If you've been reading the site for the last year or so you know that I've been stoked for Brutal Legend since it was announced. The main being that I'm a huge fan of Tim Schafer and pretty much everything he's ever done. On Monday I was given the chance to participate in a round table interview with Mr. Schafer and here's the result of that interview. I've included the audio of my questions at the end of the article which is probably a bit more interesting as some of Mr. Schafer's humor gets lost in the translation.
Big fan here Tim, back from the Maniac Mansion days so I'm a bit nervous.
Well you should be since if you ask the wrong question I'm going to chew your head off.
I can put that on my tombstone then right?
* laughs *
Is there any one feature in the game that you're worried about gamers getting? One of the things I noticed while playing the game at E3 was the lack of a jump button which I got used to. Is there anything you're worried about people not getting with the game?
No. We have be able through EA to have access to these great focus tests so we've been bringing people in and watching them behind the one way glass and watched them play. We did see some things that people stumbled over but it was a great chance to go in there and fix a few things and test it again and see people get through it.
We have a really deep multiplayer experience where people can get strategic if they want and there are a lot of features that allow you to control an army on the battlefield in multiplayer and we were a little worried at about how people would learn all this complicated, well not complicated but deep experience and so we built that into the single player campaign so as you play mission by mission, each mission unlocks a new ally to your army or unlocks a new command that you have or a new guitar solo. So by the time you're half way through the campaign you're ready to go to play multiplayer because it's like a built in tutorial (and fun at the same time). That was how we addressed the stuff we were worried about there.
In any project you are going to learn lessons as you go through it, could you talk about one or two specific lessons you learned about software development, about yourself, or game development in developing Brutal Legend?
Yeah, we approached this project differently than Psychonauts where in Psychonauts we pushed it like an adventure game which is you make a plan and then you build a bunch of assets for years and then you throw them all together at the last minute and then the thing works and until the last minute a lot of it doesn't work.
So we learned on Brutal Legend to start with a playable but simple version of the game really early on centered around the character of Eddie. The very first thing we did was to get Eddie Rigs up and running around with an axe and in his car driving around with some heavy metal music. From the very beginning the experience was there and then we started adding things and building out from there by adding headbangers and multiplayer which was one of the very first things we worked on because that was the thing we had the least experience with and we've learned that you always start with the thing that scared you the most or the part that you have the least experience in because you want to get all of your unknowns out of the way early in production. So we made the multiplayer part of Brutal Legend tuned and to a point where we liked it before we made the single player portion of the game.
Things I learned after and near the end of Brutal Legend was that you can't start music licensing soon enough because a lot of it went right down to the end of the wire and we were like "Oh My Gosh how are we going to ship unless we have all these songs cleared". Then through the extraordinary effort of our licensing department we got it all signed in time. So I would start that much earlier if I had that to do over again.
Getting back to the gameplay, can you talk about how the bill becomes a law, i.e., your creative process of taking the characters and working through them and maybe talk about what aspects of the gameplay took the longest to get right and where there areas that were easier than others.
Sometimes just brainstorming alone for what I want to happen in the story and what would be cool plot points and twists and turns for the characters to take. For actually designing the characters we actually have 80 different characters in the game and there are fighting units in the game that have to fill a design spec of being either infantry or vehicle or ranged or area of attack and all these different specs we had to meet so the designers would lay out what they needed for the functionality of a character and then we brought in our whole team of concept artists, like Scott Campbell or Razz (?), or Nathan Stapley , or Levi, or one of our concept artists and we put them all in the back room and say we need some sort of large infantry character who has a ranged attack and then people draw, draw, draw and come up with a ton different ideas.
Maybe it would be a great idea but we didn't like the drawing so we'd have a different artist work on it or we'd throw the ideas back and forth between different artists and the designers would have an ideas or someone else would have an idea. It was kind of a big jam session for ideas and that was really fun and by the end of it we pulled out the characters we liked and then did more final versions of them and that's where all the characters from the game came from in terms of the warriors.
For the more story only based characters a lot of that came from something I wrote up.
We have a multiplayer section that we wanted to start off with because we had never done that before and also we wanted to have these strategy elements but have it still be an action game and have it not be something so complicated that you couldn't do it with a console controller. You wanted to have something that was accessible so we did a lot of iterations on that to get it right. We tried a lot of different complicated schemes before we came up with a more simple scheme of just using the D-Pad squad control system where you can say charge, defend, follow me, or move to this beacon and just use those four commands to control large armies in a tactical way. That took a lot of time but I like what we ended up with.
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