Resistance 2 Interview: Ted Price Speaks on Gears of War Rivalry, Games Legislation and the Future

In between bouts of Insomniac's Resistance 2 (PS3) at a recent press event, I had the chance to sit down with creative director and studio founder Ted Price.

In addition to Resistance 2, Price discussed the possibilities of a new Insomniac franchise in the future,the surprising sales of the recently released downloadable Ratchet game and the misconception that Gears of War and Resistance are rivals, along with his thoughts on games legislation and the future of the games industry.

Shack: How hands-on have you been with Resistance 2? I noticed you weren't that involved in Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3).

Ted Price: Right. I'm the creative director on the Resistance franchise right now, so it's very near and dear to my heart.

I've always been passionate about first person shooters and I think a lot of the team has as well. Also being able to work on a mature title has been a nice ...alternative for a lot of the team. We've all been working on Ratchet for so many years, and this allows us to explore a different side.

Shack: I noticed there's a lot more gore this time around.

Ted Price: [laughs] Yeah, there is.

Shack: With Resistance 2 in the finishing stages and a new Insomniac studio opening up in North Carolina, is there any chance we're going to get a new Insomniac game that isn't Ratchet or Resistance?

Ted Price: I'm not talking about our future games.

I can say our history has been to create new franchises. We love creating new stuff, so, certainly don't count that out.

Shack: How has the Insomniac's first downloadable game, Ratchet & Clank Future:Quest for Booty (PS3), sold since its release in August?

Ted Price: Actually, surprisingly well. We've seen the numbers and it got a lot of love when it came out. It's one of those games that's hard to define for people, because there haven't been games like it, where it's a triple-A quality title, but it's short.

I think people may not know what to make of it. It's not a full-fledged Ratchet game, you don't get the 10-hour-plus adventure. What you get is a 2-3 hour kinda, bite-sized but high quality adventure.

We're hoping that this is the first of many of its kind to hit the PlayStation Network.

Shack: Has it surpassed your expectations?

Ted Price: It was an experiment for us. We didn't really know what to expect when we released the game, because it is a different beast. It's something that you don't see on PlayStation Network yet, not really.

Shack: Most of the time, downloadable games in a franchise like Ratchet are side-stories or 2D platformers. You don't expect it to be the actual Ratchet game, just shorter.

Ted Price: Right. We had no real expectations. We didn't know what to expect. And now that it's actually selling well, we're happy.

Shack: There's a big emphasis on co-op with the new online mode, but can you still play through the story split-screen with a friend, like you could in the first Resistance?

Ted Price: No. The co-op follows a separate campaign all together. We are not playing through the single-player campaign.

Shack: At all?

Ted Price: Correct. But there is split-screen co-op, so you can play split-screen with--if you're sitting next to your buddy, you can play player A, he claims player B, you're with six other people who are online.

Shack: Are any of the vehicles returning from the first game?

Ted Price: No vehicles.

Shack: Why's that?

Ted Price: It was a tough call for us. Vehicles, like bosses, take a lot of special code, a lot of one-off code, and they end up being one-off design challenges. Instead, we decided to put all that energy into bosses.

Shack: I was playing single-player earlier today, and one of my attack drones came flying in and took out an entire squad that had me pinned down. It was a pretty cool moment, and I was hoping I'd get to control that later on.

Ted Price: You don't, you do not get to play as the attack drones. You do get a lot of cool weapons through, and you do get to play with the weapons that the Sentinels, your buddies, have. One of the guys has a machine gun with a big shield on it. The mini-gun does incredible damage and it's fun to just lay waste to lots and lots of Hybrids.

Shack: Can you talk about some of the other weapons?

Ted Price: We haven't really talked much about the Marksmen. The Marksmen is the weapon that Sergant Warner carries in the game, and actually we were using it in co-op, it's your main weapon if you're Spec Ops in co-op.

It has a three-shot burst and it has a scope view, so it's particularly effective against humanoid enemies who have a head, use it to get headshots. The secondary fire, it fires out this projectile that will hove around and do electric damage, it will actually zap multitudes of enemies. But enemies will recognize that the projectile's out there and will turn and start firing at it.

It's good to distract them, first of all, because they'll start firing at it, and secondly, it does a lot of damage.

Shack: I know you're not talking about anything beyond Resistance 2 today, but with 60-person online multiplayer and 8-player class-based co-op, are you at all worried that you're setting the bar too high for yourself?

Ted Price: I think there's always the worry that when it comes to whatever next game it is that we do, we'll hit a wall. But we've already got plenty of great ideas about what's next, whether it's... whatever game we do.

Every game we've done has been a learning experience too, in terms of what works and what doesn't, where we can push and where we can't. That's a pretty nebulous answer, but because we've been making games so long, it's been 15 years now, we always run into that same worry, and we've always been able to figure out a way to provide something fresh for the next game that we do.

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Shack: Is there any chance of another scandal like Manchester Cathedral in Resistance 2?

Ted Price: That's a good question. You'll have to play through and see if there's anything that looks particularly controversial to you. It is taking place in real towns in the US, so there may be some things that people have issues with. I don't know.

Shack: How realistic is Chicago?

Ted Price: Chicago is recognizable. It is 1953 Chicago in an alternate history universe, but you'll see some buildings that you certainly recognize.

Shack: Switching gears a bit, how do you go from receiving an English degree at Princeton to being the president of a game development studio?

Ted Price: A lot of luck, I suppose, and a love of games. That's what it came down to, for me.

After college, I was in the medical industry for a while and I realized that wasn't where my passion lay. I had a fantastic--things worked out, where I could actually buy a 3DO dev station and use my savings to start Insomniac.

I met some great guys, Al Hastings and Brian Hastings, who helped lay the foundation for our first game, Disruptor. That put us on the map, and we went from there.

I made a lot of bad decisions, early on, and fortunately, it didn't kill us. We stayed alive and we've been able to learn from our mistakes every year, and grow a little bit more.

Shack: And now you've grown so big that you're opening a studio on the opposite coast.

Ted Price: That's right.

A lot of it has to do with not wanting to grow too big. If we continued to add people to our Burbank office, I think we would overflow and it might become a very different company. It was really wonderful that a couple of our guys wanted to move to the east coast, and start another branch of Insomniac. That was the perfect release valve for us.

Having another team that was basically autonomous, that could carry on the Insomniac philosophy in terms of how it makes games was a great way for us to expand without compromising the traditional Insomniac culture, which is very kinda family-oriented, small company atmosphere.

Shack: Insomniac has long been an independent company, and you've remained independent despite working very closely with Sony. In an industry that's filled with mergers and buyouts, do you see Insomniac staying independent? Are you worried about a possible buyout or acquisition?

Ted Price: First of all, that's our choice. We're private and the only reason that we would ever be bought out or acquired is if we wanted to be bought out or acquired. I've been pretty vocal about not wanting to head that direction.

I'm proud of our independence, I'm proud of what we do as an independent company, and I think that the reason many people come to Insomniac is because they want to have that same feeling of ownership over the games we make, where we're not being told by a corporate parent what to do or what to make.

Being independent in this industry is a double-edged sword. First of all, you live or die by the decisions you make. If you screw up with one game, it could be curtains. That's the risk that we've faced from the very beginning.

It also provides the opportunity to set your own direction. We're very lucky and fortunate that we have a great partner like Sony. We've worked with them for over 10 years now, we've worked with the same people at Sony for a long time.

There's a lot of mutual trust, they do not interfere with the development process and they do a great job promoting and publishing our games, so things work out well.

Shack: Do you see Resistance and Gears of War as being rival franchises?

Ted Price: I think that a lot of the press would like to set us up as rivals, because it makes for an interesting story.

Shack: You gotta admit, both are beloved system exclusives that sport some serious promotion, and both seem to come out at the same time.

Ted Price: If I own a PlayStation 3 and an Xbox 360, which I do, I'm gonna get both games. Because what I want is the best games to play on my platforms, and that certainly helps us, it helps Epic, it helps Microsoft, it helps Sony.

There's nothing wrong with having two great games out on two separate platforms.

Shack: Well said. What's your take on video game legislation?

Ted Price: I think video game legislation has no place in America. I think that we as an industry do a fantastic job of policing ourselves, we have one of the most effective, if not the most effective rating system in any entertainment industry right now.

It saddens me to see legislators stomping all over our First Amendment rights for their own specific interests.

Shack: Last year, there was that huge controversy with Manhunt 2 being denied an ESRB rating and how it wouldn't hit store shelves without being censored. Meanwhile, I could walk into Wal-Mart and buy the unrated version of Saw, no problem.

Ted Price: Exactly.

I think this is just the result of being a younger industry, perhaps, in the other mainstream industries. We're going through what every other entertainment industry has gone through, and that's being the temporary scapegoat for society's ills.

It won't be until we have more gamers running for office that this will calm down. It's something that we'll weather, because we are right, what we do is defensible under the Constitution and shouldn't be regulated by the government. There are enough gamers who will stand up and fight against these laws that we'll be in good shape, ultimately.

Shack: How do you respond to people that say, "Oh, video game violence is different, because you don't pull the trigger yourself when you're watching TV or a movie?"

Ted Price: I say show me the proof. Show me the studies that say that your or I are affected any differently by different forms of media. So far, there have not been conclusive studies that show that games promote violent behavior any more than movies do.

I'm passionate about this particular subject.

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Shack: I don't know if you're familiar with Vicarious Visions CEO Karthik Bala, but he's very outspoken about game legislation as well.

Ted Price: Of course, in New York, they have that awful legislation happening. I'm glad that he's standing up and saying something about it too.

Shack: The letter he and his brother wrote contained a lot of good points, and it was very well-written and polite.

Ted Price: I think that's what you have to do, to talk to folks who are not gamers. You can't simply rant and wave a flag, you have to appeal to reason.

Fortunately, we do have reason on our side in this particular battle.

Ted Price: More people have to join the Video Game Voters Network, just because there's opportunity to get involved as a gamer and make a difference. When you write a letter to your Congressman about bills that are happening in your state, it does make a difference.

Otherwise, legislators don't know that their constituents care and they're just simply, I think, walking blindly, following what they think is the mainstream opinion. But it's not the mainstream opinion. I think gamers outnumber non-gamers these days.

Shack: There was that study that claimed a majority of kids play games these days.

Ted Price: Yeah, that's fantastic news for us as we move into the next 10 years. Because all of those kids are gonna become voters and be able to help us fight unfair legislation that restrict us as creators.

Shack: Where do you see the gaming industry going in the next five to ten years? Some folks say it'll all be digital distribution, other folks say that's rubbish and we'll still have some sort of physical media. What's your take?

Ted Price: Really tough to predict because we don't know how big games are gonna get. The media that we create these days gobbles up a lot of space, and bandwidth doesn't necessarily keep up with what we're creating. On the other hand, I think there are fantastic technologies emerging that allow us to distribute games digitally much more quickly. I was reading the other day about technology that allows you to play the game after it's only 10% downloaded. I can't remember what it's called.

Shack: I know GameTap had something similar.

Ted Price: It wasn't GameTap. I can't remember who it was, it was another distribution system.

I think that digital distribution is here to stay, but at the same time, I think that there are enough people who appreciate the fondle factor, having a physical copy of the game in their hands, that games' retail will stick around for a long time too. So, anybody's guess.

Shack: For so long, the game industry has focused on better graphics, bigger storage space with every hardware revision. Do you think we're nearing the point where graphics become so advanced that progress no longer matters?

Ted Price: I think we're still several generations away from that. I'm probably in the minority saying this, but when you look at a real-life scene--look at this right now--you cannot duplicate this lighting real-time in a game yet in this quality, this detail. We are still ways away from having the processor power to do real-time global illumination and the kind of effects you would expect, you take for granted, in real life.

Now, there is real-time global illumination being done with some engines out there, but it's limited. I think that we still need a lot more processing power and new techniques to do it.

And I think we'll be constantly surprised over the next 10 years with the increase in fidelity of video game graphics. I think people were saying the same thing 10 years ago, "We've reached the limit, we can't really go much further."

Game makers have always surprised gamers with what they're putting out.

Shack: Are you at all worried about the rising cost of development that comes alongside more processing power, new techniques and better graphics?

Ted Price: Oh yeah. That's a constant worry in the development field. The rising cost of development, in many ways, is driven by a consumer's demand for more fidelity, bigger games, more options in games. And we as game developers--in many cases, not all cases--place our bets that we're gonna have the best looking game, or the game with the most options, and hopefully satisfy the largest percentage of that audience and be able to offset the development costs.

On the other hand, there are more avenues now to distribute games to more niche audiences, such as through Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network or PSP and DS. There are many more options for game developers who don't necessarily want to go for the big budgets. At the same time, they can make fantastic groundbreaking games without having the most amazing graphics or the largest game.

Shack: On a more personal note, what have you been playing lately?

Ted Price: To be perfectly honest, I've played Resistance 2 non-stop for the last 3 months. I mean, that's what I do, and it's important. All of us want to make sure that we're delivering the best possible game we can. That takes playing it over and over and looking for the problems and fixing them.

When we ship Resistance 2, the first game I'm gonna pick up is LittleBigPlanet, mostly because I love playing games with my kids. Actually, the game I've been playing is Rock Band. My kids and I play all the time together, and LittleBigPlanet will be the next kinda family game that we pick up.

I can't wait. The Media Molecule guys are really cool guys. They're down to earth, a couple ex-Insomniacs over there as well, and we talk a lot, between the two companies. We've been very impressed with what they've been able to do with a small team.

That's a great example of creating a groundbreaking, unbelievably beautiful game with a very small team. It demonstrates that can still be done.

Shack: It's always a pleasure talking with you Ted.

Ted Price: Yeah, you too man.

A PlayStation 3 exclusive, Resistance 2 launches November 4.