Enslaved: Odyssey To The West Strategy Informer Interview
Strategy Informer: When you started work on Enslaved, what was the main goal?
Tameem Antoniades: I think at the beginning to take stock of everything we did on Heavenly Sword and improve it. We’re driving as a studio more and more towards story based gameplay, and trying to figure out ways to make stories work within gameplay, as opposed to making it work just in cut-scenes. I think you can say Heavenly Sword did that; the stories were in the cut-scenes and the gameplay was separate.
So we’re looking for ways in which we can create a narrative experience where every fight has a reason for being there, and you always feel like you’re in the story. We’re adding things like body-language, so that you can tell how Trip is feeling. The use of camera-angles, audio, gameplay; everything has a motive. If you do it right, then you forget you’re playing a game and it feels magical.
Strategy Informer: Is Trip going to express her feelings more than Monkey?
Tameem Antoniades: I guess. They both have a full range of expressions. Andy Serkis is playing Monkey, and we did a performance-capture shoot where we captured voice, body and face at the same time, so the interactions seem genuine.
Usually in any story the supporting character is there to make the hero understandable and to reflect on the hero. That’s why Trip exists, because Monkey is such an inpenetrable character, he’s a loner, he doesn’t like people. If he was on his own he wouldn’t say a damn word, it’s only because he’s stuck with Trip that they learn to work together and become team players.
Strategy Informer: Aside from Heavenly Sword, which other games were influences on Enslaved?
Tameem Antoniades: The earliest game is probably Another World on the Amiga, just because it was the first game that was very cinematic, story-driven, and there’s this weird alien that helps you and you help him. It was quite emotional in the end. I think Uncharted 2 set the template for what an action-adventure game should be.
Strategy Informer: I was just about to ask! It seemed hugely influence by Uncharted 2 in the presentation.
Tameem Antoniades: We were working on the game two years before Uncharted 2 came out, and by that point it was too late to do a cause direction. It wasn’t like we were trying to copy them, our game’s got a totally different story, different characters, focused more on melee combat, and a different setting. In terms of what we’re trying to achieve, I think both the studio and I have the highest admiration for those guys. They’re the best console developers in the world at the moment.
Strategy Informer: Trip is very similar to Nariko [Tameem laughs], who do you think is the superior character?
Tameem Antoniades: That’s like asking which of your children do you love more! I think they’re different; Nariko’s an alpha-female, she’s a tough cookie, not afraid of sacrifice and is quite isolated. Trip’s is totally the opposite. She’s young, she’s 19 years old, she lives in a community. She’s never been outside this community and has an idealistic view of the world which is slowly getting eroded by the brutal realities of life. She’s learning to gain her own confidence and to help Monkey, so she starts to grow as a character.
Strategy Informer: Although the world is apocalyptic in Enslaved, it’s still really beautiful. Do you feel you’re capitalising on something other developers have missed?
Tameem Antoniades: [Chuckles] Yeah, I guess all of our games are really colourful. Life After People was a documentary we saw on the Discovery Channel, which said if people disappeared from the planet what would the world look like? It’s amazing how very quickly nature takes over and how quickly things we see as permanent disappear. It’s kind of bitter-sweet and sad in a way, and that suits the game.
Strategy Informer: Alex Garland is on board, was he always the first choice writer?
Tameem Antoniades: No, I mean, we had no idea who we’d get for a writer. We contacted CAA and they put forward some writers. I met Alex for coffee, and then he asked me lots of questions. He was a big gamer, which was a surprise to me, he plays Xbox Live almost everyday and has a big gamer score. He plays with his own clan of friends who don’t know who he is. He’s always wanted to work on a video game, and we offered him full access and calibration. He was really respectful of games and it was really fun working with him.
Strategy Informer: Were there any other big name writers in the running?
Tameem Antoniades: There were a few, but when I met Alex I knew straight away if he was interested he was definitely the man. In a sense, when I met him I wasn’t interested in anyone else.
Strategy Informer: Apart from writing the game, what other influence has he had?
Tameem Antoniades: He’s been really good. On Heavenly Sword it was Andy Serkis who introduced us to performance capture and learning how to work with actors on a motion capture set. Alex brought his own thing, as he’s also a film producer. We got him on board to do the writing, and he did it, we had a loose structure and we co-wrote the story together. Then he started to get involved with the level design, just because to write a story for a game you’ve also got to take into consideration every moment of that game.
So he got more and more involved in the level design with our designers; he’d come every week and spend all day with them. Then when he was doing the voice dialogue, and he was looking to place it, he just kept coming up with tonnes and tonnes of feedback. He said, ‘this would feel more tense if this happened now,’ ‘that combat encounter would feel more atmospheric if the music dropped.’ He’d have all these little tips and tricks from his own experience in making movies that we applied to the game, and it worked. He’s been working with us for two years now on that.
Strategy Informer: Is he on going to be working with you in the future?
Tameem Antoniades: I hope so. We both expressed a desire to work with each other again, we had a lot of fun.
Strategy Informer: In the presentation you briefly showed us the propaganda and election posters that litter the world of Enslaved, are these central to the plot?
Tameem Antoniades: They’re just little clues and aren’t central to the plot. You don’t need to understand why the world is the way it is. They’re aren’t voice-logs everywhere. Monkey and Trip have no idea why the world is this way, they have their own theories but they don’t know, so everything is a mystery.
Strategy Informer: Why has co-op been left out?
Tameem Antoniades: Well it wasn’t ever in to be left out. Monkey’s like the action hero, and we play from that perspective, so in one sense we didn’t want to break that perspective by playing with Trip. In another sense Trip’s role is very different, it couldn’t be more different. She can’t clamber, she can’t fight, she can survey environments and hack old systems. She can help Monkey administer health and upgrade his equipment- this wouldn’t work in a co-op game. If it was co-op she would have to be an action hero, and that would undermine the whole set-up of the story.
Strategy Informer: What impact are you hoping Enslaved will have that Heavenly Sword didn’t?
Tameem Antoniades: It’s basically Heavenly Sword, a lot better, and a lot longer. So it’s a lot of ideas we had for Heavenly Sword we’re putting into Enslaved, and we’re crafting it right. The best we can hope for is that it becomes a memorable experience for gamers, because games are disposable. They’re off and on the shelves for three months and then they’re gone. If it can be something people remember in the same way as a good book or movie, and if it can sell enough units for us to make new games, that’s our objective.
Strategy Informer: Final question, can you sum the game up in three words?
Tameem Antoniades: [Laughs] Gosh! Three words is hard! I would say; Heavenly Sword, better, longer!