The Too Human Side of Denis Dyack
Too Human?s journey throughout development has been an interesting tale that has had its low points and high points. Originally to be a five-disc PlayStation game for EA/MGM, the project was moved to GameCube when Silicon Knights signed on to be a second-party developer for Nintendo. After releasing both Eternal Darkness: Sanity?s Requiem and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, it was revealed that the company would break its exclusivity with Nintendo and develop Too Human for the Xbox 360, as well as another unknown project for Sega.
Since the game was announced for the Xbox 360 at X05, development has had a few rocky moments, to say the least. Too Human was first shown during E3 2006 at a time when Microsoft was hot on showing as many games as they could for the Xbox 360, since Nintendo and Sony we?re debuting their first next-gen offerings. Too Human was shown behind closed doors and was playable on the show floor, and even though this two-level demo was extremely early, it was quite apparent that Silicon Knights was showing Too Human too soon. Initially developed using Epic?s Unreal Engine 3, rumors circulated in the fall that Silicon Knights would be dumping the engine, because it wasn?t performing as well as they hoped.
This rumor came to fruition as Silicon Knights filed a suit against Epic Games stating that the engine didn?t perform as promised and that Epic refused to fix their problems with the engine, focusing their efforts -- and money from licensing fees for Unreal Engine 3 -- on their game, Gears of War. Epic has since filed a counter-claim against Silicon Knights stating that Silicon Knights breached their contract with Epic, is using Unreal technology in their new engine, and is using Unreal technology without licensing it further in their upcoming Sega project.
Having to go back to the drawing board, Silicon Knights rebuilt Too Human using their own proprietary engine -- the Silicon Knights Engine -- and during this year?s Game Developers Conference they showed a near-complete build of the game. After playing a good chunk of the first level of this tasty action-RPG-hybrid, we came away impressed -- but we needed to know more. We tracked down Silicon Knights President Denis Dyack post-GDC to find out about where the game was in development, get details about the upcoming demo, see how things are progressing with the Epic suit, and find out the potential for an Eternal Darkness sequel.
Crispy Gamer: How was the game received at GDC?
Denis Dyack: I would say it was overwhelmingly positive. It went better than what we expected, quite frankly, because it?s always hard to tell how we?re going to do at this kind of show. At the event, I think we originally scheduled for about 30 outlets, we ended up knowing a week before that we were going to have over 50, and by the time the actual press event occurred, we had so many people there -- it was standing room only -- it was well over 50 and the only potentially negative thing was that we couldn?t get any more game systems in for people to play, so we had the same amount of time with way more people. I think, given our past history, we don?t have the benefit of the doubt -- we have to fight for every positive thing we get. I would say 95 to 98 percent of all the feedback we got was extraordinarily positive, which to me says it was a fantastic event.
Crispy Gamer: I got to play the game for a while, and there were a lot of positives, but some people said they had a hard time getting into it. Do you think it?s difficult to demo a game like Too Human in such a short time period?
Dyack: There?s no question. When we had a previous demonstration here at Silicon Knights, people played it for hours. Essentially I think we had 15 minutes on average with every person. The other thing is -- and I?m going to come right out and say it -- people are going to hesitate in saying anything positive right now because of our past showings. I think some people are taking a wait-and-see attitude. We?ve done a lot of focus testing and we?re pretty confident that the game is strong. I don?t know what to say beyond that. I think in general I didn?t hear many mixed things -- I heard all positive responses. Maybe that?s just what they're telling me.
Crispy Gamer: Your first showing of the game on the Xbox 360 was rather historic for you guys. What?s it like trying to shake that stigma when initially people had a bad taste in their mouth?
Dyack: Well, I don?t know if there?s anything we can do. We can?t go back in time now. A lot of things that have changed since then -- rewriting the engine was part of that. It?s interesting.? If you ever saw the documentaries with the actors on the "Titanic" movie -- that was critically panned before it came out. When the movie actually came out, it did really well, obviously. I think we really feel like they do. We really believe in the concept. I think we make really good games at Silicon Knights. We don?t have any skeletons in our closet or things that we?re embarrassed about in our past products. We think it?s going to be really strong. When we put out a demo, that?s going to help.
Too Human is a very funny game because it is a new type of game -- people don?t know what to make of it. You watch the videos and you think it?s an action game, but it?s actually a deep RPG game, as well. I?ve always said before, you can?t judge games by videos at all, because it?s an interactive medium. The only way people are able to judge games by videos now is if they can relate to the genre, and see the play mechanics, and hypothesize about how it plays. Without actually playing Too Human, you really have no idea. There are a lot of complexities in there and a lot of subtleties that you really have to sit down and play it to understand, but once you get there, it?s pretty groundbreaking in my opinion. That?s part of the thing. People say they want something new, and when they see it they don?t know what to make of it -- so they criticize it. That?s part of the process. If that is what it means to make a new game -- break some boundaries and genres -- then I?ll take that every time.
Crispy Gamer: But Denis, you know how it is. You go into a forum and someone will pan a game for just one screenshot, before the game is even playable.
Dyack: Billy, I?ve seen posts where people criticize our frame rate in a screenshot.
Crispy Gamer: That?s amazing!
Dyack: To me, that?s crazy. I think there is a large fear right now with Too Human -- people are afraid to get behind it because of its history. And that?s fine. I just want people to judge the game for what it is when it comes out. If they do that, I have absolutely no worries that people are going to love it. That?s why we?re doing a demo. So before the game comes out there will be a demo and people will be able to see how everyone else thinks before they give their opinions. I?m really happy.
Crispy Gamer: So, to give people an adequate taste of the game, are you planning on making it a pretty beefy demo? Are you going to let people play through a level?
Dyack: It?s going to be pretty beefy. We?re looking at a bunch of things that I can?t talk about right now, but people can expect the demo to be substantial. The game itself is fairly big, so we?re not willing to give away too much. If we give away the entire first level -- again I?m not going to say we?re going to do that, but even if we did that -- that?s kind of a small part of the game. There?s a lot more to Too Human than people think, and there?s a ton of content, and if people were to see the whole game in its entirety I don?t think there would be any complaints that it?s too short. There?s a lot there. It?s pretty beefy.
Crispy Gamer: Where are you guys in development right now? Is the game done? Are you guys putting the polishing touches on it right now?
Dyack: The game is not done. Done is like -- finished. What we?re doing right now is balancing all the skills, making sure all of the classes are working well, making sure the multiplayer co-op is just right -- but all of the content that?s in the game is complete. You can play from beginning to end quite easily right now. We?re really just getting the bugs out and balancing -- that?s it. We?re well past beta, I would say.
Crispy Gamer: Have you come up with an official release date yet?
Dyack: We have a release date. We?re probably going to make it official shortly. We can?t say when that date is yet. It?s coming. It?s not too far off.
Click here to read Part Two of this interview.