Next week sees the release of Canadian studio Silicon Knights' Xbox 360 epic Too Human. We recently caught up with studio head Denis Dyack to find out more about the studio, its pending legal action against Epic Games, and his views on life as an independent studio in North America…
So how does it feel to finally see this game, which has been in development for ten years, finally come out?
Oh that’s a myth, it’s not true. We originally conceived Too Human back in 1993 and we eventually showed the game off on the PSone. That was back before we became a Nintendo second party, and when we signed with Nintendo we stopped development and concentrated on Eternal Darkness. Once Eternal Darkness was complete, we thought we were going to move onto Too Human, but Metal Gear: The Twin Snakes came along instead.
After Metal Gear was finished we started on Too Human, and it was that point that we split away from Nintendo, after working with them for six years, and started working with Microsoft on it. So the Too Human you see today only really started development when Metal Gear Solid was completed. So it’s been a four-year development cycle and it would have been out even quicker, but we had to re-write the engine because of all the Epic stuff.
How is that matter progressing?
Well the trial is proceeding, we feel really good about our claims, and we’re hopeful that justice will be done. We all feel really strongly that they have defrauded us, and a major portion of the industry.
Too Human is designed as a trilogy of games – is trying to bring such a large undertaking to market not a risky strategy to adopt?
Yeah, I guess, but I’m not really risk adverse. We decided that the best way to do the game is to do a trilogy, and because the story was so big we couldn’t tell it in one game. Having said that, the first game is self-encompassing and tells its own story. There’s certainly a trilogy arc that needs to be finished, but the first game stands up on its own.
But we feel really good about it, we feel it’s the right thing to do and it’s a lot better than developing sequels on the fly in case a game is a success. We’re planning for success, the first game will be about discovery, the second is revenge and the third is enlightenment, and we know how these games will end. It’s all planned out, and regardless of how well they do, it will end at three. We may do offshoots in the future, but the main Too Human will be finished after number three.
Considering the scope and level of investment Too Human requires, did you have any problem getting the game signed?
No, it got signed almost right away. I knew Ken Lobb who moved over from Nintendo to Microsoft, and before we announced we were splitting from Nintendo, and before any other publisher knew about it, he was right on top of it. He wanted to bring it to the 360 family right away, and although there was a lot of interest in it from elsewhere, Microsoft moved quicker than anyone else.
You’ve worked with Nintendo, Konami and many more, so how does Microsoft compare?
They’re all different. Working with Miyamoto-san and Nintendo was great because they had a wealth of experience, but their methodologies are, in some ways, completely opposite to Microsoft’s. Nintendo have very few people working on projects, where Microsoft have a lot of people, But Microsoft is a great group, they bring a lot of technology and a lot of metrics to the design philosophy. Kojima-san we worked with at Konami was very different too, they’re all really different.
When we work on games it’s a collaboration between our partners and us, and what you’re seeing is a child of that melding. I think that represents what Too Human is; Silicon Knights, who come from the house of Nintendo, are collaborating with Microsoft. So you’re going to see something really different and that’s what Too Human is.
What life’s like as a Canadian developer, and what effect are the tax breaks having on the community?
Oh they’re helping, and hopefully they’ll get better. I’m a really big believer in getting the government to understand technology, infrastructure and the economy of it. I’m a big [social ecologist] Peter Drucker fan, and I’m happy that our government understands that knowledge-based companies and technology-based companies are the future of industry. We certainly don’t have all the subsidies that Quebec, but Ontario is really moving in the positive direction in that way. I think all countries should have it quite frankly, it’s something well worthwhile and it’s the future.
I’ve always said Canada’s best natural resource is its people. We have a really great education system and some really bright, talented people. People think we’re American because we speak in a similar way, but it’s a completely different culture and it’s a great place to live. I am happy and proud to be Canadian.
What are your thoughts on the fact that a number of North American developers have struggled or closed of late?
I think the industry is going through a paradigm change. And it’s not just North American companies, it’s all companies. The economy worldwide is kind of in crisis; demographics are changing and birth rates are declining. So is it easy out there? No it isn’t. Is it getting harder? Yes it is. But, if a lot of groups are not going to survive the paradigm shift, hopefully we’ll be one of those that do.
So what advice would you give to the indie developer?
Don’t focus so much on being independent, just focus on making great games. We’re one of the biggest independent developers in the world, and I don’t know if that medallion means anything. I think making great games is more important.
I think if you draw parallels with the movie industry, you’ll see a lot of mergers and acquisitions that took place as it was forming in the ‘20s and ‘30s, which resulted in the six major studios that are still around today. That seems to be happening in our industry, so mergers and acquisitions are going to continue and there’s nothing that can stop it. It’s all about making the economics work.
As creators, be it in a studio or an independent, you need to think about how to protect your people and how to make the best games possible. And that doesn’t necessarily mean staying independent. Where there’s a will there’s a way and, in the end, whatever it takes to create great games you should move towards.