In the first major keynote at GDC Europe today, Remedy MD Matias Myllyrinne told the audience how to avoid ‘me too’ games and create original concepts.
Although he admitted he was ‘summarising and painting with a broad brush’, key to the studio’s thinking is making conscious decisions to stand out from the crowd when building games like Max Payne and upcoming 360 title Alan Wake.
"Games are sold with a features list including 18 weapons, and three multiplayer maps – it’s so generic, it tells you nothing. It’s just a check box. It doesn’t make any sense," he said.
Referring back to Remedy’s founding and management, he urged the audience to think harder about every aspect of their concept – right down to its name.
Talking about the generic names of games, he said there are cliched words that are often thrown into a project name "such as ‘war’, ‘race’, ‘star’, plus a sequel number, and some other unpronounceable word". He cited the (admittedly dreadful sounding, if fictional) ‘Race of War 2: The Wrath of Cthulu’ as an example of a product that isn’t real but could well be.
Specifically, Remedy and Myllyrinne’s ‘key pillars’ for IP creation are:
1. Strong Lead Character
"Having a strong lead character as the lead of the game and the name of the title is the Remedy way," he said. "We want to be promoting the brand and character at the same time," he added, making comparison between the memorable character of James Bond versus Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt.
This ‘character-centric branding’ is important, said Myllyrinne, because "[characters[ are sticky, they have relationships with people, they can grow old; people like that."
In Remedy’s Max Payne and Alan wake the studio "wanted something that would have legs and evolve for a longer period of time".
2. Third Person perspective
This followed on from emphasising characters. All Remedy’s titles are third-person. This is better than first-person because "it’s not an empty vessel, the character’s on screen a lot of the time and you see him a lot of the time."
3. Mainstream Approachability
In order to reach a wide enough number of players, developers should focus on mainstream appeal, said Myllyrinne.
"Games are usually too difficult so we have an automatic difficulty setting – the game eases up if you aren’t doing so well. it gives you a sweet spot where you are challenged, but not too much," he said.
Remedy also like to strip away UI to make a game more approachable.
Myllyrinne continued: "Approachable means a few things as well. We try to avoid niche and limited markets. We take something in the popular consciousness and try something that hasn’t been done in games before. One litmus test is ‘Can i pitch it to someone who is our age or slightly older, and doesn’t play games? Do they get it?’"
He added that the games industry all too easily goes for the safe option when it comes to finding an audience.
"There are many games popular amongst the current base of gamers that don’t really appeal to anyone else," said Myllyrinne, pointing to gaming cliches like WW2, sci-fi settings or busty blood thirsty women. "They have their appeal, but it limits your market to where you can go."
This is not just about a ‘movie-like presentation’ he said: "This has a lot to do with narrative presentation, things like foreshadowing and drama."
But don’t confuse cinematics with real-world credibility he said, referencing the trouble the team had working on Max Payne weapons: the real thing seemed to small and weak when the team bought replica sub-machine guns for mocap sessions. Testers and the production team weren’t happy until they had "made the in-game weapons 150 per cent bigger because it felt right".
"It’s about perception – it’s not about what it is."
5. Real World Believability
Remedy takes inspiration from real world environments which it then emphasises and exaggerates.
"We wanted to have, for Max Payne, a New York that feels like it is constantly two o’ clock in the morning – dark, bleak and the underside of a dark city," said Myllyrinne.
It ties back to using cinematics, and is evidence of using environments to create atmosphere, he said, pointing out that Alan Wake takes inspiration from Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure, even Gilmore Girls, to take idyllic small town locations.
He also had other points that Remedy uses for its IP (specifically ‘Story depth and atmosphere’ and ‘Action’), yet although they are "key to any new IP" these points were "difficult to talk about and put into powerpoint slides" admitted Myllyrinne, suggesting that they were instinctual elements underpinned by the other points above.
He said: "Story and mood are important parts of a Remedy game. We build a deeper story and stronger atmosphere than in an average action shooter movie."
Ultimately, he said Remedy flourished given its broader thinking, its commitment to its team, and dogged pursuit of thinking in wider entertainment terms.
He said: "There are game developers that view themselves differently – we view Remedy as an entertainment company. We don’t think of ourselves as a software company or even a game company."