Creating Digital Worlds: An Interview With AAA Developer Ethan James Petty

Today we have a great interview with game developer Ethan James Petty talking about creating worlds, industry trends and more!

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First of all, in­tro­duce your­self for those who don’t know and let us know a lit­tle bit about what you do.

My name is Ethan James Petty and I’ve been mak­ing games since 1992. I start­ed off with my high school share­ware com­pa­ny, Bloodlust Software, which re­leased sev­er­al hideous games as a tongue-right-through-cheek re­sponse to the “vi­o­lence in gam­ing” out­rage at the time. The Bloodlust games paid for much of my col­lege and ac­tu­al­ly still have a bit of a cult fol­low­ing. I lat­er went on to work in the “in­dus­try” side of things, start­ing in QA, mov­ing to de­sign, and ul­ti­mate­ly into scriptwrit­ing. At Ubisoft, I am a scriptwriter (or scé­nar­iste here in Montreal), which means I work on cre­at­ing char­ac­ters, sto­ry, scenes, and ul­ti­mate­ly record­ing ac­tors. I like to think of it as writ­ing movie scripts, but also hav­ing to write lines for every sin­gle ex­tra and then hand the cam­era over to a di­rec­tor (play­er) who wants to try to break your scenes in any way pos­si­ble. I’ve worked on most of the big fran­chis­es at Ubi in some capacity.

At home, I am cur­rent­ly work­ing on my in­die com­pa­ny, Gnarled Scar Manipulations. My first ti­tle is the Knobbly Crook, an old school point-and-click ad­ven­ture with a ridicu­lous sense of hu­mor and set in a sur­re­al world. Chapter I: The Horse You Sailed In On is avail­able free on Steam.

So, in a way, I’m work­ing at both ends of the spec­trum in the gam­ing in­dus­try – the biggest AAA ti­tles dis­trib­uted every­where and my 1‑man-team with a few down­load links and no advertising.

For those in­ter­est­ed in that side of de­vel­op­ment, how do you get into the busi­ness of writ­ing and world building?

EJP side 0.5For writ­ing on the AAA side – there are two sim­ple steps: know how to write and know games. Fortunately, you can learn both of those things. Sure, every com­pa­ny is dif­fer­ent and some might ask for spe­cif­ic de­grees or back­ground, but ul­ti­mate­ly, you’re go­ing to have to con­vince a team that YOU are the per­son who can make their world in­ter­est­ing. My ad­vice to any­one want­i­ng to break into big busi­ness gam­ing – you won’t suc­ceed if you just whine about how it’s too hard to get in. You must sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tions and sam­ples. This field is ab­solute­ly a mer­i­toc­ra­cy. In fact, I was a lev­el de­sign­er years back who begged a pro­duc­er for a shot at the job and won him over with sam­ples. Since then, I’ve helped with the hir­ing process many times and the sam­ples mat­ter more than any­thing else you can say about yourself.

Keep in mind, you must be will­ing to re­lo­cate. Usually, you will need to be near a gam­ing stu­dio to work there, like any job. Fortunately, there are amaz­ing stu­dios in some of the most in­ter­est­ing parts of the world.

For world build­ing – that’s a wider top­ic that could take you in many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. We all con­tribute in dif­fer­ent ways. On the script side, we’re help­ing to de­fine themes and char­ac­ters. Level de­sign­ers are try­ing to find ways to let the play­er ex­plore the world and re­ward that ex­plo­ration. Game de­sign­ers want to lure you into en­gag­ing with the sys­tems and learn­ing more about the world. Artists/Sound Designers build the di­rect links be­tween all of these things for the play­er and a good style can some­times cov­er up any holes left by the oth­er de­part­ments. QC tells us when we screw up and they’re not im­mersed. (note: back to the “how to get into” ques­tion, since I’m off track, you can switch be­tween these de­part­ments once you have the ex­pe­ri­ence. QC is a great place to get fa­mil­iar with the teams and I’ve seen a lot of testers tran­si­tion to oth­er pro­fes­sions. It’s the path I took.

On the in­die side – just get in there and get it done. You don’t need any­body else. There are plen­ty of en­gines made for dum­mies who can’t grasp pro­gram­ming (I’m one of them). Look me up on twit­ter and I can prob­a­bly help you find one. There are free to use art as­sets and sounds all over the in­ter­net. Use stick fig­ures if you must and make sure the parts you are good at shine. There’s no ex­cuse. The best part: once you’re done, you’ve got a sam­ple. Even if it’s a bad sam­ple, you show that you’ve ac­tu­al­ly made a game and that is some­thing huge.

What do you think are the things that are most over­looked when build­ing a game-world?

The game world it­self. I’ve played a lot of games with in­ter­est­ing me­chan­ics or new and ex­cit­ing char­ac­ters, but far less at­ten­tion to the world in which I’m play­ing. Most games will have the usu­al sus­pects, de­pend­ing on set­ting – car­go ships (I’ve worked on 3 of them), ware­hous­es (don’t ask), cas­tles, dun­geons, caves, and the list goes on. If you just say, “we need a cave lev­el” and leave it at that, you’re go­ing to have a cave lev­el. It’s much bet­ter if you in­stead say, “we need to find out what makes our cave lev­el new and ex­cit­ing.”  It’s in­fi­nite­ly bet­ter if you in­stead say, “we need to cre­ate a cave lev­el that is new and ex­cit­ing *and* has a con­nec­tion with the themes of our game.” I’m sure peo­ple are go­ing to browse my port­fo­lio and say “well you sure screwed up on that spe­cif­ic game.” Yup, I prob­a­bly did. It’s hard to nail down and even hard­er to get hun­dreds of peo­ple all on the same page, but it’s still a goal to keep in mind. If your game is about the class di­vide in a me­dieval so­ci­ety, it’s go­ing to work in your fa­vor to make sure that me­dieval car­go ship has some­thing to say about it.

What in­spired the world of your game The Knobbly Crook?

EJP side 1The Warriors movie, orig­i­nal­ly (bear with me). I orig­i­nal­ly imag­ined it was all about fan­ta­sy gang war­fare. The gob­lins vs. the trolls vs. the plant golems. As a trib­ute, I had the Great Green Man call­ing the tribes to­geth­er for peace and then some­body as­sas­si­nat­ing him and blam­ing it on the pro­tag­o­nist, O’Sirus the Snip. The whole thing was go­ing to be an elab­o­rate es­cape from every­one (and an ac­tion game).  I changed my theme lat­er, but one rem­nant is the name “O’Sirus the Snip,” which was a nod to Cyrus from the Warriors. Can you dig it?   So I had this great char­ac­ter, but the theme wasn’t do­ing it for me. I re­al­ly need­ed a bet­ter hook to pull all the world el­e­ments to­geth­er. I start­ed to map out what us­ing rock, pa­per, and scis­sors would do to this fan­ta­sy sce­nario. The gob­lins soon be­came Knobbcrookians, golems made of ran­dom met­al el­e­ments (in­clud­ing scis­sors and blades), the trolls be­came stone beasts, and the plant men be­came pa­per men. Now that gang war­fare meant some­thing more – these were el­e­ments that could hate and fear each oth­er in a vi­cious loop. The war be­came much more dan­ger­ous. The world it­self was now full of the three el­e­ments and dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter types would re­act to them based on their own el­e­ment. New log­ic puz­zles start­ed to write them­selves. How does a Knobbcrookian boat work? Paper sails con­stant­ly re­pelled away from a scis­sor en­gine push­es the whole thing forward. 

Also, hear­ing “ra­tio­nal de­sign” so much at work, I thought I’d try out “ir­ra­tional de­sign.” The two have noth­ing to do with one an­oth­er, but it’s some­thing I keep in the back of my head as I craft the world. It makes every­thing feel unique and bizarre, but to­tal­ly log­i­cal with­in this world. For ex­am­ple, if the play­er needs to ham­mer nails into a ship, they’re ex­pect­ing the ham­mer and  nails to work to­geth­er to do this, and I re­ward that log­ic. But when the event plays out, O’Sirus cre­ates a Knobbcrookian tool to “screw in nails.” Sure enough, when used on the ship, he kneels down and screws them in with a painful squeak. Once the play­er has seen these things a cou­ple of times, they are now ready to be en­ter­tained with even the very sim­ple interactions.

This has all been a long way of get­ting back to what makes the “world” of the Knobbly Crook – I de­cid­ed to fo­cus on rock, pa­per, scis­sors and ab­solute­ly log­i­cal non­sense. So far, it has made my life eas­i­er and the fan re­ac­tion has been great.

What are the ma­jor dif­fer­ences when work­ing on a AAA game to work­ing in­de­pen­dent­ly. Do a lot of prac­tices car­ry over?

I think the biggest thing that car­ries over is an eye for plan­ning and or­ga­ni­za­tion. I didn’t have that be­fore I start­ed work­ing in AAA and I ac­tu­al­ly lost a whole ex­pan­sion pack I was work­ing on due to data cor­rup­tion (pos­si­bly a virus).

The biggest dif­fer­ence is the scale of the team. Working with hun­dreds of oth­er de­vel­op­ers is much more dif­fi­cult be­cause you need to make sure all the right peo­ple con­stant­ly know what you in­tend with every line you write. Working at home, it’s just me. I don’t al­ways agree with my­self, but it most­ly works out. Becoming your own boss also means you need to be crack­ing the whip. It’s very easy to go get lost for 100+ hours in some­body else’s game when you should be work­ing on your own self-imposed dead­lines. Keep in mind I’m a *very* small-scale in­die dev. It’s most­ly just me. I’m sure there are peo­ple who work in small teams that can give you more in­sight on these dif­fer­ences. Working in­die also means you’re los­ing the biggest ad­van­tage of AAA de­vel­op­ment – oth­er peo­ple do­ing most of the work. I’m cur­rent­ly script­ing, writ­ing, puzzle-designing, draw­ing, act­ing for 95% of the voic­es in-game, and han­dling the re­lease. I could prob­a­bly write a Knobbly Crook chap­ter in a month, but do­ing the rest of the tasks my­self takes rough­ly a year.

What caused you to make The Knobbly Crook, a free game, and when in the process did you de­cide that?

Pure nos­tal­gia. Point-and-click games were the first ones to re­al­ly con­vince me that I want­ed to make games for a liv­ing (a goal that was con­stant­ly  fight­ing with my oth­er goal – to be­come a mon­ster ef­fects artist in movies). The pi­o­neers of this genre – The Williams’, Al Lowe, the Two Guys From Andromeda, The Coles, Jane Jensen, I could keep list­ing once I move into the Lucas games, but I saw all these peo­ple as supreme be­ings when I was a kid. I feel like I missed out on what I con­sid­er to be the most cre­ative era of gam­ing. So I guess in a way, I’m pre­tend­ing the Knobbly Crook is from that era (it def­i­nite­ly fits the style) and of­fer­ing it up as a kind of aban­don­ware.

I know a lot of peo­ple are mak­ing to­tal­ly free point-and-click games and have been for years. Definitely look around – this genre may have have died out a bit in the main­stream, but fans have been keep­ing it alive.

Do you think the big-budget game in­dus­try fos­ters or sti­fles innovation?

Probably a bit of both. Obviously, big mon­ey means big ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and we’ve seen some se­ri­ous in­no­vat­ing come from the big stu­dios. But it also comes with big risk. I’m just a low­ly keyboard-monkey, so I don’t know the ins and outs of get­ting risky ideas ap­proved, but I’ve heard the dis­cus­sions and I know that our teams of­ten need to be good at sell­ing the weird stuff and get­ting the peo­ple with the check­books on­board. There’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that the peo­ple at the top only want to make more cash and that they dam­age the games be­cause of it – that’s not true (from my ex­pe­ri­ence). We have to sell how we’re go­ing to in­no­vate just as much as how we’re go­ing to de­liv­er on-time and with­in bud­get. In fact, if you can’t con­vince the boss­es that you’re do­ing some­thing new, they’re go­ing to send you back to the draw­ing board. They’re thirsty for new ideas and they want to be the stu­dio that every­body is talk­ing about.

Where we run into prob­lems, and this is just my opin­ion and no of­fi­cial com­ment, is when we have cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions at the base of our de­sign. Each new game must com­pete with the things it (or oth­er games) has done be­fore, plus add a bunch of new and ex­cit­ing fea­tures. The prob­lem with new and ex­cit­ing things – some­times they don’t work out, or end up be­ing far less ex­cit­ing that ex­pect­ed. When you’re work­ing on a fran­chise, you know, based on mil­lions of an­gry fo­rum com­ments and an equal num­ber of fan rav­ings, what peo­ple are ex­pect­ing and you need to de­liv­er that. Sometimes play­ing it safe ends in dis­ap­point­ment. Sometimes go­ing big ends in dis­ap­point­ment. It’s al­ways a bit of a gam­ble. Fortunately, any in­dus­try hit that’s some­thing new in­spires every­one else to up their game. It’s not even a mat­ter of “we need to beat them,” but more the ex­cite­ment of “we need to do some­thing to turn heads, too!”

There’s also this fan­ta­sy that the in­die scene is some­how vast­ly more in­no­v­a­tive. Sure, you have some amaz­ing hits that pop up that prob­a­bly would have had a hard time get­ting past the ap­proval process at a big stu­dio, but you also have 100 unin­spired clones of those hits. Both sides of the in­dus­try have their problems.

I should prob­a­bly point out that there’s noth­ing tech­ni­cal­ly in­no­v­a­tive about the Knobbly Crook, and I’m OK with that. When some­thing works, it works. I’ve cho­sen to in­vest more in the world it­self and the sur­re­al na­ture of the sto­ry. I think on the in­die side, as long a game has some­thing new to ex­pe­ri­ence, you don’t have to wor­ry as much about rais­ing bars. That’s hard­er to pull off in the AAA field.

When you are star­ing at a blank page for a game how do you get started?

I’m nev­er star­ing at a blank page for long. I have a thou­sand sto­ries in my head fight­ing to be turned into some­thing cre­ative and no time to do them! Usually, I start with the themes and then work out a main char­ac­ter who best rep­re­sents them. Next, I start to fill in which types of peo­ple might be in the same world and how they would com­pli­ment or chal­lenge this char­ac­ter. Once I’ve got that, I tend to roll pret­ty fast into production.

You’ve said be­fore many de­vel­op­ers don’t feel they can de­fend their work or their fic­tion­al worlds, how easy is it for AAA de­vel­op­ers to speak their mind?

ejp side 4I think it de­pends on what you’re say­ing. I am free to praise my games pub­licly as much as I want, of course, but I have to be con­stant­ly aware that any­thing I say can and will be used against me in a court of so­cial me­dia. The con­text will be ig­nored. The dates of in­di­vid­ual state­ments don’t mat­ter. Lines will be stitched to­geth­er to cre­ate a sto­ry, be­cause every­body loves a good sto­ry. Even stat­ing a po­lit­i­cal view, con­tra­dict­ing an­oth­er on­line per­son­al­i­ty, shar­ing re­li­gious or so­cial views, en­joy­ing cer­tain hob­bies – any of these things could be weaponized to make me or my com­pa­ny look bad. Nobody cares about the “my opin­ions are my own” dis­claimer if they see you as a ri­val. We have to be con­stant­ly aware that peo­ple are try­ing to trip us up and get us to leak info on new projects or to try to get us to make an of­fi­cial state­ment on some griev­ance they have with our games. The fact is, I go to work and I spend most of my time there writ­ing. That’s it. I don’t man­age any­body or speak for any­one but my­self. Unfortunately, that’s not how peo­ple see me on­line. I’m sud­den­ly the com­pa­ny spokesman.

The fact that I am a writer is a plus – I can get away with most of my tweets be­cause I am care­ful to word them in a nonag­gres­sive way. I am po­lite to every­one. I nev­er di­rect­ly at­tack, though I do en­joy satire and mock­ery. Feel free to fire it back at me. I gen­uine­ly want peo­ple to get to­geth­er and play games and to stop fix­at­ing on the dra­ma. There’s no need for “sides” in en­ter­tain­ment. Let’s sim­ply be en­ter­tained and agree that we like dif­fer­ent things. With that said, the dra­ma still finds me once in a while and I do my best to stay friend­ly. If I slip up, please call me on it and I’ll apologize.

In your view, what makes a game world feel “lived in” and believable?

As peo­ple who are raised by peo­ple and taught by peo­ple, we look to the peo­ple in games to con­vince us the set­ting is real. If your char­ac­ters are in­ter­est­ing, play­ers are go­ing to be pulled in. Some MMOs have be­come very good at this – the con­tent is of­ten some­thing you’ve done a hun­dred times be­fore, but a well-written quest giver’s plight is enough to make you feel like you’re sud­den­ly the most im­por­tant per­son (or beast) on the plan­et. You could spend large amounts of mon­ey to ren­der a fam­i­ly eat­ing at the din­ner ta­ble in­side a house, but a good writer can con­vince you there’s a fam­i­ly eat­ing in­side a non­in­ter­ac­tive house and make you care about them with­out ever get­ting a glimpse in­side. Of course, get­ting peo­ple to READ the quest text in MMOs can be a whole dif­fer­ent issue.

I’d also say it’s im­por­tant that the play­er feels they have an im­pact on the peo­ple liv­ing in your world. It’s great if they end up talk­ing about things you’ve done, but even bet­ter if you’ve some­how made their lives bet­ter … or worse.

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Do you think game worlds cre­at­ed by oth­er cul­tures and na­tions, for ex­am­ple the world of the Witcher, are un­fair­ly sub­ject­ed to a more Americanized lens?

Absolutely. Even as an American liv­ing in French Canada, I some­times for­get that I’m view­ing things through an American lens! We all have spe­cif­ic his­to­ries with ma­jor im­pact on our world views. Just work­ing with lo­cal­iza­tion teams and read­ing some of the ques­tions we get back, I’ve start­ed to un­der­stand just how dif­fer­ent our so­ci­eties can be. I can make a smirk-and-shrug type of joke in North America that comes back as very taboo in oth­er cul­tures. Sometimes jokes or cul­ture ref­er­ences just can­not be trans­lat­ed. A harm­less word can be­come a word worth fight­ing over. It’s very no­ble to want the world to be pro­gres­sive, and I ad­mire that, but keep in mind the North American per­spec­tive is one of many, and every so­ci­ety is con­stant­ly try­ing to bet­ter it­self in its own unique way. They’ve had their own vic­to­ries and tragedies and they don’t al­ways mir­ror our own.

Remember that Midnight Oil song “Beds Are Burning?” I re­mem­ber peo­ple just stu­pid­ly singing along and think­ing it was just an­oth­er cheesy song with an an­i­mat­ed, weird-looking singer back when it was a hit. Once we fi­nal­ly un­der­stood what it meant, it quick­ly turned into a very pow­er­ful song and made us all feel like ass­holes. For many of us, it was our in­tro­duc­tion to a trag­ic part of Australian his­to­ry. We learned some­thing. Same goes for the Witcher. Reading some of the re­ac­tions de­fend­ing it, it was clear this was a case of peo­ple view­ing it through the wrong lens. There is a rea­son it is the way it is. People need to ac­cept that and move on.

I’d go a step fur­ther and say it’s not just an Americanized lens – it’s a lens fur­ther craft­ed by our own frus­tra­tions and tragedies. It’s easy to per­ceive the rest of the world as ag­gres­sors once you’ve been hurt or seen some­one else hurt. It’s nat­ur­al to seek out vil­lains to strength­en your stance. When there’s an is­sue close to your heart, it’s easy to find ev­i­dence of that is­sue in every­thing you view. Again, no­ble in­tent, but it’s easy to get car­ried away.

The Knobbly Crook evokes games with a rich world like Beneath a Steel Sky or more re­cent ti­tles like Machinarium. Do you feel there is still a de­mand from gamers for old style 2D point-and-click adventures? 

Absolutely. People still love cross­word puz­zles and mazes. We love to have our brains chal­lenged and a good point-and-click does ex­act­ly that. I think the trag­ic de­cline in these types of games was due more to the “hey, look! Something new and shiny!” speed of our in­dus­try. We’re re­al­ly good at new and shiny. However, as the main­stream games tend to get more and more com­plex, I think the sim­ple puz­zle games (that are also usu­al­ly gor­geous to look at) give peo­ple the va­ri­ety they’re look­ing for be­tween the 200 hour in­vest­ments. Plus, a lot of the orig­i­nal pi­o­neers are com­ing back through mod­ern fund­ing tech­niques, which makes the whole genre sexy again.

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What do you think has most changed since the ear­ly days of game de­sign to what we see now with the mod­ern mega-publishers?

For me, every­thing. I lit­er­al­ly start­ed do­ing this as a pimple-faced teen in my par­ents’ base­ment. The first games I shipped re­quired me to vis­it Kinko’s, burn a disc, then man­u­al­ly print and stick a la­bel to it. It didn’t get much more garage than that.

Now, twen­ty+ years lat­er, just the sheer scale of every­thing can be over­whelm­ing. I re­mem­ber not long ago, I was in a voice record­ing stu­dio di­rect­ing ac­tors to say main cin­e­mat­ic lines which would be played over an­i­ma­tions done else­where. Now I’m work­ing the scenes as they are mo­capped live with hel­met cams and twen­ty peo­ple on set, with mul­ti­ple ac­tors at once. It re­al­ly feels like we work on a movie set now when we’re record­ing. We’ve out­grown most of our meet­ing rooms, they just can’t hold teams our size. We do con­fer­ence calls with de­sign­ers from 3 – 4 dif­fer­ent coun­tries at once. It sounds like a headache, and it can be, but it’s also amaz­ing to see how fast things start com­ing to­geth­er days af­ter you re­quest them. Yet some­how in all this chaos, you still feel like an im­por­tant part of the team and your opin­ions do have weight.

I re­mem­ber at­tend­ing a meet­ing once where we had a heat­ed dis­cus­sion and end­ed up chang­ing some­thing mi­nor. Somebody said “I hope it works, be­cause that’s a mil­lion dol­lar change.” I hon­est­ly didn’t know if he was joking.

How free are artists and writ­ers in the games in­dus­try to cre­ate any world they can imag­ine? In large stu­dios are any sub­jects still “off the ta­ble” for fear of po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness or offense?

ejp side 5From my ex­pe­ri­ence, our teams are usu­al­ly OK with most things if they are done re­spect­ful­ly. I don’t think you’ll ever see di­rect ref­er­ences to cur­rent tragedies or any­thing too dan­ger­ous, but that’s usu­al­ly us pulling back our­selves to be re­spect­ful. You might see a sit­u­a­tion that mir­rors a spe­cif­ic theme, but we’re go­ing to try to avoid any kind of links. Generally, you can have a char­ac­ter who is po­lit­i­cal­ly in­cor­rect and that’s fine as long as the sto­ry you’re telling isn’t agree­ing with them.

Keep in mind a lot of the “cen­sor­ship” comes from try­ing to get the prop­er rat­ing to sell your game, too. I may be wrong, but I’m pret­ty sure let­ting the play­er harm a child in your game would get you a re­al­ly nasty rat­ing and would be hard to dis­trib­ute world­wide. I’d have a hard time agree­ing to write some­thing like that into a sto­ry, any­way. Maybe if we were do­ing Willy Wonka and we had game me­chan­ics to trap and pun­ish chil­dren in his choco­late fac­to­ry. Huh. I think I just gave away a killer idea.

I re­mem­ber once scrap­ping a small mis­sion that was set to go live be­cause it was about a mine col­lapse and that month we had two mine tragedies hit the news. We also had a cam­pus mis­sion at one point that was al­tered due to a school shoot­ing. Our goal is to tell a fic­tion­al sto­ry, not try to cap­i­tal­ize on controversy.

Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that we of­ten work with his­to­ri­ans, con­sult with peo­ple lo­cal to the re­gion in which we’re work­ing, and try to en­sure au­then­tic­i­ty in the slang and di­a­log. I’ve been in a few sit­u­a­tions where I saw ac­cu­sa­tions made about our lack of au­then­tic­i­ty and scratched my head be­cause I knew we’d done the legwork.

How much de­tail do you go into when cre­at­ing the flavour of a game world? We’re all fa­mil­iar with the lit­tle stabs of text that help flash out a game but just how in-depth do you go?

For the big open-world stuff, we do tons of re­search and we have pages and pages of cool things spe­cif­ic to the real world that we are try­ing to fit in. Sometimes we could be bet­ter about how we de­liv­er this in­for­ma­tion, but it’s a learn­ing process. I re­mem­ber work­ing on one project and ask­ing a his­to­ri­an if our vil­lain was too cru­el to be ac­cu­rate and he told us we had com­plete­ly missed the mark – he need­ed to be much more cru­el. We made him worse. Many of the mis­sions were di­rect­ly in­spired by his odd­ball sto­ries. In an open world, you want to make sure the peo­ple around the lo­ca­tion are talk­ing about things rel­e­vant to that lo­ca­tion and we do our best to make that hap­pen. We send sev­er­al scout­ing trips with var­i­ous de­part­ments to go vis­it and get a real fla­vor for their set­ting. The art team ob­vi­ous­ly does a lot of heavy lift­ing to cre­ate depth and au­then­tic­i­ty in the world.

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In both AAA and my in­die games, I try to make sure to have “dis­tant moun­tains” (not my term) for play­ers to dis­cov­er. These are peo­ple, places, or events that are ref­er­enced in the game but are not ex­plored with­in it. By adding these, your world will feel more and more real out­side of the set­ting slice you’ve cho­sen for your story.

Can we ex­pect more from the world of The Knobbly Crook or do you have oth­er projects in the pipeline?  Shill away.

I am aim­ing to have Chapter II: The Face of the Face out be­fore the new year (free). I hope that’s a re­al­is­tic goal – things are mov­ing along pret­ty well so far. Anyone in­ter­est­ed has plen­ty of time to check out Chapter I: The Horse You Sailed In On, which is free on­line in many places, in­clud­ing Steam. I can’t an­nounce my Ubi project be­cause we haven’t an­nounced it yet.

If you en­joy the weird­ness of the Knobbly Crook, you can find more like it in my on­go­ing se­r­i­al nov­el, Jack Steamheel. It’s also 100% free. Jack is ac­tu­al­ly a bar pa­tron in the game, so you can learn more about him here:

We want to thank Ethan very much for his time and his in­sight­ful answers!

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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