Sometimes the best part of an interview comes after the interview is over, and sometimes when we say something like, "I'm gonna lead with that," we have to keep our word. I won't make you work for it: Chris Taylor's balls become fixtures in the conversation on the third page .
PC Gamer: Aside from the possibility of missing your Kickstarter goal, did you have any hesitation before doing this? Any fears about crowdfunding?
Chris Taylor: Oh yeah, I use this silly analogy: we're on an island, and the water is rising in the old model. The old model, right or wrong, got us to where we are today, but the water is rising. You know, it's very, very difficult, if not downright impossible—and some of the Kickstarter videos that really exemplified it, like Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2, he talked about...it kind of pokes fun at the model.
You know, in the old days you'd walk into a publisher with a crazy idea and they'd say, “You know what? Let's at least see where this can go.” But today, that's not really possible, so... like I said, the water's kind of rising on the island, those who are standing on the driest spots are still doing well, the highest driest land, and the rest of us are up to our ankles. And we're saying, “Well, I guess we better start making iOS games, or we better start making Facebook games” or something, because the publisher is a gatekeeper between us and our customer.
And, you know, that's not a bad thing, that's just the reality of it...this is the ecosystem we've developed over the last 20 odd years in PC gaming. In this case there's another island. This other island is rising up out of the water and there's shark-infested waters between us, and that's the risk we must take: swim to that island.
You have to sort of cast off your worldly possessions, if you will, and you have to jump into that water and swim for it, and of course there's trepidation. So, you know, in the meantime we continued to talk to a whole host of publishers about the traditional model, but what we found was that the budgets for those games was going so- it was just going straight down. They were, you know, the budgets are all turning into that- forget 10 million, forget five, it's all 500 thousand, a million, two million, in this ballpark. What's the benefit of doing those titles? You've got a publisher involved still and they're gonna recoup all their dollars and they're gonna make the profits generally...
...So, long story short, Kickstarter is not just a funding source. Kickstarter is a game changer for the way we work with our customer. It's saying, “Hey, you want this game,” or “Here's a game, do you want it? If you do, back it, and let's work together on this. Let's collaborate on this game and you get what you want, and we're making games so we're happy.” ...It wasn't like we choose A or B. The old model just wasn't working. It damn near was dead, to put it in so many words.
It sounded like you went to some publishers and they might have been interested, but that you could get more money through crowdfunding?
CT: Well, that's not- I mean there's a little bit of truth to that. What we knew was is that from the last couple of years--call it four years--it was becoming progressively more difficult to sign anything new and original. It was really starting to come down to existing IP. It was coming down to iterating on sequels and things like that, or doing work for hire—working on their properties.
There were few cases where they said, “Hey, do you have a big original title you want to do? And we'll blow it out there and go big time just like the old days?” Ha, no! Definitely not! Didn't even come up in the conversation. So, last fall when Wildman was—there was the opportunity to pick up the phone, and I had one conversation, I wrote an e-mail and we had a little bit of a dialog, and I could tell just in a few exchanges that there was no appetite.
I said, “Look, let's just throw the switch. Let's just go all in with Kickstarter. Let's put it all behind that, because we'll distract ourselves by running round.” You know, you call a publisher—here's the way it works—and you tell them and idea and sell them on the phone, and they say, “Well why don't you come by our office and pitch it to us?” Well, their office is in another state. You've gotta book a flight, you're gonna spend the entire day, maybe the next day, and you're gonna go to their office and show them everything you're working on, and then you leave and hope they call. You know what? Nine out of ten of those don't get call-backs.
So you have to go on this big expensive roadshow and sell something, and you know, some of them will say 'yes' when they don't even have the money in their pocket to fund the game. And they're like, “Well, there's no cost to us to sit there,” you know? So at some point, you've gotta say, “Well, that's a big expensive process for an independent developer to go through.” Plus, when someone does like it and they do want to move forward, it can be months to get the contract finalized. So, you know, we may as well go all in on Kickstarter and say, “Listen, that's the future. Let's embrace it. Let's strip down and jump in the water and swim to that island and get there. If we get there we do, if we don't we don't.”
As I like to say around here: fate can deal us the next card and we'll take our card.
On the next page: RTSes and RPGs, Wildmen and Wildwomen
PC Gamer: You've told me that making an RTS with RPG elements didn't work out, so Wildman is more action RPG than RTS, and there are Warzones where the RTS stuff happens. Is there a seamless transition between the two? How does that solution work?
Chris Taylor: Well, that's exactly right...I tried to bring RPG into RTS back with Dungeon Siege, and ended up saying, "No let's stick with a more traditional action RPG." This was a case of, let's take an action RPG game—you've got a hero, a Wildman or a Wildwoman—and for fun the game changes the name, the title graphics change to "Wildwoman" if you play the Wildwoman, so we think that's kind of fun.
I like that.
CT: And I think it's the first time. I don't know of any other game that changes its title to be based around—at least, the internal splash screen—so when you come back to it, it says "Wildwoman!"
Anyway, you have this action RPG hero. This hero is persistent, it evolves, the character grows. You're fighting over land, you're on this adventure fighting it out, you get to a point—a stronghold—you establish a base, you head out, and you step into someone else's territory, and you do something hostile. You smack someone on the head, and now there's an act of war declared. The trumpets blare and the war is on, and now you've got enemies streaming across the map and you've got to build your structures to defend. If you don't, they'll kick your ass and send you back to where you came from, and you'll regress in terms of the game's progression. However, of course, your character is persistent, so any experiences or leveling up, accumulation of items and so forth, you get to keep.
But if you're in the middle of this battle, and you're winning—you're doing great—but you decide you're just gonna wander off the battlefield, the game will say, "Oh, are you conceding?" Then the war will terminate.
So, during these RTS parts, the control doesn't change, right? I'm still controlling the Wildman, with no omnipresence to put buildings down with a hand from space?
CT: Yeah, you return to your base, and that's where you can build structures by clicking on the special build sites, and you'll have so many and they'll grow as you play the game. You'll get to choose what you build. Now, early in the game, you can't build much. As you expand and capture technology from your fallen opponents you have a broader technology base to draw from. Someone might shoot at you with a bow, now you've got archers, longbowmen. Oh, great, I've got flaming arrows! It continues to grow, and so the choices you have when building out your technology are greater. Now, that mirrors a lot of single player RTS campaigns. Every time you play a new mission you get access to a deeper technology tree.
In this game, you actually have to go out and acquire the technology. So, I use this fun example that soap, as a technology to primitive man—when he came across soap his life expectancy increased by a huge margin because he was keeping himself clean from disease and germs—bacteria and stuff like this—so, you know, you might destroy your opponent and it might give you a choice, would you like the slingshot or soap? So, you pick soap and all the units that spawn in the next war have greater health. It all feeds back into the war machine, but you could have chosen the other, and it might have been the wrong choice, but you still could probably win and then you'll pick up the soap maybe the next time around.
So there's this technological evolution going on with your character. I'm trying to follow some sort of early man, you know: homo sapien emerges, bone, femur—you know—an elephant's femur in his hand, and he's just clubbing neanderthals and other creatures, and finally discovering technologies to build a cohesive war machine.
To answer your question, though, your Wildman develops a leadership technology—the skill of leadership—and he can command so many of the men. You don't ever do individual unit control because we want to stay truer to the action RPG game. So, you're driving your hero around and beating things up, but if you have a strong leadership and you come back to base, the next two or three spawns will spawn right into your crew, and now you're cruising around—a gang on the battlefield—and you can direct these guys a lot better than the guys just charging out of their barracks straight to the front line, which is a more MOBA style. So we're bringing together some fabulous elements people have been playing and loving, and we're hoping we can bring them together in a way that really makes sense.
On the next page: Cats, Tarantino, and Chris Taylor's balls...
So, I'm driving this guy around, and does he have a personality, or is he a more a vessel for me? Is there a narrative?
CT: No, I'm not a strong narrative guy, but we do hope we can tell a story that's kind of a story written by earth history of primitive man as he develops, and it's an empire building game, essentially, and you play the Wildman or the Wildwoman, you go out there, and you're basically expanding your empire, and when you push into someone else's, grr , invariably, of course, they have to go. I would love for there to be some sort of commentary on the human condition—the desire to grow, and build, and conquer, and sometimes it's senseless. If it's you or them, and there's really nothing wrong with them, but they gotta go, because you want their land, their resources, their technology—that's the human condition, which is sad, but you know.
And I understand you're looking for suggestions from backers, like with shapeshifting—you were hoping to get feedback on the backers on the kinds of animals they'd want?
CT: Exactly, so, you know, we know that cats are popular. I mean s***, we've got two cats in the house, two cats in the barn. We've got cats everywhere. We love cats. But in this game, we haven't created the artwork for them yet. There are no cat models, no gorilla models, no wild boar models, so we can kind of go to referendum on that, because that's an arbitrary creative decision. So if you're a backer, and you wanna speak up and talk about what you'd like to see, or you think the idea sucks and we shouldn't have shapeshifting. But I do like the idea that there's a slightly mythical component to the game, where you're in this world and we're—you know that, what was that movie, Inglourious Basterds? Remember that? Quentin Tarantino? He imagined what would happen if Hitler had been assassinated.
Yeah, and his latest, Django Unchained is along the same lines. A historical revenge fantasy.
CT: Right, and that's interesting. So, imagine instead we're going back to primitive man and saying, "What if other creatures evolved? What if men could shapeshift? What if bugs could evolve and were sentient and could arm themselves with weapons, build structures, and get organized?"
We're having some fun with that, and we're happy to collect creative input on that, because there's a lot of choices, and they're mostly all valid. I don't think there's something that's dead wrong, it's just an artistic choice. I'm not shy about saying what I believe is the right one, and people can say, "Wow, I get to debate with Chris about what I want, and I disagreed with him on this." You know, that's kind of fun, that's different.
I guess this happens with traditional publishers, too, but do you think there's—not from yourself, based on what you've just said—but any fear from others that you'll lose authorship? That there'll be no more auteurs in games if a crowdsourced community is calling the shots?
CT: Yeah, well I think you gotta make one first. There's a lot of people who would guess that would be the case. What you said, take the, "Hey, if J.K. Rowling were to write the next book and ask everyone what they wanted, it wouldn't be her book." Well, if she wrote one book like that and came away and said, "Here's what I learned. This is the experience I had." Now, if I didn't think it was positive, now I can speak to it directly from experience.
The fear of not wanting to try something new and closing the door on it—I don't live in that world. I'm sort of, you know, I'm kind of foolish. I'll try damn near anything once. I'll take a bite out of any food. I'll do anything. And then I can speak to it after the fact and say, "You know, that was dumb" or "That was fabulous." But how many times as individuals have we done things that we thought we were going to hate and loved it, and it was life changing, and thought, "Woah, I almost didn't go down that road for fear that it was gonna be a waste of my time, or not produce the results I was looking for." Well this is a f****** clear-cut example of that. We have to do this. We have to try. If we do it and we fail, then we at least have something to refer to, to say, "Oh yeah, well, we tried it with Wildman, remember that? Oh yeah, well, now you know."
But I'm not that cynical, I actually think this is gonna work. And there's a little bit of skill here in navigating these waters. We have to kind of know how to—it's like shooting the rapids, we can't just throw the canoe into the river. We have to paddle.
My interview with Chris Taylor wrapped up, but that didn't end the conversation. I said I'd include it, so here you go: the terrible things that might happen if Wildman's Kickstarter fails.
CT: Well I hope this is an interesting story, and we certainly appreciate you guys covering it for next Monday. If it doesn't fund, I'm moving to the mountains and you won't ever hear from me again. Just FYI.
Oh, okay. So you'll become this magical game designer hermit who people will travel to--climb the mountain--to receive your advice?
CT: Yeah. And Peter Molyneux said if he didn't reach his Kickstarter funding, his wife is gonna divorce him. I'll just say this right now: it's going to be far, far, far worse for me.
Oh, okay, sounds bad. I'll keep that in mind. But I do wonder if Peter Molyneux might overstate things sometimes.
CT: [Laughs] That's what I'm going for. If it worked for him, it might work for me. What if I tell people my wife's gonna cut my balls off? How about that?
That definitely will get people to help fund--or not. Maybe they'll just be curious to see what happens?
CT: Oh! They're like, “You know, I was going to fund it, but then he said his wife is gonna cut his balls off and that is just more interesting to us!”
Now that's the kind of story I want to read about! Actually, no, no I wouldn't like to read about that. It makes me cringe and I hope that everything attached to you remains safe.
CT: You know, thank you very much. My BALLS thank you.
You know, what? They're welcome. They belong where they are.
CT: I think this is my first interview in 25 years where my balls feel like they're part of the interview.
Yeah, they really are now. You know I have to lead this story with "my wife will cut my balls off."
CT: [Laughs] You know what? I'm- I'm okay with that.
Alright, you know, I think if you want an attention-grabbing headline, you've just made it for me.
CT: You know what's funny about that? It's your job to grab those with the- and it's my job to, well, it's my job to get grabbed--by god, it sounds like the balls are back in the story.
We're both grabbing! I have to grab attention, and you're--well, you have to get attention and then ask for a bunch of money. That's trickier.
CT: And if my balls get grabbed in the middle of it all, somewhere, like accidentally in the shuffle-
CT: Hey, all the better!
CT: Tyler, thank you.
Thank you so much, Chris.