Too Human Interview (Xbox360)
Strategy Informer: So, Too Human? First announced in 1999, you must be pleased that it’s finally out?
Denis Dyack: Yes, we are. It’s nice to be finished. We’re really happy with the results; we’ve created something that we think is innovative, very different, which stands up from many other games. We think it’s a very high quality game and our best game to date, so yeah, we’re feeling good!
Strategy Informer: How has the vision change from ’99 to now?
Denis Dyack: The idea of Too Human, when it was first conceived in actually 1993, was to create a game that talks about the effects of technology on society. That hasn’t changed at all. However, its various permutations… whenever we create a game we always partner with our publishers to create something unique. So the incarnation of the Too Human you’re seeing now is a result of a collaboration between Microsoft and Silicon Knights, built upon the foundations of Xbox Live. Really, what Too Human is now on its form on the 360 is completely different to what we had envisioned so long ago. So yeah, it’s different. It’s a hybrid of genres that wouldn’t have been possible before because of the technology, and it’s something that we’re really excited [about] because there isn’t really anything that comes close on any other system. This is something that is unique to the 360 which we think Microsoft should also be really proud of.
Strategy Informer: Focusing on the game now: Obviously the main character is called ‘Baldur’ and he’s part of a group called the Aesir. Who exactly are the Aesir?
Denis Dyack: The Aesir from Norse mythology are the Gods, and the Aesir were a group of war Gods. Our Aesir are cybernetically enhanced Humans – through technology they have become super-powered, and they can do things that regular humans can’t. The idea of it is that you’re one of these ‘elite’, who are charged with the defence of mankind against this army of machines trying to wipe our mankind. So in a sense, by using technology and by enhancing yourself you have to defend yourself against these automated pieces of technology. It’s like the quote at the beginning said, if you fight monsters you have to be careful you don’t become one yourself. We really want people to think about technology and the effect it has on society and Human Beings as a result of what technology can do, and these are the kind of things that we talk about in the game.
Strategy Informer: And why did you choose Norse Mythology?
Denis Dyack: Well, we really like Norse mythology because none of the Gods are immortal - they can die. They know the end of the world is coming in Ragnarok, and rather then try and escape their fate, they meet it with a grim determination. That’s really analogous to technology today. Technology has infiltrated our society and culture in ways that we don’t even understand. Generally [these days] technology in society is misunderstood, so we can’t say “let’s become Luddites” and take away all this technology, but we have to try and understand what it’s doing to society with a grim determination. We have to figure out what this is about otherwise we run the risk of running ourselves into extinction. If that’s truly the case, then that’s why we thought Norse mythology was perfect. I really love Norse mythology, and it’s really undersold, in a way? In Europe it’s different because people understand a lot more, but in North America all they know is the comic book Thor, so there’s a lot of things that can be learned just from that as well so it’s one of my favourites something I’m looking forward to bringing to the mass market.
Strategy Informer: Looking at the Combat System now, it’s been dubbed ‘twitch gameplay’, what was the idea behind it?
Denis Dyack: Well it’s a fusion between RPG and role-play [I think one of them was, in fact, meant to be ‘action’], and a lot of times in the past, I’ve heard that games are going to be these ‘hybrids’ and they’re really not. They kind of fake real-time and they’re all just statistically driven. So Too Human has a very deep role-playing statistical driven engine, but at the same time, it’s very fast paced, action orientated, and tactical as well. By combining all those three things we’ve created something that’s really different, and it really is fast-paced and if you don’t get the action part you’re not going to do very well with the role-playing, so it is a complete fusion in that way. So a lot of times with these RPG/action games, they do well in the RPG part so they don’t have to worry about the action part. Too Human has to worry about all aspects all at once, and it’s a really good fusion. The right-analogue, dual analogue control is really taking the metaphor of the mouse - where you click with the mouse and say ‘attack here’- and that’s really what we’re doing with the right stick. The only we could do that though is with our automated camera system where we can pull away the complexities of having to control the camera during combat, and we let the camera take care of it-self. We’re freeing all of the controls of the controller for the gamer so that they can concentrate on the gameplay, so it’s a really unique hybrid in that way, and it’s something that’s never been done before.
Strategy Informer: In Co-op it’s been reported that there are no cut scenes. Is this true?
Denis Dyack: Yes it is true. The reason for that is… well two reasons: Co-op is set up so that you can jump to different levels. A lot of the cut scenes are not even in some of the places you can play, another reason is that we combine some of the cut scenes with actual gameplay, and it just doesn’t work with multiple players. So, the actual premise that the cut scenes were ‘removed’ from co-op is actually not true, it just was never planned. It’s not even possible to do it. I mentioned it once in an interview, and it was sort of portrayed as “cut scenes are removed from co-op” – they’ve never ever been planned [for co-op], and when you play these hybrid dungeon crawling games, we’ve done a lot of research into it; a lot of people just skip them anyway. So, when you’re playing co-op and trying to grind to level 50, you’re not going to want to watch the cut scenes. It was never planned, it’s not there, it just doesn’t make any sense from our point of view to even have them in there. You can play the single player campaign over and over again up to level 50 if you want, but in co-op… A lot of the cut scenes actually take place in Aesir, which isn’t even a playable level for Co-op. So even if you played co-op from beginning to end, you just wouldn’t get a cohesive story.
Strategy Informer: So how does co-op actually work? Say if I get the game before my friend does, and I’m already at level 30, can he still play with me?
Denis Dyack: That’s a really good question… Generally, these types of games don’t allow you to play with a lot of levels between you. We’ve actually balanced [the game] so that you can’t power level, but there are about 15 levels between you, say you’re level 25, they’re level 15 – the character at 15 will slowly catch up. There’s a diversity there, but if you are level 50 and they’re level 1, it’s just not going to be playable, he’d be dieing all the time. But we do try and do that as much as possible; to allow people to play together, but there’s about a 15 level variance.
Strategy Informer: Too Human is obviously a planned trilogy: was it always going to be a trilogy? What’s your vision for the whole trilogy?
Denis Dyack: Before we even hooked up with Microsoft we decided to extend it to a trilogy. Back when we first designed the game it was huge. During the days when we made Legacy of Kain, a 120 hour game was acceptable. These days, once you start going over 15 hours people don’t have time to finish the game anymore because they’re working or they have families. I know myself that anything over 15 hours is hard for me to finish, so we kind of pegged the main storyline between 10 and 15 hours, but if you want to get to level 50 it’s going to take you 50 – 60 hours, If you want to get an epic suit it’s going to take you 100 hours… So, for the ‘hardcore’ who really want the depth, and really want to play a long time, it’s there through re-playability. But, for the casual gamer who just wants to get through the game once and see the story, it’s a real easy 10 – 15 hours. Breaking it up into a trilogy, you know, it was just so big with the original plans, we just couldn’t squeeze that up all into one game, there was just too much there. So by the time it came around to creating it for the 360, we were like “ok this needs to be broken up in to at least three parts”, and that’s what we’ve been working on since then.
Strategy Informer: Story-wise, are you allowed to reveal anything about the next two games?
Denis Dyack: Well, we’re really trying to parallel Norse mythology, but at the same time we’re doing it in ways that are completely unpredictable, and I think by time the first game, people won’t be able to predict where the second and third game go. The Theme of the first game is ‘Discovery’, the theme of the second game is ‘Revenge’, and theme of the third game is ‘Enlightenment’ – and we want to take gamers through a roller-coaster ride of what we think are the effects of technology on society, and what we as humans have to face as technology seems to advance beyond our social capabilities.
Strategy Informer: There’s going to be downloadable content for this game, do you have any ideas what that will be?
Denis Dyack: We do. We have tons of ideas but none that we’re ready to talk about or announce today. But the game was built from the ground up to support downloadable content, and both Microsoft and Silicon Knights are big advocates of this. We look forward to making some exciting announcements in the future.
So there you have it: One man, one vision. I think it’s suitably ironic that Dyack uses a game console to spread his message about technology and its effects. Check out our review for a more comprehensive look at the final game, along with our verdict.