Work on Volume is far from complete, with Mike Bithell already talking up a pipeline of small additions to the game, but it’s done enough that he’s spent recent weeks juggling the team’s meeting schedule around to find time for everyone to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. His love for the stealth genre should be evident, then, but we ask him what he wanted to add to it with Volume, and discover why it took an update to achieve his goal. How do you feel about releasing so close to MGSV? We knew we were releasing an indie game, so it had to come out before September anyway. It just becomes so loud at this point [in the year] that we wouldn’t have stood a chance of anyone seeing it; we’d have struggled to get reviewed. Basically, this was the latest early release we could do. Yes, it would have been nice to have three months to either side with no similar games released, but it worked out well… And actually, I think we might be a bit complementary; we’re kind of different sides of the same approach. And there’s a lot of nostalgia for Metal Gear Solid in Volume. How did the checkpoints update come about? Did the checkpointing flag up in playtesting at all? No, it’s a weird one, because we do a lot of playtesting and it really didn’t come up. I think that’s potentially for a few reasons based on how playtesting works. I think we weren’t seeing players trying to get high scores, for example, because they were playtesting and weren’t attached to our servers, so they weren’t competing with that invisible other party. For players playing this in their living rooms without me looking over their shoulder, but with leaderboards looking over their shoulder, that changes the dynamic. And it means that people felt that the game wasn’t recognising the way they were playing, and was rewarding people who play one way over another… I take playtesting very seriously, so it was kind of annoying that we missed something like that. But you didn’t take the old mode away and say, ‘I didn’t mean for you to play that way.’ I mean, that was the big thing – we didn’t want to. Because that would have been the easy solution, just to [say], ‘Let’s change the whole thing.’ That would have been a panic reaction. Yes, there were people who felt they were cheesing it, who felt they were getting through when they shouldn’t be able to. But we also saw that the game did review well, the game was selling well – people were into it. And we didn’t want to ruin that experience for them. A lot of speedrunners have been having a lot of fun and working out those exploits… We did change the default, so that the player who comes into the game for the first time, they get what I feel is the tighter checkpointing system. How aware were you of leaderboards deforming the nature of the stealth game? How early did they go in? So the leaderboards themselves came in quite a bit later, because they’re tied to our servers. But in terms of recording the player’s time, I think that was in from the very first prototypes. Like, it was always something I wanted to experiment with, just simply because stealth is traditionally a very slow process. I’m a big stealth fan, so I’m fine with that, but it was something that I thought would be interesting to play with: ‘Can you make a stealth game that encourages risk-taking?’ basically. For me, that was where a lot of the big meta design choices came from: instant restarting on death, that kind of thing… It’s a similar thing to the way, say, Hitman or Metal Gear ranks you at the end of a level – that sense of finding the thing that you want to record as important and then putting that front and centre. Lots of games are changed post-release now. When do you call a game done? When do you walk away? [Laughs] The honest answer is I don’t know. Obviously, if you’re releasing a game and you’re selling a game then you have to make sure that game is, y’know, functional and is providing the experience that you’re selling. I think there’s a first-done stage, definitely, unless you’re in Early Access. Yeah, I think that relationship is changing. With digital, it’s not about that mega launch any more, it’s about the marathon. How do you feel about the community maps from a paternal perspective? Do you see ideas in there and think, ‘Damn, I wish I’d put that in the main game?’ [Laughs] There have been a few. I think what’s really interesting about the community maps is they don’t have the same kind of creative constraints that we did. In terms of, over 100 levels, I have to teach you every mechanic, I have to work you through that mechanic, I have to make sure the difficulty curve works in a way that’s satisfying. I have a lot of design stuff I need to be doing that constrains the level design team, because ‘This is the point where the player knows x, y and z, but they haven’t learnt this yet, so you can’t do that.’ So it’s quite nice seeing all the UGC stuff, because they don’t have those constraints, right? What’s really cool is some of them are trying to make, not their own mechanics, but their own ways of playing. You’re seeing sequences of levels where they’re teaching you how to play the game slightly differently, which is really fascinating and very cool to see other people do.