Ted Price opened Insomniac Games at the dawn of the PlayStation. Disruptor, a first person shooter with guns and psychic powers for the PsOne, was their first game. Insomniac went on to create the successful Spyro the Dragon series (which evolved into Skylanders) and then Ratchet & Clank. With nearly twenty years of experience as the CEO of a video game studio we asked Mr. Price how video games have evolved and what his thoughts are on the next generation of consoles.
Obviously making games as a whole is difficult. And you’ve been making them for close to 20 years. How much has changed over that time?
Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games: It’s definitely become more complicated. Let me back that up; I think expectations from gamers have continued to rise. There is now a need to provide both a great single player experience and a fantastic multiplayer experience also. Which are both elements that drives Insomniac when we make games; we’re driven by gamers’ insatiable desire for new material.
And I’d say that everyone here as gamers completely understand that, because we want new experiences from what we pick up at the store or download, and I think that’s a good thing, one of the reasons why we get so energized, that’s what has kept us all going for 20 years.
Have your influences changed over the years?
Personally, my influences haven’t chanced, in the sense that 20 years ago I was a hardcore gamer, and am still one now. I also still watch movies, and read lots of books… What’s changed about Insomniac is that we’ve grown to include people from different industries, as well as others in the game industry that have their own experiences. And because we’re a collaborative place, all our collective inspirations are shown through.
It’s also hard to nail down what media is most influential these days, since everything has changed significantly over the years. Though, if you press me, I would say absolutely it’s still games.
Ratchet & Clank is noteworthy in how, when Sony brought it over to the East, certain changes as it pertains to character design were made to make it more palatable to that audience. Is anything similar being done, to make it appeal to a more global audience? How do you personally think Fuse will do in, say, Japan?
I have no idea. And I will say that when we launched Spyro and Ratchet & Clank, we had no idea how they would be received in the East either. Because it’s such a different market for us, and as Westerns, it’s hard to predict what will strike a chord with the Eastern audience. We always have our fingers crossed and are hoping that what we do is going to have global appeal.
But at the same time, more and more western games are being accepted in the East. So I would have to assume that there’s at least some kind of expectation.
Nope. But on a base level, I believe it will resonate. I’ll go back to your influence question; I think you can see certain Japanese games in our design philosophies in general, because a lot of us who have been here for a while grew up playing Nintendo games. We all grew up playing Metroid or Zelda or Mario.
And it’s really hard to discount the game design lessons that we learned at the feet of those masters. They come out all the time, in terms of how we do our basic combat design, and our level layout. Even though most of those games were 2D, a lot of the design rules we absorbed as kids come through.
What about fans of Ratchet & Clank in general? Sure, both it and Fuse are made by the same people, but they’re two entirely different games. Will Ratchet & Clank fans still be able to enjoy Fuse?
I do think they’re able to, because it has the same dedication to telling a different story, and dedication to exotic weapons, and introduces the same RPG elements in the third person genre that we introduced to platforming via Ratchet & Clank, thought it actually goes deeper. Especially with folks who grew up with Ratchet & Clank, they”ll see Insomniac trappings throughout, so I think it’ll be an easy transition.
Actually, back to what you feel Insomniac is know for, for me, it’s a sense of humor. Or at the very least, a sense of whimsy. Which was devoid in Resistance, for perhaps obvious reason. Was there a conscious decision to bring it back for Fuse? To perhaps offset the normal doom and gloom that permeates the genre?
Our intent is to have humor in all of our games. I will say that for Fuse, you have something that’s right between Resistance and Ratchet & Clank. It’s dry humor, and also self-referential at times, plus we spend a lot of time with emergent dialogue, with characters playing off of each other, to understand their personalities.
Comedy is hard. Is that why you think so few game developers try to infuse humor into their games?
Good question! I think it’s because, comedy always changes, from decade to decade. There’s been an impression, in the past, that if you have humor in a game, it’s a younger skewing game, which isn’t necessarily true. There has also been, in this generation, a big move towards real world events, which are fairly devoid of humor.
Like you said, humor is hard to do, it’s hard to do it right and it’s easy to swing into campy or a place where people just don’t get it. Like everything, from prototyping a new weapon or level design, dialing in the right level of humor and tone is an iterative process. And we’re lucky to have writers here at Insomniac who do get humor, in particular TJ Fixman, the leader writer for Fuse and who is also penning the new R&C movie.
What do you think about the next generation of video game hardware?
Everyone in Insomniac are gadgets geeks, and we find shiny new hardware to be really, really cool. So we’re definitely excited, but also because it represents the industry’s devotion to move forward and take advantage of advances in computing. As technical people, who build our own engines; it’s awesome to see the power of the new consoles are ostensibly brining.
From a player perspective, and I can only really talk about Sony since they’ve been forthcoming with what they’re doing, I like the idea of them recognizing that gamers have become a lot more connected during this last generation. The last generation of hardware encouraged, not overtly, more and more cooperative play and socializing. So to see features such as the share button is an acknowledgment of where games are going. So, to me, I think that’s a very exciting direction.