Fallout 3, Ico and No More Heroes Makers Talk Game Design, Regret and Cold Medicine Abuse

By Nick Breckon and Chris Faylor, Mar 25, 2009 6:30pm PDT Today's Game Developers Conference panel on "Evolving Game Design: Today and Tomorrow, East and West Game Design" wasn't just the folks behind Fallout 3, No More Heroes, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus talking about poop and new projects.

Moderated by Mark MacDonald, the all-star panel saw Shadow of the Colossus/Ico creator Fumito Ueda (Team Ico), No More Heroes creator Goichi Suda (Grasshopper Manufacture), and Fallout 3 developer Emil Pagliarulo (Bethesda) discuss storytelling, the way games change during development, and yes, cold medicine.

Rather than summarize any further, we've transcribed the notable bits. Be warned, however, that there are spoilers for some of the above games, especially Fallout.

On Changing Game Elements:

Emil Pagliarulo: In Fallout 3 there is a giant robot called Liberty Prime, and you get to follow him in the climax of the game.. the original pie in the sky idea was that he was going to be five times bigger and you would ride on his head. And Todd Howard and I, we had championed this idea... [but eventually] we realized that was never going to happen.

Fumito Ueda: In terms of Ico, originally it started as one thing but was gradually changing. The original one was a little more vivid. Shadow of the Colossus also had the same tendency. Originally, several people were working together to kill the Colossus. But thinking of the team strength and teamwork, we needed to change our idea a little bit. We modified it. But I love that process. We always make an effort to create the best thing, so changing the plan is not a bad thing.

Goichi Suda: Well, I make a perfect design plan, so there's no way you could change it. [laughs]

It's the same as Mr. Ueda said. Always it's changing. We have to improvise it, because I am always getting tired of doing the same thing. I always like to explore a new thing, try a new thing. So I don't want to cause any trouble to the dev people, however whenever I can do something new, I like to add it so that the plan is changing, but that happens almost every day.

Emil Pagliarulo: We decided to end Fallout 3. The game ends.... people didn't like that so much. It occurred to us that, you know, how many other games end? All of them. So we'll end Fallout 3. And the previous Fallout ended as well. But we underestimated how much people view Fallout 3 as.. it's as much a sequel to Oblivion as other Fallout games. People are used to our games, they're used to adventuring and staying in that world.

On Disagreements with the Team:

Goichi Suda: In my experience, when I created Killer 7, there were many new things I tried to do there. And of course, even if I try to explain that to people working on it, not everybody could really understand.

Fumito Ueda: When I think about it, I may not have had that kind of experience that much up to now. And that is because even looking at Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, it was a team that came with me, that had my worldview. Those various visions really had no opposition.

As far as focus testing is concerned, for my games, because I had a long workflow period, you may not believe this, but when I start becoming really involved in a game, I can't tell if it's a fun game or a not fun game at all. It just all looks like tasks. So rather than listen to a survey of focus test players, I stand behind the focus players and try to look at the game through their eyes as if this is my first experience of a game. And sometimes there are times when I will listen to what they say, but I don't always.

Goichi Suda: Sometimes I can no longer tell whether my game is fun or not too.

Emil Pagliarulo: I'm actually playing Fallout 3 at home right now, and it's hard for me to see the game in it. I see original ideas, and occasionally missed opportunities. It's all just a series of systems.

The great moment for us is when we read someone else's design document that we hadn't read before, because that's the only time that something feels fresh to us.

On Regret:

Mark MacDonald: [No one speaks up.] No regrets here. It's the George Bush school of game design.

Goichi Suda: Regret? Well, when I got into the San Francisco airport, I was in the wrong line. I went there in the beginning, but I ended up the last person. That is what I regret. Well, what else...

When I start working, I will power through no matter what happens. Before master we do a test play a lot, but I always think I'd like to increase the number of test plays. First I'd like to test play 30 times. If I do a test play many many times, I feel more comfortable. I like to test my prototypes as much as I can. That's no regret, but I'd like to have more time in making games. That's always what I want.

Fumito Ueda: I have a lot of regret actually, but within a limited amount of time I have to do my best. But I can't look back.

Emil Pagliarulo: You don't want to regret because you have to keep moving on. I have these little micro-regrets throughout the course of making a game. A line of dialogue that I wrote that doesn't work... I think actually that happens very often, and so often that you get into the habit of letting it go, because you have to.

On Immersion and Future Technology:

Goichi Suda:We like to immerse people into our game. Mr. Ueda's Shadow of the Colossus, and Emil's game had that. We need to create the game which brings players into our game, and we'd like to make them crazy about our games.

That's related to expressions. The game industry has to pay attention to express our feelings. ExistenZ, the David Cronenberg movie, my favorite movie actually, there are a lot of expressions which attract people. They put the parasite into their bellybuttons and then they play games. I think we may go in that direction, and I'd like that to make that kind of game by the time I finish in this industry.

Emil Pagliarulo: I'm really interested in achieving that, but without the gadgets. I don't think you need 3D glasses or anything like that... so really creating believable worlds. Creating people that feel like people, that don't feel like NPCs but actually characters.

It's AI, it's visuals, but it's all how they work together. I think a lot of that is really developers understanding the medium in which they work and telling storytellers. I'm not very interested in cutscenes. The example I like to use is Call of Duty 4. I don't think the story gets the credit it deserves, because the story is told through gameplay. In the beginning of Call of Duty 4, you are experiencing the execution of your own character. It takes a lot of guts to do something like that... When you make RPGs like us, it's easy to drown the players in text.

Fumito Ueda: [Virtual reality] is an area I'm very interested in. But this is not necessarily in line with the type of game I'm doing. As Mr. Suda said as well, I think a sense of immersion is very important as well. I'm not really sure whether the player should be drawn in the whole time. So they can go in, get the immersion they need and then go back to reality.

On Storytelling Approaches:

Emil Pagliarulo: I think people would be really surprised at how much games like Killer 7, No More Heroes, Shadow of the Colossus, inspire us because they are games that tell stories without [much] dialogue and do it very well.

In a way, it's more impressive to tell stories effectively without having [tons of dialogue] because you can use that as a crutch sometimes.

Mark MacDonald: Do you find yourself going more in that direction?

Emil Pagliarulo:Absolutely. It's something we always strive for. We're making our strides there, slowly but surely.

Fumito Ueda: I think the most important thing is reality. Conversations between characters require the characters to say the same thing over and over so that the conversation can proceed in case someone had not heard the original comment. And if that continues it makes the player feel as if the character can not feel they are real.

I'm also not very good at conversation and dialogue so that may be the reason I don't include it as well. But if it's possible for characters to think on its own, and converse on its own, then it might be interesting to have those kinds of conversations in a game.

Emil Pagliarulo: You're trying to make dialogue sound conversational and human and natural, but at the same time you're a game, and games have mechanics, and you need to make sure the player is getting the feedback they need.

Goichi Suda: Before I wrote a story, I drink cold medicine. [laughs] Well actually that's a little bit of a joke. Well now, this is difficult. No, it's not difficult. In my case, first I have the story and the scenario and make games after that. It might be a story that's nobody every thought about before, or it might be an extremely exciting story, or it might be a very fun, interesting idea that nobody could have ever thought of in the world.

So I'm always thinking about trying to create something like that. Then I have to think about how I'm going to translate that into a game. The best thing is to have a story that is actually happening in the background, and I'd like that to be embedded in the dialogue. So when a player just plays once, he's not going to be able to understand or see everything. So for more, this type of dialogue-rich game is what I like to create. I actually think both Mr. Ueda and Emil are dialogue-rich. Mr. Ueda doesn't use words, but in the games he creates the characters are very eloquent.

Even Fallout 3's minor characters are shockingly crazy and it makes me wonder what is going on in Emil's head. Emil, I would like to open up your brain and look at it.

Emil Pagliarulo: [laughs] ...Actually at Bethesda, the designers are the writers. So we all contribute to writing the characters.

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