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How did you find the right balance? This is a question very much from a development perspective; when people are working on games, particularly more sandbox, emergent games -- you have to deliver some sort of compelling story, for the most part, to support a complex scenario like being a mercenary in Venezuela. It's a complex, abstract scenario. So how did you find your balance, and your techniques during the course of development?
CB: A little bit, there was some learning from Mercs 1. That was something that I felt was definitely not a strength of Mercs 1; I felt like it was a fun game, and it had some really cool gameplay in it, and certainly a lot of people seemed to like it, but I don't think anyone would accuse us of having a really strong story in that game. It was fairly disconnected from the action, and I think a lot of people... well, I've had this feedback directly, but I also believe a lot of people would've gotten confused, and not been entirely sure what they were doing. They would just kind of go, "Well, this is fun, and they're telling me to do it, so I'm doing it."
In Mercs 2, we've invested a little bit more in act one, so we've actually applied a more traditional narrative structure. We front-loaded, in act one, a bit more of face time with the bad guy, a bit more face time with the other characters; we've taken a little bit more care and attention in the flow of the first missions, to introduce you into the world a little more carefully.
The game, for the first thirty or forty minutes, is -- I wouldn't call it a linear experience, but we don't really open out the sandbox to you, probably until thirty or forty minutes in, after we've carefully introduced you. These are airstrikes. This is how you do this. These are the controls. Here are the key characters. Here are your partners that you've got to work with. Here's your base. Here's where you are in the world.
So, hopefully -- and we've been doing a lot of focus testing as we get very, very close to submission, to make sure that everything's panning out as we planned. Hopefully we've done a better job of introducing you to your capabilities, and to the setting.
And I'll tell you, another thing that we do is, we really try and work with familiar-feeling tropes. We're very explicit about being an action movie game; we want to put you into a kind of Bruckheimer experience. That kind of summer blockbuster high action, but it's you doing the stunts, and it's you experiencing these huge explosions. I think, by trying to leverage a little bit of that familiarity -- obviously, we don't want it to feel cliché, or tired -- we try and make it feel like these are fairly iconic characters that you can understand just by looking at them. You're kind of going to get a sense of who these people are, and what they're doing. So that, I think, helps as well.
So it's really a combination of all those things, and then just a lot of iteration -- particularly over the start of the game -- trying to get it so that everyone gets it, everyone's engaged, everyone feels like they're having fun within five minutes picking up the controls, and that kind of thing.
I only touched the first game very briefly -- I didn't really play it --
CB: Right. This interview's over!
(laughs) What I heard people saying is that, you know, "Oh my god! I can't believe that I blew this up! Or that I could just do this, and jump on this!" You know what I mean? It was very much a gameplay-driven game. There's a certain degree to which you have to make sure not to spend too much time on narrative. I think a lot of games make that mistake.
CB: Yeah, exactly. And I'm not going to name names, but yeah, that's definitely a sin that gets committed often, and I don't think we're going to do that. We invest a couple minutes in act one into introducing you to who you are, but I don't think anyone is going to feel like they're stuck watching a movie when they want to be playing a game. We get you into the action pretty quick, that's a pretty strong focus for our game.
But, you know, I think my sense is that people who played and enjoyed Mercs 1, I think they understand what the game's about, and I think they'll trust us that we're going to deliver on what we are promising. And then we are trying to extend a little bit more of a hand -- like you said earlier, when we were talking, that people have different tastes. Some people play games for the story, some people want to go through and experience the narrative and what happens one moment to the next.
Some people -- and I personally am in this camp -- I'm more driven by the mechanics, and the raw gameplay. And to put it in an extreme level, I could almost play some of my favorite games, you could swap out the characters with, like, just boxes, and as long as the mechanics were as good, I'd be almost as happy.
So we're trying to extend a little bit more of a hand to the folks who are really more character- and narrative-driven, and we have a lot of people on the team who are really, really obsessed and passionate about that side of things, so I've let them really step up and, really, make a huge contribution in enriching the setting, and the fantasy, and the character.
And I think, just if you look at the revision of the characters -- we have some returning characters, we have some new characters -- I think if you look at the iterations we're doing on the returning characters, they're just head and shoulders above the first game, and just much richer and more compelling than they were before. They've got much more interesting back stories, and much more interesting looks, and much more interesting attitudes to them.