The Order 1886: Garett Foster interview
As The Order 1886 hits shelves, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Garret Foster, the technology director Ready at Dawn studios who oversees all the programme developments of the studio.
The Order 1886's been 4 years in the making, tell us a little more about it
It was early 2011 when we pitched the game to Sony and they liked it almost as much as we did and so we went forward with it. We were gearing up for it for a long time; we had done Daxter and the God of Wars on the PSP and we thought the kind of games we wanted to make were most suited to being on a couch, because we wanted to tell a story. When you're hopping on a train and playing things in one hour chunks, it's hard to tell a story in that short period of time. What we wanted to do was get to a scenario where we can really convey a meaningful story and not to say that you couldn't do that on a handheld, it's just that it's extremely difficult to do that.
Do you still enjoy the handheld gaming?
Yeah, don't get me wrong, I love it; If I'm waiting in line, the first thing I do is pop out a PSP or the phone and start playing something random; so I have to do that - there's no way I can't.
How did you get to the idea of The Order - in hindsight, it seems mad that nobody's ever done it before?
Yeah I think what's cool about it is, the idea was kicking around for a while; Dana and Ru (fellow workers at Ready At Dawn) had this idea that they really wanted something in the Victorian era. Ru (director of Ready At Dawn) is kind of a history buff and he's all into Victorian London and the idea of the Knights of the Round Table. Dana had this idea of wanting something kind of pretty , alternate universe, and everyone agreed that London during that time was an amazing atmosphere of ideas. I don't think anyone hates it - you talk to anyone about they just get it, everyone gravitates toward it, they love it cos so much of that is the genesis of what we are today, what our society is. Especially the western world, you see Victorian era houses everywhere, the architecture; the influence has never gone away, so it's familiar. Then we went to this natural conclusion - once you throw an evolutionary curveball into the mix, it changes everything. The whole plot of the story is mankind diverges into humans and half-breeds; and that happened a couple of centuries before the revolution and what that does is if you start working backwards and forwards there is this natural thing that you'd have to have someone to defend the common people and that's what King Arthur did, to establish the round table etc and then you're at war, what does that do for technology, how would a historical figure tie into that. The whole thing was, I don't want to say effortless but it just made so much sense. A lot of hard people put a lot of hard work into that and I look back on it and think "Oh yeah easy road" (Laughs)
What were the challenges on the technology side?
Everything's bigger; we went from making small buildings to making skyscrapers and infrastructure that goes along with that. Every turn we made, we had to re-evaluate how and what we were doing; every turn we'd look at the simplest things such as placing objects in the world and the cinematics. We didn't make our lives any easier in this game - we didn't want to have any pre-rendered cinematics in the game, it's all real time. Normally what you do is you have a cinematic in the offline, you'll render it out and have a movie player play it back. That's all fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but the thing we wanted to do was have seamless transitions and you can't do that with a black screen cut. So it may sound like that it's technical and just stroking your ego in terms of what you're trying to do, but that wasn't the real reason; we wanted to have a seamless transition because we wanted the player to be immersed and as soon as you cut, you're taken out of the game, out of the world before you even got into it.
Do you believe it makes the game harder to get into because of the cinematics?
I just think that's people not playing the game. Once they play it, they'll realise a lot of people think that just because we put a lot of love and time into graphics and cinematics, that we didn't put it in the gameplay and they think just because we did one thing, we couldn't have the other - that's absolutely not the truth. That's absolutely ridiculous; we did everything to ensure the gunplay and the characters were exactly right and so you'll see it when you play it. The controls are tight and the experience is a fun thing. The game really hasn't demoed well because the game is constantly evolving as you're playing it and it's not just a third person shooter; there's horror sections, there's exploration sections, there's action - everything's there. As you play the game, it's constantly changing and that was kind of a challenge to demo. To distill that in half an hour is hard - you have to see the whole thing and experience the journey.
In terms of the development, what got you excited going into work every day?
Every day there was something new that was uncharted. Everything we were doing, we were doing something nobody else was doing and that was terribly exciting. A lot of time was spent pondering how do we do this because not doing it is not an option and excuse. Everyone was ultra-passionate about it.
What's the moment that stands out for you?
My wow moment came when I realised that you can play the game early on, but you can't actually play the game until later on. You don't get the polished experience until later on. At least every game I've worked on comes together at the end. I got to sit down and played it one night all the way through - I went into a dark room and went into the next day and kept playing it and I kept playing it in one sitting. I was so tired! I haven't done that since I was a kid and this is something I've been involved in.
At the launch of The Order 1886, you were watching people play?
I love watching people play, no two people play the same. We do a ton of focus testing internally and we see people play all the time and you get so much data from it. Even just like little subtleties like where do people slouch their shoulders, look, put their controller down. The psychology of that is exceptional.
Tell me a little about the characters and how the game was put together?
There's a ton of motion capture in The Order - we did it the similar way to how Avatar was put together; they had a full jump suit with motion trackers on them as well as a face camera.While they were acting, we were capturing the face - it's a pretty exciting thing to have, everything is cohesive and not as disjointed. With any filming, the actors were given a little creative freedom and allowed to put their own flair on it. As with movies, with any actor, the performance shines through - but only if they believe it. We find actors who look and move and sound like we want. All the principal characters as we had an idea of what they should look like, we brought them in and had their face 3D scanned. It was really neat that the designers could put a little of their own elements onto the characters and that was really cool. We did 16K eyeball scanning - even one of my eyeballs is in the game! I couldn't see for a few days after it because the machine is so bright! Even if you're making something stylistic, you have to make sure it's grounded in some form of reality though. If I was to make a stylistic game like The Order 1886 I'd do it the same way; I'd start with reality and add layers on top of that.
It sounds like you had a wealth of material - what was the point you had to stop and maybe rein yourselves in?
It was way too late that we realised that! (Laughs) We are constantly pushing and we don't know when to stop. Left to our own devices we wouldn't ship a game!
What is the future of The Order? Do you see it as a franchise?
I hope it is! For me personally, I had a lot of fun working on it and it's such a rich universe that there are still plenty of areas left to explore. It'd be a crime to not make another element of it. The world just begs to be explored and that's something that I hope personally keeps going on because I think as a gamer I want more. As soon as I'd finished the game, I went and bugged Ru to see what's next, what's the story, where are we going - and he said there's nothing next.... yet..
The game's story is shrouded in secrecy - where do you personally stand on spoilers?
I'm sure that our game is being streamed somewhere on Twitch right now and my personal view is I don't mind people but I think they're harming themselves.If it was my choice, I'd go into it completely blind and experience it myself. When you have a story based game, it's the best way to experience it. It's like movies, if you'd told me the plot of Pulp Fiction, I'd want to know myself - I didn't want to know she was stabbed in the chest - I think we're passed the statute of limitations of that spoiler!
What are you digging in terms of games?
Right now, as you can imagine, we've been deep in development and are just coming out of that - I have a backlog of gaming to play. People may be surprised, but I'm going back to things chronologically. I've gone back to Telltale's Walking Dead right now and it's different to anything I've played. I'm a big first person shooter and I was really into Starcraft for an embarrassing amount of time so I'm all over the board in terms of games I like. I'm really looking to playing the new inFamous as well - I really love that series. I'm actually kicking myself for not playing that when it came out - that's next in the queue! If you're a gamer, you're a gamer, you love it all regardless as you're in for the experience.
The Order 1886 is out now exclusively for PS4.