nSpace discusses the game's origin, Miyamoto's influence, multiplayer modes, and why it took so long to develop.
Planet GameCube recently had a chat with nSpace about their new GameCube game, Geist. Below is the full transcript of the interview.
Erick Dyke - nSpace President
Dan O’Leary - Project Manager, VP
Ted Newman - Producer
PGC: How did you start Geist? Did you go to Nintendo or did they come to you?
Erick: We had heard that Nintendo was looking for a first person game that wasn’t the typical shooter, but something that would bring something unique to the table. We kind of sat down and challenged ourselves to come up with an idea that would be a twist to your typical first person action/adventure/shooter game. From there we self-funded a prototype for the game and took that to Nintendo. First NOA, then NCL, that started the experimental phase.
PGC: Where’d you get the idea for the concept of the game?
Erick: We first sat down and batted around different ideas. One of them that we liked was an idea about playing an invisible agent, like an invisible man, that would use guns and because they’re invisible they would be able to scare and intimidate people. Some people liked it, some people felt something was missing. We came up with a variation on it that basically says what if you’re a ghost, and if you need a weapon you possess a person that has a gun, of if you need a pair of hands you possess someone who can do manual work. From there it kind of snowballed.
Also, the ghost aspects still gave us a voyeuristic scare and messing with people aspect that we liked about the invisible idea.
PGC: Did you draw any inspiration from the game Messiah that was released a couple years ago, where you could possess people.
???????? We didn’t even remember Messiah until well into our own development. Mainly because when Messiah came out, I don’t know if you remember, but it was notoriously difficult to get running, so nobody in our office really got it up and running and played it. I heard it was a very interesting game if you did. But we were well underway before we even realized, “oh yeah!” You know, the consciousness is always out there, but we weren’t consciously looking at it.
PGC: What’s it like to go from making licensed games to jumping to something totally unique?
Erick: We started the company doing original IP, and we had some mixed luck doing it. We got into the cycle for the PlayStation hardware, where in the beginning of the cycle people look for original IP, and in the middle of the cycle people look for things that make money, and licenses start becoming available. For us, our team had finished our first project, which was Tiger Shark, and we were offered the Duke Nukem license, for an original game based on the Duke Nukem license. And there’s no way in heck the developers are going to pass up like that. That was a wonderful experience, working with 3D Realms. The game shipped well over a million units and got [an award from Sony] the year it was released. Dan O’Leary here was the producer of that title. Then other opportunities, because of that game, were allowing us to be a very successful stu-dio financially, and in sales, units shipped. That enabled us to have funding to work on original IP for the next generation of product, which is where we were able to come up with Geist.
PGC: Geist has been in development for a long time, why is that?
Erick: You know, it has been in development for a long time but as far as a large title goes it’s really not that long. I think part of the problem was that really we were creating a new type of game. It’s a first-person adventure game, where there have been before, such as Metroid Prime. But our idea of what the game was, and NCL’s idea of what the game was, were very different even though we both started at the same spot. One of the nice things about working with NCL is that they’re always trying to make the greatest game ever. They kept wanting to work within this game-space of possession to try these different things and experiment. We’d be adding and changing and going “wow, what if you were able to possess this, and what if you were able to possess that.” I’ll let Ted explain how object possession... we had already worked with Nintendo for almost six months before object possession entered the game.
Ted: We were well into development when we were meeting on a regular basis with NCL. During one of their trips to our offices they brought up the idea that, the fact that Miyamoto-san would see the game on a regular basis. He had immediately commented on an idea of object possession. When [the team] had first heard, they didn’t know exactly what he meant. They kind of thought he might just be joking around, apparently he has that kind of sense of humor in the workplace. Eventually Miyamoto-san just said “I think the possession aspect of this game is great and I want to know what it’s like to not just possess humans and animals but what would it be like to possess a box or what would it be like to possess a plant?” [Those] were the two examples that he gave [the team]. So during one of NCL’s visits it became a priority to do some experi-mentation with object possession, and then figure out how to fit that into the game we were already developing. That was a little bit of a curve-ball, it added some work onto things, but we’re really happy where it ended up.
PGC: Can you explain some of the other things that Miyamoto-san influenced?
Dan: The entire development. [laughs]
Erick: Yeah, Geist really is a collaborative effort between n-Space and NCL which is one of the kind of neat things. I mean, we worked together from everything on controls to the HUD design to boss design and boss mechanic design. They were very much trying to teach us the right way to do things to try and make it feel like an adventure game. The control they spent a ton of time with us tweaking and adjusting and tuning to make sure it was right for a first person adventure. Where the pacing is supposed to feel a certain way. It’s just been, [NCL’s developers], they’ve all played such a large influence and it’s hard to just pick piece by piece. It really was a team effort and I’m very proud to work with them.
PGC: Speaking of controls, a lot of people have problems with the C-stick. Do you think the controls work well considering?
Ted: I think that, considering it, they do work pretty well. Like Erick said, we just spent a lot of time tuning controls. We also made tuning options for that and for things like boss battles available to Japan so they would try their own set of values and say “hey, we like this setting, why don’t you try this out and see what you think.” That just went back to great teamwork we had with them, that back and forth of us experimenting and saying “hey what do you think?” and them doing the same back to us. But also, we’re excited about the Revolution controller. We not sure what it is but we’re excited.
PGC: Oh you guys don’t know yet either?
Erick: No comment.
PGC: Are you guys going to be doing any work on the Revolution?
Erick: It sounds like an incredible machine.
PGC: What about the DS, are you doing any work on that?
Erick: The DS is an incredible machine.
Ted: We can’t really comment officially on that either.
PGC: Geist was almost released at the beginning of the summer and it was pushed back again. Can you explain what that last push was for?
Erick: Really just quality and getting everything where it needed to be. In a game where you have so many unique characters, unique bosses, and uniqueness, it was hard to really keep a handle on development. I know it drove Dan as project manger kind of crazy. No-one wanted to remove any features and no-one wanted to remove any battles. Because it’s everything we worked so hard to get to and make the game Geist. It’s all special. We decided to take the time instead of, you know... we could take the easy way out. It was decided to keep pushing and complete the project as intended.
PGC: I can say I’m personally a big fan of that method.
Dan: As Erick and Ted have both talked about it, it was very much a collaboration between us and Nintendo and Nintendo’s way of developing is different than most Western publishers/developers. They’re very exploratory in the process, very experimental and willing to try things and insist on trying things to kind of push the boundaries of what players have seen before and what new things they can bring to the table. With Geist, it’s such a different game in so many different ways that every time we’d learn a little bit more about what we were doing we would learn new ways to do things with it. The project continually kind of blossoms and everybody just kept feeling like it was worth it to put more time and energy into making it everything that it could be. Of course, eventually there’s always more ideas than there is time so eventually we had to kind of tie a knot in it and package it up as one game and see how it does.
PGC: Here’s an odd one, what do you think is the craziest thing you can possess in the game?
Erick: It’s funny because after working as long as we have on a game possessing objects, nothing seems crazy anymore. It’s always interesting when it’s like, “well we really need to possess this” then you have to come up with “what would it be like to be this? How would be? How would this work?”
Note:Various answers included mousetraps (complete with dead mice), paint cans, fuses, parrots, shower heads, and beer cans.
PGC: So how do you go through and try to figure out “what would it be like to possess a beer can?”
Ted: In a case like that we already had mechanics where you could possess and object and navigate as that object, like a rolling ball or a rolling grenade and then the beer can is more of an extension of that.
PGC: What can we expect from Geist’s multiplayer.
Dan: With the theme of the game you can expect something different from multiplayer. We take kind of familiar gameplay mechanisms, especially for the first person genre, things like capture the flag and deathmatch which are things we’re very familiar with and can jump right into immediately and then pretty much turn them on their heads by throwing in the possession mechanic which seems like “oh, yeah, you can possess things”, but that really changes the whole game. Strategy, tactics, play mechanics, everybody had to approach the game with a whole different point of view at that point.
There are three different multiplayer modes called: “Capture the Host,” “Possession Deathmatch,” and “Hunt.” Capture the Host and Possession Deathmatch, you start both of those modes as a ghost. All players do. The areas are populated with hosts that are ripe for the picking and each host has a different weapon type. The objective is to find the host that has the weapon you’re looking for and possess him and use that weapon to defeat your opponent. The standard scoring for capture the host is you kill other op-ponents and as you do that you accrue points and then you redeem those points by going back to your base and dumping off your body, and then you go find another host. Then in Possession Deathmatch you simply get the points for killing the other hosts. It's kind of like, you try the Possession Deathmatch and that’s very much like, that’s the closest we get to “standard” multiplayer modes. Then you try Capture the Host that has this new thing where the host becomes the flag. Then you can jump over to Hunt where it’s something entirely different.
In Hunt, you have teams of players and bots playing ghosts. You have teams of players and bots playing hosts. The ghosts' objective is to possess hosts and then fight them, we have a controller fighting mechanism that I’ll describe in a minute and you drag the host into hazards in the environment whether they’re pit traps or poison gas or electrical shocks or that kind of thing to kill the host. As a host your objective is to survive and kill as many ghosts as you can along the way using a couple special weapons that we provide. That creates a very interesting kind of power struggle both in terms of strategy and tactics. The controller fighting scheme, when a ghost is inside a host both the ghost and the host control the position and actions of the character, so you’re fighting with the host as the ghost trying to drag them, with your controller, towards the hazards while the host is using their input to use their weapons to knock you out of your body, and there’s also another control mechanism to bounce them out, kind of like a will power, you will them out by tapping the A button. Obviously it’s kind of of hard to explain, you probably get the idea. Sit down for a while and give it a try, and I think it's one of the more popular modes because it brings something different to the game. But all three of them work very well and all of them have a variety of options to fine tune the rule set and so forth and difficulty settings and they all support one to four players, up to four of which can be human [the other four are bots].
PGC: Which one do you think is the best?
Dan: I like the straight-ahead deathmatch and capture the flag modes the most. I know Ted and Erick are big fans of the Hunt mode but, you know, I’m the project manager and just not that good at it. I get humiliated in that mode so I’ll stick to things that are a little more cut and dry, but it is very interesting.
PGC: How do you go about balancing the competitive modes with the possession aspects?
Erick: Well, balancing something like that is very difficult but it’s also very easy. Play the hell out of it. Then people whine about people in the office using cheap tactics, then you tweak the [game] to get rid of them.
PGC: What’s your favorite thing to do in multiplayer?
Dan: I’d say my favorite thing is with the Capture the Host mode, playing that with teams and the special option where the base where you have to drop off your points is covered by a shield, and the only person that can lower the shield has to be carrying the key. There’s only one key in the level so pretty much everyone’s trying to kill the person with the key. I think my favorite thing there is playing that in team mode and trying to coordinate your drop-off with your teammates. It results in some tense, exciting gameplay.
PGC: It sounds like a mix of capture the flag and kill the carrier, almost.
Dan: Yeah, pretty much.
PGC: Can you tell us about some of the special abilities in both single and multiplayer?
Dan: In multiplayer there’s different powers that you can pick up. They’re mostly host based except for one that’s called the hijack power-up, where if you pick that up for maybe about a ten second period you can steal someone’s else host even though they’re possessing them. It knocks that ghost player out of the host which tends to shock people when it happens, they don’t quite expect it.
Erick: And by shock he means annoy.
Dan: Yeah, there’s a lot of yelling. It’s very useful in Capture the Host mode where the host is carrying the points, but they don’t score them until they dispossess so you might see a guy that has twenty points that he’s carrying and then somebody grabs the hijack at the right time, runs up and grabs him and they steal all the points.
With single player we have a lot of different classes of characters. There’s one engineer character in a hazmat suit and they can either use this large riveting gun to try and fight other engineers in this hazardous area, or they can actually do their job and rivet panels like a little memory mini-game.
PGC: From what I’ve played and seen of Geist, it seems like it has a lot of focus on storytelling. How do you guys see storytelling in games? For example, is the story an excuse to play the game or is the game an excuse to hear the story?
Dan: I think from the very beginning we wanted to have a strong story. I know myself as a player, I always appreciate a story I can wrap my head around and under-stand and just get into as if it were a film or a good book. I get a little frustrated when a story takes a confusing turn. I think for me storytelling is a big party of gameplay if it fits the game. [For example], for Super Monkey Ball you don’t really need a story. It’s just all about being a monkey in a ball.
PGC: All right, thanks for the interview, guys.
Thanks to Nintendo and nSpace for the interview.
Interview conducted by Mike Sklens.