Hunted: The Demon’s Forge Interview

InXile Entertainment execs on the future of the RPG, the nature of fantasy, changing up co-op gaming and giving Blizzard their first contract.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, March 17, 2010

And for this product it felt right, it really did. The biggest query from people I get is why aren’t there more games I can play with my wife, or whatever. Another person playing with you is very easy to do. So it felt right for this product. Some day there may be a four player or whatever, but I feel like we’re moving the bar up from the classic dungeon crawler.

VGD: The role-playing genre has been through a lot of soul-searching of late. Japanese RPGs in particular have been accused of stagnation, while Western RPGs like Mass Effect 2 and Fallout 3 are held up as forward-thinking projects. Would you say that’s an accurate summary?

Findley: I think it is, I think it is. I mean, no Japanese company could have made Fallout or Mass Effect. There’s just no way that could happen, it’s so culturally nuanced. Remember we joked in Bard’s Tale, ‘I am the Chosen One!’ I mean, come on – a 13-year-old boy that’s the Chosen One, that’s going to save the universe. I mean, really – for me that’s just so old and ridiculous.

There's apparently 'sexual tension' between the two playable characters. Not all that surprising, given the amount of bare flesh on display.

There's apparently 'sexual tension' between the two playable characters. Not all that surprising, given the amount of bare flesh on display.

So I think it’s fantastic – boom, here comes BioWare, here comes Bethesda, bang bang. Let’s get real subject matter in here, let’s get real moral dilemmas, let’s get that stuff back from the PC. What they did was take the Final Fantasy turn-based metaphor, cause they [Square Enix] really made it work, BioWare took the best elements of that, and said ‘OK, now we’re going to do real characters, real story, real moral dilemmas and bang, now we’re back to a real-feeling RPG’.

I think that’s very hard for the Japanese to pull off, much as I couldn’t culturally speaking make one for them. How many Western products do well in Japan? Not that many. The cultures start to kick in. I’m not putting them off, it’s just a cultural issue.

VGD: But isn’t it possible for one culture to learn from the other? You wouldn’t say that the Western approach is more progressive?

Findley: I think the genres are growing up and becoming more sophisticated. The console business isn’t that old, when you get right down to it. In the mid-90s there was no console business, not like these kind of products. So I just think that the generation playing the 13-year-old Chosen One – well now they’re 30 years old or whatever and are they really going to keep playing that kind of game? So I think it’s the cultures kicking in more than anything, I really do.

VGD: Going back to the game, “co-op from a distance” is an interesting concept but I worry that you risk throwing a few babies out with the bathwater. In Gears of War 2, for instance, having to be close to somebody to revive them is a tactical prop – there’s even a game mode built around the idea of using downed players as bait to lure out their comrades. Is that a concern?

Findley: Those things that you’ve just described, they are very specific gameplay mechanics. They work, obviously you’ve enjoyed them, but while we won’t have that one because of the nature of healing at a distance, we’ll have something else. There will be other things that we do, and that falls into the iteration of gameplay.

Ultimately to get a quality title you need that iteration because what happens is – I wouldn’t know for sure, but I would bet you money almost that the idea of using other players as bait got discovered through playtest. It probably wasn’t in the original design spec. I don’t know for sure, but a lot of game design elements come through that. People are playing it this way or using it that way and you start to play up that part, and then you build a new multiplayer mode or whatever.

We do the same thing. Other cool elements will come out of our gameplay style, and we will tune those ones up and tune down the ones that don’t work. So to me – of course, I’m not necessarily objective – but that doesn’t bother me because I see those as very specific things for that product, and we’ll have plenty of others that are specific are us.

[Other developers] are going to go ‘I’ve got to do co-op at a distance’ and somebody else might question them on their next game if they’re not doing it a distance, because they like the fact that the other guy’s on the other side of the room, and I throw it all the way over there and heal him – that opens up a style of gameplay you couldn’t have otherwise. That’s how I look at it.

VGD: One of the interesting things about ‘role-playing’ nowadays is that it’s essentially everywhere. I can’t think of a specific genre that doesn’t involve it to some extent.

Findley: Yeah, Tiger Woods has role-playing! You’re right. But not in real life. [laughs] I don’t mean that kind of role-playing.

VGD: We’re not breathing a word. Have you considered making a game like FarmVille on Facebook, which involves statistical progression, resource management and so forth but isn’t, as we understand the term, a role-player?

Findley: I love the whole social networking stuff, so yeah you’ll see us experimenting with some things there. I love that. More importantly than just whether its Facebook or free-to-play or iPhone or whatever, I kind of feel like kind of late-80s, early-90s, creatively was a gold mine, because you could try things and if it didn’t work, you weren’t jumping out of a building.

Now, these games – by the time you’ve manufactured the product and marketed it you’ve spent 50 million dollars. You know what, a lot of people complain the publishers aren’t creative enough. Well can you blame them? How far askew do you want to go? You’ve got to be a little careful or you’re going to knock yourself out.

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