Garrett Young talks Quantum of Solace
"Welcome, sir" mutters the guard as I'm let into a dark and dank room beneath an unassuming white-walled building, situated in one of LA's less desirable neighbourhoods. There, in the centre of the room is Treyarch's executive producer, Garrett Young, tied to a chair - a bright light dazzling his gaze as I step forward into the pitch blackness that surrounds the Quantum of Solace developer. "I won't talk, you're wasting your time," drawls the executive, as I lean forward, menacing grin spreading. "We'll see, Mr Young, we'll see..."
Given the size of the IP and the recent reinvention of 007 through Casino Royale, do you feel a huge weight of expectation coming to Quantum of Solace?
A huge weight of expectation? I think we, as game developers (I've been a game developer for 13 years now), historically, we put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to make a great frickin' game. So, there are high expectations, of course. Then there's an idea of this magnitude and the long history this franchise has, with the movie alongside it; this will of course lead a lot of people to our game. Not just huge gamers, but fans of James Bond... who want to play this character in the game. I don't know if we feel undue expectation because of this, I think its more about the personal pressure we put on ourselves to make a great game.
What 007 actors can we hope to see in the game?
[Chuckles] Which characters... well, I've been told that Daniel Craig has definitely been confirmed as being in our game. I'm sorry.... so, we're going to announce a full line-up later...
Judy Dench... perhaps?
[More giggles] I'm sorry, I can't really talk about that.
Will you be mixing up the gameplay, adding in elements like driving beyond the shooting action?
So there's a lot riding on the game. But what we're really trying to do is... well, put it this way, this is first Bond game from Activision, and from our team, so the really important thing to do, that I have found in my career, when you're launching a new franchise, is to really get the core gameplay right. This is what we're focussing on. There is variety in our game, but there's no driving for instance. We didn't want to spend the time creating a racing game, what I've found in the past is that if you do too much, you can create a shallow experience - as opposed to really focussing on the core gameplay. So that's what we're doing. Further down the line I guess driving might be considered, but that's not what we're doing with this game.
What do you make of the James Bond games that have gone before this one?
I can tell you that I've played pretty much all the Bond games over the last 10 years or so. Maybe 11, for some games. But I have no idea what went on with those games and those teams; I can't really speak about that. I loved GoldenEye, there were some fun games from EA, but I can't discuss what they did and didn't do. Just like you guys I read the reviews and see the scores on Game Rankings.
Are you deliberately making your game differently from what EA did before Activision acquired the license?
No, we didn't really have a plan along the lines of 'don't do this', it wasn't about that. It was about launching the franchise for this company. The last movie reinvented what Bond is, so we can take a fresh look regardless of what Sean Connery did; what Roger Moore did. There was no Casino Royale game, there was no Daniel Craig game. This gave us a very different perspective. There was a real kick-storm when we started putting the concept together; the core vision.
The game includes some events from Casino Royale, we gather? What's the split?
Yes, there are. The game, as we've timed it out, well, there's lots of work to do still, but so far its looking like roughly 50/50 between Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace in terms of play time. With Casino Royale, what we did was look at the movie, and pick the scenes we wanted players to be able to play in our game. With Quantum of Solace, we looked at the movie script, and said 'this looks cool', 'this sounds great', 'this would make a cool environment'... and on and on. With Casino Royale we actually put a small team in place before the film came out, and so we were doing an early design.
One of the scenes we pulled out was a scene from that movie that sounded great, but got really cut down. A very action-orientated scene. But in the end it was cut right down. So, they didn't like it, but we looked at it, we said "we want this in our game, we think gamers are going to want to play this" and we talked to the producers and said "we realise you guys have cut this from the movie, made it into a dialogue section... would you mind if we put this in the game?" And its in our game... and gamers can play a scene from the movie that never made it into the movie... in our game. That's kind of cool. It was a very interesting experience, really.
How do you join the stories between the films?
So, as far the connection between the stories from both movies goes, the Quantum of Solace, which comes out in a few months, picks up about an hour after Casino Royale ended. Technically, its a continuation between the movies, set over two years. We're doing something a little bit different; a little creative, and the producers were okay with this. We're actually starting out with the opening of Quantum of Solace, that's the first few levels, and then we do a kind of interesting flash-back. This lets you play through the action scenes from Casino Royale we've picked out. There's an interesting point where it makes sense to flash-back, and another place where it makes sense to flash-forward, and then come back to Casino Royale. So the story the movie guys tell, we've sort of played with that a little.
What kind of access did you have to the movie?
So, Casino Royale, we actually had a small team working (three or four people). They got to do some meeting and greeting, visited the set, scanned characters from Casino Royale - that's hypothetically speaking! We haven't confirmed everyone yet... but anyway, they did scanning, got to see the sets, spoke to people. Then they didn't shoot for a long time as they were working on the script. Then, after this, we got the first script for Quantum of Solace. We were nervous, because we had to do the level design. Now, we've made at least four trips out to the set so far. What have we done? Let me see, we've scanned and photographed the actors. To create lifelike 3D models. We take lots of photos, and do face-mapping to get realistic facial expressions... some of the actors didn't want to do that...some were really cool. We also scanned and photographed all the props. Anything important to the scenes used in the game. The wardrobe was also scanned, that's a big deal. We've got thousands of photos from the sets. What we did was that we took the photos from the sets in London, and the locations (Chile and Nothern Italy are there, I believe), and that's really valuable for us when we're creating the levels. There's loads of stuff we get to see, its been a great relationship working with these games. This is our first Bond game as a company... I've nothing but good things to say about the access we've had.
How involved has Daniel Craig been?
So, he's had a busy shooting schedule. So, let me see, we scanned and took the photos first - of course we didn't have anything to show - and then we spoke about the game. Then we showed him progress, sat him down; showed him how he looked (he was actually a little nervous I think). I guess he was worried we'd make him look like crap - which we didn't! That was cool. He liked it all, asked some questions. We spent about half an hour with him.
We were sat down with him, and started explaining everything, and he just wanted to play - we showed him how to use cover, and he became more strategic and got into it. He asked if he could keep the dev kit with him, and we were thinking "okay, so, we're the James Bond developer, we don't want to leave our game in another part of the world, but this is James Bond so I guess we should leave it..." So, then I left, but I heard he brought his buddies in and they all had a good time with the game. He had a good time with it.
He also did voice-over work. His voice is already in there. That took a couple of days. Of course, he knows Bond better than anyone in the game, and he made suggestions, you know, 'Bond would never say this', that sort of thing. It really helps. I've never made a movie game before, but I've heard stories about celebrities who weren't so easy to work with. When you've got someone who wants the game to work, is interested in the game, is a gamer - it just makes the game better.
Do you enjoying working on a licensed property like this?
Some of the things we've worked on are licensed properties, and in a way they involve celebrities, but the celebrities are cars or sports teams. The nice thing with this is that you have less explaining to do about who your character is. People like James Bond. They like the game. This means we can get people into the game more quickly. There's no need for back story. You don't need it with a licensed character. All you need to do is teach the controls. People bring history to the game. This is a valuable thing. That's the biggest thing between a game like this and something completely new or unknown; there's much less filling in to deal with. We can take a lot of creative liberties when we're inspired by the movie.
The reinvention of Bond introduced a more emotional, gritty James Bond. How do you bring that to the game?
I'm really happy about this. I think Bond is the kind of character that makes sense to me, the kind of character I'd like to play as a gamer. I want the character to be more realistic; hands on. Craig's Bond takes things and tackles them head-on. He still uses his mind... as in Casino Royale. But he's more believable. Now, with the old Bond you could say 'he was this, or was that', but that's the old Bond. Old conventions are gone... Q wasn't even in Casino Royale, the one gadget was the defibrillator in the car... which a real MI6 agent might have. This is a lot of fun for us, this means we can carve some new ground. We're tying-in with a more realistic guy.
We're focussed on the physicality of Bond I guess - we're not so worried about the emotional side, the teary scene with Vespa won't be a big part of this game. But Craig was really cool in Casino Royale. With Connery or Moore everything was cool - but this is more believable - and I'm really happy to be working on a great character like this.
"Thanks for your time, Mr Young, that wasn't so bad, was it?" And with that I emerge from this back room-turned cell; into a warm, humid evening in LA's Little Tokyo district.