As anyone in the media can attest to, it's not very often that someone at Take-Two Interactive grants an interview. Most of the time, quotes from the publisher are of the "no comment" variety. Because the company has been scrutinized more than any other publisher in the video game industry, it would often rather let the quality and success of its products do the talking.
However, The New York Times recently was given permission to interview Take-Two's creative vice president Dan Houser -- and even then, the NYT could only talk to Houser under the condition that they would primarily discuss The Warriors and not bring up all the controversy surrounding Rockstar Games' older titles. Despite this, the interview does bring up some interesting points and gives us a rare glimpse into the thinking behind one of the company's upcoming titles.
Don't play? Then don't criticize...
This is as far as Houser was willing to go in terms of talking about all the heat that Rockstar and Take-Two have received: "Certainly it's frustrating when people don't wish to understand what you do and don't wish to learn. Anyone who plays any of our games and wishes to criticize it, having played it, experienced it and thought about it, they are of course welcome to do that. But when large numbers of people criticize something and haven't even done it, it's very frustrating. There's a large amount of the population that lives in relative ignorance and only hears scary stories about what we do."
Perhaps that statement has been reiterated a few dozen times now, but it's a valid point. After all, how many of the politicians or mainstream reporters that are constantly bashing the industry and Take-Two's games have actually played them for any length of time? Houser believes the criticism that the industry faces will take care of itself as gaming becomes more widely integrated and accepted as part of our culture.
Games to replace movies as main entertainment
"Within 10 years or 5 years we will both look back on this conversation and it will seem ridiculous we were even talking in these terms because games will be an accepted part of culture," he remarked. "I think it's just purely a function of time. When authors went to Hollywood as late as the 30's they were seen as selling out, but now an author writes a film script and they're seen as just moving between mediums. Film wasn't considered serious."
"All media or forms, when they first appear, are a function of technology," he continued. "So with video games we are just working through that historical process."
Houser is convinced that games will eventually become the dominant form of entertainment because of the inherent immersion that comes from interactivity. "Games are going to take over from movies as the mainstream form of entertainment, but why is that happening?" he queried. "Well, books tell you something. Movies show you something. But games let you do something. Some of the responsibility that the director used to take, we're actually giving to the person playing the game. So for the person consuming the media or interacting with the art, whatever the right phrase for that is, a game is a fundamentally more engaging experience."
On The Warriors
For now, though, it seems many game developers look to movies for inspiration (although we've certainly seen that work in reverse lately with Tomb Raider, Doom, and Halo movies). Houser felt that The Warriors, a 1979 cult film directed by Walter Hill, would translate beautifully to the interactive medium.
"When you watch [the movie] as a 7-year-old kid, it seems super-weird and terrifying," Houser said. "When you watch today, it's over the top. It's sort of surreal in most of the points. But the structure and the style translate perfectly into a video game world. The structure of the journey - encountering people and defeating them on the route - was a fighting game in a movie format before it was ever a video game."
"In a lot of films you look at the way the narrative is designed, and the way the focus is so heavily on characters or the period means they wouldn't translate into good video games," Houser explained. "Maybe in 20 years time you can make a game that's more sophisticated at a character level, but we're still at a point in the evolution of games that physical actions are more effective to convey than emotions or conversations."
Houser also thinks that The Warriors could have appeal with a broader audience since its gameplay mechanics are not overly complex. "This is the fighting game for people who didn't like previous fighting games," he said. "I find those hard-core fighting games unplayable. You don't want to be limited only to 15-year-old idiot savants with incredibly good hand-eye coordination. People get turned off of games because repeated failures aren't appealing to them -- because that's what the rest of their life is like. People aren't playing a game because they want to fail, and we need to understand that."