Brutal Legend Interview


posted 8/13/2009 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
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.

Obviously you have a kick ass game, that's going to destroy the competition, but do you think you'll fare a lot better with so many big name titles getting moved to 2010?
*Laughs* I don't mind any of that and that's definitely not a problem but it's obvious as to why they are moving. It's because they are afraid of Brutal Legend.

I totally didn't think of it that way.
I'm just glad we finished on time and didn't have to slip our schedule.

Given that you've been in the industry for so long, what do you think are the biggest issues the industry faces right now?
I think it's actually a pretty exciting time right now as there are a lot of opportunities for games of different sizes to get made. Small games, really small games, and kind of medium games are all getting out there and there are ways for smaller development teams to reach the public and I think that's exciting because it lowers the barriers to entry but still there are a lot of quality games out there that will lead to more innovation, more ideas. So I am very optimistic about the future and injecting all that creativity into the market because games are getting so complicated and expensive that there's this danger of becoming overly risk averse as games get super expensive. People won't be willing to try anything unless it's a sequel or something like that and that could be very bad.

All you need is to have one of these small games or indie games become a huge, huge hit kind of like Easy Rider was in the 70's, showing you can have a really profitable game made for less money and that will open up different options for developers to make different kinds of games.

You've mixed Video games and heavy metal music, is this the worst nightmare of parents everywhere or not?
Well I think it may have been before but this is the third generation of metalheads out there. If you go to Ozzfest now or any soft of metal show you'll see a lot of parents taking their kids to their first metal show. A metal crowd is a surprisingly affable crowd. The love the music and they are really dedicated fans. It's kind of a family affair.

I think the world has matured to the point that I hope parents play Brutal Legend with their kids (as long as those kids are over 18). There is a filter for profanity and gore so you can turn that off and play with their kids. Heavy metal and video games didn't ruin my life so I advocate them for children of all ages.

Are there any kinds of of cheap shots at poseur metal bands can we expect to see in the game? Any cheap shots at Winger or Poison?
There is a satirical element to it. Eddie is working for the worst heavy metal band in the world when the game starts and we do take a few shots at New [Nu] Metal. There are some things in metal today that I just don't like. I'm a little bit of a grumpy old man when it comes to heavy metal although there are a lot of new bands like Strangers of Blood that are great, There's just a few things going on that are a little too slick and marketable for me and so we do make fun of that in our opening sequence a bit and hopefully people will see the humor there.

Was there ever any pressure to make this a T rated game?
EA never asked me to make it a T rated game. I don't think I could have made this game without beheading as it would be not true to the genre. Medieval combat with a double sided broad axe where you don't chop off someones head just seemed wrong. I think once you're beheading things you're kind of in M territory.

Finally, Lucasarts is going back and releasing Secret of Monkey Island a other classic games, what are your thoughts on that and is there anything you'd like to see re-released that they haven't' done yet?
I'm curious to see how that does. I'd like to play Monkey Island again as I haven't played it in years. I'm glad they made the original available. I'd like to see any of those old games remade as it's really hard for people to get Grim Fandango to run on a modern PC so if they released that one it would be a lot easier for people to go back and play it.

Any idea of what you are working on next or is that TBD?
That is still TBD at this point.

I'd like to thank Tim for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Chase and Devin for inviting me to participate.

Here's the full audio of the interview

Kombo and GameZone have also published their portions of the interview.