the international journal of computer game research volume 2, issue 2
december 2002
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Celia Pearce is a game designer, artist, teacher and writer. She is the designer of the award-winning virtual reality attraction Virtual Adventures: The Loch Ness Expedition, and the author of The Interactive Book: A Guide to the Interactive Revolution (Macmillan, 1997) as well as numerous essays on game design and interactivity.

Louis Castle Gamography

Celia's conversations:
Will Wright - Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go
Tim Schafer - Game Noir

The Player with Many Faces

A Conversation with Louis Castle

by Celia Pearce


This is the second in a series of conversations with creative leaders in the game design industry. The first was with Will Wright of Maxis and can be viewed at Louis Castle is cofounder and General Manager of Electronic Arts' Westwood Studios. The conversation that follows took place over dinner on February 25, 2002, immediately following Louis Castle's lecture at UCLA's Department of Design | Media Arts. To view a video of this lecture, please visit the EDA archive at:


Celia Pearce: Let's start with the Mod College. How did that come about?

Louis Castle: As we were developing the tools for Command and Conquer: Renegade, it became very clear from the beginning that it was really important to engage the mod community because these folks have a great deal to do with why the game is successful three months later or four months later. They're the ones creating new and interesting ideas and concepts. We, of course, are committed to putting our own content out there, and we will be putting out some pretty exciting stuff. In fact, we just put out a press release today that we're putting flying vehicles in Renegade.

CP: Flying vehicles. Wow. That will be cool.

LC: But it just shows us the strength of the actual tool set that we built for Renegade, in that you can use any kind of physics system—flying physics, motorcycle physics—which are gyroscopic—as well as 4-wheel, 6-wheel and treaded vehicles—just about everything. So one of the things about having that kind of power and flexibility is that it's not always quite as easy and obvious how to make it work. So we flew a bunch of the people who had made some of the more successful mods out to Las Vegas. Some of these people have day jobs, some of them don't—but this is what they do. They like to make mods for games. And the first product as a milestone was really Counterstrike. That was a product that was built by the mod community. So rather than wait for them to do it, we flew them out to Las Vegas, took care of them for a week, sat them down with the development teams, gave them copies of all our tools and showed them how to use them.

CP: How did you pick the people?

LC: The marketing department went through each of the mod groups and analyzed who had created the most content. So it was somewhat of a qualitative experiment—but it was more quantitative than qualitative. We figured if they identified themselves as a group that developed mods, then based on the volume of work that they had done, clearly they had a passion for it.

CP: Do you think you would ever possibly publish the work of a mod group, the way Valve is doing with Counterstrike?

LC: Absolutely. In fact, actually, our hope is that out of this group of people come some really innovative ideas and that we can publish those ideas in a future product or maybe an add-on of some sort. That's the goal anyway.

CP: I'm really curious about the relationship between players and the designers, and that was one of the things that Will and I talked about. What have you learned from players? What have they taught you and how has that inspired you in subsequent titles and versions of games?

LC: It's an interesting relationship because the two things you find are that people think they want a thing, and they're not always right. So you have to listen very carefully to what the users say, because what it comes down to is most people don't want to pose a problem unless they give you a solution. So they ask for a "thing," whatever that thing might be, and they believe that it's going to solve their issue, their concern. In reality, what you'd much rather know is their concern.

CP: So, what's the problem that they're trying to solve with their idea?

LC: Right. What's the problem they're trying to solve? Because they get the idea to solve a problem. So getting them to articulate the problem is more valuable than taking their feedback verbatim.

CP: So, how do you do that?

LC: Well, the first thing we do is we collect a lot of data from our consumers. Sometimes it's through the website. We read everything. We tell people, send us in your comments, we read them. Every now and then we get a post that says, "Yeah, Westwood never reads this."

CP: Who reads them?

LC: Lots of people at the company. We have community managers, people who are paid to scour the net and look for these things. And then they spend a lot of time on our own site of course, because that's where we encourage people to give us ideas. The community managers serve as a filter to collect feedback. So they'll tell us that the people on Renegade believe X. And we'll say, okay, well give us the feedback—give us the specific posts that support this particular hypothesis. Then we analyze them as a design team. So we say, “Okay,  they said they really want this unit to be a little more powerful, but what all of them are reacting to is the fact that this particular unit is getting destroyed by another unit. The reality is, it's not that this unit needs to be more powerful. The reality is that that the other unit is exploiting this unit's weakness too well." So a lot of times it's digging through the data and really finding out what's happening more than just having a knee-jerk reaction to what they say. So the relationship between game designer and customer is becoming more of a relationship of…it's not a director relationship. You don't want your designers to be directed by the customer, because that robs them of the responsibility of being content designers. You want them to be more of a filter or an editor, where the customer says, "Hey, I understand the creative idea you have, but I don't get it. Or, I do get it, but I don't like it." And so you use them as a filter and say, “Okay, the customers as a whole have a certain vibe or feel about them, try to dig down and find out why they feel that way, dig to the bottom and get to what their source is. And then it's eliminative guesswork. You guess, you try something. When you get it right, you're well aware—they tell you right away.

CP: Do you have people that beta test stuff for you?

LC: For Renegade in November (of 2001), we opened up a closed beta with 600 people and they tested the product tirelessly. I mean we had 250-300 concurrent users for three months, and we only had 600 copies out there. So that means that some people are playing this game 12, 13 hours a day— and we logged them. I mean, I don't know what they do for a living. But I know they played Renegade a lot.

CP: It seems like with some of your newer games, The Lion King and Monopoly, for example, you've been growing the diversity of your audience a bit. Blade Runner was interesting because it's a boy-oriented story, but the game itself is much broader—I always give it as an example of a game with a real range of gender/play style/cognitive styles. As you've evolved into these new markets, how has that person, that player that you're interacting with changed? Obviously the Command and Conquer player is going to be a different person from even the Renegade player—and then vastly different from the Monopoly or the Lion King player. How do you relate to these different player groups?

LC: Maybe I'm a tad naïve, I don't know, but I don't think that there is as much of a player demographic. There's certainly a demographic of who buys product, and you're aiming for a certain type of customer, and you should always keep that in mind. But I believe that well-designed products are attractive products to a wide degree of people. If Westwood could claim anything, it would be that we've always managed to take a well-established genre, added an interesting somewhat—I daresay—innovative idea, and in every case that we've had success, we've broadened the audience. So whenever we've tried to go after existing audiences, well-defined, tried-and-true and use the analysis, we've fallen far short of the kind of growth that we've established when we've taken existing markets and added expanding ideas.

Those expanding ideas really come in the form of more accessible, deeper experience. So in the case of Blade Runner, you take an adventure game—a well-established market that at that time was shrinking. I think the most successful adventure games that year were Grim Fandango, at like 200,000, and maybe Monkey Island 3 at 300,000.

CP: It's amazing to think that those numbers were hits once.

LC: That's a huge hit. But then the adventure market was a declining market. The best seller was King's Quest at 750,000.

CP: How many copies did Blade Runner sell?

LC: 800,000. And what happened with Blade Runner, was first of all, we had a license, which is always good. But even products like Indiana Jones didn't do those kinds of numbers. I think there were two reasons Blade Runner kind of broke out. One was that Virgin marketed it as an entertainment experience, not an adventure game. The ad said "Experience—The Game." They didn't lock it into this category, this mentality of—if you like this type of game you will like this product. They said—hey, here's an entertainment experience you will enjoy. Two, the game itself delivered on that because it had a textless, plain click interface, very easy to get into, but it was very rich in the way that it simulated its environments. And still, I mean really just scratching the surface of what can be done today.

In the case of Lion King, it was a very tried-and-true genre, which is a side-action scroller/shooter. (And that sold 4.5 million copies or something ridiculous like that—the best-selling Westwood title to-date.) What we did there was let you re-live the story of the movie—you got to experience, and contribute or take part in the whole rite of passage from the cub to the lion. And the game actually changes right in the middle. You're halfway through, and you think, okay I'm kind of done jumping around and pouncing on these bad guys. All of a sudden you become the adult lion, and it becomes more of fighting game, it's more action-oriented—you're attacking the hyenas and such. So it changed the game metaphor right in the middle, and it became very fresh that way.

I'm a big believer that games that are always evolving the game experience and changing the way they're intellectually treating you, at the same time requiring as little as possible from a human-machine interface point of view—those are the games that have breakaway potential.

CP: This leads me to another question—If you could pick any three movies and make kick-ass games out of them, which three movies would you pick and why?

LC: Wow! I love movies.

CP: I know you do. And also you're one of the few people that can make good movie-based games. So that's why I'm asking you this question.

LC: It's an interesting question. Wow. It's so hard because I don't take adaptation of films lightly so I don't think I could answer it with any degree of accuracy. I'm sure if I sat down and thought about it, I would come up with another film that was even better. But there are a couple that come to mind, that spring to mind, so I suppose they are probably exciting ones.

I've always believed that the movie Aliens deserved to be made into a game. There have been a couple products made, but I think that they kind of missed the boat of what Cameron was trying to do. Aliens as a film was not a properly designed story. It brought you up to an emotional level, and it never let you back down again. Which is actually poor film design, because you walk out exhausted. But that was the goal.

CP: Aliens is the only one of the series I've seen, and I know exactly what you mean. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

LC: Yeah, you walk out exhausted, emotionally drained. And that's not good film design, from a certain level. But it was very successful in what he was trying to do. So I've always felt that that would be an exciting product to make a game from. And there have been some interesting Aliens, Predator-like games, but all of them focused more on the activity of shooting—blowing aliens into bits. And I think that they missed the point—the emotional pace of the film was—we're lean, we're mean, we're going to get some, we're going to go in there and take control. And the discovery that you not in control, your on their turf, they're not what you expected. All of those emotional moments that were so poignant in the film are lost in all of the games because they focus on you being a superhero and all-powerful. And the film wasn't about being superman. It was about being vulnerable, it was about being defeated by the animalistic nature of your enemy, as opposed to being superior in your technology and your firepower. And that's why I think the games missed the boat. So that would be one that I'd love to get my teeth into. I'd have a great time with that one.

Another one that EA is doing right now is Harry Potter. I think Harry Potter could be a brilliant interactive entertainment experience. I've played three of the four games that have been released thus-far. All of them are fine games, but they're playing it very safe, and I don't think I'd be so safe. I think Harry Potter is about the magical moments—there's a couple of people, Bill Waterson did it with Calvin and Hobbes, and I think Rowling does it with Harry Potter. There's an imaginary world that children live in and it's a filter on our reality. It's not an alternate reality, but it's a way of perceiving things. They see things in a different way.

My wife is always telling me I always seem to know what our kids are going to do, and the reason I do is because I delight in their world. I love the way they see things, I find it very entertaining. I would love to make a game that could take that wonderful, charming aspect of children's lives, and draw it out in an interactive entertainment experience, where you got to be a kid again. I think that would be fabulous. What's wonderful about Harry Potter is that it's a great fantasy world where this child gets to be a child. I mean, all his imaginations are real. His perceived dangers—as much as the book talks about it, "well, this could be the end, it could be curtains for Harry"—you know Harry's not going to die, nobody's going to get really hurt. And that's the charm. I think making a game where people run around with wands and zap bad guys is missing, again, the point of what she was trying to hit. I think that this is one of the few instances where literature makes for an excellent opportunity for interactive entertainment.

So those two really strike me—they stick in my mind.

CP: One of the things I'm interested in is fantasy worlds and the literature of fantasy worlds. And one of the things that is interesting about right now is that we now have the Tolkien movie…

LC: It's a great world.

CP:..which is the last piece. I mean there's 20 years of gaming that's been built on that world, and now we have the movie! It's a very interesting statement about the relationship between all these media.

LC: The third one I would love to do, but it's been done, but I'd love to re-do it. I guess I can't re-do it because it's been done.

CP: You can do remakes!

LC: I would love to do Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. I think that Wheel of Time as a literary work almost redefines the word "epic." What I found intriguing about that was the way it wasn't Tolkien—because the main character is godlike in his power. He's not a vulnerable little hobbit, and the world really does revolve around him. I also like Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game

CP: Which is terrifying…terrifying…

LC: That would be a great game.

CP: Yes, because it's a game world.

LC: The wonderful thing about the Wheel of Time is that there's an implied tapestry of the universe, the mythos of the world is rich, has a history, has a future, a destiny. It has all the things that feel so poignant in the Tolkien books. But it isn't about Orcs and it doesn't have an evil king that is reigning supreme, in fact, quite frankly, the hero is the devil. The hero is the end. Everybody knows it. The main character, Rand, the protagonist, he brings about the end of the world. The problem is that you like him. He is somebody you can really identify with, and you feel sorry for him. But he's a tortured soul. He never really asked for this weight on his shoulders and he realizes that he inherently must bring about great change. What appeals to me about that whole universe is that the player of an interactive entertainment product wants to be important. But it's become trite to be just the superhero. And so if you're going to be a superhero, do it all the way. And if you're not going to be a superhero, then there has to be a penalty, there has to be some consequence of this great power that you have. You want the player to be empowered, but you want emotional consequence. And I think Rand would be a wonderful character to play.... Unlike a lot of attempts at Wheel of Time which let you be any character, I would make you Rand. I would want you to be the main character.

CP: As you were talking I was thinking about Blade Runner, because of the fact that the story changes in the middle when the game figures out what you think is going on.

LC: It's always adapting itself.

CP: Exactly. And I think it's interesting because as a game designer, you come from this very narrative and cinematic perspective. I think that your emotional motivation is the idea of wrapping someone in a story, as opposed to Will who is all about Lego and train sets.

LC: Sure. Both of which are very valid approaches.

CP: I find that most people from traditional narrative backgrounds bump into a wall with games because they still think that it has to be some kind of deterministic world. And for storytellers to hear that the story doesn't know who you are until the end—it's mind-blowing. So I'd like you to talk a little bit about that.

LC: (Laughs.) In the case of Blade Runner, I go back to why. The reason Blade Runner is that way is because when I watched the film, I felt this great tension, this great sense of anxiety. And I watched the film dozens of times before we were talking about the property, and I watched it many times after.

CP: Did you initiate that discussion or did they approach you?

 LC: Virgin was talking about Blade Runner, and they said "Are you guys interested in this film?" And I jumped on it. So when I started to analyze it, I said, you know the brilliant thing about Ridley Scott here is that just like Alien, the first movie in the series, what he's done is made us think that at any time the world could explode and things might fall apart. But he doesn't do it. And so it's the opposite, the antithesis of Cameron with Aliens. I mean the two movies could be no further apart. He builds up that tension, that fear of action, and then hammers it home in a selective way. The occasional sequences of violence in Blade Runner are really violent, especially for the time the film was made. I mean it's really intense—a woman crashing through five levels of plate glass… it’s just not something most filmmakers would do.

From a game point of view, the only way I'm going to feel that kind of intensity is if at any given moment the game will have to challenge me to have to react very quickly. In a typical adventure game, you have this branching story—you know exactly what you’ve done that would cause something to happen. I wanted a game that would change. I had the characters running around in the world in real time, and they would make decisions based on random number generators. So you never knew when a guy might walk into the scene and take a shot at you, and that added the tension. But then to move beyond that, I said, hey what's really wonderful about Blade Runner is this creepy sense of what's real and what's not real. We wanted to make characters as believable as we possibly could with CG. They still aren't real. They're close, but they're kind of creepy. Which made perfect sense—it fit so beautifully with the world.

What was really important here was to imagine multiple story threads—we called them the Ghandi and Rambo routes. So one side was totally nonviolent, don't want to fight anybody, don't want to hurt anybody, totally sympathetic. And we thought about it in terms of the replicants. So what if you were completely pacifist, you tried not to kill any of these replicants, you tried very hard not to do what in essence the game keeps telling you to do, which is hunt these replicants? At the other extreme, what happens if you're completely violent, you shoot everybody and everything? So we built these two threads. And then we said, okay what if you cut that story again, and you said, I'm playing the game and I am a Blade Runner? I'm human, they're replicants, I want to kill them. And you run the story that way. What happens if I'm a replicant sympathizer? I discover I'm a replicant, I want to save the replicants, I want to help them. And when we put all those things together we ended up with multiple threads, and now the tricky part was that at any given time, we had to watch what people were doing, and say—and this is the trick—"If you play the game as if you are a replicant, then the game treats you as a replicant. If you play the game as if you were a Blade Runner human, it treats you like you're a human. So people perceive that at some point they've made a choice that puts them on one track or the other, which isn't the case at all. It's based on how you play the game, whether you hunt the replicants, whether you kill them, whether you let them go. Those things give us clues as to what you think you are—and at any given point, you can switch over. You can go halfway through the game and go "Oh, my gosh, I'm really not a human after all, I'm a replicant." And just turn mid-stream and start saving the replicants. And that's okay. The game lets you do that.

CP: Basically, the game responds to what it thinks you think. It doesn't do the opposite though? Because that's what I thought, I thought, you know in a way it might make sense that it would do the opposite of what it thought you were.

LC: No. The game rewards you regardless of which path you chose. So if you chose… here's an important part about game design. You can't do film noir in game design.

CP: Why not?

LC: Because film noir has a couple of classic elements. One is the protagonist seeks himself. This is critical in film noir. If you don't have the thing he's trying to search for within himself, it doesn't work. Film noir falls apart. That's why you can't do film noir in games.

CP: But you did do it.

LC: Yes, we did. What you're looking for is yourself. In the film, the Blade Runner is hunting the replicant. He is the replicant. That's why it's film noir. And that's why the film works really well.

The second thing is, film noir ends on a downer. It basically ends with an unfulfilled goal… the realization that you are your quest usually ends in an unsatisfying ending, which leaves you feeling wanting for success. You can't do that as a game because if people feel they've failed. A game is a success–a determinate experience. So if you feel you've failed, you re-load it and you try again, because obviously you've made a mistake. It goes counter to everything you do in a game to not satisfy a person's desires. So what we did in Blade Runner, was we said, okay, if you are a replicant, we let you be a replicant and let you succeed. So you can save the replicants, or you can save your partner, and you can get away. And therefore you've succeeded in being the replicant. If you want to be the Blade Runner, you can kill all the replicants, and therefore, you've succeeded in being the Blade Runner. So regardless of which path you chose, there was a success path. And then there were many different cuts in between. We've got seven basic endings and forty some-odd variants.

CP: But that's so interesting to, because a filmmaker tends to want the film to express his world view. And what you've done is you've said, okay there are a couple of world views that can be expressed through this experience.

LC: There's actually multiple cuts. There's "I am a human and I sympathize with replicants;" "I am a replicant and I sympathize with replicants;" "I am human and I hunt replicants;" "I am a replicant and I hunt replicants." So there are four cuts on the story right there. And each one is very different. Then you add in the love interest. So: "I'm a human, I'm in love with a replicant, I sympathize with the replicants;" "I'm a human I'm in love with a human"… doesn't happen in the game. That was discarded. (Laughs.) So we went through all the possible combinations and that's where we ended up with the seven endings that would lead to 42 or so possible variants.

CP: The love interest is always a replicant?

LC: There are three love interests: there's the little girl, who is not so little, she's older but she plays the part of a young girl. And she could be human or a replicant. In the case that she's human she's a victim of the old man, and the inciting incident of the story is that he has abused her, and so your goal is to save her, which you're allowed to do. In the case that she's a replicant, she's more a piece of property, but he's treated her badly, and so you still get to save her, and that's okay. Crystal Steel is always human—she's a replicant detective. You can be a replicant that convinces Crystal that replicants are okay and you guys get away together. Or you can be a human that gets with Crystal and you go "woo-woo" and you blow everybody away. So these are the cuts that we made on the story. And the important part was to create enough opportunities where people could move from one track to another so the world would respond in a way that felt compelling, that felt like it supported your story. The best review we ever got of the game was when the review started out it said "I played Blade Runner all the way through, and I thought, 'This is a very nice adventure game.' And then I started to write my review, so I thought I'd replay the game, and as I was trying to replay the game, I realized 'This is an amazing adventure game.'" (Both laugh.) Because now, it was a totally different game, and they had no idea the first time through that it wasn't a linear set of events, that it was actually adapting itself to your play.

CP: One of the debates that comes up in the narrative game argument is about foreshadowing—what you anticipate is or is not going to happen, or the threat of something happening. What theorists get vexed by is that problem of "well, if you leave it open-ended, you have a different character at the end." And I hear this all the time: "well if the character makes a different decision then he's a different character."

LC: That's true. So you need to write a game that reacts to that.

CP: So you have to let the character be whatever the player wants him to become…

LC: I can't remember who said it, Robert McKee probably, that a character is defined by the choices they make. That's what defines a character, right? Okay, so here's the puzzle: What if you, the author, don't get to decide what choices the character makes? There are two ways to approach this. One is, if they chose the wrong thing, they die. That is classic adventure game design from day one to day "n." I don't think anyone's ever done anything else, except Blade Runner. The other choice is, let 'em. And let the game adapt to the different character. There are enough constraints within the gaming universe to fairly clearly identify the world around the character so that things work out. The hard part is when you do the writing, you have to have multiple gating situations for the story. So what we ran into was at any given point an NPC—a non-player character—would have 10 or 15 spoken lines all meaning the same thing, all regarding the same thing. But based on what you've done and what's gong to happen—they could foreshadow in their text and give you some hints. They would know if Chu has been killed or not. They could give you that information without violating the game structure because we have like five, six, ten different combinations. So it took a lot of work. I mean we wrote multiple times as much dialog as we needed to be able to facilitate characters, including the main character, being different. But the critical part of Blade Runner is the first guy is always a replicant, and the last guy is always a replicant. The bad guy. Those are really important because those are the anchors. It would have been very unfair to a player who knew how to play adventure games, to say "you have to go find and kill a replicant," and not have the first guy be a replicant. It was okay to let the player decide to kill him or not because almost nobody let him go, but you could. And we hit you over the head, and said, "Let him go." But of course everyone goes, "Ah, I'm supposed to kill him. That's my job. So I kill him." But if you let him go, it made for a very interesting game, it changed the whole complexion of the game, because right off the bat, you were a sympathizer.

But it didn't change the fact that, halfway through the product, you were going to be accused of being a sympathizer, even if you weren't. And so the cops were always going to be after you at a certain point. You were against the whole world. The replicants were trying to kill you, the cops were going to be trying to hunt you. That didn't change the fact that about three-quarters into the game, the replicants thought you were against them, and they would behave in a way where they automatically thought you were against them. Even if you were a sympathizer, they were led to believe—they were misled. If you weren't sympathizing, if you really were against them, they were right. So the only things that were changing were people's perceptions.

Now to do all that, we had to have a really clever way of keeping track of information flow. And so whenever a character bumped into another character, they would exchange information. And it kept a hierarchy of who gave who the information, it literally kept a list. So if I told you a thing, it would not only know that I told it to you, and that you now had the information, but it would also know that you got it from me, and it would also know where I got it, where it came from originally, and it would track it all the way through. And the percentage degree of accuracy of the information went down every time it passed through a filter and based on how much that person liked you. So it always kept track of how much every person in the world liked every other person, and how much trust there was between them. And we mitigated the information flow based on that. So when characters made decisions, they made them based on a packet of information that went through many sources. If it was a first-hand account, well that was pretty compelling. If the guy really liked me and it was a first-hand account, then that's probably true. And we let the game lie to itself, if you will. Which was really intriguing and changes the way a game plays. It created a sense of randomness, which wasn't actually random at all—it was actually built into the simulation…

CP: It cracks me up because I've been around a lot of AI people from the university research environment and the notion of mapping how characters lie, or believe each other, is so completely out of the radar of what most people in traditional AI research are thinking about.

LC: They're still trying to make them figure out how to make them tell the truth. (Laughs.)

CP: (Laughs.) Yeah… But that's what drama is about. Drama is about not knowing whether the information you're getting is right or the person has credibility.

LC: That's why we exposed all the data structures in the E-book, the KIA (pronounced K-eye-ya.) It would have been impossible to solve otherwise—you needed a PDA to help you solve this game.

CP: Because there's a lot of information…

LC: Tons of information. And right there in the PDA it would give you very clear indications of whether or not this was probably a truthful thing or not. In fact, of all the myriad reviews, there was only one—a lifestyle magazine in New York, of all the places—that picked upon the fact that the game lied to itself. And he said "I thought this was the case, so I called the designers. And I was amazed to find out that this was the case. The game lied to itself." And he goes, "That blew me away. That was something so unthinkable."

And you know what, it's the end of a genre in a way. I would love to make more adventure game that develop some of these fundamental tenets to the next level. But the sad reality is that adventure games probably never will see the million-plus units that we're trying to target with our products.

CP: I mean I think the audience that would be most receptive to story-based games is the female market, which even though it's larger than ever before, is still really underexploited. A lot of it is the story genres that get made.

LC: I've had a couple very successful games as far as female-to-male ratios. Monopoly, very successful. Blade Runner is another. As was Lion King to some extent. I believe it was because the character was not threatening and didn't really hurt anything. There was no destruction. In the case of Blade Runner I think it's because the activities were tension-oriented but violence wasn't the means to success. Intelligence and problem-solving was. And in the case of Monopoly it was because it was an accessible franchise.

CP: Isn't it also multiplayer?

LC: The game is multiplayer, it's about socialization and trading. And it isn’t about shooting things. So all of those were very successful for those various reasons. But I think that the problem with "games for girls" is that you need to make games that appeal to a different side of human beings besides shooting and blowing things up. And once you do that, you unlock this magical door which means females can play the games without feeling completely torked. But I don't think that it's wise to target a female audience with a product, because there's still an impediment, which is the actual physical device. Right now, I don't believe females in general see a computer as an entertainment device. They see it as an information device, as potentially a creative tool.

CP: That's what a lot of the data supports. All the Purple Moon data supported that.

LC: I didn't know that, but this has been my speculation.

CP: Careful research has reinforced everything that you just said. Although I think that it's shifting slowly. I mean I think The Sims has been a breakthrough

LC: The Sims has been a breakthrough because it's about human needs. And it's about nurturing. You nurture these small things which look like people and act somewhat like people, and by nurturing them, you become successful. And females in general want to nurture something. This is a very gross generalization. I think human beings in general have an equal need to nurture.

CP: Well, it's also an age thing… you find that as men get older they tend to move into nurturing roles…

LC: People want nurturing. So that's why The Sims is five million units. People enjoy adventure. People want to fantasize, people want to explore. People want to nurture. People want to grow. People want to procreate.

CP: (Laughs)

LC: And I don't mean in that way, I mean they want to fulfill their creative desires and build and create. They want their ideas and their thought patterns to exist beyond their mundane and somewhat limited existence. And all of those things can be supported in games. The only problem is that people also like to dominate and people like to control. And it's really easy to make games about this. So right now all games are focused around dominance and control, by and large, because it appeals to a 10-15 year old male audience who is willing to spend the money and sees a computer or gaming system as a device that they can entertain themselves with. I think it goes back to arcades. They went into the arcades and this was a way for somebody to dominate and control a particular peer group if you weren't physically fit to do it. It was no different than sports.

CP: Sports for nerds.

LC: Yes… Sports for nerds. And I think games are sports in many ways. In fact, successful games have to have sports-like qualities. That doesn't mean that that's the be-all end-all. I think the be-all end-all of interactive entertainment is when we stop thinking about it in terms of newly-defined genres and we start talking about it in terms of how you would talk about a film.

CP: When I teach game design, I talk to my students about subjective ideas of what's fun. And I give them these criteria: One is they can't have killing in their games, they can't have post-apocolyptic s scenarios, they can't have wizards, gnomes, etc. And the game has to appeal to an audience of two or more different player types. And it doesn't matter what they are. They just have to be two different types, and they can be you and somebody else, or two people that aren't you. But they can't be just you.

What I love about Blade Runner is that it lets you do a range of things within the same game.

LC: Well, it lets you be successful with different strategies. Now we're making a game called Earth and Beyond, which the goal is to let you be successful as an explorer, because we feel that one of the things people like to do on online games is, they like to find new things, they want to discover, searching and discovering things, and they want to share it with other people. That's a wonderful mechanic that should be rewarded. In most games it's only rewarded in the sense of communicating it to other people. I've been here, I've seen this, I've done this. Wow. Fantastic. That's the only reward. You know what—that's enough. That's pretty sad, when that's enough to get people to play. So that's one thing that we're really trying to push the button on. The next thing we're trying to do is we're saying, “hey, you know, it's not just enough to be able to discover things and to explore, but trading. We're going to invite you and reward you for being a good trader." It's kind of like the Monopoly thing. You get rewarded if you trade a lot of objects back and forth, and you figure out a way of moving things from one place to another. It's an economies issue. It's not about going and finding the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. It's about recognizing supply and demand in one area, and moving objects over to a different place where those ratios are different. It's about analyzing things and manufacturing something unique, patentable. Then it becomes something that goes beyond the normal value of objects in the world. And that's a customization issue. And then of course, we'll also reward combat. Now what's going to happen, and what has already happened with our beta test, is that the people who like combat try to prey on the people who do the exploring and the trading (laughs.) But the people who like the combat need the traders, because the traders are the ones who work out the economies, and build up the objects that the combat people need to be successful. So they need to work with those kinds of players. Meanwhile, the combat people also need new places to do combat, so the explorers become important because they identify new areas in the world. And the traders need the explorers, obviously, to find new places to trade. And the explorers need the traders because they need devices to open up new gateways to explore new areas. All of these people work together and they solve problems.

CP: So you end up creating a situation where it's not to someone's advantage to go shoot everybody in the game.

LC: Well, if you're a combat guy, then that's what your advantage is.

CP: But if you shoot the people that are doing resource trading…

LC: That's a bad idea!

Well, you can still be successful. So if you want to be just gung ho and go kill everything, you can do that and be successful. If you want to just open up the world, you can be successful. If you're the uber-trader, the uber-explorer, or the uber-fighter, all of those will be successful paths. And we allow a mixture of them too. There are actually six combinations. So you can be a fighting explorer, and you can be an exploring trader, and you can be a trading fighter, and there are these combinations that allow for up to six different character types. And they all have very distinct roles. Like the fighting explorer’s scout. And he works really well with other people who are armies, because he finds those things for which you go fight. So, we're hoping that we can actually change the way people think about persistent state world games, and draw people who have already played in other words, and found the excuse for playing, and give them a good reason.

CP: I know for me, I would play EverQuest if there wasn't any killing in the game.

LC: Well, would you play if you didn't have to kill, but at times it was advantageous?

CP: I find that, having gone in five times in succession in a half-hour period, and been killed every time, I had no interest in playing anymore.

LC: That goes back to what I was saying in my talk at UCLA. The problem with playing games online is that there are "athletes" that are world class, and when you go on the Internet, you find them really quickly because you become one of their victims.

CP: But see I think it would be interesting if you could create a situation where there are no victims. Then that becomes irrelevant. With my students, when I take killing out of it, you can create different types of conflict.

LC: But the players that want to be aggressive want victims. They can either prey on each other, or prey on the others.

CP: Well, when you have a game like, say, Quake

LC: That's where they prey on each other.

CP: And those are games where everybody's there to shoot everybody else. But if you're there for some other reason, and you get preyed on…

LC: I'll give you an example. In the multiplayer version of Renegade you have one base against another. You know one of the best ways to be successful at Renegade? Not to shoot anything. Get an engineer who heals characters, heals your teammates, so they're more successful at combat, heals your base, so that the buildings don't get destroyed so your economy is maintained. Heals your harvester, which goes out and gets resources, so everybody gets more money. And guess what? We reward you. You get tons of points for healing units. It's very very valuable. You can not only cause your team to win, but you can get the most points in the entire game by just simply healing.

I mean you shoot. You heal your own guys with an energy gun, but you're a healer.  Now you also have offensive capabilities so if somebody really gets you pinned down, you can pop out your pistol and defend yourself.

CP: But I know when people play in tribes or clans in EverQuest, the person with the healing power is often protected by the more combat-oriented players.

LC: Of course! They need those guys.

CP: That becomes a synergy.

LC: It turns out that the same character that heals, the advanced character, is called the technician or the "hot-wirer," and that character has proximity mines and other types of offensive weapons which are more trap-oriented or puzzle-oriented than straight out blow-'em-away oriented. And that becomes really intriguing because now you have a character whose goal is to heal everybody in his team, and it makes for a really rough time for the guys who are trying to hurt them. And that's a really fun dynamic. I think that's one of the reasons that Renegade as a product will really sail, because there's a role for me. If I've never played the game before, I can jump in the game and be useful immediately.

CP: Well, I also loved your idea about creating illusion. How in the first scene, they're never shooting at you. You think they are, but they're not. And so it creates this emotional impact without actually putting you at physical peril in the very beginning.

LC: But, if you go right in the way of a rocket, you'll catch the bullet. But if you take any damage at all in the first level of Renegade, it's because you walked in the way of the fire. It turns out that when you watch people play, the immediate presumption is, with all this stuff going on, they must be shooting at you. So, you're shooting around frantically, trying to kill them, "Oh, my God." Meanwhile if you just stood there, you'd be fine! (Laughs.)

CP: I am also wondering, what is the difference in play between these isometric RTS games vs. the first-person genre? You're one of the few people who does both.

LC: Well, it's huge. The differences are really about the verbs you use. In a real-time strategy game it's about resource development, amassing troops, coordinating attacks, and waves of enemies. There's these interesting verbs that you look at the game with. And they’re about "forwarding," and it's about finesse. When you go into a first person game, it's all about you, so it's about running jumping and shooting.

CP: Do you think it's more emotional?

LC: It's more visceral. Not necessarily more emotional. In fact, one of the things I'm trying to do with the next one is to make you have a more emotional attachment to the units. Because I think that strategy game becomes more meaningful if you're emotionally attached to the units that you're putting in peril. So you make the units more survivable, so they don't just immediately die, and on top of that, you actually make them more personal, and you give the player good reason to make them survive from mission to mission, beyond just the battle itself.

CP: So more of an emotional attachment.

LC: I also believe that once a unit has survived a certain number of battles, and it becomes more experienced, if you are able to start to customize its capabilities, and give it a name and give it some decoration, you are investing time energy and emotion into that unit…

CP: You're nurturing it. (Laughs.)

LC: And it has a name. It's Boo, it's Susie, or it's whatever. It's Captain Hicks. You care about that character more than is rational. As a strategist, it's really easy to sit back and go "Well, why didn't that general send that platoon up that hill to take that post. Clearly, those guys were the most adept at it with all their combat experience. Sure, they're going to take losses, but they would succeed!" Well, because a good Colonel knows  those guys, he doesn't  want to take 50percent losses in that group. Those are his best guys. He's invested a lot of time and energy. But it's more. It's emotional. He knows the people. He knows them to be human beings.

CP: The big argument that people always have against violence in games is that there are no consequences. And if you know the people and you have an attachment to them, it makes it more realistic—not in terms of graphics, but in the interpersonal sense.

LC: Yeah, you care! And I think that's going to bring it to a whole new level.

CP: That's interesting because in the first person games you get into this "reptilian" fight-or-flight kind of self-centered focus.

LC: Right. Kill or be killed. And with the RTS games, you're abstracted to the point of non-consequence, uncaring. And so, you know, you almost delight in it. You watch these people who create massive death and destruction…

CP: Then it's like playing with toy soldiers.

LC: Yeah, you don't care. It's "the guy." Smash him, squish him, it doesn't matter. But I think it's going to change people's perception of a strategy game to actually care about the individual soldiers and their fate.

CP: Do you see a time when you might shift modes in a game?

LC: Probably not. I'm a big proponent of maintaining a consistent user interface. So we have this game that we just finished called Pirates: The Legend of Black Cat. It's an interesting game because you play as a character, Katarina DeLeon who's a pirate.

I think this is a fundamental difference between a computer game and a video game. Computer games, you're imagining the experience, you're fulfilling a fantasy, and the mouse and keyboard are an interface to an alternative world. In the case of a video game it's much more kinetic, and I believe you're actually playing the controller. So you're moving the button s and dials on the controller and you're getting audiovisual feedback. And success with moving the buttons and the dials gives you a different type of audiovisual feedback where the reward is biomechanic, and it develops a different sense of experience. In this game, we had a character, this female pirate captain with two swords—one long, one short—and this unique fighting style. And we said, okay that's the way that character fights, and this is very intriguing, and interesting and fun. Then you use magic weapons and stuff. Then you have a ship. So it's important that when you're playing that controller, you don't change the game. So if I press this button on the controller and I get an offensive action, I need to have an offensive action in either mode. And if I press this button I get a burst of energy or burst of speed in either mode—as the pirate captain I get a leap into the air, as the ship I get a burst of speed that pushes me forward. If I build up a certain amount of strength and I press another button, I get a special attack. Well, that special attack has to be a special attack in either mode. So when people play the game, they go "wow, this is really fun and I don't get confused." Well the reason they don't get confused is because you haven't changed the game. The avatar is different, the visual feedback is different; the game is the same. The whole point is that consistency of interface, consistence of audiovisual feedback, consistency of design, those are really, really critical in gameplay.

CP: I'd really like you talk about the content of that game, because when I first heard you talk about it, I thought, "I would play that."

LC: The game is about a female pirate captain who searches the land, finds buried treasure and all sorts of magical devices, which help her get better ships, which help her find new worlds, and play out her story. And her story is that her mother was a notorious pirate captain, notorious a) because she was very good and b) because she was female. So she's following in her mother's footsteps. And so the storyline of it is, a heroine—not a hero, which was intentional—kind of a bit of a tough, but at the same time, she has a sort of romantic side to her. And she falls for a sort of spirited rogue, and the whole story is really a rite of passage. But instead of being a male rite of passage, a female rite of passage. Instead of finding out that your father was a great hero, you find out that your mother was a great hero. And you find out that the villain that killed your mother was the same who killed your father who is the same who wants to destroy you. And in a classic twist, you find out at the very end of the game that you’ve been played. The whole time, you've been playing right into the hands of the villain, and he has now succeeded in trumping you. And only through your skill—and your wits—are you able to finally turn the tables at the very end to defeat him. Because he was banking on the fact that you would do all the things that you've done. All this while you think you're finding the clues to defeat him, and you're really finding the method to free him.

So all of those things are parts of our story that I think are compelling elements of the game. But what it really comes down to is it's about being a hero, it's about defeating evil, it's about very clear good guys and bad guys, trading and building up and expanding your character, a little bit of RPG, a little bit of action. And at the end of the day, it's a game that reviewers are going to love to hate. Because game reviewers—and we're already getting reviews of this nature—they're giving us low scores because we don't have the really grim and dark visuals, with the audio that goes over the top and the action sequences. No, we don't have any of that. We have compelling game play, interesting stories, intriguing events and something that draws you forward.

CP: But those people hated The Sims. They thought it was boring.

LC: A reviewer is, by most counts, the core of the core game audience. Making games that reviewers score high can—but not always—but can lead to diminishing returns, because most hardcore gamers will love a game that was scored in the 90s by a reviewer. Most casual people that don't play games—not casual gamers—people who don't play games, could care less about games that are ranked in the 90s by reviewers. And in fact, what I found with Renegade is, the higher the beta—the delta between the lowest review and the highest review—the more likely you are to have success in a wide audience, the less likely you are to have success in a core audience. In the case of Pirates: The Legend of Black Cat, it has a huge beta—we have anywhere from reviewers thinking that it's going to be a 60 or 70-rated game to people who are buying the game giving it in the high 90s. And I think that speaks well for a game that isn't for the core audience.

CP: I was impressed with it because culturally we're in the age of Buffy and Xena and Witchblade, where I think girls in the age group that's traditionally the gaming age are starting to find heroines and adventure models. When I was a kid I was really into Alice in Wonderland, and that kind of thing. And to me those characters are kind of contemporary, "urban" fantasy characters for girls. I mean Buffy is a great example. She's so girly, but she's also very tough.

LC: She's great. I like Willow, personally. Willow's my favorite. (Laughs.)

CP: It's great that girls can have those models. But it's also been found that those characters are also appealing to guys.

LC: Now I like Willow because she's successful for being smart. One of the reasons I always loved the James Bond films is because he didn't have to be tough—he was smart. He was tough, too, but that didn't matter. He was smart.

CP: And he was socially adept.

LC: Yeah, very smooth. Good with the ladies, has lots of gadgets. That appeals to me on multiple levels. (Laughs.)

CP: I'm really curious to see what happens when the generation that's playing games now gets older, and what they're interested in, and as their interests become less "reptilian" and more nuanced, they're going to become I think a more demanding audience.

But you made a comment in the talk tonight, which I don't really agree with, which was that we have these "reptilian" game modes because of the technology. What I see is that we have these reptilian game modes, the technology has now evolved past them, but the modes persist because they're popular.

LC: Right, so to put a slight spin on it, I don't remember exactly what I said, but we have the reptilian game modes because the technology was very primitive as a particular time and space. That technology facilitated the very basic reptilian hunt-or-be-hunted play, which then, because it was successful, became what got built. So now we're at a point where we can do something else, but we won't. We won't because we're afraid, because our market has become addicted, if you will, to this particular methodology. They want to try a little something new, but not a lot something new. And people don't want to put up millions and millions of dollars to find out if there's another audience out there. And they don't even know how to educate them if there were.

CP: What would you do if I came to you and said, "I want to find out who the next audience for games are, or how do I expand or grow the audience." What would you say, what would you tell me?

LC: I would say you can only grow the audience by finding a particular segment that already exists and already likes a certain thing and Trojan Horsing the concept into that activity. So if you can get people to consume instead of destroy as a method of satisfying what they believe to be violent and destructive tendencies, you will find two audiences. One, those who destroy, who have now been tricked into consuming, in addition to those who consume, and never intended to destroy. The trick is, you can't market to the latter because you'll lose the former. So you have to actually shoot for those people.

CP: I think you start to hit that that with Earth and Beyond, when there are other options. I mean in the real world, everybody doesn't just run around shooting each other. There are some people who do that, and other people do other things. And even in the military not everybody does that.

LC: Correct. And in fact, actually in Earth and Beyond, what's really critical—and we haven't succeeded yet—is that we're cognizant of the problem, and we are trying very hard to address it. At the end of the day, we want people who are anti-social, violent behavior type individuals to only be successful if they can partner with those who are diametrically opposed to their philosophical beliefs, or at least their behaviors in the game. By doing that, we create an interdependency that prevents them from being completely self-indulgent. At the same time, the reverse is true, too. The explorer needs an escort, needs some protection. So, you don't need to shoot me now, because even though we're going to go into a Player Killer sector, where you can shoot me without being picked up by the Sol Sec Police–because we do have a police force that protects us– we're going to go into the wild hinterlands where you could shoot me, and you might get experience for doing so, because I've become quite successful. On the other hand, if you escort me, and we go and find things together, you're going to benefit far greater than if you dispose of me. And so as an explorer, my trust is in that you believe, and you know this is the better path for you.

There's that old story of the scorpion who was taking a ride on the frog across the river. And the scorpion stings the frog and they both sink to the bottom. And the frog says "Why did you do that? Now you've doomed yourself as well." And the Scorpion says, "Well it was in my nature." There will be some that it's in their nature the minute they get into a PK sector, they're going to blow the guy anyway, even though it wasn't the best thing for them to do. But then they'll quickly be found out, and then they won't succeed as much as another guy, who comes to them with an even bigger weapon and blows them out of the way. They'll realize, "Oh, I've made a major mistake. I thought that I could exist in the world alone, and it really takes coexistence in society for me to succeed."

CP: You made a comment tonight: "We don't make social statements, we just make games."

LC: (Laughs.)

CP: …and I wrote it down and I wanted to call you on it, because I think you do make social statements. And I think the problem with a lot of game designers is that they make social statements without intending to. But you think a little more deeply about what social statements you're making: “On Virtual Adventures, the theme park game I designed in 1993, one of the tricks that I integrated into the game was that everybody thought that they were a good guy and that everyone else was a bad guy. So everyone can at least be the good guy, rescuing Nessie's eggs, but your ship looked like a bounty hunter to everyone else. And people would say, ‘Oh, that's really cool, because it says something about how people are.’ And what you're describing says something too."

You know, Chris Crawford says this great thing in The Art of Computer Game Design about conflict, and you need to have conflict in the game for it to be interesting. But what you're doing is you're making the conflict less black and white, and you're putting people into these much more interesting and complex moral dilemmas.

LC: Well, that's the goal. Even in our action/shooter game, it's ironic, because the testers sent back this thing and they said, we know this game it's a shooter game, and it's all about saving the scientists. And I'm like "huh, imagine that!" (Laughs.) The hardest missions in our action/shooter game are when you have to protect somebody else. And the reason they're hard is because, that's hard! First of all, the guy's not exactly the brightest person in the world and that makes it difficult. But on top of that, it's just really hard when suddenly you're not just looking out for yourself.

CP: Even in the demo you showed today where you're shooting and the way that you set it up, your own people are in the way, so you have to be careful who you shoot.

LC: (Laughs.) Yes, exactly, you can't accidentally shoot your own guys.

CP: There is that sense that you're part of something greater, and that you care about what's going on. And it goes back to story, because I think if you want to tell an interesting story you have to understand human nature.

LC: So when I said that about social statements, we don't make games to make social statements. We make games to entertain people. But I think it is important to understand social dynamics, and I think it's critical actually to create deep social interactions to truly entertain those who have a little bit of gray matter between their ears.


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Gamography - Highlights



2002 Earth and Beyond, General Manager and ECP (Executive in Charge of Production)
2001 Renegade, GM and ECP
2001 Pirates, The Legend of Black Kat, GM, EP (Executive Producer)
2001 Dune Emperor, GM
2001 C&C Red Alert 2, Yuri's Revenge, GM, ECP
2000 C&C Red Alert 2, GM ECP
2000 C&C Tiberian Sun Firestorm
1999 C&C Tiberian Sun, Nox, Lands of Lore 3
1998 Dune 2000, Super Bikes, Lands of Lore 2
1997 Blade Runner - EP, Art Director, Technical Director, Lead Designer
1996 C&C Red Alert
1995 Command & Conquer, Monopoly
1994 The Lion King, Kyrandia 3
1993 Lands of Lore, Kyrandia 2, Young Merlin
1992 Kyrandia, Dune 2
1991 Eye of the Beholder 2
1990 Eye of the Beholder
1989 Dragonstrike
1988 Battletech, Circuits Edge
1987 The Mars Saga, The Mines of Titan, California Games
1986 World Games, Super Cycle
1985 Temple of Apshai Trilogy

(bold titles: director)


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