Xbox 360 Interview

Denis Dyack on new release Too Human

The veteran designer talks about his new 360 exclusive

Silicon Knights' long-awaited Too Human is out today in North America, a European release is set to follow on the 29th of August. With our review of Denis Dyack's new action-RPG Xbox 360 exclusive now live, we've also had the chance for a few words with the game designer himself. Read on...

Thanks for talking to us Denis. Too Human seems like an original concept thanks to the mix of RPG and action, on a console, as well as being very different from your past creations. What was the inspiration?

Well, actually, so... we want all our games to be different. So, Legacy of Kain was different from Eternal Darkness, which is different from Metal Gear, which is different from Too Human. So, apart from the trilogy (the second and third games), our next game will be totally different from everything else before it. We're trying to be innovative, we're trying to create new genres, and trying to mix genres together in different ways that create compelling and interesting games that are heavily content based. Denis Dyack on new release Too Human

So, the idea of Too Human really came when we partnered with Microsoft. We looked at the strengths of the Microsoft console, such as Xbox Live, and we said 'wow, there's a whole infrastructure here that's perfect for these dungeon-crawling games where you collect loot'. At the same time, if we're going to create a console game (most games like this work well on the PC), we need to merge a lot of action elements in with it. So, that's how the whole concept came about. A fusion of these ideas.

The decisions you've made with the controls, and the way camera works, seem quite brave. What can you tell us about this?

Yes, certainly. So, first of all, the camera control came about from theories of thinking about gameplay and 3D space. When the original games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Defender came out people never had to worry about cameras because the action always took place in a 2D space, everything was on the screen. When Miyamoto-san created Mario 64, and Tomb Rider came out, suddenly we had 3D environments where everything isn't on-screen anymore. Really, controlling the camera with the right-stick became the default analogy of how to play things through these games. But, by adding camera control on-top of action control, we've added this layer of complexity for gamers where suddenly a lot people who like Pac-Man said 'this game is too complicated for me'. So, we wanted to create a control system where you could focus on the gameplay through this automated camera, and not have to worry about keeping everything on screen.

The camera works like a radar, keeping your most deadly enemies always on-camera. So, we'll automatically choose camera angles that keep this in mind, and the dual-analogue control, that was really taking the metaphor of saying, 'in our PC game we need click and point', games like Diablo, playing the right-stick became that analogy, and we could only have that if we had the automated camera system. Because we needed the right-stick free. So, the game really plays a lot like Geometry Wars; where you're shooting and fighting in melees. These two things allowed us to create something very innovative and different. You just cannot watch a video of Too Human and understand what's going on. Denis Dyack on new release Too Human

What's the deal with the game's Norse elements?

Oh, the Norse elements! So, one of the big ideas with Too Human is that we want to talk about the effects of technology on society. And, we really feel that technology is misunderstood in general, and that its cultural effects are misunderstood. But, we always like to base our games in mythologies, Kain, for example, or Eternal Darkness. Those types of things. When we started looking at Too Human, we liked the Norse mythologies because those gods are not immortal. They can die. They know the end of the world is coming, but instead of running or fighting, they face it with a grim determination. We really feel that technology is like that. Technology is continuing to advance, quicker than our social advance. And its effecting us in ways we cannot stop, we don't understand it, its changing our lives. We felt that Norse mythology was a perfect analogy for that. So, that's why we picked that.

Fascinating. You mentioned earlier that you always want to do something new with every game. But, this a trilogy. You'll be working on this for years. You must have a great deal of faith in the concept. Why is this?

We do! I actually think if we didn't then we wouldn't have got this far. Good games are timeless, we think the concept; where we're taking this, is very original. We think gamers will appreciate this for a long time to come. Denis Dyack on new release Too Human

Ken Levine recently noted in an interview that BioShock was very lucky to get made at all, especially on a console, and he seemed very grateful to Take-Two for that. Do you feel this way about Too Human?

Well, I don't fully understand the context of the quote, but I'll say of Too Human, that... I don't know any other game on a console like Too Human. There is no similar game right now. There's a few PC dungeon-crawlers, on that format, but nothing set in the near-future like Too Human. We feel really lucky to have partnered with Microsoft, who allow us to explore together this undiscovered country. I think this will open up a whole new world to gamers, and you know what, its an experience you can only get on the 360 right now; that's something Microsoft can really be proud of.

So... my next question is: will we ever see Too Human on the PC?

So, I've heard this rumour, I'm not sure where it came from... there's no plans for it. Here's the fundamental problem with that, we've created the game to run off this controller, what do you do for a PC? Denis Dyack on new release Too Human

Yes, its certainly different.

Yeah, I mean, Robey and I have worked on the game a lot, I don't know... Justin, could this work on a PC control system?

Justin Robey: Obviously if there was a PC port we'd want it to use a very similar system; something like the Xbox 360 controller. It doesn't make a lot of sense... we'd want to create the same experience as on the Xbox 360, the thing is, one of the things that's important to understand is that we're all about accessibility. Letting people enjoy the experience. So, with things like the camera controls, the right-handed stick stuff, that's stuff like - if you have a manual camera, you know - people have a difficult time playing. This is a game anybody can play. They might not play it as well as some hardcore gamers, but when you think about PC gaming, there's some difficulty there, you can't just put it in a box and off it goes.

Denis Dyack: There's no plans for the PC stuff. The interesting thing I've seen on some blogs, is some gamers have said their daughters have picked-up Too Human faster than their best friends. This is because they're not programmed to control the game with the right stick, you know, they can just pick it up. Its these rules as hardcore gamers we're trying to break. I think Too Human will have a lot of legs, unlike some games that sell in the first few months and that's it, you're going to see Too Human have a long life-span. Denis Dyack on new release Too Human

What do you feel like you've learnt from developing Too Human, and what will you carry with you to Too Human 2?

Well... so much! I think we've broken so much new ground, as far as genres go. It took a long time for us to understand it ourselves. Now that we do understand the game we've created, we can take it so much further with the sequel. We've got a lot of plans for that. Personally I can't wait, to add and evolve those concepts. We're going to add some things that will turn some things on their heads. But, by and large, I think we've built a fantastic foundation for the future; here is something I really look forward to expanding.

Any final thoughts on the very first Too Human, for us Denis?

Too Human is... I guess I would categorize it as so innovative, people might find it difficult to understand at first. You can't understand it by looking at videos. The demo is out there so people can try it for themselves. Once people get the hang of it, you have to play it a couple of times through the demo, as an example, and it'll either click right away or click a little later, once it clicks gamers will really love it. If someone is looking for a different experience, something that is not part of the mainstream, not another sequel, look to Too Human, you won't find anything like it on any other console. Denis Dyack on new release Too Human

Thanks for your time Denis.

A pleasure.