Post Script

EDGE - - PLAY - In­ter­view: Mike Bithell, cre­ator

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.

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