Seropian: Don't port unnecessary concepts to mobile
The Bungie founder on lazy development and the risk of innovation
For a man who created one of the best known shooter franchises of the last two console generations, Alex Seropian is surprisingly down on twin stick controls. Having slaved over making them usable for Halo, the Industrial Toys founder is amazed that developers are so keen on sticking with them when they have so many other options on today's touchscreen smartphones.
"These things, we call them phones but really they're computers, right?" He says as we sit down to catch up at Gamelab in Barcelona, earlier this year.
"They're very powerful, sophisticated computers. If you have an iPad then you already have better resolution than you will on any console, and most PCs, already. It's not like there are any hardware limitations to making great content. A lot of the efforts have been lazy - there have been a lot of straight-up ports from console titles to mobile and a lot of ports of unnecessary concepts. The transfer of the whole dual sticks thing just amazes me, that anyone would think that's a good idea."
"If you have an iPad then you already have better resolution than you will on any console, and most PCs, already"
Industrial Toys' first title is still tightly under wraps, but it's public knowledge that it has a sci-fi setting with at least some shooter elements - so why is Seropian so keen to move away from a control scheme which he helped to pioneer?
"It's not just the results being clumsy, it's the thinking behind it that's confusing to me. Especially to me because on Halo we spent so much time trying to make joysticks fun for a shooter - Sticks are not the ideal controls that you would ask for, for a shooter.
"To make a good shooter you have feel like you have a lot of control, you need enough bandwidth in the skill curve so that you feel you can get good at it, that you can master it. The traditional shooter on the PC, where you have a mouse and you can touch any pixel and shoot it - it's all about that. Having a joystick where you have to push the cursor towards that pixel is so much more of a challenge.
"So much work and research went into making sticks feel good for a shooter that to reinterpret that on a device where you can touch any pixel is just brain dead, I don't get that. Our approach is really built toward the device. Our ambition is to reinvent what a shooter is, with touch as the starting point. Some of that methodology trickles down to putting the controls in the game-space, not on the screen space so when you want to interact with the character in the game - to shoot or take cover or snipe - that's all through interacting with things in the environment rather than through controls."
"So much work and research went into making sticks feel good for a shooter that to reinterpret that on a device where you can touch any pixel is just brain dead, I don't get that"
There are some things which he thinks are worth carrying over, however. One of the tools he's keeping in the trunk from his AAA console days is the creation of a believable backstory and universe surrounding your product - something which Halo capitalised upon to great effect with a number of books, graphic novels and surrounding fiction.
On board with Seropian's team is renowned sci-fi author John Scalzi, helping Industrial Toys to "craft" a big IP, a universe which will add nuance and framework to a game which promises to be anything but throwaway.
He smiles a wry grin when I press him on pricing and won't be drawn, instead pontificating on how he sees mobile budgets and development time developing generally.
"The App Store is very much feast or famine," Seropian tells me when I ask him for comment on Daniel Crespo's assertions that low price points will crush innovation because of a lack of R&D budget.
"If you're not at the top, then you're through - that's definitely true, but I would actually suggest the opposite in terms of innovation. Mobile is where the innovation will happen, is happening already, it doesn't happen on the console.
"When a publisher has put $50 million down on a game, one of the requirements is 'please don't innovate, we want to make our f***ing money back!'"
"When a publisher has put $50 million down on a game, one of the requirements is 'please don't innovate, we want to make our f***ing money back!'
"Innovation is a 50/50 chance of flushing that money down the toilet, which is why all the big console games have 2, 3 or 4 after the title. There's definitely something to be said for his argument, because when some people make a social or mobile game it's all about doing it fast, getting to market cheaply, but we're not doing that. As you see more and more successes, and there will be more and more, the level of investment will go up.
"I think we're going to see less and less people trying to make a quick buck. I think you'll still have a lot of people who just want to put an app out there, there'll always be a lot of that, but like any market as it starts to mature, it'll start to split up. There'll be games with a lot of investment behind them, games being advertised beyond the digital channel. Angry Birds is the only real mobile game doing that right now."