Exclusive: Chris Taylor Interview on Wildman & Gas Powered Games

2 Feb 2013  by   Paul Younger
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WILDMAN EXCLUSIVE

Chris Taylor is looking to fund his next Project called Wildman through Kickstarter and we managed to pin him down to find out how the ARPG’s development is going and what the future holds for Gas Powered Games. So far Chris has managed to raised over $400,000 of the $1.1 million they are looking for, but is this make or break for Gas Powered Games?

Chris has helped created some hugely successful PC titles over the years including Total Annihilation, Dungeon Siege,  Supreme Commander and Age of Empires Online, so the gaming community may have been a little surprised to hear the company was in trouble a couple of months ago.

What happens if the Kickstarter fails to reach its goal? Is it the end for Wildman and GPG? What can we expect from the rather neat sounding Wildman should it be funded? We find out…

Watch the video of the interview

IncGamers: There’s two weeks to go on the Wildman campaign, and you’ve just hit $400,000. At this point, right now, how do you feel it is going?

Chris: You’ve gotta look at it two ways. If you’re a pessimist, it’s going terribly. If you’re an optimist, it’s going great. I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but if you think about it really, and if you’re optimistic – which we are, okay? To answer the question to which side we are on, we are very optimistic. We think we have a real solid foundation there, you know, getting over $400,000. We know a lot is going to happen over the next two weeks. We’ve got a lot of material we’re creating that’s going to be released while I’m doing press tours.

I’ve got two press trips planned, so we’re going to be simultaneously releasing a ton more of the video updates. We think the video updates are a really great way to spread the work and simultaneously doing press interviews to get the word out to more folks, and very optimistically driving forward to the goal line.

IncGamers: You mentioned that you’ve been pushing out a lot of video updates recently and I know they’ve been doing a lot for the campaign, really digging into the game and the mechanics of it. Do you think that the slightly slow start that you had was down to a lack of that clarity?

Chris: Yeah. I think maybe the first video we released did a poor job of explaining the game details. We looked at what a lot of the other Kickstarter videos did and some of them were very detailed because they maybe had a movie, or others that weren’t detailed but were nostalgic games that were going to be another game like the one you loved 10 or 20 years ago. So we sort of fell in the crack of that. Even though we have a playable prototype of the game up and running and we’ve got a lot of stuff to back up the campaign, we didn’t have it in the main video, so of course that’s your first impression. We got off the starting blocks poorly.

Like anything in life if you get experience you can take your experiences and apply it. Doesn’t matter what you do, if you’re going to do something one time and one time only, you have to accept the fact that if you screw it up it’s not a good thing. But if you do again – if we were to do another Kickstarter, like literally in two weeks if this one doesn’t go through, we would fix all of the stuff we screwed up.

So we do take the blame. We cannot take some of the blame; we have to take all of the blame for not putting together a really comprehensive video on the way the game is going to play.

IncGamers: Was that kind of a hint there that if this Kickstarter doesn’t go through, that you’d be launching another one, essentially?

Chris: It kind of sounded like a hint, but it wasn’t. It was pure… you know, I don’t care what you’re doing, I don’t care if you’re trying to… like, anything you do, if you fail at it and you do it again, you do better at it. You keep doing the same thing over and over again until you master it. You get back on the horse. But if you’re at the rodeo and the bull throws you off and the clowns rescue you, you don’t go back on the bull – you go to hospital for two weeks! The bruising goes down and you recover and you think “Maybe next year’s rodeo, I might try it again with the lessons learnt.”

You don’t chase the clowns away and get back on the bull right away, you have to recover from it. We’ll have a very difficult situation to manage through but I want to say that the phone has been ringing, people have been calling and asking us about Wildman. They are saying, “Hey, maybe there is a partnership here.”

I don’t know the details, those conversations are just getting started. We haven’t worked out any terms – it’s just the phone has rung and I’m really busy, and we’re going to kinda see how it goes. But let’s say, for example, the campaign doesn’t go through and someone says “How about we kick in $500,000 and you give us rights to territories X, Y and Z,” and then someone else comes along and we give them rights to another territory. Maybe we can do this a different way, and maybe we can do some fundraising right off our site, which you can actually do right now.

I think we’ve raised a grand total of $1,000 because we direct people to the Kickstarter site. We don’t want to raise the money through our site, per se, unless you don’t have access to Kickstarter. This is a really subtle point – in case you can’t get access, you can still get our site. If the thing doesn’t go through we are going to refund those folks; they won’t be paying anything, to make that little quick digression.

Maybe there’s another way we can make Wildman, but that does not mean going right back to Kickstarter instantly. Maybe we can do it a different way if we can get funds to bridge the company. So anything is possible.

IncGamers: There aren’t any specifics then you can give on that about who’s been approaching you or anything like that, or is it all too early to really be talking about?

Chris: If I’ve been able to articulate anything to folks, when you have a corporation or when you have large businesses that are knocking on your door talking to you about potential partnerships, the first things you sign are an NDA. That’s why the exciting thing about Wildman – in its first hack at it here – was we were going to be able to run a project very openly and very honestly, and provide people an unprecedented level of visibility into the process. But if the Wildman project does not fund then we are of course going back to a more secretive and quiet model, and folks won’t have that look into the process! That part is actually kind of sad, but it is the way business in America and all over the world is done all the time.

I mean we don’t know what Apple’s iPhone 6 looks like, we don’t know what the iPad looks like, we don’t know how much memory the next Macbook Pro will ship with. Everybody is secretive. I maen, that’s the thing, but this is a chance for people to fund something with their own dough and make it a highly transparent process, and I was really excited about that and I still am, but now my excitement is measured so that I’m not crushed as a human when and if it doesn’t, depending on how it goes.

I get very, very excited, about things and this is a terrible flaw. You know, I have a saying – I’m sorry to go off – but I have a saying that there is no place for emotion in business. If you truly want to be a great business person then keep the emotions out. Well, as you probably know about me by now, I’m like a nuclear bomb of emotion. That’s how I run the business, and that’s why I think creative is heavily part of the process. I can’t be a robot and be creative and not allow myself to be emotional. They go together. That’s the way it is, that’s who I am, and I accept that.

Wildman

IncGamers: It seems like you’ve been really revelling in the Kickstarter model with the transparency and being able to quickly respond to questions from backers. Is that what we’re going to be seeing in the future, in the next couple of weeks? Are we going to be more questions answered, and more demonstrations of the game in motion or the modding tools again?

Chris: What we’re planning on doing is we’re going to go in depth and talk to a lot more members of the team. I’m sick of looking at my face on the video updates. I mean if I looked like some sexy Hollywood guy I would say that would be a great idea, but because I… especially on Skype! I mean, my God, I look like a giant pink blob! It’s awful.

IncGamers: [Laughing] It’s not that bad, Chris! It’s not that bad!

Chris: [Shows off his Union Jack t-shirt] Look, you like that? That wasn’t even planned. I know you guys are born in the UK. What was I even talking about? I don’t even remember now.

IncGamers: You were talking about the transparency and the openness and talking to people through Kickstarter, and said you were going to chat to the team instead.

Chris: That’s right. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to show more of the tools. I want to do more of a comprehensive walkthrough of Project Mercury, and I’m going to be talking about the architecture philosophy more. These videos – by their nature, they tend to be kept short because… we’re told by no-one, but we think that the universe is speaking to us and telling us that we must keep videos short. If we have long videos something bad and terrible will happen! So we’re going to make some videos that are long. At the risk of boring people we are going to go into greater depth. We’re going to do a bunch of those, so while I’m travelling and doing press, we can keep releasing videos and keep the energy up.

It’s a very simple idea but it’s required and necessary. So that’s what we’re going to be working on through most of this weekend.

IncGamers: I just watched the modding of Project Mercury video a couple of hours ago – which looked pretty fascinating, actually – but it did kind of bamboozle me a little bit with the whole infinite desktop aspect of it. What you seemed to essentially be saying was that with the modding tools you’ll be able to change pretty much any aspect of the game? And you also mentioned that you’d be able to mod other games too? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Chris: From what you’re saying, you were definitely bamboozled.

IncGamers: I’m not technically minded enough for this.

Chris: Okay, translation. It wasn’t my intention to baffle you with bullshit. That’s actually a saying my dad has. He says if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit. He’s wise! He’s really wise.

But the truth is that what I was showing was the ability to create terrain through a tool, visualise it in 3D, eventually putting on the terrain features or props – which is trees, rocks, things like that. Being able to place treasures, monsters, or enemy or opponent encounters. Essentially laying out the game. Then there’s a facility for adjusting the health values of the game and so on.

It’s really a fully moddable game; it really allows people to take all the existing assets, the expensive assets, like the monsters and the sound effects and the textures, and those are things that are beyond the average modder. I want to be clear, though: some people are extremely talented and they can create those assets, but let’s say the 90 percentile just likes to take existing assets, and they get to mix them all up and they get to create a new game. That’s the idea with the tools available on Project Mercury.

However, what keeps people from writing tools for other games? What keeps them from doing that? Nothing. It’s just their own time and energy breaking apart the formats. In Chrome, for example… I think you can do it in a couple of the other browsers but I don’t remember which ones; this HTML 5 technology is still maturing. Well, in Chrome, you can click on and drag a photo into the Mercury desktop and that allows it to operate on that data. It could send it up to the server, it can do this, it can do that.

Well, the same goes that if you took a data file out of a game X – your favourite game – and you dragged that over and dropped it, you could then turn around and take that data apart and you could operate on that data, presumably, and then through some mechanism export that and then put it back into the game. It wouldn’t be as seamless, because in Wildman it’s all going to be integrated on the backend, but on some other game there would be some other hoops to jump through. But there’s all kinds of potential.

Ten years from now, if someone digs up this interview, they’re going to look at it and go “Taylor had no idea,” (which would be wrong) “that all of this was going to sweep through! That this was going to be commonplace, to use web browsers to operate very quickly and efficiently on data sets!” You’re like, you got some format for X, Y, Z. You just go onto the internet and you’re going to find the thing that can read that format, and just have all that integrated into the browser. In the old days of software… you know DeBabelizer, you remember that?

IncGamers: I have no idea what DeBableizer is, I’m sorry!

Chris: This was a piece of software that would take any graphics format – if I’m remembering correctly – and could convert it into any other graphics format. How many times in the early days of computing did you have some format and you wanted to make it into some other format? Well, with DeBabelizer you could do it all from a command line, and you could batch process, and you could just do anything you wanted. It became an instrumental tool for us in the nineties. Anyway, all of that DeBabelization, if you will, will all happen (that was a great name, by the way) in the browser seamlessly. We won’t even know it. It’ll be fantastic.

IncGamers: You talk about doing longer update videos, so would you consider doing an hour long presentation on that type of material?

Chris: Um, I think when I say long I mean… not five minutes, but probably closer to fifteen. Maybe twenty, but not an hour. I can’t look at anything for an hour. I could hardly sit through The Hobbit. No, I’m kidding, of course! I’m kidding. I actually really enjoyed it.

But the thing is, is that people’s sweet spot is probably 10 to 20 minutes. Any longer than that and you always run a risk. You can always break it up into parts, and they can watch part two and part three, and if they want to keep going then they can keep going. I think that’s fair.

Wildman

IncGamers: Tell me a bit about the tech upgrades you have in Wildman. Does it follow a semi-historical progression? Because you start at the prehistoric era, and then in one of the videos you were talking about getting trebuchets later on. Does it move through the bronze age, into the iron age? Is it that kind of progression with the technology trees?

Chris: Yeah. If you wanted to start at zero AD, or… I guess it’s not really even AD! [Laughs]

IncGamers: Something BC, I guess!

Chris: I don’t really like speaking about someone’s death as the start of a game. Um… that’s terrible. [Laughs]

IncGamers: Wildman began with the death of Jesus Christ. Is that what you’re trying to tell me? [Laughs]

Chris: That is a great way to alienate a whole lot of people. The truth, though, is that it’s recorded history – because before that we call it pre-history. Prehistoric. Meaning we don’t know a whole lot about what happened except the stuff that we can dig up out of the ground. We know there were people, and we know they were just like us, and they go back 200,000 to 250,000 years. They didn’t have culture, they didn’t have religion, they had crude tools. They didn’t have language. I’m assuming the very first guy or girl who got the genetic mutation, who was technically homosapien, didn’t have a whole lot going for him. He had an opposable thumb, and he could smash some stuff. So we get kind of a kick out of that – that’s kind of a fun idea. But we have to compress those 200,000 years down to be all the interesting bits.

I’m guessing in that period of time a wolf cub was taken or found, and raised in captivity, and there we had man’s best friend. We selectively bred to get what we know as the dog. And someone invented shoes. You take something and you strap it to your feet, and suddenly you can travel way further into harsher environments. You could travel in the winter; you could travel on hot clay. The shoe was an important invention. In Wildman you can get the shoe tech! It makes it fun to find soap that makes you live longer, to find dried meats that allow you to heal in the field! To continue to do all these prehistoric inventions, and then that takes us up right into recorded history.

IncGamers: So what’s the end point for the tech tree? What sort of era? I know it’s sort of fantasy as well, because you have some of these fantastical creatures, but technologically speaking how far does it go?

Chris: Well, I think it wants to go to just before gunpowder. Gunpowder changes things. What it does is it actually creates a foreshortening of the battlefield. It actually makes a battlefield too small when you start using projectile weapons, and because it’s an action RPG, we really want to keep projectiles weapons kind of…

Now, this is for the very first v1.0. What I think happens is you get this game rolling and you start adding content and solving things, and then maybe we pull the camera back and we can start using bigger and bigger weapons and so forth.

I can tell you now, the way the Kickstarter is going, if we get to $1.1m we are going to really have to focus our resources. If we spread the production budget across too much history we’re going to have a crappy game because it’s going to be too thin. We’re going to need to focus. Pie-in-the-sky, we were talking lasers, and I think we have to bring that down now and be more realistic. As the game is purchased and goes on sale and revenue is generated, we can start adding content to stretch the end out.

I think that’s a fairer way to address it, because quality is more important than quantity at this point.

IncGamers: Initially, I was under the (completely wrong) impression that the game was going to be more RTS than action RPG, and also more multiplayer than single-player – but it’s actually the opposite, isn’t it? It’s pretty single-player focused.

Chris: And what that points out is that I did a poor job of explaining it because that was not what we meant. We really tried to say that this is an action RPG. We’ve still got to revise some of the copy we have on the website. I think some of it is still kind of confusing.

It’s an action RPG but we really do believe the RTS component is a strong component. It’s not a throwaway component. It’s not like a mini game, like on the loading screen of a first person shooter or something. It’s a actually a really strong component of the game. If you’re going to break it up into percentages it’s going to be 60% action RPG, 40% real time strategy, but in terms of “play time” the RTS component might actually be 90% because with the RTS component you spend a lot of time in one area, playing in that one sandbox.

So this is what makes it wild! Because it’s going to be really interesting to play with all of this, and that’s why it’s scary, and risky, and it freaks people out, and they go, “No way, I’m not going to slap my $20 down! I’m freaked out!” And I go, “It’s the exact reason you should put your $20 down – because you want to be freaked out! This is the cheapest freakout you’re ever gonna get!” Ugh, now a whole lot of people are gonna lower their pledges from $45 to $20. “Yeah, I’m with ya! You’re right!”

IncGamers: Okay Chris, I think that’s about as good a summation of Wildman as is going to be possible. So thank you very much for your time, and best of luck with the campaign!

Chris: Thank you, I really appreciate it. Have a great day!

If you want to know more about Wildman, head to the Wildman Kickstarter page where you can also pledge your support for the game.

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