which is even a ton more fun. Just playing the game is fun and from that perspective, we’re comfortable with it.
You’re always walking a tightrope there... How much depth do you give without overwhelming someone? The fact that some people dismiss it as being too simplistic says to me, “I think we’ve struck the right balance.” Where it’s simple enough for the casual but deep enough, really deep enough for the hardcore. I think that’s something you have to do these days... It’s almost like a Shakespearian approach. Where Shakespeare used to write cerebral metaphors for the aristocracies and the balconies but he’d also tell dirty jokes for the people in the front rows. In a sense we’re trying to do that with gameplay depth as well, where the casual gamer can just sit down and play it and get all the way through, but the hardcore gamer can do all the very deep juggling and get to level 50, come up with the most interesting class builds, kind of things that I think really set Too Human apart.
We touched on the co-op having no storyline earlier and we understand it wasn’t even in from the beginning. Do you think that ultimately that means that gamers won’t be able to play co-op on their first playthrough for fear of spoiling the story?
No it doesn’t give anything away so much, it’s just you’re not going to get the full experience. Certainly from a single player perspective in the campaign, you can always do that if you play co-op first or not. I personally would recommend playing the game through from the beginning in single player just to get used to the game. There is a lot of complexity there that you need to understand as you’re playing. You can have fun either way, if you’re not interested in the story then you might not care. You know it’s really up to the gamer. We give you all the weapons, it’s your sandbox, do with it what you will.
And the co-op started off as 4 player and then got reduced to 2?
Yeah, we recently talked about 4 player and when it came to deciding what to do as a game and finalizing, we had to make a decision of whether we throw 4 player in there and the technology supports 4 player. But the question came down to the economy, the gameplay balancing and what was best for the game. So we really focussed on the best experience possible and we thought it was better as a group, both Microsoft and Silicon Knights together, to give a higher quality two player experience, then expand upon that as the trilogy goes, so we can add more players in the future. What we really wanted was to make sure the balancing and the economy was just right.
So for these kind of games you don’t suddenly want to let 4 players play and destroy the economy and get all the epic sets in like two minutes, it’s not worth playing anymore. So we wanted to do it right so we reduced it to two players to give a high level experience, leaving the door open for upgrades in the future.
And we understand there is no splitscreen? What was the reason for that?
We just never planned it. A lot of people don’t like to hear this, but a lot of gamers, by on large, don’t want that stuff. We found that most multiplayer experiences, most people want to do it through Xbox Live. That’s been our experience, certainly if it’s a feature that people really want in the future, then we can do it but we’ve noticed that not just us, most games in general just don’t support that anymore. That’s sort of a feature of the N64 days before the internet connections were good. Now, in my opinion I’d much rather play over Live where I’ve got my own console to myself, rather than having to split the screen or share the machine with someone else... That’s just a design decision.
How will the co-op mode balance against the single player mode? Will there be the same sort of enemies, are they harder, are the same sort of numbers the same or will it evolve to recognise the two players being involved?
It ramps to the highest level character and there is definitely more enemies and random setups as you play through co-op, so it’s a really different experience. I don’t know if it’s harder or easier, but it’s definitely different. It’s hard to say... Depending on the setups and it depends on what class mates you have too, it’s definitely different, it’s not the same experience. I think it’s additive and pretty unique and I think it’s something that gives the game a lot of life along with replayability as well.
Speaking of the classes, what would you say was your favourite class and why?
My favourite class... I like them all, but I lean towards the berserker, I love the frantic action... I love the defender cause he’s just a tank and very, very different. He can be this awesome destructive force that is usually unanticipated by gamers. I also like the commando who is just crazy shooter where you can just have this reign of fire that is just so fast... When you see a level 50 commando, it looks like a completely different game to a level 50 berserker, they’re so separate and apart. When you’re playing it, the experience is just vastly different... It’s mind boggling to me. I’ve taken both characters to 50 and of both classes and it’s pretty crazy.
The achievement process is quite new for a lot of developers these days, like yourselves. How did you find it? Was it a joy? A burden? Something you did at the end?
We planned that from the very beginning. I love achievements and I think it’s something that you know... even lately when Blizzard said that they’re going to start putting achievements in games. I think it’s a big win for everybody and we really wanted to balance the game. So the first time you play through you get about 700 points or so. So you’ll get the majority of your points for just a single play through. We wanted people to get achievements for playing the game and we planned them from day 1. You know they obviously changed and we modified them as we went, but by on large our goal has been, a lot of achievements early and then save a few but the very hard ones for the hardcore.
And the 21 secret achievements are story related?
They’re story related. They’re not very difficult to get [editor’s note: Mr Dyack, you lied to me!!] and the reason that they’re secret is because you’ll unlock those as you play the game and the story is revealed. If we were to make them non secret, it would just spoil the game, so that’s why they’re a secret like that.
What then would be your favourite achievement?
Hmmm, oh... Is frequent flyer still in Robey? Or did we take it out?
Justin Robey (part of the development team) : Nah, it’s out. The best one is Serve’em Up. It’s a McDonalds one...
Yeah, serve em up when you serve an enemy up, when you’re playing multiplayer and someone else can juggle them in the air, serving... That’s pretty cool.
There used to be one called frequent flyer when died a lot and got picked up by the Valkyrie but I think we pulled it in the end. It was no achievement points and was just making fun of people who died a lot.
Robey: They didn’t think it was very funny. Ha ha.
Oh I thought it was pretty funny.
Robey: It was funny but apparently...
A lot of people thought it was insulting.
Robey: Actually we did some background in to it, we had it in the case study stuff and people got mad when they got it, so...
Yeah, they were irritated when they were dying too much so we pulled it. It was my favourite achievement personally.
Robey: The ones that are most satisfying are the undying, there are achievements for making it through a level without dying.
Yeah, which is pretty hard to do.
To finish off then, it’s a trilogy... What determines whether it will actually be a trilogy and that there will be resulting games? Do they look at sales? Metascores?
I guess that’s to say what determines success. You know certainly if the game tanks totally and no-one buys it, you really have to questions whether we’re going to continue. But if the demo and download numbers are any indication, then we’re fine.
We want to make a great game that is well received and played by a lot of people. The trilogy is planned already, so it would not be something that would green light the trilogy, it would be whether something stops the trilogy is where we’re at now.
You know... Indicator of success? I think metascore is very questionable. All of our games have scored metacritic wise but they always haven’t as been as successful sales wise, so it’s a combination of everything and how we feel, how things are going... But all signs point to nothing but green and go, so it’s all good right now.
The trilogy is being done, we’re working on it. We’re not waiting to see how the first one does.
Great, thanks for your time.
Too Human is available now in North America and will be available on August 29th for Europe.