Bright Spark

Bright Spark
Michael French

By Michael French

August 23rd 2007 at 4:13PM

In this exclusive Developmag.com interview we talk to Spark Unlimited CEO to discuss the studio's new game Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, which is attempting to offer a more grown up view on WW2 themes such as propaganda and war, and how other developers can address more mature issuesâ?¦

Where did the inspiration for the game come from?
Turning Point really evolved out of current political events – you don’t need to be knowledgeable about current affairs to enjoy the game, on one level it’s a very popcorn experience, but underneath that are these themes that look at what choices you are forced to make when fighting a war and ultimately what you are fighting for.

We have a lot of artists at our company and one of the things we are trying to do at Spark is create a compelling world for players that are different from what other studios do.

But if that’s the case and you’re trying to do something different, why make a WW2 game with the game staple Nazis?
We liked the idea of going back to 50s America because it was a simpler time for the country in terms of ideology and visually it’s packed with that classic Americana look – that utopian view on America which we have contrasted with an enemy that is universally seen as without any ambiguity.

That style is mixed with a look at what it may be like to fight a war on your own soil, something that America has never really experienced before – 9/11 was the closest we came to that kind of attack since Pearl Harbour.

To take some of those themes and ideas and how you could change the course of history with a single act gives us the ‘what if?’ factor that isn’t just the ‘fighting Nazis in America’ layer but thinking about ‘What would you fight for if you were ‘fighting for liberty’?’ or ‘How would I react if a world superpower invaded my country?’

There’s a lot of rhetoric in war, a lot of propaganda – that’s an issue not always looked at in games.

Why do you think other developers have until now not included those issues in classic shooters?
Things have changed and I think are now starting to find out we can address those issues. Our industry is at such an exciting time because we started out where games were about gimmicks. We used to just say ‘here’s a play mechanic, and here some interesting technology’ and we evolved to where you could expand that technology to include new play mechanics or graphical improvements.

But as the average games player’s median age has gone up from college age to a little older we are now able to use games to explore social issues or matters regarding morality and identity. And games have the ability to make people participate – if we can create a framework that allows people to come away from their participation with a sense of what consequences come about from what choices, or encourage people to think about their lives, then that is where we should be heading. Because good graphics alone aren’t going to get us to be an art form that people will think can provoke that kind of response.

What about those people that say games should just be about the gameplay, and to hell with the message?

Not all games have to be that way, after all pure popcorn Hollywood movies still exist – but all good entertainment makes the player come away thinking differently about themselves.

Turning Point plays with a lot of famous landmarks and destroys them in many sequences. Are you not worried you might spark the same kind of criticism that Insomniac’s Resistance did?
I’m interested to see what people will want to talk about with regards the title because I think there is a lot of material in there to explore.

The imagery, especially, is very provocative – we have the White House draped in Nazi banners and as an American that’s a shocking, image. But one of the most important things about propaganda is eliciting a strong emotional response – seeing that should inspire a real call to action in the player.

Blowing up a landmark is our way of asking: what really makes a monument? A monument is a representation of a spirit of a moment in time or an action or a belief. So is the monument itself important, or is it the spirit which matters? One of the things we wanted to play with was the idea that those landmarks are just stone – they are just objects. Destroying the object doesn’t destroy the spirit or the belief – in fact the object can be manipulated and used for different goals or ends. What you want to stay true to is the idea that the monument was created for, and not see it manipulated for evil ends.

In Turning Point the idea is that these landmarks get destroyed for good reasons.

Are you hoping this more thoughtful approach will make the shooter stand out amongst all the others that are headed our way?
There are certainly a lot of WW2 games and I think that as long as you are doing something that has something to say, and has the highest level of quality, and that you’ve crafted an experience for the player, then that has some meaning. As I said, there will always be room for that.

What has happened is that we’ve seen the genre filled with a lot of games that became mechanical – the industry’s cranked out a lot of WW2 shooters that just have people firing guns at Nazis. People say ‘That’s fun, right?’ And the answer is no, because a vacuous experience is not fulfilling and won’t compel people to talk about it.

There’s always room for another high-quality meaningful experience in the marketplace and we certainly think that Turning Point Fall of Liberty Fills that space. What we’re offering is something for those people who want another way to think about history.

History in games, when it is poorly done is a series of facts in the most dry and painful format imaginable – at it’s best history is about understanding the motivations and the passions of what happened, and the consequence of action. Part of what we’re trying to say with this game is show consequence and extrapolate on those ideas. It’s a timeless idea because right now, every day it’s very relevant because our political leaders are making decisions, the ramifications of which are still to be felt in the years to come. And we want to show that people have choice, and can decide a path for our society in the years to come – and that they should choose wisely.