A week ahead of the launch of Ready at Dawn’s first new IP, The Order: 1886, Develop seized the opportunity to chat with game director Dana Jan and technology director Garret Foster (pictured above left to right) about the shift from handheld to home console development.
This is your first new IP that you’ve worked on as a team. What drew you to this particular project? What made you want to go down this path?
Dana Jan: I mean a lot of things were appealing about getting the chance to do a brand-new fresh IP. One of them is just being able to shape everything about it and take all the things that make you excited and scared at the same time and put them into something you love. We’ve been lucky enough to have worked on some games that are based on franchises that were extremely successful, and that’s definitely a nice way to grow a team and figure out how to make good games without having to worry about the substance, so to speak. It was also around the time we were working on God of War – it was obvious [to us] that the idea and the escapism that a different mythology or alternate history provides you is really alluring, because you get to play with people’s expectations of things they know or think they know about that material, but you get to put your own spin on it. And for us, for our game, that’s really interesting because we raid historical characters. There’s an appeal in having the player play through these things and pause and think ‘wait a minute, is that really something that Tesla worked on?’ And they go and research it. Or they just fully buy-in — because of the way we’ve put it together — so they just accept it as fact, and later somebody tells them ‘You’re an idiot, that’s not really how it happened.’
Garret Foster: To touch a little bit more on that, you kind of want to establish your identity as a developer too. You know, when we made God of War and Daxter, that was awesome, those were amazing to develop, they’re established IPs and we were just along for the ride in a lot of ways. With this we’re setting up our identity, and it’s everyone’s dream to make something new, something interesting, something in line with how we expect things. And to touch on going from PSP to PS4…
Dana Jan: It’s the same system pretty much. [laughs]
Garret Foster – [laughing] Yeah, they’re pretty much identical. [The PS4] is actually 47 PSPs stacked on top of each other in that little box. No, but we compare it to, like, we used to make office buildings but now we’re making skyscrapers. We’re going from this smaller form factor to something much bigger, and the problems are usually a scaling problem. We have to do this much more, or that much more and you start running into hardware limitations where people’s desktop workstations can’t move that amount of data efficiently, so they can’t really do any work. The tech for everything is more complicated, the content is way, way, way more detailed than what the PSP could ever have. I always joke that if you take the eyeballs in [The Order: 1866] they’re bigger than the PSP, just the character’s eyeballs are bigger than the PSP.
That was one of the learning curves there — when we were first talking about budgets on the game, for example, I started telling people numbers and they weren’t really getting it, and then I told them in terms of PSPs and it immediately clicked, and they’d go "Wow, I’m asking for a ridiculous amount of resources." So it was fun to go through that as a team, and when I had that first meeting and everyone latched on to it, it was very cool.
Did you find that your original budget estimates got blown out because of the scaling factor?
Garret Foster: I think our budgets were pretty close, we took what we did on PSP, we took the ratios and scaled those up as our initial guess. Then we also did a lot of talking with other studios to see what they dedicated certain resources to. Then at the time when we were starting this process there weren’t any PS4 games, because it was early on in development — we actually started the engine before the PS4 existed. So when we were talking to people we were basing things on PSP and PS3, our own experiences with those. We worked from there and adapted in later, and I think we finished within 10% for each group.
The rise of Pewdiepie and Lets Players has changed the face of gaming. You guys have created a game which is a linear, story-driven shooter, the interactivity is skills-based. How do you feel about the way YouTube is changing how people consume video games? Do you have to develop around it?
Dana Jan: It’s an interesting topic because I think there’s always going to be someone who is completely satisfied with watching a game. Games are an interesting thing because I think for everybody who really likes games, half of it involves their interaction with [the game], no matter if it’s a sports title or a cinematic, linear driven shooter or an open world type — some of the gratification has to be ‘I want to do that thing when the opportunity arises’, rather than ‘Oh PewDiePie you should have gone that way, why didn’t you?’ I think they want some say in that choice.
Garret Foster: PewDiePie is also sort of Mystery Science Theatre for video games… maybe if you could play it on mute… You watch him for the humour of him playing the game, I don’t think it’s really to digest the game.
Dana Jan: More than anything I think it’s a way for people who are on the fence about a game, if you see somebody playing it and they’re having a good time you might think ‘Man I want to do that’. I guess it’s still going to be some time before we get some real data on how that effects gaming, and if gaming was something we started to view as very passive then I think you’re right, it would be like the question of ‘How does YouTube hurt sales of movies?’ or ‘How does the Internet hurt sales of books?’ but I think there’s a level of tactile interfacing that is only gratifying if you play a game.
Garret Foster: I don’t actually know what the actual impact of it is, but from all the things I’ve read at least online, a game like ours which is super story-based, I think a lot of people are kinda lumping in to how they would approach a movie, where they don’t want to know about the story before hand. I wouldn’t want to know the plot twists in a movie. You might watch it, but it might be better for a game that’s more gamey? It’s still hard to say.
A youTuber has played through [The Order: 1886] and finished it in five-and-a-half hours.
Garret Foster: That’s a quick time… he beat my best time. Obviously as a programmer you’ve got to get to areas quickly to diagnose the area. So the last build of the game I speed ran through and I wasn’t even close to that time — I needed to play through the game from beginning to end before we sent it to manufacturing, right!?
With that time in mind, I want to talk to you about value judgements and video games. Every game is different, obviously. Dark Souls can be finished in under an hour if you are fast enough, while other games blow all the way out to 100+ hours. They all cost the same amount of money. How do you know at what point you’ve created something that people will feel they get value out of. Not to say that time exclusively equates to value for money, but for the purposes of this question…
Dana Jan: It’s funny, we were talking about this at lunch. It’s really the strange dilemma of video games right now, but I don’t think you can have a discussion of quantity without quality. So our game is extremely focused on the gameplay to the story-telling to pretty much everything. Frequently I’m saying when you play our game you’re going to be on a rollercoaster of variety, twists, turns, there’s no filler, you’re never grinding in our game. Each encounter you go to you’re going to go ‘Wow, there’s different weapons this time. Wow, there’s different enemies this time.’ We took the idea of ‘Let’s put you on the best possible experience ride that we can and let’s never have you sit there doing the same stuff over and over again.’
I guess I think about it like this. If you go and you eat a steak, if you pay $100 for a steak that tastes like the best steak you’ve ever had in your life but it’s only 200 grams versus paying the same price for the worst steak you could want — but it’s all-you-can-eat. There’s an argument to be made that one is better than the other depending on who you are. If you just want to be full all the time then all-you-can-eat terrible steak, maybe that’s for you? I’m not saying it has to be that polarising, I’m just asking why do we feel like we have to always measure things first and foremost in terms of quantity. Which is why for our game we targeted a very good length for the game, but it wasn’t our priority. It’s not something people are going to think is short. A lot of what we’re hearing about is a case of it either being irresponsibly or inaccurately reported or putting the game on easy and skipping through and speed-running the game.
We have this uncanny ‘haterade’ for our game no matter what. People are looking for something to throw at our game, some reason to hate it. I’m excited to hear what people who have actually played the game think about it, how do they feel about the quality and the quantity? I think by and large that most people are going to be satisfied.
Garret Foster: Our game is a game that you get lost in, you get immersed in the world and the gameplay, and we’ve done so much research and devoted so much time to making every little detail meticulously refined, that nothing stands out so your brain just gets completely submersed in this whole time period and storyline and these fights. If someone could sit on their couch and get in that mode and have the ride of their life then I think we’ve done our job.
Dana Jan: To sum it up, I mean we didn’t make this amazing quality game that’s 30 minutes long, that’s absolutely not the truth. The truth is, if you’ve played other games that are in the same genre as ours, third person shooters you’re in for the same length of ride as those games, but possibly of a higher quality depending on what you’re looking for.
You talked about the uncanny haterade you get. Do you think it’s a case of focusing one console over another?
Dana Jan: Surprisingly it’s not. I’m not seeing people indicating that it’s a Xbox vs PlayStation thing.
Garret Foster: I’m sure there’s a minute fraction of people…
Dana Jan: Yeah, but I really haven’t seen it at the forefront of any of it. It’s more just shocking that for a game that isn’t out yet, for a franchise that is brand new, the amount of negativity is just… we have a joke where someone will post on the website NeoGAF something like "Sony released new screenshots of The Order" and we place bets on what post number we think is going to be the first one where someone says something unfoundedly negative. Like ‘oh looks like it’s going to be failboat’ or something like that, and we’ll guess ‘maybe it’s going to be post 20’ and we’ll see how close we are.
I just feel like these days it’s so easy to be negative and I think the internet is the new playground for bullies. Who goes out of their way to really go and say something positive, right? If you go out to a restaurant and you have a good time, do you go online immediately to post something? But if you have a bad experience, you’ll jump on because you want to warn people about it right? It takes a lot more effort to say something nice than to say something negative, and I think people are excited to jump on some bandwagon of negativity. I really actually feel for the people who go on there and say ‘Hey guys why don’t you chill out, it’s not even out yet, why don’t we wait until some people get review copies or you’ve played it yourself before you pass judgement on stuff?’ It’s just for the people who are excited for this game, I feel bad for them that they have to sit through this ecosystem that the internet has created which is full of negativity, it’s really kind of gross.
I don’t think people need to go out there and be unbiased supporters of our stuff or anything either. I want them to make up their own minds about the game period. It just seems like the pendulum swings the other way so frequently. I mean, we’ll see, right?
What’s next for the team? Will we see The Order: 1887? 1888?
Dana Jan: The really cool thing about this is that the amount of work we did to create the world of The Order: 1886, the backstory and all the characters… there are important events that happened prior to the game and are destined to happen after the game. That was one of the things that we knew, in order to be successful we knew we had to set up all that ground work even if we just did one game. So it didn’t seem like we would have to ask ourselves ‘why did this happen’ and answer ‘I don’t know, we just winged it.’ Right now we’re just focused on this game coming out, but if it’s received well it will certainly be a talking point for us to see where it goes in the future.