Representing the action fantasy genre – an interview with inXile president, Matthew Findley
Earlier this year, PS3 Attitude TV interviewed Matthew Findley, president of inXile, to discuss Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. Hunted is a modern co-op cover-based action game with its heart firmly placed in the fantasy genre.
In Hunted, you either play as E’lara, a ranged-weapon expert, or the burly Caddoc, a giant of a man who prefers oversized swords and axes. The people of the world have been mysteriously taken away by an unknown enemy and it is up to E’lara and Caddoc to figure out who is behind this, and save everyone from their impending death.
[PS3 Attitude] We’re revisiting the dungeon crawler genre. For so long, these were big games (in the 80s and 90s) but not so much in recent years. Why are we coming back to them now?
[Matthew Findley] You know, it’s a case of – we’ve been thinking of this game for a long time and when we played and made a lot of those games, in the 80s and 90s, we had this fantasy of what someday the technology would allow us to do. So, really, this game was about realising the fantasy we had when we played those games in the first place.
[PS3A] So you are looking back to the old games, remaking and re-imagining them?
[MF] We tried to remember the soul and what those games represent, some of the emotions and how those games made you feel. But we really are making a modern cover-based game and trying to combine that with the concept of a fantasy game. I think we would have made games like this back then if it was possible (the tech just didn’t allow) so we had to leave most of that to your imagination. So when you played Wizardry and when you played The Bard’s Tale, and all those classic games, the images that are left in your mind – now we can actually realise it with this incredible technology and create a modern action game set in the genre we love so much.
[PS3A] It’s also a co-op game. This is still a new emerging genre…
[MF] It is and I think co-op is in its infancy, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with what can be done with it. If you think about going back to even table-top D&D (Dungeons and Dragons), the really really old-school stuff: that was a co-op game. It was you and your friend sitting on one side of the table versus another two on the other side. It was about you working together. And when we talk about this being a co-op game, it is about more than two players playing at the same time, it’s about every single thing in the game being designed with co-op in mind. We’re trying to create a situation where players will have to use their various skills, using their different strengths and weaknesses, and work together to have a really cool co-op experience.
[PS3A] You have spoken of co-op from a distance. Can you explain what you meant?
[MF] We played a lot of co-op games when we started to design this game and we found that the neat thing about co-op was that it had you really supporting each other and working together. But all the games out there required the players to be tethered together. So we wanted to try and create an experience that would allowed us to use all the arenas and to encourage the players to get away from each other. So all the skills and spells are designed with that in mind. E’lara has the special abilities, like the ice arrow, which she can use to freeze guys from anywhere in the arena, allowing Caddoc to destroy them with the sword. He has things like a levitation spell, which he can thrust his sword in the ground and everyone around him will be raised up into the air, and she can pick them off from wherever she is. You can even do regeneration; when one player gets knocked down the other can revive them from all the way across the arena.
[PS3A] How does this impact on your approach to level design? Does that mean we’ll likely see much wider expanses than normally you’d see in a co-op game?
[MF] We tried to create arenas that have verticality, you know, lots of ways to get different elevations, and support each other with the range weapons. We have lots of branches, and lots of the content is off the vertical path. In the old-school days, you could come up with a really clever puzzle in the game or you could just make it a road block; clearly, that is a paradigm that doesn’t work anymore , but we loved that idea of a really complicated puzzle. So we’ve taken those puzzles and just taken them off the critical path, and it’s our job as game designers to train the player into thinking that doing some of that exploration is cool, and that solving these puzzles will open up these doors and they’ll get really good rewards for it: finding enchanted weapons and more crystals (central to the magic and skills system).
We spent a lot of time, money and energy making these amazing environments, and then we just design games that make you run right through without looking at them; we’re trying to reverse that a little bit, and the game encourages players to take some time and look around to find that secret passage, to climb that rock and find the crystal behind it.
[PS3A] What type of gamer do you think Hunted will appeal to?
[MF] It’s sort of a crossover for us. We’re definitely aiming for the modern cover-based action fan, and there’s so many great games like that: Gears, Halo, the list goes on and on – the fantasy genre is just not represented. So we want to introduce the fantasy genre to that entire group of gamers who haven’t really had the chance to play with the game-style they like. In the other way, I think it works as well. There’s lots of people who really love the fantasy genre, and the only way you can really play the fantasy genre is if you play some sort of hardcore RPG, and, you know, sometimes you just don’t want that experience. The older I get the less time I have to dedicate to gaming, so I can’t put over a 100hrs into some complex RPG. To get in there, kill some guys and move on… now we have an action game in the fantasy genre that you can do that.
[PS3A] You have two different characters, how are they going to cater to different personalities and playing styles?
[MF] I always get asked which one I’d like the most, and I flip the coin every time I sit down to play it because I can’t decide, because the playing styles are so different. All of E’lara’s special abilities go onto her ranged weapon so she keeps unlocking all kinds of skills, which will make her more powerful. She can still use her sword, but it is weaker. Caddoc is of course the exact opposite. All of his special abilities go onto his melee. So players who just want to rush in and bash people are going to like Caddoc, but the others who want certain tactical elements, they’ll play as E’lara. And again, I keep switching back and forth when choosing which one I enjoy more.
[PS3A] It’s a pretty creepy game…
[MF] Yeah. It definitely was our goal to make a dark fantasy game, and we were always inspired by dark fantasy. We’re kinda pushing the envelope on the dark side of dark fantasy. The story is pretty horrific, it’s about all of the people and villagers of this world being dragged out to, who knows what end? You got to get wrapped up in this mystery and find out why everyone in the world is being dragged off to certain death. It’s a story of addiction; a story of human sacrifice, and it is a little bit twisted, but so are we.
[PS3A] Well, gaming has never been one for the Jane Austin lovers.
[MF] Exactly… Jane Austin 3D.
[PS3A] So we have that confirmed then?
[MF] Absolutely, breaking news.
Many thanks to Matthew Findley for speaking to us, and for confirming what we’ve long suspected: inXile are making a Jane Austin 3D game.
You can watch this interview in its entirety and others on PS3 Attitude TV: http://ps3attitude.tv/2010/12/remote-players-matt-findley-interview/