On Friday, I picked Metro: Last Light communication lead Huw Beynon’s brain about wising up to the fact that players don’t want “dumbed down” games and, er, wrote an ode to a gas mask. It’s incredibly promising things like these that set Metro apart, and yet – this time around – it’s opting to hop aboard the multiplayer train, which also contains, oh, you know, the entire gaming industry. But why? And how will this affect 4A’s laser-sighted focus on single-player? Meanwhile, in the last leg of this last part of this Last Light interview: games journalists howling like giant monstrosities while 4A pretended to shoot them. Seriously. It’s all after the break.
RPS: This year has almost proven to be the rise of the niche audience. It seems like mainly indie developers, but also a few publishers are realizing, yeah, we can find this fairly specific thing, and if we market it properly, we can actually make it sell. You get something like The Witcher 2, which is a smarter RPG and super-duper M-rated, but they still made it sell millions of units. And then, of course, Kickstarter’s taking off – leaving the fate of less mainstream-friendly genres in the hands of their fans.
Beynon: I don’t know whether THQ’s business metrics or marketing insight necessarily agrees with this, but this hobby that we have of gaming, and particularly this single-player experience where we sit down and play this experience in front of a TV on consoles – even the biggest games in that audience are still relatively a niche. Compared to, you know, masses of TV or cinema, or even Angry Birds selling 100 million copies. That’s unbelievable. That’s mass market. It doesn’t matter how big the game is in this space, it’s still a kind of a core audience, a very educated and passionate core audience who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars a year on indulging this hobby.
But I think that a lot of people have realized that to make a game a success, you don’t have to hit this mythical mass market. You just have to understand who’s going to be interested in your game and make sure that you build something that they want to play. I’m thrilled to see the success of something like The Witcher.
Just looking around the show, the things that really catch my eye are something like Dishonored, which I think looks absolutely fantastic. Very different direction from us, they seem to be really focused on emergent, flexible kinds of gameplay. Hitman meets Thief meets BioShock. That’s fantastic. I hope they have success with that because it looks like a breath of fresh air. The kind of setting and the tone that they’ve taken and that we’ve taken, they’re not mass-market. But I think all of them are going to be hugely successful.
RPS: So Metro’s all about immersing the player as fully as possible, but how conducive are shooters – where you’re constantly killing everything – to that goal? Even in the Metro demo, there was the part where Artyom went into the hallway where he gets the shotgun and stuff. He got ambushed, killed the ape rat thing, and then he came back out and Pavel’s like “You’re covered in blood!” And that’s all he does to acknowledge it. He doesn’t even seem to care that Artyom could be, you know, dying.
Beynon: You made it out, right? I mean, realism in games is such an interesting topic, because there is no such thing. The whole thing is inherently unrealistic. Not just the world and the setting, just the fact that you’re going to lug three weapons around with you, or that when you pick up the ammunition, it goes into your magic pocket of bullets. And you can reload with half a clip and somehow all of it [transfers over]. Everyone knows all of this stuff. You ignore some of these things because it’s better for gameplay. You can get too hung up on, you have to make all of this stuff super-realistic. Because if you did that you’d probably end up with a thoroughly unenjoyable game.
The interesting thing for us is to see how close we can get. But I’d love to see a game that changed the whole [dynamic]. That, for me, is one of the things that really bugs me about that, the magic bullet pocket. It’s crazy.
RPS: So it strikes me as akin to the conundrum of watching a Hollywood film. Everyone’s incredibly attractive. In reality there are not that many attractive people all doing these mundane careers and whatever.
Beynon: Just look around the booth now. [chuckles]
RPS: Are you going single-player-only again, or will you have multi this time around?
Beynon: We do have multiplayer. We have confirmed that. It’s actually looking really interesting. We’re not quite ready to talk about it yet. The reason why we’re not talking about yet is because we have one of the most passionate fanbases behind this game. If you liked Metro, you just love it. And the reason they loved it is because it was purely single-player focused, it was something that feels very different from where most games are going.
As soon as we say, “we’re adding multiplayer,” I can hear, across the Internet, groans. I understand, absolutely, the concerns that people have and what that means when we say that. So we’ve just been showing single-player, and hopefully people are getting the message that the campaign is going to be as long, probably longer, it’s going to be more polished, it’s going to be better, we’re adding more playability into it, and we understand everything that people loved about the first game. We are building on it and making it better. So even if you never touch the multiplayer, this is the true sequel to Metro that you want.
Ironically, it’s the studio themselves who are the most passionate about having the multiplayer in there. They’ve got a lot of background in doing multiplayer in other games previously. We had prototypes up and running for 2033. We’ve got a really interesting world, some phenomenal tech, some really interesting mechanics that you’ve seen in the single-player, and this incredible weapon set that feels very far removed both from sci-fi or military. It works, and we’ll show you more about it later.
RPS: It seems like these competitive multiplayer modes, they get a lot of play in the first week they’re out, but they’re generally too shallow to sustain anything any longer – so everyone just goes back to Call of Duty. For instance, look at Dead Space 2 or even Mass Effect 3. This year, though, there’s been a lot of co-op multiplayer modes announced. Dead Space 3 is doing it, Far Cry’s doing it. It seems like there’s this shift happening.
Beynon: Maybe people are just trying to figure out what the formula is. As with everything, the guys at 4A aren’t really paying attention to what other people are doing. They just built what they thought would be most appropriate for Metro. We’ll talk more about multiplayer later.
RPS: Obviously the game is going to look nicer on PC and stuff like that. But what, specifically, will the PC version do better?
Beynon: It’s going to look better. I mean, what we do with the engine will stretch whatever hardware is available to us. So it’s going to look great on 360, for a 360 game, and you’ll see as we get closer to the end of the cycle and squeeze more and more, you find more ways of getting the potential out of these machines. It’s going to look fantastic on 360. And it’s going to look fantastic on PS3 as well. But if you put them next to each other, the PC is [superior].
I guess with a few other games, it’s going to give you a glimpse of what happens when you have an insane amount of processing power and graphical power. It’s going to look better, it’s going to look a lot better. It’s going to look unbelievable. You know, I’d say what you saw today was, it wasn’t running on a latest-gen card. We have that running on a 580. We’ve not done a huge amount of optimization yet for the high-end stuff. That’s just how it’s looking at the moment. By the time we release, as we do with Metro 2033, we’re working really closely with the card manufacturers to make sure that when we ship, we will be stretching every ounce and feature of what they make available to us.
RPS: Are you still going to do like Nvidia 3D Vision and everything?
Beynon: Yeah, we’ve partnered closely with Nvidia, so whatever they have, we’ll support.
RPS: I heard about a certain demo mishap the ended on an absolutely amazing note. Would you mind telling me about it?
Beynon: Yeah, so we’re over half a year from ship, but… We do a live demo. It’s not played off a video. We’ve done countless demonstrations now, and it’s never crashed. We never had a bug once – which, you know, I’m thrilled about.
Except for yesterday, kind of midway through the afternoon, and about two minutes from the end, and about two minutes from the end, your AI companion, for some reason, one of the scripts didn’t trigger. We tried to restart at a checkpoint and he was trapped in the same place. You had these assembled press wondering what’s going to happen, we’re trying to figure out, like, what do we do?
So I said to my producer who was driving the game, “We’re just going to have to act it out.” So we did the last two minutes, as you saw today, I kind of hoisted them up, scrambling over into the next room. We advised the audience to play the role of the mutant hordes; we made them howl and growl at us, we fended them off with shotguns, we hammered on the door to get into the station like mad. It was quite emotional, actually. And they were like AAAAAARGH, growling at us. And then we went through the door and came back with the guys with the flamethrowers, and they were like, WHOA! Whoosh! Torched them to pieces. They were like, “This sounds awesome!”
Maybe we’ll act the whole thing out next time. If that had happened on one of the live stage demos, or like a press conference, I don’t know, would we do the same? I think we’d have to. I think it works.
RPS: That would certainly leave an impression.
Beynon: Well, you know, the graphics would be very realistic. [laughs] It would be very immersive. Yeah. In some ways I’m glad you didn’t see it. In others, I’m kind of sad that you didn’t as well, because… yeah.
RPS: Lastly, because 4A’s closely related to what used to be GSC Game World, how’s everyone taking STALKER 2’s demise?
Beynon: I really don’t know what the reaction to that is. It’s something that we really didn’t know about. A lot of the core team worked on the original story, the original STALKER, but we’ve kind of moved on since then. I wouldn’t want to speculate. It’s not something that I know anything about.
RPS: Thank you for your time.