Saturday, June 9, 2007

DOXOfeature: Dyack at IASC, The 8th Art.

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 'Immersive Worlds' conference at Brock University. There were many interesting Game related lectures going on, my most anticipated? Dennis Dyack. He spoke of many things, Too human, Gaming as Art, the future of gaming and revealed little more about his new SEGA game to me. (very little)

Full report, and the 'one question exclusive interview' after the jump!

Dennis kicked off his speech by showing us a real time cinematic of Too Human, it’s the same build he showed us last time, still looks great. He then went on to introduce his colleague Barry Grant who happens to be a professor of Film studies at Brock University, but also belongs to the Silicon Knights team. He spoke a great deal about the history of film and the uphill battle film makers faced when trying to convince the masses that moving pictures deserved to be taken seriously as an art form, and not strictly as entertainment. He draws many parallels to the gaming industry, sharing the same mentality that Dyack himself has expressed many times before; Games are moving away from a past of strictly entertaining people and moving into a future where they are held in much higher regard. An interesting comparison he shared was that early film, much like gaming, found its popularity in spectacle- something that lost it’s appeal overtime. As film matured though, the evolution of characters, and story telling was able to create compelling pieces of art that held more than ones eyes- they made you think. This is where Silicon Knights believes gaming is going, more accurately, it is where Dyack and Co. want to take it.

At that point Dennis took the stage again and recollected a talk he had with Hideo Kojima. During the production of Twin Snakes Dyack asked Kojima what they could have done to make a bigger impact with Eternal Darkness. Kojima gave him a simple answer:

You need to erase the lines between cinematic an gameplay.

This was the sole inspiration for the ‘controllable cut scenes’ in Too Human. He brought up the fact that there are standards for cinematography that should not be ignored in gaming and that even limitations of film are being emulated in games in order to achieve the same sense of immersion. He gave us an example. In film, the background of a scene is often out of focus, minimalizing distraction for viewers. This was originally a limitation of primitive cameras, but has carried on because it is a technique that works. In this current generation of gaming we are seeing more and more depth of field being created through atmospheric perspective (essentially- sharper in the front, blurry in the back) which is something that games are not limited too, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Gaming hardware needed to get more advanced to pull off this ’restriction’. Dyack then went into another direction, he spoke about how we have reached a point where technology does not drive the industry, and that it was backwards thinking to say otherwise. He calls out for more creativity, and more academia in gaming. Rich stories, and deep character design, he calls for a Renaissance 2.0. He states that the art will drive the industry, the science - just as it did in the day of Michelangelo. I have to admit it was a pretty inspiring little segment. He explained how the mentality of some developers is like that of a stereotypical high school student, his example; Rockstar. He believes that if you ask somebody at Rockstar what makes their game fun, they don’t have satisfying answers, and will simply say something like, ‘Hey it’s a cool game, because I’m cool, and I made it. I’m a Rockstar.’ Again questioning the maturity of the industry, but also questioning sales.

He expressed that he was a bit dissatisfied with sales of Eternal Darkness, especially after the success of Legacy of Kain (which he blamed partly on platform). This caused him to think hard about a games marketability and what it is that people want to play. He stated that he believed graphics played a huge part in this, using Gears of War as an example (as he did last time I saw him speak) he said that it was one of the most beautiful games he had ever seen but that the play mechanics were average at best, and that the story would have been better had it not existed. He actually downplayed the importance of gameplay a little bit, stating that a lot of games that have ‘the play’ and not ‘the look’ tend to attract less gamers. He continued, saying that games like Mario and Zelda are often successful (not to mention over 20 years old) due to this synthesis. He then spoke of the engagement theory. Dyack claims, that games sell based on the level of engagement offered to the player and that different attributes hold certain weight.

Engagement = Art +Audio + Content + Gameplay

Controversially, he believes in this as a sort of hierarchy, placing gameplay at the bottom. I would assume that each attribute doesn’t hold much more weight than the next, but Silicon Knights does seem more concerned with telling a story.

I came out of the presentation rather impressed with Silicon Knight’s vision and commitment to that vision. Judging from what I’ve seen of the game so far it seems that they’re making large strides towards their goal and it’s really exciting to see as a gamer. After wards I approached Dennis who actually recognized me. I told him I didn’t want to ask him another question he couldn’t answer, at least not in front of everybody. So I asked him a few in private. He wouldn’t elaborate much on the SEGA project (which he revealed to me months ago, as a multiplatform title), but continued to ask him about it:
Me: I know SEGA has been reviving a bunch of their old franchises lately, like Alien Syndrome, is this another attempt at that?

Dyack: No no, this is something that we’re building- something brand new.
That’s all he would say about that, I’ll admit it’s more exciting a prospect than an old IP coming back , look forward to it- just not anytime soon.

Hit this to see our report from SKHQ where the first tidbit about the SEGA game was revealed to me

1 comment: said...

I can't wait to see what they have cooking. The idea that SN and Sega are working together makes me happy in the pants.

The statements said also reflects Dyack's rage against video game journalism (ie: calling things as we see them). He doesn't want to show anything to anybody until it's all done and ready for fear of an E3 2006 clobber. He's threatened enough :)