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Cloud castles: Irrational talks next gen costs, Bioshock sequels, and educating Call of Duty

An enormous chat with level designer Shawn Elliott

Page 4 of 5

Everybody talks about the games that learn from Call of Duty, about all the knowledge flowing out of Call of Duty. Do you think Call of Duty could learn anything from a game like yours? There's a cluster of similar titles like Far Cry 3 and Dishonored that seem to be carving a path for intelligent gaming right now, whereas Call of Duty feels like it's in a very slow decline.

Yeah. It's been exciting. I would add Deus Ex to that group too... Human Revolution that came out... was that already more than a year ago?

Yeah.

It's a loose collection of games, it's not even really a genre - but they all have something in common, you know, they all sort of hearken back to System Shock and Deus Ex and Thief, and I love the fact that this style of game still exists, and every time one is successful I can't help but root for it. Like Dishonored, you know and Deus Ex, like man, I just hope those series sell tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of copies. Because it increases the awareness and the interest level for this kind of game, you know? It increases the likelihood that expensive games will continue to be made.

Zoom

The cost situation does bother me quite a lot. Epic's Tim Sweeney was saying recently that next generation development costs are going to be double what they were at the start of this generation. Does that mean Activision is the only one who can afford to run a business?

It's... I guess... for guys at my level it's... the fear is probably that which everyone has. You see these notices that studios that have been around for a long time and have produced some, like, excellent games, you know, that are either consolidating or are just being closed outright. And sure, it's hard not to be afraid that the future doesn't hold out a place for you but... it's a big gamble, right? There's no other way to phrase it. Similar to Hollywood, the stakes just kept getting higher and higher. Are you familiar with the theory of the black swan?

No.

A book or a movie, for example, what you see is loads of books and movies that sell 5000, 6000 copies - and then all of a sudden there's a rare event where suddenly you'll have one that sells 50 million or more. So what I'm getting at is that with games, you know, where games are at now - the big budget games - you have the potential to be extraordinarily and unpredictably successful, but the risk, the bet you're taking is that you can also fail utterly.

It's like playing at an extremely high stakes table, where the stakes are bigger than anyone knows - the stakes as far as the losing are known because it's as much as you've put in to it, but the stakes are far as success is concerned are far less of a known quantity.

And yeah, it seems right now that nobody really knows a way out of it, as far as making a game like Bioshock Infinite, because it just involves so much work, so much labour and generation of assets. Everything you see in the game, down to how things are lit, how things function - the fact that we're testing these things over and over again to bulletproof them against breakage and stuff like that.

Zoom

Free-to-play is one of the models people present as a solution to all this, but it doesn't seem to solve the problem of how you create that kind of scale upfront.

Right, to put that kind of scale upfront on free-to-play, you're still making a bet. It doesn't solve the wager problem, right? If you were going to basically scale it up once you knew you had a certain amount of buy-in, you could theoretically do that, but how do you get the buy-in when you're not scaled up in the beginning?

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